Review: Disciple Extended Ops tactical pack MK II

I have been on the  lookout for a smaller pack -smaller than my existing 80 litre rucksack. I had bought this on sale and red was the only colour available. A brightly coloured pack is not very suitable when trekking out in the wilderness, trying to observe the flora and fauna around you as in nature, bright colours are considered cautionary. Then, an 80 liter pack is good for winter camping, but works out a bit too bulky for using all year round, -unless you are the among those who believe in luxury camping and carry everything including the kitchen sink with them.  Even if you aren’t that kind, empty space in a pack presents an incredible  temptation to fill up with unnecessary stuff, often stuff you would end up not using on the trip. This pack, the ‘Disciple Extended Ops pack MK II’ being an assault/extended Op’s pack  also makes an excellent 72 hour (3 day) bug-out bag.

The contoured strip of aluminum used for stiffening the pack

The contoured strip of aluminum used for stiffening the pack

I didn’t plan on buying this pack, but rather had short-listed the Eberlestock Halftrack. However, after looking at the Disciple’s specs on the RVOps website which I stumbled on through a Google search, I was convinced that this was an acceptable compromise as it would work out about 4000 or so Indian rupees cheaper than the Halftrack.  Like the Halftrack, this too was clad in Multicam, (read more on that below) and was made with 1000 Denier Cordura. It also had a rated volume of about 60 Liters which is just what I was looking for (50 – 60 liters). I liked the specs and therefore placed an order for the pack. Just for the record, the Eberlestock online shop promises to levy an unspecified shipping charge when the order is fulfilled and charges USD 40 extra for Multicam.

The upward folding bottom panel

The upward folding bottom panel

The extra USD 40 could be part of royalties paid  to Crye precision, although I don’t see it affecting the Halftrack’s sales. In fact, it might even end up boosting sales of their own proprietary Uni-cam and the other colours which sell for USD 40 lesser than the Multicam version. However Eberlestock packs can’t be compared in any way to the Disciple. If they are expensive, then they are worth every extra rupee (whatever currency you use) or . If you want to compare Eberlestock with any other brand it would have to be with the likes of Kifaru and others in the same price segment.

I received the pack in four days from RVOps. Actually two of the four days were over the weekend so office was closed. Most of the customers who had left their reviews on  the RVOps  site praised their quick delivery time. The packing was however dismal, just a thick grey polythene bag wrapped at one end with brown

The peel-up reservoir pipe or radio antenna port. Note the top grab handle too.

The peel-up reservoir pipe or radio antenna port. Note the top grab handle too.

packing tape, unlike the super strong cardboard box in which my Lowe Alpine pack was delivered by Moosejaw . The pack was in good shape, but I noticed after unpacking  that it had a single aluminum strip in the center and if someone had sat on the package, it would have been badly damaged -especially as the strip was contoured to fit the wearers back.  Later on I did notice that the strip of aluminium was twisted towards one end, but it cannot be put down as shipping damage as the twist clearly indicates a manufacturing defect, sheer carelessness or poor quality control (all on the manufacturing front). The weight, about a kilo, felt almost as much as that of my 80 liter 600 Denier pack which was comfortable and acceptable.

While RVOps desists from using the term multi-cam on their product page, some other websites probably deliberately misspell and call the pattern “multi-camo”. I wonder whether this is to avoid a lawsuit from Crye. Usually most of the multi-cam pack vendors can’t help boasting about their “genuine Crye multicam” products and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why RVOps, the other vendors or Disciple should want to keep mum about it.  I conclude that the multi-cam might be an Asian knock off of  Crye’s multi-cam. Some other sites too are selling the very same pack  branded differently.

Compression straps around the side pockets

Compression straps around the side pockets

They claim that it is genuine Crye multicam which seems a bit fishy as the pack photograph and price are identical to mine. Templar Assault Systems (whose site is suspiciously under construction as of now like Disciple’s own site) also sells an identical bag. I could be wrong, but I strongly feel that some one else is doing the manufacturing (China?) and all the others are getting their choice of branding  done by them and selling it under different names.

It does have reasonably good quality materials used, but the stitching and scant attention to detail adds the invisible made in China watermark to the pack. There is a lot of confusion with similar bags -designed with slight modifications, some say, “genuine Crye Multi-cam and stitched in a foreign country”. The “multi-camo” however is good. I’ll post some pics when I try it out in the wild. I can’t however comment on how it compares with Crye’s Multicam as I don’t have any genuine Multicam products with me as of now -unless this one is genuine of course.

