As many of you know, I’m a bit of a backpack geek (okay, that’s an understatement).
If you don’t believe me, listen to the Ham Radio Workbench episode where they invited me to take a deep dive into my world of packs, bags, and organization. It’s not for the faint of heart or the short of time. (It was seriously fun, though!)
You would think being a pack geek that I would produce more videos showing a breakdown of what’s in my packs and how I organize them. The irony is I watch numerous videos on YouTube of how others pack out their various field and travel kits.
In truth, I have done this before, of course–once showing how I pack out my GoRuck GR1 for field radio and travel and another time showing how I pack out my TX-500 field kit in a Red Oxx Micro Manager. I plan to do more.
I’ve had several requests to do a video about my main SOTA pack which is designed around the Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC tactical backpack (see above). I think the reason why I haven’t made a video and post yet about this pack is because I knew it would be quite detailed and, frankly, take a lot of time to detail.
That said, here we go!
Designed to be modular
This particular pack is not set up to be a fully self-contained field backpack for just one radio. Quite the opposite: I use its main compartment to hold a wide variety of modular field kits I’ve put together.
What do I mean by “modular”–?
As I prepare my pack to hit the field, I decide which radio I plan to take; typically that radio is in a pouch, bag, or case of its own that contains radio-specific connectors and accessories.
I put the radio in the main compartment, then I add a battery kit, logging kit, an antenna kit, arborist throw line, and an accessories kit that contains a key, cables, adapters, etc.
The main compartment of this backpack is pretty spacious–for my QRP field radios–and gives me a lot of room to organize my gear. Other than one small mesh zippered interior pocket, it’s essentially one open space.
This modular approach (with each accessory kit being in its own pouch) makes it incredibly easy for me to pack my radio gear–reliably–in very short order. This is important for an operator like me who rotates out radios regularly.
I do have some fully self-contained field kits (this is an example) that I can put in any backpack I own and know I have a complete station, but the great thing about my main SOTA/POTA pack is that it contains all of the things above and beyond the basics.
That’s exactly what we’ll be focusing on in this tour: all of the extra gear that lives in this particular backpack. This includes emergency supplies, spare parts, and tools.
The video tour and all of my links and information below mainly pertain to everything in my pack besides the actual radio.
As with all of my videos, I start the camera rolling and don’t edit out sections or blank space (although I do correct myself in notes). I add chapters in the video to make it easy to jump to sections. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos at times.
Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page.
Click here to view on YouTube.
Please note that the links below either point to the manufacturer, retailers, or one of my reviews, articles, or videos. All Amazon links are affiliate links that support QRPer.com at no cost to you (a site plugin auto converts these).
Backpack Lower Outer Compartment
I use the lower outer compartment to hold most of my emergency and supplementary supplies.
I designed this super portable kit so that it would be completely self-contained and fit in one compact Dyneema sack. This little kit lives in my main SOTA pack, but when I decide to take one of my other packs on a SOTA/POTA excursion, I simply grab this one, mark my bag with a ribbon that it was removed, then place it in the new pack. This way, I know that pack now has many of the emergency essentials. When I return home, I reload it in my main SOTA backpack and remove the ribbon marking that an item was missing.
Please keep in mind that I’m no expert in the design and use of field emergency kits. I am current with Red Cross certifications for CPR and first aid (I highly recommend taking these classes).
It’s incredibly important that you know how to use each item in this kit. Learning how to start a fire with a flint, for example, is not something you want to do in an emergency situation.
In addition, I would argue that you pack these items in case someone you’re with needs them as well. This is why I have a couple redundancies in my pack. Indeed, there are several redundant items in my backpack (extra emergency blanket and first aid kit, for example).
My entire emergency kit fits in the mid-size sack found in this three Dyneema/Cuben Fiber stuff sack pack from this Etsy seller.
- Nitecore NU20 Rechargeable LED Headlamp (I can’t stress enough how important it is to have one of these fully charged and at the ready in your pack. Read my thoughts in this previous post.)
- SOL Survival Medical Kit in Dry Bag (as I mention in the video, you can kit up your own, but I got this on sale and it contained many of the items I would have otherwise included)
- REI Day Lite First Aid Kit (these are no longer available from REI. I’ve added a number of extra supplies to those stocked in the original kit)
- Portable USB charger (mine was purchased used as I mention in the video. I recommend the Anker PowerCore 5000 and plan to replace mine with this model)
- Short USB cable with Micro USB plug (to recharge my headlamp and GPS)
- Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (I keep one of the four in this kit and an extra in the top pouch of my backpack)
- Ferro Rod Starter by Kaeser Wilderness Supply
- Gerber Shortcut Multitool (this is discontinued, but the new Gerber Splice Pocket Tool is almost identical. Keep in mind I always keep a Leatherman Signal in my pocket for larger jobs and antenna repair!)
