Karrimor SF's Predator 30 MOLLE Pack
Preface: "Karrimor SF" is NOT "Karrimor"
As always, we're looking at the Karrimor SF Predator 30 from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain. But before we do, first a note on the company.
A little history
Karrimor began as the Karrimor Bag Company in 1946, was pioneering and innovative and flourished in the 1960's and 70's, struggled in the later 80's and 90's and after many financial troubles entered into receivership in March 2004. Its assets were bought out by the Sports Direct Group and manufacturing in the UK largely ceased. Sports Direct continue to sell Karrimor branded products, which are largely made in China rather than the UK.
Karrimor SF (conceived by Karrimor and Deric Gollop in 1995) was launched as a separate company in 1998 and was unaffected by Karrimor's 2004 breakup. Karrimor SF make highly regarded specialist backpacks for Special Forces and law enforcement units.
Simply put, Karrimor SF make top of the range packs and pack accessories and are doing fine, whereas Karrimor is now a ghost, no more than a name used by Sports Direct to sell stuff made in China.
Test subject: Chest 42", Waist 33", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: 600D (non-camo) Black Version
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer (multiple)
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Materials: KS60-RS (600D Ripstop Polyester with Silicone/PU elastomer)||100%|
|Treatments: Fluorocarbon Durable Water Repellent (DWR)||-|
|Dimensions (Height x Width x Depth)||52cm x 30cm x 21cm|
|Capacity (Base / Recommended Max)||30L / 55L|
- What is MOLLE?
- Why a modular pack?
- Load limits
- Pack configuration examples
- Any negatives?
- Conclusion & Rating
- Postscript: High & Wide vs. Tall & Narrow
The Predator 30 is a frameless, top loading, single compartment tough as nails, modular pack with a base capacity of 30 litres. But for such a seemingly simple thing, there's quite a bit to talk about and quite frankly, rave about.
Before we get into the details, a brief look at the pack's front face, shows there's not a great deal of interest going on here except those rows of webbing indicating that this is a MOLLE pack.
So what is MOLLE?
MOLLE is an acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. The system's modularity is provided by PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) webbing; heavy-duty nylon rows and gapped columns stitched onto the host (pack or vest) to which various MOLLE-compatible pouches and accessories can be attached via the threading mechanism illustrated below:
The larger Predator 45 illustrating the PALS attachment system (copyright KarrimorSF)
As a brief aside, I find it surprising that MOLLE hasn't been adopted by the civilian outdoor sector. If I was a cynical type, I might suspect that a combination of strong, lower denier cordura and cuben fibre accessory pouches combined with a well designed base pack, may negate the need to own more than one pack. Maybe that's why? Anyway, back to the review.
The Predator 30 has 6 (rows) x 6 (columns) of PALS webbing on the front and 4 x 4 on both sides. This makes for a vast array of attachment points not limited to MOLLE accessories. Personally I use the bottom 2 rows for two quick release straps to secure my tent or bivvy, with the top 4 rows generally dedicated to Karrimor SF's Large Predator Utility Pouch (which uses 4 x 4 of the 6 x 6 total).
Why a modular pack?
The answer is given in the previous sentence, "generally dedicated to", i.e. such items only need to form part of the pack when the trip demands their inclusion. A modular approach means that your pack can be customised to provide the precise capacity required for each trip. It also allows the user to control weight distribution and pack shape, which in turn affects the pack's centre of gravity, balance and ultimately comfort.
Another benefit is that the base pack (the 30L compartment) can be used to carry all those items that do not need to be accessed until setting up camp (food supplies, spare clothes, sleeping bag, wash kit etc.), while the external pouches contain all those items that one might need during the day (water filter, cooking kit, the day's rations, waterproofs, insulated jacket etc.). More on this later.
The Predator 30's load limits
The Predator 30 was designed as a military patrol pack which as Karrimor SF state can, "with the addition of modular pouches [be extended] for longer ventures". The 60 litre max capacity is not a limit stated by Karrimor SF, but is rather a figure derived from our experience. The Predator is pretty remarkable in its ability to handle additional loads both from a structural, robustness standpoint and from a centre of gravity and weight distribution perspective, both factors contributing to the pack maintaining its overall balance and comfort even when its capacity is more than doubled and its load exceeds those that would stress normal 30L packs.
