The previous SHADO 28 model represented a fresh look at the execution of a pack, and it caused a bit of a stir in the market. While many loved and instantly bought into its new perspective on how a pack could be, it faced some negative feedback.
Two comments I read often were surrounding the length of the shoulder straps being too long and the packs height – expressed by shorter users. Being short myself, I did need to tighten the straps to their limits. The pack was perhaps slightly long, however with the waist belt I found the fit was almost perfect – at least one of my most comfortable hiking packs.
After receiving a discount when picking up the previous model from Prometheus Design Werx (PDW), I was super grateful when they offered to send the updated SHADO for the cost of me doing an honest, unbiased review.
While they’ve called this a S.H.A.D.O Pack, I view it as a different beast. Some features remain and the essence is there, but it feels like they’ve both refined the design AND packed it with new features.
I’ve have a couple of conversations with Patrick Ma, of PDW, particularly focused on their decision to move production outside of the US. The “Made in USA” label obviously means slightly less here in the UK, nevertheless it’s a significant move for this American company.
It was clear how carefully they had considered this decision, and the time they took over finding the right supplier was a testament to their devotion to quality. I looked for evidence of a reduction in quality but impressively found no visible difference from what I’d expect from “made in USA”.
This move also allowed a greater flexibility in construction, which it seems Patrick has used to unleash the full measure of his creativity on this pack.
While this step could have easily been a way of making more money per unit, instead they have added features, included accessories into the final package and passed on some of the saving to their customers.
Pockets (front to back):
Underneath a loop panel on the front is the admin pocket. This reaches abouthalfway down the remaining length of the pack. The pocket is lined with loop on the inner side and includes a removable admin panel.
I tried using this panel for a bit but personally didn’t find the pocket sizes to work with my gear. I prefer to have an external dump pocket anyway, as I like being able to just throw in keys, a wallet or a pen without any fuss of putting them in the right place. But I’m sure others would find this panel useful!
This pocket could be improved though. I found the straps of the Gear Trap often restrict the access to this pockets zip pull when it’s closed. I got around this by making sure the zipper tab was angled upwards, but it was a bit of extra hassle. I guess it could be a double zipper so you can align it in an easy place to reach, but that seems unnecessary for a pocket of this size.
That said, the position of this admin pocket works well as it keeps some weight lower down the pack.
Issue: Access to zip hindered.
Solution: Align zipper pull after use.
Next is the full clamshell opening main compartment. With a less defined lightbulb figure to the SHADO 28L, the outside flap of this compartment now has two mesh pockets. A smaller top one, which is perfect for stashing things you want quick access to, and a larger one below, which is great for a spare layer or anything a bit longer.
Of course there is high-viz internal ripstop material on the two main compartments, to allow for easy finding of your gear too. The mesh feels tough and hasn’t snagged on my rough fingers or sharper objects, as mesh sometimes does.
On the other side is a well padded laptop sleeve with a handy clip above this. I don’t carry a laptop regularly, but when I do I’m glad to have this pocket. When using for EDC I used this section to store a notebook, documents and other thinner items.
When packing it more fully, for example while hiking, the padding felt slightly bulky, but it’s a worthwhile trade off for protection when you need. It also creates more of a divide between the two main compartments, which creates two spaces that aren’t impacted by what you pack in each.
This compartment has the lions share of the packs capacity, but with the Gear Trap attached you can cinch up the pack to fit any load. There’s a taper to the bottom of the pack, however if you want to fill it out you can.
I can’t quite explain what’s going on, but there’s a real adaptability to this pack.
The next compartment is directly behind and has a more prescriptive capacity (of several inches). This is great for keeping items organised in place, but it does make things in the bottom section trickier to access. The half clamshell opening that stops at the bottle holders doesn’t help this but the holders are far to valuable to lose. I’m not a fan of multiple full-clamshell openings anyway.
Over packing this compartment does start to bulge into the back panel or main compartment, so while it’s a great space, it does need thought put into how it’s used.
There are two similar zipper mesh pockets in this compartment although these ones seem to have slightly less capacity to them. I’ve used them for a spare scarf, gloves or drybag. It’s nice to have the option, but I don’t often use them.
