The Switchback is Hazard 4’s sling pack backpack offering. It’s advertised as having “pro-quality,” and while I’ve gotta say I rarely put much stock in advertising, in this case they weren’t joking.
I’ve never owned a backpack that was as positively drenched in MOLLE straps as the Switchback. As a matter of fact, the only part on the backpack that doesn’t have modular straps is the large velcro rectangle on the upper front portion of the pack, perfect for any patches you might want to show off. While some may feel the sheer number of MOLLE straps is a little overkill, I think objectively speaking, I’d always rather have too many options than too few.
The Hazard 4 Switchback is deceitfully sized at 18 inches L x 11 inches W x 6.2 inches D (46 cm x 28 cm x 16 cm), which gives it a theoretical carrying capacity of 20.1 L. I personally feel this pack belongs in the category of a 3 day urban go bag. It can handle a ridiculous amount of gear and after compression becomes very easy to handle. I find the shape ideal for maximizing total carrying capacity, as opposed to the now common “egg” shaped backpacks, which really limit the kind of items you can fit in your pack.
This is actually my first sling-type backpack. I had some apprehensions related to the comfort of the pack, but any and all concerns I had disappeared upon seeing the sheer amount of padding utilized. The thermoformed back padding is 1 inch thick, with great molding and ventilation. The straps also have excellent padding, but padding on the straps is softer, and has mesh instead of a nylon material as backing. Ultimately, this pack probably has the best padding I’ve tested out so far.
It’s a bit odd (initially) to put on if you’re used to regular, two-strap backpacks, but it’s very easy to get used to. The weight distribution is nice, maybe better than I expected considering I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as far as that goes. The lower strap helps to support your left shoulder. Let me say I don’t miss traditional backpacks when I’m wearing this. With that said I will mention that strap adjustment is paramount, and the more the Hazard 4 Switchback hugged my body, the more comfortable it became. If it’s initially uncomfortable for you, perhaps you need to spend some time getting the straps adjusted to the optimum level of tightness.
For more curvy women, while it’s unlikely the design will render the backpack completely uncomfortable, it’s probably not quite ideal (for reasons that are self-evident). Note, Hazard 4 has a similar design with two straps (the Hazard 4 Officer) if you like the look of this one but prefer to go the two-strap route.
Speaking of straps, the main clip/fastener is ridiculously overbuilt; I’m comfortable giving it a solid bomb-proof rating. The locking switch/tab on the fastener is pretty awesome too. Action is reassuringly crisp with no wiggle or give.
The main material used is Cordura (branded Cordura, not some cheap knock off). Mine is 500D due to the multicam camouflage pattern. If you go for one of the other colors (black or coyote), those come in Cordura 1000D.
I have absolutely no concerns regarding the durability of the 500D material. It feels very reliable, but I will update you if I encounter any problems with it. It should be noted that the Switchback also comes with some kind of water repellent coating (PU x2). In practice, I found that dirt basically wiped itself off, leaving the bag looking basically brand new.
One feature I really like and wish all bags had is this neat rubber hood for both of the single zippers. It’s a nifty feature, and very useful for reducing the odds of the paracord pull getting stuck on a low hanging branch, and the compartment opening without you noticing. It only has to happen once for it to ruin your trip, so kudos for enabling a problem prevention method, Hazard 4.
The side compartment is very wide, but depth is limited. A couple of power bars, a map, and a compass would work well, but I wouldn’t add any more than that. Don’t advise overloading it.
Seiko SNXS77K1 Watch – Amazon
The branding on the Hazard 4 Switchback is muted and uniform throughout. I like that it doesn’t scream its logo like mountaineering brands, but rather adds little flourishes sporadically on both sides of the backpack and the inside. No need to be brash to be recognizable. Definitely a less is more situation.
The front compartment is chock full of mini compartments for all those easily misplaced items that you want quick and simple access to, but may get damaged if just left loose. I love the supporting straps that stop the other side of the compartment from falling completely open. It’s great to be able to just unzip it and check your map while walking along, without fear of everything falling out of your bag.
Pouches, elasticated straps, and compartments galore. Stitching is nicely done, and I don’t foresee any tearing or ripping after continued use.
The other side of the Hazard 4 Switchback features a nifty transparent sleeve. Originally, I thought it was a map case (and it certainly can be used as such), but it’s size and ability to use touchscreens without removing them makes it apparent that iPads and other tablets are pretty much begging to be placed there. Let’s be honest, in this day and age more people will carry a tablet with topographic maps & navigation routes nicely illuminated rather than old school paper maps.