The front compartment peeled back to reveal the mesh pocket, ID holder, 2 square pockets -1 zipped and phone/GPS pockets

The front compartment peeled back to reveal the mesh pocket, ID holder, 2 square pockets -1 zipped and phone/GPS pockets

A lot of the products on RVOps have videos, but this product did not have any. They also have only a single picture for each of their products which makes an informed decision a bit difficult as the product is visible from one angle only -probably its best angle. Tracing out the manufacturer’s website wasn’t easy either. After playing around with search terms on Google, I found out that the manufacturer had two websites. http://discipletactical.com/ and http://disciple-ose.com/. The former is a one page website with thumbnails of their products and the latter consists of three lines of text, something like the introductory slide in a bland monochrome PowerPoint presentation.  If I had the option of buying directly from Disciple, I would have not done so on account of their site resembling that of a fly by night operator’s website. What was worse is that I could find no reviews of the pack anywhere on the web and most of them had the standard thumbnail (which I too have used at the beginning of this post) and the copy and paste description + specifications of the pack, including a story of it being used by troops in Afghanistan due to its large carry capacity.

I  hope that the bag is genuinely made out of 1000 D cordura as like the Multi-cam thingy, I have nothing to compare it with. It is understandably rougher and thicker that that of my Lowe Alpine pack. Apart from the botched assembly line quality stitching in a couple of places and the flimsy back propped up by a rough improperly ground strip of contoured aluminium in a sleeve, the pack is a delight to behold. The zippers say YKK and the buckles boast that they are Duroflex -both also used in my Lowe Alpine pack, yet there is a difference in quality between the two

The side pouch with elastic webbing loops

The side pouch with elastic webbing loops

(Maybe they are different models?). While the zippers and buckles are not bad, they are quite noisy which is inappropriate for a tactical pack. The design of the bag is excellent and I am happy with the quality of the pack -but only in relation to the price I paid for it. Would it be worth to pay about Rs. 4000 more for the Eberlestock Halftrack? Yes if it was a regular pack, but for a bug out bag which won’t see frequent use, the Disciple OSe pack is adequate.

On the brighter side, I loaded it lightly for testing and it performed quite admirably. Hope it does so on a full load too. It has two side pouches on each side one of which has elastic webbing on the inside for attaching various gear such as a Swiss army knife, a Leatherman, a short torch etc. (Being an assault pack, the elastic webbing loops were probably designed to hold  four 5.56mm AR-15 magazines). The other pouch has a pocket on the side  and can store either a small medical kit, the NATO 58 pattern water bottle with mug  or any other stuff that you need to access frequently. In addition each one has a compression strap running across the pocket on the outside. An additional two compression straps each run around the sides of the pack and two more on the top. This is good as these straps will keep the weight of the bag contents from overloading the zippers or a pack with damaged zippers from spilling out its guts. The biggest compartment is shaped like a small coffin -big enough for a baby to sleep in or a medium sized adult dog.

The coffin with its gear  retaining straps. Towards the right-center you can see the Velcro tab that can be lifted to pull out the aluminium strip and also the elastic mouth of the hydration reservoir compartment

The coffin with its gear retaining straps. Towards the right-center you can see the Velcro tab that can be lifted to pull out the aluminium strip and also the elastic mouth of the hydration reservoir compartment

It also has retaining straps to keep your stuff from sliding around in the pack and changing its center of gravity. The sleeve for the hydration pack lies along the back of  the main compartment. My 3 liter Camelbak fits in perfectly with lots of room to spare on both sides. The pack has 3 well placed grab handles on all three sides of the pack. On either sides of the top grab handle are velcro tabs with can be peeled up to reveal a hole each. Either of them can be used for passing out a hydration tube for drinking water or used to let out a radio antenna, although I couldn’t see a radio rack. (The pack comes without a shred of documentation).

Most of the Pack is covered with PALS webbing. There are 36 loops in the front, 10 on the bottom, 9 loops on each of the side pouches, and 8 loops on each side of the waist belt.  The PALS webbing on the  waist belt is neat, I can now clip my Cammenga compass pouch or an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) to it with their ALICE clips. All the webbing is in “multi-camo” this is where the Disciple pack scores over the Eberlestock. One of the other reviews on the net for a similar bag says that these fade off eventually. I guess only time will tell. At the top of the

The pockets for storing papers or files, the pocket on the other side is not multicam but coyote brown.  Note: Pack is in horizontal position.

