Choosing a big mountain pack is always a nail-biting experience. It has to be big enough, but not an ounce bigger. We've all agonized over the threshold: is it big enough? Is it light enough? Mountain Hardwear gives us some respite with the South Col 70 OutDry, a pack that's just big enough.
The South Col 70 weighs in at exactly four pounds, which for 70 liters puts it into anorexic 1980s supermodel territory. Think Kate Moss, not Kate Hudson; yeah yeah I know, we'd all much rather spend a night with the latter, but which one would you want to piggyback up Denali? OK, probably still Hudson, because really at that point – and to paraphrase another 80s icon, Mr. David Lee Roth – who cares about going up?
But speaking of Denali, my big concern was whether or not the South Col would fit my Feathered Friends Ptarmigan -25F bag in the bottom. Spoiler alert: it does, no problem, after suitable compression in a Granite Gear AirVent Solid bag. Just to be sure I stuffed a couple of Granite Gear Air Space storage bags with Mountain House Pro-Paks and they stacked right up on top of the fartsack, with plenty of room left over to tuck a sleeping pad under the lid.
Once packed tight, the wand pockets on the side are just barely usable for that purpose. Nalgenes will need to hang off the gear loop or webbing, also not a problem since you'll likely be using a water bottle parka. The front pocket is pleated, as is the crampon pouch on top of it, so those two are still plenty usable for insulation layers and foot fangs.
So capacity is fine, how does it carry? Just to be sure, I stuffed it with 60 pounds and took it for a stroll. It felt good, or more accurately, as good as 60 friggin' pounds can feel, and thanks to the relatively narrow profile it is better balanced than most. Considering my first trip up Denali was with a Wild Things Spectra Andinista with no frame (seriously!) the South Col 70 is barely half a pound heavier and feels comparatively like a Cadillac. Bottom line, I'll have no hesitation taking the South Col up Denali next trip.