- Buyer's Guide
Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O. Pack 24L Review
My last review for Carryology was of the Mystery Ranch Prizefighter. Mystery Ranch was founded by Dana Gleason, an industry titan and someone who would likely be on the Mount Rushmore of Carry. If this carry monument did actually exist, Patrick Ma, the founder of Prometheus Design Werx and designer of the S.H.A.D.O. pack would most certainly be chiseled into the granite right next to Gleason.
And when Ma and co-founder Chris Whitney launched Prometheus Design Werx (PDW), they did so with a fairly lofty goal; staying true to a singular design vision that is impervious to rigid corporate principles. In January 2017, Carryology conducted an interview with Ma and Whitney that did a phenomenal job at capturing this ethos.
I’ll lay out one answer from that interview I think eloquently conveys what PDW is at its core and who the target market is: “A life less ordinary. Helping others to help themselves to live a more fulfilled life in the true spirit of adventure at the very core. If you want to use our products to bike-bike-climb, stage a dive, explore an ancient jungle ruin, go shooting, bag a peak, go wheeling, discover an epic new point break, great. If you’re doing private contract work, want to go pursue some rare species of mammal to save in Australia, if you’re a doctor traveling to some remote part of the world to do humanitarian work, to the US Government agencies and elements in DOD we continue to work with, we are a brand that this caliber of user(s) goes to.” Enough said.
This S.H.A.D.O. v2.0 is an updated and dramatically improved iteration of the original pack by the same name. The first pass, launched a year ago, served as PDW’s maiden voyage into the relatively crowded sea of crossover backpack offerings. The name is an acronym for Suspension, Haul, Access, Durability and Organized which ultimately represents the core features, or essence, of a bag. I was an early adopter who purchased that original pack on the very same day it released. Upon initial inspection, it was immediately clear that the pack was constructed of high-quality material, was reasonably comfortable and I liked the overall design aesthetic. With that said, there were some significant misses that despite wanting so much to love it, were ultimately big enough to prevent me from keeping it. I won’t go into detail here as this is a review of the v2.0. However, I will also spare everyone the suspense, the v2.0 changed or improved every single aspect I took issue with in its predecessor.
I badly wanted to complete this review in time for the official launch but I also felt I owed it to PDW to provide a thorough review based on real-world use and not just a cursory glance for the purpose of a vapid write-up. PDW’s entire business model and design philosophy is about creating apex goods to support people getting outside and taking on the elements. In other words, this pack wasn’t created for light duty (although it excels in that role also). It was made for hardcore use; to carry your work things to the office, protect your gear on all manner of adventures and get you back home again. If someone gives you a Ferrari to drive for a week, you do more than just putter around side streets. That was absolutely my approach with the S.H.A.D.O. It was taken on day hikes, used as a range bag, hauled during cross-country trips and taken on a business trip from Boston to Singapore. With that said, it gets to a point where any additional testing is superfluous and incapable of changing the finality of my opinion; the S.H.A.D.O. v2.0 is an absolutely amazing backpack. I couldn’t love a human baby as much as I love this bag. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Who It Suits
The S.H.A.D.O. is a fantastic backpack for anyone wanting a do-it-all option that can serve as an office EDC and an adventure pack with equal aplomb. It was created to support your inner adventurer and isn’t just something you can carry after work during a long bike commute home; it’s a pack you can carry out your office door and into the wilderness. It really is that good. In my opinion, the 24L/1465 CI capacity is the perfect volume for an EDC bag or daypack. Anything smaller forces the wearer to be overly selective with what they carry and any larger needs to utilize a belt to ensure comfort (more on that later). So if you are looking for a supremely comfortable pack that is lightweight, flawlessly manufactured and completely modular, you may want to give the S.H.A.D.O. more than a quick gander.
It’s also completely modular so it can essentially be utilized across a spectrum of use cases. When almost all packs in this class come devoid of a true weight-bearing hip belt, the S.H.A.D.O. comes with a fantastic 3-Stage ToF belt. It does a great job of transferring any weight to your hips but is also easily removable and stowable. In under 30 seconds you can attach it and have the pack completely dialed in. It also comes with an EDCO panel that was designed to slide into a rear zippered section. The EDCO is a semi-rigid MOLLE compatible panel that includes two zippered mesh pockets on the back end. It allows the user to attach any number of EDC pouches (from PDW or the brand of your choice). This ingenious setup allows you to easily compartmentalize and access your gear or even remove the entire setup for use in another pack. Even the top front pocket is modular as it comes as a blank canvas of loop lining. Absolutely brilliant. How many packs have you really liked but found the admin panel useless because it wasn’t tailored to your daily loadout? For me, quite a few for sure. Well, the loop lining allows the user to either utilize the pocket as a quick-access dump pocket or attach one of two different hook-backed 6×6 organizer admin tiles. One is geared towards EDC tools and the other is perfect for pens, business cards and other office items. They both work great.
