Gear Review: Black Diamond Agent Avalung Pack

Bevan Waite | Post Tag for BackcountryBackcountry | Post Tag for Gear ReviewGear Review
Agent Pack F Image
Black Diamond’s Agent Avalung Pack is available at

Review Information:

Pack tested:  2012 Black Diamond Agent Avalung Pack

Color used:  Black

Colors Available:  Black, Cyan, Revolution Green, Sand/Purple

Cost of Pack:   $169.96 from

Agent pack colors

Tech Specs:

Average Stock Weight:   1.49 kg (3 lb 4 oz) estimated

Volume:   [S/M] 18L ( 1,098 cu in); [M/L] 20 L (1,222 cu in)

Materials:   800d Ballistic, 420d Velocity nylon

“The Black Diamond Agent AvaLung is streamlined enough to ride the lift up for sidecountry laps, yet has enough room for avy-tool essentials on longer day missions in the backcountry. In the event of an avalanche burial, the built-in AvaLung increases your chance of survival by pulling fresh air from the surrounding snowpack. Our diagonal ski carry cable is ultra-secure for hikes, and the innovative HiLo helmet holder gets your lid off when you’re really sweating for those turns.” (BD’s website description)

  • Large zippered front-panel opening
  • New diagonal ski-carry cable for fast and secure attachment
  • HiLo helmet holder, side stash pocket and fleece-lined goggle pocket
  • Dedicated avy-tool organizer pocket
  • Insulated hydration sleeve

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 9.07.53 PM

Sizing Chart:

Sizing Chart
Sizing Chart

Procedure & Use:

Agent review1

The Black Diamond Agent Avalung pack has been an integral part of my gear for just over a year.  The pack has been used for copious skiing adventures across hemispheres and continents.  It has been by my side (or should I say back) for virtually all conditions encountered in the southern PNW and has been used for backcountry excursions, cruddy groomer days, and everything in between.

Skiing with the Agent Avalung Pack: skip to 2:00 for some quality action.

In the following paragraphs I will attempt to explain all aspects of the pack that are important to it’s performance, comfort, durability, organization, and looks.

Agent review2
J – chillin’



This backpack is perfect for side country travel.  With a 20L capacity, it’s definitely not a hardcore backcountry pack, but it works for day trips and is perfect for side country.  It gets bulky if you stuff more than a few layers in it, however, it’s securely fastened, form-fitting design makes it quite easy and enjoyable to ski with.

Main compartment and side-stash pocket
Main compartment and side-stash pocket

Comfort / Wearability:

The pack in general is comfortable.  This being said, it’s not like strapping a pillow to your back.  There is minimal padding I think for a few good reasons… One being the fact that it’s extremely form-fitting and thus doesn’t need the bulk, weight, and possible uncomfortable padding designs implemented by many companies.  The pack isn’t supposed to be carried on your back, it’s supposed to BE your back — as if it’s a part of your body as a cohesive whole.  If you’re carrying a shovel, it might as well be a turtle shell, and you might as well be a Ninja Turtle.

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 12.27.27 PM
Portillo backcountry

As a standard for many ski packs, the Agent has two front straps to ensure the pack is secure in the case of a violent tumble.  The breast strap is like any other breast strap, except the buckle doubles as an emergency whistle in case your the guy (or gal) who gets stuck in a tree well… Or the lone maverick who stumbles into a tight spot.

Cuttin' up some corn in the Portillo backcountry
Cuttin’ up some corn in the Portillo backcountry

The waist belt is less of a waist belt and more of a tummy belt.  This is actually done on purpose for ease of movement while you ski; the lower belt is not meant to rest the load on your hips, but rather to secure the pack to your torso.  It might feel odd at first, once you take a tumble with it, you’ll understand.  It adds to the “turtle shell” feel of the whole system.


  • Diagonal ski carry system

Works VERY well and is quick and easy to use.  You can even have your helmet in the helmet sling/holder [what-not] and your skis in the diagonal ski carry at the same time.

Diagonal ski carry system is quick, easy, and reliable.
Diagonal ski carry system is quick, easy, and reliable.

The only complaint I have with this feature is the unusually long strap that dangles from the pack when the ski carry system is not in use.  I’ve gotten into the habit of tucking the strap into the main pocket so I don’t have a giant black, streamer-like strap flying behind me in my wake.  This makes the zipper sometimes prone to unzipping just a bit every once in a while, but I’ve never had it unzip all the way.  Sometimes I’ll use a cheap carabiner to lock the zippers together — it would be nice if that was a built in feature.  All things considered.. not a huge problem, and can be dealt with easily.

BigMtnSki VPD Review 2
In the Portillo backcountry with the Agent Avalung pack.
  • Helmet carry system

I know this is a common feature on many ski packs, but it’s my first pack that has had one and DAMN it’s great.  No more helmets awkwardly swinging back and forth as you trudge uphill, meaning it’s a very useful feature for those interested in side country and/or backcountry day trips.  Since the helmet holder sort of impedes the ability to access the main pocket, I usually zip the zippers to one side so it’s still possible to get into the main compartment for “that sunscreen that you forgot to apply in the morning.”

Helmet carry system
Helmet carry system
  • Avy tool organizer pocket

Also another common feature in ski packs these days, the front (green zippered) pocket allows the quickest possible access to the tools you’ll need in the event of an avalanche.  It works really well and is EASY and QUICK.  I’ve never had to dig someone out of a slide, (and I hope I never will) but I’ve used the organizer pocket in multiple full scale avalanche scenarios.  It truly is helpful and faster to have an organized, easily accessible place for these tools.

Avy tool organizer pocket
Avy tool organizer pocket


The Avalung is what makes this pack particularly special.  If you’re buried in an avalanche, (assuming you survived the raging turbulence of the slide to begin with) when you breath, the moisture and warmth of your breath slightly melts the snow in front of you creating a membrane of ice around your face.  Ice is not permeable by air, so unless you’re dug out fairly quickly… suffocation ensues.  The concept behind the Avalung is that it does two main things: 1) it diverts your exhaled air to somewhere else other than your face — in this case at the base of the pack.  2) When you inhale, it pulls air from a different location than where you exhale.  Here is a diagram if this sounds confusing.

How an Avalung works.
How an Avalung works.

All this is only relevant if you’ve had the time to insert the mouthpiece into your mouth before you get clobbered.


Look / Style:

I’m no fashion expert, and obviously looks are not the most important part of your gear, but personally, I like how it looks.  And when you look good, you feel good, AND you ski good.  Because this is very much a subjective category, I’ll leave it at that.


Related Articles

2 thoughts on “Gear Review: Black Diamond Agent Avalung Pack

Got an opinion? Let us know...