I got this pack as my new thru-hiking pack. No frivolity, I really needed a new one. My old thru-hiking pack was worn out beyond usability after more than 10 years. Not bad. I researched the market for a pack that would meet my requirements and the Southwest won.
I did a short-term review after initial use in real conditions. Full background info to be found there.
I’ve put the HMG 3400 Southwest to a serious test now: a non-supported, 8 day trek where my max load (with 8 days worth of food) was above 34 lbs. This is the max average I expect to need to carry.
I love the pack, even though I’m afraid I got a size too big and despite a few minor issues. It does have some.
The 3400 Southwest is simple and robust and I love both things. On the robustness test, I’ve had it through thick bush (not spiky) and it came out unharmed. The white Hybrid Cuben has got some stains but that’s to be expected. I take it as added character.
Stress points still look like new.
The Hybrid Cuben fabric shows no signs of wear. This is worthy of comment even now that the pack is still young because Cuben is a film so it’s inherently not as pliable as a woven fabric and it’s response to repeated folding and creasing is questionable. Of course, the “hybrid” part means its laminated to a woven layer (of polyester, I think) that surely helps in that regard. The one area that is meant to be consistently folded over is the extension collar. No signs of any extra wear so far.
On the simplicity side, I was somewhat afraid that opening/closing would feel cumbersome compared to my previous thru-hiking packs, which used a cord-lock plus one or two buckled straps… the Southwest uses a velcro strip and three straps. It’s indeed more complexity than I’d need but I got used to it quite fine. Anything else to the pack is extremely simple and functional.
The extension collar worked well for accommodating the extra load at the beginning of the trip.
I got no rain at all so I couldn’t test the waterproofness of the pack.
I followed size indications at the time of purchase and they produced a size L when I’m a M for most things. I trusted the procedure and ordered the L.
Take a look at this pic:
Provided the waist belt is properly fitted (it was), would you say that’s the way the shoulder straps should fit? I would expect the strap-to-pack-body seam was lower so the upper strap would envelope my shoulder better. Feel free to comment below if you have an opinion.
- Waistbelt pockets size & opening
The biggest complain I can confirm and amplify over my short-term review is that the waist belt pockets are difficult to access to the point of being hardly useful at all. The limited volume together with the limited side-drop of the zips make it very difficult to go past the opening for anything minimally wide that would fit fine once inside. This is a minor, yet important design flaw and it’s a pity because waistbelt pockets have the potential to be very useful for thru-hiking. I like them a lot and it was one of the reasons why I chose the Southwest over other similar options. The pockets in the Southwest would need both a slightly bigger volume and some additional side-drop on the back end of the zip.
- Front pocket closing
Another complaint, a very minor one this time, is about the side and front pockets being not too safe as far as holding contents inside. Small-ish, dense stuff may easily fall. I’m aware these pockets are meant for rather big, non-dense stuff (mostly fabric) but I’d welcome the elastic strip a bit tighter. The one in my pack’s pockets is a bit too loose, at least in the central, bigger pocket.
- Ice axe loop
As I tried to attach my hiking poles to the pack, I realised about an obvious problem I hadn’t noticed yet: the ice axe loop (that I tried to use for the poles) is sewn on the center of the pack’s front (some call it the pack’s “back”), not towards the side, and the side straps that would intersect and hold the axe handle (or pole tube) are obviously on the sides. There is another strap on the upper center but it’s a vertical strap, hence parallel to the position of the axe handle or pole body, they wouldn’t intersect. Furthermore, this strap must be open every time the pack is open.
Hiking poles may be placed on the sides by just tightening the side straps:
This wouldn’t work well for the axe though.
This may be the silliest of mistakes but unless I’m missing something it is indeed a design flaw. The straightforward solution would be to set the loop off to one side. And to add a second one on the other side, as already stated in the short-term review, to better accomodate a second axe or two poles.
Recomendations for improvement
Make the hip belt pockets a bit bigger and make the opening wider. Access with the belt under tension is a pain otherwise.
Use tighter elastic in the central, front pocket upper lip
Sew a second ice axe loop and place each one to one side. The upper side strap would also need a quick release buckle. The lower side strap would also benefit from one but this latter is not as important.
I made friends with my Southwest and I can’t wait to load it up and put it on my back again.