Category Archives: Gear

The evil, black gear you need.

Messenger Bag Shootout

Messenger bags. Every “evil black” operator needs at least one to organize and carry his or her every day items. In our messenger bag shootout, we set out to find the best bag for the buck from some of the market’s less-well-known bag makers.

Methodology: Each bag was carried daily by a number of reviewers and ranked on our Evil Black Rifle Scale on its appearance, durability, features, functionality, market leadership and value to calculate an overall ranking.

Contenders:

  • Hazard4 Sherman, MSRP $149.99
  • Spec Ops T.H.E. Messenger Bag, MSRP $115.00 (Currently available for $69.95 from the manufacturer.)
  • STM Trust, MSRP $129.95
  • Tom Bihn Ego, MSRP $170.00
  • VVego Helluva Messenger Bag, MSRP $325.00

Hazard4 Sherman

Hazard4 Sherman
Hazard4 Sherman

Appearance: 3/5 Three Rifles

Durability: 5/5Five Rifles

Features: 5/5Five Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Four Rifles

Market Leadership: 4/5Four Rifles

Value: 4/5Four Rifles

Overall Rating: 4.167

Built like its namesake with better internal organization, the Sherman was a favorite of our reviewers. The Sherman consistently ranked as the best bag in our shootout for internal administration.

With a $150 MSRP, the Sherman certainly provides a lot of features for the money. However, if you’re looking for something even the least bit stylish, the Sherman has all the panache of a Panzer. Granted, it does have an external loop field to which a few decorative patches can be attached – sort of like painting nose art on a WWII bomber.

Spec Ops T.H.E. Messenger Bag

T.H.E. Messenger Bag
T.H.E. Messenger Bag

Appearance: 3/5 Three Rifles

Durability: 5/5Five Rifles

Features: 3/5Three Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Four Rifles

Market Leadership: 3/5Three Rifles

Value: 5/5Five Rifles

Overall Rating: 3.833

T.H.E. Messenger Bag is about as meat-and-potatoes as it gets. It is, almost literally, a blank canvas. The interior is a single, high-visibility yellow open pocket covered in Grid-Lok (MOLLE-like attachment panel). The exterior is also covered with MOLLE-like loops. This means that the bag can be configured in a nearly infinite number of ways utilizing Spec Ops’ pouches or virtually any other MOLLE-compatible pouch.

The flip side of the “infinitely configurable” argument is that the bag has almost no internal admin until additional pouches are added. One could argue that, at the current price on the manufacturer’s website ($69.95), this isn’t a very big deal. Priced at $115.00, however, the value begins to fade.

STM Trust

STM Trust
STM Trust

Appearance: 4/5 Four Rifles

Durability: 3/5Three Rifles

Features: 4/5Four Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Four Rifles

Market Leadership: 3/5Three Rifles

Value: 4/5Four Rifles

Overall Rating: 3.667

If you’re looking for a bit more stylish bag for lighter duty, the Trust deserves a look. It certainly won’t (and didn’t ) handle the abuse like some of the other contenders (Durability rating) but it’s a very nice looking bag with decent features and functionality. The main fabric is a 320D brushed poly while the bottom is a 640D reinforced fabric.

The inside of the Trust is a light color, making it easy to find items. There’s also quite a bit of internal organization, including a padded pocket for a laptop and a smart phone.

Tom Bihn Ego

Tom Bihn Ego
Tom Bihn Ego

Appearance: 3/5 Three Rifles

Durability: 4/5Four Rifles

Features: 3/5Three Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Three Rifles

Market Leadership: 3/5Three Rifles

Value: 4/5Three Rifles

Overall Rating: 3.167

Don’t misinterpret the rating on the Ego. Tom Bihn makes quality gear with some unique features. Unfortunately, our reviewers weren’t overly enthusiastic about either the form or the function of the Ego’s design. The bag, itself, is oddly pear-shaped. This pear shape translates to all the pockets and other organization.

Additionally, the fabric of the Bihn was not as stain-resistant as the other bags in the shootout and the large, flat main buckle seemed particularly subject to scratching.

Vvego Helluva Messenger Bag

Helluva Messenger Bag
Helluva Messenger Bag

Appearance: 5/5 Five Rifles

Durability: 5/5Five Rifles

Features: 4/5Four Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Four Rifles

Market Leadership: 4/5Four Rifles

Value: 3/5Three Rifles

Overall Rating: 4.167

If you’re looking for a durable, stylish bag with some fairly unique features, we saved you the best for last. We’ll grant you that this bag’s looks aren’t for everyone. It definitely stands out – OK, jumps out – in a crowd and we understand that some of our readers are looking for more of a “gray man” approach to life.

