Friday, June 8, 2012

Review: Platatac Bullock Echo daypack

So as I've covered recently, I've been searching for a day-pack to replace my long-time love, the Crumpler messenger bag. Not because there is anything wrong with the Messenger bag, far from it, it's a workhorse, and therein lies the problem. I loaded it up like a horse. I needed to down-size and reduce my tendency to take everything with me, everywhere, like something out of Labyrinth. I think that I have settled on something that suits my needs, and certainly fits my "tough, modular, multi-functional" aesthetic. Chatting with the guys at Platatac gave me the opportunity to get an idea of both my requirements and the possibilities. My primary requirement was one of carriage, but was not a capacity or volume question, but of dimensions. I wanted to be able to pack my "slightly bigger than A4" CSI folder into it, whilst not being a monstrous 48hr or even a modest 72hr bag. Don't get me wrong, "right job, right tool" is a maxim I hold in high regard. I just wanted a little bag. I have previously reviewed the Platatac Nomad and the Maxpedition SITKA-s, but here for your edification and appreciation is the Bullock Echo.Not to be confused with the more basic Echo.

The first thing you need to know is that the Echo is not a stand alone "pack" in its own right, in that it lacks it's own shoulder straps. This isn't as much of an issue as you might imagine, as long as you are aware up-front, and the Platatac retail it's will clue you in right away. The reason this isn't a problem is because of the vast array of attachment options built into the pack, and the option of attaching a separate shoulder straps (as seen in the Kilo Med Pack). Looking at the back of the pack, you can see that it has two 5/7 row deep PALS/MOLLE channels spaced to fit onto a 4-channel wide set of webbing. This is what I use, but I'll get to that later. It also features plastic loop-hardware at the top and bottom corners to attach those removable shoulder straps I mentioned earlier. Six plastic D-loops give even further lashing options. The back of the pack is the same Airmesh material to promote cooling and airflow, and you can see the reinforced webbing drag/carry handle at the top of the pack clearly here too.
Note the six cinch-straps (two bottom, two top and two towards the top just above the side pouches.

Lets have a look at the front of the pack. The sloped "kidney pocket" at the front of the pack would be perfect for big, wide angled goggles. I keep my battered old first aid kit , and a poncho in mine. A large loop-field gives lots of patch real-estate, and the three sets of elastisied loops are perfect for cyalume sticks. The zipper is shielded by a lip of the material above, a clever afterthought.

Above the "kidney pocket" is a two row, four channel set of PALS/MOLLE webbing, with a nifty small pocket, good for ID, cards, cash and other small, get-to items. This pocket is covered by a close fitting lip of the material above, so is both well shielded from any possible water ingress, but also from prying hands! You get a good view of the para-cord fitted zipper-pulls here, which give not only a good firm grip, but also greatly reduce the metal-on-metal sound that these can otherwise have. I haven;t thought what I might fit to this particular sport, accessory wise, but it's good to have the option, as need arises. This whole panel, above the "kidney pocket" makes a lid for the next level in, the "Fixed Ballistic Helmet Carrier" which I'll get to in a moment. The Fastex clips that jut from the corners of this flap form part of the closure and cinching system for that carrier. When I look at it like this, it looks like the chest piece of a very small plate-carrier, perhaps it would make a good spot for a mascot to ride, keeping an eye on your six...

Next stop is that "Fixed Ballistic Helmet Carrier". As I've mentioned previously, I don't have access to military/LEO-grade arms and armour, but I do have a pretty adventurous life. I recently bought myself a new helmet, a ProTec Classic Skate, which meets my needs of not braining myself whilst doing dumb things. The problem with helmets for bike and skating, at least, is that they can be fragile, which is kind of counter-intuitive, but mostly a Quality Control issue. The guarantee's offered by the manufacturer tend to revolve around the idea of "one-impact-only", I presume the same kind of rules apply for ballistic helmets. I've read similar things about ballistic plates for body-armour, which is why "training plates" are available. SO, having a dedicated pouch for your helmet, rather than slug off the side of you tossed-around pack, is a great idea. Keeps it secure, out of the muck, and lends it a certain amount of padding. This pocket is mesh-sided, presumably to aid in ventilation.

