Some Thoughts on Drag Bags

10 January 1999
By Scott Powers

Commercial drag bags have been a topic of late here on Sniper Country. Most are great products. But as some of the readers have pointed out, they are not cheap. On the other hand, they do have unique features that would be hard to duplicate from scratch, the least being the quality of the stitching. By the time you were done constructing a homemade bag equal to one of the commercial units, you might find the money invested was equal to their price! That being said, you can make a drag bag with little effort. It is not all that tough. Home-built units usually lack external and internal pockets for storage of gear or data books, but they do serve their primary role well -- that of transporting the sniper rifle across rough terrain. What you get with a quality commercial drag bag purchased from a reputable company is a well-constructed piece of gear that will last a lifetime. It will have a lot of well thought out features that will allow you (especially police snipers) to store everything you need for a call out or short duration mission in one well-organized sack. These bags are far superior to a padded canvas sock or a modified gun case. They are not cheap ... but in consolation, you do get what you pay for!

Commercial bags give you two basic choices. A simple and sturdy bag to transport the weapon, or an elaborate backpack that will allow you to transport the weapon in addition to all your ancillary gear - food, spotting scope, tripod, ammunition, binoculars, water, ad nauseam. You have to decide what you need before the final purchase. Humping a ruck along with a simple drag bag is perfectly acceptable, but sometimes having a bag that can carry it all while leaving your hands free to carry a carbine, or to help navigate mountainous terrain is a preferred method. For police, having it all in one organized bag sure beats the heck out of taking the weapon in a hard case and having all the other gear in a separate carry all. One thing that does not work: using a basic drag bag as a carry all. There is no simple way to attach all the gear you would like to bring along to a bag without extra compartments. You just cannot have it both ways. Stuffing the gear in the main compartment with the rifle is also problematic as it can shift and beat the rifle up pretty badly. For example, sticking your spotting scope in with the rifle is asking for trouble. Tying it outside just gets it lost. You NEED that external cargo pocket.

Commercial bags come in a wealth of colors and designs, such as the Eagle Industries combination drag bag and shooting mat to the London Bridge Trading Company's elaborate Standard bag with three external pockets and dual shoulder straps. All of the bags I have examined have sufficient padding on the bottom to protect the rifle when the bag is laid flat on the ground as during a sniper crawl. Some have more padding than others do, but unless you make the habit of dropping your bag from on high, this will not be an issue. Most bags today are made of one grade or another of Cordura. This is a high wear DuPont product that in appearance looks like good old fashioned webbing, but is made of a special nylon and can take quite a bit of scuffing without tearing. It is something like 14 times more resistant to wear than cotton. It does have a small bit of sheen to it, so for the really camouflage-conscious, a light misting of flat spray paint might be in order. Most quality bags now have 550 parachute cord affixed to the upper surface to allow the addition of garnish material for camouflage. A light mix of frayed burlap permanently tied here can be augmented with grasses and other vegetation once in the field. Of course if your department is into Ninja Turtle black equipment, there is little you can do to hide a bag once in position short of terrain masking. Urban environments will provide plenty of masking, so this is generally a non-issue in that venue. Still, there is something about a sniper wearing black that grates...

For the money, you cannot go wrong with a commercial drag bag. The quality imparted into these products is outstanding. With double and sometimes quadruple stitching, multiple reinforcements, military specification hardware, and more cargo space than a lowly grunt can dream of, these bags can pretty much do it all ... in many cases eliminating the need for any other carrying equipment altogether. But if you are on a budget, take heart! You can build a perfectly functional drag bag from readily available products. The simplest bag is a plain old sheet of canvas glued at the seams with Shoo Goo. Stitching is optional but highly recommended. The Army sniper manual has a fair representation of this style of bag and can be referred to if this is the route you wish to tackle. This type of bag is nothing more than a rectangular tube of folded material with a flap in one end to insert the rifle. The other end of this tube is glued or stitched shut. A layer of high-density foam can be added to the interior on the ground side to protect the rifle from rocks, briars, and roots. The over-conscientious will come up with a simple muzzle protector for the barrel. This can be nothing more elaborate than tube of canvas with a piece of foam in the end. The infamous infantry OD green bedroll, known throughout the service as the "pussy pad", makes a good source for all your foam needs. These can be newly purchased for about $12 at any Army Navy store. Commercial foam backpack bedrolls also work well but often come only in bright attention grabbing colors. Not a good fashion statement for the average sniper bear...

