Rucksacks for Martial Artists: Rationale and Reviews

Rationale

I’ve done a lot of posts lately about outdoor gear.  As I mentioned, preparedness is an offshoot of situational awareness, which, of course, is an essential aspect of martial arts.  Being prepared for personal, professional, and family needs that may arise from day to day makes dealing with them easier.  Work had me on the road for may years, and I managed to pack for most situations on a limited budget.  Now that I travel less, I still see the merits of having the right gear at the right time in a pack that doesn’t fall apart.

I’ve outgrown and/or destroyed many packs over the years.  If someone invented a Kevlar-lined Mary Poppins’ purse, a lot of companies would go out of business.  I know I’d want one!  For now, it’s good to have the bags you need for different training, work, and family scenarios.  Here are some of the best I’ve tried so far, and how I use each every day.

Best Load Hauling – Mystery Ranch Three Day Assault Pack and Marshall Pack

There’s a reason why US special operations relies on Mystery Ranch packs.  When you have to run around fighting bad guys all day with 60-100 lbs. of gear on your back, you’re going to want some serious support.  With the waist strap cinched and the shoulder straps locked down, these packs are not going anywhere.  Moreover, they help relieve some of the weight of a heavy load by distributing it evenly across your back and hips.  Best yet, Mystery Ranch packs are highly adjustable, giving the user a near-custom fit.

I carry the Three Day Assault Pack (3DAP, for the uninitiated) for hiking, ruck workouts, yard work, and EDC.  It has no problem with any of these tasks.  As a military pack, it can handle just about any weight you need in relative comfort without sacrificing agility.  It does feature a lid with two pockets and some internal organization.  As you can see in the pictures below, it can work for EDC but is more suited for military radios, med kits, ammo, and hydration bladders.  Overall, however, this is probably my second favorite pack to carry every day (second only to the GORCUK GR2).

I just rucked 80 lbs. of weights to break in a new pair of Danner Mountain Light II’s, and I nearly forgot why I was panting and sweating on the uphills.  The 3DAP is an awesome pack that handle just about anything you throw at it.

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A 30 liter pack that’s still pretty low profile. Bottle pockets are a nice touch as well as the adjustable Futura yoke.

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Obligatory made-in-the-USA Mystery Ranch inspection label pic.

The next few pics show how I pack the 3DAP for EDC.

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The Mystery Ranch Marshall I use for yard work, strength training (see this post), and, this summer, for outdoor expeditions.  There aren’t too may reviews for the Marshall out there.  It’s a beastly 105-liter hunting pack that can hold a tremendous amount of gear.  Additionally, the bag can semi-detach so you can use the frame of the pack as a load sling or meat shelf.  It’s bulky but not awkward once you cinch it down.  I’ve rucked over 120 lbs. of sand and weight plates with it, and the only issue I experienced was some creaking in the external frame.  I don’t hunt, but if you’re trying to stalk game it could be worthy of note.

As for rucking that much weight, you can find lots of tips and techniques on other sites.  I find that with the Marshall and the 3DAP I like to keep the waist belt very tight.  Then I adjust the shoulder and sternum straps according to conditions.  If I’m going uphill or downhill, or if I need to be agile while hopping over rocks, downed trees, or other obstacles, I cinch the upper torso straps tight to limit any pack movement.  When I’m on a straightaway, I loosen the straps and let the weight rest more on my hips.  Alternating between high and low carry this way limits the stress and fatigue felt in any one muscle group and allows for hours of extra time in the field.

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Here’s the pack loaded out with bulky clothes. The sleeping bag compartment isn’t visible in all the proceeding shots.

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I tried to get a shot next to my leg to show just how huge this pack is! I’m 5’11” with long legs, and it extends past my hip!

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Best Customization – Kifaru Zippy

After reading about Kifaru for a long time on blogs and forums, I couldn’t help but to admire the company.  All of their products are American made, built to carry tremendous weight, and have a lifetime warranty.  Mystery Ranch used to match Kifaru in all three categories, but now many of their products are produced overseas.  GORUCK is a great company as well, but their packs are pretty much WYSYWIG (what you see is what you get), which is a blessing and a curse.  Kifaru is all packs, all the time, and their diverse lineup can be built upon to meet just about any mission requirement.

