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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > High Sierra Col 35 Backpack > Test Report by Derek Hansen
High Sierra Sport Company - Col 35 Backpack
Test Series by Derek Hansen
Inset photo courtesy highsierrasport.com
5 Apr 2010
The High Sierra Col 35 backpack (hereafter Col 35 or pack) has an internal frame and is described as “featherweight” and weighs in at three pounds (1.4 kg) for a 35 L (2135 cu in) capacity. The top-loading pack has one large main compartment, which includes a sleeve to accommodate a water bladder. There are two openings where a hose can exit the pack body for a hydration system. The main compartment can be closed by means of two drawstrings on two separate draft/spindrift collars. There are two mesh pockets on the outer lower left and right sides of the pack that can accommodate 1 L water bottles.
The floating lid (or “brain,” as I like to call it) is attached to the main pack by means of plastic buckles and adjustable cinch straps. Two cinch straps attach the lid to the shoulder side of the pack and two buckle straps attach the lid to the front of the pack. The lid has one zippered compartment. The floating lid is removable, but it is not intended to convert into a lumbar pack, although I imagine it is possible. The manufacturer does not claim the lid is convertible. There are four rectangular plastic loops attached on the top of the lid.
Printed on the inside of the floating lid are 12 suggested "survival essentials" to include on trips. The 12 items are printed on a separate piece of fabric that has been sewn onto the lid.
There is one removable accessory pouch attached to the left shoulder strap by two loops that can accommodate a small electronic device such as an MP3 player, cell phone, small two-way radio, or small GPS unit.
There are no pockets on the hip belt, but there are plastic clips on the hip belt webbing to keep the extra webbing in place.
The pack frame is non-adjustable, but the shoulder straps and hip belt are adjustable. The shoulder and hip belt straps also have adjustable load-lifters. There is a plastic D-ring sewn onto each shoulder strap, just above the sternum strap. There are two side-compression straps, one on either side of the pack body, just above the mesh water bottle pockets. On the bottom of the pack are two adjustable straps that can accommodate a sleeping pad or other gear.
The pack includes an adjustable sternum strap. The sternum strap buckle is generic and does not include an integrated whistle. The sternum strap has a flexible elastic sewn in that provides about 1/2 in (1.3 cm) of stretch. The sternum strap can slide up and down the shoulder straps by a tongue-and-groove attachment.
One line of daisy-chain loops runs down the center of the pack body and there is one gear loop at the bottom of the pack to accommodate tools or other gear and a corresponding hook-and-loop fastener attached to one of the daisy-chain loops, which can be removed.
There is a hook-and-loop pouch enclosure on the bottom of the pack that reveals the stow-away pack cover. This pack cover is attached to the Col 35 by means of an adjustable webbing strap and buckle. The pack cover is removable. Sewn in the center of the pack cover is a see-through ID pouch and an identification card.
The Col 35 has a single, thin, contoured aluminum sheet frame that runs down the center of the pack, behind the water bladder sleeve in its own protected sleeve. I can access the aluminum frame by opening the hook-and-loop pouch cover. The manufacturer claims that the metal frame is adjustable, but there are no instructions, hints, or suggestions on how best to bend the metal frame to fit my spine.
There is a single large clip inside the main compartment near the water bladder pocket. Since I’m not an expert with different hydration systems, I’m not sure if this clip is intended to be used with the hydration system, or if it is simply a multi-function key chain.
The Col 35 pack seems to honestly describe its capacity rating without adding the secondary pockets. My measurements put the pack somewhere between 30-38 L (1800-2340 cu in). The opening at the top is spacious and it was easy to load.
One of my first impressions of this pack is its solid build. The pack feels “bulletproof” with sturdy construction, thick webbing straps, large buckles, and durable fabric. Compared to some lightweight packs I own, I have no fear of dropping this pack or dragging it around the hills. The pack makes me feel like I don’t have to gingerly side-step any imposing bushwhacking opportunity I may face.