The Predator 30 will handle an additional (approx) 15 litre capacity on either side. Being a reasonably narrow (30cm) and shallow (21cm) pack, when the major additional capacity is on the sides, as long as weight is reasonably evenly distributed, the pack balance is not noticeably affected. In addition, the centre of gravity does not get shifted away from the spine on the horizontal plane (see caricature right), which would cause the user to have to lean forward to counter the force.
In terms of maximum load, I've found the sweet spot is around 18.5 kg (just shy of 41 lbs), beyond which the shoulder straps' padding is overly compressed / strained causing an ache across the shoulders (the straps never seem to rub or bite). The most I've carried is 19.5 kgs and when I did it was with some supplementary padding on the shoulder straps. Though the pack was manageable, it no longer felt quite right. At 18.5 kgs and below I've found the Predator 30 an incredibly comfortable pack. It sits nice and high and feels almost limpet-like, hugging the mid-upper back, making it very stable and ideally suited for mountain trekking and scrambling.
At 18.5 kg I can carry about 10 days worth of food (3 meals a day).
The Predator 30's Features
Fabric: Weight & Durability
The Predator 30 is made with Karrimor SF's KS60-RS fabric (a 600 denier polyester with a silicone / PU elastomer) which is relatively light (for its extreme durability) with high tear and abrasion resistance. The fabric is finished with a fluorocarbon durable water repellent (DWR). The camouflaged models are slightly different, manufactured from 500D Infra-Red Reflective (IRR) fabric. Rotproof thread is used throughout and the seams are reinforced with bartacks. There is absolutely no doubting the durability credentials of the Karrimor SF range, and the baby of the bunch, the Predator 30 is no exception.
For long distance trekking, there are some items which one simply cannot afford to fail, the top two have to be your boots and your pack, afterall what is trekking if not walking and carrying. For such items, I'll choose bombproof over ultralight any time. That said, the Predator 30 weighs in at 1.3 kgs, so it's not stupidly heavy.
This is partly due to the fact that this is a frameless pack, using a very dense and substantial foam back panel / pad, which sits in its own sleeve between the hydration bladder housing and the coolmesh back system. Between the foam panel, the heavy duty fabric and the PALS webbing, the pack feels so robust, that you'd think it did have a frame.
Weight in Context
A brief survey of a broad (apples to oranges) range of 30 litre trekking and climbing packs from Arcteryx, Black Diamond, Crux, Berghaus, Montane, Osprey, Lowe Alpine, Millet, VauDe and Deuter reveals a spectrum from the very light 0.7kg to the heavy 1.6kg, with climbing packs tending to be under a kilo and the trekking packs often over a kilo and averaging around 1.1 to 1.2 kgs. So in this context, Karrimor SF's Predator 30 is not massively overweight. Yet I would put it up against ALL these packs when it comes to durability, toughness and overall reliability. Afterall, service personnel generally put more weight and stress on their packs (especially when in combat) than the majority of hill walkers. The only packs we've come across that might compete for toughness are the Crux AK climbing packs, which use a 40% Kevlar / 60% Cordura fabric mix.
However, none of the packs surveyed above are modular and simply cannot be compared to the Predator 30 as they are not designed to radically extend their capacity and carry large additional loads.
The Front & The Back
As noted earlier there's little going on with the front face. The two features of note are the 6 x 6 PALS webbing and two lid straps which form ice axe loops at the base. The following pics include a few add-ons (some obvious, some not so much and I'll note any features not part of the "base" Predator 30), here's the Predator 30 with the Predator Large Utility Pouch - a very handy addition.
We'll work our way up from the base to the top, starting at the back, then we'll look at the sides from bottom to top.
Back Section: Hip Belt
The Predator 30's "hip belt" is more of a waist belt which runs just below the kidneys. There's no doubt that taller, larger capacity packs with traditional heavily padded hip belts will put more weight on the hips, but by definition will deny the carrier use of that area.
