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Road Tests

Road Tests :: Arc’teryx Khard 30

by , December 6, 2013
9
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An active pack that had us frothing…

The Arc’teryx Khard 30 is a tactical backpack for hauling radios, medical supplies or bang-bang bits into radical situations. As such, it is lightweight, allows for incredible access, and is built tough.

But with a bit of mountaineering pedigree, it actually makes for an incredible travel and all-rounder pack. In fact, it has quickly become one of our all-time favorite backpacks. Read on, and we’ll explain…

Arcteryx_Khard_Open_Sm

Specifications

  • Name: Khard 30 Backpack
  • Brand: Arc'teryx
  • Format: Backpack
  • Measurement: 560mm tall
  • Capacity: 30 liters
  • Weight: 1.4 kg / 49 oz
  • Zippers: YKK
  • Material: 500D nylon Cordura® 6,6 balanced weave with silicon
  • PriceUS $359

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Who it suits

The obvious part is tactical folk doing tactical things. As part of the Arc’teryx LEAF range, it is aimed at Law Enforcement & Armed Forces. Specifically comms folk, medics or breachers.

The less obvious folk are those wanting a great all-round pack for work, play and travel. With a few tweaks, this backpack can be coerced into all sorts of duties and environments, allowing for convenient access to almost any items you wish to carry.

Who it doesn’t suit

It’s not cheap, it doesn’t come in many colors, and there is not much size adjustment for particularly big or small people. Those few things will rule out lots of crew.

Arcteryx Khard 30 Backpack

Design

Looks

The Khard is beautiful. Like really beautiful. It has some of the most resolved pattern making of any pack we’ve ever seen. Elegant lines work when the pack is full or empty. Zip lines flow smoothly. Pockets grow and shrink effortlessly. And the wolf gray colorway looks hot, with tonal zips and the matt polyester vibe.

arcteryx_khard_patterning

Construction

Very excellent. The sewers seriously know their craft.

Hardware

The components are both highly tuned and beautiful. This is plastic that doesn’t make you think of plastic. Zippers are #10’s all around, so they never feel fragile or snag.

Materials

The fabric is as good as it gets, with a crazy tight weave that adds structure and durability. This also means a light spray backing is enough, keeping weight down. For the geeks, it’s an air textured 500D nylon Cordura 6,6 balanced weave with silicon. The ‘air-textured’ bit means it doesn’t have the shine of normal nylon fabrics, having instead a low reflective vibe like polyesters do.

Fabric_Comparison

To understand how good the fabric is, we’ve taken a comparison shot of it against two other fabrics:

  • On the left (the beige swatch) is a Unit Portables polyester. You can see that the weave is very open (a low thread count), leaving the fabric without much structure or abrasion resistance. They then use a thicker backing to try and get structure back into the fabric laminate.
  • In the centre is a Kona messenger swatch. While harder to see in black, close inspection reveals this same open weave. You can also see that the fibers are a bit ragged, which reduces the lustre of the fabric, and encourages fluff and dust to stick to it.
  • On the right is our Khard swatch, with neat and tidy fibers woven in about as tight as you can get. This increases your abrasion resistance, but also gives structure to the fabric in a way that we just love.
arcteryx_khard_rear_vista_Lg

Modularity

The base Khard backpack works pretty well on its own. The interior is a little sparse, but the long side pockets, generous top pocket, the variety of access points, and the bungee on the front all help you carry pretty diverse loads. But using it like that is really only getting a small part of the benefits.

Where the Khard really comes into its own is when you dip into the extensive modules available from tactical accessory brands.

Camera & Tech

Without modules: I often take a large DSLR when traveling. With the Khard, I would stuff my regular small camera case in at the bottom of the pack, and then access my camera by sliding the zip heads down to the front side. This meant I could grab my camera quickly despite lots of gear shoved on top of it.

With modules: Just below the lid, you can suspend a case that peels out of the way when you open the lid section right up.

Laptop & Work

Without modules: When carrying a laptop, I removed the aluminium stays to flatten the back panel’s ‘S’ curve. This then let me keep a regular neoprene laptop cover pushed against the back panel for my 15″ MBP.

With modules: Some of the LBX modules use bungee laptop sleeves that let the laptop case lever out from the base, letting you keep your back curve (but losing a little space).

Clothing & Personal Effects

Without modules: I used the long exterior pockets for toiletries on one side, and various travel accessories on the other. I then used generic packing cubes for clothing while traveling.

With modules: You can configure pretty much anything you can imagine. If you like keeping your intimates separate from your fancy dress, go for it.

Other tweaks

I love the performance versatility of good tactical packs, but I usually strip them back a little. For most of my time with this pack I removed the bungee (the side compressing straps work better for jackets or external carry). I also wrapped the waist belt back on the lower compression straps, and fastened it with the excellent Velcro retainers.

These tweaks all worked well to get the Khard performing as an all-round work and travel pack.

LBX_Versatile_Modules

LBX_Laptop_Modules

LBX_Clothing_Modules

g3_Modules


Arcteryx_Khard_and_Covert

Features

Attachment Systems

Excellent slim-line daisy chains both inside and out allow for significant customization. Full-length interior Velcro panels allow for significant internal modules (which you’ll probably need, as there are not real internal pockets).