I really want to love this pack.  But I just like it.  The 25 liter Zippy, while excellent in theory, doesn’t work well in practice.  Designed for one-day loads, this pack has double pockets on the top lid as well as double panel zips on the sides for access to the main pack and extra storage.  It seemed perfect for light hikes and EDC; the latter is why I picked it up.  I added the Kifaru 1000D Cordura admin pouch and Grab-It II attachment as well to help organize small items and secure awkward loads, respectively

Again, this setup, in theory, seemed perfect.  However, while the Zippy is  probably the highest quality pack I own, it has too many shortcomings.  First, the low-profile design makes it very difficult to pack.  The GORUCK GR1 is roughly the same size, but, due to it’s panel-load design, can fit way more stuff.  The Zippy, even after breaking in, does not stretch to accommodate anything extra.  You cannot, under any circumstances, cram incidental items you might acquire throughout the day (school books for homework, extra files from the office) or bulky items (Tupperware containers for lunch, a fleece jacket) and expect to carry anything but your bare essentials.  For some EDC’ers, that may be fine.  For me, it just doesn’t work–even with the expandability of the pack through MOLLE attachments like the 5.11 bottle holders I added.  Kifaru’s design philosophy is to build-out your pack with pouches and other add-ons, but I don’t like the look or carry of a pack that, in GORUCK founder Jason McCarthy’s words, “looks like a gypsy camp”.  Again, this is my preference; you may feel the opposite.

The second issue with the Zippy is the straps.  They are minimalist by design and are actually pretty comfortable.  However, they don’t support loads beyond 15-20 lbs. very well, making the pack feel very heavy compared to others.  After lots of adjusting, I was able to find a sweet spot.  When I got it just right, the slightly elasticized straps had a “bounce” to them that suspended the pack lightly on my shoulders.  It was then comfortable, but the pack was loose on my back and wouldn’t stay put for active use like rucking or calisthenics.  These straps are common with other Kifaru packs, like the fan-favorites X-Ray and Spike Camp, so you can extrapolate that this is a potential fit issue across the line.

Given that this is a really nice pack, if not able to serve its intended use for me, it remains in rotation as a family travel pack/diaper bag for the foreseeable future.

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Despite my reservations about the Zippy, the admin pouch is pretty awesome.

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I could fit 25lbs. of sand and a Source bladder and that’s about it.

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A tight squeeze for EDC.

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Trying to get my lunch to work. Maybe I should just eat less?

Best Versatility – GORUCK Packs

Pick a size.  They’re all great.  You really can’t go wrong choosing a GORUCK pack for a variety of uses.  I recently posted about how I use the GR1 and GR2, so I won’t go into them too much here.  I use them for pretty much everything.  The GR1 has become more of an active backpack for me (yard work, hiking, training) while the GR2 is for EDC and travel.

The Bullet Ruck 15L is another awesome pack, but it’s not currently offered on the site.  The other size Bullet Rucks are great for running, biking, and day hikes.  They have a dedicated hydration compartment that keeps a water bladder high and tight against your back to improve function and carry.

Overall, GORUCK packs are rugged, comfortable, and minimalist.  They hold what you need in a few pockets both outside and inside the main pack.  If you’re in the market for a backpack, do yourself a favor and check them out.

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The lineup.

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Despite some loose threads, this little ruck can withstand just about anything!

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GR1 with about 60lbs. of sand and weights. Just chillin’.

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GR2 ready to continue the adventure.

 

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About moaimartialarts

Lucky enough to grow up with the martial arts, I have felt their positive influence throughout my life and am especially interested in sharing these experiences with others. I enjoy working with youth and adults to give back some of what I've received. If you would like to learn more about Uechi-Ryu/Shohei-Ryu Karate, or if you want to find people to train with, please contact me. I am the head karate instructor for the Meriden Martial Arts Club.
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2 Responses to Rucksacks for Martial Artists: Rationale and Reviews

  1. Curtis says:

    I use a Chrome Barrage for work. Super simple, waterproof, and comfortable. I use an old school Gregory Z28 for hiking. Good storage, the suspension system is great, and aluminum frame keeps the pack away from my back for breathability.

    I haven’t used a rucksack for workouts. I may have to pick up a GORUCK to check it out.

    You should submit your write up to Carryology – this is a great write up Bill.

  2. Another Carry Geek! I’m not familiar with the Barrage, but it looks like a cool pack! Gregory is always good–a solid recommendation. GORUCK packs are nice for training because you can throw them around without messing up all the custom fit options of other packs. I wouldn’t shot-put my 3DAP because it would break the Velcro yoke and I’d have to keep readjusting it. Though GORUCK is “unsophisticated” they’re tough as nails and fun to knock around.

    I think my dream pack would be a GR2 with a 3-Zip front compartment and a retractable hip belt–basically a mashup with the 3DAP. An extra 5-10 liters would be nice, too. Either that or water bottle pockets. I’d better stop writing now before this turns into another blog post…

    I love Carryology. I’ll have to hit them up!

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