Bags, Sacks, Rucks, & Packs
By John Connor
July/August 2009 Issue
Strangely enough, a rambling conversation between His Editorial Immenseness Roy-Boy, Carry Options editor Sammy Reese, and master leather craftsman Jerry Evans of Haugen Handgun Leather resulted in something cool, elegant and eminently useful: the Night Stand Bag, a butter-smooth gunbucket styled to perfectly organize a Roscoe, mags, tac-light, cellphone and more, at home or wherever you roam. Each is truly custom, handmade and surprisingly inexpensive for its value. Makes a terrific gift, too. Jerry doesn’t even carry it on his Web site, so give him a call at (701) 255-0723. www.haugenhandgunleather.com
My earliest childhood memories include methodically organizing all my possessions into a modified Marine field pack and a Navy seabag. I guess that doesn’t sound very “mainstream,” but my family’s life wasn’t very mainstream, moving all ’round the Western Pacific and Asia on skoshie-short notice. And one of the first rules I learned was that all my stuff had to fit into those two containers — or something stayed behind.
I was just a pup when Dad cut the shoulder straps of that Marine pack, broke out his lock-stitching awl and re-positioned ’em to fit me — also teaching me the use of that awl. My first project was stitching a canvas tube pouch to that pack to hold the track sections of my little toy train firmly and securely; as Dad would say, “ship-shape & squared away.”
Everything had its place; easy to stow, go, or lay hands on quick. In that regard, there wasn’t much transition to becoming a Marine: shrug into my harness, sling my rifle, hoist my seabag, and I was ready to lock, load & rock. It felt good — and those essential disciplines of organization, portability and security continued through service as a SWAT cop, then as “a contracted representative of U.S. and Western interests.” That means “living out of a bag.”
You don’t have to live out of a bag to use and appreciate the same dynamics, and you’ve got so many more great choices than I had for many years! Whether your need is for a NottaHolster, an Urban Bug-Out Bag, a Traveling Trauma Kit, a “Briefcase With Bite” or just a fine field pack, the right one’s out there waiting for you!
So who needs a bag? That response never fails to amaze and amuse me. I know, I know; you and I came from different dimensions, different galaxies, but still… I’ve had some interesting conversations with people on the subject, frequently, when I’ve been in the process of loaning them a range bag, backpack or utility duffle. Even if you live in a big city; don’t hunt, fish, hike, go camping or anything like that, there’s always a need for a well-made, often purpose-built bag, beyond occasional raids on neighbors to borrow their travel luggage. I honestly don’t know how people could get along without “mobile organizers,” or why they would choose to do so. The simple ability to stuff critical items into a weight-balanced, comfortably portable container and move it from Point A to Point B discreetly is, I think, a necessity of adult life. Here are a couple of easy examples:
Three-quarters of you live in areas subject to the destructive forces of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tornados, forest or wildland fires and/or blizzards. If you had to leave your home, your sanctuary into an unknown inky night or a gray and threatening “day after,” what would you want to bring with you, available in an instant? If stranded on a lonely highway horizon, what would you want neatly organized in your vehicle? Weapons, cell phone, illumination tools, fire-starting supplies, painkillers, antibiotics, bandages, fresh water or a water purifier, mylar emergency blankets — your child’s asthma puffer? Cash, a couple of energy bars, copies of your insurance policies in a waterproof bag? What would you choose to wear, for Pete’s sake? Now, imagine yourself running around your darkened place trying, as the waters rise or the flames converge, to gather up all this stuff?
A single man or woman could simply pull on a large backpack and step out. A couple, properly equipped, could sortie out in pretty good shape. A family takes organizing and discipline. In any case, the right pack, sack, bag or ruck can make a tremendous — maybe a life-or-death difference. I’ve seen too many people who fled from emergencies with things like a handful of plastic clothes hangers and a paper bag of underwear. I remember finding one poor guy who died of exposure holding a family heirloom — a gilt-framed mirror — and an AC-only radio. They didn’t get far, and their stories often ended badly. Make your decisions before “stress overload.”
This is an article, not a volume. I just wanted to get you thinkin’. Now, for just a coupla points on selecting the right kinda bag.
Messenger Bags are the utility infielders of Bag World. They usually have a few separate compartments and one big main compartment for odd-sized gear, like the Tactical Messenger from Diamondback Tactical, above left. If you want to avoid the military look, BLACKHAWK! now offers a military-tough Messenger in civilian colors. Broad, comfy shoulder straps are an absolute requirement. Even if you don’t have a routine need for one, consider their ability to discreetly transport bulky objects… And get one, just in case.
