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Hydration Packs

Written by Jennifer Gavigan

Today’s tactical officers face many different challenges, including the need to keep themselves hydrated, especially in hot or extreme weather. Accessories such as hydration packs can prove to be critical for officer safety in the field. Tactical Response sought 16 of its readers to test seven different hydration-capable packs. The 10 primary testers are tactical officers who used the equipment in tactical training, operations and other opportunities. They came from a wide cross-section of law enforcement, including both rural and urban departments and both large and small departments. They came from all over the country, including: Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Wisconsin, Maine, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Oklahoma.

All the packs tested were built with a hydration capacity as the primary purpose and came with a bladder with a capacity of 50 ounces to 100 ounces, a tube and bite valve mechanism. The packs were separated into two groups, as some of the packs had additional cargo storage capacity consistent with law enforcement missions. The maximum additional cargo storage capacity could not exceed 1,100 cubic inches. The packs were tested for law enforcement / military operations, not sports or hiking. The field test took place during the early summer, and the testing period was four weeks.

The areas of evaluation rated by users included: Comfort (When Fully Loaded); Ease of Use for the Bite Valve; Ease of Filling the Bladder; Strength and Durability of Bladder Components; Durability of Nylon and Plastic Fixtures; Ease of Use and Access to the Cargo Storage; Layout of Cargo Storage Space; Ease of Integration with Other Tactical Gear; Strap Adjustability; Overall Construction and Design; Overall Function and Suitability for the Task.

Tactical Response magazine asked four of the top hydration pack manufacturers to submit packs for testing and review. The following hydration packs were tested: Group 1 was Small Packs, Hydration Only: Pure Hydration’s Aquasak; CamelBak’s ThermoBak; BlackHawk’s Vector; Eagle Industries’ Recon. Group 2 was Large Packs, Hydration Plus Cargo: CamelBak’s TransFormer; Eagle Industries’ Recon 3P; and BlackHawk’s S.T.R.I.K.E. Predator.

The packs were rated using a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = Poor, 5 = Very Good). The reviewers were also asked for their overall opinion of each pack. Following is a detailed description of each hydration pack and a summary of the results and how each pack ranked. First, the hydration-only packs, then the hydration plus cargo packs.

Hydration Only: BlackHawk!® Vector™

The BlackHawk Vector hydration pack is designed to increase performance and comfort in cramped quarters such as aircraft, tanks, vans and other vehicles. Features include: drink system protected by Microban® antimicrobial technology; bite valve and patent-pending quick disconnect system; molds to contours of officer’s back; integrated suspension harness lowers user’s profile when worn under jackets, vests or packs; IVS™ molded back panel for comfort, stability and airflow; 72-ounce reservoir contains a baffle to minimize sloshing during extreme maneuvers; YKK® zippers with sure-grip, silent pulls. The MSRP is $72.99.

BlackHawk’s Vector tied for second place in Group 1 with the Recon 5BK from Eagle Industries. Patrolman Ken Seymour Jr., Chesilhurst, NJ PD, gave the Vector high marks in the Comfort category: “This hydration pack felt like it molded itself onto my back.” He also said the bite valve was easy to use and clean, but he felt this hydration pack was designed to be worn alone.

Lieutenant Michael F. Nugent, Westbrook, ME PD, commented that the Vector having a positive on/off capability was a plus in the Ease of Use for the Bite Valve category. On the contrary, SWAT Commander Thomas A. Hausner, Walworth County Sheriff’s Dept., Elkhorn, WI, scored the Vector lower in that category, because it was “hard to draw water from the mouthpiece,” he explained.

Lieutenant Nugent said the Vector would be better if “you could fill the bladder without having to remove it from the carrier.” Sergeant Ken Darnell, Alvin, TX PD, said the Vector was a very comfortable pack and would be “a good choice for bike patrol use or short training days where a lightweight, comfortable pack was required.”

Hydration Only: CamelBak® ThermoBak™

The ThermoBak from CamelBak has a capacity of 100 ounces (3L) and now comes with external fill access to the OMEGA™ HydroTanium Reservoir. Features include: low infrared reflective [LIRR] buckles, webbing and materials in the coyote and army universal camo models for night ops. It is also available in desert camo and foliage green. The MSRP is $76.00.

CamelBak’s ThermoBak took first place in Group 1 and had the highest average overall score of 4.67. Ptlm. Seymour rated the ThermoBak all 5’s, except for a 4 in the Strap Adjustability category. He said this pack was very comfortable, well-constructed and very durable. “The buckles could be a little bit larger to ease with adjustment,” Seymour said.

Most of the reviewers scored the ThermoBak high in the Comfort category. “With the exception of sitting in a vehicle, it is somewhat easy to forget it is on,” Officer Michael Lindgren, Kankakee, IL PD, stated. However, some of the testers felt it could use some padding in the straps. Officer Brandon Begcroft, Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, Elkhorn, WI, said the ThermoBak felt good at first, but “as you wear the pack the thin straps dig into your clavicle area of your shoulders.”

