For the past decade or so there’s been a huge focus on “Bug Out Bags,” which are the ideal pack you’ll have waiting to throw over your shoulder and run out the door while the world burns down around you. Oddly enough, out of the myriad of articles, videos, and general Internet posts that we’ve seen about these “all-in-one” survival packs, no one really mentions much about the actual pack itself, choosing instead to focus on its contents. Sure, there are occasional allusions to the type and shape of bag to look for, but they tend to be vague at best.
But after extensive testing, we here at Gear Institute feel that we’ve finally found the perfect Bug Out Bag in the form of the S.H.A.D.O. Pack 28L from Prometheus Design Werx. What makes this bag so great? We’ll suss out all of the reasons over the next few paragraphs, but we don’t want to get hung up on this pack just being for that singular purpose. Ultimately, we want to drive home the fact that the Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O. Pack may just be the ultimate Everyday Carry pack on the market too. It could be that one pack that is designed to go wherever you go and do whatever you do.
The PDW S.H.A.D.O. is the culmination of a lot of time spent in the outdoors and thinking outside the box in terms of finding the right balance of form and function. 28 liters (1708 cu in.) in size, the pack is technical, tactical, and manufactured for abuse. It’s safe to say that a fair share of thought went into the design and execution of the S.H.A.D.O. So much so, that I would even venture to guess that there were at least ten iterations of this pack made at PDW’s base of operations in San Francisco before they got to the final product. It is meticulously crafted and put together, resulting in a daypack that is built to military standards but can adapt to a variety of lifestyles and environments with ease.
The name of this pack alone is an acronym that alludes to what it’s all about: Suspension, Haul, Access, Durability, Organized. These tenets are where we see the balance of form and function in the S.H.A.D.O. The baseline pack comes with a padded back panel with the option of adding a frame sheet for rigidity and improved comfort while carrying a heavier load (Suspension). Additionally, you can upgrade the built-in 2” webbing waist belt with PDW’s ToF Belt Pad, which not only aids the frame sheet in carrying weight, but is also covered in MOLLE webbing to allow you to add-on easy to access accessories (Haul). For ease of use, the pack has two massive main clamshell pockets that splay completely open, allowing you to pack and retrieve your essential items with ease (Access).
Next, I would like to mention the organization factor, which is practically endless thanks to the numerous onboard pockets and compartments, as well as the numerous add-on pouches. But then the pack would be called the S.H.A.O.D, which is just weird. Nonetheless, I’ve yet to use a pack with as many organizational options as this one (Organized). Lastly, the choice of materials and the overall build of the pack is simply overkill for most of our needs (Durability). In short, if you are tough on your gear and have even the slightest tinge of organizational OCD, this pack was made for you.
The S.H.A.D.O. pack features all of the usual suspects commonly found in today’s day and multiday packs: padded laptop sleeve, hydration ports, dual water bottle pockets, and an internal water bladder hanger, although the bladder itself is sold separately. But PDW offers a whole line of add-on’s for the pack designed to help you adapt it to your specific lifestyle. I’ve already touched on the ToF Belt, but what I didn’t mention was that it can be used on its own with any robust belt you’re wearing (1.5”-2”). Because it’s covered in MOLLE webbing, you can lash pouches, holsters, and sheaths to it and create your own utility belt (Like Batman, FINALLY!) so you can leave the pack – and excess bulk – back at basecamp. Two other unique add-ons being offered are the Gear Trap and the EDCO Panel too.
The Gear Trap is an item we’ve seen on a lot of backcountry skiing packs in the form of an adjustable front slip pocket generally used to carry helmets, rain shells, and the like. Technically, that’s the purpose of the Gear Trap for the S.H.A.D.O. as well, with the added feature of a MOLLE panel on the front which allows you to expand your carry functions.
The EDCO Panel works in a similar way. It’s a full-length panel that is designed to lash into the largest main pocket and provide a platform for pouches and other accessories, but also has mesh pockets on the backside too. An item like this allows you to take organization into another dimension and is generally only found on military communications and medic packs. Is it overkill here in a “civilian” pack? If you’re only carrying gym clothes, maybe. But if you’re someone who switches between work and play in different environments, you’ll find it to be a welcome option.
One other unique feature that I believe needs mentioning is the 70D signal orange lining of the pack. I’ll admit, it looks a little odd in contrast to the 500D Wolf Gray Invista Cordura shell, but this wasn’t some hipster trick to make the pack look unique. Instead, this is a primary function designed into the pack that allows the user to identify and access gear in low light conditions. It’s the same reason hunter’s wear bright orange, but instead of worrying about getting shot by other hunters, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to get inside and get what you need without much fuss. Additionally, if you’re in a jam, you can even empty the pack, open it up, and aim it at the sky. They call it signal orange for a reason after all, and that’s because anyone flying overhead can spot it from the air. Wild, right?
