Shit that used to work: Black Diamond Zippo

As I mentioned back in the spring, I love a good used gear sale, and most of all, love unearthing a well used, even thrashed, classic backpack.  These provide both design time capsules and occasionally profound insight into how packs hold up over truly extended use.

That being said, I was beyond excited to find a exceedingly well worn Black Diamond Zippo 27 recently.  I bought one new back in the early 00s, and it had a hard life before being sacrificed for parts after a decade of service.  It hauled gear for a bunch of obscure first ascents in the Red, rode along for White Rim in a day at least twice, as well as Lockhart to Moab on a cross bike with 32c semislicks, and most especially a whole lot of slot canyons on the Colorado Plateau.  The Zippo was built to be a technical daypack, and boasts the still fairly unique feature set of being able to carry skis, two ice tools, and crampons, simultaneously and all without blocking access to the clamshell zip.  This worked well enough, so long as the pack was close to totally full, something I found out on a truly obscure feat, an XCD ski ascent and descent of Pioneer Peak and Mount Catherine (from the Maple Grove campground) in the Pahvants.   In March the 10,000 foot ridge between the summits was blasted bare, with a firey windchill that had me wearing every bit of clothing I had, at which point the floppy pack had my 190cm skis hitting me in the both the calves and back of head at every step.  On small packs diagonal carry is more reliable, something the industry has well settled upon.

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I cut off the ski carry straps and never really missed them.  The genius of the Zippo wasn’t in the strappage, but in the shaping of the bag.  Side panels contoured out, to lock into the lumbar and to sit well on the shoulders, made it work better than the average fancy bookbag.  Enough width to be a useable size, yet narrow enough to sit between the shoulders on an average size person.  Deep enough to carry bulky things (wetsuits, avy shovels), without being too big.  Soft corners, with the bottom corners tapering both up and in, were curved enough to not snag (and to look great), but not so much that they significantly impacted capacity.

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This, and the layer of packcloth inside the outer layer of Cordura, explain why this heavily used pack has no holes in the bottom.

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Contrast the shape of the Zippo with the still tapered but more squared off bases of the Osprey packs shown below.  More taper climbs and scrambles better, less holds a little more.

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For me the Zippo has the better balance here, along with the full clamshell zip providing more thorough and easier access, at the expense of more zipper weight and (potentially) less or no space for size pockets.

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The shoulder straps on the Zippo have long been an all-time favorite.  A single layer of 3/8″ foam laminated to packcloth on one side, and a soft stretch nylon on the inside.  This pack obviously saw a LOT of UV, enough to delam the packcloth on the user right strap, but the foam is still at 90% of new, remarkably.

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The most obvious damage to this Zippo is the loose thread in the high load areas.  This is actually the primary stitch line giving way, under cumulative load, presumably exacerbated by dirt and UV working in.  Worth noting here is that the pack is still perfectly useable, because the secondary stitching (on the grograin binding) works as as redundancy.  A good reason to double, or triple, stitch main seams on a pack.

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Other noteworthy failures are the total delam of the PU coating, and that one of the sides of one lower ski loop (bottom, above) ripped out of the 500D Cordura completely.  This endorses the use of a reinforcing patch of fabric inside such a bar tack, even when using heavier fabrics.  It also highlights the primary role internal abrasion has on making PU delam; the coating on the Cordura inside the internal pocket is in decent shape.

One very noteworthy non-failure is the #10 coil zip, with nickle sliders and a big ole flap, which still runs virtually good as new.  Quite impressive under the circumstances, and a seeming endorsement of flaps and big, non-waterproof zippers.

For now, I’ll cut off all the technical strapping as before, and do some stitching and gluing to get everything back as close to square one as possible.  The dimensions of the Zippo are really the star of the show, and something I’ll be emulating in the future.

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