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I consider myself an advanced pack user and I say so with a smile on my face.
Why? Because I spend a lot of time with them on my back and equally a lot time experimenting and testing new stuff. Normally rucksack time is painful and sweaty, but not for me.
Due to the variety of my missions – as a sniper instructor, my training in survival and tactical skills and my hobby as a climber – I have found that no single pack does all I need. I use a couple of Eberlestock Phantom and Gunslinger packs as military sniper rifle carriers, a big North Face Summit 75lt climbing winter pack for high mountains and one small 5.11 All-Hazards Nitro pack as urban day carry-all. The problem started however, when I realised that for the rest of my outdoor activities, professional or amateur, I had too many packs.
All-weather weekends, long weekends in winter, week-long excursions and outdoor training, day alpine climbing, survival training… the list goes on. It was too complex and the different equipment locations and pouch configuration were driving me nuts.
So, consistent with the minimalistic and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) attitude that I have developed as my physical strength fades with age, I set up some goals and requirements and started my KTPSS (Keep The Pack Simple Stupid) program.
I required a light pack — in weight not in ruggedness — between 35 and 45 litres, super configurable, able to carry my basic equipment and the mission specific stuff. The quality (materials, stitching and zippers) had to be on par with the premium packs that I already use. The color/pattern was important too – on many occasions I don’t want to be using MultiCam or military camo, as I want to remain low profile. I needed the pack in a subdued colour like tan, black, grey, forest green or similar.
When it comes to comfort, what really defines a pack is the surface area covered and the type of support designed into the back harness. How well it fits your back and waist and how you are able to adjust it. The trick, most of the times, is as simple as starting the process by adjusting the waist band first, so that it rests directly on your hipbones and the lumbar support rests directly on your hip, stopping it from sliding down. Then adjust the top shoulder pads with the top load adjusters slack and lastly, the chest band so the shoulder bands do not rub on your arms and biceps. I never adjust my top load adjusters until I am in motion because I don’t want them too tight, just enough so the top cargo is stable and close to my head. Any extra tightening will put pressure on my shoulders.
Any pack that I could adjust to my back like this would work for me and by following the above adjustment procedure, I can carry my standard min. load of 20 pounds (9kg) super comfortably (and my standard load of 30 pounds (14kg) nicely too!) on long treks and climbs.
The first pack I selected was my Grievel Alpine-35/45 climbing pack. I had used it extensively for climbing in 2013-14 and while it was a little “big” for my purpose, it is a superb pack. It already looked a little battered, lacked MOLLE attachments and was red in color but even with these drawbacks, I used it for two separate, week long survival courses in 2015. It was not perfect, but I modified it (adding some pouches, like the two Nalgene water bottles I always carry on my waist) and made it work adequately well.
When I was considering a replacement for the next step in my KTPSS program, 5.11’s Ignitor pack came to my attention because it was very close to what I wanted, with many configuration options and priced right. With 26 litres on its full-length central compartment, it may just be large enough, if I reduced my load a little more and used external pouches. I could not resist buying one and started my tests.
The Ignitor pack has a distinctive military “fast” appearance, comes in tan or black and is not available in red. I will never share the “16 hours” concept for this pack. I could live from the land for 16 days with it.
It has MOLLE and lots of features; especially nice is having an admin pouch, as most packs don’t have a good one. The 300D ruggedised ripstop poly is a bonus and the bottom area 840D nylon is an insurance against failure under heavy use. These first impressions proved correct as after half a year of heavy use, no stitches have failed and no excessive fraying has been found. This is exceptional considering the overload and abuse.
The suspension system is called Zephyr and is nice in hot weather as it maintains the flow of air on the back. At first, I was worried of not having a height adjustable back and that the space between the load and my pack might be an issue. I was wrong as it has proven to be super comfortable and fits me, at 5,8 ft height, perfectly.