Figure Out Your Load-Out <LINK>
Hey all, it's Slim. I'm back from my trip and I know you're damned glad to hear it. Feel free to rejoice. Sorry to leave you here all this time with just Swingin' Dick to entertain and educate you, but even an action figure deserves a little time off. I've been defending democracy and keeping the world safe for sheep so long I honestly didn't know what to do with myself the first couple of days on the beach. Anyway, Richard and I are happy to introduce our latest Guest Blogger; MilSpecMonkey himself! If you don't know yet who is, then you haven't done much searching for gear reviews or morale patches. He's the guy that designed the Admin Pouch that MaxPedition sells, and he also came up with the Major League Sniper, Major League Doorkicker, Tactical Trunk Monkey and other "morale" designs. (Which, by the way, Richard and I sell in our store.) How's that for shameless self promotion eh? Anyway, the Monkey has kindly written up a basic guide for selecting the right kit to hump your gear. If you're a grunt or a snake-eater or whatever, you probably know a lot of this, but you never know when you can pick something new up and it's a good reference for boots and newer operators. So, here he is, the Monkey:
A Few Thoughts on Choosing Your Pack:
So…I don’t have any in-the-shit experience, but people still ask me time to time about gear recommendations since I have so many types lying around. This article might be a bit low brow for you high speed types, but those just getting into gear may find it to be a useful cheat sheet to what Slim calls PCDM: Pack Choice Decision Making.
[Note: I don’t think he actually calls it that, I think it’s part of Slim and Richard making fun of the military’s obsessive lust for acronyms and pro-words.]
Okay. Here we go.
-First of all you need to know what you need to carry. Also consider what you might need to carry later. This will give you a size requirement estimate on your pack.
-Next think about if you will needing to do heavy movement or carry the items for long distances.
-Now consider how quick and often you will need to get to those items, this will help determine your need for accessibility.
-Finally decide on your budget and durability requirements.
Using the intel of what the items to be carried require out of the pack, then cross referencing your answer with the pack type pros and cons below should help you narrow down packs that may be right for you.
When you need to carry a lot of gear while you are literally on the move, backpacks are the way to go. The main features of a backpack are 2 shoulder straps being used to hold the pack on your back. If a sternum strap is not included, it likely isn’t a great pack. Sternum straps are essential in making sure the shoulder straps cannot fall off one’s shoulders. If a larger backpack, you will also want a waist strap. With the right placement the waist strap will distribute most of the weight on your hips, otherwise all of the weight is on your shoulders. Oh and by the way, at about 25 pounds, all weight on your shoulders sucks pretty hard comfort-wise. Although secure, the backpack isn’t a super fast access pack since one needs to take it off to get to their kit, and there are a lot of straps to deal with.
PROS: Long distance, Run-capable, Heavy-capable
CONS: Slow to take on and off, many straps, must be taken off to access
Examples: Kifaru Navigator, ATS Raid, Spec-Ops THE pack, 5.11 RUSH72
-Single Strap Backpacks:
An expansion of the backpack idea, packs with large single straps have been created to try and make the putting donning and removal process easier. Other civilian names have been ‘gearslinger’, ‘sling bags’ and ‘J-bags’. I haven’t seen any single strap packs done in a rowdy large format, but the S.O.TECH GO BAG is worth noting as a good example of a larger one. Most are based around a school backpack size. Since the single strap isn’t quite as stable as two, some packs come with bicycle messenger bag style cross straps. These will help prevent movement shifting of the pack while you are on the move. This is where things get complicated, because once you use the cross strap, you might feel like an ass that should be using a real backpack (though you won’t look as bad as a nerd with a fanny pack on his hip). That noted, it still gives you the option to have the easy on / off ability you wanted, but can secure things when required from time to time. Depending how loose the fit, one can keep both the main and cross strap connected while putting the pack on and off. If you need a tight fit for mobility though, make sure and get a pack with a quick release on the main strap. SRB (Side release buckles) are commonly used, but some civilian versions get wacky with seatbelt hardware and such. Just in case it was in question, pretty much all packs use quick releases on their cross straps if they have one. In summary, the single strap backpacks aren’t quite as secure as typical backpacks, but are good for those who have to take their packs off and on frequently and want a quick pick up and go capability.
PROS: Long distance, Run-Capable (with cross strap), Easier on/off than normal backpack
CONS: Must be taken off to access, Must play with cross strap to toggle many pros and cons. May look like a tactically-minded high school or college kid.
Examples: Maxpedition Malaga, Maxpedition Monsoon, Many civilian versions.
A type of pack that is easier to adjust where it is on your body are shoulder packs and bags. They are easy to pick up and quickly access while still on your body, but are the ballz for heavy movement since there is no great way to fully secure them to one’s body. While running they will just flop around even when the main strap is adjusted to as tight as possible. As a result, shoulder packs are good for light travel at generally slow speeds. Sizes generally don’t get very big since heavy loads are no fun all on one shoulder. Examples of shoulder packs include: laptop bags, DJ bags, messenger bags, and larger “tactical” bags that have handles and single shoulder straps. For a smaller hybrid, Maxpedition makes the Versipack JUMBO pack which is shoulder based, but can be attached to one’s belt at the same time to keep it secure with heavy movement. These have gained some popularity with patrolmen in the LE environment who throw a couple extra rifle and pistol mags, a bottle of water and a power bar and some basic trauma kit in it, then sling it over their seat. Excellent to snatch up and run if you have to run out and set up on a perimeter or if you anticipate real trouble on an active shooter or something.
