Clamshell style tactical packs - worth the hassle?

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Sep 16, 2021
14
4
45
Dundee
When I was in the USA I noticed a lot of outdoors people seem to like the clamshell military style packs with all of the various compartments, pockets, sleeves and such for organizing kit. Initially I thought they looked pretty good as I'm super anal about keeping my gear organized so I went and bought one.

It's marketed as a 3 day pack which seems to be a common concept in that type of product line. I kind of like the idea in some ways maybe for a smaller size day pack rather than the 3 day sized designs but I'm not sure yet what I think of using this as a multi-day camping pack. They seem great for organizing your things but there are all sorts of straps involved (I guess to relieve the strain on zippers). Then there are a bunch of straps inside that keep things in place (like you would find in a suitcase). It seems to work at keeping things neat, tidy and where you want them to be but it feels time consuming and laborious to get things out/put things in.

The compartments on the outside are great as you can keep the things you need most to hand but my main gripe with these is having to undo a bunch of buckles (4 on my particular pack) then the zip to get into the main pack. I'm also a bit concerned about waterproofness. With zips everywhere it seems like there is a lot more potential for water to leak in even if there is a storm flap covering the zippers. Also the zippers themselves seem like a potential weak point if the pack is heavily loaded or if you are in a rush and tug at them aggressively. In my mind it's just another thing to fail. I'm surprised that these would be popular with the military guys as it seems they would be a pain to use in a bugging out situation and that they wouldn't be as robust as something like the N.I patrol pack or the smaller ALICE packs.

It might just be that I've not used these clamshell packs enough or I'm set in my ways and slow to adopt new ideas but my impression is that these are a bit of a fad and I'm probably going to stick with a good old fashioned style pack with main sack compartment, a good weatherproof lid and a few handy pouches and compartments on the outside of the main pack. Fewer zips and buckles make a more reliable pack in my opinion and to be honest I don't think it's that much hassle to delve into a sack and pull out what I need as long as it's packed in the right order and things are kept in their own individual dry bags.

I'll probably end up using the new pack as a day bag for fair weather outings or something. Even though it's technically a 50 litre bag it can cinch down pretty well with the straps on the outside. Anyway, I'll use it for something... I just wondered if others have similar/different opinions of these?
 
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Wildgoose

Full Member
May 15, 2012
515
198
Middlesex
I have a 5.11 pack with pockets and pouches everywhere. I bought it from a mate with a view to organising my work bag a bit.
The organisation was good, but meant I carried things I didn’t need. It also meant the main compartment was pretty small.

Wasn’t particularly robust for the reasons you’ve mentioned, too many zips and clips
 
Sep 16, 2021
14
4
45
Dundee
I have a maxpedition thing (can’t remember the name) that I use for camera gear precisely because I can open it wide and access the entire compartment at once.

for bushcraft/hiking/camping I use a bag with no zip that I stuff from the top as it’s less likely to fail in a critical way!
I can imagine this type of bag would be good for something like that. I think they do have their functions that they would fill well (medical bags etc). I think for me though as a general pack for camping etc the benefit of the clamshell function is undermined by the number of steps it takes to open and close the thing up. Maybe it's this model of bag that I bought but a lot of them do seem to feature a bunch of straps that have to be unfastened before you can even unzip the main compartment and I'd think these are pretty much essential for the integrity of the zipper. I'm not unhappy with the bag at all, it's just that I bought it with a use in mind and I'm now rethinking it. I like that camera bag idea... I'd never thought of that.
 

TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
7,868
1,767
47
Exeter
I think alot depends on YOU and how you intend to use a pack.

I think they are great for admin of smaller items and quite OCD in being able to keep all of of certain kit together.

For heavy duty stuff , even the bigger bags - I don't think carry weight very well.
 
Sep 16, 2021
14
4
45
Dundee
I think alot depends on YOU and how you intend to use a pack.

I think they are great for admin of smaller items and quite OCD in being able to keep all of of certain kit together.

For heavy duty stuff , even the bigger bags - I don't think carry weight very well.
One of my first thoughts was exactly that... this is not a pack I'd like to load down too much but not a problem for what I had in mind - 2 or 3 day trips at most. I've loaded it up with 45lbs on a number of day hikes just to see how it felt and also as I was trying to get back in shape and I was actually surprised that it was quite comfortable... for me at least. What I would say is that I was constantly concerned about the shoulder straps as they had those plastic fasteners for quick release and that was (I thought) another potential weak point. It probably wouldn't be the end of the world if something gave out on a 3 day trip and I always have a few bits for doing repairs but it would just be an inconvenience I don't want so it's back to my good old fashioned tried and tested packs for that sort of purpose I think.
 

