When out in the bush its handy to have some things easily accessible all the time. Pockets just aren't big enough to hold a couple lengths of paracord, knife, notebook and pencil, a simple first aid kit etc but you can bet as soon as you don't have them near, you'll need them. I used to keep them all in my main pack but then I had to leave most at camp when I went tracking or just to explore the next valley. Then after a bit of research I came across a perfect solution which has been used by bushcraft enthusiasts for years...a satchel!
A satchel is like a daypack but a lot more accessible and with more functions. Its where you can organise your kit so you always know where items are, and whether out exploring, tracking, of just around camp, its handy to have some things on you all the time. Before you buy one yourself, there are several attributes and features that you want to look for which I will illustrate using my satchel as an example. I spent a lot of time and research before I bought my own, and it still took me a few goes to settle on the one I currently use. There are many great choices out there and of course you may have different preferences or requirements than me, but I use the finnish army gas mask bag.
These are the attributes that this satchel has and are what you should consider before making a choice:
- Extremely robust, army surplus almost always is.
- Made of tightly woven canvas giving it water resistant (not proof) properties.
- Holds its shape which makes finding items easier but is no overly stiff and hard to use.
- Colour is perfect for not standing out and scaring wildlife away
- Appropriate size, for the view below its about 300mm wide and around 280mm high
Its also has some great features which I haven't seen on many other satchels. Below is the front view
Below is the rear of the bag, and you can see the quick release waist belt which is pretty rare. I find this a fantastic feature at when I'm walking on slopes or jumping creeks etc the waist belt keeps the satchel against your body. On longer walks I like to tighten the belt up with the satchel up against the small of my back, close to my center of gravity. This makes jumping or running feel more natural and decreasing the risk of you losing balance. When you need to access something on the go that you cant reach, just use the quick release clip.
Notice both shoulder and waist straps have metal fitting, no flimsy plastic here! When choosing a satchel be sure to look for weak points, both in physical structure and in design flaws. No matter how durable an item of gear is, if its a struggle to unclip the lid or you can see weak stitching, don't buy it unless it has an easy fix you can do yourself.
Below is a closeup on one of the quick release mechanisms. Also note the contoured lid, which means unless the satchel is really full it cups over the main compartment and doesn't really even need to be clipped down.
The snap fasteners that hold the lid down are quiet, and you can see that the half that is attached to the body of the satchel is on a strip of webbing so that you can slide your finger behind it, making clipping easy. Remember that you will be opening and closing the lid often on the go so a quick simple system like this is worth being picky about. Also remember that loud clips or velcro can scare animals away if you intend to observe wildlife.
Below shows the main compartments. This is important when choosing a bushcraft satchel as when you have many small items it can be hard to rummage and find what you want unless there are partitions of some kind. This is something you could add yourself however, and tailor make it for a certain purpose or item of kit. Its also pretty easy to pick the stitching and adjust it later if need be.
Below you can see the flap opened to reveal several small pockets, very handy. For example you can keep the items you rarely use in the half that will be hardest to reach when wearing, and keep your items often used where you can just reach around and grab them. When I bought the satchel some pockets were further compartmentalised by stitching to form strangely shaped pockets obviously related to wartime equipment. As these weren't practical for me I carefully unpicked the stitching to restore larger but more economical pockets.
Don't be afraid to customise your gear! After all, thousands were made just like the item you have, and you may use it in a way that the designers did not intend. Its yours now, you are free to improve it and personalise it. I have a lot of respect for people that modify what they have or can get for cheap, to produce gear that matches if not betters a more expensive branded item. This resourcefulness and self reliance is definitely part of the bushcraft spirit.
Below is a snapshot of what I had in my kit on a recent outing in a local pine forest working on my tracking skills. This gives you an idea of how much you can fit in a satchel, keeping in mind on this occasion it was only about 2/3 full.
So now you have an idea of what to look for, think about the activities you will use it for and come up with a list of features you would like. Army surplus stores should be your first port of call but also check out online actions or ask around your relatives, they might have the perfect satchel gathering dust somewhere. Feel free to comment below and happy 'shrafting!