Features and Performance
Space and Access
The WUULF opens like a classic top-loader but could also be fully front-zip-open for easy unrestricted access, down to even the furthest corner of the main compartment. What’s more, the main zipper in the final production version has a dual fly, so can be opened from both sides. Yes, you read that correctly – you can access it from the bottom too, which is not a common thing on packs. This comes in truly handy during winter – unloading the pack on a snowy summit in a blizzard to reach its bottom sounds more problematic than doing so on a sunny summer day in a forest, right? The main zipper is hidden not only behind a rain flap but for total camouflage also behind a central webbing (which holds the lid). It’s additionally secured with a snap on top, quite a clever detail.
Of course, the WUULF can be used just as a regular top-loader too, with a snow collar and draw-cord closure. It’s rated as 24 liters but can be overstuffed by another 3 liters or so – that’s a good size for a daypack, easily big enough for a full winter day in the mountains or even a weekend in a shelter during sunny summertime. It’s hydration compatible too – there’s an elastic sleeve for a bladder and tube pass-through, just below the lid’s edge.
Pockets and Organizing
Let’s start with the two Cordura pockets on the outside, each with a corresponding pair of compression straps (with G-hooks) and a bungee cord and toggle. These could be used for items like a tripod or monopod, a rolled jacket, a fixed blade knife, a small axe, or a flask or thermos of course (even my 36 oz. Yeti Rambler fits in there!). Just remember: when mountaineering always secure your bottles with a carabiner or strap, or better yet keep bottles inside – a pint of water in a metal flask falling down the slope works like a deadly projectile for people right below you! And last but not least – thanks to an advanced bungee cord and toggle system the pockets can be seriously expanded and collapsed depending on what you put into them. Then you’ll find two long internal side pockets, each easily holding a 0.7L water bottle. But they are also good for rolled clothes, like a wind shirt or a thin insulating layer like the Arc’teryx Atom SL. Nevertheless, during winter mountaineering one of these pockets has always been occupied by an avalanche probe for quick access in an emergency.
The free-floating lid is essentially one big pocket for items like a headlamp, some energy bars, a multitool, a map, or a compass. Plus there’s a tiny security mesh pocket under it for keys and/or a small wallet. The lid fits snugly and is perfectly aligned with the backpack’s body. It is fully detachable if desired, which could be a good option in some applications. Small hint: reassembly is best done with a small flat stick or something similar, it’s not so easy to do with bare hands. Oh, and there’s a generously sized Velcro panel on it, me gusta!
There’s a laptop sleeve inside – but not your usual padded flat compartment on the back, which would bring two real drawbacks. First of all, placing a flat laptop on an anatomically pre-shaped frame fits a bit awkwardly and surely is not space efficient. But even more importantly, you always have to carry that padded sleeve in your pack, which is a waste of space inside and also extra weight. So PDW did it differently again – there’s a free-floating laptop sleeve, padded on all sides, and attached by two small metal toggles to the loops on the bottom. So not only can it be positioned comfortably anywhere inside the pack but it can also be removed, which I gladly did for all my outdoor adventures. It’s big enough for a MacBook Air or for most tablets including the 12.9″ iPad Pro with Apple’s magic keyboard attached (and that’s a seriously sized package).
Now I’ve got more good news for PDW SHADO pack owners – the EDC insert that comes with your SHADO 24 can be retrofitted perfectly inside the WUULF as well. So if you switch the packs for different missions, you can just easily move the loaded EDC panel from one pack to the other. Nifty.
