I seem to be developing a bit of a tactical manbag fetish, as evidenced by my recent Maxpedition purchases (courtesy of the strong aussie dollar, or, more likely, the shit US dollar). I ordered a Kodiak, but was accidently shipped a Malaga. The seller was happy to pay return shipping, but instead I offered to buy the Malaga, with a discount equal to the return shipping fee.
I was looking for a replacement for my aging mountain designs canvas pack, which while still functional, lacked the organisational capabilities I wanted for everyday use. With a single main compartment with a drawstring and hood closure, two zip slip pockets on the exterior and one small pocket in the hood, I was constantly taking the pack off and digging around the main compartment to find things. It is really robust and durable (try using a normal daypack as a deflector to push your way through thick lantana and see how it holds up), having smooth lines and heavy canvas material, it isn’t big enough or easy enough to access for day hikes, and a bit annoying as an every day bag. The shoulder straps are also quite wide, which is normally (and when I bought it) a good thing as it stops the straps cutting into your neck. However, with one dodgy reconstructed shoulder, I’ve been finding it a bit uncomfortable.
With that, I thought that the Kodiak could fit me needs – asymmetrical gearslinger design for easy access and good comfort (comparitively), large capacity which would allow me to carry my EDC manbag contents and extras (groceries, etc) if needed, and being maxpedition, plenty tough enough.
When the Malaga arrived I initially wasn’t that interested, since it was a bit uncomfortable to wear, and there was no easy access when the bag was swung around from the back, since all of the pockets are top entry rather than side entry. That all changed though when I realised that if you wore it slung across a shoulder at the front, then rotated it around the back (so it is slung sideways across your back), it actually suddenly works really well. Swing the Malaga to the front and you have easy access to all the pockets. It also seems to position the strap a bit further away from your neck, which makes it a whole lot more comfortable for me. Add a shoulder pad to the plain webbing which now sits on your shoulder, and you’re in business.
As far as organisational capability goes, the Malaga is pretty damn good. The two smaller front compartments have lots of dividers and pockets, which gives you a place for pretty much everything you need quick access to. The main compartment has a flap with a few more compartments, as well as two slip compartments front and back that have velcro closure flaps. There is also an exterior compartment on the back for carrying a water bladder (or concealed carry, but that isn’t really relevant to me). I found that I could fit pretty much everything in my normal every day carry (ipad, flashlights, knives, leatherman, water bottle, survival kit, first aid kit, trauma bandage etc, with a bit of spare space – another two 1L nalgene bottles would fit. Not exactly enough to carry a fleece or groceries, but still pretty functional as a manbag. Add a few pouches to the sides (Mini Rollypoly Dump Pouch for a water bottle, 7x5x2 Vertical GP Pouch, etc) and a bit more space can be had. One thing I do find annoying is that the top front compartment only has a single zipper pull. Double zipper pulls would make access so much easier.
(I’m not a big fan of adding pouches to the front of bags – this can shift the centre of gravity out too much making the bag feel heavier, and also makes it more likely to get caught up on things)
When the Kodiak arrived, I was actually a bit disappointed. I felt a lot larger and bulkier than I thought it would. Compared to a Falcon-II backpack (which supposedly has a higher capacity by about 35%) it just feels a lot fatter. This might be because the falcon is quite deep, but has good compression straps so when not full it is still a bit sleeker.
When the Kodiak is only lightly packed, such as with my normal every day carry items. The two front compartments don’t really pack that well – they’re quite deep, but since they open 75% of the way around (for vertical and side access) I don’t like putting things in there that aren’t secured, since it is a lot easier for them to fall out. Since the compartments open 75%, they really more clamshells than pockets. The top front pocket is especially bad for this. Some elastic straps o the lid would have made that space much more useful. As such, I found the extra depth of these compartments pretty much useless. Also, since the two common modes of access are vertical and horizontal, everything seems to just fall into the bottom corner. Combine this with not very effective compression straps, means the Kodiak takes on a kind of fat arse look, with everything piling up in the bottom corner. The top Y-compression strap works ok, but given the size of the pack it just needs some side compression straps too. One other issue I have is the external pocket for a water bottle. Because of the way you access the pack, it is actually quite useless, given that a water bottle is one of the things I access the most. Instead I keep my water bottle in the main compartment. The pocket isn’t completely useless though – not bad for storing wet/dirty items. At the moment, I use it to keep a length of 5mm rope, which doesn’t fit neatly anywhere in the other compartments.
All that said, the Kodiak still functions pretty well – the front pockets and internal pockets in the main compartment give plenty of organisation, and access is a breeze by swinging the pack around.
I also bought a Janus pocket extension with the idea of using this for quick access stuff (wallet, phone, flashlight etc). I found that it doesn’t really work that well. The strap extension makes the straps too long, and even if you just slip it on the strap (where it slides around because of the lack of velcro) it kind of gets in the way.
So, really, both the Kodiak and Malaga are pretty good, although a few improvements could be made. The Kodiak is pretty good as an everyday urban backpack. Big enough to carry extra stuff when you need it (although it will hurt your shoulder a bit if you overload it), but still provides good organisation and easy access. Add some side compression straps to help it keep its shape when empty, and slim down/improve the front compartments and it’d be almost perfect.
The Malaga makes a pretty good manbag for every day use. Carries and organises all the bits and pieces well, and has a bit of room for extras. A few good spots for extra pouches to add capacity if required. About the only improvement I would ask for is to make the top front compartment a double zipper pull instead of just a single zipper pull.
Lets hope maxpedition hear this!