Active bits

Hydration compatibility, comm ports, four compression straps, and awesome Velcro toggles for managing cords all help you run, jump and avoid tangling.

arcteryx_khard_cord_velcro

Pack Suspension System

This harness is meant to lock in tight to your body, avoiding a shift in weight to conserve energy. They do that with a very structured composite back panel, box section aluminium stays, and a pre-shaped curve that really does fit snugly. Note though, this system works better on lighter loads. If you’re hauling significant weight, a more forgiving harness will suit better.

arcteryx_khard_back


Performance

Space & Access

This is a 30-liter pack, which utilizes its volume well to adjust to your needs.

Access is one of the key innovations with this format, and it’s awesome. You can bury a bulky SLR at the base of your pack, and still get at it without emptying the motherload.

arcteryx_khard_openings

arcteryx_khard_hacks

You can open out the whole pack for complete visibility, and you can customize modules internally for specific needs.

arcteryx_khard_unravelling

Add in long side pockets that grow and shrink with your needs, and the ability to access it as a side load pack, and you have a backpack in the top few examples of access awesomeness.

arcteryx_khard_top_pocket

So how does access compare to the benchmark Mystery Ranch 3Zip format (also on the CamelBak TriZip)? I’d say a very close second. Since all the zippers operate on the front plane of the 3Zip, you do get slightly faster access to key areas. Sometimes with the Khard you need to run the zip heads around from the rear, but this is only a small deal. Overall, they are both leagues ahead of most backpacks.

arcteryx_khard_zip_heads

Comfort

This is the hit and miss area for this pack…

If you are decked out in combat gear, the comfort works great. Low profile straps avoid bulk, a really structured back panel with box section stays keeps everything in shape, and a webbing-only waist belt locks the pack to you. With a fixed harness length, this pack is best worn higher on the back, with the waist strap for stability more than load bearing.

The Khard was intended for that, so we’d have to say they’ve done well.

But we don’t wear combat gear, so we’re looking at comfort in a T-shirt…

Arc’teryx are exploring low profile padding across many of their bag styles. Very firm foams, contoured straps and soft binding mean these foams work almost as well as their cushy counterparts. But that’s only an ‘almost’. For extended activity they can rub a little more, without the conformability of a thicker and softer foam section.

arcteryx_khard_hardware

The main issue for me was the waist belt. With such a structured back panel you could take a fair bit of weight onto the hips, but the webbing-only belt isn’t great at this. I think their removable hip pods from the larger 45 could be added, so that’s one potential fix. Alternatively, I’d love to see them take the super low profile foam from their fold-away Covert shoulder pads and create waist belt padding with that. If they then made the waist belt fold away with this low profile foam, I’d be gushing even more.

Another small issue is that the shoulder straps cannot pivot, so your shoulder width needs to be reasonably normal. If your shoulder width is outside the norms, or you want to wear the pack low, a weird little bunching thing can happen that feels odd.

arcteryx_khard_strap_issue

Weatherability

WR1 – Water Resistant: While the fabric deals fine with a shower, the zips are not water-resistant. For a pack that depends so much on smooth zip action, this is understandable. Personally, I’d love the top pocket zip to be waterproofed. As is, you’ll need to enclose tech in additional protection if you plan on playing in tropical downpours.

arcteryx_khard_side_carry


Alternatives to consider

The Mystery Ranch 3Zip and the CamelBak TriZip are two of the most obvious. They are very similar packs, but with a few key differences. If you’re hauling heavy loads, the Mystery Ranch 3Zip followed closely by the CamelBak are better packs. Thicker padding and better harness adjustment make a difference. However, the Arc’teryx is a visually cleaner and physically lighter pack, it is smaller, and less overtly tactical.

There are plenty of other tactical packs (some of our favorites being TAD and  5.11), but their access is not as innovative. And the regular stable of all-rounders like the GORUCKs should be considered.

Finally, if you like the vibe but price or complexity are a bit much Arc’teryx have simplified civilian versions in the Sebring 25 (for $139) or Miura 35 and 45 ($199 & $229).

arcteryx_khard_base_pattern


Verdict

When the Khard landed in the Carryology office, everyone stopped work and started drooling in a way that few carry products have ever managed. This pack raises the bar in details, with incredible refinement and sophistication.

I love using this pack. It is already one of my favorites. It really is beautiful as well as versatile and excellently constructed and the fabric is as good as we’ve seen.

It’s not as good with loads as the Futura Harness on the 3Zip/TriZip, but it’s a slimmer pack than those, so that’s understandable.

Arc’teryx helped create the roll-top backpack. They helped reinvent the fabric fold in carry silhouettes. With the Khard, they’ve helped avoid compromise in a top access pack. Arc’teryx are on a tear, and we’re excited about it…

Arcteryx_Khard_30

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access
10
Organization
9
Comfort
7

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
10
Build, Materials & Hardware
10
Features
9

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
9
Brand experience
8
Value
8
X Factor
10

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