PACK CONFIGURATION: AS TESTED, USED, AND ABUSED
Prometheus Design Werx wanted us to have the full-blown experience with the S.H.A.D.O. so they sent the baseline pack in Wolf Grey, the frame sheet, Gear Trap, and ToF Belt. We then added their 6×6 Admin Tile for quick and easy access to a few select tools.
In putting the pack together, you get familiar with its layout and capabilities quickly. This familiarization comes in handy when you finally start filling it up with gear as it’s shaped like a top loader, but operates like a front opening pack. I keep larger items in the back pocket, including shelter, Every Day Pouch, and inflatable mattress pad. Smaller, softer items go in the front pouch, such ground cloth/blanket, diapers, wipes, and so on. (Yeah man, I’m an adventure dad.)
Keeping the soft and doughier stuff towards the back allowed the pack to fit the frame of my body better. Even with the frame sheet in place, anything large and rigid could deform the shape of the bag, which you’ll feel it in your back. That said, there’s a lot of room in the S.H.A.D.O. and you’ll quickly pick up on how to maximize it. There’s also a sweet little cubbyhole in the bottom of the front pocket that sort of rolls underneath the back pocket. We found it to be the perfect spot for stashing a tool roll or bedroll. We also found that when there’s something in place down there, the bag tucks in nicely at the small of the back, providing a bit of lumbar support.
When empty, the S.H.A.D.O. pack weighs about 3.25lbs in this configuration. It also fits comfortably close to the body, feeling much like a book bag, yet moving more like a top loader. Even when you start strapping pouches to the outside of the pack and the ToF belt, it never feels bulky or off-kilter. Proper packing helps to preserve that feeling of course, but because the pack is narrow you’ll tend to feel it moving naturally with your body. And because it is so easy to adapt on the fly, it is a great option for travelers who might not be able to take all of their contents on a plane. Simply remove a pouch, or even the EDCO Panel, and throw them in your stow bag. Then, when you land, reattach those pieces while walking out to your taxi or shuttle. In practice, the experience is smooth, streamlined, and ranks high in terms of accessibility.
If there were one improvement we would recommend to PDW for S.H.A.D.O. Pack version 2.0, it would be the inclusion of load adjusting straps (load lifters), which have become common o packs intended for this type of use and volume. At first, I didn’t notice that they weren’t there, but once I started getting into some serious ascents, they were sorely missed. For urban adventures, this is probably a trivial addition. But again, it’s worth mentioning for anyone heading out there in the thick of it.
WHO’S THIS PACK FOR?
Packs like the S.H.A.D.O. blur lines in terms of where they can and should be used. Based on the build, size, and its features, we think anyone who regularly switches between active routines, and is serious about organization, will find this pack to be top notch. It is meant for the type of person who has to split their time between the office, gym, and trail on any given day. College students will also benefit from a pack like the S.H.A.D.O. because it can hold a lot of cargo and keep it well organized too. As mentioned previously, preppers, survivalists, and pathfinder alike will also benefit from the ample organized storage and the ease of access that the pack has to offer.
Fast Packers and Peak Baggers? Probably not so much. It’s just a lot of bag for those quick runs. Ultralight hikers? Don’t even bother looking in this general direction.
I’ve been using the S.H.A.D.O. pack for the past few weeks and have benefited from its versatility, both on and off the trail. I’m a stay at home dad, design engineer, adventure journalist, and avid outdoorsman who needs to switch things up multiple times throughout the day. As mentioned, it could easily be diapers and snacks in the morning, but bullets, shelter, and a sleeping bag by dinner. The amount of organization in the S.H.A.D.O. pack allows for quick transitions from one thing to the next, and due to the ample size of each pocket you get to call the shots as to where everything goes.
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who errs heavily towards the prepper/survivalist end of the outdoor enthusiast spectrum. He thought the pack would be too small for a “traditional” Bug Out Bag. The theory about those types of bags is you need to carry as much as you can on your back to survive. I don’t agree with that ethos however. I believe you need to carry your essentials on your back, including a shelter, means for gathering food and water, clothing, and tools. The rest of your arsenal can be hauled in a duffel bag or should already be buried out in pre-determined places (I’m not kidding –that’s the general rule of thumb). Once I explained my approach to him, he was Team S.H.A.D.O. all the way.
When you purchase the Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O. Pack you’re getting the baseline 28L daypack, which on its own can serve multiple purposes and lifestyles, with room to expand as needed. Some folks might scoff at this approach since the S.H.A.D.O. is already touching the edge of the $300 price point. But if you step back and see why PDW has done this, you can appreciate the fact that there not forcing you into a singular pack configuration or filling the pack with modules you might not need. By giving you the option to essentially “upgrade” the S.H.A.D.O. pack, PDW has done their current and prospective customers a solid by ultimately making it endlessly configurable.
So, yes, this pack is an investment. You will pay upwards of $500 or more to get this bugger fully decked out. It’s also not a pack for the casual user, but is instead for someone that requires a durable bag that can be easily adapted to their specific needs. If that sounds like you, the Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O. Pack could be just the multi-function daypack you’ve been searching for.