In my mind a good backpack carries well, is easily filled with gear, and is durable enough to stand up to abuse. In recent years I have seen many climbers bring small haul bags or haul packs as a substitute for a crag pack. These packs are usually spacious and quite durable. However, most haul bags lack simple features like a lid or a good suspension. Black Diamond has attempted to combine the best of both worlds and created the 50 Caliber pack.
The first thing I realized when I got my hands on the 50 Caliber is the HUGE capacity. I have a medium, which at a weight of 3 lb 6 oz holds 52 L (3,175 cubic inches) – Stats from BD. This pack is currently my biggest non-backpacking pack and it really swallows gear. Over the summer I was so happy with it that I chose to bring it on a few overnight trips instead of my typical backpacking pack.
In my mind the 50 Caliber is designed for cragging at places like Indian Creek, where you need to bring a rope and an extravagant amount of cams and many other essentials. During our trip to IC over Thanksgiving I could easily fit a 70m rope inside the pack in addition to 30+ cams, two water bottles, a few pairs of shoes, and my harness. If it was cold, I could extend the collar and stuff my down jacket under the lid. This made the pack quite tall, but it still carried well. When you pack the 50 Caliber to the brim you might need a place for your helmet and Black Diamond comes through with their mesh lid cover previously seen on the Jackal and other packs. This holds the helmet on well and you can even stick a Nalgene under your helmet if you are short on space (unlikely).
Over the summer on one occasion I was out in the backcountry and needed to climb with my pack. I was able to strip the Caliber down by removing the lid and tightening the waist strap around the back. I climbed 5 pitches, swapping leads, wearing the pack. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as a small summit pack but proved that it could still perform on route, a task well outside the intended purpose.
As I mentioned, I took the 50 Caliber backpacking and I was able to secure my sleeping pad on the outside via the compression straps. Yet again the Caliber stepped outside its intended use and functioned well during the weekend. It would have been easier to attach gear to the outside of the pack if both straps had snap buckles. The current model only has a snap buckle on the upper strap. In most cases this is no big deal, but should be duly noted.
Since the 50 Caliber is designed as a crag pack, Black Diamond decided to make the bottom as durable as possible by making it out of haul bag material. An additional benefit of this stiff fabric is that the Caliber stands up on its own, which really helps for packing. In places like Red Rocks, where you do a lot of scrambling, or Joshua Tree, with all the sharp granite, the bottom of the pack is often the first thing to go. Lizzy’s favorite pack, an older BD Sphynx, has multiple layers of duct tape keeping the bottom together. One of my packs from REI has a similar issue. I doubt the 50 Caliber will suffer the same fate.
The shape of the 50 Caliber is simple. The only compartment is a tube with a few compression straps and two external clipping points for water bottles, etc. The benefit of this shape is that gear stuffs inside easily and the Caliber ends up with a minimal amount of dead space. There is a stowable piece of webbing for attaching the rope under the lid. I like to pack my rope in the bottom of the pack so I haven’t used this feature. I do appreciate that it packs into a small pouch and hasn’t been flapping around like on older BD models. The 50 Caliber has standard ice ax loops on the bottom but doesn’t have an obvious way of securing the shaft to the top of the pack. Perhaps a piece of Velcro could be added to attach the shaft to the clip in points on the back of the pack.
As I mentioned before, the lid is removable since it is connected via four pieces of webbing. This allows the lid to float when you need to use the extendable collar of the pack. Another nice feature is that you can extend the webbing and tuck the lid inside the collar to make the pack much shorter and more compact when you still want to have a lid but are not carrying a full load. I appreciate this since the pack carries better and the lid does not flop around when the pack is not full. The lid has both top and bottom pockets with an internal mesh pocket inside the bottom that will fit a phone, keys of something similar. The top has a mesh keeper flap for your helmet, which may look goofy but is functional.
I’ve hiked anywhere between 15 minutes and 4 hours wearing the Caliber. The best part of the suspension in my opinion is the cushy waist belt. The 3+ inches of foam do a great job putting the majority of the weight on one’s hips. The shoulder straps are not quite as cushy and occasionally dug into my shoulders. A bit of adjusting usually makes the discomfort go away, but I think they could be improved. I prefer a more rectangular strap that distributes the weight across the width of the webbing, whereas the shoulder straps on the Caliber seemed to focus the weight to the inside. Lizzy suggested that I might need a size small since a different fit could change the way the load is distrubted across the shoulder strap. So I would add that it is important to try out the Caliber to make sure the shoulder straps fit.
Overall I have been very happy with the pack and would recommend it when you need to haul a lot of gear to the crag. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a smaller version since the haul bag bottom really is a great feature!
- Lid is removable and has helmet mesh.
- Bottom of pack is very durable.
- Waist belt is very comfortable and is quite adjustable.
- Pack compresses well.
- Very spacious and fits gear well.
- Shoulder straps could be shaped to fit better.
- Load lifters are not very effective.
Full Disclosure: Black Diamond provided this backpack to DreamInVertical in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed above are my own and reflect my experience with this backpack. Feel free to leave comments regarding your opinion of the 50 Caliber backpack.
For more Sweet Gear reviews from Luke and Lizzy check out our Gear Reviews page.