Who It Doesn’t
The S.H.A.D.O. may not work well for anyone who is looking for a very professional-looking backpack to carry in a conservative office environment. While I think it looks relatively slick and wouldn’t classify it as overly tactical, it definitely isn’t something I would consider to be “board room ready”. At the end of the day, it has a giant loop panel, several external attachment points on the front and as of now, is only available in “All Terrain Brown” or “Universal Field Grey”. Both of these colors are great, but at the end of the day, they are variations of coyote brown and foliage green. These colorways are historically associated with the field vs the office. I understand color is relatively subjective, but that’s how I look at it (pun intended).
I also wouldn’t recommend this pack for anyone seeking an externally streamlined pack. There is a lot going on with the S.H.A.D.O. and even if you remove the gear trap (which I happen to love and would sooner remove my arm), you will still have a shock cord, daisy chains, webbing, lash points and two water bottle pockets. In my personal opinion, all of these design features complement one another and add functionality without detracting from the form. However, it’s still relatively busy so your mileage may vary.
As usual, let’s start with quality and materials. PDW partnered with a new top-of-the-line manufacturer with significant experience producing mountaineering packs. According to PDW, this allowed them the autonomy to truly design a pack from the ground up completely devoid of creative constraints or logistical limitations. The quality and attention to detail exhibited here is really impressive. The majority of the pack is made of Invista 500D Cordura but it also utilizes custom milled 500D Nylon/Spandex, 70D Nylon Ripstop, Nylon Mesh, welded laser cut MCA, Multiple Density Close Cell Foam for the back panel padding and of course, the ubiquitous YKK zippers (in this case, reverse coil). In other words, best-in-class materials all the way around.
With all that said, quality extends beyond the materials used. If you don’t have a design where the materials complement each other in an aesthetically symbiotic and cohesive package, it doesn’t very much matter if you are using Invista Cordura or papier-mâché. Similarly, a fantastic design and great materials can be relatively meaningless in the hands of a less than skilled seamstress. No such worries here. Not with the materials, not with the construction and not with the design. The pack exudes quality and quite frankly, it’s a steal at $198.
A pack can have an amazing design, use the best materials in the world and come out of a world-class factory but if it isn’t comfortable then it doesn’t very much matter. Any area of the S.H.A.D.O. that comes into contact with the wearer is covered in closed cell foam padding with ripple air flow channels. It is relatively lightweight and it helps with sweating. Now to be clear, if you wear a backpack during strenuous activity, you will sweat. That is a fact. But this material is as good as any I have tested in mitigating this. It is also extremely comfortable and in conjunction with the removable HDPE frame sheet, it provides a fantastic carry experience. While I always recommend leaving a frame sheet in because of its effect on carry comfort, I do like that it is removable. In an emergency situation it can be used to scrape, dig, or even serve as a splint.
The shoulder straps are fully padded and include more laser cut MCA. They are super comfortable and give the wearer the ability to attach pouches if they desire. It also includes a fully adjustable and removable sternum strap. I don’t always use a sternum strap but it’s a must-have for any pack. Earlier I referenced the included waist belt. PDW calls it a 3-Stage Modular ToF Belt because there are basically three components; a removable lumbar padding, a removable 2″ webbing belt and removable fully padded “belt wings”. As I said before, completely modular. It works great and looks even better.
