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i have one large alice pack with frame, one blackhawk 3 day patrol pack, and a small alice. the small alice i keep in the truck at all times. the 3 day pack is an extra. and my large is always packed to go.
Assault Pack Cordon & Review - The Primer
April 27th, 2009 | Cordon & Review | Posted by Rob Curtis
Assault packs have come a long way from the ubiquitous A-III style 3-Day Assault Pack. Military lore would tell you the A-III style was first designed in the 1980’s for use by naval welders to carry their tools in and out of the bowels of half-built ships in southern Virginia. Operators of the day saw the bag, recognized its utility and adopted it.
Advances in material and design have lead to a crop of new packs that will more than take care of you for a day or two in the field. These new designs offer advances in integrated hydration systems, ergonomic design, and highly engineered fabrics and frame materials. We chose 17 packs that represent some of these advances, threw them in a pick-up truck and drove a few hours to an undisclosed military installation so we could get feedback straight from the line.
Hit the jump for the GearScout primer on assault packs.
Before we get to the packs, here is a primer to get you thinking about what separates a pack you need from a pack you don’t. The average for the group of packs we reviewed was a volume of 2200 cubic inches, 5 pounds and $230. It’s important to note that while some packs have a great set of features or come in at the perfect price, none of the packs we chose to review are junk. Each is a great pack and will serve you well when chosen with the appropriate use in mind. We’ll be posting the pack reviews with tester’s comments and lots of photos over the course of the month.
The Test Group-
* Camelbak BFM 500, $200, 5.2 lbs, 3142 Cubes
* Eberlestock Half-Track, $229, 6.6 lbs, 3080 Cubes
* Tactical Tailor 3-Day Assault Plus, $218, 3.75 lbs, 2850 Cubes
* TAD Gear FastPack PS, $320, 5.2 lbs, 2800 Cubes
* Granite Tactical Gear Special Mission Patrol, $250 (street), 5.6 lbs, 2800 Cubes
* Gerber Grasp 150, $350 MSPR, 6.7 lbs, 2760 Cubes
* Camelbak Motherload 500, $175, 4.6 lbs, 2592 CI,
* Granite Tactical Gear Special Mission Assault, $200 (street), 4.5 lbs, 2400 Cubes
* Camelbak Tri-Zip, $200 (Street), 4.9 lbs, 2318 Cube
* Granite Tactical Gear Special Mission Raid, $190, 3lbs, 2200 CI
* Mystery Ranch 3-Day Assault Pack, $265, 5.1 lbs, 2000 Cubes
* London Bridge Trading - Enhanced 3 Day Assault Pack, $318 4.1 lbs 2000 Cubes
* Maxpedition Condor II, $130, 2.9 lbs, 1950 Cubes
* Blackhawk Stingray, $130 5.0 lbs, 1950 Cubes
* Kifaru XRay, $331, 4.2 lbs, 1800 Cubes
* Blue Force Gear DAP Pack, $150 MSRP, 1.5 lbs, 1500 Cubes
* TAG 3-Day Pack with PALS Webbing, $240, 4.0 lbs, 1482 Cubes
Fabric- The days of exclusive 1000d Cordura pack construction are numbered. Packmakers now have at their disposal packcloth options that range from stiff and tough 1000d to far more supple and lightweight 500d. The lighter material can be beefed up to heavy-duty standards with new abrasion resistant coatings and hybrid fabrics that weave different denier yarns together that can impart unique characteristics for specific applications.
A well designed pack will use fabrics efficiently. A pack built entirely from 1000d is going to be needlessly heavy and overbuilt. A pack that uses more durable fabrics in high abrasion areas, like the pack bottom, and lighter fabrics elsewhere, say for for internal dividers, indicates a thoughtful design.
Capacity- How much stuff are you going to carry? Are you going to be running into buildings from a vehicle or will you be out on a foot patrol? All these bags will hold an MRE or two, some water and a few spare mags. Looking at your own situation, you might appreciate bags that have options for easily lashing sleep gear to the outside.
