Many years ago as a young sprog I was taught how to assemble 58 pattern. Two ammunition pouches, one left, one right. Water bottle pouch, kidney pouches, respirator pouch (which apparently held six cans of beer and a half bottle in the inside pocket), and a poncho roll. Topped off with a large pack there was a place for all of the soldiers’ kit. Items which were needed first, such as water and ammunition were at hand, where you needed them. Well, that was the idea. In reality it wasn’t that good. The material wasn’t waterproof, and shrank when it got wet. Fastenings were ineffective and you could put your back out trying to get a water-bottle back in its pouch without taking the whole thing off.
Over the years I picked up my own webbing, modifying it to make it better. Then as new webbing was introduced I acquired that, modified it, forever tweaking at it, until at last I had what I considered the perfect set up. Pouches on the belt held what I needed, with closures which could be operated one handed and wouldn’t open by accident.
Moving on down the years and I’ve applied the same principles to my hillwalking gear. I don’t want to stop to take off a rucksack to get out a camera or a water bottle. I want my map and compass at hand whether I’m wearing shorts and t-shirt, waterproofs or a fleece. I don’t want to have to empty my pockets of compass and the like if I take off my waterproof jacket. In short, I want all my gear in one place, securely, all the time. I’ve tried various combinations of rucksacks and pouches. While they work there is no co-ordination. Pouches dangle where you can find an attachment, floppy, with the danger that they may come off. What I would love to see for the hillwalker is a serious attempt by one of the big names to provide such a product.
The nearest thing I could find which in any way approaches what I am after would be the South African Army Assault Vest.
It’s let down only by it’s small back-pack compartment, and the fact I’d look like John Rambo wearing it on the hills. Some years ago some friends and I went camping on The Cobbler, and much of our gear was army DPM (camouflage- Disruptive Patterned Material) clothing. We were camping in civilian tents and one our group heard a noise and went out to see what it was. He was wearing DPM and on exiting the tent he remarked that we were surrounded by soldiers. Within minutes we were being pushed to the ground, and I was knocked on the back of the head with an LMG (Light Machine Gun- an updated 7.62mm version of the WW2 Bren gun- not ‘light’ at all!). We had been mistaken for participants in an escape and evasion exercise, and it took a while to convince our captors that we were in fact on holiday. From then I’ve had an aversion to wearing DPM while hillwalking…
A visit to the Glasgow Angling Centre threw up a different solution- a fishing vest. Not the waistcoat type with pockets, but a combination of daysack and front pouch. The front pouch is designed to take flies, reels and other items one would want to hand. The one I thought most suitable was the Airflo Outlander Chest Pack and Backpack.
This consists of, unsurprisingly given its name, a large-ish three section chest pack, which attaches by four fastex clips to a daysack, making the whole thing quite secure. It can be strapped in fairly tightly, so there is no bounce or give. It’s made out of tough, abrasion resistant, water resistant material which should last for years.
The Chest pack is split into three compartments, each zipped. The largest has an expansion zip, allowing it to take larger cameras. I can fit a Nikon P100 camera and a folded OS map in this one. It also has a small internal mesh pocket where items such as lens brushes and wipes can be stored. The next pocket, slightly smaller, has two mesh pockets. The first is split into two, with an elasticated top. This is suitable for small folding binoculars, mobile phone, etc. The other pocket is zipped and I use this to hold a Silva compass. These pockets are secure, and hold each item in place, but there is still room to hold other small items as well. The final section is on the front. It is designed to hold fishing flies and has a removable insert which would hold these. It’s made of a stiffened material, providing a rigid case, ideal in size for a GPS.
The whole pouch can be detached from the daysack and worn independently using two straps, one goes round the neck, the other round the waist. This means it can be used on trips where a larger rucksack is needed, independent of the Airflo backpack.
The backpack itself is probably around the 25l capacity mark. It has a padded back system, which cannot be removed. It has two main compartments, a small pocket on the lid and one at the base containing a large rain cover. It has two mesh side pockets and a clever fitting on one side which is designed to hold a rod case, but works very well with poles, ice-axe or even a camera tripod. There are two compression straps which can pull the main sack in when lightly loaded, as well as a pair of adjustable loops on the base, and it has a waist belt which, when used in conjunction with the chest pack, secures the pack in place. The final feature is that it is hydration pack compatible. Rather than having to open the bag to insert and remove a hydration system, the opening is located behind the padded back, with a slot to thread the drinking tube through, and retaining straps on the shoulder straps.
All the zips have a flap over them to help stop rain getting in. The sack itself is not waterproof, hence the rain cover, but is water resistant. There is a zipped pocket on the top of the main compartment, but the pocket is made of fairly thick material and is bulky. It would have been better made of a thinner material or mesh. As it is a few items create a bulky ‘lump’ which reduces space in the main compartment. A DIY solution may be the removal of this pocket entirely, leaving it as an access pocket only.
The pack was able to take pretty much all the stuff I would need for a day on the hills. I carry a stove however, so this plus food takes a lot of the available space, meaning my waterproof, when not in use, was strapped outside the bag. I don’t like stuff strapped outside the bag, but it worked and stayed secure that way. Had I ditched the stove for a flask and sandwiches everything would have been contained inside.
Overall I’m quite pleased with the whole pack. As a summer daysack combination it’s very effective. As it’s all designed to work together it’s sleek and everything is secure, with nothing flapping where it can snag or get lost. It’s not the most conventional of gear, but as a practical solution to carrying equipment so that you have quick access to photographic and navigational equipment, it’s very, very effective.