I typically carry a fully contained field coffee kit in my backpack. This little kit contains everything (save water) to brew coffee in the field. If I’m going on a long hike on a hot day, I’ll often pull this little kit out of my backpack to save weight.
You can see in the video how my coffee kit nests together. Most of the accessories fit in the Snow Peak mug, which then nests in the GSI cup. The pour over filter sits underneath the GSI mug.
The alcohol stove actually holds enough fuel to make two cups of coffee. I also keep a small fuel-rated clear bottle in my pack with enough extra fuel to re-fill the stove twice.
My entire coffee kit fits in the largest of the three Dyneema/Cuben Fiber stuff sacks from this Etsy seller.
- Snow Peak Titanium 450 Single Wall Mug which nests in a…
- GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Cup/Pot
- Solo Stove Alcohol Burner
- HEET Gas-Line Antifreeze And Water Remover (this is the actual alcohol fuel for the stove)
- TOAKS Titanium Windscreen (a necessity if there’s even a breeze)
- Tom Bihn Ghost Whale Organizer Pouch Super Mini which contains:
- Evernew Titanium Alcohol Stove Cross Stand
- Cigarette lighter
- Freshly ground coffee
- Starbucks Via Instant Coffee (for when I don’t have freshly ground coffee)
- A variety of tea bags
- GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip Pour Over Filter
Sometimes, I also carry a couple packs of dehydrated Miso soup in my coffee kit.
- Two Snow Peak Titanium Plates
- Blaze Orange Hunting Vest
- Insect repellent in pump bottle
- Lifestraw Water Filter
- Packable Camp Toilet Tissue and Lightweight Shovel
- Adventure Medical Kit .5
- Protein bars (I like RX Bars, Larabars, and Clif Bars)
- Paper maps of any hiking trails I plan to use (I have maps for all of the areas I normally hike and always have a compass)
- Small plastic bag to gather litter I find on site
Backpack Upper Outer Compartment
Unlike the lower outer compartment of my pack, the upper has less internal organization.
This pouch carries a few redundant accessories for my radio (resonant antenna, feed line, key, cables, adapters, etc.).
- SE Survivor Series Emergency Sleeping Bag
- Extra Emergency Mylar Thermal Blanket(also handy to protect gear from pop-up rain/snow)
- USB cable with USB-C port (to charge my camera)
- USB Cable with Lightening Port (to charge my iPhone)
- Garmin InReach Mini GPS and satellite messaging device (current version is the Garmin InReach Mini2)
- OSMO Action Camera with Joby tripod inside the smallest of the three Dyneema/Cuben Fiber stuff sacks from this Etsy seller.
- One 2 foot and one 15 foot RG-316 BNC to BNC cable assemblies
- Two SO-239 to BNC adapters
- CW Morse CNC Machined Paddle
- Cable Matters Retractable Aux Cable(for the paddle)
- Tufeteln Common Mode Choke
- PackTenna Mini EFHW
- Fingerless Gloves (for winter activations)
Again, this main compartment is mostly empty when at my QTH and is ready to receive a radio and all of its needed modular field kits. The few items below are the ones I typically keep in the main compartment.
- A lightweight camera tripod (reality of making activation videos)
- Bottle of water (recently started using a 2L HydraPak)
- Mini Arborist throw line kit: Tom Bihn Small Travel Tray, Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline, andWeaver 8 or 10oz weight
- Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Cover/Pouch which includes aGraphGear 0.9mm 1000 Automatic Drafting Pencil and a Moleskine Cahier Journal, and one Rite In The Rain Notepad
- N0RNM’s 3D-printed knee board
Zippered inner mesh pouch
- A robust USB Power Bank (used to charge camera, but also phone, GPS, and headlamp if needed)
- Various camera attachments and mounts
Outside of pack
Finally, I do keep a number of items strapped to the outside of my backpack so they’re ready to use when needed. These items are synched to the sides of my pack using the pack’s built-in compression straps.