Comfort and Adjustability- Assault packs are tweeners. They are designed to carry medium weight loads that don’t demand a burly suspension system, but would be underserved by a simple frameless book bag. The range of support found in the test bags runs from shaped aluminum frame stays and semi rigid frame-sheets, up to composite frames with adjustable shoulder pad spacing and extendable yokes as found on the Granite Tactical Gear Special Mission Patrol and Mystery Ranch 3-Day Assault (and it’s Camelbak TriZip clone) packs.
Body Armor Compatibility- High-speed features will be a small consolation if your pack rides awkwardly or rubs you raw on the trail. If you can try before you buy, do it. Borrow a friend’s ruck. Few packs are really designed to work well with body armor, so look for wider strap spacing, wider straps with less padding and specific features like Mystery Ranch’s Integrated Bolster System if you are going to be humping your bag with armor.
Accessibility- Look for lined compartments. Linings do more than make a pack look polished. They protect stitchwork from internal damage and light colored linings make finding gear shoved deep in a pocket a lot easier. Also look at any PALS grids and see if they are 1” or ĺ” straps. Lots of companies are using ĺ” webbing at 1” intervals to save a bit of weight without sacrificing the function of the PALS/MOLLE webbing. And lastly, look for bellowed or internally pleated accessory pockets so you can actually get to the gear you stash in flat and narrow spaces.
All the flexibility in the world won’t be worth much when your 1st Sgt. is waking you up at o-dark-30 and you can’t figure out which buckle goes where. If you want a smaller pack that offers room to grow with expansion pouches, make sure you spend time to get comfortable with the accessory system.
Findings- Findings is the term used to describe all the hardware that you use to adjust and manipulate the pack’s compartments. Well known names that are stamped on the findings are YKK zippers, ITW Nexus or National Molding. These are trusted names and many of their products comply with military standards for not only durability, but also for things like IR reflectivity and color shade.
Water Resistance - Getting moisture out of the pack before it turns into a funk farm means leaving some breathabilty. To this end, most packs won’t have sealed seams or waterproof coatings. This is where waterproof pack covers come it. Eberlestock’s Half-Track comes with one, but all the packs we tested can be fitted with an aftermarket cover for around $20. Look for grommets to drain water trapped in the bag since hydration bladders have been known to leak once or twice.
Value- Generally, US made bags are going to cost more for a simpler design than can be found at a given price point when compared to an offshore bag. While US made is usually synonymous with quality, realize that some of the best and most experienced sew shops in the world are in Vietnam.
From Military Times:
Camelbak BFM 500
$200, 5.2 lbs, 3142 Cubes
Making the BFM a little bigger and a little badder, our friends at Camelbak have shaved 1.1 lbs and added 591 more cubic inches of storage. The redesign of the 3-day behemoth includes a shift to 500D Cordura everywhere but the bottom of the pack, new pocket layouts, fleece-lined pockets for optics, and sensitive items (read iPod) wider straps for comfort, and camo printed webbing so your PALS straps donít give you away. The pack opens up flat for easy access and has a large admin pocket up front. The removable frame sheet is up to the task and the waist belt can be removed for streamlined ops.
Camelbak 86ed one useful feature in the upgrade, though. The old pack had triple zippers for the main compartment so you could get in from either side of the bag. Chalk the loss of this little touch to the price of progress.
Lead Tester: Sgt. ďJamesĒ
Testers Comments: Comes with a large hydration reservoir, which is one less thing to buy. Everyone noticed how light the bag felt for its size. Big as it is, no one thought it was the largest bag in the group. The plethora of pockets was a hit.The size is awesome. The straps could use more attention to work with body armor; the pack sank a little in the lower back under load.
