Exos-Gear Bravo Series Tactical Military Assault Backpack
Is it up to the task?
Reviewed for M1911.ORG by Harwood Loomis
I have commented in a product review of a flashlight that there is an overwhelming trend today toward “tactical” firearms, devices, and accessories. Unfortunately, as I wrote in that review, other than the standard dictionary definition there is no consensus as to precisely what “tactical” means, which leaves manufacturers free to decide for themselves what products are “tactical” as opposed to … whatever the opposite of “tactical” is. This extends from firearms to toothbrushes, and pretty much everything in between.
Not long ago our M1911.ORG commander-in-chief, John Caradimas, contacted me and asked if I know anything about … backpacks. It seems a manufacturer of backpacks wanted to send a sample of their product to M1911.ORG for review and evaluation. John wanted to do the evaluation himself, but some research suggested that the cost of sending the package to Greece would come close to the price of the product. That didn’t seem like a good option, so El Comandante reached out to your humble servant to execute Plan B.
As it happens, I do know enough about backpacks to get myself in trouble. In fact, I own several, ranging from light day packs to a rigid frame, trekking backpack, and a few in between. In addition, many years ago Uncle Sam paid me to wander around strange countries with most of my “kit” in was then considered (I suppose, although we never used the word) a “tactical” backpack. So I agreed to take on the assignment and, not long after, a large, flat package arrived on my doorstep. Murphy’s Law always being in full operation, naturally the package arrived just as I was gearing up for surgery, so the package remained unopened for a few weeks.
Before we delve into the contents of the package, let’s set down a bit of general background for the benefit of readers who aren’t up to speed on backpack technology. Be patient; this won’t take long, and I hope it’ll get everyone on the same page.
First, the term “backpack” is a very generic description. It means what it implies: a pack that’s worn or carried on the back. Within that very broad classification, we have knapsacks, rucksacks, day packs, haversacks, and a number of other names (some of which vary by region). In terms of construction, there are four basic types of backpack: frameless, external frame, internal frame, and bodypack. The first three should be self-explanatory. The fourth, the bodypack, is sort of like the backpackers version of a sandwich board. Rather than carrying the entire load in one or more compartments on the back, in a bodypack there are compartments or pouches in the front as well as the rear, allowing the load to be balanced between the back and the chest.
In evaluating potential choices for a backpack, we also need to have at least a basic understanding of the materials used to make them. Historically, backpacks of all sorts were made of cotton canvas. Although there are still some canvas packs being sold today, for the most part the market has settled on two synthetic fabrics for pack construction: nylon, and polyester. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages relative to the other.
In general, nylon is stronger than polyester. However, nylon is less resistant to UV degradation, and nylon does not accept dye as easily as polyester. Both are generally mildew resistant, and (without either an applied coating or a separate layer) neither is waterproof.
For most commercially-available bags and packs, either nylon or polyester has multiple advantages over cotton canvas. Once we’ve determined the material, the next consideration is the fabric weight. This is usually expressed in terms of “Denier,” which is a measure of the weight and thickness of the actual threads used to weave the fabric. Nylons used in packs typically range from 500 Denier up to 1200 Denier. Polyester basically comes in either 600 Denier or 1200 Denier.
But -- nylon is inherently stronger than polyester, so 500 Denier nylon is equal to or stronger than 600 Denier polyester. Nylon of roughly equivalent weight is more abrasion resistant than polyester. However, as we noted above, polyester is more resistant to UV degradation than nylon. Obviously, choices need to be made.
For what it's worth, it appears that all U.S. military packs are nylon, in weights of 1000 Denier to 1200 Denier.
Lastly, there is the question of stitching. Most sources suggest that the stitching of a heavy-duty backpack should be in the range between 6 and 10 stitches per inch. The Exos-Gear Bravo Series pack is sewn at 6 stitches per inch.
Thus, there are multiple considerations. Bottom line -- the Exos-Gear Bravo Series pack is 600 Denier polyester, which is the least expensive of the commonly used pack cloth choices. That should not be viewed as a disqualifier; there are a number of well-known outdoor gear manufacturers who offer packs made of 600 Denier polyester.
What you see is what you get
Now that I have gone through the surgery and life is returning to normal, it seemed a good time to open the box and see what lay inside. What I found was a sample of Exos-Gear Company’s Bravo Series Tactical Military Assault Backpack, in black. On the company’s web site, the Bravo Series packs are under a tab labeled “Tactical.” The company also offers a slightly smaller series of backpacks it calls the “Commuter” series. While the Bravo Series packs appear (as we’ll see) to be aimed at the bug-out bag set, the Commuter Series has internal provisions for pens, pencils, and notebook computers. The Commuter Series s obviously geared toward the urban warriors, not the “operators” among us.
Let’s take a look at what the Bravo Series backpack is, and what it offers.
Out of the box
The Exos-Gear Bravo Series is, first and foremost, a frameless rucksack. It has a total of four separate, zippered compartments, along with a generous number of external straps for attaching MOLLE gear to the outside of the pack. This adds a tremendous degree of versatility to the pack, allowing the user to customize it to his or her taste and requirements by adding additional gear or compartments as needed.