Lieutenant Nugent rated the ThermoBak’s Ease of Filling the Bladder a 5 because it had “easy access to the bladder while still protected.” Sergeant Darnell thought the ThermoBak was a better stand-alone system: “a great hydration system for range training or bicycle patrol.”

Hydration Only: Eagle® Recon

The Recon from Eagle Industries is made with abrasion-resistant 500 Denier Cordura® nylon with a 100-ounce/3L Source Hydration reservoir. Other features include: fully enclosed hydration pocket; fully adjustable and removable shoulder straps; hydration hose routing loops; innovative strap management system; adjustable removable chest strap; ergonomic low profile design. Dimensions are: 17 inches x 8¾ inches x 3½ inches. Total carrier weight is .80 pounds. The MSRP is $69.90.

Eagle’s Recon ranked highest in the Comfort and Strap categories. It tied for second place in Group 1 with BlackHawk’s Vector. Officer Kevin Warnecke, Walworth County Sheriff’s Department, Elkhorn, WI, rated the Recon’s Overall Construction and Design category a 5: “This product was user friendly and extremely durable.” He added that it was hard to access cargo storage when worn but easy to use otherwise. In terms of Comfort, Officer Wayne Trudeau, Kankakee, IL PD, rated the Recon a 5 because it had “good shoulder padding on straps.”

Ptlm. Seymour said the Recon was “designed to go into combat,” but he did not like the way the bite valve functioned. He described it as “too big.” In the Strap Adjustability category, this Eagle pack fared well. Lieutenant Nugent said the Recon had “the best shoulder straps of the units I tested.” Sergeant Darnell agreed: “The strap management system was well thought out and the best of the packs tested.” However, Sergeant Darnell rated the Recon a bit lower in the Overall Function and Suitability for the Task category. “My main complaints are the bite valve and the process required to fill the bladder,” he commented.

Hydration Only: Pure Hydration Aquasak

Pure Hydration’s Aquasak can house 100 ounces of water in its protected reservoir, which is connected directly to the mouth via an insulated delivery tube. Other features include: a top-opening reservoir for easy cleaning; a delivery tube with on/off switch and bite valve; a Cordura outer bag; a hygienic food-grade nylon inner lining; versatile arrays of straps and clips; PureLink compatible (can be used with or without a filter and can be clipped in and out of line). The MSRP is $70.00.

Although the Aquasak came in fourth place in Group 2, Captain John Gerard, Kankakee, IL PD, scored it a 5 in several categories, including Comfort, Ease of Use for the Bite Valve, and Strength and Durability of Bladder Components. However, in the Durability of Nylon and Plastic Fixtures category, Gerard said, “[It] seems a little flimsy to cap.”

The Aquasak was Sergeant Darnell’s choice for an all-around pack. “The design of the Aquasak is outstanding. The attention to detail is great,” he said, in part due to an external port that made filling a “breeze.” Lieutenant Nugent also liked the Pure Hydration pack’s “easy access to fill port” in the Ease of Filling the Bladder category. Nugent thought the 3-liter capacity was too heavy although he said he “could see where that could be an advantage in other situations.”
Although Ptlm. Seymour described the Aquasak as “very comfortable,” he thought the Strap Adjustability had poor design, and the bladder and its components seemed “cheaply made.” “This pack would be better suited for recreational use (hiking),” Seymour said. The Aquasak received several 5’s from Commander Hausner, who had no issues with attaching to the molle system in the Ease of Integration with other Tactical Gear. On the other hand, Hausner said the straps had no padding and “tend to curl up on edges.”

Hydration Plus Cargo: BlackHawk! S.T.R.I.K.E. Predator™

The BlackHawk S.T.R.I.K.E.® Predator™ hydration pack has a capacity of 100 ounces (3 liters) and provides 830 cubic inches of internal storage space and BlackHawk’s patented S.T.R.I.K.E. system for modular attachment of BlackHawk accessories. Additional features include: a drink system protected by Microban® antimicrobial technology; a bite valve and patent-pending quick disconnect system; an additional compartment for optional second reservoir; a fully padded contour shoulder harness with a sternum strap; reinforced drag/carry handle; YKK® zippers with sure-grip, silent pulls; and IVS™ molded back panel superior for comfort, stability and airflow. The MSRP is $119.99.

BlackHawk’s Predator took third place in the Group 2 packs and scored highest in the Ease of Use and Access to the Cargo Storage category. Sergeant Mick Williams, Bloomington, IN PD, said the cargo space is easy to get into because “both pockets open wide.” Williams also liked the PALS webbing on --the exterior and inside the main cargo space, in addition to the Velcro® field and removable organizer inside the secondary cargo space. Captain Chad Farmer, Muskogee, OK PD, rated the Predator a 5 in all the categories. He thought the Ease of Use and Cargo Space was “by far the best part of this bag.” Farmer carried it full of water several times with no leaking.

