When I received a package in the mail from BLACKHAWK!, I immediately opened the box knowing what was inside waiting for me, and when I finally got my hands on the Phoenix Patrol Pack, I felt a very distinct combination of feelings. A strange brew. I never felt that before, especially when opening a package with a backpack in it. I did my best to remember the feeling because I didn’t know what it was at the time, I tried to hold onto what it was or they were exactly, and for weeks I’ve been trying find the words that actually describe it. Today, I finally have an idea of what it was, and just figured out how to describe it to myself. Here is the cocktail’s mixture: 1 part “holy shit, this is serious”, 1 part “voyeurism”, 2 dashes of “this isn’t made for me”, garnished with excitement.
Let me explain.
1 part “holy shit, this is serious”: The Phoenix Patrol backpack ($179 from Blackhawk direct) is serious. I’ve been trying to tell it jokes since I got it, and it always keeps a stiff row of MOLLE webbing, never cracking a smile. Once it coughed after one of my jokes, but then went back to giving me a stern look. This pack is made for people who are going to demand its performance, made by people who demand its performance. From the Blackhawk website: “Blackhawk was founded in 1993 by former Navy Seal Mike Noell. Blackhawk’s meticulous obsession with quality has made it the specials ops gear of choice for SpecOps teams worldwide. While operating within northern Iraq, he (Mike Noell) had to make way by foot through an enemy minefield. One of his packs failed, dumping his gear onto the mine ridden ground. “If I get out of this alive, I will make this stuff the way it needs to be built so none of my buddies have to go through this,” he remarked to another operator. Upon entering the private sector that is exactly what he did, making Blackhawk gear and packs in a garage and growing ever since.”
1 part “holy shit, this is serious”, continued: No nonsense. If this pack has it, it is meant to be there. Just enough MOLLE webbing to attach additional pouches to, which Blackhawk also makes. As of the time of writing the review, the color options are nice and simple; Black and Coyote Tan. But there are images of Multicam out there. Obviously, I went for Black. The molded backpack is a nice addition too. It is quite comfortable, even when loaded up with 40+ lbs worth of gear. And the backpanel looks cool too, which is always a nice bonus. Of course the pack is made from 1000 denier nylon fabric, and upon my immediate inspection, I could feel the extra thick water-resistant coating on the back of the fabric. No lining fabric on this pack. Imported, so no, not made in USA, but as I’ve mentioned before, that isn’t a deal breaker. There are plenty of premium quality softgoods coming from Asia, and this is one of those examples. Seatbelt webbing for the wasitbelt, nylon webbing everywhere else, Duraflex military-grade hardware and fasteners where necessary. I’ve know about this pack for a while, and have always been a fan of the way the shoulder straps meet the backpanel, stitched under a layer of 2″ seatbelt webbing for maximum strength and durability. As a person who has ripped out several shoulder straps right out of the seams, I can tell you, these straps aren’t going anywhere. They’re also thick and comfortable, and “S” shaped for ergonomics. The overall suspension system is comfortable and fully adjustable.
1 part “voyeurism”: This is the part that is most difficult to put into words. Who would have thought something could be “difficult” to explain about unboxing a backpack? Anyway. I had this same feeling when I was digging through boxes of old German WWII rucksacks at an army surplus store on the Gulf coast of Texas a few months ago. I got to a specific worn-out green canvas rucksack, which had a leather ID window stitched to it. Inside the leather ID window was a piece of paper. Damn well preserved, I was amazed how new the paper looked for being 60+ years old, been to one of the worst wars and back, having traveled the Atlantic ocean to Texas (who knows where else it went before that), and being rummaged through in a bin by people looking for deals. On that well-preserved piece of paper, handwritten in pencil by the German soldier was his name, height, weight, and some other identification #s. That feeling. I was seeing into something else, somewhere else, a different, without that individual knowing, the pack itself telling me a story, or having the potential to tell a million different stories. A crystal ball, made from aged leather and canvas. Like the feeling you’d get when picking the hammer Michelangelo used to carve David.
(Above image: Don’t be fooled, that tortilla chip bag is huge. I bet Blackhawk didn’t ever expect the Phoenix Patrol Pack to be used to carry haul tortilla chips. I bicycled over to the local tortilleria to grab some chips, and I’m happy to say, upon my return home, there was hardly a single broken corn triangle upon inspection. The “TCCT” Tortilla Chip Carryability Test is a highly technical, highly valuable, and until recently, a highly classified part of Road Tests here at Carryology.)