JonathanD

Ophiological Genius
Sep 3, 2004
12,679
1,267
Stourton,UK
I can imagine this type of bag would be good for something like that. I think they do have their functions that they would fill well (medical bags etc). I think for me though as a general pack for camping etc the benefit of the clamshell function is undermined by the number of steps it takes to open and close the thing up. Maybe it's this model of bag that I bought but a lot of them do seem to feature a bunch of straps that have to be unfastened before you can even unzip the main compartment and I'd think these are pretty much essential for the integrity of the zipper. I'm not unhappy with the bag at all, it's just that I bought it with a use in mind and I'm now rethinking it. I like that camera bag idea... I'd never thought of that.
You just zip it up. Takes two seconds. Quicker than a standard ruck with drawstring and clip over lid. Far quicker. That’s why I like them. Can get snake bags, hook and FAK out in emergency’s.
 
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Wander

Settler
Jan 6, 2017
761
936
Here There & Everywhere
I use clam shell packs all the time.
What you have to do is make sure you buy a decent one with a rain flap over the zip.

I had a 5.11 Rush 12. Brilliantly made bag. However, I think they went a bit over the top with the compartmentalisation. It never cut down on the space (you don't have to put things in those small compartments) but all that extra (unnecessary) material and webbing did add to the weight.
It was a noticeably heavier bag than the one I now use and have been using for years - a Wisport Sparrow 20.
This is a fantastic bag. They wisely decided not to carve the internal space up into lots of small pockets - just a couple, which is about right. And it's quite a generous 20L as well.
What I like about a clam shell bag is that you can open it up and get to stuff at the bottom of the bag easily without having to blindly rummage around or empty everything out.
 

CLEM

Full Member
Jul 10, 2004
2,326
347
Stourbridge
I’ve used an Lk35 for nigh on 22 years, cost me the princely sum of £4.99 :biggrin: and has served me very well. However I was convinced to try out a 5.11 Rush Clam shell, I opted for the Rush 24 version. And I have to say I have been very impressed, so far at least. I’d very much like to try out the Rush100 version.
 

MrEd

Full Member
Feb 18, 2010
1,944
849
Surrey/Sussex
www.thetimechamber.co.uk
I can imagine this type of bag would be good for something like that. I think they do have their functions that they would fill well (medical bags etc). I think for me though as a general pack for camping etc the benefit of the clamshell function is undermined by the number of steps it takes to open and close the thing up. Maybe it's this model of bag that I bought but a lot of them do seem to feature a bunch of straps that have to be unfastened before you can even unzip the main compartment and I'd think these are pretty much essential for the integrity of the zipper. I'm not unhappy with the bag at all, it's just that I bought it with a use in mind and I'm now rethinking it. I like that camera bag idea... I'd never thought of that.

I remembered what it is called, its a maxpedition Xantha.

The reason i use it as a camera bag is that it doesnt 'look' like a camera bag for extra security. I use it with a F-Stop camera ICU inner pouch that fill the bottom half, leaving the top half (or vica versa) free for spare coat/food, bean bag, etcetera. It has side pockets that a water bottle fits in and tripod on the other side, then a large front pouch that my filters, and batteries and stuff like that go in. For this purpose the lots of pockets etc are excellent for organising camera gear. Plus i like the compression straps as i can snug it down if not fully loaded. Its my main 'camera day out and dont know what i will want to take' bag

Would suck for anything bushcrafty thought tbh, but for me, for camera stuff it really works - and its one of those weird bags that are more comfy fully loaded.

For bushcrafty stuff i use my lowe alpine sting - if doing night photography or some other specific phtoography and need to camp out etc. then i slim my camera gear down to just the ICU pouch thing and put that inside the sting.
 
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Sep 16, 2021
14
4
45
Dundee
I’ve used an Lk35 for nigh on 22 years, cost me the princely sum of £4.99 :biggrin: and has served me very well. However I was convinced to try out a 5.11 Rush Clam shell, I opted for the Rush 24 version. And I have to say I have been very impressed, so far at least. I’d very much like to try out the Rush100 version.
The clamshell packs probably do work better as a small day pack I would think. Those Lk35 packs look good and at 4.99 that's an absolute steal.
 

Billy-o

Native
Apr 19, 2018
1,808
841
Canada
If you keep an eye on the GoRuck site they frequently have sales on their clamshells. The Rucker was very very affordable recently. Turns out that they were bringing out the new Rucker 3.0, which may explain both the sell off and the fact that the sale went on for so long. But the sales on the GR1 can be good. Not at the moment. And note: the USA made versions are about $100 more than the Vietnamese made ones. I can't tell the difference between the two in terms of manufacture; so I guess it is wages.

One of the big famous bushcraft video people was keen on the GR1 as a bushcrafting bag. Can't recall his name though

(EDIT - Google says it was David Canterbury and showed me a You Tube video to prove it :))
 

Billy-o

Native
Apr 19, 2018
1,808
841
Canada
Huh! Just rewatched it. It is fine. Seems a bit of promo for camera. The mud seems very decoratively applied. :lol: Comes across a bit like a Leicester market fruit vendor

 
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Suffolkrafter

Forager
Dec 25, 2019
192
157
Suffolk
I've had the the wisport zipperfox for a couple of years now. I've written a review or two on it I think. It's very water proof, I've never had water coming in through the zips despite prolonged heavy showers. But it is very strappy. Also, if you stuff lots of stuff stuffed in, the zips are tough enough for it to not be a problem. But if you open it fully it is then hard to close up. It's a good pack, very well made and comfortable, but I'll go back to a more convential pack next time.

