- Buyer's Guide
The Quest for the Perfect Pack
Introducing new contributor Nathan Ryan, pack nut and moderator at The Perfect Pack. His first article, a lament that most of us can relate to: the quest for that perfect pack.
My bag and carry experiences have been a bit wild, and way more expensive than I’d ever admit. This hobby of ours is an expensive one, but could I ever imagine going back to the bags I had three years ago? Heck no. My brain hurts just remembering my first ever “bag”, a Maxpedition Typhoon. At the time I had just left school, and took my first full-time job as a warehouse storeman, picking and packing orders, dispatching freight, all the fun stuff that manual labour involves. This was my first taste of a steady paycheck, and it was time to buy some cool stuff.
When my adventure started, I still had my school bag, a Thule Crossover 21L, but I had recently come across the concept of EDC and all these folks in America with guns and awesome bags that had first aid kits and MOLLE. I was captivated. Those bags were seriously sick-looking. I didn’t know brand names, I had no clue what Cordura was, and I thought DWR was some kind of musical instrument.
All I knew was what I thought looked cool, and cool meant quality, obviously. I did some googling and found my local gear store, which catered to the law enforcement and military community, along with carrying a small range of hiking/survival gear. This is where I bought my first real bag, the Maxpedition Typhoon – which I bought entirely on impulse and cool factor.
“I didn’t know brand names, I had no clue what Cordura was, and I thought DWR was some kind of musical instrument. All I knew was what I thought looked cool, and cool meant quality, obviously.”
So here I am, cool as ever, with my sweet Maxpedition bag, loving life. I slapped an Australian Flag patch on the front of my first aid kit pouch, I even had my awesome Nitecore flashlight in its own pouch on the side of the pack…I thought this was the best setup ever. Then it happened, the first nail in the coffin of me thinking tactical bags were my thing. Someone at a train station stopped me and asked if I was in the military, which was definitely a surprise to me, but I kind of brushed it off and answered no. Thinking back, this should have made me re-think my bag choices immediately, but as the story goes on, it absolutely did not.
It was time to change bags. I didn’t want to look like a soldier, because I definitely was not, and am not. I discovered 5.11 Tactical (turned out to be the total opposite of ditching the military look, haha) and grabbed a Rush 72, in OD Green. This bag was MASSIVE; when I wore it I’m fairly sure I looked like a ninja turtle, but dammit it was cool. I could fit so much crap in it – in fact it made me severely overpack just because I wanted to fill it. I noticed a huge upgrade in comfort from the Typhoon. The 5.11 Rush series has some really nice, thick and padded straps, and amazing internal organisation.
Due to the size of this monster, it didn’t last too long when I changed jobs. I lost my job in the warehouse and took a seasonal position at EB Games, which for the Americans is GameStop. This was definitely a change of scenery and environment. Instead of a high-visibility orange shirt, I now had a button-up and a tie and instead of forklifts I had to work around small children trying to buy Minecraft toys with their mum’s credit card. This is where the Rush 72 became way too much; it was so loud and in your face, it had to go.
I decided to downsize to a Rush 24, in black. This was my best bag yet, there was so much organisation! All the little things I wanted to carry, it was perfect. Little did I know I would end up owning three of these over the next year and a half. The Rush 24 really did suit all of my needs, and I was extremely happy with it. However, I started looking up and researching the higher-end brands, in particular Mystery Ranch and Triple Aught Design.
TAD’s FAST Pack EDC caught my eye, and I ordered one immediately, selling my 5.11 Rush 24 as soon as the EDC arrived. The FAST Pack was definitely a new level of in-your-face styling – there were straps everywhere, this beavertail thingie dangling around…I really underestimated just how “military” this bag would look. I wasn’t entirely happy with this bag, the shoulder straps left a lot to be desired, and for some reason I couldn’t adjust the bag to sit comfortably on my back. So it had to go.
“I decided to downsize to a Rush 24, in black. This was my best bag yet, there was so much organisation!”
While searching for a new bag, I was also searching for a new job, and I found a position at Masters Home Improvement (Australia’s version of Lowe’s. It’s actually partially owned by Lowe’s and looks exactly the same apparently). It was time to don the steel cap boots and cargo pants once more from my warehouse days.
Once I started I picked up a CamelBak Motherlode on an impulse buy, simply because I saw it in the gear shop mentioned earlier and it looked badass. This bag lasted about two weeks before I realised once more that this bag has no place in my current environment. It’s just so obvious and bulky, why the heck did I buy this thing? The bag was awesome, no doubt, and it came with a sweet hydration bladder. It was great on hikes, but in a daily commute and work carry role it simply didn’t fit. The search continued.
A pattern had definitely formed here. I had a thing for super tactical-looking packs, because I thought I’d look cool, and my brain associated the tactical and military appearance to mean quality and durability. This was slowly changing, as I was starting to actually do my research and speak to people I knew who had the bag I was looking at. Man, I wish I had done that from the start.
I decided to give Mystery Ranch a go, and I went with a black 3 Day Assault Pack. This bag was mental. The quality was outstanding, and to this day it is the most comfortable pack I have ever worn. That harness is seriously sweet. But now I had a new issue, lack of internal organisation. This was entirely my problem and not the bag’s; it was never designed to be an everyday carry bag. I had to pick up a few pouches to help keep my little bits and bobs together, to work with the 3DAP’s organisation.
