LTR - Black Diamond Astral 40 Pack - Erin Foudy
- Hi Kara,
Here is my LTR, thanks in advance for your time and edits. The HTML version can be found at: http://www.backpackgeartest.org/reviews/test/TESTS/LTR%20-%20Black%20Diamond%20Astral%2040%20Pack%20-%20Erin%20Foudy/
I wore the Black Diamond Astral on at least three day hikes while vacationing in the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona, as well as during one very nice backpacking trip. However, our planned trips in the Colorado Springs area were cancelled due to the Waldo Canyon Fire and due to my boyfriend's grandmother, who we stay with in the area, being placed on pre-evacuation orders. Not to mention that most of the national forest around Colorado Springs was closed indefinitely. Once the fire was mostly contained we were able to get in a few short day hikes, but no overnights.
Mount Baldy Wilderness, northeastern Arizona. The elevation ranged from 9,394 ft to 11,414 ft (2,863 m to 3,479 m) near the top of Mount Baldy (non tribal members are not allowed to summit). Temperatures ranged from the mid 40s F to the mid 70s F (10 C to 21 C). I hiked 17 m (27km) during a two day one night trip.
Performance in the Field:
I have really enjoyed using the Astral pack, it has easily met my expectations with regards to capacity and has surpassed my expectations for comfort and stability. In addition, I have become a true believer in the benefit of a women's specific pack, the fit really made a difference for me on those longer days in the backcountry. My one complaint about the pack continues to be the absence of a hydration pouch for my hydration bladder.
I have never owned a day pack or a backpacking pack that featured a roll top such as the Astral does. After having used the pack for both day hikes and backpacking trips I would love to see more companies utilize this system of closure. For me the use of a roll top, similar to the closure on a dry bag, provides the ability to make your load more compact, and more protected from the elements. In other packs I've owned the top of the pack is secured closed by pulling a large drawstring. The drawstring has worked fine for me, however, there is always excess fabric if packing a smaller load, a long cord that must be stored somewhere, and the system just doesn't seem to be as airtight. In general I found the roll top to give me more versatility when I wanted to pack less and greater stability when I had a larger load.
I have been so impressed with how comfortable this pack is. When wearing it on longer hikes, whether those hikes are just extended day hikes or long days in the backcountry, the Astral has performed wonderfully. I attribute this both to Black Diamond's reACTIV suspension and the design of their women's specific features. The reACTIV suspension allows for me to have greater balance and movement when I hike. The pack actually moves with me as I hike and shifts as the weight of the pack shifts to provide greater balance. The women's specific hip belt and shoulder straps have really changed my idea of what a comfortable pack should feel like at the end of a long couple of days. Normally with other packs after a day or two my hips will start to ache a bit or feel bruised, I have yet to experience this with the Astral. I can only attribute this to the women's specific features the pack has. Since I have never owned any other women's specific pack I can not state this definitively, but it seems to make the most sense.
As I have mentioned all through this report I was not very happy that the Astral lacks a hydration pouch. I decided to experiment a bit with finding another way I could carry my hydration bladder that did not include placing the bladder in the main compartment of the pack. Later, this experimentation became a necessity as I feared the hook-and-loop strap my bladder hangs from was wearing out. I decided during my backpacking trip in the Mount Baldy Wilderness to carry my hydration bladder laying across the top of the main compartment of my pack and underneath the top lid. Carrying my bladder in this way allowed me the peace of mind that the items in my pack were not getting wet from a leaking bladder as well as freeing up more room in my pack. However, this method created a lot of noise from the water sloshing back and forth as I walked, and as I got low on water I found it harder and harder to be able to get water out of the drinking tube. In the end, i just prefer my packs to have a hydration bladder.
I love this pack for it's comfort, versatility, and features. This pack would be the perfect pack for me if it just had a hydration pouch.
1. Versatile in size
2. Women specific features provide a comfortable fit
3. reACTIVE suspension allows greater range of motion and balance
4. Smart features
1. No hydration pouch
This concludes my Long-Term Test Report and this test series. Sincere thanks to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in this test.