29 November 2012

Hill People Gear 'Kit Bag' a Hunter's Perspective

 My first impressions of the kit bag were good, and have really only gotten better since I started using it. I've tried different loadouts almost weekly except for a two week period where what I was carrying remained static, a result of hunting season but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hill People Gear (HPG) is a small family based company producing some truly innovative products designed for backcountry travelers, their gear more designed for users, not so much North Face pimps who never leave the sidewalk.

From their website:
There is a bewildering array of outdoor gear you can choose from in this day and age, with REI and EMS being almost as common as 7-elevens. However, the popularity of outdoor pursuits have pushed a lot of gear design in the direction of fashion rather than function. "Fast and Light" is just as much of a fashion imperative now as the neon clothing colors were a few years ago. In some cases there is real function there, and in some cases not.
At Hill People Gear, our focus is timeless designs that solve unsolved problems using the best advantages of modern materials. We think in terms of what will work for someone living close to the land day in and day out over a period of time. Some of our products will appeal to hunters, some of them will appeal to soldiers, and some of them will appeal to folks who are looking for simple, functional, and reliable gear. Most of all, we'd like to think that our gear would be the first choice of our "Hill People" forebearers if they were around today.
The company is headed up by brothers Evan and Scott Hill, both of whom grew up out of doors and never got far from that root. Their experience coupled with input from other users has given them a unique perspective in my opinion. They've used top end gear themselves from other makers, and they've found ways to improve certain products while also bringing very original designs to market. Their Mountain Serape for example is a truly innovative piece of gear. I'll be writing about that one in the future.

I don't remember where I saw the first kit bag, or even if the first one I saw was indeed a HPG kit bag or if it was a Kifaru Koala which is a similar piece of gear, and in fact there is a reason for that, Evan designed it. What I do remember thinking was that 'there's a damn fine idea', and the reason it's a damn fine idea is simple really. The original concept was to facilitate discrete pistol carry while also carrying a full sized backpack on your back. Carrying in the kit bag put the handgun at center chest, I guess you could say at a classic position sul, albeit a bit high. The design is such that for those who wish to carry a handgun while wearing a pack on the back, likely with a waist belt, can do so comfortably on the chest in a kit bag.

That was the original intent. It didn't take long however for users to see the benefits, even if they were not packin' heat. Any one who has to carry stuff, wants to stay organized, has a need for quick access to things or will be repeatedly accessing certain items like a compass for example, will find huge benefit in the kit bag. Which incidentally is one of four models now, and the largest of the four. Others are seen here. As an example of use without a handgun in the mix, during rifle season I carried my Leupold 10x42s in the center compartment with a spool of bankline and a tracking + field dressing kit, a 10x7 ultralight tarp in the pistol compartment with a couple granola bars, and all of my navigation, fire, and other miscellaneous goods in the front pocket.

We all carry stuff, be it day to day, backcountry, runners, gunners, drivers, you name it we carry stuff. For me personally, there are some critical pieces of gear that I classify as first line, meaning they need to be attached or on my person in such a fashion that I cannot be easily parted with them. I'm not a fan of stuffed cargo pockets, I hate being disorganized, I don't like having to sort through my backpack for critical to me gear and kit. I like having things at my finger tips. The kit bag puts whatever you want, in a highly organized manner, right at your fingertips and under your eyes, literally.

Kit Bag in Ranger Green in this image there is a full size Glock 35 in the rear compartment.

The material is highly durable and abrasion resistant, 500d cordura, they are sewn in the USA by First Spear. If I had a fault with the material it's related to how noisy it can be under certain circumstances. Because of the material, the weave and nature of it any limb that it hits, sapling limbs or branches for example, walking through thickets etc, all of this makes noise when the contact occurs. To me it seemed very loud, in context this is the wilds, it's quiet or at least I'm trying to be quiet. This material isn't. I've adapted to it, putting my arm which is usually covered with wool up between the bag and object that might pop or rub against it. This is a short term solution, longer term I believe I'm going to mod up a piece of wool or fleece that can be connected to the bag's top two and bottom two tabs. In the image above for example, you can see the coyote brown d-ring. This would make a great place to attach a simple rectangular piece of cover made of some soft and silent fabric.

Zippers are stout and unfortunately loud, which can be combated by gripping the zipper base in the palm of the hand with the hand closed instead of just pulling the zipper pull itself. Sounds more complicated than it is, just imagine trying to muffle the sound the zipper makes by cupping your hand around it while using it.

 There are three compartments.  The first, on the front of the bag is a flat pocket with two internal slash pockets for organization. Also a couple points to dummy cord important things like a compass.

The middle compartment is the hauler, ample space for a fair bit of kit and another two organizations pockets. The rear compartment is for concealed carry, or other items of course. It does not have slash pockets but does feature a strip in the center of loop material for affixing hook and loop organizers or holsters. There's also a loop in the bottom center for dummy cording.

Straps and back panel are same material, back panel is mesh and using it under a pack was not an issue. It's thin, offered no problems or bunching, worked like a charm. Easy to get on and off. Well thought out and executed.

In this image there is a pair of 10x42 Leupold binoculars in the center compartment and a 10x7 tarp in the rear.

