Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: CamelBak HAWG


With thanks to CamelBak and as first seen on BreachBang&Clear.

I caught up with the reps from CamelBak at the SSAA SHOT expo, and they were kind enough to send me one the re-released Mil-Tac H.A.W.G. packs, to demo before they hit the shelves.

I am always on the lookout for a new pack, and as ever, want to set myself up with something that does double duty. Here's a link to the now discontinued pack, which if you can find it, it seems to be well though of in the pack communities.

I was really pleased to get this, and whilst I've not been able to take the pack out and give it a thorough field test, as it needs to go back to CamelBak after I've had my paws on it. That said I have had a good look over it and this is what I can tell you about it.

Unlike the older the 4 channel, 7 row PALS/MOLLE of the Mil-Tec H.A.W.G. the carriage grid on the new H.A.W.G. appears to have been replaced by a more sleek and unobtrusive 5 channel, 10 rows of the new 6/9 style platform, or something that looks very similar to it.

There is a broad panel of loop-field on the top front of the pack, for putting ID's and morale patches. The back of the pack has three raised areas of 5mm closed cell foam, making up the Air Director back panel for optimal load distribution and breathability. It has a really good feel on the back, even when the pack is loaded up. There are kidney flaps to guide the waist straps, with D-loops built in on top of them to give a good range of motion when wearing it.

The back of the pack opens up with a long asymmetrical zipper, which allows the fitting of a 3L hydration bladder, in this case the CamelBak Mil-Spec Antidote Reservoir Long with Quick Link. I liked the looks of the bladder too, but as it's a returner, I didn't try it out. However, it features a bite valve adapter which is very cool, manually opened adapters can be a pain. The tube clicks off for faster refilling with auto shut-off, so no leaking, and the new Fillport, is reported as the industry’s largest opening with air-light ¼ turn open/close for quick, secure seal and it also can’t be over-tightened.

The interior of the hydration section is also padded, giving you an insulated compartment, both from your pack and your back. Cold drinks stay that little bit colder, and you don't have a cold weight pressing on your back as you hump it around. Loops in the top of the bag take the hook on top of the hydration bladder.  

The older H.A.W.G. has a total capacity of 23 L in its 48cm (17") x 26.5cm (12") x 26cm (10") and weighs a surprisingly low 1.2kg (2.75lbs) which comes from it having a 500D Cordura on the outwards facing surfaces, with the back faces being 420D nylon on the shoulder harness back side and raised pod panels. The shoulder harnesses are filled with 10mm EVA foam, and all the internal surfaces are made of lightweight 210D nylon. The mixtures make for the reduced weight of the pack.

The top of the front of the pack features a stash pocket, with a dummy-cord and clip built in. Its also worth noting that all the zippers are fitted with string pulls to silence them, which is a feature I'm liking seeing on so many packs these days.

The 6/9 webbing will take all PALS/MOLLE pouches and accessories I've tried on it, so it's simple enough to hot-swap your existing pouches onto the new format built into the H.A.W.G.


Twin ports behind the shoulder straps give access to the hydration tube, and in an interesting addition, there are two access points tucked in behind the waist straps. these allow you to rout the cables up under the arms, rather than over the shoulders, where they could perhaps snag on weapon straps or the like.

You could also feed the waist straps back into the pack, to get them out of the way if you weren't intending to use them. Very tidy design.

Inside the main pack, there are in fact two zipperable sections.

The front section, which has dual zips and opens 3/4 of the way down, is lined in lightweight 210D nylon and on the back of the panel, has a set of pockets sewn in, a triple pen slot, two note-book sized pockets, and one the width of the pack. These would be good for the administrative type gear you might have on hand, but don't need to secure in any special way.

Maps, phone charger gear, a survival tin or even a IFAK like the ITS ETA kit could sit in one of these. Drainage grommets with mesh lining are found in the bottom of the section.  The front section was quite spacious, and would certainly do to stuff with a number of items, especially if they would lay flat easily. The 6/9 webbing is sewn right into the front of this section, so there isn't any padding between your pouches and the contents of the first section, something to be aware of if you are loading up the outside of the pack.

The inner section, which sits between the front "admin" section and the distinct hydration section, is even roomier. Again, it features a dual zip 3/4 opening, and the same drainage grommets in the bottom, but has the advantage of the internal padding on the hydration side, keeping condensation from forming and spreading through to your stored items.

Again, its pretty featureless, although it does have three wide webbing loops sewn in at 3, 9 and 12 o'clock, giving you attachment points for gear, or even to run shock-cord through to for some internal spiderweb structure to pack things down. I think that would be where I'd fit the McNett Gruntline, if I were keeping the H.A.W.G.  for myself.

I like a bit more internal structure to my bags, because I often have a lot of small needfuls kicking about, but for a small daypack like this, I suppose I would make do.
It was very comfortable to wear, and easy to don and doff, with the shoulder straps sitting nicely, and adjustable, with a pretty standard sternum strap to keep it locked down for long, arduous or exciting traverses.

The bases of the shoulder straps were set securely into the bottom corner of the pack, and looked like they'd take some abuse, and whilst I didn't get a chance to test it our under heavy loads, the waist band seemed to sit nicely on my hips, and keep everything where it needed to be.

The twin top and bottom compression straps were a nice touch, with hook-and-loop webbing keepers built in, they would allow bulky but soft gear like sleeping bags, outerwear and the like to be stuffed into the pack, and then buckled down tight to reduce bulk, nicely.

Twin rows of webbing sewn onto the base of the back would allow got you to set a sleeping roll, tent sustainment kit or other bulky but smallish items to the outside of the pack, without too much hassle.

I found the way it sat to be really comfortable, both directly against my back,but also in relation to my shoulder blades, neck and hips.  I had no feeling that it would interfere with the kinds of scrambling, crawling and other misadventure that I find myself doing. It also had a nice sturdy drag handle, for those times when I might want to be pulled out of any of those situations, or just to keep my hands on it whilst waiting for a plane to or from somewhere.

All in all, the new CamelBak H.A.W.G. is a very nice pack, simple design with some sophisticated elements. certainly a new look at an existing product, which is always good to see.

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