Maxpedition Sitka Gearslinger: A Review
UPDATE! Watch my VIDEO REVIEW of the Gearslinger HERE:
It’s no secret – I love bags. I probably own at least 4 or 5 different man-bags, each specifically geared to a particular look or purpose. They’re great but sometimes a giant canvas bag filled with stuff hanging at waist-level can get annoying on long-hauls across town. That’s where backpacks come in handy. Better weight distribution, greater carrying capacity – all that good stuff that made your classic EASTPACK so awesome as you trotted off to school when you were a kid. What if there were a way to combine the best of both worlds into some sort of hybrid? What if you could merge the cool-factor of a single strap man-bag with the carrying capacity of a backpack and create something new? Would it be the ultimate bag? Would it cure your crippling Call of Duty addiction and shred your doughy abdomen into that sleek, slick, well-oiled Wolverine physique you’ve always been too lazy to work for?
The good folks at Maxpedition went to work to create just such a product and recently I spent 5 days hauling it from one end of Brooklyn to the other to test it out. I learned a lot about cross-strap bags, homeless drunks and most importantly – a little about myself. Read on….
1.) They look rugged and tough. They clearly are military-inspired but not in an over the top ROTC mall-ninja kind of way.
2.) They have straps all over them…. crazy straps for strapping things down and strapping other things onto – things like water bottles or other bags with throwing knives and shurikens and stuff. More specifically, the PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) is in full effect on the Sitka so all your MOLLE or similar compatible gear will be right at home.
3.) They come in a lovely selection of colors and patterns.
1.) The cross-strap. The first thing I noticed when I busted out my Maxpedition Sitka Gearslinger is that I had NO clear idea how to put this thing on. It’s not like a traditional backpack where you just throw the straps over your shoulders – no, that doesn’t work with a cross-strap. Get your mind in the game, kid. The Gearslinger’s cross-body strap has a HUGE (we’re talking seatbelt-sized) molded plastic snap-clip that joins the top and bottom of the strap together. It’s a little weird at first but I’m here to tell you, snapping on the Sitka makes you feel like a total badass. It sort of reminded me of all those ‘gear up’ scenes in movies where guys get all geared up and whatnot. That’s what you’re doing here. Kick a few bars of Jerry Goldsmith and you’ve got yourself a testosterone-fueled dress-up party. NOTE: With the strap buckled you can also slide the whole rig on over your head as if you were putting on a T-shirt. It took some fumbling for me to perfect this technique.
2.) The OTHER cross strap. Here’s the weird part. Though the idea here of a bag with a single cross-body strap is awesome on paper, that design is kind of flawed in practice. Because of the design and the way gravity works, the Sitka Gearslinger tends to want to slide (or revolve, rather) around your body if you do anything like bend over to tie your shoe or pick up a shuriken to throw at a fool after you do a parkour leap from some insane obstacle. To solve that, the guys at Maxpedition installed (wait for it) a SECOND strap! Yes, in order to make a bag with one strap work, you need two straps. Sounds counterintuitive, right? It makes sense – trust me. The second strap swings up under your other arm and clicks to the first strap, holding the Sitka securely in place. This will simplify all your parkour moves so relax. The good news is that this second, smaller strap is not that noticeable and does serve its purpose well. The other benefit is that when fastened, you can sling the bag over your shoulder when you don’t feel like having it on your back.
3.) Carrying capacity. This was where the wheels came off for me. The Sitka is small. Not impossibly small, but too small to carry any kind of photo gear in. I was travelling with my 5D and a single 50mm prime lens which significantly shrank the profile of my camera and I still felt that I was forcing the camera into the bags largest compartment. It simply wasn’t “thick” enough to hold what I wanted it to hold. Having said that, I wasn’t intending to replace my camera bag with the Sitka, just have a cool bag to carry ‘assorted stuff’ around in. It still (barely) did the job of carrying the 5D around but other larger bags would have accomplished this same task better. Every time I put the 5D in or took it out, I found myself wishing I had the Sitka’s larger cousin, the KODIAK.
NOTE: For EVERYTHING else I asked the Sitka to do, it worked outstandingly well. The smaller size can be an advantage because it prevents you from loading up on too much useless, heavy gear. Too much weight on a single shoulder strap can cause pain and discomfort after extended periods and I wouldn’t want to carry 40lbs of camera gear that way anyhow.