- A trail stool: these are super convenient and (for me) much better than sitting on the ground when operating. I’ve been using this small REI stool, but will soon replace it with this one that’s slightly taller.
- Black Diamond Distance Flz Z Trekking Poles: I can’t stress how important these poles have become. They have saved me at least two trips to the Emergency Room. Not only do they give me excellent stability on the trail, but they save my knees on long, steep hikes.
- Yaesu FT-60R HT: This HT clips on one of the Molle straps on the side of my pack. I don’t worry about it getting beaten up a bit. It can take it. It’s exposed for easy access. This is one of the best HTs I’ve ever owned for ease of use in the field. I’ve purchased a total of four; one for each member of my family!
- When hiking in bear territory, I attach a bottle of bear mace to the side of my pack, or on my belt, for quick access.
- I keep one of these Heroclips attached to the Molle on the front of my pack or the pack’s top handle.
I’ll also temporarily strap my rain jacket, heavy winter jacket, sun hat, and other loose items to the side of my pack.
I’ve been on hikes and camping trips with many other radio ops and am always interested in how and what they pack.
I’ve noticed that some operators choose to only take the most basic supplies needed for a hike and radio activity. They only have one of everything and a very minimal amount of (or no) emergency supplies in order to keep the pack weight as low as possible.
I strongly believe in packing at least a minimal amount of emergency supplies: water, protein bar, first aid, headlamp, survival sleeping bag, rain protection, whistle, and a means to start a fire.
As this article in National Geographic states: “Day hikers are the most vulnerable in survival situations.”
I, too, will take less emergency supplies for shorter less adventurous hikes (shorter popular loop trails, etc.). In these situations, I’ll grab my GoRuck Bullet Ruck, throw the radio gear inside, a bottle of water, protein bar, and my emergency field kit, then off I go.
I know that in a worse-case scenario, I could survive the night (perhaps not comfortably) in the forest.
I also choose to use a tactical pack that weighs more than a typical hiking pack. I do plan to add a hiking pack for my longer SOTA adventures (I’m looking at Gregory and Osprey models now) but I do like how incredibly rugged this Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC is. I’ve been hiking with it in downpours and everything in it stays perfectly dry no matter the weather. As I mention in the video, I pay for quality packs that will not fail me in the field.
I’m okay with my backpack being a bit on the heavier side. When I need to lighten the load, I do so by taking a minimal amount of radio gear (my MTR-3B, KX1, SW-3B, or QCX-Mini field kits, for example) rather than chipping away at emergency supplies.
Thank you for reading this backpack geekery and, of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. You’re the best!
I’m very curious what you take on your radio field adventures. What packs do you use and are there items you include that I have not? Please comment!
17 thoughts on “A tour and deep-dive of my SOTA/POTA Backpack (Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC)”
Great list and use of multiple bags to keep it all neat
I too suffer from bagitis
Great idea on the mylar blanket for radio protection
We had a mini tornado on Saturday during JOTA which sent a shelter cart wheeling and the sudden downpour drenched all the radios and that mylar would have helped
Did I miss a backpacker towel on the list?
I also use a water bottle molle case to hold my Stanley Cookset for Ramen and java. The Trangia burner is quiet and ideal for a POTA or SOTA
Great post Thomas. You emphasis on going modular really has influenced my gear choices. It a little easier for me at the moment as I only have the 705 for a filed radio but I’m still setting things up modular.
I noticed you don’t have a modular video system bag. I haven’t started doing YouTube videos yet but I have a modular bag for the needed iPhone accessories for when the time comes.
Also, spellcheck must have bitten you as those are Cuben bags not Cuban. As far as I know they have no connection with Cuba.
Great post Thomas. Your emphasis on going modular really has influenced my gear choices. It a little easier for me at the moment as I only have the 705 for a field radio but I’m still setting things up modular.
I noticed you don’t have a modular video system bag. I haven’t started doing YouTube videos yet but I have a modular bag for the needed iPhone accessories for when the time comes.
Also, spellcheck must have bitten you as those are Cuben fiber bags not Cuban. As far as I know they have no connection with Cuba.
Ha ha! Yes, good ole spellcheck. Thanks for notifying me about that.
Fortunately, all of my video gear fits in one pocket on my backpack, so it’s easy to store. I’ve thought about keeping a separate pouch/pack for it (in the main backpack) and might someday.
Thanks for the comments!
It must be something in the fall air; I have been thinking for a couple of weeks about doing a post about my gear bag-ology.