While inspecting the pack, I was struck at how thick and plentiful the straps were. Not only did this add to the “bulletproof” description, but it also felt a little excessive. The straps are long and can easily be trimmed and adjusted to fit. For example, the drawstring cords on the extension collar are a little over 30 in (76 cm) long when drawn tight; more than half that length could be trimmed and still give plenty of slack to open the pack. The two straps that connect the floating lid have been sewn to the pack body, leaving extra loose webbing on the pack. Some of this webbing has been sewn into a useful daisy chain, but the remaining 8.5 in (22 cm) is a superfluous loop. I think it would be more useful if the manufacturer had sewn this into additional daisy chains.
The pack could easily save half a pound (230 g) or more by reducing the size of the plastic hardware and trimming the width and length of the straps and still remain rugged and “bulletproof.”
Initial Pack and Hike
April 3 ~ Campbell Mesa, Coconino National Forest. I took all my kids (ages 2 to 8) out on the mesa near our home for some geocaching. We hiked just about 2 mi (~3 km) at an elevation of 7000 ft (2133 m). It was a sunny day with an outside temperature around 45 F (7 C).
The hang tag on the Col 35 describes this as a “day pack” or “summit pack,” but I found that it easily holds my typical gear for a weekend backpacking trip. I tend to pack light, so my demands are probably smaller than most. For me, this pack seems a little too much for just a day hike, although I’m sure I’ll take it along with me for many short hikes.
In addition to carrying my two-year-old on my shoulders on occasion, I also loaded up the Col 35 with my typical weekend pack list. My total pack weight, including 2 L (~68 fl oz) of water and two full days of food (2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 2 dinners) and trail snacks came in at 17 lb.
Even with the molded foam back panel with Airflow™ channels and the aluminum stay, the pack “rounded out” a little. After I pushed and pulled a little, I was able to get a fairly comfortable ride. Over the short hike, the pack carried very well and I felt no discomfort. The straps were easy to adjust while we hiked and I was able to switch the load to my hips or shoulders or both fairly easily.
I was able to reach the water bottles, but it was a stretch. Getting the 1 L bottle back into the mesh pouch was a bit of a two-armed strain, but it was possible without taking the pack off. I’ll have more attempts in the coming months to perfect the technique, I hope.
Integrated Pack Cover
While on our short 2 mi (3 km) hike, I deployed the pack cover. Well, I needed help because the most I could do with the pack on my back was reach and pull out the cover from the pouch. Admittedly, this is something I didn’t expect to do with the pack on my back. The good news is that the cover was large enough to easily cover the entire pack and the two water bottles. There is a single cinch cord at the top of the cover that I could reach and adjust while hiking. Like the other straps and cords, it is more than adequately long.
The pack cover weighs 4.25 oz (120 g) by itself. I normally don’t carry an extra pack cover, preferring instead to line the inside of the pack with a water-tight sack or garbage bag. I’m not sure how much use I’ll get out of this pack cover, but I am going to brainstorm on how I could effectively use it during the test period. I’m planning on some canyoneering trips in Arizona where the pack will be totally submerged in water, and the pack cover will do little good. However, it is convenient that it is included.
I put a few grab-and-go items in the zippered pocket on the floating lid, including my flashlight; map and compass; hat, gloves, and Buff®-brand head-over. Even though the pack and lid were fully-loaded and “dressed to the nines,” I couldn’t get the floating lid to sit snugly on top of the pack. If the extension collar was filled a little more, than it would work, but “at capacity,” there was still an inch or two (5 cm) of space between the top of the pack and the bottom of the floating lid.
One reason for the slack was the size of the buckles that attached the floating lid to the back of the pack (shoulder strap side). The buckles are so large; they prevent me from cinching down the lid tight against the pack. Similar to the discrepancy between chain-hamburger restaurant advertisements and the actual hamburger, I was disappointed that my floating lid was floppy in comparison to what is advertised on High Sierra’s website.
I might be able to modify the buckles, but it may be that I fill the extension/draft collar a little to get the floating lid to stop floating.
I regularly bring along a small radio when I backpack for emergency communications. While I could fit the small radio in the accessory pouch, the opening was tight. The pouch also fit my small GPS unit, but the fit was better. The pouch is removable and attaches via a hook-and-loop closure.
