Gear Review: Black Diamond Sonar Daypack

Black Diamond Sonar
Black Diamond Sonar

Black Diamond Sonar
$140, 2 lbs. 1 oz. (S/M)
Sizes: S/M (24L/1,464 c.i.), M/L (26L/1,587 c.i.)

What causes your body to get tired and achy on a dayhike? Well, aside from the obvious factors—how far you walk, the terrain’s ruggedness, and your pack’s weight (we’ll leave your physical condition aside for now)—don’t overlook the importance of how your pack fits and behaves on your back. When we walk, our bodies move a lot, arms, hips, and torso included. On several dayhikes, including a climb up Mt. St. Helens (10 miles, 4,500 feet), starting out with about 20 pounds (including food, water, and clothes for my family), and a 28-mile, 8,000-vertical-foot loop through Idaho’s White Clouds Mountains in just over 10 hours, I found the Sonar’s fit and suspension noticeably reduced the level of fatigue and soreness I felt at the end of each day.

Why? The Sonar’s reACTIV suspension (the shoulder straps and hipbelt) move independently of the pack bag, keeping the pack steady rather than it shifting around constantly with the natural motion of my hips and torso. Preventing the weight on your back from bouncing around has a cumulatively big impact over the course of a dayhike, whether it’s eight miles or 28 (the latter entailing about 56,000 steps). The wide, lightly padded hipbelt carried even 20 pounds well, and the perforated mesh on the belt, shoulder straps, and back pad helped keep me cooler.

Black Diamond Sonar
Black Diamond Sonar

The Sonar’s 24-26 liters/1,464-1,587 cubic inches provide beaucoup space: I carried food, water, and clothing for myself and three family members on St. Helens; and I didn’t even fill the pack in the White Clouds, where I needed food for a big day. The deep, clamshell zipper provides instant access to just about the entire main compartment; I could grab something from near the bottom without unloading most of the pack. The front stuff-it pocket fits a jacket and the one hipbelt pocket fits two or three bars or a GPS unit. The fleece-lined top pocket held my iPhone and sunglasses, and the other top pocket accommodates small items like hat, gloves, keys. There are stretchy side pockets large enough for a liter bottle, a pocket for a rain cover (not included), and a clip for a bike light, plus side compression to squish down a partial load, also helping to stabilize the pack.

Here’s my one nitpick: I wish the belt (like many pack belts) wasn’t made to fit 44-inch waists; the straps hang nearly to my knees. But overall, this is an excellent daypack for family or long dayhikes.

See more reviews of daypacks and other hiking gear that I like.

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.

—Michael Lanza


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