Gear Review: Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 OutDry Climbing Pack

Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 OutDry
Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 OutDry

Climbing Pack
Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 OutDry
$300, 70L/4,270 c.i., 3 lbs. 13 oz. (S/M)
Sizes: S/M & M/L (75L/4,575 c.i.)

On a four-day, April ascent of the Mountaineers Route on California’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney with my 15-year-old son, I carried this pack with over 40 pounds inside for the two-day hike to our 12,000-foot high camp, and then stripped it down to carry much less weight on our nine-hour summit day. I call it the Transformer of climbing packs. Its minimalist weight, modularity, and feature set make it, in many ways, ideal for multi-day, technical climbs. There are also compromises with a pack this light, which some climbers will find acceptable, others maybe not.

South Col 70 OutDry harness
South Col 70 OutDry harness

I also used this pack on days of rock climbing at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park, carrying over 40 pounds inside, including a rope, climbing rack, water and food. The featherweight framesheet and wire perimeter stay, plus the lightly padded hipbelt have the support for carrying up to about 40 pounds comfortably. Plus, those components and the lid pocket are removable, letting you strip it down for a summit push. (The pack comes with a webbing belt to substitute for the hipbelt.)

South Col 70 OutDry hipbelt
South Col 70 OutDry hipbelt

The OutDry membrane makes the main compartment completely waterproof; no moisture got inside, despite being repeatedly dropped in wet snow. But because having a port for a hose would compromise its waterproofness, there’s no port or bladder sleeve inside. (I used water bottles and just drank when we stopped.) At 70 liters/4,270 cubic inches, it had adequate capacity for our four-day spring mountaineering trip, even for me to carry a bigger share of Nate’s and my gear and food. The spacious, zippered front pocket fits a jacket as well as gloves and snacks, and the lid pocket has a zippered internal pocket for valuables.

South Col 70 OutDry front
South Col 70 OutDry front

The extra-long, dual compression straps on each side wrap around to mate with one another, creating another option for radically shrinking the pack or attaching oversized gear like snowshoes. Ditto with the two shorter straps that secure the shafts of ice tools: Those buckles wrap over the top of the external crampon pocket to mate on the opposite side, helping cinch that pocket closed. Besides the tool attachments with sleeves to conceal sharp picks, there are side pockets for pickets and wands and loops for carrying skis. X-Ply Ripstop fabric in the crampon pocket and front panel—protecting the front pocket and main compartment—can withstand the sharpest crampon points, and the 400-denier HD nylon fabric in the body and 840-denier HT ballistic nylon bottom are also both bombproof.

Me below Mount Whitney.
Me below Mount Whitney.

The South Col 70 exhibits both the strengths and the tradeoffs that often accompany lighter packs: Most conspicuously, I think the hipbelt and the shoulder straps lack the support and padding for carrying loads over 40 pounds. When I had that much weight inside, the hipbelt—which doesn’t have any plastic reinforcements inside that you’ll find in heavier packs designed to carry more weight—tended to sag under the load, and I couldn’t find a comfortable position for it. With less than 40 pounds, it carried comfortably.

For many climbers, that’s a reasonable tradeoff for the versatility and very functional feature set of the Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 OutDry climbing pack.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 OutDry climbing pack at

See my review of all the gear I used climbing Mount Whitney, all of my reviews of backpacks and backpacking gear, and all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

See also my stories:

The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun
Buying Gear? Read This First
5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear
Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See a menu of all of my gear reviews.

—Michael Lanza

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