Black Diamond has revamped their entire AvaLung pack line for this season, increasing the flow rate through the valve that is the heart of the AvaLung and adding their activErgo™ suspension system. There are a number of other refinements to each backcountry ski pack in the line, but the most common is the inclusion of a diagonal carry system that holds most skis 18° off vertical.
Since it’s introduction and my subsequent burial with one 6 years ago the Covert AvaLung has been my most reliable companion in the backcountry. The only reason I might not use it is when I’m testing another model of pack and believe me, I’m not easily persuaded to abandon something I’ve trusted my very breath with before. Even so, it only took a few hours ascending the slopes of Mt. Shasta for the new Outlaw AvaLung pack to become my new fave backcountry pack.
There’s a lot to like about the Outlaw (besides the name). It provides a solid 32 liters of packable volume, plenty for a day tour with extra layers, food, water and safety gear. Access to the main compartment is via a clam-shell style, double-pull zipper only this time around it is a waterproof zipper. There is a padded goggle pocket at the top back of the pack, and on the inside, a mesh stash pocket for small items you may want fast access to at the top of the main compartment.
A pair of wide straps near the bottom of the pack can be used with a thinner hypalon reinforced pair of straps near the top to help carry a snowboard vertically on the back, or when used with a pair of side straps to carry skis A-frame style, or simply to compress a half full pack. If you prefer to sling your skis diagonally there is a strap in the upper right corner to help with that, in combination with the wide lower strap.
The outer panel is designed to carry a shovel blade, probe and short shovel shafts. Unfortunately the shaft of my Ortovox Kodiak is a bit long, but it does fit in the main compartment. Sorry BD, liked your shovels ’til I met one that doubles as a snow hoe too – the better to dig faster with in case my buddies aren’t wearing a Lung.
Then there’s the secret side pocket on the port side, plus one on the starboard side of a cushy waist belt that is the core of BD’s new ActivErgo™ suspension system. It is noticeably more comfortable than the simple but effective waistbelt of my old Covert AvaLung™ pack. It is also heavier, but at a skosh more than 4½ pounds empty it is not exhorbitantly heavier. Is it worth it? The extra pound plus for a more comfortable carrying system is easily worth it when the pack is full.All those features are nice, but none were enough on their own to convince me to make the Outlaw the new sack on my back. However, it only took one time using the zippered access back panel to convince me. Whether I was taking a break for rehydration, refueling, adding or subtracting a layer, lashing skis to the sides or taking them off — once I knew I could reach nearly any item in the main compartment through a back door, instead of probing the depths of the main compartment blindly with my hands, I was sold. See ya’ later Covert, welcome to the club Outlaw. (Note: My used but not abused Covert AvaLung is available for the asking (and a reasonable offer).)
Is there anything not to like about the Outlaw? Yes it is a tad heavy, and a bit expensive but a sweet deal compared to the cost of an airbag pack. If you aren’t in a position to pony up for a pack that keeps you on the surface, your next best line of defense, if you’re playing avalanche roulette, is to increase the time you can survive below the surface.
That’s the last bit of improvement BD made to their AvaLungs – they increased the airflow 20% through the valve that separates your CO2 loaded breath that you exhale from that which you inhale, the key to extending your survival time if you’re buried with one. As long as you have the AvaLung breathing tube in your mouth if you’re caught and buried you can, theoretically, last long enough for your buddies to extricate you, especially if they have not practiced searching and shoveling recently.
Black Diamond Equipment
Outlaw AvaLung Pack
Volume: 32 liters
Weight: 4 lbs., 7 oz. (2.06 kg)
Buried Alive – 60 minutes with an AvaLung™