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Black Diamond Shadow 55L Backpack REVIEW

A solid - read, heavy - and well-designed climbing pack with a unique Y-frame capable of carrying a lot of weight.


by Stuart Bilby | 2006-03-21 03:00:00-07

Black Diamond Shadow 55L Backpack REVIEW


The Shadow 55L is a lightweight backpack that utilizes clever design and numerous attachment points to provide a pack capable of hauling heavy, dense loads. Its use of lightweight fabrics make it lighter than similar-sized climbing packs on the market. Is it the solution for lightweighters looking for a framed pack for heavier loads?

What’s Good

  • Great frame and harness for heavy loads
  • Rigid aluminum Y frame
  • Lightweight self-healing body fabric
  • Durable materials
  • Removable dual-density foam backpanel doubles as sleeping pad
  • Plenty of straps and tie-on points
  • Removable lid and frame to create a lighter summit pack

What’s Not So Good

  • Loaded down with straps and excess ‘features’
  • Heavy for its capacity
  • No side pockets



Black Diamond


2005 Shadow 55L


Internal frame, top loading, drawstring closure, floating top lid


One size 3360 ci (55 L)


3 lb 11.8 oz (1.69 kg) measured weight; manufacturer’s specification 3 lb 7 oz (1.56 kg)


Main body is 210d silicone and polyurethane coated ripstop nylon, heavy nylon reinforcement on high wear areas. Hypalon daisy chains and gear attachment points


Floating top lid with two connecting straps, 10-inch extension collar with dual drawstring closure, floating top pocket with waterproof zipper, key clip and bungee, two expandable side compression straps, no external pockets, dual ice tool sleeve, crampon patch, three plastic reinforced haul loops, load lifters, hipbelt stabilizers, sternum strap

  Volume To Weight Ratio

56 ci/oz (based on 3360 ci and a measured weight of 59.8 oz)

  Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity

35 lb (16 kg) estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day

  Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio

9.38 (based on 35 lb and a measured weight of 3.73 lb)




At only 3360 cubic inches volume and weighing 3 pounds 12 ounces (my measurement) the Black Diamond Shadow 55L is outside the range that we normally consider lightweight. However it has a very capable frame and suspension system and is aimed squarely at the climber hauling heavy, dense loads.

Black Diamond Shadow 55L Backpack REVIEW - 1
The Shadow 55L is the largest in the Black Diamond backpack lineup. Appealing features for climbing include a narrow shape, solid haul loops, plenty of gear attachment points and the ability to cinch the straps tight to provide load stability.

The primary weight saving feature of the Black Diamond Shadow 55L is the use of a unique silnylon fabric. This is not the 1.1 oz/yd2 silnylon beloved by ultralight tarp makers, but a much heavier diamond ripstop that has both a silnylon and a polyurethane coating. This material is claimed to have the remarkable ability to self-heal small punctures. I punched small holes with the awl on my knife and following a bit of massaging it was very hard to find the holes again. This self-healing was surprisingly effective for holes with up to 1/8-inch (3 mm) diameter. This fabric is rugged enough for normal use although it is not very abrasion resistant; and the parts of the hood that use the silnylon material have picked up minor damage from abrasion during testing. The wear areas on the body, lid, and base are well-reinforced with heavier fabrics.

The Shadow has a wide, stiff hipbelt combined with a large and firm lumbar pad to provide an excellent platform for transferring heavy loads to the hips. At first I found the combination a little uncomfortable, but after longer use I ceased to notice the stiff padding and it felt remarkably comfortable. The shoulder harness, while not as well padded as most on the market, is firm and capable of carrying a good bit of weight. Carrying 16 kilograms (35 lb), or more, the harness was remarkably comfortable. The pack is exceptionally solid and stable, which is a great feature in a climbing pack. The only time the load was less stable was when the pack was overfilled with the extension collar filled right up, then it became a little top heavy and inclined to swing around.

Black Diamond Shadow 55L Backpack REVIEW - 2
The Shadow has a shoulder harness and wide, stiff hipbelt along with a rigid yet flexible frame, enabling it to support heavy loads.

