This is an impressive, new backpack from Mountain Hardwear. The key feature is that the South Col 70 is first backpack to use OutDry technology making the material fully waterproof. We’ve covered OutDry before in gloves and boots. Basically, it’s not a membrane, but the method that the membrane is bonded to the material. The usual way to make a boot or glove waterproof is to make another slightly smaller glove or booty that is sewn inside the glove. OutDry allows it to be bonded directly onto the outer material. The main advantage is that that material doesn’t take on much weight of the water – it’s a brilliant solution. A year ago we were promised a backpack using OutDry and we’re not disappointed.
The South Col is a large pack and weighs in at 1.7kg – not particularly light, but reasonable for a 70-litre pack, plus it’s designed to last, and also to be used in the winter. The fabric is tough, particularly on the front pockets, one of which is designed to hold crampons – which it did admirably without any tearing.
I’ve used it for winter backpacking and also through the spring and found it superb. At 70 litres – this is an expedition pack (there’s an 105 litre pack too!) – there was extra space even with winter loads for three nights. It could be a bit big for some readers, however, at the OutDoor show in Germany this year we saw some smaller versions for a later release date.
Overall, it functions amazingly well. As I mentioned, the crampon pocket works well, and behind that there’s a large flat front pocket. The main opening is a great pull cord system that makes it very easy to open and close, even with gloves on. There’s no lower access in an effort to minimise waterproofing weak points, a minor disadvantage. Obviously, it’s not waterproof when there’s a big hole in the top, but they’ve done a good job trying to mitigate this. There’s a floating lid (removable) that is slightly wider than normal to completely cover.
The frame at the back is sturdy, but light, and distributes weight well across the lumber and onto the hip belt. The hip belt is also very easy to adjust – it’s just one strap that fastens on the side and only needs adjusting once. The side pockets could have been a bit deep and with some elastic – they are limited in their use. But that’s only minor niggle. I can’t wait to try out the smaller versions.