There’s a pocket with some good capacity and an elasticated top against the back panel of the pack, which is designed to hold a water bladder. It’s always good to have something to divide a water bladder out from your gear as, if nothing else, I find it allows the bladder to slide out more easily for a refill.
Stitched into the top of the pack is a mini side release buckle strap to hang a bladder, or even keys if you’re using the SHADO for EDC. There is a simple opening, with overlapping material, at the top of this compartment to slide your bladder tube through. I found this a breeze to use.
Finally there’s a zip to let you access the framesheet which is fairly valuable for a pack of this size, so I’m not sure why you’d want to remove it, but it’s nice to know I could.
Also included in the price is their updated EDCO Panel which I’ve only just started using really. It’s well in line with the adaptability theme, having some rigidity built into it (something the old one lacked), the option for both PALS and Hook and loop attachment, plus some zippered mesh pockets on the reverse.
Fit & Comfort
Moving onto the back area, it feels like a decent upgrade to the thinner foam padding used for the SHADO 28. The vented ripple foam is firm but embracing, plus it even feels good with just a t-shirt. It’s covered by a breathable mesh that doesn’t attracted the same level of dirt as some fabric based padding can, instead it bounces (or brushes) off most of the time.
The lower back panel (lumbar pad) is removable and has a hook and loop strap holding it in place, as well as hook and loop backing to attach it to the pack. The bottom end of this has a tab of the same material as the MCA™ (more on that later), but unfortunately the layers have come apart with friction over time. No damage to me and it wasn’t essential, but I wonder perhaps a softer fabric could have been used here, or one without layers.
This lumbar pad (once removed) can be opened up completely to allow you to attach or remove the 2 inch webbing belt that holds the two wings of the waist belt. A fully removable waist belt is a great move by PDW as it allows you to streamline the pack when it’s not needed, where other packs may require you to pack one away or even (gasp!) let it dangle.
The whole process of adding and removing this waist belt is intuitive, needing no help instruction. I wasn’t sure about the three separate parts to the belt over a single piece option, but found the comfort on point, even over a 7 hour hike with a heavy pack. The addition of the MCA™ (MOLLE Compatible Array) here works well as a pouch close to hand is great for a trauma kit or snacks.
The comfort of the back panel and sternum strap (which looks neat thanks to the elastic strap keeper) alone has worked well for months of 1 hour walking commutes to work, days out, at the beach and family woodland walks. Add the waist belt for day hikes and you have a complete comfort package. The level and thickness of both padding and shoulder straps is just right across the board.
So the load lifters… I have these permanently cinched up, but I don’t feel they’re making much difference. Maybe I’m just not using them well, but I’m not sure they’re necessary. I’d love to hear what others think on this. I’ve previously known load lifters to make a significant difference. You can cinch them up easily without taking your pack off so that is bonus.
The stand out feature for me is the Gear Trap. One side has 8 rows and 4 columns of the MCA™ mentioned before, allowing you to add PALS pouches, which of course PDW sell. I found it easy to add and remove pouches from here, perhaps even a little easier than the standard rows of PALS webbing.
The reverse side has a zippered pocket made with a stretchy material that I’ve found to be both accommodating and tough. For daily carry I attached the Gear Trap with this pocket facing outwards for a streamlined look. For the length of time I have it this way, I fully expected to experience some snagging, but it seems really durable.
Where the Gear Trap excels is of course when you need to stow that extra item that you either didn’t plan for, like something you offer to carry for someone else; or don’t want affecting your packed items, like a wet piece of clothing or muddy shoes. The combination of straps and the trap itself means that, when it comes to what you can store here, you’re really only limited by your imagination!
All the straps of the pack have been considered as to how you might want to use them, both in terms of length and how they are managed.
The ends of the load lifter, Gear Trap and shoulder straps all attach back onto themselves using a clever plastic device. PDW call these ‘self-policing’ straps and that sums it up perfectly. Straps don’t dangle down, but they also don’t require you to wrap, wind or Velcro anything down either.
