I’d love to see a historical accounting of when outdoor recreation became, in the first world, bifurcated as it is today. My research indicates that by the mid 70s the effete world of hiking/backpacking/skiing/etc was well separated (in, among other places, ads) from that of hook and bullet. Cultural distinctions between these two have only hardened and broadened, at least in America. In my neighborhood, Glacier National Park backcountry visitation peaks with the hikers and backpackers of August, while across the road September elk hunting is the busiest time away from roads in the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. The stereotypes fail as all such things must in application, but the tropes nonetheless illustrate why the durability of the divide makes me sad. There is something to be said about the big, name-brand scenery which goes along with national parks, and the ideology of pure witnessing and experience which they (along with all the world’s REIs) promote. There is also something to be said for the messier guidelines, poor trail signage, and fish guts burning in the fire of public lands under the less watchful eye of the Agriculture department. You learn a lot about the woods by walking ridgelines light and fast, and you also learn a lot by sitting still for two days and killing something wild and wary.
Human-powered backcountry hunting is driving a generalist revival of folks who do both. Hill People Gear is at the center.
I’ve been on a quest this year to find a good on-body alternative to pack side and belt pockets, a way to carry food and possibles during the day. The Osprey Grabbag was ok, but a bit small and clumsy to transition from on to off the pack. The Zpacks Multipack didn’t carry well of pack, stuck out too far in use, and the build quality wasn’t especially inspiring. I dug HPG for a while, and decided the thinner, full-footprint Runner’s bag would be best. In foliage.
The conceptual anchor of the kit bags is being able to carry a pistol, which is the primary purpose of the large compartment against the body. I don’t feel the need to carry (in the BC or ever), so I’ve used my kit bag purely as a utilitarian/possibles bag since I got it a few months ago.
As can be seen in these photos, the pistol compartment on the Runner’s bag is about an inch thick and encircled almost completely by a dual slider #8 zipper. The front compartment is flat, with two organizer pockets inside.
You wear the kit bag via the mesh and 1.5″ webbing harness. Loosen the side buckles, unclip the right, and slide it over your head.
I’ve found the harness to be exceptionally comfortable, both without a pack and with packs from 15 to 60 liters in size. This took a minimal amount of fiddling; I put on the kit bag, put on the pack as usual, fasten the sternum strap under the vertical kit bag straps, and I’m done. At first I thought the big 1.5″ side release would chafe, but I’ve never felt it.
The construction quality, and materials quality, truly is a step above just about anything you’ll find in REI. The webbing is more tightly woven, the coating on the 500D nylon thicker and more even, and the quick-release buckle more positive in action. The zippers run dead smooth and easy with one hand. Everything is spaced properly, the reason for the aforementioned great fit and integration out of the box. The made in American hype and price is for real, you absolutely get what you pay for.
The function of the kit bag I’m also quite enamored with. It holds a lot, more than you’d think at first glance, and has just enough organization to keep a variety of things where they should be. There is a restriction on size and shape to maintain comfort; an etrex GPS works but a Princeton Tec EOS does not.
Having a days worth of snacks and all the odds and ends you might need on the go is not only efficient, it simplifies pack organization. A lot of the things which end up in little stuffsacks inside bigger stuff sacks in your pack can live permanently in the kit bag, a state of affairs which also makes it less likely you’ll be without any of that when you need it. The other bonus here and one which I thought about (for instance) a lot when packrafting across the Copper this past summer is that things like your knife and fire kit will stay on your person if your pack takes a float or dive. You could even fit a sat phone, though not with the battery attached. The kit bag is also well suited to other tasks where you want x, y, and z close at hand yet out of the way. It’s a great place for extra ammo while hunting, will be great for fly fishing, and was very handy this past weekend for keeping all our bait station gear organized.
Besides the modest added complexity, the only downside to the kit bag is the moisture build up you’ll get under it. Just like a normal pack, it acts as a vapor barrier, no way around it. Not a big deal, but something your systems will have to take into account. In winter it’s extra surface area that will need to get dry, and in the heat of summer I’m assuming I’ll often leave it behind.
Those with exceptionally narrow chests might find the full size kit bags a bit too wide for best fit, and I assume women with larger busts might find the kit bags difficult to wear comfortably.
Overall, the Runner’s Kit bag is an exceptionally well-designed and well built piece of gear. I can’t see it doing the intended job any better, it is just a matter of if the design itself will suit your needs.