PROS: Easy to access, Easy off/on, Easy to change body placement
CONS: Low user mobility, Low weight or otherwise uncomfortable
Examples: Maxpedition MPB, Tactical Tailor Laptop Carrier, ESSTAC Manpurse
-Duffle / Luggage Packs:
When you need to hold a good amount of crap and have better transportation than your Mk.1 feet, duffle bag and luggage class packs are a good choice. For smaller / light loads simple hand straps will do, but most offer a shoulder strap solution making the packs basically big-ass shoulder packs. Accessibility is generally good, however unless you want to look like an angry three legged panda, forget about running distances with these packs. Some larger designs have noted shoulder straps won’t do for long hauls and add backpack straps making them interesting hybrid backpacks. As hinted in the name luggage, these packs are made for mechanical travel in mind. Shoulder straps can be taken off making them streamlined to play nice with conveyor belts and they are generally more boxy in shape than backpacks.
PROS: Large / heavy capable, Easy off/on, Easy to change body placement
CONS: Low user mobility (assuming no backpack straps)
Examples: Eagle Large Travel Bag, Surplus Duffel Bags, Maxpedition DoppleDuffel, 5.11 Mission Ready Rolling Duffle
-Waist / Butt Packs:
For smaller loads, waist and butt packs offer an accessible hands-free option. Waist packs are generally smaller while full-on military butt-packs can be considerably larger. Depending upon your needs they can be placed in front of you for easy access, or stored behind you to give more leg mobility. Some packs are made better than others, but typically you don't want anything too heavy in a front mounted waist pack or otherwise you will be smackn' your nuts all day long. Depending on the opening style, some butt-packs may be easier to access insides by fully taking them off rather than rotating it round one's waist up front. This sort of pack should not be confused with the Poindexter-approved jogger's fanny pack or the Civilian Lab "concealable man purse".
PROS: Easy Access, Easy to change body placement, Easy off/on, Decent user mobility
CONS: Typically small in size, Low weight otherwise uncomfortable.
Examples: Maxpedition Octa, Emdom Recon Waist Bag , Maxpedition Sabercat
[Note from Slim and Swingin’ Dick—this is the kind of bag we often travel in when the FNGs on our respective teams carry us on a deployment or FEX/FTX. Plenty of room for us and our gear, plus we can hang over the side with our weapon at the low ready!]
The idea is old, but some fancy new versions have recently come about making bandoleers worth noting as pack options. The main idea is that they can hold gear that is easy to access on one’s chest area. They offer chest rig-like accessibility, yet are usually easier to totally take off and on. What is available on the back will depend on individual bandoleer design. However, they all share the problem that you need a buddy or need to take the bandoleer off to access anything on the back. A tight fit is recommended to allow bandoleer packs to offer good performance during heavy movement. As a result, bandoleers are unique in which they can offer easy access up front, additional slower access storage in the back all while holding to one’s body well on the run.
PROS: Easy on/off, Good frontal Access, Run capable – good mobility.
CONS: Must take off for back access, Cross strap needed for good mobility, Not good for large or heavy items.
Examples: TAD Gear Bandoleer, Blackhawk STRIKE Bandoleer
Making my classification attempts much harder come the collapsible packs. Technically if you roll up a duffle bag up tight, it could be called a collapsible pack. However, collapsible-specific designs are now on the market. Usually the packs start in collapsed form as pouches or butt-packs and then expand to form light backpacks. Since they fold up and are constructed of light materials, these collapsible packs are as out of the way as possible. The point of this concept is to start your adventure off light, but being prepared if you need to carry more stuff later. Further pluses and minuses to the collapsible packs will depend on what sort of pack they begin life as and what they eventually become.
PROS: Out of the way, compact, lightweight
CONS: Not made for heavy weights, the rest depends upon what type of pack the collapsible pack turns into.
EXAMPLES: Maxpedition Merlin, Maxpedition Lochsa
That's my thoughts on how to figure out your load out as Slim calls it. Hope it helped some. If you've got any ideas or suggestions on making such a reference (even if it's hints about how to pack your load, or where to put specific pieces of gear) by all means let us know.
About the author: MilSpecMonkey isn't a grunt or professional operator, but he's been working with some of the best for years as he helped with the design work on "America's Army" (also known as the Army Game Project). That's put him in with a lot of salty trigger-pullers, which can't help but rub off after so many years. He's an artist and designer, with a wicked eye for layout and efficiency (all you need to do is check out his admin pouch to see that). His morale patches continue to grow in popularity, which he finds rewarding mostly because he knows sometimes it sometimes brings a smile to some folks in some pretty shitty locations. In his own words he describes himself as not minding "...looking a little goofy if it helps service people learn a little more about gear...", and I can tell you both me and Swingin' Dick have looked at some of his video reviews to see how certain piece of kit will hold up. If you've never checked it out, you need to. His URL is http://www.milspecmonkey.com/. Oh, and by the way, if you're one of the assclowns calling him a poser, wind your neck in and do a little reading before you sound off and look stupid. So, I guess that's all for now. You trigger-pullers, door-kickers and street-cleaners out there be careful. Come home from your shift or your deployment safe. Oh, and spread the word about our tactical blog here. It would be kick ass if we could reach a hundred subscribers (we're over that in regular visitors now) in the next month and a half or so. That would be about the time college classes start back up...that would give us a bigger audience for when Dick and I when we go waterboard Berkeley.