1 part “this isn’t made for me”: In a good way. Formula 1 race car technology trickles down to our 4-doors, the list of examples goes on and on. One thing this pack does not have, is pockety organization, “pocketry” if you’re fancy. But this pack wasn’t meant for that. This isn’t an EDC pack to bring to the coffee shop and pull out your laptop. It is a 3-day assault pack. Meaning the intended user is a soldier, and they can rely on the gear in their pack (food and water) for 3 days without having to restock. So there isn’t a lot of room left for little pockets to store an iPod or external hard drive. There are three pockets. There are no organizers. Deal with it. This particular pack works extremely well with Inception Packing, which we here at Carryology are fans of. As a result of this what-you-see-is-what-you-get design, you’ll notice my photos here are pretty straightforward, but that is the point. As far as what these three massive pockets can carry, well…
I don’t really use luggage when I travel. The past 5 times I flew overseas, I brought a large trekking backpack, and another small backpack. I find it easier to carry my things this way, rather than dragging a wheeled bag behind me as I walk forward. Personally, I like my hands free. On my most recent travels domestically (in fact, all the photos in this post were taken in Savannah, GA), I brought the Phoenix Patrol backpack, and it held everything I needed, no problem. The outermost pocket with diagonal zipper was the one I used for quick access items. But not small items. My Apple ear buds were stored in this pocket originally, and I had trouble getting them out when I needed them, as the pocket is fairly deep. They ended up in my coat pocket for easier access. Remember folks, this is a military pack. Operators usually are wearing gloves, and reaching for larger items that they need, not tiny bits of relatively-fragile electronics.
It is large enough (23”L x 12”W x 8”D / 2650 cu. in. / 46 L) to carry everything I need for a short vacation. Thing is big. Probably the first word I’d use to describe it. Not 65 L hiking backpack big, and also not 30 L daypack small. In fact, for reasons I cannot divulge, on one of my most recent travels, I had to carry a military helicopter pilot helmet, a military fighter jet pilot helmet, a large/thick pre-flight checklist book, a David Clark communication headset, and various military/tactical items. Every single item fit into the Phoenix Patrol pack. I realized, once I zipped up the #10 YKK zippers (yes, the big ones) for the main compartment, and cinched down the webbing, that this is where the pack shines. Large, bulky, oddly-shaped, heavy items. Items that are unforgiving to the inside of other packs, with sharp edges. No problem. Swallowed up. And the pack was still comfortable on my back, couldn’t feel any of the sharp corners poking me.
At first I had some issues with the non-removable waistbelt. It works great when you’re wearing it, evenly balancing the weight to your hips. But when I didn’t need it, I unbuckled it, and both sides were hanging loosely, flopping around as I walked through airports. I checked the bag once, leaving the waistbelt unbuckled (this is a rookie mistake, don’t ever do that when you check a bag, trust me). The combination of the fairly slick seatbelt webbing and the conveyor belts back in baggage claim, claimed one half of my 2″ adjustable waistbelt buckle. Luckily I have replacement buckles coming out my ears, so no problem. After this happened, I discovered a really trick feature (that was either intended or that I discovered). You can flip the wasitbelt backwards, so it is wrapped around the volume of the pack. The wasitbelt buckle sits neatly, centered, just beneath the fold/ridge of the front pocket, just below the bottom row of MOLLE webbing. It looks clean, and works really well for when you don’t need the waistbelt to help carry the load.
Lets get down to brass tax. This is a large, rugged, durable, comfortable, understated 3-day assault backpack. It is a near perfect for this purpose, and quite possibly the best 3-day assault pack out there. I’m not a soldier and haven’t used this in combat (we’d love to hear from you if you have, leave us a message below in the comments). If you’re a civilian like me, have realistic expectations from this pack for how you want to use it, and it will be the last pack you ever need for whatever that purpose may be. Some suggestions I was thinking for potential uses for civilian use; a travel pack for short trips (trains, planes, automobiles… ferry boats), a pack to take with you up to the cabin/hunting/etc, to go on serious multi-day hikes or leisurely half-day hikes with a picnic at the end, hiking and camping combo with ample room to store your gear for a night or two, a gym bag if you like to bring a full-change of clothes with additional shoes and gear. Or any sports that require extra gear (lacrosse, etc). At one point I was even using this as a pack for my other pack, if you’re into that sort of thing. These are just ideas I had while I have been traveling with the pack on my recent trips, but I’m sure there are dozens more that could be applicable to your life. Whatever activity this pack helps you carry on with, you can guarantee it is absolutely not going to fail you.
If the Blackhawk Phoenix Patrol Pack won’t fail in a enemy minefield, as per the designs of a former Navy Seal, it can handle whatever you can throw at it, or throw into it.