Review: Black Diamond Jackal (2009*)

Black Diamond Jackal Backpack

New to the Black Diamond backpack lineup is the Jackal, a stripped-down alpine pack aimed squarely at satisfying the needs of technical rock climbers.

The Jackal looks to be the successor to the Sphinx, itself a minimalist climbing pack, and features many of the same elements and advances as Black Diamond's Predator backpack. Like the Predator, the Jackal employs an improved version of Black Diamond's Y-Rod frame. For a pack in this weight class (3lbs 2oz published), the Jackal's suspension is surprisingly stiff and beefy, easily enabling it to carry heavy loads up to base camp.

Once at camp, the Y-Rod can be removed (with some difficulty), dropping ten ounces or so from the pack's weight for climbing or skiing. Mountaineers will appreciate the Jackal's slim profile and nimble feel. The Jackal stays in place on your back, as a good climbing pack should.

Black Diamond has upgraded the Jackal's fabric to 420d nylon for added durability, and it's hard to argue that choice for a rock pack, though it does add to the weight. On the exterior, at least, the Jackal's design is gloriously clean, with only the bare essentials of attachment points: two axe loops, two daisy chains, and tabs for a bungee on the lid.

For backcountry skiers, the Jackal will serve you well provided you don't need to put your ski boots inside the pack. Without a floating lid, there won't be enough room for boots and overnight gear—unless you're very gifted in your packing skills.

The overall look—and especially the shape—of the Jackal strikes me as just about perfect, which brings us to phase II of the review: the gripes. Oh, how I wish the Jackal had a detachable floating lid. Change the lid's design from fixed to removable, and the Jackal's versatility would be dramatically enhanced.

As is, the existing lid is firmly sewn in place. It's also inexplicably heavy. Black Diamond added several internal pockets to the head, each made with that heavy 420d nylon, some of which even use heavy Velcro for closure! Black Diamond may as well have sewn lead into the head's lining.

The Jackal's lid also features a non-removable helmet flap that again adds to the weight. Do climbers really need a helmet holder? My guess is no. Either you're in non-technical terrain, in which case you can clip your helmet to any point on the pack's exterior, or else your helmet ought to be on your head.

The most inexplicable new feature of the Jackal is a miniature trap door sewn into the back of the pack. Using this small zipper access, you can reach into the main compartment of the pack and do...what? Fish around for your headlamp? Yank out your jacket? I just don't see how this adds any value. It seems a crime against minimalism to take a pack with such a clean design and add these ill-considered doo-dads. Mercifully, this concludes the gripe section of the review.

Overall, the Jackal is a big improvement over the Sphinx. While it can't quite match the minimalism of the PodSacs Black Ice, the Jackal's improved Y-Rod suspension easily bests the Pod Sacs' carrying ability, making the Jackal one of the best technical climbing packs currently available (*discontinued).

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Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow



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