Black Diamond Element 60/Elixir 60
$220, 60L/3,661 c.i., 3 lbs. 6 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s medium and large (62L/3,783 c.i.), women’s small (58L/3,539 c.i.) and medium (60L/3,661 c.i.)
On a June backpacking trip with my 13-year-old son to Alice Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, I found myself clambering over four-foot-tall, slick, densely consolidated drifts of snow not yet melted out on the trail, fording a fast, frigid, and knee-deep creek, and tiptoeing over logs across the creek. In circumstances that challenge your balance, it’s nice to have a pack that feels like an extension of your body, rather than tugging you in a direction you don’t want to go. The impressively lightweight Element 60 did that, plus it has the capacity for longer trips and smart design details.
Besides that hike with my son, I also carried the Element 60 on a three-day hike with my 11-year-old daughter to Hell Roaring Lake and Imogene Lake in the Sawtooths in early August. The Element 60 (and women’s Elixir 60) is the lightest pack of this size that I’ve reviewed at The Big Outside that carries at least 35 pounds comfortably. (The two that come closest are the Gregory Savant 58/Sage 55 and the Osprey Atmos 65. I’ve reviewed lighter packs, but none I’d recommend for carrying more than 30 pounds.) The reason is BD’s reACTIV suspension with SwingArm shoulder straps and a curved, semi-rigid hipbelt that pivots slightly, plus an aluminum perimeter rod and plastic framesheet that flex, all of which allow the pack to move with your torso. The frame is recessed behind your head so that you’re not whacking your skull against the pack to look up, and the back panel curves slightly away from your spine, permitting a bit of airflow to keep you cooler.
Despite carrying most of our gear and food, I did not even fill this top-loader on two- and three-day hikes with my kids; it has the capacity for several days if you travel fairly light. I really like the details, especially the enormous, zippered front pocket, which you could stuff an entire, lightweight, two-person tent inside (not where I’d normally carry a tent, but convenient in the rain when you want to pull the tent out of your pack first upon reaching a campsite). One-hand drawcord pulls cinch the main compartment and close up the spacious side pockets so that they don’t bulge out in situations where you want a very streamlined pack; they also just help secure a water bottle in a side pocket. The lid has three zippered compartments, and the main pocket has plenty of space and sports an extended zipper for easy access. There are side compression straps, ice-axe straps, and exterior straps on the bottom for a pad or tent. The combination of 210-denier ripstop nylon with a water-resistant finish and 420-denier nylon and lack of mesh on the exterior make the pack tougher than some in this category.
My only caveat: This isn’t a pack for small guys—my 18-inch torso is near the bottom end of the fit range for the men’s medium. But in a universe of backpacks of all sizes, weights, and designs, the Element 60 nails a unique niche for a lightweight pack that can handle a moderately big load: It’s a good, all-around sack for backpackers who don’t haul huge loads but also aren’t ultra-lighters. There’s also a 45-liter version of the Element that’s $200 and 3 lbs. 2 oz. (medium).
See my reviews of all other backpacks I like, including the similarly sized Osprey Exos 58, The North Face Banchee 65, the Arc’teryx Altra 65, the Gregory Contour 70L/Cairn 68L and Gregory Savant 58/Sage 55, and the Osprey Atmos 65.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.