Feb. 8th, 2010

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Backpacks and I don't really get along; we haven't since high-school. I own one that I use like a carry-on suitcase for the extremely-rare airline travel moment, but even then I tend to carry it around by the handle instead of wear it. In addition to being overweight I've got an extremely broad frame and wide shoulders/back so even the biggest backpack seems to fit oddly at best. It can also be a bear to get it on and off to get stuff out of.

This past summer a friend of mine was visiting from the midwest. When he stepped off the train he tossed me his bag to watch for a moment while he went off to claim the rest of his luggage. Figuring it'd be helpful, I threw it over a shoulder to carry it to the car (a possibly unwise idea after the back injury, but I was trying to look good for a friend). It was a single-shoulder sling and fit perfectly. The pack hung nicely on the back, even though it was stuffed completely full. It's the first time a piece of luggage made me take notice. Weeks later when I pinged him online about it he told me what it was called: a Monsoon Gearslinger by Maxpedition.



A moment of full-disclosure here... )

The Monsoon is a single-shoulder bag with the beefiest strap of any of the Gearslinger line. It's got a waterbottle holder, a storage pouch and line-clips for a water reservoir (like the Camelbacks have), compression straps and more accessory webbing than you could ever ask for. This means that there are dozens of options you can get that'll lash on to just about any surface of the pack. There are a few pockets inside, a grommet for headphones (if you're still into the wired headphone thing) to pass through and an mp3 pouch in there as well. The lower around-the-side strap has a few pockets on both the inside and outside edges, as well as more webbing right up to the strap. It's big enough to take laptops up to (but not quite including) 17" diagonal screens.



While some of the pouches are suitable for concealed carry (and more can be added on due to the standardized accessory webbing), if you're like me and don't carry guns around those pockets don't get in the way. The bag is teardrop shaped, which means the contents tend to bulge to the bottom and rest nicely against the center back; it's easy to carry a pretty serious amount of weight with this bag. The downside is that this isn't a 'spin around' for chest access (or quick-draw) like their square bags are. Use a Monsoon to haul things, not for ultra-quick access without taking it off. Go for a Kodiak or Sitka instead if you need that functionality.

That being said, the bag is very easy to take on and off; moreso than any regular backpack or shoulder-bag that I've had prior. If you're seriously loaded down or in a tight pinch where you can't swing it around and over, just pop the buckle instead; good for freeing yourself if it gets trapped on something. The geometry of the wide-strap sling makes it so the load stays nicely centered and doesn't shift much, even when big-fat-me lumbers around with it on. This was my biggest complaint about a normal backpack: wear only one shoulder and the load would sway and swing with every step. The bag also has a nice carry-handle at the top of the teardrop to make it easy to pick up and toss into the van when not wearing it.

I picked up the Digital Camo colored one because I'm tired of basic black or khaki, and I detested their military-green color. DFC at least is an interesting pattern that doesn't look all deer-huntery. It's been a joy to wear so far. Walking with a cane (actually, I use a hiking stick as canes aren't tall enough) doesn't interfere with the bag and it's easy to put on/take off with just your left arm. This is good for removing it without having to let go of the stick (helpful when the footing is slippery, like with the rains here right now).

Downsides: It's not as waterproof as I'd like; just water resistant. Heavy-downpour walking would require a raincover, just like my camelback does. Also, it takes a while for the fabric to loosen up and conform to the body better; the first week or so with the bag is an adventure in too-stiff padding and cloth that doesn't want to bend right. Give it some time with a few heavy loads to start feeling right. It's also not as cheap as a normal backpack, but it's not too terrible if you buy it at Amazon.

Later this summer as I get more mobile I'm going to kit this thing out as a camera bag for hikes. It should also ride well while getting back on a bike or a motorcycle. I'll update this little mini-review once those seasons roll around and I get the chance to abuse this bag more. Mostly I just like that it's the first comfy daily-carry-bag I've had in ages that actually fits me. Now I just have to get a travel-sized laptop and start leaving the 17" monster at home.

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