Brand: Mountain Hardwear
Model: South Col 70 OutDry
Why we like it Most big packs with this much weather protection are glorified drybags with shoulder straps, but the South Col proved ideal for mountaineers: comfortable and stable mile after mile with loads up to 60 pounds.
Weatherproofing An Outdry waterproof membrane thwarts any moisture short of submersion (seams aren’t taped). And the 400-denier nylon packbag is super- tough. Bonus: The huge, top-loading packbag has an 11-inch storm collar (enabling the South Col to fit two small bear canisters).
Organization An armadillo-tough front pocket has a big, arch-shaped zipper and swallows water bottles, layers, or a week’s worth of freeze-dried food.
Comfort Padding is firm but thick on the shoulder straps, curved hipbelt, and molded backpanel. The combo of corrugated plastic framesheet and perimeter stay that extends deep into the stiffened hipbelt supports heavy loads. The framesheet spoons to the curve of your back for even weight distribution, but it doesn’t breathe well: things turned sweaty on an 85°F climb of Oregon’s Mt. Jefferson. Freedom of motion proved excellent: The narrow packbag didn’t interfere with arm swing or high-stepping on the 1,500-foot summit ridge scramble. You can remove the framesheet to shave 7 ounces, but testers didn’t feel the tradeoff was worth the decreased comfort.
Nitpick Climbers loved the gear slings on the hipbelt, but backpackers missed having bottle-size side pockets or a hydration sleeve.
$300; 3 lbs. 15 oz.; 70 liters; 1 size; mountainhardwear.com