I don't foresee any quality concerns, stitching is top shelf, material and zippers are both highly durable and plenty rugged. Color availability is Ranger Green, Coyote Brown, Foliage, and Multicam. I'm starting to swing towards Ranger Green, sometimes called smoke green as it blends here better than any of the other offerings. In fact it doesn't do a bad job of blending in during all four seasons here.

I've seen commentary around the kit bag elsewhere, suggesting the kit bag is too large if you only intend to use it as a chest mounted possibles bag. I completely disagree with this suggestion, for hunters. Perhaps if your soul intended use is concealed backcountry carry then this might be true, however, for myself and most of the actual hunters that I know this bag is used for more than a pistol centric carry option. Game calls, for example, binoculars, communications when  using GMRS radios or the like. Of course all of these things could be relocated to belt pouches on the backpack or in the backpack but now we're back to being tethered to the backpack at all times. Hunting out of a base camp, which is my preferred method, usually means I'm going light and leaving the bulk of my gear behind. The kit bag offers a comfortable carry option for the critical necessities I like to carry. Again, if your central purpose is using the chest pack as a pistol carry platform then I guess maybe so, I just find it damn hard to believe that a pack with so much to offer would be relegated to a simple pistol humping platform. Each his own.

All of the miscellaneous items I consider first line critical kit are in the bag and it's completely out of the way and utterly unobtrusive. I've affixed a spudz lens cleaner from Kuiu Gear to the zipper pull, this makes cleaning lenses on scopes, binoculars or even glasses easy, and keeps the microfiber cloth out of pockets where they pick up debris and end up scratching lenses. 

The kit bag is designed with tabs at the top where grimlocs can be used, for hanging on another pack, or for use with a Lifter Kit for docking to a host pack.  There are a pair of bottom loops on the kit bag that are located at either end that are used to connect another pack or in conjunction with a stabilizer kit that will keep the bag from bouncing while running. I would encourage you to review these features at the HPG website as I've not used either as of this time. If you follow this link and scroll down below the picture set you'll find the instructions for using the lifter straps. I simply haven't needed to. One of the reasons I was drawn to the pack was carrying critical items independently of my backpack. For this reason I really don't see me ever using the docking capability, at least right now and since I don't do much running through the woods I don't think I'll be using the stabilizer either.

So far I've been pretty satisfied with the kit bag, really satisfied. I've been able to shed the pockets off my pack's waist belt which I was never fond of anyway. All of my critical gear is affixed to me, the items I access a lot are right where I needed them, not in a pocket, not hanging around my neck.

I'll do a longer term thoughts and impressions in a couple months, right now I'm still in the honeymoon I guess. I'm stoked about this kit bag as it's fulfilling multiple roles and completely eliminated some other carry options. Even beyond handgun carry it has proven itself at carrying glass, or camera lenses, along with shelter, hydro, navigation, fire and so on. If you've been considering alternatives to traditional carry methods or if you are looking for a pistol carry option in the backcountry you could do a lot worse than HPG's kit bag. For the price point, quality, and layout and features you could definitely do a whole lot worse.

Check out the Kit bag and the other three models, I'm pretty sure that if you're looking for a chest pack they have what you want.


  1. Have you found that the chest pack interferes with archery at all. I like the idea but I am worried about it catching the string.

    1. So far no. I'm drawing right at 30"s and have plenty of string clearance with anchor at the corner of the mouth. I think perhaps Olympic form, vertical bows and an over stuffed kit bag might would present an issue. For me and a canted longbow it's not even close to the string catching.

  2. "North Face pimps"
    Very funny AG- I like that.

    1. Heh, me too. I should say it is a good company with good products, just vastly over hyped. Brand recognition I guess. I've seen more of it in airports and offices than I've ever seen 'out there'.

  3. Thanks for the review!!! I've been looking at these for a long time and even got to try one on yesterday. I'm pretty much convinced that I need one.

    1. Figure it would be damn nice as a chest pack for that bike camping that you do.

    2. Yep... just ordered one today! Like you said, it's good to have your important gear with you when you shed your pack. I have a bunch of different packs I use depending on what I'm doing. I hate pulling stuff out of my pack to put into another pack all the time.

    3. 10-4, hope it works well for us. If you put anything up on line about it I'd appreciate it if you post a link to it.

  4. Is the bag already water resistant/proof? If not, I wonder if waxing the fabric and seams would do that for you, and possibly also affect the amount of noise it makes when touched. Wax in those small spaces might smooth out the surface of the fabric and give it less of a tooth for objects to zipper against.

    1. I've had mine out in some light rain and snow, nothing like a heavy driven rain though. I'm curious about how that would work and perform, never given any thought to waxing this kind of material. I think I'm going to give this a try, thanks for the suggestion.

  5. My HPG Kit has been a real eye-opener. I initially wondered if having a pack on my chest would be an annoyance, but it turned out to be just the opposite. The benefits are many.

    I love having what I need right in front of me, without having to take my pack off and dig through it.

    And, when I do use it in combination with a backpack, it means I can usually get away with using a smaller backpack, and have the load more evenly distributed front and back, rather than all on my back.

    It's also really nice to have a functional, easy to deploy, CCW option that doesn't look like tactical geek wear.

    As a bonus, it's always nice to find top-quality gear that's made in the USA, for a reasonable price.