The CamelBak Linchpin (price: $190) is a raid and patrol pack that stands out for its versatility. (Rob Curtis / Staff)
Unique, squared-off sides of the Block Solid stuff sack mean less wasted space in your bags, especially when used in pairs. (Rob Curtis / Staff)
GearScout spent a couple of months downrange testing gear in the desert and mountains of Afghanistan.
Here are some of the items that got the best reviews from the soldiers and Marines we asked to test them:
We reported on the Linchpin back at SHOT Show, and it's making its way to retailers in late July. Let's get the ugly out of the way first: $190 is a lot for a small pack. But not for this pack.
The Linchpin is a raid and patrol pack that stands out for its versatility. It's the first time an adjustable suspension system has been used in such a small pack.
At first, we were left scratching our heads when we saw the Mystery Ranch-designed Futura harness on the 1,800-cubic-inch pack.
Then we realized: This is a real patrol pack. It's meant to carry mags, mortar rounds, MREs, a radio, batteries and extra water. That's well into the range where recreational backpacks come equipped with framed suspension systems.
The Futura harness, with its sliding frame sheet system, creates a sort of limited suspension system that gives the pack far more structure than most packs of this size. Another benefit of the harness is the ability to adjust the pack's fit to account for body armor as well as different torso heights.
This pack has plenty of pockets to keep gear organized. On the pack body, the main cargo pouch of about 1,000 cubic inches has antenna ports, outboard pockets that accept three M4 mags per side, a small utility optics pocket and a discrete hydration reservoir pocket out back with over-and-under-arm hydration ports. Out front sits a decent-sized admin pouch with a flat map pocket.
Between the two sections is an open-topped overflow pocket for a helmet, rain gear or anything else you want to get at quickly. I saw guys load an ASIP radio in the overflow area and secure it with the compression straps.
• Price: $190.
Princeton Tec Modular Personal Lighting System
This tiny flashlight puts admin lighting exactly where it should be when you need it.
There's nothing new in the lighting aspect of the MPLS; it's just an LED on a gooseneck. Princeton Tec makes its money in the attachment system. Regular headlamps get in the way when wearing a helmet; helmet-mounted lights only work when the helmet is on your head; and an angle-head flashlight clipped to your chest is never really pointed where you need it.
The MPLS tackles all those issues. The company came up with a tool-free way to move the light from helmet to vest that allows you to aim the light effectively and still solidly connect in both locations.
It comes with three mounting plates: one that clips to PALS webbing, taking up only one square of PALS grid, and two for the helmet. One helmet mount attaches to the lip of a helmet, while the other works with the MSA Advanced Combat Helmet accessory rails.
Securing the ARC helmet mount took seconds using only a flat-blade screwdriver. The PALS mount just snapped into place. We found moving the light between head and chest was easy barehanded or with gloves.
In use, the light never broke free of its mount, and the gooseneck stayed pointed where it was needed. It has two light levels, set by pushing the lone operating button once or twice. Its lower light level was useful for reading at arm's length, while the brighter level was adequate for navigating in the dark or finding something hidden in the dark corner of a vehicle.
The white light runs on a couple of watch batteries. Usually we'd pass on anything that takes an oddball battery, but the 2016-sized batteries aren't that tough to find. We saw them for sale in the PX at Camp Leatherneck.
The only negative aspect we found was the switch. The same thing that makes its operation so simple makes accidental activation just as easy.
The infrared version shares the same problem as nearly every other IR light out there; you know when it's on only if you're wearing night-vision goggles, or you can see the faint glow of the IR LED when looking right into it.
The MSRP might be $50, but the American-made MPLS can be found for $30; when you look at the intuitive operation, flexibility and small footprint, it's hard not to recommend buying one.
• Price: 15 Body Colors/LED Choices, $50.
Granite Tactical Gear Rock Block Solid stuff sacks
Granite Gear jumped into the military market a few years back and has slowly been filling its tactical catalog with new equipment alongside militarized versions of commercial staples.
The unique, squared-off sides of the Block Solid stuff sack mean less wasted space in your bags, especially when used in pairs.
It's available in five sizes. We used a medium to compress a bulky 20-degree sleeping bag to the size of a Nerf football; the ¾-inch compression straps and arched lids made such easy work of the downsizing that we managed to shove a warming layer, booties and rain gear in with the sleeping bag.
The sack's compression straps can be used as lashing points if you need to carry gear on the outside of a pack. We found the sacks shed rain for many hours but will wet-out eventually, picking up some water weight. But the interior stays bone dry if you orient the long seam against your pack.
Granite Gear went the extra mile with these stuff sacks, and it shows in the impeccable stitching, double-sided multicam straps and branded hardware. On top of that, the Minnesota-based company sources and sews all its military products in the U.S.
Just remember: Quality isn't cheap.
• Price: $40 coyote, $50 MultiCam.