The S.H.A.D.O. is 20″ high, 11″ wide at the base, 9″ wide at the top and 7″ deep. The majority of its volume is divided into two larger compartments and a smaller admin pocket. The main storage compartment is a full clamshell design and includes two zippered mesh pockets. There is also a padded laptop sleeve that can easily swallow a 15″ computer. I find this layout works well and the overall capacity in this area is fine. The aforementioned zippered compartments are relatively easy to access and have dedicated volume. I sure do love me some dedicated volume. The secondary compartment zippers three quarters the way down which is perfectly adequate. It includes a dedicated stretch EDC compartment (or hydration bladder pocket) depending on your use case. If you do utilize a bladder, there is a hanger clip and a top tube port. This is also the area where the included EDCO panel would reside if you choose to use it. I actually chose not to use the EDCO with attached pouches. Not because it doesn’t work well, but for weight savings. The compartment includes two additional zippered mesh pockets and between those and the EDC compartment, I was able to compartmentalize my carry and didn’t miss the EDCO panel. If I planned on swapping out my daily contents to another pack regularly, I would most likely feel differently. The top front pocket is completely loop lined, allowing you to either keep it slick with no additional organization, or utilize one of two hook-backed organizer tiles. I decided to use the one that is best for pens, business cards and other work items and it functions perfectly. The entire pack is lined in high-visibility orange 70D ripstop nylon. Not only is this great in an emergency SAR situation when being seen is a priority, but it is also extremely helpful when attempting to find items in your pack in low light situations. It’s one of those things you don’t truly appreciate until you have it.
The outside of the pack includes a removable and reversible gear trap/beaver tail. On one side is a stretch panel with a zippered compartment and the other side is MCA (MOLLE Compatible Array). I can’t possibly convey to you how useful this gear trap is. It is also important to note that you can fully access any compartment without having to detach it. That is worth its weight in gold and something that many other packs can’t claim. Other exceptionally cool details are the quick-release shock cord keepers up near the gear trap buckles. These are great for securing gear but also work as a secondary retainer for the gear trap. Normally, if you unbuckle a beaver tail, it flops back and allows any gear to fall out. Not with these shock cord keepers. Another design detail that exemplifies the thoughtful execution of this bag.
Some additional external features are dual ice axe loops, a hook and loop panel for morale patches, a single column of mountaineering daisy chain, a D-ring, vertical lash webbing, MCA on the bottom for lashing additional items and four low-profile grab handles (one on each side of the pack) and shock cord. As I said before, there is a lot going on with the S.H.A.D.O. but if you can’t find an area to attach something, you lack vision, my friend. To hydration enthusiasts’ delight, there are dual side stretch water bottle pockets. They work great and the stretch nylon has a phenomenal memory to it. You can fit basically anything you want, including a standard Nalgene bottle and it immediately goes back to its original form after removing whatever was stored there. The last external feature I want to mention are the “self-policing webbing straps”. As I have said in previous reviews, a higher-end pack needs to include strap keepers. I am not a complicated consumer so simple Velcro strips will do fine. But PDW laughs in the face of “fine” and instead implemented a method to tame your wild straps while also placing a giant exclamation mark on the whole “quality” thing. Quite simply, they are innovative, look cool and work great.
The Not So Good
I have only a few small critiques and they are almost entirely subjective. The first has to do with the colors. I REALLY wish they came out with black or even a true wolf grey. I have the Universal Field Grey version and it is stunning, but it really looks more foliage to my eyes. I’m just not comfortable carrying it in an office environment. Again, I am cognizant of how subjective this can be.
From a size perspective, I wish the back compartment was 1″ deeper. As it is now, it’s tight. It works well for me and once you play around with your carry loadout I am confident it will work for you too, but it’s still tight. This is not a design miss by any means and I understand that every inch brings with it aesthetic and weight trade-offs, but I think the additional capacity would have been beneficial here. Also, the pack was purposely designed to narrow towards the bottom and while this absolutely makes it more comfortable, it can make it challenging if you don’t pack strategically.
Lastly, I could do without the D-ring on the front. Yes, I know I am grasping at straws here, but I found the ring annoying. There are a billion attachment points and this one tends to get in the way when you operate the zipper to the admin area. A small annoyance but an annoyance nonetheless.
The S.H.A.D.O. has my vote for pack of the year. Plain and simple. It checks every single box there is but also achieves something that very few packs do – it actually creates a few boxes you didn’t know you wanted checked. Patrick, Chris and team have created something pretty remarkable and I don’t see it being usurped in my carry rotation any time soon. With that said, I am absolutely waiting for it to come out in black. That is my preferred work carry color as it is nondescript, widely accepted and decidedly grey man. When black is offered, I will likely relegate my current S.H.A.D.O. to weekend/hiking duty and utilize the black as my weekday work bag. I think that is the best endorsement you can give a pack targeting the “crossover” market. Ask yourself, would your crossover pack be your PREFERRED carry option for BOTH work and play? Or is it just adequate enough at both to prevent you from purchasing two different packs? Well, the fact that I am patiently waiting for the black version for work so that my current S.H.A.D.O. can be my go-to daypack for play clearly answers that question. Well done, PDW.