Over the years I have spent a lot of time and a very stupid amount of money trying to find the "perfect" carry bag for work. I've been working basically the same job at the same location for 12 years so you'd think I'd have figured it out a little sooner.....
Part of the reason that it is hard for me to find the right bag (or other item) is that I have to do everything mail order due to my remote location. Also, there has been a lot of cool bags that have come out over the last year and I have to admit it, I'm a gear shopaholic. It's a bit embarrassing but I am getting it under control now.
One of the first mistakes I made was that I never sat down and make a list of what I wanted, what I might need, and what would be useful for my situation. Everyone's needs are different depending on where you live, where you work, your transportation methods, what reasons you want an EDC bag for, etc.
So, about 12 years too late, here is my list.
- I work a full time shift work job, about 50 hours a week. I also do contract work at odd hours.
- I live in a small town and generally work out near the local airport, about 12 km out of town, just off the highway.
- I don't need to carry much (if any) work paperwork back and forth. Pretty much all my work stays at work.
- Transportation is a big issue. For the contract work I would normally use my own truck but, for my full time job, I always use a shared company vehicle that I can't store anything in. Frequently other people travel to work with me. That's a big part of the reason I have been looking for a perfect bag, I can't keep a large ready to go heavy pack in the back.
- I do have a locker at work, full size, that I can keep anything in. Has a lock.
What I need a bag or bags for:
- Carry textbooks back and forth (full time student) and occasionally my Dell mini laptop. Usually my netbook stays in one place but I do carry my books around a lot.
- Carry food back and forth, coffee thermos, nalgene water bottle. There is a fridge at work and I also keep a lot of food in my locker and the fridge to make meals but I usually bring out at least one small meal.
Yep, that's a pretty small need list and could be well served by a lot of cheap bags. I think it's a mistake to get too wrapped up in thinking of all the ways you are going to need to escape to the woods. Of course, then we get to my want list! :)
What I want a bag or bags for is to have something I can use as a "get home bag" in the event of a disaster of some kind. I am not looking for a so called "bug out bag" as there just isn't any way I can reasonably carry that much gear unless I was driving my own vehicle. Plus I have a family and my main focus would be getting back home to them.
Other features I want:
- Comfortable to carry.
- Lots of separated compartments.
- Some level of water proof, at least enough not to get soaked from snow melting on it when I bring it inside.
- Options for carrying a variety of safety and travel items (more on that later).
- Something I can carry for a 12km+ walk.
- Tough, able to take abuse.
- Easy to get in and out of a car with. Partly just because I'm going to be carrying this on my lap a lot but also in recognition of the high likelihood of vehicle accidents/roll overs. The road I travel is pretty bad, lots of steep drop offs, no real shoulder, a single lane highway. We also have 8-9 months of snow on the ground here and the road isn't maintained to a very high standard. People hit the ditch here all the time. There are a lot of spots where no one would notice and, even if they did, the road may not see another car for hours at night.
A list of some of the items I am carrying in my bag, in random order:
- first aid kit
- hand and foot warmers
- cell phone
- full face mask
- warm gloves/mitts (seasonal it is work gloves)
- 500 ml bottle water plus a 1L nalgene that is usually full
- water treatment tablets
- mora knife with keychain light, whistle, and compass on a neck cord
- AAA lights - streamlight stylus pro and a streamlight headlamp
- duct tape (removed from the roll)
- mini maglight LED (AA)
- spare batteries (in the plastic maxpedition volta battery case, not using the pouch)
- sunglasses in maxpedition molle case
- glass breaker
- box cutter
- mutli head mini screwdriver
- mini hacksaw
- pen, pencil, notepad
- spare set of keys
- USB keydrive
- some cash and change
- eye drops, dental floss, gum
- two lighters, strike anywhere matches, tinder
- folding knife
- Cold Steel SRK knife
That list is sometimes expanded on and is seasonal. I might change the knives, I might add in spare socks, toque, additional first aid supplies, etc.
For my American readers, you might notice a very important item that is not there - a handgun or some other weapon/defensive item. It's illegal to carry a handgun in Canada without an ATT (authorization to transport) and those are only issued for transporting a gun to the range, to a gun smith, etc. It's essentially impossible to get one for personal protection. You can carry some long guns (with the correct license, paperwork and storage) but that's not possible for me, I'm not travelling in my vehicle.
Originally I used to carry a backpack to work, more of a daypack size but with proper waist and sternum straps. Those packs were usually too small and not really designed for what I wanted to do with them. Larger backpacks were too awkward, I'd get the straps tangled and larger packs tend to be very long making them hard to carry on my lap or fit into small spaces. Regardless, pretty much any camping pack isn't really going to have the compartments and attachments I was looking for. Another issue was carrying one in winter, I usually wear an enormous parka and it's tough to get them on and off. The final issue is that the stuff in a pack tends to get bounced all over the place when you are carrying the pack in a car. I've dumped my lunch a few times or had a leaky thermos that made a real mess.
Several years ago I got a Maxpedition tactical attache (operator?). I liked all the pouches and at that time, I used to carry a lot of paperwork back and forth so it was a good briefcase as well. The strap stunk, the cheap plastic snap attachment broke, but I put a better one on. I used to carry it and a bag for my lunch.
Once my job changed (same company, different position), I didn't need to carry paperwork around and so I went back to a backpack for a while. Later on I came across some other Maxpedition bags on...youtube maybe? I was quite impressed with the capabilities and my mom ended up buying me a Malaga Gearslinger for a birthday present (very nice of her).
