Almost as much as shooting, I love to hit the trails around my community. I have a lot of experience with non-frame packs, but this was my first experience with an external frame pack. Rather than spending a lot of money for a name brand external frame pack, I looked into mil-spec ALICE packs. After doing some shopping around I ended up purchasing a new medium ALICE pack in woodland from a fellow on eBay. The large packs are not as common on eBay, so I picked up a large pack in woodland from Super Trooper. A friend of mine recommended that I look into some of the pack modifications that the Tactical Tailor can do to ALICE packs.
Logan Coffey, the president of Tactical Tailor Inc. is an experienced US Army Sniper. He knows how to build gear that will last and wear extremely well. He can perform a wide variety of modifications to your ALICE pack. His website lists that he can perform modifications to large packs. I emailed him to ask if he could reinforce and replace on the buckles on a medium ALICE as well. He promptly replied back that he could. In addition to having my pack reinforced and the buckles replaced, I ordered a set of Super Straps and a Super Belt. I sent my medium pack and money order and a couple weeks later my order was delivered. In email, it was explained to me their normal turn-around time was much shorter, but they were extremely busy with contract work.
I was immediately impressed with the amount of padding in the straps and belt. The Super Straps are made with heavy duty Cordura wrapped around one inch thick foam. A sternum strap is included with the price of the straps. The Super Belt is equally impressive as it is constructed from a 1.5 inch thick foam pad. For comparison, the standard issue straps and belt are roughly .5 inch thick. The reinforcing is done at the frame mounting points, so is not very visible unless you know where to look. The buckles on the other hand are very obvious. Almost all modern packs that I have seen incorporate Fastex buckles. Tactical Tailor replaced the standard issue snaps on the pockets as well the main straps on the flap cover. They are extremely fast to manipulate.
After strapping up my pack and cinching it to my mil-spec ALICE frame, I loaded it with roughly 35lbs. of weight. I also snaked my Camelback bladder tube through the straps. I grabbed my Asolos and hit the trail. I could immediately feel the comfort of the oversized kidney belt. About a 1/4 mile later, I noticed some major rubbing on my left side, so I shifted my load. After another 1/4 mile, the pack had settled nicely, and I was moving at a nice clip. The pack felt really good when I moved quickly. I did not feel like I had to fight with the pack to maintain my balance. I could easily turn left and right while keeping the momentum of the pack under control. The nice thing about the GI frame is that it allows for rougly 2 inches of clearence between the pack and your back. Needless to say, it does not get near as hot as an internal frame or frameless pack. Three miles later, the comfort level was still high, but it was getting dark. The next day I hit some tougher trails with lots of sharp hills. The pack performed well again. By the middle of my second hike, the straps and belt were starting to break-in and the comfort level increased as they formed to my shoulders and waist.
I have also sent my large pack to be modified. Again the quality from Tactical Tailor was impressive. The only improvement that I could give to this system would be to add the quick release feature that is on the standard issue straps. I don't recommend this solution for someone who simply needs a convienient method of carrying gear. This pack is rather big and bulky when fully loaded. However, I would recommend this for a solution to a person that would like to save some money and needs to haul a considerable amount of weight. Though Tactical Tailor makes some much needed improvment, the overall design of the pack is a number of years old. What's next?