As a general rule, never buy a pack or bag and then try to fit its intended contents to it. First, define the bag’s purpose. Then, list the desired contents, some of which you may already own and some you plan on acquiring, like, with a first aid / medical kit or emergency bug-out bag. Lay all contents out and measure, then estimate the space needed, paying special attention to unusually-shaped items which may require a space of specific dimensions, and items you may need to get to very quickly. Allow space of course for those items you will add later, then generally, calculate at least ten- to 15-percent more space for emergency add-ins.
If you get the bag and wind up with too little space, don’t abort the project and return the bag — not before you treat this as an opportunity to “fine-tune” contents; reducing weight and bulk without reducing effectiveness or safety.
Now that you have a reality-based idea of how much space you’ll need, consider separation of contents; isolating items with high noise signatures, those which could damage other contents; those you wouldn’t want to be seen even if you open a main compartment. Plan for these things and either find a bag with the right inner compartments, or get smaller bags or containers which will then fit into your bag. Some bags can be very use-specific, and others, well suited to incorporate separate containers.
The Mission Go Bag from Special Operations Technologies is designed for several different carry modes, and offered with your choice of interior construction designs – survival bag, medical bag, explosive breacher bag, EOD technician’s bag, sniper bag, and more. How good is it? The MGB is “official issue” for all Special Forces personnel. I haven’t T & E’d it myself, but some hard-core operators I know have, and they like it, giving it high ratings for toughness, adaptability, and comfort.
Maxpedition has scads of superior specialized pouches like the little Barnacle, center front. But their
magical morphing mutants are in their RollyPoly series; versatile and voluminous hold-anything pouches
which when empty can fold in on themselves, then roll up and secure in a fraction of their deployed size!
Use RollyPoly’s to organize and protect objects inside a pack, or expand your pack size by attaching them to the outside. RollyPoly’s come in several sizes.
Now weigh those contents. Test your potential choice(s) with the approximate weight and mass you intend it to carry. Whether it’s a backpack, rucksack, go-bag or whatever, test it for strength, balance and comfort with the weight you’ll be carrying in it. If you’re buying on-line, make sure you can return it for full credit after testing (without damage or wear, of course). If buying from a store, by all means, take your “test load” there with you. Stuff the bag and try it out. Do not worry about “lookin’ strange.” You’ll look like a thinking consumer, which is strange, but in a good way, okay? Walk, jog, lean, bend, squat and dodge with the bag on. Screw the gawkers and snigglers. When the balloon goes up, they’ll be running hard clutching plastic clothes hangers…
Be very conscious of the weight factor and balance of any bag you buy. No matter how routine the duty may be which you plan for that bag, you may wind up using it in an emergency – stuffing it with more weight, and carrying it far longer than you estimated. Shoulder straps should be wide and comfortable; padded if necessary, and securely attached. A strap which failed and separated on a combat mission is what drove Mike Noell, founder and CEO of BLACKHAWK!, to make bags people could count on with their lives.
If the bag has a carry handle – usually made of heavy webbing, sometimes “joined” with Velcro – and is primarily designed to be hand-carried, those webbing straps should pass completely around the bag. The carry handles found atop some backpacks and rucksacks are exceptions – they only need to be heavily stitched into tough, strong material, preferably, backed on the opposite surface with a “patch.”
If the bag you’re considering may be routinely put down on wet or rocky ground, make sure the bottom is waterproof or at least water resistant, and reinforced against abrasion. I’ve seen the bottoms literally fall out of other people’s packs in training as well as under, let’s say, “critical circumstances.” Don’t laugh – think about it: If your pack is constantly loaded, how often do you inspect the exterior bottom? If it’s not tough enough, it could be worn almost through and you might not notice until it’s too late. Don’t let it happen to you.
“Noise signature” is something else to consider. Many packs and bags are made of materials so noise-prone you cannot move covertly with `em; every time you flex `em, they whine; every time you brush up against something, they scream. If the bag in question may ever be used for a discreet purpose, don’t “kill yourself in advance.” Sometimes it ain’t easy, but keep looking and find one which will not shriek “I’m here! Shoot me now!” when you’re tryin’ to slink along in the fog.
In the print version of this article I mentioned the low noise signature of Diamondback Tactical’s Escape & Evasion Bag. True, the features of the bag were exactly what I’d been looking for – it’s a great every-day gear-carrier – but that low noise signature was the clincher. The E&E replaced an otherwise excellent bag which was moved to a non-critical use. If you think you’ll never need a quiet bag, well… Just one quick stop at a convenience store, when a masked guy walks in with a big black pistol and it becomes apparent he doesn’t know you’re crouching there in the back aisle pulling out your Kahr TP4543 might change that notion.
Top: Left to right, my “range bag” – an Eagle Patrolman’s Bag – and the Memsaab
Helena’s favorite, Uncle Mike’s Law Enforcement DeLuxe Range Bag.
