Diamond Brand Belay Bag Review: Be Ready for Adventure No Matter Where You Go
The Belay Bag Takes on the Skyline Trail
The sound of what must have been at least 10 bull frogs thrummed out from a small pond at the trailhead of the Skyline Trail — our first hike in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, Canada. I caught sight of one as it jumped away from my advancing figure.
Hopefully we don’t see anything much bigger than that on our hike, I thought, as we passed by a sign warning of coyote, bear and moose on the trail ahead. A moose — that would be cool, though still intimidating. A coyote or bear — I’ll pass on those.
We’d pulled into the mostly empty parking lot around 9:00 a.m. and were now heading downhill along a dirt trail, hemmed in by boreal forest on either side. On my back was my new Diamond Brand Belay Bag, ready to take on the action after sitting in the backseat of the car for the past three days. Sure, it had probably enjoyed the scenery on the 2,100 km drive between Ontario and here, but I could tell it was ready to stretch its legs and get hiking.
Inspired by a Diamond Brand Gear design from the 1980’s, the Belay Bag is definitely what I would call “outdoor chic.” It comes in an array of woodsy colors, from cornflower and moss to marigold and navy, and has a minimalist front featuring their understated logo and a daisy chain.
But it doesn’t sacrifice functionality for style — the Belay Bag is as practical as it is trendy. Usually durability is something that takes years of use to determine, but one of the first things I noticed about the Belay Bag upon receiving it was how well-made it is. This is a backpack that’s made to last.
All the hardware on it is metal, for one, the fabric hardy and water resistant and the stitching sturdy and reliable. I had no concerns about whether I could load it up with gear and take it out on some day hikes on my eastern Canada road trip.
Diamond Brand markets the bag as an exploration pack, perfect for everything from urban adventures to outdoor excursions. So how did it hold up on the trail?
Part of what I look for in a good hiking pack is how much it can hold. The Belay Bag suited my tendency to be overprepared — that is, it had tons of room for all the stuff I brought along, but probably wouldn’t need.
It has a spacious main compartment containing a laptop sleeve and a small internal pocket, as well as two front pockets that are large enough to stow 32 oz growlers in. In my case, I used these pockets for my Swell bottle and a canister of bear spray.
I did miss having exterior pockets which would have made my water bottle and bear spray more accessible, but keeping your water out of the sun does have its benefits. And, as I mentioned, I was overprepared, so we probably weren’t going to be in dire need of that bear spray at any point either.
I generally prefer my packs to have more compartments since I tend to carry a lot of small pieces of gear with me — a compass, emergency blanket, whistle, flashlight, phone, first aid kit and snacks to name a few. These wouldn’t all fit in the small interior pocket and so ended up just getting piled at the bottom of the bag, which meant I had to do a bit of digging around to find what I was looking for.
That’s a minor complaint, however, and more particular to the type of activity I was doing. The main compartment is the perfect size for packing a picnic lunch, some extra layers of clothing and even a full-size camera. It really depends what you are planning to use it for and still did the trick for my half-day hike.
The day had started out cool and overcast as we made our way down the trail and out to the coast, but once we emerged from the woods at the top of the boardwalk the sky had begun to clear. Before us was the endless expanse of ocean, the steps of the boardwalk descending the hillside that eventually dropped off in a cliff.
Down below to our left we could see the ribbon of road that was the Cabot Trail running along the coast, campers and motorcycles and cars traveling along it, heading out on adventures of their own. We took our time descending the boardwalk so we could take in the view at every lookout platform. The Belay Bag had made it to one of the quintessentially Canadian views.
Unfortunately, the pinnacle of the hike was actually the nadir of the landscape, which meant it was an uphill climb on the way back. The rising temperature and incline of the trail meant I put the Belay Bag’s claim that its padded and fitted back “allows maximum ventilation and protection” to the test — although my back did get sweaty, it wasn’t uncomfortable or even overly noticeable.
By the end of the hike, however, my upper back was a little sore, so I would recommend purchasing the sternum strap and hip belt attachments if you are planning on doing any longer hikes with your Belay Bag.
We were sweaty and hungry when we got back to the now full parking lot and were looking forward to returning to camp to relax for the rest of the day. The Skyline Trail was the perfect introduction to the Highlands, which we would be exploring more as we continued along the Cabot Trail in the coming days.
For now, though, I threw the Belay Bag in the backseat of the car, where it would lay in wait for the next adventure.