Saturday, September 10, 2016

SOG Toc Review

As SOG pivots from being just a knife brand to being a gear brand, its interesting to watch what they decide to tackle first and how they go about executing on new products.  The question for me as a gear enthusiast is simple--are they going to further dilute their brand with ho-hum products or are they going to be the budget version of Triple Aught Design.  If their knives presage the direction they are headed, its a bad thing.  If this bag does, that's a good thing.

The TOC is a 20L bag with a lot of good stuff going for it--nice zippers, good handles, decent straps, and some thoughtful organization.  But it falls into the trap that a lot of SOG stuff does--it is busy and looks technical without actually being technical.  For example, for the all the strappiness, I would have really appreciated a bit more attention to detail on the back panel, something, anything to give the pack a bit more circulation.    

Here is the product page. The SOG TOC costs $159.95. Here is a written review. Here is a video review (hilarious).

Here is my review sample (provided by SOG and to be given away):


Twitter Review Summary: The best pack at Big about a backhanded complement.

Design: 1

There are no egregious sins here, just a lot of niggling issues that, in sum, add up to one point off.  First, let's just all be clear--these will never get used:


I know the design aesthetic of MOLLE MOLLE everywhere is hot right now, but this is a bit silly.  The bigger issue is that not only is this MOLLE useless, it also prevents the TOC from having some sort of protected bottom that would make the bag more useful and the stuff inside a little more sheltered from the elements.  The Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II does this well and the solution is simple.  

The second design issue I have is with the molded pouch.  I know that it is the design keystone for SOG's entire line of new bags, but it is ugly.  It makes the bag look a little weird and it makes the wearer look like a beetle of some sort.  I don't mind the molded pouch's function, just its look.  

The pack is the right size for a day pack if you are normal sized human being--5'0" to 6'0" say.  Anything bigger and there is the Dora the Explorer issue, given that this is a 20L pack.  Here is a size comparison to my preferred day pack (after many years of searching), the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II:


Overall, the design is pretty solid, with no real gaffs under than the lack of a rubberized bottom.  It seems like such a no-brainier.

Fit and finish: 2

Nothing feels like it would survive Armageddon, but it is cleanly built and has held up well in my months of testing.  The stitching is clean and the zippers are nicely aligned.  There is no weird fabric sticking out of pockets and even the interiors are very clean.


We know that SOG, like Cold Steel and CRKT, makes nothing themselves, instead designing things and sending them out to OEMs.  Whoever the OEM is here did a very good job.  And while a lot of folks bitch about OEM use, the reality is that in the mid-tier of gear, it's the best way to get quality stuff.  I'll touch on this in my "Made in the USA" articles that are still in the works, but it's important that profits go to American companies, too. I'd like both jobs and profits to come to America...but many times profits eventually (sometimes) turn in to jobs.

Carry: 1

It's tough if you are a sweaty Italian, like me, to find a pack that has sufficient circulation to keep you dry on a good hike.  Unfortunately, the SOG is not one of them.  There is neither molding nor contouring, both of which would have helped.  Here you get a flat, undifferentiated back panel and the result is that even mild exertion will generate sweat.  I am probably not representative of the population in this regard, but such a bland back panel is likely to cause problems for everyone.


Aside from this issue, the pack sits nicely on the back and stays put thanks to a good sternum strap.  I really like the pack's height and width for carry purposes.  The shoulder straps, while not amazing, are good enough.

Materials: 2

So none of the pack's materials are as hearty or as bombproof as what you will find on a Maxpedition bag or a Tom Bihn Dyneema bag.  Instead you get the feel of Dyneema (light and thin) with none of its durability.  This is clearly a way to cut costs, like the back panel design, but it's not something that effects the pack on a day to day basis.  I did some travel with the pack, some hiking, and some around the town stuff, and even with the lighter, lower denier fabric, it still held up well.  I also appreciate the fact that unlike with Maxpedition's Cordura, it wasn't rough or heavy.  

I am not sure yet, but it seems to me that the obsession with high denier fabrics has resulted in a generation of "serious" packs that are too stiff and heavy.  Andrew talked about this on the excellent Episode 69 of GGL, but these "uber-tough" fabrics make packs harder to use and I am not convinced yet that they are necessary.  Maybe experience over time will tell me otherwise, but so far, this thing has held up well and looks decent.

Accessibility: 1

Zippers zippers everywhere, but none lead to where I want to go.  I hate the zip top design.  It means that no matter what you have to stuff things into this pack.  The full zip design of the PFII is amazing as it lets you lay out everything you want and then zip stuff up.  It also means, if the zippers are well done, that you can make them meet in the middle at the top of the bag, and accomplish the same thing you would in a zip top design.


In addition to this pet peeve, there are just too many pockets.  The pocket within a pocket design of the molded top panel is the perfect place to "lose" stuff.  I'll get into this below, but we have gone too far with the one bazillion pocket design.

Ease of Packing: 1

With the lack of a full length zipper, packing the TOC is basically a drill in strategic shoving.  Did I shove all the right stuff in the pack in the right order?  Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't or it jostles in transit and you have to go looking for things.  This impacts the accessibility of the pack.  Simply put, I'd much rather have the full zipper run than this design.

Pockets/Organization: 0

Too many pockets...way too many pockets.  I have lost things in this pack for weeks thanks to one million and one tiny little pockets.    I will give SOG credit--many of the pockets are clever uses of empty space, but honestly the packs we have right now just have too many little sleeves, slots, and pouches.  The temptation to uses all of these pockets means that sometimes you forget where you put something small, say the rechargeable cell from a flashlight, and you lose it only to find it again weeks later.  

That major complaint aside there are some things to like here.  The molded pouch is quite handy, with nice sized pockets and very good accessibility.