If you’re not going for the “gray man” approach, we could really only find two faults with this bag – it’s price tag and it’s lack of internal admin. If money is no object and you don’t mind utilizing a pouch or two for admin and you want a bag that stands out, not just because of its color scheme but because of its overall design and durability, we would highly recommend the Vvego Helluva Messenger Bag.

Hill People Gear Umlindi “Guardian” of Your Gear

Hill People Gear Umlindi Backpack, Two-tone Foliage/Stone, MSRP $220.00, www.hillpeoplegear.com

Author: Toby Asplin

Photos: Shelly Lynn

FTC Disclosure: The products reviewed were provided by the manufacturer/distributor.

“Umlindi” means “guardian”, “watchman” or “caretaker” in Zulu. Hill People Gear’s (HPG) Umlindi backpack will definitely take care of your gear.

The ‘Lindi is HPG’s answer to the largest pack that can be carried without lifter straps.

We received an Umlindi with a Prairie Belt (MSRP: $100.00) for testing. The ‘Lindi’s 500d Cordura construction is an excellent blend of durability and weight-saving construction. Very few people truly need 1000d fabric in their packs. The 500d in the ‘Lindi is certainly adequate for the average sportsman or “evil black” user. We hauled the ‘Lindi around through dense brush, thorns and trees with hardly a blemish.

The lightweight nature of the Umlindi is an excellent foundation for a small hunting pack or larger day pack. It would also make an excellent bug out bag or get home bag.

The Umlindi in its Natural Environment
The Umlindi in its Natural Environment

Organizationally, the Umlindi is simple with a unique external compression strap system intended to work with HPG’s compression panels and stuff sacks. The straps also work well for cinching down virtually any other bulky, lightweight item. We used them for tents, dry bags, shooting mats, sleeping mats and a rifle with good success. The tool loop at the bottom of the pack makes sure heavier loads don’t slip out of the compression straps.

The Umlindi's Compression Straps Work Well for Securing Loads Outside the Pack
The Umlindi’s Compression Straps Work Well for Securing Loads Outside the Pack
Handy Tool Loop
Handy Tool Loop

The Umlindi also has dual “wand” (side) pockets large enough for a one quart USGI canteen. They also work well with 1.5 liter thermoses as pictured in our feature photo.

The Umlindi’s interior is comprised of a single cargo area with a half-depth slot pocket on the back side of the pack. Organization is left almost entirely to the user. We used dry bags and stuff sacks to keep our gear stashed just the way we wanted.

It took a bit of work and some experimentation to get the Umlindi’s harness adjusted properly. It’s a great harness but the configuration is somewhat unique. Adjustment is done by shortening or lengthening the upper and lower straps. Other packs have simpler adjustment methods but once the harness is dialed in, there’s no muss or fuss.

The Umlindi's Harness with its Unique Size Adjustment System
The Umlindi’s Harness with its Unique Size Adjustment System

The shoulder straps are nice and flat. They work well for shouldering a rifle while wearing the pack but do not provide a great deal of padding. The width of the shoulder straps spreads the pack’s weight, however, making it relatively comfortable with heavy loads.

Wide Harness Straps Spread the Weight of Loads Nicely
Wide Harness Straps Spread the Weight of Loads Nicely

Due to the combination of the pack’s removable plastic framesheet and the wide straps, we found that loads as heavy as 50 lbs were fairly comfortable – even without the Prairie Belt.

One of the features that we really liked was the external pocket for the hydration bladder. So many packs hide the hydration bladder inside the main section of the pack. This makes removal and refilling a pain. The Umlindi’s hydration bladder pocket is separate from the main cargo compartment, right next to the wearer’s back. An Osprey bladder with a center structural support slid easily in and out of the Umlindi’s hydration pocket.

Easy Access to the Hydration Bladder Pocket
Easy Access to the Hydration Bladder Pocket

Overall, the Umlindi is a high-quality pack that’s easily configurable to meet multiple needs. One of our testers even used it as a carry on bag on a recent trip. The bag fits perfectly in even the smaller, regional jets’ overhead bins and can be stuffed under a seat if absolutely necessary.

SHplates Steel Rucking Plate

SHplates 35 lb Rucking Plate, MSRP $140.00 (as tested)

www.shplates.com

Author: Toby Asplin

Photos: Toby Asplin

FTC Disclosure: The products reviewed were provided by the manufacturer/distributor.

Strength and Honor. SHplates calls to memory the characteristics of fallen brothers in arms while providing a weighty burden for your good livin’.

You can order your SHplate etched with virtually anything.
You can order your SHplate etched with virtually anything.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “You’re reviewing a steel plate? What is there to say?” It’s steel. It’s a plate and it’s relatively heavy for its size.

