Robert Young Pelton is a different kind of backpacker. His travels have taken him to rebel-held territory in South Sudan, up the Amazon on a gunboat with Colombian special forces, and into the hills of Afghanistan to interview Osama Bin Laden.
Pelton has strong opinions on gear. When it comes to backpacks, he advises against the “prissy purple steal-my-shit look” you find at most camping stores and prefers military packs which are more durable, boast more features, and are less appealing to thieves.
The last time I was home I bought a new day pack with Pelton’s advice in mind. Unlike Pelton, my luggage needs were more about carrying a laptop and pens to Starbucks than jumping out of choppers and sneaking past roadblocks. But I did want durability, pockets for everything, and a design that makes me look like the wrong person to mug.
The Camelbak Quantico, is a new daypack from their Recon Series. The Quantico, and the smaller Coronado, were designed after Camelbak noticed that many civilians were buying their military packs for day-to-day carry. They converted the magazine (as in ammunition) pouches to smartphone sleeves, added a padded laptop pocket and took out the hydration bladder (which is nuclear, chemical, and bio-weapon resistant in the military version) but kept the bomb-proof materials and MOLLE webbing. The result is a sleek day bag which can carry your entire mobile office.
This is James Bond’s schoolbag.
Mine has been my EDC (every day carry) in Spain and Ireland for the past two months. I’ve also flown with it, used it as a weekend bag, and taken it rucking. Here’s what I loved and what I didn’t:
- I wanted a tough pack. The Quantico delivers. It’s made out of a heavy duty nylon that’s not only rugged but adds a little more water resistance than you’d get with a neon hiking pack. Military grade gear, like Camelbak, is a counterpoint to the ultralight fundamentalism that’s going around in the outdoor industry. Packs like this are heavier empty than almost any civilian alternative but with the added weight comes near indestructibility. For someone wanting even more durability, the camouflage (black) version is made of cordura, a material three times stronger than ordinary polyester.
- Pockets, pockets, pockets. This bag has a place for everything and puts everything in its place. It has pen sleeves, a phone sleeve, change pockets, paper organizers, a laptop pocket, and a tablet pocket. But my favorite pockets of all the pockets is the fleece-lined sunglass pouch up front.When I got to the airport–on my way to Ireland–I couldn’t find my Kindle. I was about to board an eight hour flight with nothing to read. On the plane, I turned the pack inside out looking for it. Nothing. The Kindle turned up a couple days after I arrived in a pocket I didn’t even know was there.That’s something else Pelton looks for in a bag, lots of secret compartments. This feature makes the Quantico a good choice for journalists who need to get photos and notes past the authorities or for anyone who feels it’s nobody’s business what’s in their backpack.On a more practical level, the false bottom is ideal for stashing chargers and cables so they don’t make a mess of the main compartments.
- The storage options aren’t limited by the pack’s dimensions. MOLLE webbing across the front allows you to attach everything, from a first aid kit, to a second backpack, to bolt cutters or a diaper bag. I wish civilian manufacturers would start putting MOLLE webbing on their packs instead of those stupid ice-axe loops that nobody uses. On the side, you have a water bottle sleeve that folds down flat when not in use.
- Finally, the design is just phenomenal looks-wise. It’s been compared to GoRuck’s coveted GR1 but comes in at half the price.
Cons (just one)
- There are no hip straps. This means all the weight is on your shoulders and your back. I didn’t find this to be a big deal when I was carrying less than 20 pounds or so. It’s insanely comfortable when light. But with heavier loads over distance, comfort becomes an issue. It’s frustrating because the bag has the capacity for more than your back can handle.For this reason, rucking in the hills of West Cork with a 45 pound sandbag in it was about as ergonomic as rucking in flip-flops–kind of a bummer because I hoped this would be the last pack I would ever need.
My experience with the Quantico gives me total faith in the construction of Camelbaks in general. Their guarantee includes a clause about shrapnel and bullet holes. That tells me this is a company that really believes their products can go through hell and keep going–to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill.
However, the strap issue may have me trading in my Quantico for the real deal: the HAWG–Camelbak’s patrol pack. Following Pelton’s logic, if it’s good enough for actual commandos I’m sure it will hold up to concealed carrying a MacBook Air and some legal pads.