Mid-Summer can be a rough time out in the desert of the south west, but we had a little help with keeping hydrated with Blackhawk’s S.T.R.I.K.E. Cyclone Pack, and we’re ready to give our impression of their hydration system.
Well, it’s about time! I finally had a chance to work with a Blackhawk Industries pack while doing a review on this S.T.R.I.K.E. Cyclone Pack. We did a review on another one of their packs (the BlackTimber) earlier in the year, but that was done by another writer. So, not only is this the first review of a Blackhawk pack that I’ve done for our site, it’s the first pack made by Blackhawk that I’ve ever used. However, I’ve used plenty of their gear over the years since they started back in 1993. I’ve purchased and heavily used other products from their business including holsters, vests (a few of these), belts,and various rifle and pistol cases. Why haven’t I used one of their packs until now? I just don’t know…But, I’m glad I finally did, and I’d like to take you on a tour of the S.T.R.I.K.E. Cyclone Pack that I’ve been using the past couple of months.
One of the long-standing traditions of outdoors enthusiasts is taking gear designed for the military/tactical community and putting it to use in the recreational outdoors sector. That trend started decades ago because the military was the main place where that type of gear was designed, tested, and specified. That’s not so much the case any more since there are so many companies in the world that devote themselves to the design of packs and other products intended only for recreational users, and in a lot of cases, they design products for even niche sports like snowboarding, mountain biking, and so forth. But, some of us still haven’t grown up, and we still like those products designed for the tactical sector even though the only barrier we might breech will be a thornbush. I think some of the appeal is just having some sort of connection to our heroes that stand on the front lines, but I also think it’s because there are some design specifics for tactical gear that you don’t find in the recreational market.
That’s exactly the case for the Cyclone Pack, which serves double-duty as a hydration pack as well. When I first got a look at the Cyclone Pack, I think I had that same awe as when I was five years old and got my first pallet with 20 cases of legos. The Cyclone Pack has over 100 different webbing attachment points all over the entire pack from the back, to the sides, and up along the sides of the belts and straps as well. You can configure this puppy just about anyway that you want for your own personal needs. In the military, units have standards for the types of gear they must carry with them, so you’ll probably find a lot of similiar configurations by the individuals in a group. But, as a lone person in the great outdoors on your own, you can set up the pack in any wacky way you want to meet what needs are important to you, not to a CO or mission needs. That really winds my clock. Just as an example, I attached a Benchmade 158 CSK-II (which we are currently reviewing) to the back of the Cyclone just to give an ideal of scale and set-up. The CSK-II has a MOLLE strap on the back in addition to the belt loop to provide for more carry options.
I was excited to get the Cyclone hydration pack in before the trip out west to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer show. My plan was to get out there in the area several days early so I could spend some time in the national parks doing some landscape photography. That plan also included the Cyclone pack as my primary rig for when I went to ground in the parks. As hot as it was out there, I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of water on me. The Cyclone hydration bladder holds three liters, and every time I took off from the vehicle, I made sure I had the bladder full before I left. Though on most occasions, I wasn’t planning on going more than a mile or so to take some shots, you don’t mess around when your’e in the desert. You never know what can happen. Twist an ankle or get a snake bite or have some other goofy thing happen to you, and you could easily die in a short period of time without water and shelter. Three liters isn’t ideal for 100+ temps, but it was easy enough for me to also throw in a couple of extra 1 liter bottles before I headed out. There’s a ton of space in the pack for a regular dayhike, and plenty for an overnight if you know what you’re doing and don’t need a large batch of gear. The Cyclone boasts 1900 cubic inches of storage on top of the area needed for the full water bladder. In addition to the water, I also included my typical survival kit items as well as a Sil-Shelter from Integral Designs and my GPS just in case they were needed. Thankfully, they weren’t.
The S.T.R.I.K.E. Cyclone Pack is an extremely comfortable piece of gear to wear. The shoulder straps are padded very well as is the waist belt, though the belt is for stabilization and not for bearing weight. During all the time using the pack, I didn’t feel any hot spots on my shoulders, chest or waist where my body came into conact with the packs support points. There were points that felt like they were pinching or digging into my skin. It rode very comfortably. I’d also like to point out that while I had my hoofing gear in the main compartment, I used the two external pockets for gear that I brought for the show and for a couple of friends. I had twelve large fixed blade knives and sheaths in the larger external pocket, and I had over thirty folding knives and multi-tools in the top external pocket–on top of the gear I put in the main area for trekking through the parks. So, I had a decent bit of weight in this pack including the water, and I never once felt uncomfortable with the load.