Climbing packs and military patrol packs often sit high on the back and leave some space around the hip area. Climbers, wearing harnesses often have a lot of gear hanging off their hips; soliders wearing padded MOLLE "battle belts" likewise. There's a lot to be said for this approach as it allows the user to decide what and how much to carry on the hips. I use a hip belt which holds a TAS Belt Bag, up to a litre of water, and my camera. In total (belt, pouches, contents and a full 1 litre bottle of water) this takes about 3 kgs of weight (that would be on a traditional pack) and places 100% of that weight on my hips.
The Predator 30 features a moderately padded hip belt with PALS webbing to attach small pouches, here with a TAS GPS Pouch. All the quick release buckles on the Predator 30 are of outstanding quality and make a very satisfying click on closure.
Back Section: Coolmesh back system, S-shaped shoulder harness and sternum strap
The Coolmesh back system is very comfortable indeed and I've never had any issues with excess sweating, rubbing, chafing or overall comfort. As mentioned earlier the Predator 30 really hugs the upper part of the back, and as long as one doesn't pack 5 litres of Tungsten at its base, you'll get no push into the lower back, and very little pull at the shoulders. With heavier loads, the sternum strap (in conjunction with the shoulder strap adjusters) really makes a difference, pulling the shoulder straps in tight and forcing the pack to clamp to the mid / upper torso. The padding on the shoulder straps maintain their comfort up to a max load of around 18.5 kgs (~ 41 lbs).
The shoulder straps have webbing stitched into them (useful if you need to fortify the shoulder strap padding for loads approaching 20 kgs - I wouldn't go above that) which hold a pair of D-rings, a hydration tube clip, and a sternum strap. The D-rings and hydration tube clip also combine to make a nice holder for your sunglasses (personally, I'm not a fan of hydration bladders - water is heavy and I prefer it on my hips, not on my shoulders).
At the top of the back is a heavy duty carry handle.
Top Section: The Lid
The reinforced lid features a shock cord carry system, useful for holding a small solar charging battery pack and for drying out clothing during the day.
The lid has a spacious (much more than it looks in the picture) YKK zipped pocket. This easily holds a small 205 x 170 cm tarp / bivvy "porch" (+ Pegs, Cord, Line Loks etc...) and a 50g backpacking trowel (with room to spare).
Top Section: Under the lid
Under the lid we've got a pretty standard, yet tough cinched closure, made from a slightly lighter, coated polyester.
A waterproof pack liner is always a good idea. I use a 60L (!) POD waterproof "rucksac liner" (which cannot possibly have a genuine 60L capacity). The POD liner is tall and quite narrow and fits the Predator 30 well.
Using a larger dry bag / liner allows the capacity to be extended slightly (and allows for a 3+ rolled, watertight seal) since everything is protected inside, the Predator's opening can be left uncinched. As long at the lid can close, a few litres of extra capacity can be gained.
Inside the pack we can see the two sleeves (pictured right): the inner sleeve for the foam back panel which has a velcro closure, and the outer sleeve for a hydration bladder. Apart from that it's just one big 30L cavernous bucket for all your gear.
Both sides feature 4 x 4 PALS webbing which will hold the majority of MOLLE attachments on offer. I use this to hold a roll-away dump pouch (since there aren't any wastebins in the wilderness). What I find more useful about the side webbing is that it offers numerous attachment options.
I've attached PLCE compatible clips at the top left and right, so most PLCE pouches can be attached, but also for attaching smaller "pockets" (which don't feature loops for the compression straps) such as the excellent 4L Tatonka Side Pocket (perfect for holding a cooking kit - see first picture above).
The Side Sections: Ski Guides and Stuff pockets
Like the lid, the base of the pack is heavily reinforced, and at the sides there are two wide ski guides, for stabilising skis held by the "compression straps". Just above these are two "stuff pockets", which I use to hold a first aid kit in one and a waterproof pack cover in the other. They'd comfortably hold a water bottle.
The Side Sections: Compression Straps & Hydration Opening
There are two heavy duty compression straps designed as much for holding additional gear as for compressing the pack. They are very long, providing a wide circumference, that can easily clasp an Ortlieb 22L Dry Bag (as seen in the picture below). The straps feature very high quality quick release buckes and rubber strap-tidy loops.
