- Buyer's Guide
Road Tests :: CamelBak Tri-Zip
An awesomely versatile backpack
OK, so this one has been a long time coming. In fact, so long that I feel pangs of guilt over not having shared it earlier.
The Tri-Zip is a tactical backpack that the Mystery Ranch guys helped CamelBak create for their Tactical range. While it’s meant for running around dodging bullets, it happens to double as one of the best travel and all-rounder backpacks I’ve ever used. It is hands down my go-to for travel or diverse needs. Below, I’ll try and explain why…
^ That’s why ^
Check the above image, and you’ll get an idea of just how radical this pack’s load carrying and access abilities are.
If you’re packing an SLR, you can reach it quickly at the bottom of your pack. If you’re hauling a couple of laptops, a uke, and a random collection of work bits, it will somehow find a way to wrap itself around their ungainly forms. This backpack finds ways to capture and contain anything you can throw at it.
With that initial gush out of the way, let me dive in with some of the geek details…
There’s lots of good, so we’ll concentrate on the best-est goods…
Neat Modularity: The Tri-Zip is a Cargo + Hydration pack which comes with a modular build. Aside from all the PALS treatment, it leaves you free to ditch or keep the high-spec hydration, well padded waist strap, or even shoulder straps if you want to check it in. You need to pay for it all, but you don’t need to constantly haul it all.
Much of the time I run the Tri-Zip without the hydration bladder and waist belt. This keeps weight down and the look a little cleaner for work duty. But again, it’s modular, so you do whatever rocks your boat.
Awesome access: The Tri-Zip works as a top load for fast grab stuff, or unzips fully for load planning and reaching those tricky bits. Other than having to unclip a compression strap, this all happens smoothly and without fuss.
Those high internal pockets: High up on the sides, out of harm’s way but within quick reach. This is the single most under-utilised area of backpacks and messengers, as pockets here avoid crush zones and allow for fast access. The Tri-Zip puts mesh zip access pockets here the way almost every bag should.
Excellent load carrying: Thick foam, well shaped straps and just enough structure to keep it up on your hips. This is a pack that you can wear all day and not fatigue.
Height adjustment: The Futura Yoke lets you adjust the harness height to suit your torso length, which matters if you want to take load on your hips. It manages this without complicated or heavy structure, instead utilising velcro, PE board, and some clever design.
The curved ‘Blade’ gives the back panel its shape, while also acting like a spear that you shove down behind the shoulder strap assembly to separate it from the velcro holding it in place (when you want to adjust height).
The only downside to this neat assembly is if you forget that the Blade can be used to help adjust the harness height. Cough, cough, I might have remembered after a minute or so of trying to do it without the Blade…
Enough bits: The Tri-Zip has ports for hydration and radio gear (or headphones), it has pullers and shapers and bits aplenty. The build is solid, the components bomber, and it’s all covered by a Lifetime warranty.
The external side pockets: External pockets are for contents needed on the go, and these side pockets rock for that. I use one for work stuff, and the other as my Dopp kit. They work great for this, growing outwards just enough while staying streamlined and not snagging on passing branches/belts/pocket watches.
The Not So Good
Nothing is perfect, or more specifically, perfect for all things and all folk. Here’s a bit of what could be improved for us…
Airmesh sucks: Yep, same as always. The stuff scratches bare skin, gets saturated with sweat, and is not as durable as it could be. Having said that, 99% of the bag world is guilty of it, so we can’t be too harsh in this case.
Only basic water-resistance (WR1): None of the zippers are coated, and there’s a drain port in the base (that lets water in if you’re setting down in snow or puddles). That’s a bit of a pity, as the drain seems to hinder more than help.
One-piece shoulder straps: So this one is a compromise thing, where you win and you lose. One-piece shoulder straps (or strap yokes) work great as you see above; when you have all the straps on properly, buckles done up, and you’re marching in a normal upright position.
Where yokes are less than awesome is when you are carrying the pack on one shoulder, without the chest strap done up, or when in prone position (riding a bike). They tend not to adjust to irregular movements all that well, and can find their way off your shoulders or interfere a little with your neck/helmet.
So you win with heavy load carrying, and then lose a bit with irregular load carrying. It’s a compromise.
Best suited to:
Someone who asks a lot of their backpack, wanting versatility and load carrying ability. Frequent travellers. Adventurers. Boy Scouts. You need to be okay with a bit of a tactical vibe to run with this pack, but if you are, it rocks.
Not suited to:
Small people (there’s a bit of size there), suit wearers (it would just be a bit much), and folk after a really water-resistant pack (you’re better going with the Mystery Ranch 3DAP for that).
You should also check out:
You want to be checking all of our Active Backpack nominees from the Carry Awards. You should especially pay attention to…
Mystery Ranch 3DAP – Yes, this is the pack that the Tri-Zip is based on. So what are the biggest differences? They’re subtle, but still significant. The 3DAP probably wins out for carrying really heavy loads (with a better waist strap, especially if you spec the Live Wing waist belt), it wins for surviving torrential downpours (with water-resistant zippers), and for durability (getting Dana’s attention to fabric and construction detail). The Tri-Zip then wins out for more civilian-friendly pocketing (especially those low external side pockets), and for price (typically selling for $50-$100 less).
Goruck GR1 – While not as good for heavy or awkward loads, the GR1 is generally better around the office with its geometric silhouette and fewer dangly bits. But with the GR1 you will struggle to carry your ukelele.
The Tri-Zip has truly worked its way into my comfort gear, as a bag that I feel really secure choosing. It is my favorite active pack for travel as it works really well, adapts to everything I ask of it, and represents strong value.
The tactical vibe is not for everyone, and the Mystery Ranch 3DAP is the more ‘pure’ version of it, but for mere mortals like me, it’s easy to fall for this thing.