Blackhawk Products, Ultra Light-Weight Phoenix Pack
Pat Cascio 10.17.13
Selecting a backpack for any outdoor activity is a very subjective thing for most folks. And to be sure, there is no one single backpack that will suit all your needs. Unfortunately, for most in the military, they don’t have a choice. You take and use what is issued to you, period! Of course, the SpecOps guys have a lot more discretion in this area. They mostly get to choose what works for them from any number of high-quality makers. One of the best makers is Blackhawk Products. I’ve been using and testing many of their products for years, and they have yet to disappointment me.
I’m extremely picky about a backpack, even more so as I approach social security age. I’m the first to admit that I can’t hump around in the boonies any longer with a huge CFP 90 pack loaded with all the gear I’d like to haul. So, over the years, I’ve downsized my backpacks several times, each time getting a little wiser and the packs a little smaller and better. Look, you honestly don’t have to have a super-large backpack to operate in the field, or for backpacking or for that matter, as a BOB (Bug Out Bag)! Learn to pack smarter! Besides, no matter what you place in a backpack, there will always be something you’ll discover that you forgot or something that you needed. Living out of a backpack is not something for the long-term. It’s a compromise. So, no matter what backpack you select, it won’t be “perfect” for your needs so select carefully.
I have a now discontinued pack from Blackhawk Products, and, like all things, there is an on-going evolution in design and materials when it comes to backpacks. I’m content with the pack I’ve had for several years. It serves my purposes, it’s comfortable, and it holds the things I need with some room leftover. But Blackhawk Products recently came out with a new pack that really caught my attention. It’s called the Ultra Light-Weight Phoenix Pack, and this is one sweet pack.
Specs and Features
Many packs are manufactured out of 1000 Denier Nylon, and it’s some pretty stout material that will hold-up to a lifetime of use with a little care. However, the Ultra Light-Weight Phoenix pack is constructed out of high-tenacity 210/330 denier nylon and 210 denier ripstop nylon, which is a combination of several similar materials.
Now I’ve compared this pack to my older 1000 denier nylon pack, and there is a slight — ever so slight — difference in the thickness of the denier nylon. It’s not significant enough to really be concerned with, though. The Ultra Light-Weight Phoenix Pack will, with a little care, last you for as long as you own it. This pack is available in three colors: desert tan, black, and multi-cam. I elected to get one in desert tan for testing.
There are two large, outer, zippered pockets on the pack, and one of the pockets has another pocket within the pocket — a great place for storing maps or high-energy bars. The pack is 2,175 cubic inches, and that is a lot more room than you think it is. It’s called a light-weight pack for a reason: empty, it only weighs 2.65-lbs, which is about half or less of comparable packs made out of the heavier 1000 denier nylon.
One of the first things I look at in any backpack are the shoulder straps. If the straps aren’t wide and nicely padded, I’m not interested in the pack. I don’t want skinny and thin straps cutting into my shoulders if I’m out hiking, bugging out, or (if I were still in the military) out on patrol. This pack has nicely configured shoulder straps that are wide, but not too wide, and they are padded for comfort.
On top of the shoulder straps are two adjustment straps so you can carry the pack higher or lower on your back. This is a great idea, and it makes the pack all that much more comfortable. There is also a waist strap, and, while it’s plenty wide with enough adjustments, I would have liked to have seen this a tad bit thicker. There’s nothing wrong with the waist strap as it comes, but I have personal preferences just like everyone else. The waist strap fastens with a quick detach buckle for easy on/off too. There is also a small chest strap, and believe it or not they really do come in handy. There are “D” rings on the shoulder straps as well.
The outside back of the pack is light-weight nylon, and it allows the pack and your back to “breathe” a little bit. You can also remove the chest and waist straps if you don’t use them, but I wouldn’t remove either strap. There is S.T.R.I.K.E. webbing on the entire pack should you wish to attach MOLLE-type gear. There are four compression straps that many people mistakenly don’t use. The compression straps help keep all the gear in the pockets tightly packed so there isn’t anything banging or clanging around inside the pack. It also makes everything nice and tidy, too. The pack is compatible with the Blackhawk Hydration System. On the outside back of the pack there are Velcro attaching points for putting your name or unit on the pack if you’re in the military.
For testing, I didn’t unload my other Blackhawk pack; I have it set-up just the way I want it. I just started stuffing a lot of gear into the Ultra Light-Weight Phoenix Pack — medical supplies, MREs, clothing, spare rifle magazines, and just about anything else I could grab from my “extras” box of gear. Now, as with all packs, especially one like this that has a lot of adjustments points, you’ll find that once you put the pack on and adjust it, you’ll need to adjust it several more times as you walk until you get it just right. However adjustments are quick and easy.
I was favorably impressed with the Ultra Light-Weight Phoenix Pack, as was my wife and oldest daughter. My youngest daughter will be home soon. She’s getting discharged from the US Army after serving her 4 year enlistment as a Combat Medic. Her plans are to fly to New Zealand in November and hike from one end of the country to the other. So, before I decide who gets this new pack, she has first crack at it. She’s very picky about packs, and I honestly don’t know if she’ll snatch it up or not. It would be a great pack for her 2,000-mile trek. If she doesn’t want it, then it will be a fight between the oldest daughter and the wife to see who lays claim to it.
If I wasn’t already sold on the Blackhawk pack I now have, I’d keep this one for myself. Also, if you want a heavier duty pack, you can go with the standard Phoenix Pack. It’s made out of 1000 Denier Nylon, but it weighs more, so be advised. Like all the Blackhawk Products I’ve tested over the years, this pack is first-class in all respects. Quality never comes cheap. This pack retails for $189.99, but it’s worth every red cent if you ask me.
As an aside, I’ve been taken to task by some readers for listing retail prices on products I test. I hear from folks who say they can find the same product for less money some place else. That’s great! However, I honestly don’t have the time to surf the ‘net to find the lowest prices on the products I test. So, that’s why I list the retail prices on things. Feel free to check around for the best prices you can find.