Within minutes of opening the box I knew I was going to like the new CamelBak TriZip pack. I had already looked at the features online, and everything looked good on paper. Once I had the pack in hand, though, I was really able to make a better determination and my first impressions were very good. It was immediately evident that this was a solid pack with some very well thought out features.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Before I gush any more about the TriZip lets take a look at what it has to offer, and then how see how it’s done in the field. The TriZip pack from CamelBak is part of their government/military line. If you’re a dedicated hiker or backpacker though don’t let that scare you off. All that really means to the outdoorsman is that the colors are going to tend to be a little more tactical, Army AUC digicam, Coyote brown, the popular new MultiCam, and basic black to be precise. I chose MultiCam for my test pack simply because it’s a pattern I haven’t worked with before. And it looked kind of cool. I can’t say I have a lot of need to blend into my surroundings while camping or backpacking but the MultiCam made for something a little different at any rate. Once you get past the colors what you have is a very solidly constructed 2318 CU IN pack. It’s constructed of 500D Cordura and features MOLLE webbing covering the majority of the pack. Even if you don’t need to attach spare ammo pouches to your pack the MOLLE system lets you add all sorts of other pouches for carrying everything from a Nalgene bottle or a camera bag, to a first aid kit. It also provides attachment points for a tent, tarp, or sleeping pad to be secured to your bag. The TriZip was designed with heavy loads in mind.
It’s made of sturdy materials, has heavy-duty zippers and tough compression straps. All of the straps feature Velcro strap management tabs so that you can keep everything tight and organized once you have it adjusted. The boot of the pack has a double layer of material for extra durability, something that’s a welcome feature especially when slinging your pack in and out of vehicles and onto the ground when you get to camp. I was also surprised and pleased to see that it was outfitted with a Mystery Ranch Futura Harness. As anyone in the backpacking crowd knows, the folks at Mystery Ranch know their business when it comes to packs and suspension systems. I spent some time at the Mystery Ranch booth at SHOT in January and I was very impressed with their products and the folks I had a chance to talk to about their products. Doing a bit of research on the Mystery Ranch website I found that the Futura Harness and its internal frame design are rated for around 40 pounds with the attached waist belt. The system is fully adjustable and allows the user to custom fit the pack to their torso. The waist belt is removable to allow for use with a duty belt, but I suspect most outdoorsmen will prefer to keep it on for the additional load bearing benefits. The combination of a CamelBak pack and a Mystery Ranch harness system was something I was pretty excited about.
Naturally there’s a hydration bladder and drinking tube associated with this CamelBak bag, and in this case it’s a 100 oz (3L) HydroGuard reservoir. That’s welcome news to me, as I tend to go through a lot of water when I hike so I’d rather have the option for more water, rather than less. The bladder sits in its own pocket just behind the suspension system and behind a stiff backer, which adds rigidity to the pack. The HydroGuard reservoir features “anti-microbial technology” which helps inhibit bacteria and fungus growth in the reservoir and tube. If you aren’t always great about emptying and drying your bladder right away after a trip, like me, then that’s probably a good thing. The bladder is fitted with a wide mouth that makes it easy to fill and which provides plenty of space to drop ice into as well. It also makes the bladder easy to clean and I was surprised to see that Camelbak claims you can fit your whole hand inside it for cleaning. I tried it, and sure enough its is big enough for that! Camelback states that their polyurethane reservoirs are 33% stronger than other models and that they’re tough enough to drive a truck over. I didn’t test that out. Personally, I’m happy as long as it doesn’t spring a leak while on the trail or from getting tossed into and out of the car on the way too and from camping.
The tube itself is insulated to keep your water cool and there are four exit ports on the pack to route the tube through. It can be set up either right or left handed, and through either the top of the pack for over the shoulder feed, or from lower ports for underarm feed. It’s pretty versatile and lets you set the tube up how it’s most comfortable for you. The tube is equipped with a Big Bite valve and a bite valve cover to keep dirt and crud off of your mouthpiece. It also has a HydroLock shut off valve to ensure that you aren’t leaking water out while you move. I’ve had that happen with some older bladders that simply had a bite valve so it’s a nice feature to have. The tube uses the government pattern quick disconnect system as well. This allows you to rapidly swap out bite valves with just the press of a button. It makes it easy to replace a damaged valve or switch to something like the NBC valve used with military and police protective masks. Not an issue for most outdoorsmen I know, but it makes the pack a good dual use item for me for the woods and my day job as a police officer. It also allows you to hook up the in line MicroFilter from Camelbak, which lets you to fill up from suspect water sources on the go.
Okay, that’s all good stuff but what makes this pack a TriZip? Well, it’s because of a unique 3-way zipper system that again looks to come from the good folks at Mystery Ranch. The TriZip system uses three zippers, one coming from each upper corner of the pack and meeting in the top center of the bag, and another that traverses the front of the bag running from top to bottom. The main zipper has two compression straps, which ride over it that allow you to take pressure off of the zipper when the pack is loaded. With this system you can either load the pack from the top down like a conventional top loading pack, or open it up wide using all three zippers to allow you to pack larger, more awkward items, or to just organize your gear better. Inside you have your main gear compartment and two inner compression straps to hold things in place. These especially come in handy if you use the front zipper to get to something in the bottom of your pack while its loaded.