Plus they can be easily slid on or off at any time. They also feature a loop at their ends making it quick to make adjustments.
It’s amazing what something so simple can do to improve the experience of using a pack.
Behind the Gear Trap there are two rows of thinner vertical webbing. Between these is a net of shock cord that passes through a mountaineering style daisy chain webbing in the centre with a small D-Ring attached at the top.
There are also two subtle ice-axe loops at the bottom. All of this provides more than ample options for connecting your gear, stowing layers of clothing etc. making it just as versatile with or without the Gear Trap.
With just this one accessory you can adapt the style and functionality of the SHADO from mountaineering, to tactical, to streamlined within a matter of minutes.
Attached to the top of both sides of the thinner vertical webbing mentioned above, are two adjustable elastic loops. I’ve seen the suggestion in other reviews to loop the Gear Traps top clips through to keep it from flapping down when it’s unclipped from the pack (demonstrated in PDW product images). I personally found I was using the Gear Trap too often to keep it fixed on like this, but I liked the concept so it’s worth sharing.
At the bottom of the pack is another panel of MCA™ for lashing pouches or other gear to. I must say I haven’t used this yet, but in the past I’ve wanted to attach a sleeping bag or roll mat to the bottom of a pack so it’s a welcomed option.
The shoulder straps have a myriad of attachment options too. There are D-rings in a great place for flipping sunglasses round or attaching some thing using a carabiner.
There is thin vertical webbing that allows the height of the sternum strap to be adjusted in an easy and secure way. There is also MCA™ running up the straps for navigation or tool pouches, plus there is elastic across the width of both straps to secure a bladder tube. They also have the side release buckles at the end should you ever need to quickly disembark from your pack – I hope to never use these!
There is one main top grab handle that has been stitched together for reinforcement. Not uncomfortable to hold, but could perhaps use some additional thickness. Either side of this continues round the pack in the form of more webbing attachment points, and becomes two side grab handles. There is also a final grab handle at the bottom which I have found useful!
PDW have really hit the mark with the bottle holders. They’re a great balance of tough, yet accommodating, plus I’m able to access my Klean Kanteen and put it back(!) without taking off the pack which shows great consideration in the design process. There are reinforced stitched pulls on the middle edge allowing you to hold these pockets open if necessary.
All of the YKK reverse coil zippers work seamlessly, and the external ones come with zipper pulls that are low-profile, yet easy to grab when needed. These match the colour of the pack, plus PDW also include a set of orange zipper pulls, which I’ve used to highlight particular zips.
The pack comes in their own named colours of All Terrain Brown and Universal Field Gray. If you’ve looked at any “gray” or “brown” tactical packs you’ll be aware of the massive issues many users have getting hold of matching pouches or accessories.
While these packs perhaps don’t match exactly the market standard, I believe defining that standard is a loosing battle. Instead PDW have made sure each of the elements on the packs match in colour, and so do their accessories.
I personally love this adapting gray, yet own mainly black pouches. I’m not able to replace my pouches just to match, but for me it’s more about utility than consistency. At the end of the day these aren’t camouflage patterns and I’m not living in a war zone where it could be a significant issue.
The final feature I’ll mention is the loop panel, which as a patch maker myself I love to see. In my opinion, PDW have an unparalleled collection of patch designs to choose from, plus there’s enough space for more than one design if you can’t decide!
To conclude I’ve got to mention the price. With the sheer number of features, quality materials, solid construction and the rapid adaptability of the pack the $198.00 price tag should have made me skeptical. But knowing the thought process behind this low price and, more importantly, from my 6 months of experience I know I have nothing to worry about – this pack truly delivers.
The SHADO has been, and will continue to be, my go to pack for everyday carry, day trips, hiking trails, exploring woodlands and adventuring with my son. I can whole heartedly recommend this pack.
The product(s) being tested and reviewed here were exchanged for the service of producing this review.
Editor: For the reason I've intentionally not stated this product as having been received for free please read my Review Process comments on our About page. All of our contributors write without the pressure to review favourably, regardless of how they've been obtained. Most often we like to write about products or brands we already love but I always make every effort to make sure our reviews are honest.