The pockets for storing papers or files, the pocket on the other side is not multicam but coyote brown. Note: Pack is in horizontal position.

pack, there is a slot for passing out the headphone leads for an iPod or other MP3 player/headset. The back padding although comfortable seems a bit suspect and only time will tell if it retains its cushioning or  looses its loft and collapses. Most of the cheaper packs in India have this type of padding on the back. The bottom stiffener plate is unique as it folds upward to flatten the pack for shipping or for storage. The waist belt folds flat under your back neatly and doesn’t cause any discomfort if you don’t want to use the waist belt. This is where it scores over my Lowe Alpine pack whose waist band is like the legs of a bloated pig which has been dead 4 days.

PALS webbing all the way and the Velcro patch panel

PALS webbing all the way and the Velcro patch panel

All of the compartments/pouches have eyelets on the bottom which function as drain holes. I am uncertain whether this is a pro or a con, as I don’t want ants or termites nesting inside my pack or snacking on my emergency rations. A tag on the pack said that the pack was DWR coated for water repellency but I will also be buying a multicam rain cover from RVOps in the near future and  therefore plan to close up the holes with some silicon sealant (Sorry 6 legged guys). I might also use one of the side pouches as my first aid kit and don’t want dust and atmospheric humidity pumping in and out of my pack in the process of walking. The drain holes are beneficial only if everything else is packed in a dry sack or in individual waterproof containers like the ones sold by Otterbox or Pelican.

At the bottom of the pack you have two straps hanging from the PALS webbing which can be used either to strap your sleeping bag or tent to the bottom or can be removed and stowed in your pack.  I think its a great option for carrying firewood to camp too! I like this a lot. In addition it has four flat rubber patches which will take the wear and tear off the pack bottom on level ground when the pack is standing up.  It would have been more effective to have large strips of the same material running all the length of the bottom than just 4  patches. There are a couple of vertically zipped large pockets one behind the other in the front  -just behind the PALS webbing which can be useful for storing important documents, maps and Nyrex or plastic files/folders.

The detachable carry straps attached to the PALS webbing on the bottom. Note the four rubber feet.

The detachable carry straps attached to the PALS webbing on the bottom. Note the four rubber feet.

Behind this there is an equal sized mesh pocket which has a zip. Opposite this there are a few small pockets for storing stuff such as a mobile phone, an mp3 player, a GPS  unit and two approx 15 cm square pockets one with a zipper and the other without. However you cannot place stuff which is thick as the pockets are all one on top of the other and sewn flat so that the thickness adds up making the other pockets unusable if one of the pockets is overloaded. Above these pockets is an ID card holder made of good quality, clear, soft  plastic.  Coming back to the outside, the lowest pouch is a short zip up pouch as wide as the width of the pack for storing other frequently required stuff. For the benefit of fellow Indians reading this post, the pouch fits in exactly two PET 500 ml Coke bottles one over the other placed horizontally. Above the PALS webbing on the top of the pack is a coyote coloured Velcro patch for attaching either a name patch, morale patches, a blood group patch, IR patches or a combination of them all. I also like the sternum strap as its buckle is on the left side rather than in the center which I dislike. On the shoulder straps there are two metal D rings for attaching stuff probably using a carabiner or for hanging a camera or binoculars with a compatible strap. The  coyote coloured zipper pulls feel very comfortable to use.

The stingily padded but comfortable back

The stingily padded but comfortable back

I mentioned that the aluminium strip is shoddily finished because after the strip of aluminium (alloy?) was sheared, the strip has not been ground and has left a sharp burr all along the edge which could cause a premature tear in its sleeve in the long run. I  filed off the edges gently and sanded it down with fine emery paper.  In addition I glued strips from a thin sheet of Styrofoam before inserting it back into its sleeve.  The Styrofoam needs to be pretty thin about 1mm or so as the sleeve for the aluminium strip is pretty close fitting. For those multi tasking freaks out there, this strip of contoured aluminium runs straight from one of the ends for a length of about 27 cms before it curves. Graduating it by scratching marks on it, you could end up with a fairly accurate measure for up to one foot. Engrave some conversion tables on the other side and you have a good field expedient tool for tasks requiring measurements for construction or for estimating your stride and then calculating distance using ranger beads.