It was about this time I found a new job, as I wanted something full-time. This new role was entirely different from everything I’d done before, working in a support centre for a government business, corporate time. For the Australians, this was the National Broadband Network, so you can imagine how much fun that was. My method of transport to work also changed. I moved closer to the office and I could now ride a bike to work. It wasn’t long before I wanted another 3DAP, purely because I fell in love with the Mystery Ranch Foliage, so I bought one!
“I decided to give Mystery Ranch a go, and I went with a black 3 Day Assault Pack. This bag was mental. The quality was outstanding, and to this day it is the most comfortable pack I have ever worn.”
I was getting a few comments in the office about my bag looking like I was about to go hiking, heading off to boot camp etc, so I decided to try and find something with more internal organisation, that could pass as just a normal bag. By this time I was a part of “The Perfect Pack” Facebook group, and I had seen a lot of folks with GORUCK bags. After reading some reviews I decided to pick up a GR2 and accessories. I also picked up a Vertx EDC Gamut Plus, but quickly sold it as the side bottle pockets couldn’t fit a 32oz Nalgene, which was a deal breaker for me.
The GR2 worked awesomely, it was comfortable on the bike, friendly in the office, and could swallow a lot of stuff which was great for overnight trips. My one gripe when I first got it was the framesheet, it was flimsy at best and the bag couldn’t actually stand up on its own because of this. I reached out to a guy I knew who worked Kydex and he made me a new framesheet of 6mm Kydex; problem solved. I had the GR2 for about five months before I decided to move on from my current job, and took a new job in a new city. Once again this was a new role for me, Business Support for a logistics software startup company, dealing with freight carriers and major clients. Maybe I could find out why Australia Post always loses my stuff?
“The GR2 worked awesomely, it was comfortable on the bike, friendly in the office, and could swallow a lot of stuff which was great for overnight trips.”
On my first day of the new job, which I was commuting to via public transport, I realised very quickly that the GR2 was simply too massive for a crowded bus, and I had to find something new ASAP. This is when I found Tom Bihn. I spent a few days researching their gear and talking to folks I knew with Tom Bihn bags. I settled on the Tom Bihn Pilot.
This was my first briefcase-type bag, and I was definitely a fan. It blended in well on the bus, along with the other office drones, and I loved the internal organisation, not to mention that Dyneema works wonderfully as an interior fabric. I was beginning to think this could be my perfect bag; however, it had one huge downfall for me, size. I usually take lunches to work, and this bag would struggle to hold a lunchbox or at least the one I was using. I went back to Tom Bihn, and picked up a Synapse 25 and Aeronaut 45.
The Synapse 25 is to date one of the smallest bags I’ve ever owned, and it showed. I’m by no means a small dude, I’m 6 foot 3 and about 260 lbs ( 193 cm and 120 kg). I tried to work with the size, but as soon as I put any sort of noticeable weight into the bag, it just failed miserably. My daily carry for the Synapse was comprised of very little, maybe three kilos at most, which it handled decently. As soon as I threw my MacBook Pro inside it, everything just went wrong. No matter how I adjusted the bag, it was borderline painful to carry. I learned my lesson about bags without any sort of frame/framesheet. Up it went on eBay and on to the next bag.
The Aeronaut 45, I have never touched such a perfect duffel in my time. Damn. I went with the Absolute Shoulder Strap upgrade, and it’s like carrying a cloud with its own suspension system that Tom Bihn refers to as an “internal control-stretch system”. It offered some seriously nice compartmentalisation, in a sleek and bombproof body.
“The Aeronaut 45, I have never touched such a perfect duffel in my time.”
Blaine from Loadedpocketz made me aware of a new Vertx bag, the EDC Ready Pack, and it answered my problem with the Gamut. The side pockets now fit a 32oz Nalgene. I picked one up from an Australian Vertx dealer and sold the Synapse.
Right now the Vertx EDC Ready Pack is my EDC, the Aeronaut 45 my gym bag and travel bag, and I’ve recently sold the Pilot. The Vertx isn’t perfect, but right now it suits my needs. No one bag will be perfect, like me it may take you three years to find your style of bag, but if I could have given my past self one piece of advice, it would have been to find a bag that suits my needs, not someone else’s. The first four bags I bought were simply because I had seen other people with them and thought I could look cool like them, which was an expensive mistake.
“No one bag will be perfect, like me it may take you three years to find your style of bag…”
My tastes have changed over time considerably. I used to look for MOLLE webbing and people posing with the bag carrying guns. Now I won’t touch a bag unless I know for sure it has the potential to be my “Perfect Pack”. Comfy straps, sleek features, pen slots, all the goodies.
“The first four bags I bought were simply because I had seen other people with them and thought I could look cool like them, which was an expensive mistake.”
This whole search has been a huge learning experience for me, and I could have saved some serious dollars if I had taken the time and effort to thoroughly research my purchases. I made too many impulse buys and paid (literally) for it. However, I wouldn’t change a thing. This is an awesome community to be a part of, we’re all pack nuts and we love it.