The long pockets, which I used for double water bottles are a good idea in theory ("Communism theory, theory"), but are terrible in practice (my bottles came open roughly 7 out of 10 times).


In the end, the pack has too much going on organization-wise and it is too busy.  Many of the pockets are too small to handle anything but tidbits, all of which get lost instantly.  The molded pouch is good and some of the other pockets are good on paper, but overall, this is the Achilles heel of the TOC, the thing that keeps it from being a killer entry on the market.

Snaps/buckles/zippers: 2

Every snap, buckle, and zipper was good.  The zipper pulls were huge and a little weird looking, but they are very effective.  I have something like them on the Osprey pack I reviewed, but these are even bigger and are made of rigid plastic.


Aside from the minor aesthetic complaint, all good here.  And yes there is a whistle on the sternum strap.  And surprisingly I found it very useful.  The usual scenario involved hiking with the family and two people were very slow and another group was not.  We could still stay in touch with each other with a quick blast from the whistle, which carried further or was easier to hear than a shout.

Straps and belts: 1

The majority of the straps are fine.  The sternum strap is good, the handle strap to carry the bag as a briefcase is nice.  The straps that connect the shoulder straps to the bottom of the unit are good.  So why the 1?  The two straps you interact with 99% of the time are merely meh.  This shot shows you the three culprits:


First, the main straps are decently shaped but the lack anything resembling useful padding and they have ZERO ventilation, just like the back panel.  Over long hikes I got very, very sweaty and when climbing up (with a load of water bottles), they dug in after about a hour or so.  On one hike in particular, which was a good 2 hour ascent and lots of walking, I had marks on my chest the next day.  This is a $140 bag with the shoulder straps of a $30 bag.


The grab handle is also funky.  Coated in some plastic material, it felt thin and insubstantial.  It was hard to get a good grip on, like trying to squeeze a BB in the palm of your hand.  I strongly prefer the rolled handles on my Bihn Cadet--they give you something to hold on to and have a bit of give for comfort.  This had neither.

Modularity/expansion: 1

The Hypalon panel is a cheap way to get the modularity of MOLLE straps.  I am sure it works fine, but it is harder to feed straps through than MOLLE and I imagine once a tear starts, the whole thing is done.  It also attracted a bunch of dirt during use.  All that said, the panel was huge and well positioned.  If you need to strap a small pouch on with a first aid kit or something else light-ish, this is a good set up.


Overall Score: 12 out of 20

SOG's day pack is a good first effort.  They did well with the budget they had, though if they cut down on the busy, me-too features, they could have spent that same amount of money to improve the back panel, shoulder straps, and MOLLE panel on the rear of the pack.  I'd much rather have those things than the briefcase handle, the weird zipper pulls, and 1.1 million unnecessary pockets.  Instead of focusing on the basics, they chose to cram every feature they could think of on to this pack, like a baseball team that trades for a closer yet has only one hitter getting on base at an above average rate.  

Does this pack herald SOG's brand expansion?  Unquestionably.  To the average person, the person that doesn't research gear purchases and walks into a Big Box and sees this pack, they will be pleased and probably buy it thinking they got something high end.  We know better.  Maxpedition's stuff is cheaper and better designed with better materials.  And if you have the coin, Tom Bihn, TAD, Mystery Ranch, PDW, BOGear, GoRuck, and a few others make truly high end packs that crush this.  We are probably not the target market for SOG anymore, either their knives or this pack (we have gotten snobbier and they have gotten cheaper--both groups moving away from the middle).  But there is potential here.  With a few tweaks, they could have a day pack that even us gear snobs would be interested in. 

The Competition

Sadly the TOC competes size-wise with the Maxpedition PFII.  That is a better pack in almost everyway and it is about $40-$50 cheaper.  In many ways the TOC is perfectly competent.  In a world without the PFII, which, by the way, I think is probably one of the two best day packs out there for under $300, the TOC might be the best option in the middle price range.  As it is, it's not quite good enough to roust the king from the throne.


  1. I love the PFII. If I'm gonna spend more it will most certainly be for a Tom Bihn. Sadly I don't see the point of a middle tier this bag can occupy.

  2. Hey Tony, Interesting review. Thanks for covering this, even if the end result was a little predictable. The gigantic skull logo alone would be reason enough for me not to buy this. Dan

  3. That's too bad. I was hoping SOG would have put more thought into their packs. It's a crowded market with a lot of good examples to draw from.

  4. Great review. I hope they listen to your suggestions. One thing I really like about it is that it's light gray and a single color. Too many backpacks for black or multicolor. I agree with Dan on the dislike for the skull logo.

  5. Three words. Tom Bihn Synapse. Best pack this size I have owned. Tried many from Jansport,Dakine, Mountain Smitn, Mountain Hardware, and REI. The Synapse isn't even significantly more expensive.

  6. Tom Bihn Synapse. $ 200.00. Last forever. Best pack this size on the market. Why bother with this thing? Thank you for the review though. I have tried many backpacks this size and my Synapse is better than the REI, Mountain Smith, Mountain Hardwear and Jansport ones I owned. There were others along the way as well. The Synapse is just the best.

    1. Check the review archives. Tony has reviewed both the original Synapse and the 25. Really high scores.

      Is love to see him review a GoRuck bag. My 10L Bullet is my current EDC bag when I don't need to carry a laptop. When I do I carry my Synapse 19.

  7. I like the shape of the Tom Bihn Smart Alec better than the Synapse. But my favorite pack out there now is the Mountain Laurel Designs Core. It's made of Dynema too. Just wish the back of the pack had mesh.

  8. i agree with the molded pocket crap...was looking for a pack and all the camel backs are like that now...ended up getting a 5.11 rush 72 as a gift and bought a sabra gear mono 48...great pack and well made...