This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry.
Since graduating college as an industrial designer, backpack projects have been a frequent part of my work. One overarching thing I’ve learned is that there is no perfect backpack. Everyone has their own taste; their own ideas.
So, how about my take? Simplicity sums it up. However, there are a few features that I can not live without.
When I first laid eyes on Black Diamond’s Cirque ski packs (and the related Blitz climbing packs), I was impressed. BD made a simple, light pack that retains a few key features, with more style than the typical lightweight sack style sack.
I took a new Cirque 35 pack down to New Zealand last fall, and have been using it intermittently ever since. I prefer using an airbag pack most winter days, but on lower hazard days I like carrying something lighter. I’ve been using the Cirque quite a bit in the spring and summer as well. It’s seen a fair amount of use and abuse.
The most important feature of the Cirque is its weight. We measured it at 2 lbs, 6.7 oz (1097 g), size medium, (BD’s claimed weight is 2 lbs 6 oz) Nice and light, enough said. Due to it’s light weight, the pack doesn’t have a “ton” of features, it’s obvious the design team at BD thought carefully about what to include with the pack. It is not an SUV, it’s a track car, stripped down, lightweight, what you need to go as fast as possible.
There are lighter packs out there. Many ski mountaineering racing packs are around a pound. A few things bump up the weight of the Cirque. For one, it has volume — 35 liters. BD does make a 30 liter version that is more stripped down that weighs 1 lb 11 oz (760 g). Also, the pack has moderately durable fabric compared to many ultralight packs. The fabric is not super burly, however I haven’t made any holes.
The pack has one large compartment, accessed by a top opening that’s a unique take on the classic drawstring closure. It’s easy to open and close, and more secure (and weatherproof) than a basic drawstring closure. There’s also a single strap you can hook to close everything up tighter. I rarely use the strap; the drawstring works on its own. The strap works well when the pack is full, or as a rope strap. Admittedly, the closed pack isn’t entirely snow or weather proof. On stormy days a small amount of snow can intrude into the top opening. Black Diamond sells a top lid for the pack, as an accessory, which I haven’t tried, but it could up the snow/rain resistance of the opening. Overall, the opening is a cool aspect of the pack. It is light, and super fast.
The shovel pocket is simple, just an interior divider with a simple buckle closure. Nice. There are also two small zippered pockets on the pack, one inside at the top of the back panel, and another on the top exterior of the pack, both big enough for sunglasses or other small items.
Diagonal or a-frame? That is a question as hotly debated as fold or crumple. Luckily, the Cirque swings both ways, and does it well. The a-frame carry is straightforward, utilizing the included loops and compression straps. All good, but I’m more of a diagonal guy. I’m perpetually dissatisfied with the diagonal carry options on most packs, and usually end up using a ski strap, which almost always works better than the OEM option. The Cirque, however, might be the first pack I’ve used where I’m satisfied with the stock diagonal carry system. You strap your skis with the same webbing strap that closes the pack. This brings the connection directly to the top of the back panel, keeping the skis tight even when the pack is not entirely full. This solves my main gripe with most other diagonal carry mechanisms. The system is simple, light, and ingenious.
That’s about it for the features of the pack. Few, but they’re well thought out and just what I want. We all have our tastes, so the Cirque is obviously not for everyone. For one, if you like organization more than saving weight, this simple sack isn’t the right choice. My main gripe is that it doesn’t have an airbag option. Take this pack, put a lightweight, removable airbag system in it, and you’d have the best ~30 liter airbag pack on the market (and possibly the lightest). Hear that BD? Do it!
We’ve also reviewed the 45 liter version of this pack. Check out Dr. Lee’s take on it here.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.