Bottom: The Hatch D-1 Patrol Bag at center is another MVP. TAG’s Range Bag
serves that purpose very well, and is also a great overnighter.
Don’t let labels dictate your use of the product. I have to pack a lot of goofy gunwriter-gear when I go to the range, and couldn’t find a “range bag” to suit me. Eagle’s police Patrolman’s Bag works just great, right down to the nightstick retaining straps securing my camera tripod. In future I may need two range bags; one for business and one for pure fun, and I’m looking at the Hatch D-1 Patrol Bag to add to the lineup – a well-made “mobile shooting office” setup. The Memsaab Helena’s favorite is the DeLuxe Range Bag from Uncle Mike’s Law Enforcement. It’s a super-strong hauler with padded pistol pouches, heavy-duty hardware and padlockable zippers. The TAG Range Bag, like everything else I’ve seen from Tactical Assault Gear, is made to the highest standards and thoughtfully designed. The fact that it also makes a great “overnighter” bag is just a fortunate coincidence, I guess – but maybe a very good one for you.
The right “bag” doesn’t have to be flexible, either. For sheer strength and durability, the waterproof, dustproof and lockable iM2500 Carry-On from premiere guncase maker Storm Case can’t be beaten. It offers a drop-in organizer, telescoping handle, wheels, and a comfortable carry handle. Unless you’ve loaded it with gold bullion, use it for flotation too. It’s guaranteed for life, so make it a long one.
The Sitka, above, is the newest and largest of Maxpedition’s single-shoulder Gearslingers. Easier and faster to don and doff than a standard backpack, a setup like the Sitka teams perfectly with a long gun, leaving your shoulder free for proper buttstock seating. The wide, padded and contoured shoulder strap allows packing heavier loads with comfort, and its geometry lets you quickly rotate the pack from your back to your side, or even to your front. If you’re looking for a smaller version too, I recommend the ambidextrous Malaga, a personal favorite.
At left, the Liberty Bag from ProTech Tactical can be hand-carried or worn as a backpack.
At right, BLACKHAWK!’s cavernous Alert 5 is purpose-built for the heaviest hauling with the greatest ease.
When you’ve got big, heavy loads and handling multiple bags is problematic, you’ve got a wide array of monster-size duffels and carryalls to choose from. The problem is, most of `em are crap, apparently made from woven hammered goat dung and recycled disposable diapers. If I sound like a guy who’s had bad experiences with large bags, you’re right. Very bad experiences. Just think about the kinda long, heavy items a guy like me might try to transport in big bags through less-than-friendly facilities and you might form a mental image. Do NOT scrimp on small change in this category. Get the best features and quality construction, pay for `em, and then don’t worry about `em. The peace of mind is worth it. Spend $9.99 on a bargain bag at Sad Sack’s Surplus and you’ll rue the day, my friend… If you think a dozen eggs and a jug of OJ tearing through a plastic shopping bag is bad, try…uh… Never mind. More on that another time.
The Liberty Bag from ProTech Tactical offers a big lockable main compartment, separate front and end pouches, internal laminated organization pockets and triple compression straps to reduce mass and movement of cargo. Packed light, it carries like a duffle; packed heavy, shoulder straps allow it to be carried as a backpack. At 31″x17″x11”, this is about as large as you should go without a frame and wheels.
If you’re packin’ gear for a platoon, check out the new Alert 5 from BLACKHAWK! At 35″x21.5″x17″, it’s the king of the Assault Load-Out Emergency Response Transport line, and it’s loaded with great construction features – like interior webbing so you can anchor MOLLE-compatible pouches of all sizes, high-strength in-line skate wheels for smooth movement, a telescoping handle, end-cap padded handles, backpack shoulder straps, compression straps, moveable interior partitions, and a fully padded long-gun compartment. I think you can carry a Chevy Vega in it. If you’ve got a cutting torch, I’m sure you can. There are smaller sizes available if you’re only taking the kitchen sink.
Three Day Assault Pack from Diamondback Tactical.
If you want a “do-almost-everything” bag and the ability to come and go virtually unnoticed, the type commonly referred to as a “Three-Day Pack” is for you. Just be alert to backpacks and notice how many people are wearing or carrying this type of bag all the time, almost anyplace you go. They’re ubiquitous – and therefore, almost invisible in this society. Gym gear, books and papers, kilos of cocaine, matched sets of Renaissance-engraved Hi-Powers, severed heads and bundles of drug money pass unnoticed in dime-store electric-blue bags and “technical” bags costing more than your first car. And just as the contents differ, this genre of gear-haulers differs in purpose and features.