4.) Water bottle holder. This was a problem. The Sitka Gearslinger is designed to be ‘slung’ around your body where you can easily access the pockets from the ‘top’ (which is actually the side of the bag when worn on your back.) This function is extremely handy when boarding the subway, getting into or out of cars or generally doing anything that requires regular shifting of the bag to fit where you need it to go. The downside to this design feature is that it necessitates that the water bottle sleeve be positioned on the opposite side of the bag – meaning when you sling the bag to your front, the water bottle sleeve is positioned below the bag – exactly where you CAN’T get at it. Since you’ll frequently want to access your water bottle, this is less than ideal. I found myself fumbling to extract my water bottle for about 30-45 seconds before I was able to get it out of the Sitka. Getting it back IN? Forget it. I had to remove the Sitka entirely and angrily shove the water bottle back into the sleeve before putting the whole rig back on. Deal breaker? Not entirely, but the whole idea is that a Gearslinger is supposed to offer you something that a traditional backpack cannot and at this point in my testing I was still waiting for my it to blow up my brain with dynamite.
5.) Concealed carry sleeve. This is pretty neat and a big selling point to the tacti-cool community . There is a ‘hidden’ padded sleeve on the Sitka located (when slung in front of you) in a perfect spot to hide a concealed weapon (check your local laws. mileage may vary.) Maxpedition even sells a universal CCW holster that will secure your pistol of choice (mine is a Beretta PX4 Storm Compact) within the padded sleeve for easier access. How well this works as an effective concealed carry solution is up for debate but I suppose it would do the job nicely and comments in other reviews seem to support this. My feeling, however, is that in a situation where you’d need to access your concealed weapon, slinging a Gearslinger around to your front, (assuming you don’t have that second strap clipped on) fumbling with a zipper and then reaching in to pull a pistol from a holster would take FAR too many precious seconds than you’d actually have. This would also require a lot of moving around and drawing attention to yourself – something you typically want to avoid in a scenario where people are going to start shooting. Also, if you’re walking around decked out in military-styled gear carrying a concealed weapon, you aren’t exactly the grey man. Any bad guy who knows what time it is will probably look at your Sitka Gearslinger, conclude that you’re about to start some shit and air you out.
5.) Materials. The Sitka Gearslinger is made of 1000-Denier water and abrasion resistant light-weight ballistic nylon fabric – and it shows. This bag feels like you could do anything to it and it wouldn’t even blink. The zippers are YKK and appear heavy enough to survive hard use for years to come. The zipper pulls are 550 paracord – a nice touch – and the zipper seams are taped to reduce intrusion of dust and water which goes a long way towards making this a secure way to carry a tablet or other electronics. All the buckles are UTX-Duraflex nylon for low sound closures (low sound? I didn’t notice this but whatever.) Here’s the line-item breakdown from Maxpedition’s site:
I’ll keep this simple. At $138 (list price as of this moment on Maxpedition’s website) the Sitka Gearslinger isn’t worth it. The benefits don’t add up enough for me to justify going north of $80 for this product. Let me be clear: the Sitka Gearslinger is an EXTREMELY high-quality bag and it will likely last for years to come even under the heaviest use. That said, the price just doesn’t work for me in the final cost-benefit analysis. I can envision no scenario where I would say “The only bag that will do what I need is the Sitka and it is worth $138.”
The Sitka Gearslinger from Maxpedition looks cool as hell, is built like an Apache gunship and makes you feel like a total badass. The ability to sling it in front of you makes traveling in an urban environment easier as you frequently are standing up and sitting down. The carrying capacity is decent enough to serve as an EDC bag, 24 hour get home bag or USK (Urban Survival Kit) and the water resistant material means that if you get caught out in the rain your stuff won’t get ruined. This bag is worth $75-80. Not $138. If I were going to spend that kind of money, I’d upgrade to the larger KODIAK. You may find better deals on eBay or Amazon and I’d suggest you look there if you want to pick one up.
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BOTTOM LINE: It’s not a perfect bag but it’s also not a terrible idea – it’s just… different. If you can get a Sitka for $75-$80, pick one up. You’ll be happy with it as a replacement for a more traditional man-bag and it will carry most items that aren’t too thick with ease. If you plan on carrying heavier gear or more stuff, go with a traditional 2-strap pack.
UPDATE! Watch my video review of the Gearslinger HERE: