The quest for the agile pack has always vexed my straining back. Tired as a dog, the Yuppie packs all failed. Enter the Camelbak H.A.W.G. and my search for the perfect pack prevailed. Having spent a lot of time in the outdoors pursuing various interests, I feel like I’ve gained a certain insight into what makes a versatile and rugged pack, while at the same time not slowing me down in my activities. In this article, I’d like to share that insight as I talk about a pack that has served my needs quite well during the past couple of years. Getting clothes-lined in the bush trying to duck under logs, having pouches on my side impede me from trying to get to my destination through vines comfortably, it was starting to frustrate me. My m-2 waist pack from Maxpedition is great, but you don’t see me wearing it too much when in the deep brush. I’m picky as I get steamed at some of the larger sheath designs for knives. Going through thicker brush, I try to leave the hat off in the pack and stay as nimble and ergonomic as possible bounding around like any woods monkey would do. This led me to my basic set ups, my herping pack, consisting of a Camelbak MULE, and my major EDC pack, my Camelbak H.A.W.G. For this write up, we will look briefly at the MULE, but will take a more in depth look at the Camelbak H.A.W.G.
Bug vials with alcohol, snake bags, tweezers, magnifying glass, all these tools in addition to my survival gear. What is a woods nerd to do? When I go herping (looking for reptiles and amphibians), I find myself far away from my car needing certain items at immediate notice. I need what could essentially be termed as a herper’s bug out bag, on more than one bloody occasion. Something that I could put all my gear in and grab at a moments notice when a buddy would roll by for herping. The MULE is very thin, and not to bulky to stow in the nooks and crannies of one’s vehicle. Sure it can hold water, all Camelbaks can. I’ll save you my rant on hydration bags. I normally yank those bladders out and stick with an easily cleanable platypus bag (I’ll have a review on that later). The platypus bag goes into the hydration bag compartment. Now, on my HAWG the zipper zips in the up position. It does the opposite on the MULE, which I have a complaint about. On my HAWG, I can fit my ontario 12″ machete (Old faithful) in the zipper pocket that is meant for the hydration pack, and zip it up and have it so the machete pops out the top. A great spot for a machete, and the handle comes up just enough not to snag on anything.
On the MULE, however, I can’t do this. Now, anybody with a lick of sense can utilize their knowledge of zippers. One could split the seam, take the zipper out, and flip it the other way. I haven’t done it yet, just because I have a thousand things I forget before I forget about that project. No rest for the weird. The bottom pack resembles the bottom pack of the H.A.W.G. In the herping pack, I have a wenger swiss army knife, nite ize converted mag light as a back up light, tweezers, pens, pencils, field journal, insect repellent and sunscreen, vials, and then most of the survival stuff that you see in other gear guru’s packs. I also keep a good old Mora in there just in case. The MULE is also a great size for someone who needs to keep something compact yet tactical for more athletic situations. I have used the MULE many times to hold all of my gear while long distance trail running and woods hopping. And it works great as a bag for the biker.
Maybe more than three years, I’ve had this pack right before I graduated college. During the first summer and year after college, I did field work on vegetable crop pests for the entomology dept. A lowly hired help, I had to do demanding jobs out in the sun, I needed a pack that I could fit a few books and a clip board inside, among other important things like a large camera and a change of clothes. I preferred stream line bags like my MULE, so I decided to go ahead and purchase the next higher up, the Camelbak H.A.W.G. I’m still looking at the pack sitting next to me, as much a daily part of life as it was then. Is it a bug out bag, and every day carry bag? Sort of both. It has all the basic utensils of a PSK, including matches tinder, a SAK, flashlights, a good fixed blade (normally 3 or 4 just because I forget to empty it) and of course, snake bags and vials. It can also hold a good number of larger binders, yet the pack is still inconspicuously smaller than a normal day pack. I think of the Camelbak H.A.W.G. as the perfect size, just on the edge of big enough yet compact enough, not taking over the passenger seat when you put it next to you for the long car ride ahead. Not to bulky to keep on your lap in a crowded bus, something that is important in other countries where they may snatch your packs off the bus.
Out in the bush, I can be first to say that hands down that this pack has proven itself in more situations than I can count. It is my field bag, my funk bag, my mud bag, my crud bag. I’ve never taken it caving (have a dedicated bag for that) but I know it would hold up to the rigors of underground abrasion and mildew. I can safely say to date that despite falling on it, dragging it through briars, over and under and sometimes through rocks, through swamps and mountains, and dangling from a branch on it (don’t ask) this crazy pack hasn’t lost a stitch yet. I think that is why I am such a fan of Camelbak. The quality and craftsmanship of this pack is on a whole new level than any other pack company I’ve seen. Like a dang tilley hat!
