The Specialist Backpack 1-Day from FIRST TACTICAL is the middle size in a range of three well-designed bags primarily for Police and Soldiers, writes Bob Morrison.
I have owned FIRST TACTICAL backpacks, both the TACTIX 3-Day Backpack and SPECIALIST 1/2-Day models, for close on four years now and have found them to be both very well-designed and hard-wearing.
The full range consists of three distinct sizes ~ 1/2-Day, 1-Day and 3-Day ~ and two distinct style variations ~ TACTIX with laser-cut pouch attachment and SPECIALIST with pouch attachment tapes; Black, Coyote and Olive colour alternatives are produced. However at this point it is possibly worth mentioning that the FIRST TACTICAL website for UK sales sensibly and helpfully only lists the models which are actually sitting there on the shelves in their UK warehouse at time of viewing, unlike some other websites which show you everything only for ‘Out Of Stock’ to frustratingly appear when you try to add a desired item to your basket.
So why, you might ask, do I need another pack from this range if I already have two? In simple terms, size matters… and so does weight. The 3-Day models, which like all bags in the range are expandable by adding pouches, are full-on 60+ litre capacity bergen-type rucksacks for longer trips or deployments. The 1/2-Day models, on the other hand, are daysacks for carrying just the bare minimum. Four years ago, when I was still editing a print magazine, my daysack requirements were less than today as I could much of the time get away with carrying just a netbook and charger in addition to camera/s and spare clothing, whereas now I need to take a netbook and a small laptop and removable hard drives plus a load of ancillaries with me in case of website issues and to allow me to generate instant content while away from the office. The in-between size Specialist 1-Day Backpack allows me to carry all I need for short trips without over-burdening myself with a full-size backpack.
Last weekend, when the weather was superb and I had a small stock photo job to do in London, I rearranged my work plans (including auto-scheduling our Weekly Update, which goes out around Sunday teatime) to allow me to have some downtime on the Sunday and do the touristy thing, following what had turned out to be a pretty intensive month working in Estonia, before getting my photoshoot done early in the working week. This also got me away from Devon, which was rammed with grockles (aka ’emroyds) chasing the sun, to the comparative peace and quiet of ‘The Smoke’ where hotel rooms on Sunday and Monday nights can be quite reasonable if there are no major events going on; had Her Majesty’s official birthday parade not been held at Windsor again, I would probably not have been so lucky on the hotel score.
Not wishing to be encumbered by a large rucksack, or a trolley case, but needing to carry a few more litres / kilos of stuff than would fit in my smaller daysack, I opted for the Specialist Backpack 1-Day version. Measuring roughly 480x360x220mm when comfortably full ~ i.e. not crammed so full that it is bulging at the seams ~ this 1000 Denier nylon pack should comfortably fit most airlines’ overhead luggage locker guidelines, but check for specifics as they do differ. It has a full depth and full width main compartment with a handy felt-like attachment panel on the back face for fixing admin pouches with velcro-type hook & loop tapes. Under the main lid of the pack there is a horizontally-zipped mesh pocket for valuables and lower down on the inner face of the lid there are two drop pockets with adjustable cinch tapes fastened by hook & loop.
The secondary compartment on the front face of the pack measures around 330x260x50mm and has an 8-pocket organiser panel on its back face plus a full-width 180mm wide zipped document pocket. There is also a hanging tape with nylon hook for smaller keys (e.g. padlock keys) and a heavy duty FIRST TACTICAL clip-on keyring strap with a hanging tape positioned to allow speedy access. On the outer face of the lid there is a zipped envelope pocket which is sufficiently large to hold a thick paperback, and above it there is a lined zipped pocket for carrying eyepro or other sensitive small kit.
Behind the main compartment there is a full depth hydration bladder (not supplied) pocket with double action top zip but no port for the drinking tube, which would need to be fed out through the zips. The bottom of this pocket has a full-width zip to allow a Rifle Sleeve to be transported (see below) and at the top of the compartment there are two metal hooks from which the sleeve, or a bladder, can be hung; incidentally, as I use this compartment for the larger of the two small computers I carry (they don’t call me Mr Belt & Braces for nothing) I use a SLIDE LOCK clip to ensure the zip does not accidentally open, thereby allowing my electronic right hand to fall out.