I can tell you, from kendo, pulling a cold, clammy, sweat soaked helmet on the morning-after is never a good thing. The side-cinch clips can also be attached to the top-cinch clips, to stow contents of the helmet-carrier pocket, by putting that "kidney-pocket" MOLLE flap flat, as opposed to upright. Very clever design. Never ones to waste real-estate, the inside of the "helmet-carrier" is lines with 4 rows of 6 channel PALS/MOLLE webbing. You can see that I use mine to stow my camping cutlery and my metal chopsticks. Day to day, this is where I stow my CSI folder, and loose paperwork I "file" and often, the book I'm reading at the time. As well as the mesh-lined pocket, and the webbing, there is also a full sized zippered pocket as well. A second loop-field tops the back-side of the "helmet-carrier" area, which you can see I've migrated my AFT Angry Ranger patch who is part hero/part role model for me, and a Triple Aught Designs Dog&X-bones glowing rubber Ranger Eyes.

Now on to the "main pocket" of the pack. This tall pocket has a zippered closure that runs the length of the domed top of the pack, but not down the sides, giving a mouth-type access to the internal areas. This means two things; items are unlikely to spill out the sides, but you need to dig to get to the bottom if it's full. I'd much rather dig than have my gear either spill out all over, or the zipper failing, and the bag being useless. With a 4/5 closed pocket, this isn't an issue. Inside are two zippered compartments, one over the other, on the front-side face, and an elasticised Internal Bladder Sleeve, which is a great size for an iPad, as it happens.There is a drainage grommet in the bottom of the pack, and the internal stitching is all top-notch. The seams are taped, bartacked and as with all the Platatac packs and pouches, is make up of the same 1000d Cordura. It's probably well worth noting that as well as the elasticised Internal Bladder Sleeve, there is also a hook-and-loop fastening back pocket, which is where I would be putting a hydration bladder in this pack, although it could also be a place to stow items you want kept extra secure and out of sight.
Above both the two hydration pouches are two methods for securing your hydration bladder. A double sided loop of  hook-and-loop, in the "roll to close" format familiar to those of you with laptop power-cords. The second option is a stitched in loop of paracord. As well as these attachment points, there are three eyelets which I have threaded safety-orange paracord through to show the placement. These eyelets emerge from under three of the eleven loops of daisy-chain webbing that is spread over the arch of the main pocket's lip.

This acts both to shield the insides of the pouch from dirt or water ingress, but also gives the user three options for feeding hydration hoses, or cables out of or into the pack. 

At the sides of the pack, are two additional zipperable pouches, each featuring a three row, two channel set of webbing. These pouches are great for all kinds of accessories, I have my needful tools in one, and lights and compass in the other. I put my faithful SIGG bottle FUP pouch on one side, and the Half-Med kit pouch on the other. These twin pouches feature zippers with the similar philosophy of the main pocket: not all the way to the bottom. They won't spill your needfuls if you forget to zip them back up, with a sizable "cup" being left un-zippered at the bottom of each. They also each feature a drainage grommet, for those times when you find yourself taking a fully-laden dunk. You can note at the bottom of this pic, the shoulder strapping fed through the plastic loop.
This is how I mount my Bullock Echo, piggiebacked on my Alpha Hydration pack. This gives me shoulder straps, and whilst not as slim-line as i might have otherwise achieved with just stand-alone removable shoulder-straps, enables me to use my existing kit to build myself a functional day-pack. You can see my CSI folder strapped in, and not going anywhere, and between the top, side and bottom cinch straps (each of which also feature a hook-and-loop retention loop to keep the excess webbing under control). You can see here that I have my two extra pouches affixed, and a cyalume stick at the back. I figure keeping it there gives drivers something to see in their headlights as I cross roads ...

I fed the shoulder straps of the Alpha through the bottom plastic loop of the Bullock Echo, to give it a little bit more cohesion, and so far, its been fairly comfortable.

Best yet, the Bullock Echo holds all my stuff! I down-sized, removed duplicates and the unnecessary, pairing back to just the useful and needful.  Here is my usual load-out, just out of interest:

So, in summary, I'm really happy with the Bullock Echo. It has pretty much solved my day-pack requirements, it has an impressive carriage capacity, modularity and the same ruggedness I've come to expect of Platatac kit. Not having been able to get my hands on a set of those removable shoulder straps is something to look at down the track, and I think I can see the advantage in a set of the zipperable MOLLE panels that enable rapid transfer of one pack (like my MEOP Medic Pouch) to another, either to the Alpha, or onto the back of my MAC Armor Carrier, perhaps.

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