Travelling a little up the left side toward the lid, there's a small opening for a hydration bladder tube.
Some accessories that we've found very useful include:
- Ortlieb Mediumweight PD350 Dry Bags:
This Ortlieb range of dry bags make ideal side pouches. They are very robust and weigh less per litre of capacity than Karrimor SF's (and other PLCE compatible) side pouches. Being waterproof, they negate the need for a waterproof "pouch liner". They are available in 3 particularly suitable capacities: 10L, 13L (ideal) and 22L (which is sufficient to hold a Carinthia Defence 4 sleeping bag in conjunction with Alpkit's Cloud Cover - Scramble's Extreme Cold option).
- Karrimor SF's Predator Large Utility Pouch:
Designed for the Predator range, this is an almost must have item. In Winter this holds my trail crampons, gaiters, and waterproof tent boots. In Summer I use this for my Sawyer Mini Water Filtration kit and waterproofs.
- Blue Ice's Dragonfly 18L Packable Backpack:
The Dragonly is Scramble's top rated "day pack" and is ideal as a side pouch for situations where the main pack can be left behind and day trips undertaken with the Dragonfly. The Dragonfly packs into its own pocket and its foam backpad can be carried in the Predator's hydration or back panel sleeve.
- ITW Grimloc Locking D-Ring:
These are MOLLE compatible "carabiners", weighing 11g, and are very useful attachment points. They work well when attached to the side of the top row of PALS webbing on the face of the pack. Allowing items to be attached just above the utility pouch, items that one might want to release in a hurry, such as a solar panel.
Pack configuration examples
There are two kinds of item when trekking long distance. Items that will see use between leaving pitch A and making pitch B, and those that won't. We've found that 30L is the sweet spot for containing all those items only required once camp is made. The only exception to this is in Winter where the cold weather sleeping bag is stored on the outside of the pack (see image on the left).
Here's an example from a recent Winter Kit Test (using the max 60L configuration pictured above left). I used two side pouches and one centre pouch for all the items (potentially) required during the day (at this point the pack is really at its limits and for long duration winter trekking / mountaineering the Blue Ice Warthog 40 is a better option).
Left Side: Ortlieb PD350 Mediumweight dry bag (13L)
- Cooking Kit (incl Gas)
- Light Insulated Jacket
- Ultralight Down Gilet
- Lightweight Gaiters
- 1 Day's Food + Tea
Right: Side: Ortlieb PD350 Mediumweight dry bag (22L)
Front: Karrimor SF Large Utility Pouch (~2.5L)
- Trail crampons (as pictured above) or full crampons depending on conditions
- Water Filter Kit
- Waterproof Tent Boots
Top Lid Pocket
Lower Side Pockets
- Waterproof Pack Cover
- First Aid Kit
When I first used the Predator 30 I felt it should have incorporated the same zipped and clipped side pouch system featured on the larger Predator 45 model (pictured above). However, since using the Ortlieb dry bags, I'm actually glad, Karrimor SF chose not to, and in doing so saved some weight.
At Scramble, we love this pack and there's very little we'd change. One thing that Karrimor SF might look to improve however, is the base. In our view this should be reinforced with a heavier duty fabric like 1000D Cordura or Ballistic Nylon (it's a small area and wouldn't add that much weight). The base of a pack gets quite a bit of wear, not only from the outside but also from inside as gear is stuffed into every spare cubic centimetre. We've deducted half a point for function.
The only other minor niggle is that the ice axe loops are part of the lid strap system. So, if you have an absolutely jam packed Predator 30 and the straps are covering external items (such as a tent / bivvy) then there may not be enough slack to make the ice axe loops. However, even in such cases, one can simply thread the straps under those external items. So in practice this is never really an issue. But I'd have preferred they didn't connect those two attachment methods. Half a point docked for function. (Note - I sandwich the ice axe's adze, face down, between the hooped bivvy and the utility pouch (this protects the bivvy from getting ripped) and the pick, with its protector on, fits in the rubber loops of the compression straps - this should prevent the axe damaging your gear).
