Review: Swaygo Pack
The Swaygo pack is a favorite of cavers who spend most of their time in very wet and muddy situations. Every member of the Indiana Speleological Survey crew owns one and it is not uncommon to see a caravan of Swaygo packs traveling along behind cavers in crawlways. In fact, many ISS cavers consider it almost a mandatory piece of equipment for long survey trips. It can hold a lot of gear, keep items dry if used properly, offer a comfortable fit, doesn’t become water-logged and heavy, can be decontaminated for WNS (read more here), and is not difficult to drag around in a cobble-filled crawlway.
If you’re creative, this pack could also be used to make an improvised splint or sling, if necessary. The webbing straps (though not rated for vertical climbing) can be hooked together to create a hand-line that can be used to offer assistance when scrambling up steep, slippery mud-banks. It can also be emptied and used as a very durable rope pad…geez, what CAN’T this pack do?
Design and Aesthetics ★★★★★
The Swaygo motto is “Refreshingly Simple Gear for Extraordinary Needs” and cavers who love this product couldn’t agree more. The Swaygo pack design is so simple and brilliant. The low-profile shape makes it ideal for wearing in passages that require stoop-walking and crawling, even if it makes you look a bit like a turtle. In less spacious crawlways, the pack can be removed and adjusted in such a way that a caver can easily attach it to an ankle with a ‘chicken loop’ (this can be made with a piece of webbing or purchased from Swaygo Gear) and drag it along behind. Many cave packs are unwieldy, with lots of straps that can get caught on protruding rocks and under outcroppings. We find that the shape of the Swaygo allows it to glide over rough surfaces with relative ease, often dislodging itself before getting firmly snagged. This is very helpful as it prevents the carrier from having to awkwardly reach behind in a tight passage to disentangle a stuck pack.
As an added bonus, Swaygo floats! As a 5’3″ caver, I’ve found this to be immensely helpful in situations where wading or swimming is necessary. Swimming with a weighty and water-laden fabric pack can be difficult and even risky, not to mention it can be lost in the depths if you drop it! The Swaygo can actually be used as a sort of makeshift PFD and can help a caver keep balance in passages that are filled with murky water and large, hidden rocks beneath the surface. Survey crews in Indiana have used Swaygo packs to help transport pieces of scaling ladder and other equipment by using it to float the heavy items on the surface of the water; definitely an advantage that most other packs don’t offer!
The Swaygo pack is unbelievably durable, and (dare I say it?) damn-near indestructible. The thick polyurethane body of the pack is as tough as the dirt under a caver’s fingernails and if the padded lining isn’t removed from the inside, it resists abrasions for years and remains waterproof. Some cavers report minor tears in the pack, which can be easily repaired with Aquaseal. I’ve used my Swaygo pack regularly in extreme conditions for two years and it is still waterproof. A few cavers have reported that the attachment carabiners needed to be replaced and on rare occasions rip free from the eyelets. The company does offer a solid warranty for manufacturing defects and is reported to be very reasonable with requests.
There are three sizes of Swaygo pack: Push (small), Pit (medium), and Sink (large), ranging in price from $109 – $129. Obviously, this is not cheap, but if you are going to splurge on a piece of cave gear, this comes highly recommended. My mistake was buying the medium pack – I should have ignored my cheapskate gene and paid the extra $10 for the Sink model. If you think it will be too big, remember that you can always roll it down to minimize the size. After borrowing the ISS Sink Pack (yes, the crew actually has a few extra Swaygos on loan, we love them so much), I was pleased to see that it can haul a rolled up full 3mm wetsuit, 2 water bottles, a pelican dry box, and a digging tool; everything you might need for an all-day, wet and muddy underground adventure!
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