There’s one feature I prize above all in the gear I use; quality comes in the form of functional minimalism. I hate carrying more than I have to and as such I don’t often carry much. So I decided that I’d take on this last deer season with a single piece of gear… and ended up with a very functional multi-part system instead.
I contacted the folks at Hill People Gear to see about getting my hands on one of their kit bags. For those unaware of this classification of gear, a kit bag is essentially a chest-mounted, self-contained zippered pouch. It has a binocular-style harness and is fully adjustable.
There are several varieties of these available from HPG. Some are small and smooth, while others are larger and have integrated webbing for accessory mounting. They have combinations that can fit any need and are truly multi-purpose.
The kit bag itself is spacious. The model I got was their Heavy Recon version. It was apparent upon inspection that this is one seriously well-made piece of gear. The stitching was entirely professional without a single loose thread.
The first time I wore it, though, I was a bit unsure of the overall utility. It didn’t take long before I was convinced.
With the pack mounted on my chest, there’s nothing I don’t have immediate access to. I wore it while practicing at the range and on walks and hikes. My total loadout with a snubbie inside weighed about five pounds. That may not seem like much, but even five pounds carried over ten miles gets heavy. But not so much using this remarkable little guy.
I discovered that I favored carrying the kit bag without gear mounted on the outside. When lying prone, anything strapped to the Heavy Recon was noticeable and a bit bumpy, so I opted to carry my AICS-pattern magazines on the inside when hunting.
I began my season trying to limit myself in terms of gear as I’d grown tired of cumbersome packs and pouches on my walk-ins. I thought that the kit bag was going to be my one-and-only, but fate and Hill People managed to convince me otherwise.
Along with the Kit Bag, HPG sent what I can only describe as the most comfortable and functional backpack I’d had the pleasure of carrying.
The Umlindi Pack was something that I wasn’t really interested in trying when I talked with Hill People. Backpacks were backpacks as far as I was concerned. But I couldn’t be any happier with it.
The sheer amount of adjustability the Umlindi affords is hard to list, but the fact that the pack was modular made it all that much sweeter. Included with the Umlindi was a removable padded belt with webbing. This belt also works as a standalone and is among the more comfortable battle belts I’ve tried over the years. There are two small hooks that extend from the Umlindi and attach to the sides of the belt to integrate it and help bear the load.
The system doesn’t stop there. When you put it on first, the Heavy Recon is able to integrate into the Umlindi by means of D-Rings and lift straps. The kit bag links to the shoulder straps of the pack and the load on your chest is magically gone.
It’s difficult to describe how well this pack carries unless you compare it to other gear that’s not as well designed. . I’ve carried heavy packs for both competition and work and nothing to date can come close as far as comfort is concerned.
The Umlindi, however, fits right in. I really enjoy the fact that it looks like a regular backpack. I say ‘regular’ because there is definitely a line where ‘tactical’ begins and sanity ends. While on the large side for EDC use, I’ve made the Umlindi my daily carry pack and it has shined in that role.
To put this gear though its paces, I did everything I could with the Umlindi, logging over 100 miles of hiking and walking in Michigan’s late fall and winter with it. I used it in my training regimen and varied the weight regularly. It saw loads as heavy as fifty pounds and as light as a Jimmy Johns #10 and a couple beers.
I’ve had other packs literally fall apart after only a few hikes, but the Umlindi is still like new, even after slips and spills into water and dirt. It just keeps going.
The pack also served as my range bag, tool bag, duffle for visiting relatives, and catchall/bookbag at my job. At no point was the pack unable to evenly handle the load or did it get uncomfortable. I’ve put this pack through a wide range of normal to strenuous use and it hasn’t stopped surprising me. When the weather breaks here in the Wolverine State, I plan to bike and trail ride with both the Kit Bag and Umlindi.
At this point I’d list the gear’s negatives, but friends, I frankly couldn’t find a darned thing that I wasn’t happy with. And I tried. My other pack, an Eberlestock GS2, gets heavy after a couple miles, but is great for toting a rifle. It is, however, a military pack and isn’t necessarily meant for daily commutes. Still, operators have to operate so I won’t judge.
If you find yourself in the market for a better way to carry your gear — whether in the field or on your daily commute — look no further than Hill People Gear. Dealing with them is an experience in old-school charm and, to top it off, they are a family-owned company that makes their products in Western Colorado.
Their gear is of a substantially higher quality than foreign-made gear I’ve tried and it shows in their attention to detail. You may notice that their prices are shockingly reasonable for top-of-the-line American-made goods. Retail on the Heavy Recon Kit Bag is $106.95 as of this writing and $204.60 for the Umlindi. Considering the vast array of uses these items have, the cost is well worth the benefits.
Specifications: Heavy Recon Kit Bag
Weight: 1.40 lb
Length: 1.50 in
Width: 11.50 in
Height: 7.50 in
Volume: 129.38 in3 (approx. 2 liters)
Specifications: Umlindi Backpack
Weight: 2.82 lb
Length: 6.50 in
Width: 11.00 in
Height: 19.00 in
Volume: 1358.50 in3 (approx. 22.25 liters)
Ratings (out of five Stars):
Design: * * * * *
Both the Umlindi pack and the Heavy Recon are extremely well thought-out with no wasted space or non-functional features.
Ergonomics: * * * * *
There isn’t a pack that I’ve worn that has carried as well for as many miles as the Umlindi. When combined with the Heavy Recon and belt, the system sets the standard for comfort.
Modularity: * * * * *
Not only are Hill People Gear packs and gear compatible with each other, but they’re able to accept anything from pouches to bladders and then some. I like that the Umlindi can transform from hiking pack to computer bag in seconds.
Value: * * * * *
You may think I’m crazy for giving a $200+ pack and a $100 chest rig five stars for value, it makes sense when you realize that this three-piece kit can cover all but the last 1% of imagined uses. It’s hard to find gear this good and versatile at any price.
Quality: * * * * *
If you haven’t gathered by now, I’m seriously impressed with both Hill People Gear’s products. The seams alone show great attention to detail. I was unable to find a flaw or popped stitch anywhere on any of the three items.
Overall: * * * * *
Not to gush, but five stars isn’t really enough here. For many this set-up will be the holy grail of gear offerings. Just like the grail (in the Indiana Jones version, at least), simplicity is often passed over for ostentatious display and utility is lost in the process. Not so here.