$229, 6.6 lbs, 3080 Cubes
Made from 1000d Cordura, itís a front-loader loaded with features and a polished appearance. The main pocket can be divided in half using a padded shelf that Velcros in place if you find all the little interior packets arenít enough to satisfy your organizing OCD. You can carry hydration bladders in the large side pockets or you can slide them in the ski slots freeing up the pockets for other gear.
Eberlestock didnít skimp on comfort features. The framesheet and internal aluminum stays, work with the adjustable yoke and harness to keep things comfy. The Half-Track feels big and boxy. Itís not sized for urban work and will get you hung up on door frames and windowsills. This one is probably best on the trail, carrying your gear and a long gun with an optional sleeve. Youíll get a mature design, and lots of features, like an integral rain cover, for a price that no US manufacturer could touch for this price.
Lead Tester: SPC ďRyanĒ
Testers Notes: On the table, the testers liked the size and looks of the Half-Track. Lots of tricks -like room for 4 water bladders and the built-in rain cover made this one a favorite. Good for long range assault/overwatch; pack was stable with body armor and comfortable without. All the internal sleeve pouches are small, would have liked one non-divided, internal pocket
Tactical Tailor 3-Day Assault Plus
$218, 3.75 lbs, 2850 Cubes
Tactical Tailorís improved 3 day bag ditches the PALS webbing and just gives you a punch of pockets where youíd just stick pouches anyway. What you lose in versatility, you make up for in weight savings. PALS webbing and all the stitching it takes to tack it in place can add substantial weight to a pack.
The 3DAP can carry plenty of gear for a multi-day field problem. In addition to the standard AIII style two compartment setup, there are four more external pockets and compression straps to keep things civilized.
This is a pack that can be easily overloaded since itís soft back didnít include framestays or a frame sheet. Still, the waistbelt was wide and comfortable without armor, so you can still haul upwards of 30 pounds without killing your shoulders.
The pockets are simple, no pen slots or admin shingles. There is a radio pouch in the main compartment that is the color of a VS-17 panel. Maybe you could turn the bag inside out in an emergency or maybe it just brightens up the interior of the bag to help find smaller items.
Lead Tester: Officer ďKĒ
Testers Notes: Great size for an assault pack. Could pack gear in here for more than 3 days. Easily accessible. Could use a little more padding to accommodate radio or laptop. Bag is stable when walking but mobility is limited when in the prone.
AD Gear FAST Pack PS,
$320, 5.2 lbs, 2800 Cubes
Triple Aught Designís dumpster topped FAST Pack Patrol Size is a feature laden wonder. Features that include PALS webbing over ALICE webbing, a slick beavertail, hidden gear caves with built in retractable lanyard that stash and retain small gear you need to get to quickly.
This is a deceptively large bag. Its suite of compression straps keeps the bag from ballooning out and also work together with the beavertail to hold a long gun or a snowboard. There are four flat pockets on the outside of the bag with a mesh pocket inside the main compartment. In front of the main compartment is sleeve pocket for a hydration bladder and the HDPE frame sheet. The sheet is less a frame and more of a way to give the bag some shape. Its doesnít do much to get the load off the wearers shoulders. The thick padding against the wearer back does a good job keeping the load stable.
1000 denier construction means the fabric will last and the careful stitching will keep it all together for a long time. Itís good to see TAD backing the bag up with a lifetime warranty, but we donít think many people will need it.
$320 wil get you the bag and a heavily padded waistbelt. Hydration isnít part of the deal, though. By making a larger version of their popular FAST Pack EDC TAD has made an all purpose bag that hits a lot of feature buttons. The bag is big enough to push the carry-on baggage limit but can compress down to the size of a big bookbag.
Lead Tester: PFC ďPatrickĒ
Testers Notes: The bag is a lot bigger than it looks at first. Lots of little spaces to stash gear. Admin pocket is tough to use since itís flat. Straps slid off IBA too easily. Wasitbelt is wide, secure and easy to use. When loaded up with 40+ pounds, the bag sagged into my back and rode low.
