Submitted by Eric Daniel
The time has come for me to invest in a more efficient rucksack. Currently I'm using the CFP-90, and while it has been a trooper, and is certainly capable of hauling everything and then some, I'm in the market for something more efficient. I like the CFP's large barrel design; it make it very easy to stuff things into. However, at night, when you're looking for something specific, it can be a bit difficult to find what your looking for because you have to search vertically for things - having the ability to lay the pack out on the ground and search horizontally would be a better option. Another drawback to the CFP is the fact that its external pouches are fixed, in both size and location (not to mention the annoying fact that the cover flap fasteners are loop through designs rather than buckle down, so that there is no effective way to cinch down the flap over the pouch.) Finally, the CFP is based on the old ALICE system of accessory attachment, which relies on the use of metal clip fasteners, which, I have discovered over the years, are prone to failure in high torque situations (and the fact that there are only a couple of ALICE "bands" on the CFP to place things.)
At the end of the day, what I decided I was looking for was something of equal portage capacity (5,000 cu. in. range), with multiple access points to the main compartment, external compression straps to lash large items, like snivel gear, to the outside, and MOLLE compatibility so that I could customize the pack externally for my mission requirements.
One of the packs that caught my eye was the CHIEF (Composite Hybrid Interchangeable Ergonomic Framesheet) patrol pack by Granite Gear. Granite invested a number of years in developing this pack for the SOF community (one test involved dropping a 100lb pack from a height of 35 feet to test for deformation or loss of pack integrity), eventually being awarded a contract to provide 45,000 of them. While Granite describes the pack as a patrol pack (a different company was awarded the contract for the SOF rucksack) the CHIEF's internal portage capacity is the same as the CFP-90's. In addition, the CHIEF has all those features I was looking for. To begin with, you can load the pack from the top, as a conventional pack, or unzip the front panel, exposing the entire pack (internal load compression straps take the load off the side zippers to prevent zipper blowouts.) In addition, every exposed surface is covered in MOLLE straps, giving you the ability to attach essentially anything anywhere. In addition to the main compartment, the CHIEF also features a pair of radio ports on the left and right side of the pack's upper surface (allowing you to run multiple whip antennae through) as well as bottom mounted hydration ports. I particularly like the bottom mounted hydration ports as these keep the lines under your arms, effectively "out of sight, out of mind" where they are less likely to snag on overhead obstructions, like branches and brush. This position also makes for easier drinking, as the drink valve is pointing directly up at you, eliminating the need to either go looking for the valve over your shoulder, or using some sort of right angle accessory to reposition the valve.
Some other things I didn't know about the CHIEF; the heavy duty Cordura nylon fabric has been chemically treated to reduce the pack's IR signature. No, it won't make you thermally invisible, but it will reduce your operability (I spoke with Jeff Knight, CEO of Granite Gear and pack designer and he said the treatment would last the lifetime of the fabric, so there was no need or requirement to re-treat the pack.) All fasteners are plastic fastek-type, and the shoulder straps have a quick disconnect feature, which allow you to jettison the pack in a hurry if needed (again, I asked Jeff about the durability of these fasteners, and specifically about the reliability of the QR ones on the shoulder straps (on some of the older QR ALICE pack straps, the fastener would pull apart under a heavy load) and he said that they didn't experience any issues with fastener failure during the testing of the pack, nor was there a load limit; if you wanted to haul your anvil collection to the top of the Khyber Pass, the CHIEF would do it.) While the CHIEF features a stand alone framesheet, suspension system and support belt for customized pack fit and maximum range of motion, all this can be removed and the CHIEF can be used in conjunction with the standard ALICE rigid frame and straps (Please note: According to Jeff, the ALICE pack compatibility feature is only available on the "original" or gen. 1 CHIEF packs, which are the ones currently available to the public. In order to meet SOF weight requirements, the ALICE frame support feature was eliminated from the gen. 2 packs which are currently in production for SOF and not publicly available.) Finally, the pack is compatible with body armor, which is to say you can still put it on when you're wearing your plates and what not (one of the SOF requirements was that the pack support 90 lbs of equipment and be body armor compatible.)
The only downside to the CHIEF is its price. At $400 (there is an ACU patterned version available for $250, strangely enough), the CHIEF isn't cheap, but you are most definitely getting what you pay for. For me, this means I'm going to have to keep my eyes peeled for the introduction of the gen. 2 packs on the civilian market and see if the price doesn't ever come down on the gen. 1 versions as retailers look to clear out old stock. Damn if that wouldn't be a nice pack to have though.