Turning to the outside now, the shoulder straps and the back panel are both well padded, making this pack a very comfortable carry when full. There is provision for a waistbelt, including hook & loop tape in the tunnel behind the lumber pad and two attachment buckles, but if you need one you would need to purchase it separately; as very few troops or police officers would need a separate waistbelt, as this would get in the way of their equipment belt, supplying one as standard is pretty pointless but civilian users might require one. In addition to a sturdy grab handle at the top of the bag there is also a similar handle between the shoulder straps, which comes in really handy when donning or doffing, and the straps have quick release buckles as well.
There are two more ‘hidden’ pockets on this backpack. The first of these is behind the padded back panel, secured by a hook & loop tape, and could be used to carry one of the smaller lumbar bladders but I find it is ideal for stowing a lightweight Arktis rain smock (though for illustration here I used a German desert waterproof as my black Arktis smock did not show up well). There is also a concealed pocket on the base for stowing a waterproof rucksack cover (not included) but I discovered that my XXL size Lightweight Waterproof Jacket MVP MTP will tuck away inside here and double up as a bit of a shock cushion for when I am carrying computers and cameras.
One thing I really like about FIRST TACTICAL rucksacks, which are very well thought out on the design side and are very well made, is the amount of PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) tapes ~ or laser cut panels on some models ~ which adorn the sides and main outer face, thereby allowing extra pouches to be added to suit the mission or assignment in hand. On this Specialist Backpack 1-Day version there are 6 rows of four loops down each side, four more similar rows on the outer face of the secondary compartment’s outer pocket, and a single row at the very top on the face of the lined eyepro pocket. The top four rows also have hook & loop for the attachment of name tape and patches. There are also double loop tapes on the outer face of the shoulder straps plus a broad elastic tape on each strap for retaining a drinking tube if a bladder is carried.
All zips used are high quality YKK brand and Duraflex furniture is used throughout. Naturally there is a sternum strap, with Duraflex UTX quick release buckle, and this can be repositioned by way of Duraflex Quik Attach Snap On fixings. The compression straps are also re-positionable or removable, courtesy of similar fixings with side squeeze buckles. Incidentally, elasticated sleeves are provided for or over the four main quick release buckles to give a ‘soft’ action and help prevent accidental unclipping. FIRST TACTICAL certainly think through the finer aspects of design and functionality.
I must admit that I did not really expect this backpack to let me down, as the others in the range have given me great service since 2017, and my expectations were fully met. On this particular short trip I did not need to expand capacity with additional pouches, but I have no doubt that this is a capability I will make full use of in the not too distant future. It is also possibly worth mentioning that in addition to using some of the Snugpak Pakbox range and an Essential Wash Bag from the same manufacturer, I used FIRST TACTICAL mesh organiser pouches from my TACTIX 3-Day Backpack to securely hold an SLR camera & zoom lens plus accessories & peripherals in place on the back face of the main compartment when travelling to / around / from the capital by rail and underground. In my job it pays to be organised, even when taking a bit of a break.
Going off slightly at a tangent, FIRST TACTICAL kit and clothing is now widely procured by many UK Constabularies who have joined a cooperative purchasing scheme which allows them to benefit from the economies of scale, rather than wasting money ordering comparatively small quantities individually through their own force’s sometimes overly bureaucratic procurement system. At the recent G7 Summit it was noticeable in newsreel footage that a number of police officers drafted in from around the UK appeared to be carrying FIRST TACTICAL daysacks when they arrived in Cornwall.
Finally, my thanks to the lovely Melissa Luke for carrying the FIRST TACTICAL Specialist Backpack 1-Day load around ‘The Smoke’ for me, leaving me free to take the photos.
[images © Bob Morrison]