Just back from two fantastic trips to South America; Ojos del Salado the highest volcano in the World and Aconcagua the second highest of the seven summits and the highest peak in South America where I’ve been testing out Mountain Hardware’s South Col Rucksack.
The South Col is a 70 litre pack, which does sound big but my worry before departure was, would it cope with the kit list and the load carrying on Aconcagua! Also how would it measure up against my old faithful pack that I’ve used on all my expeditions since my first visit to Aconcagua 10 years ago?
Me and my old pack have had some adventures, ok so it was heavy, really heavy, especially if it rained, but it was comfy, it never let me down, it was bomb proof, everything had its own wee place and it always fitted everything I needed in. The odds were stacked against loving the South Col, but I have to admit, it didn’t take long before I was convinced the change was for the better!
The first plus point or tick to the South Col was its weight, at 1.66kg it was significantly lighter than what I was used to, and to put that into some perspective for you the South Col with my sleeping bag inside felt roughly about the same weight as the old pack. The South Col is made with the OutDry technology making the material fully waterproof and although it didn’t rain on the expedition this will certainly be a plus point in the UK for me to keep the pack from absorbing all the rain. It was also quite reassuring when we were doing the river crossing as my sleeping bag sits right at the bottom of my pack and a wee stumble or a sit down in the river would usually cause problems.
Despite its lightweight the South Col is still a comfy pack, it seems to have just the right amount of padding in the right places and still feels like a sturdy pack. I carry all the weight of my pack round my waist and on my hips, in the past I’ve found it difficult to find packs, including women specific packs to fit snug enough around my waist as I’m quite wee. To my delight the South Col fitted snugly, it cinched in tight and still had room to go some more. I loved the buckle being off to the side so it didn’t rub or catch, and it just feels flatter or smoother, it’s just one strap and it seems to be a lot easier to adjust, maybe it’s because the strap goes the opposite way from usual, (a reverse pull) I’m not sure, but I liked it! The pack then seemed to flow and moved with my hips which was great.
The only problem with tightening the pack so high on my waist was that the pack was then sat slightly high in the back for me, and it doesn’t have and adjustable back system, I doubt most people would need this, and regardless it was tight enough in that it didn’t wobble.
The pack itself isn’t too wide so it would be good for trips where you were climbing and having to carry larger loads. That said it I still managed to fit my big sleeping bag across the bottom of the pack which always helps with packing, and the pack didn’t tower above my head like other narrow packs which I like. The South Col has a good sized main compartment, with a very easy to operate draw cord system which was great with big mitts on. A floating lid sits over the top of the pack, I found this really helpful on the way down when I needed to gain extra space to bring down the rubbish bags etc, apparently mine was the only bag that had this feature in the group, or maybe that was a ploy to make me carry the rubbish. The floating lid has a good sized top pocket that also has a zipped security pocket inside, with key fob. The floating lid is completely removable if you wanted to shed some weight on summit night and the pack shuts tight without it. I used the pack as my day pack on the way out so it may remove the need to take 2 packs.
A large zipped pocket on the front of the pack adequately stored the group first aid kit, sat phone and radio and a couple of other bits and bobs which was good as it was quick and easy to access at all times even when the pack was fully loaded up, and everything strapped in. I found this much more useful than side pockets as on the expeditions I carry my tent and mats on the side straps which usually means I lose the side pockets. This pack does have two small pockets at the side with very strong Velcro on them, they wouldn’t fit much in them but anything in them would be very secure.
Then there is a pocket right at the very front, the material is nice and tough and worked very well for my crampons, and after a month had no rips from shoving the crampons in and out. The ice axes sit to either side of the front pocket with the pics sliding in behind the crampon pouch and then securely clipping in at the adze and the shaft this worked well and was easy for the person behind to get the axes out if needed!
A wee wipe clean and the packs looking good and ready for its next adventure.
So I can safely say I’m convinced, the South Col packed everything I needed for the Aconcagua trip, and over and above the usual kit list I carried, a tent, the rubbish, group first aid kit and sat phone and the pack coped fine with that too. This weighed in somewhere between 12 -16 kilos and I found the pack comfortable to carry at that weight. I guess for me the main point is that it fitted at the waist which is what usually causes me the biggest headache in the search for a rucksack of any size! I’m looking forward to testing the rucksack in the UK over the next few months on some wild camps so I will let you know how it goes.
The one-pack solution for mountaineering expeditions on the world’s highest peaks. The flexible design and highly evolved compression system lets you add and remove components as well as shrink and expand the pack as needed. OutDry construction bonds a durable waterproof membrane to the main compartment so that your gear stays safe and dry in even the wettest conditions.
Carrie Gibson has traveled on many of our expeditions including Everest North Ridge, Denali, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Island Peak & Ama Dablam. Carrie is also the first British woman to summit Himlung Himal.