PRO—Snug fit, good adjustments for shoulders and hips. Solid construction. True to size. Good-sized pockets for 1L water bottles. Handy pack cover.
CON—I'll be honest that I was disappointed there was no integrated whistle in the sternum strap. I know it sounds like a minor detail, but it's a great innovation that most modern packs are employing. Although advertised as "featherweight," this pack is heavy for its volume for a lightweight designation, especially for a summit pack or a day pack.
15 Jun 2010
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I have used the backpack on a total of 9 days, which includes 3 day hikes and 3 overnight backpacking trips totaling 19 miles (31 km). All of the trips were in northern Arizona, at a mean elevation of 7000 ft (2133 m). The low temperature was 33 F (1 C) and the highest daytime temperature was 80 F (27 C). Most of the terrain was rocky, single track trails, some near meandering streams.
The most weight I’ve carried in the pack was 17 lb (8 kg), and the least I carried on my backpacking trip in April was 12 lb (5 kg), which included food and water. I carried less weight during my day hikes.
Here are two highlighted trips:
May 28-29 ~ Sycamore Rim Trail, Kiabab National Forest. After taking my sons on consecutive overnight trips, I needed to take my daughter, age 8, to make it fair. We backpacked near the Sycamore Creek and hammock camped. We also hiked KA Hill, elevation 7287 ft (2221 m), an elevation change of 1017 ft (310 m) from our camping spot. I carried food for both of us and my pack weighed 12 lb (8 kg).
June 5 ~ Old Caves Crater, Coconino National Forest. I took all my kids (ages 2 to 8) out on the cinder mountain near our home for some hiking and geocaching. We hiked over 3 mi (~3 km) to the summit at an elevation of 7183 ft (2189 m), an elevation change of 583 ft (178 m). The trails were easy, with several patches of sand and cinders.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The pack remains fairly durable and I haven’t worried about snagging or ripping the fabric. However, one of the D-rings on the shoulder strap has torn through the stitching. I haven’t attached anything to this D-ring, so I’m curious why it is coming loose.
One of my big irritations is with how long the straps and draw strings are on this pack. The most annoying are the two draw strings that cinch up the two extensions collars. I’ve made a habit now of tying up the string to help tuck them away. These cords continually get in the way and have made it difficult to pack and unpack this backpack.
The adjustment straps have worked great in distributing the weight around the pack and getting a good fit. The compression straps are adequate enough to reduce the volume and make the pack more rigid with smaller volumes.
I’ve used the bottom straps to hold a foam pad and a jacket. With the bulkier pad, I found that my backside would constantly hit it. This is due to the pack being a little too small for my torso, and hence the lower part of the pack is hitting me lower than it should.
I tried strapping a foam pad to the daisy-chain loops on the back of the pack, but since there is only one line of chains, I found that my pad was too loose against the pack and so I moved it to the lower straps.
My biggest pet peeve with this pack is the floating lid. This lid literally gives the name “floating” a run for the money. For the life of me, I cannot get this lid to stay in place. Granted, my pack weight and volume is low, even for overnight trips, but in order to get the lid to sit high and tight, the pack has to be packed completely, with the extension collars filled past capacity.
At one point, I removed the lid and attached it to the side compression straps. This allowed me to get the lid to fit snugly to the pack, but it made it difficult to open the pack.
The pack lid is handy to have, as it is the only other closed storage pocket on this pack. I keep all my miscellaneous items in the lid, including pocket knife, flashlight, fleece hat and gloves, and other small items.
My torso is just a little too large for this pack, but I’ve found that the straps and waist belt have been adequate enough to adjust and fit me. The internal metal frame was easily removed and I was able to adjust it, but I also found that I had a more comfortable load when I removed it completely. Since my pack weight is so light, I don’t really need the load adjustment.
FIELD USE SUMMARYThe pack has done a great job holding my gear, and at a max load of 17 lb (8 kg), I found I even had room to spare, which made the floating lid an annoyance.
PRO—Good fit with good adjustability.
CON—The long straps get in the way of packing; the floating lid floats too much.
LONG TERM REPORT
17 Aug 2010
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
During the long-term phase, I went on an additional 6 day hikes and 3 overnight backpacking trips totaling 36 extra miles (58 km).