The Shadow has a one-size-fits-all harness that minimizes weight by eliminating extraneous adjustment straps and buckles. It has a torso length of 20 inches (51 cm) from the center of the hipbelt to the top attachment point of the load lifter straps. Black Diamond says it is suitable for people with 18 to 21 inch back lengths, which seems reasonable. At 5 feet 10 inches this back length fit me just fine; much taller or shorter people might struggle.

The main point of a pack is to carry a load comfortably, so a little extra weight can be forgiven if a pack carries exceptionally well. Here the Shadow excels. The 4.2 ounce rigid Y frame provides great support, even under heavy loads exceeding 50 pounds. The volume is only 3360 cubic inches (55 L) with an extra 1300 cubic inches (21 L) in the extension collar, however a load has to be pretty dense before you can fit 50 pounds into the pack. Of course there is the opportunity to strap things on the outside, and the Shadow 55L has lots of unique attachment features. Instead of a crampon patch it has two straps with clips, and for ice tool attachments it has a little sleeve with clips at the bottom and bungees at the top. These straps are generally useful for climbers and well thought out, but they all contribute to the weight. The lightweight backpacker who only occasionally takes ice tools and crampons might wish for simpler, lighter, traditional attachment straps.

Black Diamond Shadow 55L Backpack REVIEW - 3
The Y-frame is made from aluminum rod. It provides the basis for the load-carrying abilities of the pack, and at the same time provides good freedom of movement.

The floating lid is attached with two straps that can usually be clipped with one hand - a nice touch. The lid can be instantly unclipped to form a little daypack. Unfortunately the straps supplied are too short for use as a daypack and there aren’t others on the pack that can be scrounged for the purpose.

Black Diamond Shadow 55L Backpack REVIEW - 4
The Black Diamond Shadow 55L has numerous tie-on points for climbing gear.

Apart from the lid, the pack has no external pockets; not even a stub pocket for anchoring snow stakes or poles. The main pack has two internal full-height pockets, one for a foam backpanel pad and one for the aluminum Y frame and a water bladder. I felt a terrible ultralighter’s urge to start cutting out this extra fabric.

The Y-frame has my pet peeve - plastic end protector caps that become unglued from the aluminum and get lost in the innards of the pack when the frame is removed. The frame is held in place by big Velcro tabs that seem redundant. The frame is most easily removed by gently flexing it from the pockets.

The foam backpanel pad has two layers, a 1/8-inch (4 mm) thick closed cell foam and a stiffer white foam material of the same thickness. In a pinch the pad can be unfolded to form a sleeping mat 44 inches long.

Black Diamond Shadow 55L Backpack REVIEW - 5
The removable foam backpanel pad has two layers of different densities.

While the foam pad (which tapers from 11.5 to 10.5 inches wide) is a little narrow for a comfortable sleep, it is enough to make all the difference on a forced bivy. Like many packs with removable padding, getting the foam and Y frame back into their tight pockets is a bit of a struggle and not something to look forward to on a cold morning with clumsy fingers. At bit of practice at home is warranted.

The pack has one neoprene reinforced hydration port (which needed enlargement with a knife to fit a mouthpiece through) and a bungee on the shoulder to hold a drink tube.

The pack can be stripped down to 42.6 ounces for use as a summit pack by removing 16.3 ounces of lid and frame. The hipbelt is not removable. The weight breakdown of the unmodified pack is given in the table below.

ComponentWeight (oz)
Main packbag43.4

Compared to similar packs in the Backpacking Light Gear Guide this is a mid-priced pack with a midrange weight. Where it stands out is its attachment points for climbing gear and its weight carrying capacity.

What’s Unique

  • Little Velcro tags to keep the straps out of harm’s way
  • One-handed fastening of the main compartment straps
  • Aluminum Y-frame
  • Dual-density foam backpad
  • Self-healing silicone and polyurethane coated nylon

In the final analysis this is a fairly heavy pack for its volume by today’s lightweight standards. However it is a very capable load carrier, and for dense climbing loads that exceed the capacity of a frameless pack this may be just what you need.

Recommendations for Improvement

Some further refinements I would like to recommend are:

  • End caps that stay attached to the frame
  • More attention to saving weight - trim excess fabric around seams, use fewer layers of fabric in the harness, and eliminate one of the internal pockets


"Black Diamond Shadow 55L Backpack REVIEW," by Stuart Bilby. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2006-03-21 03:00:00-07.