Loved the bag at the time, loved the PALS webbing and went a little nuts buying all sorts of extra pouches. The problem with the bag was that once I started adding all those pouches it just got ridiculously enormous. Plus that bag actually had a molle strap tear and was getting a little worn on the carry strap - that did piss me off but I gave them another chance and bought a Kodiak gearslinger.
The Kodiak was a better option for me, more versatile out of the box without the need to buy a whole bunch of extra pouches. I could carry my laptop easily, textbooks, lots of pockets for stuff, etc. I wasn't totally sold on the length of it though. One thing I liked about the Malaga was that if you carried it in the front, it didn't block your arms. This way I figured I could carry it with my heavy BOB pack (which stays at home) or a standard pack that I keep in my work locker, with the Malaga slung in front. The Kodiak is too long for that. I could have gone back to the Malaga, I tried, but the carry strap on it is much less comfortable than the Kodiak and I just didn't like the bag anymore. The Malaga's carry strap is ambidextrous which is sorta nice (switch shoulders as it gets sore) but the Kodiak's one way only strap is much, much more comfortable. I searched for something that had the size I wanted (more or less) with the carry strap I liked and I again bought a maxpedition bag - got a very cheap price on amazon.com. My sister had sent me a gift certificate at Christmas and it paid for the bag, it was only $50!!! And yes, it was authentic.
The bag was yet another gearslinger (yes, this is getting ridiculous), I got the Noatak gearslinger. That's a very cool bag and it was such an amazing price I had to buy it. Was on the small side but I could still squeeze my Dell mini in there and I started carrying a separate bag for food and stuff. I figured that if some bad shit went down I would ditch the other bag and go with the Noatak. The problem with the Noatak was that with the same amount of items it actually felt heavier than the Kodiak. Too heavy to walk any serious distance, too sore on the shoulder. Turns out that Kodiak's length was the difference, it would sit low enough that my back and butt was actually taking some of the weight! Plus, I didn't really want to carry two separate bags around, too much crap all over the place.
The big problem is that I didn't clearly evaluate what I wanted and why and ended up with some very, very cool bags - that were useless to me. Why? Try and walk with a sling pack 12km with ANYTHING in it, then you'll see why. Youtube is riddled with guys that are talking about how they take these things in the woods on hikes. Either those are men of iron or they are completely full of BS. All I know is that I can't do it. I tried a couple of times and it is just way too sore. I encourage you to do the same, load up some water, some food, some of your favorite tools, and take that sling pack on a hike in the woods - or even across town. If it works for you, great, but I suspect it won't.
Now I have a Malaga that's a bit trashed that I don't want/need and can't even sell, a Kodiak that is now relegated to an airline travel bag (more on that in another post), and a Noatak I have no use for. If you have a CCW permit for a handgun, I think it would be a good bag for that, no use for me though.
What's left then? The backpack? Well, that's still not really what I want, nothing has changed there. Yes, I could look at at PALS-compatible pack, maybe one of the maxpedition ones, but all the same backpack annoyances still apply. However, once I finally made my wants/needs list, I had my (current, subject to change!) answer: a patrol bag. I used to use one regularly during my stint as an auxiliary police officer, very handy bag - compartments to keep things separated, the stiff rectangular design keeps it upright and keeps things from being jostled, easy to sit one on your lap as a passenger, TONS of space for something that you can sit on your lap. Good carry handle and a sling strap. But Jon, what about that sling strap? You said slings are no good for the distance you might have to walk?
I'm glad I asked me that!
Here's where maxpedition came through for me, with their Centurion Patrol Bag. It's similar to a standard patrol bag but has a lot more pouches and two features that made all the difference: 1L nalgene compatible pouches and PALS webbing, neither of which my old patrol bag had (I haven't seen any other brand that has it so far).
The water bottle pouches are important because they save room inside the pack. I like to carry a big water bottle back and forth, either a nalgene or a steel one, plus a large thermos and a small plastic water bottle (backup in case the nalgene isn't full). Other patrol bags don't have big enough pouches for large water bottles so they either get attached outside, banging around, or they go inside taking up space and potentially leaking all over your stuff.
Having PALS webbing allows you to attach pouches, which is nice, but it is those attachments that answer the long-dstance sling carry question. The answer is that I wouldn't carry this bag at all if I had to walk home, I'd ditch it. It's OK to carry for a short distance but would be terrible for a long hike. I have attached an Octa Versipack to the top of the patrol bag - the Octa has PALS webbing on the back which allows me to attach it securely. You could also put the Octa or a cheaper fanny pack in your bag but I like being able to attach it to the outside, leaving more room for my personal items (textbooks, laptop, etc) inside. This way I get my two bag system without having to struggle carrying two bags.
Most of the items (except the knives) that I view as essential are actually kept in the Octa. Duplicate or less important items are kept in the patrol bag. In the event I ditch the patrol bag, the very comfortable and long hike-friendly Octa will be my get home bag. The small plastic back up water bottle that I carry is kept on the top of the bag where most people would put a flashlight, and I have two mini rollypoly pouches on the side for carrying more water. Since all the weight is taken on the hips, it's no problem to use it for an extended hike - or walk home in my case. There is more than enough room to carry essential survival items, especially since I would carry my mora knife around my neck and the SRK attaches to the belt strap.
The drawback to this system? Cost. Both of those bags are VERY expensive. Of course, so were all the other bags that didn't work for me! Now you could probably find some cheaper ways to do this but these bags meet my needs and wants quite well. I think this will be a durable system that will last me for years to come. Though with my track record, I'll probably replace it next week! :)
So, what's your system?