It seems that today there’s an ASTM standard for just about everything. Did you know that there’s a standard for measuring the interior volume of backpacks? I learned that in researching this article. Believe it or not, ASTM F2153 is entitled “Standard Test Method for Measurement of Backpack Capacity.” It’s a genuine, committee-developed and fully accredited standard promulgated by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Exos-Gear states on their web site that, measured in accordance with the standard, the Bravo Series backpack has an interior volume of 34 Liters. (For those who don’t plan to dump quantities of uncontained raw materials into their backpacks, we’ll translate that into some usable numbers momentarily.) The Commuter Series backpack is somewhat smaller in volume.
Exos-Gear lists the sizes of the four compartments as:
- Inner Main Compartment: 18” x 10” x 5”
- Inner Secondary Compartment: 16” x 9” x 3”
- Outer Top Compartment: 5” x 8” x 3”
- Outer Bottom Compartment: 10” x 8” x 3”
The total volume adds up to 1692 cubic inches. When I ran that through the unit conversion calculator provided by Microsoft with Windows, the result was 26.9 liters. Inasmuch as M1911.ORG doesn’t have access to the text of the ASTM standard for measuring backpack volume, we don’t pretend to have an explanation for the discrepancy. We mention it because it’s there.
The following photos, taken from the Exos-Gear web site, show the four interior compartments:
The main interior compartment
The second (“secondary main”) interior compartment
The two outside compartments
In addition to the volume and flexibility offered by the four built-in compartments, the sides and back (I think Exos-Gear calls the exposed outside face the “front,” but it faces behind when hiking so to me that’s the “back”) are made with MOLLE straps to allow attaching supplemental gear to customize the pack to individual needs. MOLLE (pronounced “Molly,” like the girl’s name) is an acronym indicating Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. The system was developed by and for the military, about twenty years ago (well after my all-expenses-paid tour of southeast Asia). It works so well that it has been adopted by makers of civilian gear world-wide.
The forward-facing portion of the pack body (the surface that rests against your body when using the pack) is surfaced in a mesh fabric to provide some ventilation and to wick away perspiration.
How does it work?
Unfortunately, because of my recent operation there won’t be any camping trips in my future for the remainder of this year, so I can’t provide an actual field report. To at least partially make up for this, I took the Bravo Series pack and paid a visit to a friend who lives not far from me. He is also former military, but he’s enough younger than I that he has two adolescent sons, with whom he does a lot of backpack camping. I enlisted his help in trying the Bravo Series pack on for fit and comfort, and to get his feedback on the general utility of the pack.
Before heading off to rendezvous with my friend, I first loaded up the pack close to capacity with clothing. The pack has a convenient carry handle on the top, which is useful for shifting the pack around and loading and unloading it into and out of a vehicle. If you’re looking at something to use as the proverbial bug-out bag, a carry handle like this is a small but very handy feature.
The Bravo Series pack with carry handle
My friend looked the pack over and pronounced that it appeared to be well-made. Of course, short of using the pack for a couple of seasons or more there is no way to predict how well it will hold up to the rigors of life in the wild. At this point, all we can honestly say is that it doesn’t look or feel like junk.
Donning the loaded pack, my friend said it felt comfortable. We noted that the shoulder straps are curved, to help keep the load on the part of the shoulders where it should rest. The Bravo Series backpack has both a waist belt and a sternum (chest) strap to help keep the pack positioned when carrying. My friend was quick to point out something I had already noticed: the waist belt is nothing more than a locating strap. It is NOT a part of the pack that’s designed to transfer the load off the shoulders and onto the hips, which are the strongest bones in the human body. Backpacks designed and intended for extended trekking with heavy loads almost universally have a broad, padded waist belt/strap system for load transfer. But the Bravo Series Tactical Backpack is, after all, a frameless rucksack. Although a weight-bearing waist belt would be a nice feature, in my research for this review I didn’t find any similar, competing packs in the same price range that offered that feature.
The Bravo Series pack in place. Note the curve to the shoulder straps, and the sternum strap as well as the waist belt.
Subject to the caveat that we have not had an opportunity to conduct extended field trials with the Bravo Series Tactical Backpack, we feel that it is a reasonably well-made product, and one that is well-designed to provide a high degree of flexibility in use.
We did find one small detail to be puzzling: The Bravo Series pack is set up to carry a hydration pack between the solid body of the main compartment and the mesh backing, and there is a small, rectangular port for routing the water line up and out of the pack. On the top, the port for the water tube has a cover that’s secured with Velcro®, but there doesn’t appear to be any way to protect the opening from weather if there is a water tube present.
Additionally, none of the zippers are protected by rain flaps, and there is no overall rain cover for the pack. There is a ‘Y’-shaped strap across the top to help keep everything buttoned up tight, and which can be used to secure additional items to the top of the pack.
But … there is no map pocket. Perhaps I’m showing my age in even thinking about paper maps in an age when almost everyone has a GPS. A GPS is an electronic device; it can fail, it can break, the batteries can run out. Maps work, even with an inexpensive trail compass. Of course, a map or two can be carried in one of the internal pockets, but a dedicated map pocket with a transparent, waterproof cover would be a nice addition. However, again, we didn’t see a dedicated map pocket on any of the competing packs in the same price range, so this is a general comment, not a demerit.
Disclosure of Material Connection:
We received Exos-Gear Bravo Series Tactical backpack for free, from Exos-Gear in consideration for a gear review.
Please go to this thread on the M1911 Pistols Organization discussion forum to discuss this article: http://forum.m1911.org/showthread.ph...663#post989663
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