Are you the type of person who shows up to a crag, with your rope and cams stuffed into a cramped, old pack, spending the first 15-minutes of your “climbing” time trying to get your gear ready? Do you look over at the other climbers and their fancy crag bags, standing upright on its own, with all their gear neatly organized and easily accessible with just a slight jealousy? Well, I’ll tell you right now, a crag bag is just as crucial to your climb as the rope. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but it has made my time climbing more efficient. And the collaboration Backcountry x Black Diamond Stone Garden Crag Backpack ($129) is a fantastic, efficient product.
At first glance, this bag is relatively small, at only 30L. I currently use a 35L daypack when I go climbing. But this bag is made out of a much tougher, more wear resistance material. There’s no excess features included just to sell the bag, it seems very minimalistic and only the critical features are considered.
Throughout this review, I will dive into the following categories: Access to Gear, Comfort & Fit, Pockets & Storage, Closure System, and Experience in the Field.
Access to Gear
When it comes down to it, a bag’s main purpose is to transport gear from point A to point B. And once at point B, you need to get your gear out of the bag as easily and efficiently as possible. Mostly any bag can get your gear where it needs to go, but how many times have you tried to get your gear out of your pack and it gets stuck or not easily able to reach something at the bottom of your bag. Sure, these difficulties are manageable, but wouldn’t it be much better if things were just streamlined?
That’s where this Crag Bag has one-up’d the competition. First off, this bag stands up on its own. So no more bag falling over into the dirt or down the hill, resulting in a thick layer of dust or sand caking your rope and draws. Second, you can access your gear in the main compartment through the top via the drawcord, or unzipping the J-zipper all the way to the bottom of the bag. This opens up the entire bag for gear access, quickly, and easily. Third, there’s gear loops on the exterior face for easy attachment of gear that doesn’t fit or that you forgot to pack. These are perfect for clipping on a water pottle or another pair of shoes to help send your project. Lastly, the bottom pocket specifically designed to store your stinky shoes.
Comfort & Fit
How a pack fits can be a make or break between bringing it on every climbing trip, or leaving it in your gear closet. This minimal strap system is perfect for short, and long approaches to the climb. Like any good daypack, the chest strap is adjustable both across the chest and up and down on the shoulder strap. The shoulder straps feel comfortable and similar to a regular daypack, and the hip straps, which connect via a bouldering pad strap, keep the load tight against your body. And the rigid padding on the back prevents any cams or gear from jamming into your back while you’re hiking in. Overall, the pack is comfortable and really does feel like something I could take on a long approach or even up with you on a multi-pitch climb.
Pockets & Storage
Besides the main compartment, there are 3 other pockets in this pack. On the side, there is a large zip pocket that can be the perfect place to place your guide book, a slim water bottle, or even a couple beers. Within that side pocket, there is an internal meshed zip pocket. Here you can place your odds and ends or even your excess chalk for when you run out after a long day trying to send your project. Lastly, there is an internal meshed zip pocket within the main compartment. Here is a great place to toss your valuables like your phone, wallet, and keys instead of leaving them in your pockets and having them fall out mid climb. This has happened to me, and it’s never a good time.
As an engineer, these are the types of things I really get me excited. Having a bag with a good closure system is critical to the success of the product. After you throw your gear into the main compartment, simply pull the drawcord and the bag cinches shut. To open the top, pull the tab and the bag easily opens back up. This can be done with one hand, making it one of the most efficient closure systems I’ve seen on a pack.
The other aspect I love, is the J-zipper. Rather than just a zipper that closes the top of the bag, or one that goes down the side of the bag, the J-zipper goes down the side and across the bottom. This opens up the entire compartment as one large flap. To make sure the zipper doesn’t open on its own, or in the event you overpacked, there is a pressed button that locks tab closed.
Experience in the Field
Normally, I used to throw all my climbing gear into my 35L daypack and head out for a day of climbing. So when I decided to use this bag for the first time I was excited. The cylindrical shape of the bag, and its ability to stand up on its own, makes this easy to pack. I threw my rope into the bottom, then my full rack, then my harness, and then tossed my helmet on the top. Without any extra effort, all the gear fit with ease. I pulled the drawcord and cinched the whole thing up, and headed out the door.
I loaded the pack onto my back and left the truck by the trailhead. Tightening down the chest strap and waist strap, I headed up the trail and crossed the stream towards the crag. Everything felt tight and secure on my back and felt comfortable the entire time.
At the crag, I tossed the bag down, unzipped the whole thing and accessed all the gear through the opened J-zipper. As I had excess gear and clothes that I wanted to keep off the ground, I hung this bag up via the two top handles from the tree near by the route. These stiff handles are also perfect to just move around the bag at the crag since they don’t fall down, just like the bag itself.
After a day of climbing, I stuffed everything back in just as easily as when I packed it at my house. This has been the same experience each time I head out climbing.
|Support/Suspension||thermoformed back panel|
|Shoulder Straps||thermoformed, adjustable, sternum strap|
|Waist Belt||Stowable, bouldering-style buckle|
|Access||Top & Front|
|Pockets||1 bottom compartment, 1 zippered side, 1 zippered internal|
|Gear Loops||Yes (10)|
|Recommended use||Climbing, Sport Climbing, Crag days|
Overall, this bag is fantastic, and I really do enjoy using it when I go climbing. When I go climbing, I want to only focus on my project or the next climb only, and not about how annoying my old bag tends to make getting gear to the crag. At 30L, it’s pretty small, basically will only fit all the gear a single person would need for a day of sport climbing or single pitch trad climbing. The bag would be hard pressed to fit a rope, double rack, harness, helmet, and any of your partner’s gear too. But, there is a rope strap over the top of the bag, which allows you to fully pack the bag with anything, and then throw the rope over the top of the bag. This is a great, simplistic option to bringing more gear to the climb or carry your partner’s gear for them.
At $129, this crag bag is in direct competition with the Black Diamond Crag 40L Backpack ($99). The question is, is this pack worth the $30 more for the extra 10L liters? If size is your concern, but durability and efficiency are not, then go with the BD 40L. But if you spend a lot of time at the crag, especially in the desert where the sand is always an issue, or in places wear wear-and-tear are a concern, the Backcountry x Black Diamond Stone Garden Crag Backpack is the way to go.
BONUS: Quote directly from Backcountry.com
“Finally—and though it’s sold separately—the matching Stone Garden Rope Bag ($19.95) was designed to serve as a rain cover for the the Crag Backpack. It’s never ideal to get caught out in the rain, but if you are, the Rope Bag protects the Crag Backpack and all of its contents while you scramble for the shelter of a rock overhang or pedal through a surprise spring shower to the gym.”