Outdoors gear has always been a talking point even back in the days of the fur trade certain items gained reputations as being the best kit to have, things such as Hawken rifles and Hudson's bay point blankets become "the" item to have and many aspiring Mountain men would go all out to own such things so trusted were the reputation and word of the experienced men who went before them.
In the last decade word of mouth reputation seemed to slip by the way side as the outdoor industry grew and sales blah, biased reviews and bushcraft forums became popular. Sales pitches can generally be seen as what they are, biased reviews with a little research can be confirmed or negated but a lot of misinformation was and is pumped out by forum members, some to boost their own ego's, some to improve the rating of the forum and thus create a money making opportunity etc - regardless the reason ultimately forum reviews in my experience tend to be from guys who rarely actually get out in the field and as such these days I don't visit forums with the sole exception of the finnish bushcraft forum, this small forum is made up of mostly genuine outdoors men who actually spend more time in the woods than on the computer.
Anyway the reason I point this out is that for me the best research source now is you tube, here you can sort the wheat from the chaff just by watching guys trying to do or replicate various skills and here also reputations are being made. There are some excellent woodcrafters on the tube, DC from wilderness outfitters (apart from the politics of his being dropped from discovery channel a mistake on his part lead to a major mistake on their part as the new co host doesn't cut the mustard for me) Mitch from Native survival even good old Mors can now be found on there as well as yours truly!! With regards to kit likewise some items seem to be very popular, Mora knives for example and rightly so.
An item proving popular and growing in reputation on YT is the Italian Army Rucksack (known by other names too such as Italian Alpine backpack etc) these are canvas sacks with a classic look that I like.
Some of the YT reviews of these are done by experienced guys so straight way giving them some credence right off (just like the OH butcher knife mind you) but are they as good as these folks say??
Well only one way to find out ................................
These sacks seem to be virtually non-available in UK so I had to order one from America. The company I ordered from http://www.sportsmansguide.com deserve a note here as unlike many US firms they ship very quickly (items arrive within 2 weeks and are tracked throughout) they don't over charge postage and if you contact them offer excellent customer service.
They only seem to stock used packs however but at $13 I figured used was good enough and so placed my order. When the sack arrived I was not only pleased with the speed of the delivery but also the "newness" of the sack - it did have writing on the flap and the metal strap ends of the lid were missing but bought as used and at that price I wasn't going to complain as the rest of the sack looks new.
Now one YT vid I watched the guy modified his sack by replacing the shoulder straps with Alice pack ones and this I did too - mainly as the shoulder straps supplied are not only very heavy for what they are, they also seem to be designed for someone with the anatomy of a stick insect and me being a burly 6 foot found I couldn't actually wear the sack comfortably or at least adjust it out enough to fit.
Three other changes I made were to add a paracord loop between the middle eyes of the lid draw cord as part of the axe suspension system (my axe is now carried with the head through the loop and the handle slid inside the strap between the buckles). I also rethreaded the cordage on the sides to allow the side pockets to expand easier and the cordage to be tightened or loosened as required. Lastly I replaced the lid draw cord with paracord, so nothing to "imaginative!"
Italian army backpack (above left) with ALICE PACK SHOULDER STRAPS and pictured next to a Swedish army LK25 for size comparison.
So the sack itself, firstly its small (about 20 to 25 litres I imagine) and the canvas is heavy duty. But this isn't actually detrimental rather the opposite as it makes you think about what you carry and why! Those who have read or seen my article/vid about bed rolling will be pleased to hear the sack will easily take that amount of kit - indeed I'll add a kit list below this review. Again on YT many of the reviewers also change the straps at the base and here attach thick bedrolls or woollen blankets.
The lids, both main sack and pockets, is lined with a waterproof material as is the base of the main sack however the rest of the canvas sack is merely canvas (waterproofing materials are available for canvas) however being of a generation of soldiers who grew up with 58 pattern webbing I simply waterproof all my gear by lining the sack with a heavy gauge rubble sack.
The last item worth noting is the buckles for the lid, these are a pressed steel with a sliding gate style lock - the metal is thin but not so delicate as to appear weak, simply sliding the strap through and pulling locks it down but it is easy to open again when you need to so not a hassle if you were wearing gloves or mittens for example.
Over all I can say this sack actually deserves the positive reviews and popularity it is gaining. It is robust, well priced and with minimal adjusting extremely fit for purpose. It also typifies the new bushcraft trend towards functional and traditional gear going back to what in my mind bushcraft should be.
Kit list of what I actually pack in mine.
· Mora Classic No3, Hatchet and Saw (small cuts first aid kit)
· Candles, tinder
· 20m bank line + para cord, sharpening stone, snare wire.
· Slingshot and ammo
· Solo cook set, stainless steel water bottle x 2 and cup, Spoon/s (1x US 1x Wooden) – condiments - Lighter
· Primus gas stove and fuel
· 24hrs Rations and brew kit
· Head torch
· Jungle sleeping bag – green reusable space blanket
· Desert camo tarp and cordage/pegs
· Spare socks (thick wool)
· Goretex jacket
· Quilted Jacket liner
(A wool blanket would replace the jungle bag in winter when fire is needed for warmth but the above kit is easily enough for overnighting and or emergency use)