Here are some highlighted trips:
July 1-3 ~ Fremont Indian State Park, central Utah. This was a car-camping family reunion in an amazing location. Most of us used hammocks to camp. During the day, I participated on a few day hikes with the pack. Elevation roughly 6000 ft (1829 m) and daytime temperatures in the high 80s F (27 C) with lots of wind.
July 16-17 ~ West Fork of Oak Creek, Coconino National Forest. I convinced a co-worker to do an S24O trip (less than 24-hour trip) into the Oak Creek Wilderness area. Immediately after work, we drove down to the canyon and hiked up the creek about 4 miles (6 km) and hammocked in the canyon. The elevation was level at 5400 ft (1646 m) and the overnight low was in the mid-60s F (16 C). We were up by 4 AM and back on the trail and back to our car, passing folks just rising for the day.
Aug 13-14 ~ Fisher Point, Coconino National Forest. Another S24O trip just outside Flagstaff. The 9-mile (14.5 km) trip took us through skunk canyon (6600 ft/2011 m) and up to the top of Fisher Point (7000 ft/2134 km). We pitched our hammocks on the edge of a cliff. Overnight low was 48 F (9 C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Overall, the pack has held up exceptionally well, even with some major scrapes with shrubbery. This is a rugged pack. I can see no visible wearing or weaknesses in any part of the pack.
Although northern Arizona is in the midst of a heavy monsoon season, I have been unlucky enough to miss the rain during my trips. I caught a slight sprinkle coming out of Oak Creek canyon, but nothing dramatic enough to pull out the rain cover. In this one area I wish I had more testing, but it seems every time a major downpour occurs, I’m stuck in a cubicle, wishing I were on the trail.
This image shows the pack with the Bear Vault inside and I am just barely getting a good fit with the floating lid; however, the spindrift collar is over-extended.
For my overnight trips, I’ve tried valiantly to stuff the pack enough to eliminate the floppy floating top lid. During two trips, I even brought along a Bear Vault 450, which helped fill out the top of the pack to where I couldn’t fully cinch down the spindrift collar, and still the lid refused to pull snugly to the pack. This is one part of the pack that really frustrates me.
During day hikes, when I carried less gear, I found it was easiest to stuff the floating lid into the main body of the pack. This was a lot easier than removing the lid, and also kept the extra storage pocket in the lid accessible. With the side compression straps, I was able to get a nice load for a day hike and it worked great.
The other part of the pack I am not happy with is the length of the straps, specifically the draw strings on the spindrift collar. I can’t tell you how many times the cords have snagged while I’ve packed the backpack. I did find the string useful, however, during my trip down Oak Creek Canyon. I found that I was missing a tie-out for my tarp, and as I looked for a substitute, it dawned on me that I have this extra-long string on the pack. I was able to easily dismantle the plastic fastener and the cord worked beautifully. I re-strung the draw cord once I returned home. Once this test is over, one of the first things I will do is shorten the strings and straps to reasonable lengths.
The pack is also lacking somewhat in external pockets. Besides the two water bottle mesh pockets, the only other pocket for small items is in the floating lid. My gear accessories (e.g., compass, map, pocket knife, first-aid) easily fit up in that pocket, but when I needed to use any of those items, I had to remove the pack to get them. Having side pockets on the hip belt would have been perfect.
My pack weights ranged from 12 lb (5 kg) to about 20 lb (9 kg) and I found the pack worked great in this range. By stuffing the floating lid in the main pocket and pulling down the side compression straps, I was able to make a streamlined day pack that worked really well, but I was also pleased to find I could bring along enough gear for a short overnight or weekend trip.
As I mentioned before, this pack is slightly too small for my torso, but I didn’t have too many complaints about the way the pack rode on my back. Shifting the weight between my hips and shoulders was easily accomplished. There is a lot of adjustability in the pack, which was nice.
PRO—Good adjustments for load carrying. Good side compression to make the pack smaller.
CON—The straps and cords are way too long. The floating lid is a headache. Limited accessory pockets.
I would like to thank High Sierra Sport Company and BackpackGearTest.org for providing me with the opportunity to test this product.
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