In terms of waterproofing zips, so long as the zips are well constructed, bees wax will help if you're concerned about it. It works for diver's dry suit zips so it will work for a pack, although I've never felt the need.
 
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Sep 16, 2021
14
4
45
Dundee
You just zip it up. Takes two seconds. Quicker than a standard ruck with drawstring and clip over lid. Far quicker. That’s why I like them. Can get snake bags, hook and FAK out in emergency’s.
It might be the actual design of the pack I chose. I don't find that it's any quicker for me or at least not much. Saying that... it takes time to get used to a pack and remember where all the clips are etc. Prior to getting this I've used the same packs for 20 plus years and they've become like a comfortable old pair of shoes even though they lack some of the organizational features.
 

SaraR

Full Member
Mar 25, 2017
809
502
Ceredigion
When I was in the USA I noticed a lot of outdoors people seem to like the clamshell military style packs with all of the various compartments, pockets, sleeves and such for organizing kit. Initially I thought they looked pretty good as I'm super anal about keeping my gear organized so I went and bought one.

It's marketed as a 3 day pack which seems to be a common concept in that type of product line. I kind of like the idea in some ways maybe for a smaller size day pack rather than the 3 day sized designs but I'm not sure yet what I think of using this as a multi-day camping pack. They seem great for organizing your things but there are all sorts of straps involved (I guess to relieve the strain on zippers). Then there are a bunch of straps inside that keep things in place (like you would find in a suitcase). It seems to work at keeping things neat, tidy and where you want them to be but it feels time consuming and laborious to get things out/put things in.

The compartments on the outside are great as you can keep the things you need most to hand but my main gripe with these is having to undo a bunch of buckles (4 on my particular pack) then the zip to get into the main pack. I'm also a bit concerned about waterproofness. With zips everywhere it seems like there is a lot more potential for water to leak in even if there is a storm flap covering the zippers. Also the zippers themselves seem like a potential weak point if the pack is heavily loaded or if you are in a rush and tug at them aggressively. In my mind it's just another thing to fail. I'm surprised that these would be popular with the military guys as it seems they would be a pain to use in a bugging out situation and that they wouldn't be as robust as something like the N.I patrol pack or the smaller ALICE packs.

It might just be that I've not used these clamshell packs enough or I'm set in my ways and slow to adopt new ideas but my impression is that these are a bit of a fad and I'm probably going to stick with a good old fashioned style pack with main sack compartment, a good weatherproof lid and a few handy pouches and compartments on the outside of the main pack. Fewer zips and buckles make a more reliable pack in my opinion and to be honest I don't think it's that much hassle to delve into a sack and pull out what I need as long as it's packed in the right order and things are kept in their own individual dry bags.

I'll probably end up using the new pack as a day bag for fair weather outings or something. Even though it's technically a 50 litre bag it can cinch down pretty well with the straps on the outside. Anyway, I'll use it for something... I just wondered if others have similar/different opinions of thes
For getting a bag with the right number of smaller pockets for you, try taking a single compartment bag and dividing your stuff into however many stuff sacks you think you need for whatever trips you normally do and shove it all into the main compartment. Repeat a few times and then evaluate how many smaller stuff sacks you have settled on and of what sizes. Then try to find a backpack with small pockets that match that number and size of pockets.

I really like bags with lots of pockets for organising stuff for work (and school, way back when), some types of fieldwork and for things like medical gear where it’s imporant to know where everything is at all times and get to it quickly, but you might not actually need it at all.

For hiking and general outdoorsy stuff and travel, I think it just adds weight and increases the faff of getting to things quickly, plus it means that the main compartment usually is smaller and harder to pack. The worst thing is if you’re smaller pockets are full and you don’t have enough stuff in the main compartment to give a bit of structure to the pack! 2-3 smaller pockets are usually all I need, but some of my packs have more.
 

Modchop

Full Member
Oct 17, 2013
260
11
Shropshire
I can thoroughly recommend Goruck packs to anyone looking for a clamshell type pack.
Expensive? Yes but doubtful you’ll need to replace it and if you do break it they come with a lifetime guarantee (you’ll have to ship it back to the States mind).
My 15L Bullet is carried most days and perfectly suits my day to day needs. I personally don’t like packs with lots of built-in organisation and prefer a modular approach.
I had a 5.11 RUSH (12) for about a year and whilst it was well built and held up well it had far too much PALS webbing and pockets for me and also looked a bit too ‘tacticool’, I find the reasonably plain look of the Goruck much more pleasing.
I also have one of their GR1’s (26 litre) and that can work well as a weekend bag. As for waterproofing I don’t trust any bag alone to be fully waterproof unless it’s one of the drybag/rucksack hybrid types. If you want to keep stuff inside dry use a rain cover and/or dry bags inside the pack.
I also think the perfect ‘one-bag-does-everything’ doesn’t exist without major compromises along the way, well that’s my excuse for having far too many packs and I’m sticking to it… ;)
 

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