Size: To give you a flavor of the WUULF’s practical volume here’s a full list of gear, which I packed inside/outside for a day in the snowy terrain:
– Arc’teryx Alpha SV hardshell
– PDW Stratus down hoody
– Arc’teryx Gamma MX softshell hoody
– Backup set of gloves, socks, merino t-shirt, neck gaiter, wool watch cap
– Black Diamond semi-auto crampons (for the summit) and Grivel mini spikes (for the valley)
– Lightweight Blue Ice piolet, Black Diamond winter trekking poles
– Avalanche kit: shovel and probe (the beacon was on my body of course)
– Fuji X-T4 with 16-80/4 lens, extra batteries, carbon fiber tripod
– Thermos (0.7L), 1L of extra water, some energy bars, beef jerky, and always good old dark chocolate
– First Aid Kit, rescue thermal blanket
– Small slipjoint pocketknife (GiantMouse Farley) and compact fixed blade (CRK Inyoni 2)
– Sunglasses, map, compass, wallet, keys, headlamp + backup light
So as you can see it’s not a tiny loadout! For my winter mountaineering, I always carry some backup gear, if not for me then I may need to help someone up there on the trail. So I prefer to carry that extra pound and be ready. I often carry a backup piolet too… two is one, one is none.
A padded mesh back panel, frame sheet, pre-bent aluminum frame, padded shoulder straps with load lifters and sternum strap, padded lumbar pad, and waist belt – what else would you ever need? Well… with such an advanced harness PDW could also have added torso length adjustment to complete the package. Anyway, even as it is, for a 24-liter pack the WUULF’s harness sounds nearly like overkill… but is very welcome actually.
Sometimes people carry heavier gear – just like me when I carry almost 40 lbs of hard metal and glass even in a small pack for a whole day of photo shooting on the snowy ridge. Or when I use it for heavy bushcraft gear like an axe, metal stove, and a saw for some camping fun in a forest. In such cases, a harness like this is a ticket for real comfort during the whole day. I genuinely think this must be the most comfortable of Patrick’s backpacks ever, also including his pre-PDW designs.
One pro tip for you: When you cinch the lid fully down to the pack (on the back) and you open the lid, the load lifter buckles have a slight tendency to dive under the lid’s edge. That can result in the loosening of load-lifter straps. So when you close and cinch the lid make sure these buckles are exposed and not under the lid. Nitpicking? Maybe. But for sure a small hint worth remembering, which applies to some other packs too.
I used this pack a lot for mountaineering, in all seasons and all weather conditions. The WUULF’s overbuilt hip belt and broad shoulder straps provide a comfortable fit, which is close to the body and tight. Even when I was exploring the Bieszczady Mountains with my family in July the venting channel and mesh material on the back panel did a really good job. Breathability was just like on most modern mesh-backed packs, but of course not as good as with a bungee-net style (aka trampoline) back panel. So in the end you have to decide what’s more important for you – better breathability during summer hikes? Or a closer fit, which is more suited for vertical movement in alpine terrain and also for ski-mountaineering? I’d take a closer fit any day of the week, but that’s just me.
A small digress – this year I tried my new fast and light winter boots (Dachstein Serles GTX). It was quite a change after many seasons with classic heavy leather winter boots on my feet. So now I do my hiking in a fast and light style not only in summer but also in winter conditions. Lightweight boots are considerably faster on approach (of course), way more breathable, and made with modern materials, which makes them seriously tough. But still, they are winter-rated and semi-auto crampon compatible. There are plenty of similar models available these days from multiple outdoor names (especially in the US) – so I encourage you to go light and fast this winter. Just make sure your gear is still up to the temperature and altitude. And (if possible) try a couple of models before final purchase – there are still some fine brick-and-mortar mountaineering stores out there, not just online shops.
The Cordura fabric with a nylon liner inside plus webbing-reinforced stitching lines make for a relatively weatherproof construction, especially for winter conditions. I carried this pack in heavy snow more than once and didn’t notice any leaking inside. However, it’s not a waterproof pack as the stitching lines are not backed with sealing tape, fabric panels are not welded together, etc. So if a storm or even serious rain is in the air you should additionally secure all critical items inside the pack against soaking. I’m not a huge fan of rain covers, which are a pain to use in windy conditions (like during a storm) and cover all gear attached to the pack on the outside, which you might need in a hurry. Instead, I prefer a superlight dry-bag inside my pack or just a plastic waste bag – it works too. Of course, the optional front access via zipper would be disabled… but there’s no free lunch, you know? And if you need a truly fully waterproof daypack, go with the PDW All Terrain series or get one of the Arc’teryx Alpha FL series, or something similar – but they all come with other significant limitations versus the WUULF, as you can guess.