To paraphrase T. S. Elliot: Summer is the cruelest season. Warm weather makes carrying anything – weapons or more mundane items -- difficult. We don’t have jackets and coats to conceal the gear on our beltlines, and neither do we have the pockets that they provide. Try carrying, while wearing shorts and a jersey, a “normal” EDC load-out: knife, keys, change, wallet, badge case (never carry your badge in your wallet), handkerchief, cell phone, pen, paper, and any other personal or medical items you normally carry. Then if you’re armed, you need to schlep a gun, OC, spare mag, light, and maybe a trauma kit. And then, if you’re on-duty, add in cuffs, comms, and other assignment-specific items. You can’t do it; there aren’t enough pockets or space on your belt!
That’s why, with all its compromises, off-body carry in a bag is often the way to go. It’s not the best way to carry a gun, to be sure, but it is often the only practical way. Large sling bags – over 600 cubic inches or thereabouts -- can get uncomfortable once the load starts to get heavy, and I prefer small- to medium-size backpacks then. But for carrying a few extra items, including a gun, small sling packs are a great option. They aren’t so big that you look geeky with one, but they aren’t so small that they look inappropriate for a man to carry And there is a trick to help mitigate the disadvantages of off-body carry.
For years now there have been a number of excellent bags available that fill the need. The ones from the reputable vendors are often extremely well-built and full-featured. But until recently most of them were also quite “tactical” looking, what with their military colors and PALS webbing. Lately though, we’re now seeing completely “civilian”-looking versions of tactical carry gear bags and packs. These look like something that you bought at an outdoor store, not a cop shop, and they won’t give you away.
The Blackhawk Diversion Carry Slingpack and the Kelty Tactical Sling Bag are excellent examples of a completely “gray” bag, in a small sling pack configuration. Both are smallish – about 250 cubic inches, both measuring about 14 x 8 inches. Both are tear-dropped shaped, come in civilian colors, and do not in any way look like a gun bag. Both have three main compartments with the gun compartment where it should be – closest to your body. Both rear gun compartments are full-width and height, fully loop-Velcro lined, and semi-rigid. They allow you to use any hook-backed holster and mag pouch, and will accept a full-size pistol. Kelty’s comes with two basic hook-backed elastic-loop holsters, while the Blackhawk unit includes a full-area zip mesh pocket in the gun compartment.
The center compartments on both are also full-width and height, and each has a couple admin pockets. The outer compartment of each is about half-height and width—a good size for a smart phone. Both bags feature top-notch materials and construction, padded backs, and carry loops, both straps are lined with tacky material, and both are very comfortable to carry.
How do they differ? The Blackhawk bag is very slightly bigger and is ambidextrous (the strap can be configures for left- or right-hand carry, and the gun compartment can be zip-opened from either side. The Kelty unit comes in a right configuration. Kelty’s is made from 210D nylon ripstop, while Blackhawks is constructed of 420D nylon – Kelty’s actually feels ever so slightly thicker to the hand. Kelty’s also has a waist-strap and a small exterior mesh pocket that will accept flip-phone sized items. The Blackhawk bag has two S.T.R.I.K.E. rows for pouch attachment, and the zippers of the gun compartment are lockable.
Finally, both bags have MSRPs of around $50, and both are truly excellent choices for carrying a gun and a few other items.