Review: Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32 Ski Touring Pack

Ski Touring Pack
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32
$200, 30L/1,831 c.i., 2 lbs. 9 oz./1.2 kg (S/M)
Sizes: S/M and M/L (32L/1,953 c.i.)

When ski touring or riding in the backcountry, besides our skis or board, our pack becomes the piece of gear we interact with the most—and we place competing demands on a ski touring pack: We want it light and comfortable for the up and the down but to also have easy, quick access and critical organization and features. On many days of backcountry ski touring, I found the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32balances those demands well and excels for backcountry and side country tours that involve more minimalist capacity needs.

For starters, a convenient zippered back panel provides the only access to the main compartment: Lay the pack in the snow, unzip the back panel, and you have virtually the entire contents immediately visible—no digging around, no pulling items out to find something buried, no items inadvertently falling out, no buckles or multiple steps involved in opening or closing it up. That’s an important design benefit that saves you time when you want to maximize your downhill runs or move quickly through chancy terrain. Side fabric gussets help keep snow out.

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The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32 ski touring pack.
The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32 ski touring pack.

The flip side of that back panel access is that the design doesn’t really allow for building a sturdy frame into the pack for better transfer of heavier loads; instead, the Dawn Patrol 32 relies entirely on a flexible sheet with a cross stay embedded in the back panel for support. The panel has decent padding to keep contents from poking into your back and the form-fitting suspension has a wide, lightly padded hipbelt and ergonomically curved shoulder straps.

The pack carries up to about 30 pounds/13.6 kilos comfortably (depending on the user) but lacks the support for heavier loads. That’s noticeable, for instance, if you try to carry fat, heavier skis loaded onto the pack for a boot pack in the backcountry or resort side country or while simply hiking to reach the snow on a spring tour. The two unisex sizes may not fit very small or large men or women; the S/M fit my 18-inch torso well and remained comfortable as long as I didn’t overload it.

With 30 liters/1,831 cubic inches of capacity (in the S/M, which I tested; the M/L measures 32 liters/1,953 cubic inches), I found the pack has adequate space for backcountry tours where I don’t need much extra layers, water, or food, like a shorter day in relatively moderate temps or in spring. But I could not bring along everything I normally stuff into my other, larger touring pack for an all-day outing in the backcountry. I’d often find myself foregoing my usual, very fat, just-in-case down jacket for a lighter extra puffy and eating only bars, but I could still cram spare gloves inside.

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The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32 pack with the back panel open.
The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32 pack with the back panel open.

Plus, while packs usually differ in capacity for different sizes in the same model, it’s worth noting that two liters less capacity in the S/M becomes particularly significant in an already smallish ski touring pack—a fact easy enough to visualize when you think of it as representing the equivalent of two liters of water.

But that capacity also, of course, helps explain why the Dawn Patrol 32 weighs just two pounds, nine ounces/1.2 kilos.

The Dawn Patrol’s organization was clearly designed by and for people who tour in the backcountry. The front snow-safety gear pocket—with a lighter-colored zipper pull to immediately distinguish it from other zippers on the pack’s top side (and all the zipper pulls are long, for grabbing with gloves)—fits my saw and 280-centimeter probe along with either a BD Deploy Shovel or a dissembled BD Transfer Shovel.

Two helmet carry options allow placing a helmet on top of the pack or on its front side—to accommodate simultaneously carrying either skis mounted A-frame or skis or a board mounted to the pack’s front side; the pack handles either setup, although, as mentioned above, heavier skis can overwhelm the pack and compromise comfort.

I like many of the small details that are noticeable in the field, like the oversized, insulated shoulder pocket for a hydration tube, soft flask, or even a radio. Instead of a typical plastic belt buckle that’s opened by squeezing its sides—not always easy while wearing large gloves or mittens—the durable metal belt buckle simply slots one side through the other, fully secure and easily adjustable. Like many technical packs, the Dawn Patrol sports dual attachments for ice tools.

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The two zippered hipbelt pockets are huge: I fit nine Clif-sized bars into one of them; and yet, they are positioned largely behind your hipbones, where they don’t get in the way of swinging arms when skinning uphill. A very spacious, fleece-lined, zippered top pocket has space for goggles and much more. A zippered internal pocket has a key clip and space for smaller items. When filled, the top and internal pockets naturally compromise the main compartment’s space—which makes the large hipbelt pockets that much more valuable.

Very importantly for a ski touring pack, the Dawn Patrol is built for hard use, with 100 percent post-consumer recycled 840-denier polyester and 210-denier ripstop nylon body fabric that readily sheds snow.

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The Verdict

Smartly designed with snow-specific features and comfortable with moderate loads, while tipping the scales barely north of two pounds, the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32 excels for side country skiing and riding and relatively lighter or shorter days touring in the backcountry.


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See all reviews of ski touring packs and all reviews of outdoor apparel that I like at The Big Outside, including “The 12 Best Down Jackets,” “How You Can Tell How Warm a Down Jacket Is,” “The Best Gloves for Winter,” “The Best Mittens for Winter,” “The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry,” and my expert tips in “How to Dress in Layers for Winter in the Backcountry” and “12 Pro Tips for Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter.”

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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