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Black Diamond Bullet Review
Cons: Uncomfortable shoulder straps, no external carrying options
Bottom line: This classic is still going strong, though you cannot carry anything on the outside of the pack.
In our initial small climbing daypack review, the old version of the Black Diamond Bullet won the Editors' Choice award. The new Bullet is even stronger and sleeker than its predecessor. It's also got many of the features we're looking for in a climbing daypack: a removable hip belt, removable foam back panel, and an emergency whistle. We feel gratitude towards the Bullet because it popularized many of the features we love that are now ubiquitous on rock climbing daypacks.
However, the competition has caught up and now surpasses this pack in overall utility. The Bullet's exterior lacks anchor points to enable you to carry a rope or gear on the outside for approaches or descents. Also, we heard universal complaints about the shoulder straps which seem prone to sliding off during any athletic movement. Nonetheless, we're forced by several glaring problems in the current version to steer shoppers towards today's well-rounded, Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia Linked Pack 16L.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The updated version of the Black Diamond Bullet features a streamlined exterior and casual styling. It is undeniably well-made and durable.
Stock from the factory, this bag weighs just over a pound, at 18 ounces. The only heavier packs in the review have larger volume capacities. You can remove the foam back-panel and hip belt to subtract an additional 2 oz, making its lightest possible configuration a healthy oz, about as heavy as the stock Patagonia Linked or Trango Ration.
Durability is one of the greatest qualities of the Bullet. This is the result of not only robust materials but a streamlined design unlikely to snag in chimneys or constrictions. It is composed of burly, 1260 denier, ballistics-grade nylon on the base and a 460d nylon body. The exterior zippers on the main body and accessory pocket are the largest and strongest used for any climbing daypack tested. Though we think it highly unlikely they are possible failure points, we subtracted a point for this.
The design of this bag gives it both strengths and weaknesses in climbing utility. The shape is simple and compact while the absence of external straps or daisy chains further streamlines its profile. It's hard to imagine a pack better designed for wearing or tagging inside a tight chimney, and the possibility of snagging a branch on the approach trail is practically nil. This arguably makes it the best bag for the actual act of climbing.
This streamlined profile can be enhanced for hauling by tucking the shoulder straps inside a flap. Unfortunately, this means unbuckling them and leaves the haul loop as the only option for attachment. It has decent hydration compatibility, a key clip, and an emergency whistle built into the sternum strap. It has one external and one internal zippered pocket. This pack "feels" the smallest of all the 16L models we tested, and no more so when packing it. This contender punishes those with poor packing skills.
In the same way that climbing utility is limited by the lack of external carry options, so is overall versatility. We like the Bullet's stylish exterior for everyday uses like going to class or toting your laptop to a coffee shop. It's also great for other activities like biking, caving, or skiing where you wouldn't want to carry anything on the outside.
Though it's not the lightest pack in the review, it does fit into a larger pack relatively well, especially when the foam pad has been removed. Yet its small overall capacity and inability to carry an ice axe limit its potential use as a mountaineering summit pack—perhaps the most popular secondary purpose of a rock climbing backpack.
The lack of external straps or even a daisy chain means that there's no way to attach extra gear or a rope to the outside. For many of our testers who enjoy climbing carry-over multi-pitch routes, this is one of the essential features of a climbing backpack—the ability to carry a rope, helmet, large cams, or other awkward objects on the outside during the approach and descent. Different packs, like the Patagonia Linked and Mountain Hardwear Hueco 20, were able to offer this option while still coming with reasonably smooth exteriors.
The back panel and hip belt are adequate on the Bullet. The problem is the shoulder straps, which many felt were too wide set. During climbing or any other athletic movement, these straps are prone to sliding off the shoulder. Even our broadly built, 6'3" tester complained. This problem can, of course, be remedied by keeping the chest strap fastened and tight. However, this solution isn't ideal because it can inhibit breathing or accidentally pin down a shoulder length runner while placing desperate protection. While none of these models are overly comfortable, the Petzl Bug earned top marks in this metric.
The Bullet's compact construction and durability make it ideal for actual rock climbing. Its small capacity probably limits its use for most climbers to shorter objectives, completed in 8 hours or less. We don't recommend it for carry-overs or marathon days.
At $60 MSRP, this is the second lowest-priced bag we tested. As long as shoppers understand and are comfortable with its limitations, it could be a potentially great deal.
Two crucial qualities undermined the Bullet's performance in this review: the lack of external carrying options and shoulders straps prone to sliding off. These deficiencies force us to suggest that anyone seeking a climbing daypack consider the other options first, unless these qualities are low on your list of priorities.
— Ian McEleney
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