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Years ago, we got a word of advice from a Special Forces friend that has remained memorable. He told us that there are two pieces of gear you never want to skimp on: footwear and packs. Since then, we have always taken this advice into consideration and it has never done us wrong. Good footwear is critical because your feet are your most important asset for anything from a casual hike to an emergency bug-out situation. But what makes a good pack, and why is that important? Let’s take a deep dive into a backpack from a company you probably know well, but one that might not be the first to come to mind when shopping for a new pack.
Whether it's a multi-day adventure hike, a day trip to the lake, or an overnight away from home, you're bound to have gear you need to bring along. Keeping your belongings secure and carrying them comfortably is vital if you want to make it home alive. Granted, your circumstances may not be that dramatic, but the last thing you want is a bruised back and aching muscles from hauling a cheap, ill-fitting pack around all day.
Recently, we picked up the latest addition to our collection of packs. This one is from a company not typically associated with gear bags, but one you've almost certainly heard of in another context. SOG Specialty Knives and Tools is the producer of some of our favorite pocket knives and multi-tools. Today, we're going to show you what they have done to demonstrate their proficiency with fabrics as well as steel.
Just like with their knives, SOG has placed the end user at the forefront of the development of their line of packs. From the day-tripper Ranger 12 to the multi-day Seraphim 35, SOG packs are designed to provide storage, versatility, and comfort as well as a unique look.
For this review, we are going to focus on the TOC 20 pack, which is the middle child of the SOG family of packs. You’ll notice that each pack has a number in the name. As you may have guessed, this number corresponds to the volume of the pack. The TOC 20 is a 20-liter pack, with TOC standing for “Tactical Operating Center”. And that is exactly what the TOC 20 is: a pack for everyday use that serves as a safe and organized home for your gear.
The first thing we noticed about the TOC 20 is its build quality. Everything from the placement of the zippers to the thickness of the shoulder pads feels well-thought-out and well-made. The pack is constructed from 500D nylon that has been coated in polyurethane for durability and water-resistance.
Unlike other packs we've used, it doesn't have any extraneous straps hanging off it. The straps it does have for the shoulder adjustment have small Velcro loops to keep them secured and out of the way. The large zipper pulls are also a welcome feature. They are large enough to use with or without gloves and allow the user to open zippered compartments quickly and efficiently.
Another area where it is apparent that SOG put time and effort into the engineering of this pack is how it sits on your back. As we all know, packs should be worn high and tight against your back with the weight spread out evenly on the shoulder straps. With the TOC 20, the shoulder straps are nicely padded and paired with a suspension sheet made of 2mm polyethylene, ensuring a structure that's firm enough to support heavier loads.
The integrated adjustable sternum strap is a nice touch to help keep those heavy loads from pulling the shoulder straps down. This is vital to being able to continue to move throughout the day while wearing the pack. It even includes an emergency whistle on the buckle. However, if you don’t need a sternum strap, you can remove it entirely.
This pack features a smooth back panel emblazoned with a large printed SOG logo, rather than the contoured mesh pads seen on many competitors' packs. The design is OK for cooler environments, but it may not provide sufficient airflow for warmer climates, potentially leading to a sweaty back. This is one feature we feel could be improved upon.
Obviously, a key factor when considering purchasing a new pack is storage and organization. The TOC 20 consists of a main compartment with several zippered pockets and sleeves for holding smaller items securely. In front of the main compartment is a pair of side-zip pockets for quick access. In the back of the pack is a pass-through laptop compartment. If you are not in need of a laptop, it also doubles as a hydration bladder compartment.
One of our favorite elements of the TOC 20 is the molded top compartment. This area contains several sleeves and pockets for small items you need access to quickly — pens, a knife, a flashlight, a cell phone, and so on. This entire pocket is impact-resistant and fleece-lined, making it a safe place for glasses, goggles, binoculars, and any other fragile items that need extra protection.
Inside the main compartment and along the front side of the pack and the bottom is MOLLE-compatible webbing with various lash points to attach additional gear to the pack if necessary.
Backpacks are built for one purpose: carrying stuff on your back. However, in the real world they're not always on your back. If you are in a vehicle or at a campsite, packs will be handled and used differently than when they're being worn. A pack’s functionality when not in use can be as important as when it is being used for its obvious purpose.
The TOC 20 is not overly bulbous with extraneous straps, bulging pockets, or a lopsided appearance when not filled to the brim. It is also rather small for its internal capacity, not taking up a ton of room unnecessarily. One unconventional test we've used for backpacks is the pillow test. There may come a time in the woods, an airport, or across the seat of your vehicle that you need to rest your head for a while. The TOC 20 feels great as a pillow when loaded with gear. It's not excessively thick and has a nice gradual slope to it. And when it comes time to hit the road, there is a large handle built into the side of the pack to quickly grab it and get going.
As you can tell, SOG didn’t produce a line of packs as an afterthought to their repertoire. They take them as seriously as their other products. These will hold their ground against many of the other name-brand packs on the market. With well-thought-out features, a durable, waterproof construction, and comfortable ergonomics, the SOG TOC 20 impressed us.
Time will tell if the pack is durable enough to be used for the long haul. However, based off several trips we've taken with it and the initial build quality, this seems like it will be a pack we can use for years to come.
For more information on these packs and other products from SOG, visit SOGknives.com.