All said and done, I love this pack. At least on the design front, this pack is a real winner. If some other reputed manufacturer makes a high quality pack with the same design, I’ll buy it without a lot of deliberation. RVOps is also a good place to shop and I will be buying other things from them in the near future! Hope this review clarified some of the questions you had about this or similar packs.

L-R: A local bag, the Disciple and the Lowe Alpine

L-R: A local bag, the Disciple and the Lowe Alpine

Note: Sorry for the bit overexposed photos. Half way through the lights went out, and I thoughtlessly shot the remaining photos in pitch darkness using a Nikon SB 800 Flash

Hands on: [21 to 24th April 2011]

The pack abounds with bad stitching and loose thread

The pack abounds with bad stitching and loose thread

I was finally able to check out the Disciple in action over the Good Friday-Easter weekend as I got invited over for camping over at Yamuna bridge with some friends. this is about a 2hour drive from Mussoorie.

Observations:

  • The pack was comfortable even though it had a tent and bulky sleeping pad attached to the it. I trekked for over 4kms on plain ground (in Delhi) and for approx a kilometre or so on a steep incline near Yamuna bridge.
  • The zippers were a bit hard to use once the pack was loaded. In fact, in real tactical use, I have doubts if one hand could be used to unzip the side pouch to access the magazines for reloading the weapon.
  • I got more loose thread as I used the 3 grab handles to move the pack around.
  • The waist belt clip is solid but pretty hard to depress and unlock. This could become an issue in an emergency where you need to release the pack quickly such as if you lost your footing when crossing a river. On my trip, I therefore left it fastened on the pack.
The contoured aluminium strip used for stiffening the pack runs straight for almost a foot and makes a good field expedient measuring scale for approximate lengths if graduated with a sharp tool.

The contoured aluminium strip used for stiffening the pack runs straight for almost a foot and makes a good field expedient measuring scale for approximate lengths if graduated with a sharp tool.

I will add long term test results if I choose to use this pack for regular camping. However  I bought this pack for use as a bug-out bag and it is quite likely that it will be loaded and stowed rather than put to regular use. I am happy with the bag though and recommend it for purchase to others.

12th June 2011:

What I feared about the back padding finally came to pass. I had left my loaded pack on a steel trunk for a few weeks after my last use in April. The pressure on the back padding caused the top center pad to turn concave. The padding is absolutely useless and will loose its loft under sustained compression. In the three pack picture above, the local bag had its handle padded with a similar material. When the shop owner took it off the peg to show it to me I noticed that the handle had a permanent peg shaped  groove where the padding had got compressed. I asked for a fresh piece and was given one, but this confirms the fact that the Disciple uses the same cheap padding that my locally made pack uses. That’s a minus point keeping in mind the price at which the Disciple retails.

14th June 2011:

Note the bottom drain holes with eyelets on all pockets/compartments

Note the bottom drain holes with eyelets on all pockets/compartments

My Tru-Spec multi-cam boonie hat arrived yesterday. When I compared its genuine multi-cam pattern with the “multi-camo” of the Disciple, I could observe differences not only in patterning but also in the shades. The genuine multicam was darker than the Disciple’s multi-camo which appeared faded out. This is just an observation that I felt you should know and not a negative remark on the Disciple.

26th June – 2nd July 2011:

Week long trip to Corbett National Park in Ramnagar… Official trip, so pack travelled mostly in our Mahindra Bolero Jeep. Felt comfortable carrying it to and fro from my house to the pick up point… roughly a kilometre in each direction. No metal this time -knives, khukuris, shovel’s, batons or stoves only a DSLR camera, binoculars, clothes and toiletries in addition to some IT hardware. Feels comfortable when its lightly loaded. My friends liked the pack and admired it.

23rd August 2011: Checking out some of the other web sites, it looks like Disciple Tactical has now started calling their “Multi-cam” or “multi-camo”,  Multi Terrain Environment Camouflage (MTE C). That’s good for them. It looks good too!

20th Nov 2013:

I just love this bag and take it every where with me. I only wish it was better made and more polished. I’ve decided not to use a conspicuous bag like this as my bug out bag but something more discreet so I’ve ended up travelling regularly with this bag.

This post has been read 450 times :-)

Enjoyed this post? Share it!

 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


+ 4 = seven