The Falcon II from Maxpedition, for example, is designed so that as you use stored consumables, your load compresses and moves your center of gravity lower and closer in to your spine – a fantastic feature if you’re moving over and through rugged terrain, especially at speed. Camelbak’s Demon was purpose-built to look innocently civilian – concealing quick access to hidden weapons. The Stingray, above left, by BLACKHAWK! was designed with input from troops in Iraq executing frequent vehicle-borne and helo-borne ops, in and out of cramped quarters all the time. They wanted a light, suitably-sized hydration pack with smooth, snag-free surfaces. Diamondback Tactical’s Three-Day Assault Pack takes a more generalist approach, concentrating on weight balance, toughness and ease of access, including a low contoured zipper which lets you access the bottom of the pack for small heavy items – like spare ammo – without diggin’ down for `em.
There’s lots more ground to cover, but my fingers are tired and the editor’s ticked `cause I’m `way beyond drop-dead-deadline. Have you ever heard the phrase “That guy’s got his s##t in one bag”? It means he’s smart, equipped and organized: not a bad thing to be known for – even if you need a variety of “one bag’s.” Connor OUT.
Less than three minutes after picking up the Escape & Evasion Bag from Diamondback Tactical, I knew it was (a) heavy duty without being heavy, (b) extremely well made in every detail, and (c) packed with too many functional features to cover here. I also adopted it for immediate, daily use. Go to the Web site for info on features and dimensions, but what it doesn’t say is how comfortably it carries, how smooth and supple the material and construction are, and the “clincher” for me: a very low noise signature. This is a terrific all-around bag at a surprisingly low price. www.diamondbacktactical.com
Dillon Precision’s enormously popular Wilderness Safepacker is solidly made. This “Notta-Holster” can be hand-carried like a day planner, slung from a shoulder, clipped to a belt or slipped into a larger bag. Our pal Mark Pixler at Dillon was already a fan — then he witnessed another man’s life saved by his Safepacker. Now he’s a fanatic about it. Heck of a testimonial, huh? www.dillonprecision.com
Designed for military women, the BLACKHAWK! Tactical Handbag has proven popular with female cops and other women who could care less about faux-fur trim and want a tank-tough utilitarian “bag for all seasons.” With a waterproof interior, a rugged, abrasion-resistant Hawk-Tex bottom and military-grade buckles and straps, a woman can be assured her Tactical Handbag will still be serving when those cutesy fashion purses are KIA. All the right compartments and pouches, inside and out, in black, coyote tan and foliage green. www.blackhawk.com
The hardy Hoplite warriors at Gunsite like the Eagle Tactical Attaché so much they’ve graced it with their black raven insignia and sell it in their online pro shop. Only the informed might suspect a hidden howitzer rides between the front flapped pouch and the spacious main compartment. That’s Gunsite Director of Ops Ed Head’s well-worn 1911 with the gorgeous grips peekin’ out – the big showoff. I gotta admit though, that showoff sure knows his gear. www.gunsite.com
CrossBreed Holster’s CCSB – Concealed Carry Shoulder Bag – looks as good serving a man as it does a woman; rich, hand-stitched leather you could pass along to grandchildren, and one of the slickest, quietest cannon-concealment rigs ever. Two sizes accommodate lots of gear, and the included Ohai Velcro-backed holster keeps your handgun handy. www.crossbreedholsters.com
Maxpedition Hard-Use Gear has something for everyone, including “neat freaks” packin’ handfuls of pens, mini-lights, PDA’s, cell phones and digital gizmos – and who then try to keep `em neat. The Neat Freak will do it in style, slung from a shoulder, hitched on a belt or dropped into a bigger bag. A wide-opening clamshell design puts everything at your fingertips – or closed up tight and secure. If you’re tired of all that pocket litter threatening to pull your pants down, or your messenger bag sounding like a washing machine fulla silverware, get a Neat Freak. www.maxpedition.com
Leave it to a former SEAL to spot the gap between too-small overnighter bags and monster-bags you need two men and a boy to carry – and fill it with a tough, thoughtfully-structured mid-size gear carrier. That’s what Chris Osman, CEO of TAG – Tactical Assault Gear – has done with his Deployment Bag. Read the dimensions of the main and side compartments on his website, and I think you’ll see it’s perfect for `bout 90 percent of your travel needs. Then read about this: all TAG gear is 100 percent guaranteed for life, and 100 percent made in the USA. www.tacticalassaultgear.com
If you own a handgun and don’t know about Safe Direction’s slug-stopping, bullet-barrier technology and products, go to the website and learn it now, please, okay? Watch the videos, and you’ll understand why their new High Security Case is so cool. It’s like a zippered, key-locking bank bag, but far stronger, equipped with accommodation for a variety of handguns, grommet provision for locking it to a stationary object with a cable lock or handcuffs, and of course, Safe Direction’s proven Ballistic Containment System built in. www.safedirection.com