One of the pains of a top loading pack is when you realize that the item you need is at the bottom. If that’s the case you have to unload everything to get to it. With the TriZip, simply unzip the front zipper to get to the stuff in the bottom. Those internal compression straps will hold the gear above it in place, and keep everything from falling out on you, while you get what you need. I found the system to be ingenious and really makes both loading and working with the pack a pleasure. Especially on overnight or two night trips, space is at a premium and it isn’t always easy to efficiently pack everything you need where you can get at it fast. The TriZip takes a lot of the mystery away from doing this though, and makes it easy to get to things wherever you have them in your pack.
Now, aside from the Mystery Ranch harness system and the extremely useful TriZip loading system, there’s still more to be had with the CamelBak TriZip, and that is pockets! Personally, I don’t know that you can ever have enough pockets. I like being able to organize and separate my gear. It makes it easier to find things, it protects them from rattling around loose in the main compartment of a pack, and keep things from jostling around against each other and possibly getting damaged. The TriZip has a great array of pockets and they’re well thought out and useful. Inside the main compartment you have a rear mounted nylon pocket with drawstring cord to keep your stuff inside it. This pocket is just on the other side of the bladder compartment and I found it worked well for long items that took up the length of the pack. I used it for tent poles on a couple of trips, longer knives that I was testing, and other tools that I didn’t want loose with my other gear. In addition to this pocket there are two zippered mesh pockets along either side of the inside pack walls. These ones make a great spot for stuff like your keys or wallet, toiletries, fire starting gear, or other small items you want to be able to access, and don’t want to get lost in the main body of the pack.
Moving to the outside of the pack we start with another zippered pocked in top flap of the TriZip. Riding right on top of the pack it’s a good spot for items you want to keep close at hand. I kept a flashlight in there on most trips and used it for my pistol as well. There’s enough room there for a light rain jacket or poncho as well if that’s your preference. Moving down the pack we have a zippered pocket on either side near the bottom of the pack. These elongated pockets each have an individual purpose. On the left side is an insulated pocket designed to hold a 1 L CamelBak Better Bottle. I found that this pocket also worked pretty well for stuff like my iPod and phone since the insulation adds some padding. It’s big enough for my large Guyot utensil set too which is a must have item for me on any camping trip. The other pocket on the right side is pretty much the same shape but this one is set up as an organizer pocket. It has slots for pens and pencils, notepads and other sundry small items. I stuffed a large police interview notebook in there without issue, some pens, a Sharpie marker, a large fire steel, some spare batteries in a Batuca battery case, a AA Pentagon MOLLE light and a burnishing steel. I had plenty of room left over for more pens and other small items too. There’s even a little strap with a clip for your keys there as well.
Over my time with this pack I had the chance to try it out on a couple of camping trips, a couple of day hikes, some trips to the rifle range and some conventional car trips. I loaded it down with everything from your basic camping gear, to photography equipment, to some pretty hefty loads of knives and ammunition. When I did my hiking trip, I deliberately loaded it up to see how it handled the weight and tried it both with and without the waist belt used for support. In all of these circumstances I found myself very pleased with the design. No matter what mix of gear I was carrying, it seemed like it was easy to find a place for everything and it was easy to load, and unload in the field. It carried comfortably and was very stable, even while traversing rougher terrain. It also was a quiet pack. Between the materials its constructed with, and the way that you can stow your gear in the myriad of pockets available, there seemed to be very little if any noise coming from the pack while you hiked. While not a huge issue for a casual hike, it makes a trip in the woods more pleasant and is certainly a bigger deal to a hunter or soldier who has a more vested interest in moving quietly. While I didn’t have to do a lot of adjustment to the harness system for it to work with me, it was easy enough to use and is a welcome feature as it lets you get everything set up just right. My old EMS pack had a fixed suspension and there were many occasions when I wished I could adapt the pack to me and not me to the pack.
Are there any areas of the CamelBak TriZip that I’d like to see improved on? Honestly, I can’t think of any! I hate to just sit here and gush about a product but there really isn’t much to find fault with on the TriZip. About the only area I could see room for “improvement” might be on color choice. This is a great pack for outdoorsmen, not just military and police use, so it might be nice to see it in some other less tactical colors as well. Other than that, I think CamelBak has really hit the ball out of the park with this design. It’s an extremely well built, well thought out design that’s big enough for overnight and weekend trips with a little judicious packing. It handles reasonably heavy loads well and has one of the best loading and organization systems I’ve seen on a pack so far. Retail price on the TriZip is $268.50 but with some judicious web shopping you can find it for closer to the $200 mark. For a pack of this build quality, with these features, I think that’s a pretty outstanding deal.