End of review? Not quite.

As the popularity of rucking (carrying a ruck sack for exercise, competition or a team-focused event like GORUCK) has grown, so has the market for weights to be carried in one’s ruck. Early options included bricks, often culled from abandoned job sites or found on Craigslist, sandbags or the gear you might utilize during the event for which you were training.

All those things were fine, with a few exceptions. Most, however, left you with little room for anything else in your ruck.

Enter steel plates.

The down side to steel plates was that many of the originals had sharp edges. Some still do. Sharp edges and ruck material – even the toughest of ruck material – don’t play well together. The steel always wins.

Rich Sanders, of Pittsburgh, PA (the steel city, of course) had a better idea – a plate with rounded edges and a coating to keep it from rusting.

Combined with the USPS’s “If it fits, it ships” service offering, a business was born.

Expect your SHplate to arrive looking something like this
Expect your SHplate to arrive looking something like this

SHplates provided Trek Tech Black with a 35 lb plate specifically intended to be carried in the laptop compartment of the GORUCK GR0 and make weight for GORUCK Selection.

When the plate arrived at my house, my mother in-law was staying with us. As I walked in the door after work, she said, “There’s a package on the front step and I couldn’t move it.” I knew, instantly, that the SHplate had arrived. Expect similar responses from mail room workers if you have your plate shipped to your place of business.

Shortly after the plate arrived, I loaded it up and went for a nice little ruck.

The plate is a tight fit in the GR0’s laptop compartment. While it may be a little difficult to close the zipper on the compartment, the tight fit is appreciated when doing PT with the ruck on one’s back. The plate doesn’t shift or move around at all.

While carrying bricks during training and in previous events, I had utilized a pack with compression straps to hold the bricks in place. Even when duct taped together, the bricks moved around quite a bit without the compression straps. The combination of this particular SHplate and the GORUCK GR0 alleviated the need for compression straps.

SHplate's 35 lb plate is a tight fit in the GR0's laptop compartment
SHplate’s 35 lb plate is a tight fit in the GR0’s laptop compartment

Once we figured out a technique for zipping the laptop compartment shut with the plate inside, it was relatively easy to get the plate in and out of the ruck.

Slip your index finger under the zipper and stretch it over the plate
Slip your thumb under the GR0’s laptop compartment zipper and stretch it over the plate

Our technique is as follows:

  1. Open the laptop compartment and drop in the plate
  2. Grasp the fabric and zipper of the deeper side of the laptop compartment, near the corner, between your thumb and forefinger (thumb inside the compartment)
  3. Stretch the fabric and zipper over the plate
  4. Zip the compartment closed while holding the fabric and zipper in place

After about a month and a half of use, I haven’t seen any damage to the laptop compartment or its zipper.

In the GR0, the plate carries close to the back without causing discomfort.

We tried the plate in a couple different, similarly-sized packs. The fit wasn’t as perfect as in the GR0. The plate tended to shift around a bit more – even with compression straps.

If you’re looking at GORUCK Selection … or for a training solution for any other ruck event … and own a GORUCK GR0, we’re confident that the SHplates 35 lb plate will serve you well. With the optional etching, you’ll also be in compliance with special operations forces Rule #1: Always look cool.

2014 Sniper Adventure Challenge Gear – Gear tough enough to take on the Challenge and come back for more

Author: Toby Asplin

If you haven’t read my after action report (AAR) on the 2014 Competition Dynamics Sniper Adventure Challenge, this article may not make much sense. If you’ve read my AAR, you know that the 2014 Sniper Adventure Challenge was an excellent test of both man and material.

The Competition Dynamics folks provided an extensive required gear list to competitors. This gear had to be carried at all times during the event. Thankfully, most of the required gear went unused as it was focused on trauma, first aid and rescue.

We did utilize several key pieces of kit. Here’s a review of the gear that survived the event and worked well for us.

A good foundation is critical to success in most disciplines. Tactical adventure racing is no exception. My foundation (boot) of choice was the Salomon Quest 4D GTX. The Quests, along with my sock choices and a liberal application of Body Glide, kept my feet blister-free during the event. Relatively lightweight, at 2 lbs. 13 oz., these backpacking boots from Salomon provided excellent support and held up well to the constant punishment of the rocky terrain. In contrast, the soles of the Oboz mid-height hiking boots worn by my teammate were literally shredded in several areas. If these boots fit you well, I highly recommend them for difficult terrain and pack weights in the 40-60 lb. range. Continue reading 2014 Sniper Adventure Challenge Gear – Gear tough enough to take on the Challenge and come back for more