If you choose to build your own bag, give some consideration to adding an external cargo pouch to the final product. Keeping your spotting scope secured and close to the rifle spells peace of mind and a successful mission. You can Shoo Goo/stitch a pouch to the outer surface of the bag. Add a flap and ties to secure it closed. This beats digging in your ruck sack or having the scope fall off your back pack if you use that carry method. It happens and it sucks ... a lot. Just ask my last partner who spent an hour looking for his spotting scope in the bush! Place the pouch opening in the same direction as the bag opening - toward your body in the crawl. This will make it less likely that, should the scope come out while you are crawling, you'll not miss it as it will have to fall against your leg on the way to the ground. This is one of the several good reasons to keep the bag on a short drag line. If the tip of the bag is lying between your thighs or knees, any object that comes out will likely be felt as your knees hit it. The most obvious reason for a short drag line though is to help you steer the bag around terrain. By nudging it with your knees and calves you can control its direction. A long drag line on the other hand, makes the bag act more like an anchor. Catch it on something and it may hook on tightly or even worse, stand straight up like a flag! By keeping the line short, you have much more control over the bag and can reach it when it binds on vegetation. You will not have to back up much to free the bag. Something else to think about -- if you are making your own bag in the Army pattern, consider that you should insert the rifle barrel into the bag first. This serves several purposes, the least of which is muzzle protection - it is hard to jam the muzzle against an object it if is pointing away from the direction of travel. Of course, if you happen to be a total dolt and load the weapon before the stalk and rely on the safety, this might also save your ass if the rifle happens to discharge! I cannot say I have heard of this happening, but if your homemade bag is not padded, I could see how a protrusion in the ground could catch the trigger through the material - and with the rifle pointing toward you, fire a round as you "pull" the rifle forward.

You will also need to fix a loop of sturdy rope or webbing near the tip of the drag bag on the side that will be in contact with the ground when laid flat. This will be used to either hand drag the bag or to attach a drag line. This loop must be secure enough to never rip off. I also highly suggest you put this at the end of the bag where the flap is, assuming your bag is a long flat tube with an opening at one end. The last thing you need or want is to have the rifle slip out the other end of the bag during a stalk - and you not realize it until you are several hundred yards away. A true sniper faux pas! Can't happen you say? You'd feel the weight slack off right? Think STRESS. It does funny things to the mind. A carry handle can also be manufactured by looping a long piece of web strap around the bag and back on itself. Determine the center of gravity (CG) of the bag. Find the CG by loading the bag with your rifle/gear and hold the bag horizontal to the ground. Move your hand fore and aft till the bag balances. Lay the bag flat on the ground, padding side down. Start about three inches to the left of CG and lay a bead of glue across the width of the bag from seam to fold. Press the strap into the glue, starting at the fold and working toward the seam. You should now have a strap sticking out perpendicular to the length of the drag bag in the shape of an odd looking "T". Lay glue bead about three inches to the right of center of gravity. Loop the strap back around and, leaving enough strap to form a handle, lay it in the glue from seam to fold. Now flip the bag over and repeat the process on the opposite side, continuing with the same strap. This will create a double handled cradle and the strap should end where it began at the fold, but on the opposite side. Make sure that the seam is on the UPPER side of the cradle when you are holding the bag horizontally to the ground via the handles. This will assure, should the Shoo Goo fail at the seam, that the rifle will not fall free. When done, add some stitching as needed for peace of mind.

You now have a very basic drag bag, capable of protecting the rifle when dragging it behind you in the sniper crawl. You can sew a few rows of 550 cord to the upper surface of the bag, spacing the rows about three inches apart and running them the full length of the bag. Space the thread points about every two to three inches along each cord. This will keep the cord in place when the camouflage garnish you tie here grabs vegetation. It will also stop the garnish from all pulling to one end of the bag.

There are numerous other methods of creating a serviceable drag bag. Modifying a regular gun case is an option, but unless the zipper is foolproof, it will give out in time. Conversely, buying a department store Cordura gun case of reliable quality is maybe half as expensive as purchasing a quality commercial drag bag, so the question begs, "Why bother?" With the commercial drag bag, you get all the extras with no extra fuss. It is all done for you and guaranteed. Whichever route you follow, make sure that your final choice closely fits your needs. If you do not need a full-blown drag bag cum backpack, do not spend the cash on one. Save the money for better optics. If your mission dictates instant readiness or handy travel, the drag bag/backback combo is an excellent choice. One thing to remember ... if you go with the simple bag, carry it under your arm and angled downward during a movement, not by the handles! This will, in part, keep the weapon close to your body protected from abuse. You do not want to go lollygaging about with the cased rifle swinging back and forth like luggage. This protective carry method will also give less of a target indicator to the bad guys if you happen to be in Indian country - be the bad guys the media, hostage takers or counter snipers. In short, a low profile saves lives ... often your own.

Like all gear related to sniping, there is no perfect answer. Just endless compromises. Drag bags fill a need. Choose yours well and it will serve you for a lifetime.

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