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said the Hazard 4 Switchback had plenty of storage compartments. Behind the primary sleeve it has a nice discreet compartment with velcro closure.
Hazard 4 used the well known (and loved) oversized YKK zippers. The construction is as tight as a whistle. The action on the Hazard 4 Switchback is a real pleasure to use and I wouldn’t worry about over-packing. Doubt these zippers will fail on you.
The main compartment is, as I mentioned, deceitfully large. It’s designed to be able to accommodate folding rifles and submachine guns like the H&K G36C or the UMP. I personally can’t walk around with a submachine gun in my backpack, but for those who are of the more highspeed, low drag variety, this is a notable feature.
The Hazard 4 Switchback also has a meshed compartment for those smaller items. I really love how easy organizing things is with this backpack. I usually don’t trust mesh very much, as I often find it tears easily, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised with this mesh, and so far so good.
Over on the top we have slits for hydration straws. Hazard 4 advertises a hydration bladder capacity up to 100 oz/3L, which is basically the standard. Camelbak offerings will slide in with no issues.
The sleeve for the hydration bladder is inside the main compartment of the Hazard 4 Switchback.
The sides of the main compartment are compatible with velcro dividers and holsters. Any options for retention are a plus, and I am sure operators appreciate being able to keep gear consistently in the same spot, especially in high stress situations.
There’s a drainage hole through the bottom of the bag. Seeing as I don’t regularly (read: ever) swim with my backpacks, I can’t really comment much on this, but I will say that construction is tight enough that I don’t doubt contents will remain dry even during a heavy rain.
The final compartment and the one directly on your back is a laptop sleeve. It’s the perfect size for 15 inch laptops. Elise’s Macbook Pro was perfectly safe in it, thanks to the fantastic padding utilized – no need for a secondary laptop case to slip it into before going in the bag. Great job Hazard 4.
If all the compartments offered just aren’t enough for you, by all means attach more of them. I tested out the MOLLE straps with a MOLLE compatible pouch, and attachment was secure with no wiggle or warping as can often happen if the MOLLE straps are not stitched symmetrically. The straps on the Hazard 4 Switchback have the most overbuilt stitching I have seen thus far. Much better than the Condor E&E bag I reviewed previously, and that stitching was pretty damn overbuilt.
High quality and overbuilt seems to be the general trend on the Hazard 4 Switchback. The D-ring attachment point for the stabilizer strap is proof of that. I keep it attached to aid in load distribution and to stop the backpack from moving forwards when leaning, but as you can see, it is removable for those of you who want a more streamlined set up.
The main carrying handle on the Hazard 4 Switchback is very comfortable, with a nice vented rubber construction. Once again the stitching is extremely overbuilt, and even if the backpack was overweight, I don’t think you could force any tearing. The bottom of the pack also has a carrying handle, and while it’s not as comfortable as the main one, it’s plenty durable.
The compression straps on the Hazard 4 Switchback can also be used to secure tents, mats, and other tubular items to the pack. As mentioned previously, comfort is fantastic, with excellent weight distribution, and so I felt no need to crank down on the compression straps. It should be noted that if you fasten the compression straps on both sides, you will need to undo them before opening the main compartment. Personally, I like this, as it’s an extra bit of security, especially useful when travelling. Should someone have sticky fingers and try to get under the zippers whilst you are distracted, you’re going to feel it.
On the bottom of the side of the Hazard 4 Switchback there are also some flat pockets for magazines or paddle holsters.
Then there are even more D-rings. I can’t keep track of all the attachment options and their specific purposes, though that’s certainly a good thing.
Just check out all the modular webbing. Imagination is the limit here. I really wonder how many pouches one could affix to the Hazard 4 Switchback if they wanted to… challenge anyone?
The Hazard 4 Switchback is both my first Hazard 4 product, and my first sling-type backpack. I really wasn’t sure how I would feel about not having both shoulders supported when I first took a look at the product, but after testing it out, I’ve gotta say: color me impressed.
In terms of comfort, this backpack is shockingly above average. I can think of countless two-strap backpacks that don’t even come close to this level of comfort. The sheer number of attachment options and extra features can be a bit overwhelming, but as I’ve said before, I’d always prefer to have too many options over too few. What’s actually frustrating is I keep going over the backpack and no matter how many times I look at it, I really can’t think of anything I would want to change.
Is the Switchback worth its price? Absolutely. Fantastic build quality with an attention to detail and features that warrants what is indubitably a high end product. It rivals the likes of some backpacks in the $300-400 price range, and it’s under $200.
No hesitations, recommended.
Hazard 4 Switchback Availability
Amazon Availability // Amazon.com