I have been teaching and writing for a couple of decades about basic survival skills and the items you should always have with you. One of the basic tenets I present is that you must have your emergency gear on your body at all times. Over the years, I have searched for a good solution for carrying my EDC on my body at all times.
Then, a friend of mine showed me the Koala chest pack he got from Kifaru International. He was able to carry everything on his chest that I was stuffing into my cargo pockets, where it was out of the way but easily accessible when he needed something. It was the solution I had been seeking for the past 20 years.
CONCEALED CARRY IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
While it may not be common sense to everyone, the need to carry some form of protection, or force equalizer, is a given to many of you reading this magazine. The reasons to carry a firearm in the backcountry revolve around two kinds of predators: four legged and two legged.
Four-legged predators will be found in any backcountry area. Foxes, wolves, coyotes and bears are found in practically every state. Every year, they kill livestock, family pets—and sometimes, people. They are quiet, so if you run into one, it will likely be at close range and a surprise to you. Unless you are carrying a rifle while hunting, having something to protect yourself is a prudent move for anyone.
Two-legged predators can also be encountered in backcountry areas and are even more dangerous than the four-legged variety. We have all run into individuals who have some level of mental illness that can make them a hazard to others. Hunters come across marijuana-growing operations while moving through the woods. In the Southwest, illegal immigrants and the armed guides who bring them across the border are a real and constant danger to anyone hiking, camping or hunting in the area.
CHEST PACK CHECKLIST: WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Chest packs come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials and range in functionality from simple pockets to multiple compartments with features for organizing all your smaller EDC gear. The main features you should consider when picking a chest pack are:
- A way to securely carry your concealed handgun and at least one spare magazine;
- Enough room to carry all the things you want or need to carry;
- Easy to put on and wear, either over or under your clothing;
- A profile that is not so bulky that it restricts your movement or keeps you from using your bow or gun;
- A discreet design that is not overly “tactical” looking;
- A way to organize smaller items; and easy handgun access.
HOW TO USE THEM
You can wear your chest pack over your outer clothing layer so it is easy to reach everything inside. This works well if you anticipate a situation in which you will need to draw your gun quickly for defense or if you want to be able to access its contents with just one hand if you need to.
My preferred method of wear is under any outer garments I might take off during the course of the day so that I always have the chest pack on my body. This is in keeping with my policy of always having my EDC items on my body when in the backcountry (or in the “front country,” for that matter). By wearing it under my outer garments, I don’t have to worry about taking it off and putting it on every time I change my clothing layers. The down side is that I need to open my outer layer to access the pack; but I don’t mind that.
To help get to the contents of your pack quickly, whether you wear it inside or outside your outer layer, orient the pack and its zippers or snaps so that you can easily open them with your non-dominant hand and then reach in with your dominant hand. Some packs are designed with a separate compartment for your handgun so that you can leave the zipper open on one side to make it easier to reach in and draw.
WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?
Hill People Gear: Hill People Gear sells five variants of its Kit Bag chest pack: the Original, Recon, Heavy Recon, Runner and Snubby. As their names imply, each model is designed for a different end user. These packs are made from 500 denier (500D) Cordura nylon and come in Foliage (gray/green), khaki, Coyote Brown (tan) and Ranger Green (olive drab).
These Kit Bags have the simplest design of the three models described in this article, with one compartment for the handgun next to your body and a second compartment away from your body. The latter compartment contains two small pockets for holding smaller items. They also have an outside zippered pocket that runs the width of the pack. Some of the models also have MOLLE webbing for attaching other pockets. All Kit Bag models feature shoulder straps.
Kifaru International: At the time of this writing, the Koala and Koala Lite are being redesigned by Kifaru International and won’t be available until sometime in mid- to late 2017. Kifaru does offer a new pocket called the Tombstone, which is a very good option for EDC and/or concealed carry if you use a handgun with a 3- or 4-inch barrel. It is made from 500D Cordura in Ranger Green or 1000D Cordura in black, Coyote Brown, Wolf Gray, Highlander, Mandrake, Typhon and MultiCam.
The single compartment has hook-and-loop closures on one side for attaching holsters and magazine holders. A zippered pocket on the outside can hold the smaller EDC items. Kifaru also makes an organizer with pockets and elastic loops to help you organize small items. It does not come with shoulder straps, but you can attach a binocular harness to the connections on the back of the Tombstone or make your own harness from webbing.
Bison Gear: Bison Gear is the third company that offers a full-feature chest pack as a stand-alone product. It’s Chest Pack and Harness product features one compartment with a fabric divider.
The section next to your body contains a mesh pocket that covers the whole side of the pack. You can place larger items, such as magazines, a space blanket or a first aid kit, in the mesh pouch. A handgun can fit between the mesh pocket and the fabric divider.
The front side of the divider has a number of slot pockets for small items and two larger pockets on the outer side. This inner compartment also has straps on either side that can be used to hold it open at a 90 degree angle to make it easier to see and use what is contained in the slot pockets. It also has a full-length zipper on the outside for holding frequently used items (a map, compass, camera or phone, to name a few).
Bison Gear is a semi-custom sewing shop, so you can get its products in pretty much any combination of fabric or colors. The company currently offers the Chest Pack, made from heavyweight wool, in camo, gray, camel and green; hemp canvas in brown; and a durable, water-repellent polyester called Wolfskin in Predator Fall Gray or Predator Fall Brown.
Of the three chest packs discussed, the Bison Gear unit is the lightest and quietest while still having both holster and organization features.
The products from the three manufacturers above provide room and features for your handgun and EDC items. Additionally, the following two companies make bare-bones models designed for joggers and hikers who just want to carry concealed in addition to carrying a few items, such as a phone or wallet.
DeSantis Holsters: The Road Runner is a casual running concealment holster that can be worn under or over your garments. It is a lightweight pack made of black nylon and includes padding in the ambidextrous gun pocket next to the body. The outer pocket has room for keys, wallet, ammo, etc.
Active Pro Gear: This company’s Jogging Concealment Holster lets you carry a small- to large-frame gun comfortably and concealed without it banging against your body while exercising. It doesn’t look like a gun rig, so no one will suspect you’re carrying.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are many ways to manage your everyday carry items, but my preferred solution is the chest pack. This single container is always on my body and can hold my EDC, including a handgun and extra magazines.
Chest packs are comfortable to wear, easy to access and don’t need to be moved around as clothing layers are removed or equipment is changed out. You will find them to be extremely useful and great additions to your current gear mix.
Active Pro Gear (www.ActiveProGear.com)
DeSantis Holsters (www.DeSantisHolster.com)
Hill People Gear (www.HillPeopleGear.com)
Kifaru International (www.Kifaru.net)
Alaskan Guide Creations (www.AlaskaGuideCreations.com)
Black Ovis (www.BlackOvis.com)
A version of this article first appeared in the April 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.