Based on the Sitka, Maxpedition came out with this lil' guy to compliment the latest Gearslinger design format. The Noatak is the smallest so far and had me curious at first since the Sitka wasn't exactly huge. Don't worry I'll still go over the details, but the summary is the Noatak is pretty much a smaller Sitka without the upper front pocket. So you might be like me thinking, well what is the point?...Who needs a smaller Sitka? I can always find crap to fit in about any bag, but I found my answers in older Maxpedition designs.
The Noatak seems to make for a replacement of the old Typhoon taking many positive evolutions. The size is somewhere in between the Malaga and Lunada while keeping the more backpack shape of the Sitka. Rather than being just a backpack with one main strap for easy on/off capability, the actual layout is changed with the intent of being able to access the pack while still worn. I found this certainly doable with the Lunada type gearslingers, but pockets were not optimized for worn access until the Sitka.
(Yes some copy paste action occurred from the Sitka review :)
The Noatak uses their standard Y-strap for compression, since not a large pack I'm glad to see there are no extra side compression straps. I know you may be tired about hearing how I never use the Y-strap, but I just don't see myself needing to compress a pack this small. I would however be more likely to use it to secure a rolled up jacked to the pack. As I was saying earlier, the upper front pocket that was on the Sitka is missing, but the loop velcro and shock cord rig are still there forming a "cave" for fun things like knives, flashlights, or collapsible batons. Another global change is that all the main zippers are done in reversed style (teeth facing interior) which seems to be the growing trend. I don't know if it actually helps with water resistance or durability, but I do like the clean flat look they give.
Moving down the exterior, there is a rectangle pocket which I suppose now can just be called the front pocket. A slim zippered pocket gives quick access and has a security snap. The snap makes sense for piece of mind, however since just a slim pocket I am starting to think it may be overkill. The zipper won't undo itself unless you have something odd shaped and heavy inside; thus the snap starts to just get in the way of normal zipper use. Although offset for the zipper, PALS is on the exterior for mounting options. Mounted to the exterior side is a handle which assists in both this pocket and whole pack manipulation. The double zippers opening this pocket are placed with chest mounted access in mind. Inside, sleeve pocket design keeps up with this concept and a key lanyard is included. As an addition there is now loop velcro inside allowing some additional admin or CCW options. On the Noatak exterior side, the webbing and cordlock anti-theft deterrent still is in place. It won't save your backpack from being stolen or anything, but it is used to lock down all of the cord pulls so gremlins will have a much harder time trying to get into any pockets. I'm not big on it myself, but on the bright side a D-ring is on there and you can always get creative with the webbing for lash points. The left exterior side has a generous sized water bottle pocket with cord-lock closure, it can hold both the common Nalgene and Camelbak bottle sizes. As an enhancement, a grommet is even at the bottom so you don't end up with a pocket of mold. The right side is for the most part slick due to the downscale. As a result there is no PALS webbing on the side that was previously on the Sitka. Up top is a pretty serious pull handle making grab and go easier, even has padding. The main shoulder strap is well padded like the whole back of the pack. Compared to older airmeshes used, the backing material is still soft and breathable, yet more durable since it does not interface with hook velcro. A variety of PALS-like webbing is on the shoulder strap exterior to allow general mounting. Since the strap width is minimal and varies, stitching is not present in the middle of the webbing A HK hook is mounted as an attachment option bonus. If one needs to get into heavier movement, a cross strap is available and I like how a tuck-hole was integrated into the bottom back for storage when not in use. Incorporated into the back is a zippered pocket good for holding hydration bladders or concealed weapons thanks to the loop velcro panel inside. Do note that if you rock a hydration bladder, it will need to be smaller than normal and the only available drinking tube opening is down low through the cross strap storage hole. Older pack designs required one to take off their pack to access this pocket, but when chest mounted, opening the zipper is not bad at all on the Noatak.
Keeping with the chest access theme, the zipper placement to the main interior is done appropriately. It isn't quite clamshell as that would be floppy, but still a good sized opening. The interior back has simple sleeve pockets divided into one fairly large and one small pocket. The tension of the fabric here makes the pocket useful for both slim and medium thickness items. On the other side, the interior front, a lot is going on starting with a zippered mesh sleeve pocket. It is divided similar to the other side creating large and small pocket areas. The Noatak doesn't have the extra sleeve pocket here as seen on the Sitka, so loop velcro has been added directly to the mesh pocket. This has good potential for CCW or other velcro add-ons. This isn't an ambidextrous pack so some folks may not like that the strap goes over the left shoulder. From using it myself, I didn't feel a huge demand for it to be on a certain shoulder, I think both left and right handed users will be able to operate the pack from back mount to front mount just fine. With the cross strap released, the shoulder strap or main pack portion can be grabbed to then rotate the pack to the desired body location.
So that covers most of the Noatak layout benefits. If comparing to the Lunada or Malaga I'd say main features in their favor include having an ambidextrous shoulder strap, able to stuff shoulder strap in back CCW pocket to turn pack into handbag, and having PALS webbing on the sides for better modularity. For being a semi small pack the Noatak shoulder strap is a little long. When fully tightened, I wish I could get it a little tighter to secure while running. To compensate I have to crank down on the cross strap which causes more of a shoulder slip-off threat. I know, I'm a small dude, but it brings up the point that I think girls will be into the Noatak's size and they will be even more petite than I. Men certainly need not worry as otherwise nothing about this pack screams girly. Back to the "what is the point?" question, the Noatak lends itself to a EDC sized pack with enhanced backpack functionality. Even though it is a single shoulder strap design, you generally won't have to worry about over-packing weight as long you don't get silly and put a mound of loose ammo inside. The reduced size also makes the body position transitions even easier.
Overall Approx: 10"W x 14"H x 6"D
Main: 11” x 7” x 4” with numerous internal pockets
Front: 7” x 7” x 2” with internal keyper and sleeve pockets
Front sleeve: 6.5” x 6.5” with anti-theft device on zipper
Rear compartment: 8” x 12”
Water bottle pocket: 7” x 2.5”; fits 32oz/1L bottle