Mountain Hardwear South Col™ 70

 In gear review

I was planning to wait one more year but my Millet Expedition 65 backpack finished to break apart on the East ridge of Asahidake (Asahidake-tōryō (旭岳東稜) in the south of the Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳) range, Japan). The frame had completely pierced the bag and one of the shoulder strap is also tearing down. So I decided to change my backpack before it fell apart in the middle of the mountain in winter. I looked for a lot of backpack last February and decided to go for the Mountain Hardwear South Col™ 70. Here is my review of this backpack.

Overview

Lightweight , roomy and versatile (it can be downsized to a smaller backpack) expedition and mountaineering backpack.
South Col™ 70

Fabrics

  • Body : 100D HT Ripstop Dobby Nylon
  • Accent : HardWear™ X-Ply Ripstop
  • Bottom : 840D HT Ballistic Nylon

Manufacturer's data

  • Flexible design concept allows suspension and bag components to be removed to significantly reduce weight when not needed
  • Versatile Alpine suspension provides outstanding stability, comfort and support
  • Highly functional Alpine Compression Strap System with glove-friendly buckles secures overloads, effectively shrinks pack to minimal volume, and tucks away inside front panel pocket when not needed
  • Skirt extension adds 500 cu. in. / 8L of carrying capacity when needed
  • FlapTop design allows pack to be used without the top lid with no compromise in compression or weather-protection
  • Durable Dyneema front panel offers lash points for all kinds of mountaineering gear
  • Removable top pocket has webbing loops on top and rope strap underneath
  • Ski-friendly feature set including ski loops and shovel space in front pocket
  • Can be upgraded to optional BMG low-profile FitLock hipbelt for extra support with very heavy loads
  • Capacity (M size): 70L
  • Weight (M size): 1.7 kg

Advantages/Drawbacks

  • One of the rare expedition and alpine oriented back pack on the market
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable and good suspension
  • The top skirt extension is a bit too short (8L only, especially compared with the Millet Expedition bag which is 20L)
  • Could be more minimalist
  • Lack pocket on the side to secure walking poles, probes and shovel handle at the bottom
  • I doubt there are a lot of back country skiers using 70 liters backpack so I’m skeptical about the need for ski binding on the side

Choice

As I was writing above, I was looking for a replacement of my Millet backpack. I didn’t want a hiking backpack with hundreds of pockets everywhere that I never use, a sleeping bag compartment which is always too large or too small. I wanted a similar backpack, meaning oriented expedition and alpine climbing. A minimalist, simple and easy to use pack with a unique and big storage space allowing to optimize the volume usage and not wasting time to look in which pocket I store my gear. For these reasons and despite their very good cost/performance ratings and comfort, backpack like the Osprey Aether 70 or Gregory Baltoro were out of the picture. It was also out of question to spend 100$ to 200$ more than all other packs and still have to pay extra to get the ice axe loops options on Arcteryx’s Altra 65 even if ranks as the number one pack in some reviews. Once I eliminated all the trekking oriented packs for the above reasons, there was not much choices left. The only really expeditions and alpine climbing oriented packs I found on the market where Millet’s pack and Mountain Hardwear’s South Col™ 70. Despite I really like the simplicity of Millet’s pack, as it didn’t last more than 3 years I decided to go for the Mountain Hardwear’s backpack.

Check the very good comparison and review of 70 liters backpacks made by Outdoor Gearlab.

Opinion

Used while alpine climbing during spring, carrying an expedition tent, winter camping and climbing gears, beacon+probe+shovel, etc… I found the bag slightly too small (compared to the Millet expedition 65 which I was used to). Because of the lack of mesh pockets on the sides, the probe, shovel handle and tent poles have to be stored inside the bag which reduces the amount of space available inside. On top of that, the bag skirt extension is too small to my opinion. Unlike the Millet bag it is not very possible to carry more than the size of the bag itself. Packed with all winter gears I was not able to fully close the skirt extension of the South Col™ 70 ; a problem that does not exists with the Millet backpack. In summer when the tent and gears are smaller this problem disappears.

On the other side South Col™ 70 has a gear rack at the back allowing you to attach gears at the back or on top of the backpack (What the Millet pack can’t do). But I don’t like it. Except for poles I don’t like putting gear outside of the bag because the more stuff you have hanging outside the bag the more there’s a risk that gears cling into something and it moves even more your body center to the back. If you are used of attaching everything outside your pack that you should have enough place. But the gear rack is still handy for me to attach snowshoes or other gears when on the train or bus.

But It’s when I have the South Col™ 70 on my back that I really like it. It’s much more comfortable than the Millet pack and that might be what’s the most important.

In the end the South Col™ 70 is a good alpine expedition pack. It’s quite comfortable to carry, lightweight for this category of packs, and has enough accessories (I’ll have preferred even less). But it’s a pity because with some few adjustments it could be an extremely good expedition backpack. However, if you are looking for a trekking backpack, or have the money, then Osprey Aether 70 or Altra 65 d’Arcteryx packs will certainly be more appropriate.

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