Camelbak HAWG Review

The first “tactical” backpack I ever got was the Camelbak HAWG. I was in the market for a daypack since I had worn through the cordura on my Eddie Bauer schoolbag after about 13 years of daily use. A few of my friends already  had the HAWG and sang it's praise. So when I heard through the grapevine there was a possibility that Camelback was going to discontinue the HAWG in DCU, there was no choice. Find it and buy it as soon as possible.

At first I was disappointed with the HAWG because of it’s capacity not understanding that it's a daypack and not a 3-Day. As time went on, I collected more bags that were able to carry more, the 35L Eagle 3-Day, the Arc’teryx 35L Axios, the classic 50L large ALICE, and the massive 107L Mystery Ranch 6500. What I found over the years is that the pack I kept going for in my gear closet was the HAWG. It’s modest capacity is enough to carry some food, 3L of water and a change of clothes with room to spare. When it came time to choose a backpack to bring on my 100km OXFAM walk, I brought the HAWG. When I decided it would have felt weird to do Tough Mudder without a pack on, I chose the HAWG. And since I did all my training for GoRuck with the HAWG, it got loaded up with 40lbs of bricks and supplies and came with me for my second challenge.


As I mentioned before, the main compartment is fairly modest and is enough to fit some daily items, but don’t expect to go camping with this pack. There is a loop on the inside of the pack for hooking your water bladder onto. I like to put the bladder on the inside of the pack when I don’t have much to carry because I find that if I fill it completely, and put it into the rear compartment, it sits awkwardly until you drink about a pint of water. On either side there are two ports for you to run your hose or antennas.
The compartment in the back has extra padding to insulate the water bladder. An added bonus is that this means there is also a lot of padding between your back and the contents of the pack. There are three ways to route the hydration tube out of this compartment. The first option is the run the tube to the main compartment, and then out one of the two side flaps. For a more direct route, you can use the ports underneath the shoulder straps.

In terms of adjustment, the sternum strap can slide up and down the shoulder straps so that you can have it in the perfect spot. The waist strap is more to keep the bag from flopping around excessively than for distributing the load to your hips.
The front pouch is probably the weakest point design wise in my opinion. There are lots of layers and integrated pockets that I’ve never found useful. When the main compartment is full, it’s actually difficult to access the contents of the front pouch. Another reason why I don’t really use the front pouch often is because the lower compression straps are in the way of the path of the zipper. If these compression straps had side release buckles like the top straps, it would make things a bit easier. This however is all a bit of a moot point because the new version of the HAWG has completely redesigned the front pouch.

There are two pieces of velcro at the end of the shoulder straps to keep the ends rolled up which I think is a bit unnecessary. I’ve never really had the loose webbing get in the way of anything. Also, the hook portion of those retainers messed up the fabric on my Arc’teryx base layer during my 100km OXFAM walk. Over time, all the rubbing pulled some of the fibres and left my shirt looking like it had gotten into a fight with a cat. Lesson learned.

The MOLLE is a nice feature and I’ve used it to attach first aid kits and radios. The most recent version of the HAWG has more MOLLE and a more streamlined front. Along the shoulder straps are loops and D-Rings that can be used to run cables and your hydration tube. Side release buckles on the shoulder straps can be squeezed if you need to dump your pack in a hurry, but I’ve luckily never had to do that.

The 3 litre bladder that comes with the HAWG comes with a sleeve to insulate the tube, and a cap to protect the mouth piece from dirt when you aren’t drinking from it. I definitely appreciated this feature when we were in some questionable bodies of water during the GoRuck Challenge. Even happier after we rolled in sand and mud.

Final Thoughts

How has it held up after years of abuse? The zipper pull from the main compartment has frayed a bit, and the drainage grommets on the bottom of the pack have lost their paint. That’s pretty much it. I’ve beat the crap out of this bag and I bet if I threw it in the washer, it would come out looking next to new. The HAWG has proven itself over time to be the pack that I can bring anywhere, and do whatever I want to do without worrying about it failing. I’m actually fairly convinced that I’ll be using this pack for many more years to come. I’ve purchased lots of other bags throughout the years, but the this is the one I keep going back to. Without a doubt, out of all the packs I own the Camelbak HAWG is by far my favourite.

Review by: Mike C.

Photography by: Sean A.


  1. A few years ago, my vintage and long suffering North Face pack finally gave up the ghost and I had to find a tenable if not superior replacement. After hearing about my plight, a friend presently serving in the U.S. Navy gave me a SOCOM-issued Eagle Industries AIII MOLLE Pack. What a gift!! Although fair to say my AIII pack doesn't have any organizer pockets, it does carriy a lot of kit, is comfortable to carry with almost any load(EDC to weekend camping), looks great and is tougher than an entire crate of roofing nails. Also LOVE the fact that Eagle Industries backs all of their products with a Lifetime guarantee. Yep, love Eagle products so much so that I recently bought another addition to my family of Eagle Industries products; an Eagle Industries FSBE SOCOM-issued Patrol Pack. Although a lot simpler than the AIII pack, it's every bit as good looking and robust. Cheers to all Geardo's everywhere(especially here!)

  2. I own and abuse a Camelbak Motherlode. I train and have used it in 3 GoRuck events (2 Challenges/1 Light.) The shoulder straps and waist strap are the most comfortable of the packs I own. I normally carry 30# of weight, but have carried up to #55 with no problem. I train with it multiple times a week and always with weight. Absolutely enough room to use as a 3-day pack; however, access to the main compartment is a pain because the zipper doesn't zip down to the bottom of the pack. Makes it tough to pack it to capacity. The pack works great for training and rucking, so I'm absolute satisfied.

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  4. Hey Mike! Great review. I have had my Hawg since '03 and it's still in relatively good condition, as well. The inside PU coating has started to flake off, though. Going to be a project for the spring.