Haul bags were designed to be hauled up big walls, not carried around as packs. The fact that they offer no support and no breathability makes carrying them a Sisyphean chore. Further, once you’re at the crag, digging out gear that’s at the bottom of the haul bag requires simply turning the bag upside down and dumping all of your stuff into the dirt.
Yet the number of climbers you see using midsize haul bags as their primary cragging pack—especially at trad crags like Indian Creek—boggles the mind and begs the question: Why, why, WHY!?
From what I gather, the best advantage of using a haul bag as a pack is that it stands upright like an open barrel, making it easy to toss cams and biners in an out of its opening. This comes in handy at single-pitch crags, where you just want to dump your gear into your pack and move it 50 feet down the cliff line.
What if you could add in a comfortable carry and a few other bells and whistles to a haul-bag design and make the ultimate crag pack? Enter the Creek 35:
Black Diamond Creek 35
The Creek 35 is a burly, haul bag style pack that has quickly become my favorite tool for schlepping gear to and from the crag. The designers at Black Diamond eliminated my two major complaints about other haul-bag-style, top-loading packs by adding a full-length side zipper that provides access to the main compartment—no more having to dump gear into the dirt.
The Creek 35 really shines with its comfortable carry. A padded back panel, comfy shoulder straps and workhorse hipbelt helped carry all of my gear without any pressure points. I never got jabbed between the shoulder blades by the lobes of a protruding #4 Camalot. I’ve worn the Creek 35 on approaches up to 45 minutes in Indian Creek and Maple Canyon and had zero hot spots. The weight stayed close to my back and I never felt tippy or off-balance, even on sketchy loose talus. The small/medium I tested fit my 5’4” frame well, and my gear didn’t hit me in the back of the head or sag onto my butt.
Of course, the Creek 35 shines thanks to its haul-bag inspired bottom that allows it to stand upright while loading. I was pretty doubtful that the bag would stay upright unless it was on a paved surface, like a parking lot. I tested this at the crag and on the trail, often purposefully finding a rocky or sloping surface to situate the pack.
Let’s just say, it’s no Weeble. I’m pleased to report that the Creek 35 stands tall, even with a poorly balanced load. This unassuming but functional feature made loading and unloading gear super easy. Why? Because I had two free hands to stuff gear, instead of performing the usual juggling-act of holding the pack upright and open with one hand, while stuffing with the other.
The full-length side zipper was clutch for getting gear in and out, especially awkward items that won’t drop through the top easily, like a large rack of cams or a rope. That said, I had to be a little careful to pack half of my gear first before zipping the pack fully back up; then, I would pack the remaining items by stuffing them into the top opening. This system was necessary for avoiding situations where I was wrangling the side zip like it was my opponent in an ultimate fighter match. I frequently used the two beefy haul loops (in blue) on the top of the pack to shake and settle the load to the bottom, often finagling a few extra inches of space for last minute additions.
Is the Creek 35 Just Too Small?
The Creek 35 is the middle sibling of the BD “Creek” lineup, which also includes a cavernous Creek 50 and an adorable, on-route sized Creek 20. Pretty much all of my gripes about the Creek 35 involved scenarios where my pack had too much gear.
For sport-climbing scenarios, the 35-liter pack was barely adequate for a day’s essentials. I could manage to fit a harness, two pairs of shoes, a few liters of water, belay gear, a dozen draws and a slender rope in a ropebag. But these items completely filled the main compartment, leaving just enough space to stuff a puffy on top.
When I took the Creek 35 to it’s namesake crag, Indian Creek, things got a lot tighter. My quad rack of cams took up most of the main compartment, leaving barely enough room for water, shoes and a harness. My extra layers completely maxed out the pack, and my helmet had to dangle from the outside (I know, total gumby look!).
Even though my partner generously offered to carry the rope, I wouldn’t have been able to anyway. With a fully stuffed pack, the top strap that’s designed to harness a coiled rope, was actually too short to be useful.
On a similar note, the integrated rainfly/helmet holder was also too short when the Creek 35 was maxed out with gear. I was originally super excited about this feature because I hate clipping anything to the outside of my pack, especially my foam helmet, which can easily get dinged up. Unfortunately, this holder is useless if the Creek 35 is packed to the max, or if there is rope slung over the top. The straps and blue fabric are just too short to reach over an extra-large load.
The Creek 35 goes beyond a being fancy haul bag with its inclusion of multiple pockets that help arrange gear. A large zippered front pouch provided storage for my “clean” stuff (snacks, spork, layers) that I prefer to keep separate from my filthy climbing gear. Additionally, two zippered internal pockets securely wrangled all my little things: keys, phone, chapstick, and belay glasses, so I didn’t have to go digging around for them.
At $170 this pack is on the upper end of what it will cost for you to get your stuff to and fro for a day of climbing. But, it’s made from a burly waterproof material that has held up well to all sorts of cragside abuse. If you’re a sport climber looking for an all-around workhorse that won’t blow-out the minute you nick it on some sharp limestone, then I highly recommend going for the Creek 35. But if you’re a desert rat with a big rack, I’d recommend upsizing to the Creek 50.