I have used the H.A.W.G. backpacking on a few occasions. Now I know I tote how much I love this pack, but I DO have 3 other dedicated backpacking packs, so I need to use them every once in a while. Sigh…choices. The most memorable trip that I took the H.A.W.G. on was a four day packing trip during the summer up into Linville gorge. I kept the whole pack under 17 lbs with the machete and the fleece strapped to the bottom.I can think of many trips where I took the H.A.W.G. A fellow colleague on the site, Keith, has been on at least three rips with myself and the pack, including excursions into the swamps of NC, where it has sat in my canoe providing me with the capacity to get through the many odd situations my random woods borne activities lead me. Holding lots of gear for odd jobs, and different travels, the H.A.W.G. even has got me a drink at an airport from another Camelbak owner. I think that many of the Camelbak users start to unite in a way that the tilley hat guys do, really excited about their trusty do all piece of equipment, talking about which places they have been.. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to our brethren fighting over seas. It has many attachment points too.
That is another important point. Most of the time either a tent or a sleeping bag can take up most of the room in a pack. Keeping a pack streamlined and well organized is important, but sometimes one has to strap the gear on the outside to make it fit comfortably. Whenever I look for a pack, the first thing I do is look at the bottom. If there are attachment points on the bottom, I’m halfway sold already. This is the most common spot to put larger cylindrical gear items like a tent, sleeping bag or pad. This is one of the facts that first sold me on the H.A.W.G.’s design.The H.A.W.G. has many MOLLE attachment points. I love using them, as small pouches on the outside of the bag mean that there isn’t a heap of gear on the bottom to sort through. As a dedicated backpacker, it could use a little more padding on the waist belt, which is just a standard piece of webbing. If you are going to pack with it though, you shouldn’t be loading it down with gear so much to cause any abdominal abrasion problem, one would think. I found the webbing straps of the MOLLE to hold up extremely well and have not had a single stitch hitch with it either.
The smaller compartment has two large organizational pockets and smaller pockets to hold a radio or in my situation a good sunblock bottle. Pens and pencils, needles, and a larger cylindrical deep pocket for a flashlight inside the bottom of the large pocket work well for further organization. Molles on the outside can carry the gear that is compatible.The large main compartment, as stated earlier, can hold clothes or books, or both. When I find myself going on trips where I need to pack for just a weekend, I can usually fit everything into this bag. My fiancé calls it my ‘overnight combat sleep over pack” as she says she rarely sees me with any other luggage than that woodland camo H.A.W.G. in most situations. Normally, I don’t have to strap anything to the outside of the pack due to the larger size. This is one of those packs that just fits right, a do all pack that seems legendary among my other packs.
A few things I would change the packs, though not much: They utilize a bit of Velcro to hold the straps and keep them from dangling. While this is a great function, I find that Velcro can wear out. Now this Velcro hasn’t, because I don’t find myself constantly adjusting any of the straps, however, the edges of the Velcro straps themselves are getting some what abraided, leading to a chain reaction that could break apart the rest of the web backing on the Velcro strap itself. I also have a pet peeve about the zipper on the back which I will go into again. I think that if Camelbak put two zippers in both directions, they could rectify this situation easily allowing the user to hold any longer item, such as a tent pole, snake hook, machete or trekking pole in that back pouch easily. I also wouldn’t mind seeing some type of molle attachments on the sides of these smaller bags as well. Additionally, adding smaller zipper pouch on the inside couldn’t hurt, perhaps holding change, flash drives, small batteries or other items of interest.
Few things have the amount of trust and familiarity as this pack. I have way to much gear as I am finding very fast. This hasn’t just sat in my room on one or two excursions. 3 years, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Utilizing the best materials and craftsmanship, it is no wonder why I’m always quick to recommend anything by Camelbak more than any other bag company. They also work hand and hand with companies such as Mystery Ranch, formerly of Dana Designs fame to make dependable large capacity military packs. They have done nothing but make me drool for what new packs may come. The Camelbak H.A.W.G. is a dependable medium capacity pack that works well for weekend excursions, traveling, school or business work, or just a general all purpose back that you can feel good about, like a dependable knife or other piece of gear. I know this pack will last well over three more entertaining years.
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