I guess I’ll just have to do it, then!
2 quick points, though:
– The coffee-kit is outstanding, I have noodled about it but don’t actually have one yet; I get along with a couple of those double-wall stainless bottles, usually one for hot coffee, another for cold water or Gatorade, and a Nalgene bottle for additional water.
– a big thumbs-up on the emergency supplies! I work toward the same standard; survive overnight in the woods without too much discomfort.
Thanks for an interesting post with lots of ideas to ponder!
Thank you for the comment, Phil!
Great post! Glad that there are others out there who are thinking about worst-case scenario contingencies and preparing for them while out and about.
If need be in an emergency, I’m prepared to spend a night outside when bushwacking. The extra weight is worth the peace of mind for me and my wife, especially. Your recommendations for gear are spot on.
If going to a remote area, I leave a photocopy of the map I’m using with my planned summit/campsite marked. One for my wife and my dad, each. They know when I should be out of the woods and I’m sure to check in with them when I do get out. If I do end up stranded, I want to be found quickly!
I love the fact that you give your wife and dad details and maps regarding where you’ll be. That’s very clever indeed. I also make sure my wife knows where I am, when I’ll check in, and the trails I’m taking. Leaving a map would only help her even more.
Great video! Only thing I would add would be a Tick Removal tool. Here in the Midwest it’s a must have item if you’re hiking in the summer.
Very good point, Steve!
I just bought an Osprey Atmos 65 AG as my new SOTA pack. As an old soldier this is my first experience with a civilian pack and it seems very well built and is very comfortable and has plenty of room for my radio gear sleeping gear and Trangia brew gear. The trangia is bulky but there is something very civilised about brewing up on a summit with a proper kettle.
I’ve owned an Osprey in the past and I must say that they have some of the best suspension systems in the business. They’re also built really well.
I’ve also looked at those Trangia systems and will likely break down and get one someday. I like the fact that do a proper job of turning an alcohol burner into a stove.
As a seasoned outdoors person, but only recently licensed as a ham, who spends a considerable amount of time hiking and also paddling in the Canadian wilderness, I opted to watch the whole Youtube deep dive, start to finish. You can always learn from what others deem important. Not surprising that so many of the items you carry are to be found in my pack all the time, especially when paddling into wilderness areas: First Aid, InReach, Leatherman signal, headlamp, whistle, Ferrite rod, lighter, 20000mah USB power bank, emergency blanket, repair kit, HT (a Baofeng programmed with local repeaters, Marine Radio channels, & all NA Weather Radio channels), energy/protein bars, emergency clothing (including wool hat/gloves), rain gear, cables (phone, radio, etc). I think there are very few items that don’t match between your exhaustive list and mine. I am, as a coffee snob, considering your coffee supplies!
The one major exception is the style of pack. I go for comfort rather than convenience and have settled on a Gregory Zulu 40L pack, which fits me perfectly, although somewhat large for a day outing.
Keep these videos and accompanying Blog posts coming, Thomas. I’ve found myself repeatedly returning to previous ones to double check or reaffirm information. The radio reviews are critical great references.
This post one was indeed a deep dive into a very important subject. All POTA and SOTA activators would be wise to follow your thorough list and rationale. 73.
Thank you so much for your comment and info, Rod.
It’s funny: I have been looking at the Gregory Zulu pack for my longer SOTA hikes. I’ve heard so many good things about it.
Very fun read, Thomas! I’ve already had to order a few items that were in your list.
I also like the modular approach. I fly a lot for work, so like the idea of grabbing a bag out of my pack and throwing it in my check on luggage for additional supplies while in parks/hotels.
I am slightly hair challenged, so I keep a fleece cap in the bottom of my bag. Learned sleeping on the ground a lot while in the Army, that a warm head goes a long way to sleeping well…
Looking forward to your next report!
Michael – N7CCD
Very smart to keep a hat in your bag. You’re right: it does a great job keeping the heat in when it’s cold!
And yes, a modular approach is perfect for travel. Consider writing up an article about how you travel with your radio and also fit in POTA/SOTA! Hint, hint!
Great video and list.
I too tend to bring the kitchen sink and have what I call the bag that just goes in the car as we live in earthquake country.
Two things that I’ve missed, by might have not seen on the video (watched it twice) – tick removal tool and a venom extractor. I know you have sticks and poisonous snakes.
Did I miss seeing those two? A venom extraction device is a “life support” essential!