Although SWAT Team Leader Michael Dean Abbott, Bedford County, VA Sheriff’s Office, liked the Predator’s removable section of the cargo space, he thought the straps were a little narrow for someone with broad shoulders. Sergeant Glen Dorney, Allentown, PA PD, thought the only design flaw was bladder access. However, he said the Predator was “very durable with no breaks.” According to Officer Aaron Waltz, Department of Defense, Bloomington, IN PD, the bite valve was comfortable but the on/off selector on it “was tough to operate with one hand.”

Hydration Plus Cargo: CamelBak® TransFormer™

CamelBak’s TransFormer hydration pack has a capacity of 102 ounces (3.1 liters). Cargo is 952 cubic inches. CamelBak’s TransFormer offers a sleek, low-profile system in a full-size pack. Convert the sleek base system by adding either a small pocket or a full-length compartment, or both. Other features include: the HydroLink™ Modular Connection System with positive shut-off HydroLock™ and smartly designed storage pockets that include organizers and slat pockets. The MSRP is $162.00.

CamelBak’s TransFormer scored highest in the Layout category, and came in first place in Group 2. SWAT Team Leader Abbott “loved the cargo areas on this pack. Connections were easy to manipulate even with gloves on.” Abbott did not notice any wear, but he thought the test period was not ample enough time to test Durability. Sergeant Dorney said the TransFormer was his favorite out of the three packs he evaluated. “Excellent use of space without limiting usability for each compartment,” he stated.

The TransFormer also got high marks from Officer Ty Pickering, Muskogee, OK PD, especially for the Ease of Use for the Bite Valve category: “The shutoff valve made sure there were no leaks, and the quick disconnect made cleaning quick and easy.” In the Comfort category, Sergeant Williams said the straps seemed to turn or angle out, making the sternum strap absolutely necessary. “I felt the straps had to be pulled tight for the pack to stay on,” he said. He noted that the pack opening to the bladder is big and wide, making access easy. Officer Waltz “loved the pocket system and setup” in the Layout of Cargo Storage Space category.

Hydration Plus Cargo: Eagle Recon 3P

The Recon 3P is a three-pocket hydration reservoir carrier. It is made with abrasion-resistant 500 Denier Cordura® nylon with a 100-ounce Source Hydration reservoir. Other features include: a fully enclosed hydration pocket; fully adjustable and removable shoulder straps; hydration hose routing loops; an innovative strap management system; an adjustable removable chest strap; and an ergonomic low-profile design. The MSRP is $154.45.

Eagle's Recon 3P hydration pack scored highest out of its competitors in the Construction and Function categories, and it came in second place in Group 2. According to Officer Mark Ridley, Muskogee, OK PD, the Recon 3P is very well constructed and designed for easy use and equipment storage. “This bag is very good for a multi-day operation where a large amount of equipment is needed,” he added.

SWAT Team Leader Abbott thought the Recon 3P’s Comfort was “not bad but could use some extra padding between load and wearer’s back.” Sergeant Dorney liked the Strap Adjustability on this Eagle pack: “The simple, securing devices are exceptional.” In the Strength and Durability of Bladder Component category, Officer Waltz said this Eagle pack was very strong. “We actually stood on the bladder portion of the pack with no problems,” he commented. “Great pack… this one will stay in my car,” Waltz added.

Although CamelBak’s ThermoBak and TransFormer were the winners in both the hydration only and the hydration plus cargo groups, many of the packs were comparable in most categories, as noted by the virtual tie between BlackHawk’s Vector and Eagle Industries’ Recon and the close grouping between all three hydration plus cargo packs. As with any field test comparison, opinions differed due to personal preference. Some of the reviewers thought certain hydration packs were suited for all tactical applications, while others preferred them for light duty or more recreational use. We extend our sincere thanks to our panel of testers. Their time and efforts are greatly appreciated.

Jennifer Gavigan has been writing for Tactical Response magazine for six years, providing readers with cutting-edge tactical information. She can be reached at jgavigan@hendonpub.com.

Panel of Primary Testers

Kenneth Darnell: Sergeant, Alvin PD, Alvin, TX

Kenneth Seymour Jr.: Patrolman, Chesilhurst Police Department, Chesilhurst, NJ

John Gerard: Commander, Kankakee City PD, Kankakee, IL

Thomas Hausner: SWAT Commander, Walworth County Sheriff’s Dept., Elkhorn, WI

Michael Nugent: Sergeant, Westbrook Police Department, Westbrook, ME

Aaron Waltz: Officer, Department of Defense, Bloomington, IN

Glen Dorney: Sergeant, Allentown Police Department, Allentown, PA

Michael Dean Abbott: SWAT Team Leader, Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, Bedford, VA

Chad Farmer: Captain, Muskogee Police Department, Muskogee, OK

Mick Williams: Sergeant, Bloomington PD, Bloomington, IN

Published in Tactical Response, Jul/Aug 2009

Rating : Not Yet Rated


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