As with all packs, body shape, torso length etc, play a major part in whether they're a good fit for an individual (rather like boots). Not everyone will like the high and wide, modular approach, and for those that like long, tall packs with big padded hip belts and mesh bottle holders and the like, this pack probably won't be for you.
But as you can tell, there's very little wrong with the Predator 30. Any negatives? For Scramble's purposes, none of any major significance.
Conclusion & Rating
MOLLE, up for adoption?
As we stated at the top of this review, "Karrimor SF make highly regarded specialist backpacks for Special Forces ..." (thus the SF in "Karrimor SF"). Well, it turns out that the military know a thing or two about carrying heavy loads over tough terrain. Interestingly, military designers learned a great deal from companies like Karrimor during the late last century's expansion of the outdoor leisure market. Military gear has vastly improved since then, especially in terms of weight, and now certain items designed for military application offer real alternatives to their civilian counterparts. One such item is Karrimor SF's Predator 30.
At its core, the Predator 30 is a compact, narrow pack which sits high on the back. Without the PALS webbing, it would look something like a stripped-down climbing pack, with its ski guides and ice axe loops at its base, frameless top-loading design and lightly padded hip belt. And that's essentially what this pack is, at its core. But being a MOLLE pack, its modularity allows for a level of customisation that simply isn't available to most civilian packs.
The heavy duty, rotproof, reinforced KS60-RS 600D fabric allows the pack to deal with additional loads and capacities that extend this pack from the small into the large capacity range; sufficient in our experience, for all ones gear and enough food for 10 days (in all seasons). Depending on how mountainous the terrain, between 15 and 20 miles per day should be very do-able. So the Predator 30 will allow you 150 to 200 miles before re-supply is required - that's a fair degree of independence.
The Predator 30 is really a 30L, 40L and a 55L pack in one. An incredibly robust pack for its weight, the Predator 30 is a no-fuss (with no superfluous features), highly functional, utilitarian, mule of a pack, that will deal with pretty much anything any trekking civvie (no matter how hardcore) is going to throw at it. I'd love to see the MOLLE system adopted by a weight conscious outdoor pack manufacturer, but until then, Karrimor SF's Predator 30 is Scramble's top pick in the 30L+ Trekking Backpack category (and I have a feeling it's going to take something very special to dethrone it).
Note: The two fancy camo packs on the right are made by a specialist camouflage company called Pencott Camo and may not be easy to come by.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Postscript: High & Wide vs. Tall & Narrow
The following illustration is merely a caricature intended to convey the weight distribution / pack shape integrity benefits of going for a modular pack in the context of carrying a minimum of one week's food supplies.
Obviously, we're aware that pack designers attempt to mitigate the effect outlined below with the use of compression straps and compartmentalisation. However, we'd argue that they do not achieve the same absolute pack shape and weight distribution integrity that can be had with a small-bodied base pack with excess storage at the flanks.
STAGE 1: A Fully Loaded Pack
Below we have two packs, on the left a traditional large 70L pack and on the right the Predator 30 with two 20L side pouches. 15L (in green) is taken up with food supplies.
STAGE 2: Food Supplies All Used Up
As supplies dwindle, overspill items stored in the external storage elements can be "decantered" into the main 30L body. This ensures the pack's shape remains even as the pack gets substantially lighter.
STAGE 3: Pack Shapes Change
The Predator 30 is shrinking on the horizontal axis, becoming narrower. This has little effect on its centre of gravity and if anything may slightly improve its balance. The traditional tall 70L pack has to mitigate shrinking vertically from top to bottom.
STAGE 4: Centres of Gravity
The Predator 30's centre of gravity will experience a minimal shift upward. The traditional 70L pack has to fight a significant drop in its centre of gravity. This can be partially mitigated by packing "poorly", pre-compressing the pack prior to packing (which is fiddly) and if compartments allow, by moving gear from a lower compartment into the main body. We doubt any of these measures will result in the even weight distribution allowed by a robust modular pack like the Predator 30.
The traditional pack is likely to experience a drop in its centre of gravity causing a pull at the shoulders and a push into the lower back, forcing the user to lean forward to counter this force. The degree to which this can be mitigated depends on the pack's design and features.
Last Updated: 23/10/18