if you’re going to climb beyond roadside and weekend routes you’re going to lug large loads. the more serious the route the more serious the loads, and tents, stoves, sleeping  gear etc all add up no matter how light you go – and thats before you add the food. beyond 4 or 5 days things get heavy so it really matters what you carry heavy loads in, and tho there are lots of +/-70L packs about not all are made for moving heavy loads (in this case ‘heavy’ means >1/3 of body weight) and fewer still are also made to climb with.

new fabrics, new design, new function: the Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 exceeds at getting it right

serious load haulers have the suspension system and construction strength to cope, something that often ends up in a heavy pack that’s bulked out with a lot of features. often these packs themselves are a significant element of the weight, sometimes about 3kg on their own. Mountain Hardwear excel on crunching this equation, with a serious load-bearing pack that weighs what many packs of half the volume do. enter the South Col 70.

ive used South Col 70s for 3 winters now, about 120 days, with weights up to about 35kg (47% body weight) and they simply work. MHW was lost with their packs for a long time, but when the dyneema-faced range came along the clouds cleared and they have been at the top of the large-pack-field since, as their presence on Denali, Antarctica, in the Karakorum and amongst specialist users will attest.

the newest 2014 South Col 70 sends them into hyperspace.

less junk, more concept; the 2014 South Col 70 has evolved the concept of its function as well as its design

the South Col always hauled well because its simple geometry aligned with simple construction and a simple harness. simple but well thought out, a tried-and-tested grail that would be folly to mess with. its true the previous version had a few bugs in it – the large pocket that became nearly useless when stuffed full, the daisy chain to nowhere, the flap pocket that was annoying, the ice tool attachment system that was overkill – but all forgivable because they had the hauling ergonomics so right and it still weighed low on the scale.

for a pack that weighs 1700g it has a lot of functional details – what it doesn’t have is superficial junk that weakens it main function, ie lumping loads. the adaptable compression straps beat any others for versatility, making anything strappable to the outside. the dyneema panels make a very light pack a very strong pack. the glove friendly buckles make it truly expedition-grade.

an unbeatable act to follow and one that, really, no one did except themselves.

the 2014 South Col 70 is draw-droppingly good. that sounds like hyperbole, but its not. if you liked the earlier version you will love this one. whats impressive is they came up with a whole new design. its remarkable that they got it right once – to nail it again is profound. listening to serious climbers has resulted in a design that reflects new perspectives in climbing;  carrying more sophisticated gear to more sophisticated places for more sophisticated climbing is shown in the way that gear is carried.

increased function, reduced bulk; the 2014s belt is low profile yet ergonomic for hefty loads

the hipbelt is a major factor of the pre-2014 version; streamlined for alpine use but gnarly enough for the loads. the ergonomics of the cross-cinching belt are a high-point of belt design. that they bettered that, in a simpler way, is design gold. so much so that the mal-placed, silly gear loops are forgivable. after the earlier pocket problems the 2014 version got it right.

still present is the dyneema panel, blinged out with a dyneema crampon pouch. initially this seemed a superficial waste of weight and expensive textile, but under consideration – when some system for crampons needs to be present even if it is cord or straps – it’s the better option for the weight-to-function ratio. when not carrying crampons I find an espresso maker fits perfectly in it, something that cant be said of a web of bungy cord.

gone is the over-designed tool system, tho what they did right in one place they fumbled in another. the upper attachments are very good – waaaay better than the bungy/hook things of before (the only glove-unfriendly element on an otherwise friendly pack), replaced with some easy, simply clips. but, where the T-bars of the old version were is now a clip system that’s just not as positive. the way the picks are enclosed is very good, but without hammers on the tools the clips don’t really nail it. ive been trying to jury-rig the old T-bars to sort this.

new to this version are shallow wand pockets on either side. useful…I suppose. irritatingly they are too shallow for much other than the bottom of wands/poles/tripods to rest in, tho that reflect on the refined concept this pack adheres to; this is less the sort of pack you would clip a waterbottle onto and more the sort where youd be carrying pickets or wands.

  sharp gear  is designed to be carried both securely and safely, as well as streamlined against the pack body

but all this, really, is cosmetic. what they have truly exceeded with is getting the large pocket right (shazaam!!) and making an excellent frame-system even better. the earlier frame system was a stiffened sheet with a central aluminium stay, which worked really well, being rigid yet flexing laterally to allow for natural movement. It sat across the back of the pack, loading between the shoulders and waistbelt.

totally new to the 2014 incarnation, the frame-belt integrity is a huge development, as is the function for stripping it all out to shed grams. Mountain Hardwear have thought a lot about who will use this pack, what they will do with it and where it will be used

The new frame is both a new design and evolved concept, which at a functional level really makes this a different pack. Now the frame is an aluminium frame that sits directly into the base of the waist suspension, putting more load direct onto the pelvis and flexing across all axes. In this they have made a 30kg pack into a 40kg one – which is a big deal when load moving is the packs primary function.

even more incredibly this version weighs the same.

Like the Arcteryx Alpha FL 45 the South Col 70 has a waterproofed body, tho unlike the Alpha FL not a water proofed top – which is odd. With the lid drawn down and/or the snow throat cinched closed and down rain wont get in, but its not like the FL (or indeed Mountain Hardwear’s earlier Thruway 50) that sealed totally like a dry bag. to me this is a chance missed – having designed in a roll top would have made, simply, the best 70L available. maybe ever. maybe in 2015.