Granite Gear Tactical Special Mission Patrol
$250 (street), 5.6 lbs, 2800 Cubes
Granite Gear Tactical almost made the pack mullet. A high-tech, wickedly strong, fully adjustable suspension system up front and a simple and efficient cargo area out back.
The Topoflex frame sheet is some impressive tech. Itís the most expensive component of the pack. We creased the frame over on itself trying to break it. Nothing happened. That wasnít remarkable until we loaded the pack up up with 65 pounds and that framesheet transferred the load directly to our testers hips over miles of movement. The framesheet has a dozen holes to mount the pivoting shoulder straps in for a perfect fit for any torso height or shoulder width.
The SM Patrol has a fairly simple payload area. Two large pockets, and a flat slash pocket. The main pocket is subdivided with an open-topped, PALS covered radio pouch and a series of small, flat, mesh pockets for odds and ends. The smaller cargo area is fully padded and has a large flat pocket suitable for a large document or even a thin laptop. Granite Gear was the first to run hydration ports out the bottom of the bag. Itís a novel change that keeps water flowing in a little straighter line from the base of the reservoir. In the real world, we donít know what difference it makes. But some guys like it. There are ports up top, if you want to go that way, though.
For use with body armor, the thick shoulder pads tear away with Velcro leaving a flat and wide shoulder strap that rides easily over body armor. A PALS lattice on the straps and waistbelt give plenty of places to hang gear. The bag doesnít have a lot of bells and whistles, no compression straps or buckles. Just a set of high quality zippers that run without issue in the dirt and sand.
Granite Gear Tacticalís packs are made in the US by a company known for super light commercial packs so itís hard to miss their penchant for weight savings thatís apparent features such as in the pared down 3/4″ PALS webbing. For such a big bag, our tester found that it felt smaller than it really is thanks to the suspension system. The SM Patrol stands alone as a pack with a fully adjustable suspension. If you need to carry a lot of gear, this is a super bag that makes light work of your gear at a great price for an American made pack.
Lead Tester: Officer ďB.Ē
Testers Notes: The multiple point of adjustment make the bag feel smaller than it is. The bag has a hand crafted feel about it that is evident in a cursory glance at the heavy duty stitching. The hidden gem of the bag are the numerous inner pockets which help to make this the ideal bag for travel as all loads are internal and cause no change to the configuration. Excellent waistsbelt. Could have a wider base to enable use of the inner computer/radio pouch and retain easy access to the bottom of larger compartment.
Gerber Grasp 150
$350 MSPR, 6.7 lbs, 2760 Cubes
The Grasp offers 7 carry configurations all based around its rigid, external-fill, 150 oz. bladder. Ingeniously, the rigid bladder forms the frame of the pack while preventing the sausage roll effect. Itís made from low I.R.1000d Cordura nylon and uses .75 inch PALS webbing to save a little weight, which is welcomed on this somewhat portly pack. The pack is based around the reservoir carrier that features an expandable load carry platform that can be used alone, or with one or both of the included large and small pack modules and the removable waist belt. The large module is about 2000 cubic inches and offers internally bellowed side pockets that each holds an MRE. The small module holds about a handful of mags and a set of NODs. Itís missing an admin section.
The bag offers a lot of carry options, but at the price serious complexity. Straps, buckles and Velcro abound on this testament to pack (over) engineering. After taking the pack apart, you may be left looking at it like map that you may not be able to refold properly. Gerber has helpfully silk-screened a diagram on the pack to help get it back together. At a street price between $200-$250, itís not a bad deal for so much versatility, though.
Lead Tester: PFC ďMatthewĒ
Testers Notes: The group found the Grasp intriguing. Everyone like the multiple configurations, but were ultimately taken aback by the packís complexity. Our shorter testers said the frame was too tall for comfort. The shoulder straps were very comfortable. The whole thing was confusing.