One particular design point of the Cyclone that I really appreciated when I was out with the pack was the portion of the pack that rests against the wearer’s back. It has grooves channeled into it going in varying directions. The primary purpose of the grooves are to allow air to flow between the pack and the user to keep the comfort level up by keeping the heat level down. It also allows the user’s back to stay dry while on the move as well. The grooved back panel is also cushioned and adds to the overall comfort of the loaded pack. To help stabilize the load and to make the pack smaller for moving in confined areas, there are two compression straps on each side of the Cyclone pack that you can cinch up your load when needed. As usual with all the other Blackhawk products I’ve used, the construction of the Cyclone is top-notch. The seams are double-stitched, tight, and the fabric of the pack is very durable. One of the main selling points of the Cyclone is that it’s designed as a hydration system as well as a regular pack.
In several ways, the Cyclone has some very strong features that make this an excellent hydration system. First off, all of the components of the bladder rig are high quality materials from the bladder to the hose and on to the bite valve and quick-disconnect section. I particularly like the quick disconnect function. With a simple push down and twist on the connector, you can take the bite valve component off for cleaning or to easily replace it if damaged. The hose comes equipped with a neoprene sleeve to help insulate it and keep it from freezing. Though it won’t stop the freezing process, it helps enough to keep it from happening if you keep a regular flow while hydrating. Finally, the bite valve portion comes equipped with an on/off switch that will prevent the hose from leaking when not in use. I’ve had this happen with older packs when I accidentally set the weight of the pack down on a bit valve. All in all, the components are built well and extremely durable.
So, now we come to the one point in the hydration system that really threw me off at first. While all the components of the hydration system are high quality, I was not very impressed at first with how the bladder pouch is built into and accessed in the pack. In order to acccess the bladder pouch, you have to unloosen the two straps at the adjustment point at the top of the pack. Once done, you can undo the velcro panel and then reach down and extract the bladder. The mouth of the bladder pocket is fairly small, so thing like the straps, the velcro panels and such get in the way a bit when inserting the pouch. It takes a little finaggling to get it settled right and the hose out of the way once you’ve got the velcro tabs back together. I was a little irritated by this set-up as I have seen more elegant solutions with other packs.
But, then I noticed that a tube port wasn’t set up for the hose in that pocket, rather, the port leads back into the main storage compartment of the pack. Inside that main storage area, there’s a nyon pouch that can be used either as an area for a radio pack or it can be used as a secondary area for an extra bladder or two of water. Now, adding the extra water bladders will naturally take up some of your storage space, but depending on your skills and the importance of water for your trip, this actually turned out to be a real bonus that I didn’t expect from this pack. Once I saw how and why it was set up this way, I got over my irritation at the primary hydration pouch’s configuration. By the way, if you decide to throw in a couple of extra bladders of water instead of carrying radio gear, you can also run the tubes out through the three antenna ports so you’ve got instant access to the supplemental water.
When you bring all the attachment points into the mix, having 6-9 liters of water in the pack is quite appealing, though a bit heavy. You can use the area in the pack for storing the extra water, and with the attachment points on the outside of the pack, you can add some extra items to give you more space. For instance, one item that Blackhawk offers is their 3-Day accessory pouch which you can affix sides of Cyclone pack with just the compression straps. If that’s not enough extra space, you can step up to their Pack Kit which has the two 3 Day pouches, but also adds a compression sack that you can attach to the bottom of your pack. If you’ve got any outdoors skills at all, that should give you all the room you need for necessary gear, and you’ve still got lots of water on board as well! I would warn you that if you’re anything at all like me, whenever you add more storage space, you get very tempted to use it. So, only add the space you absolutely need so you can keep the weight down and have a more comfortable and lightweight pack with you on the trail. That will result in more fun and less misery. And, the upside for me is that while I was finishing up this review and finding links for it, I saw that Blackhawk was running a 50% off sale on their 3 Day Accessory Pouches!
So, is there anything else to discuss about the Blackhawk Cyclone? Not much, except I’d like to point out the nicely designed drag handle on top of the pack. Instead of just having a nylon strap there, they’ve included a rubberized polymer handle that makes it very comfortable to use and distributes the weight across your fingers better than just a nylon strap that’s been folded over. And, for the uninitiated, this isn’t just a handle like you find on your luggage. This is actually a drag handle for folks in the military to have a way to “drag” their buddies out of harm’s way if they are injured or are in a dangerous spot at the moment. It’s a nice little extra touch that is representative of the build quality of the entire pack.
The Blackhawk S.T.R.I.K.E. Cyclone hydration pack is a bit on the pricey side for some folks–especially those who don’t typically go into situations where the utmost in durability is required. You can find the Cyclone on the net for around $150.00-$175.00. It may seem a bit expensive, but this isn’t a pack just for trekking around town or the nearest mall. It’s a high quality product meant for harsh environments, and it’s intended to live up to that mission. As my Grandpa once said, “Cheap things don’t come good, and good things rarely come cheap.” Even so, in the grand scheme of things, this is still relatively inexpensive when you can find tactical/recreational packs on the market that run close to $1000.00. Look around, and you’ll find them. For the person who want to hit the trail for the day, or wants to brave a three day adventure with their skills and a minimal amount of gear, the Blackhawk S.T.R.I.K.E. Cyclone pack is an excellent option available to you and will more than exceed your expectations. It did mine!