Recon: Colfax Design Works Recon Pack

I lugged the Recon on 4 airplanes, through 3 airports, limos, cabs, Uber, Lyft, trains, shuttles and on foot and it went with me every step, all 48 miles of them…

The Colfax Design Works Recon Pack was put through the wringer, on a field test over the course of a week and beyond. I used the Recon as my companion for travel from home base to a convention for 6 days of work in sin city, Las Vegas.

When I was packing for the trip, I was apprehensive about the new pack because it was unknown to me. It’s would be like going into battle with a weapon you’ve never fired at the range, or entering a road rally in a racecar you have never driven. That uneasy feeling was steadily calmed as I got further and further away from home.

Like almost everyone else on the planet these days, I travel with a laptop and other electronics as well as my personal gear. I lugged my MacBook Pro Retina, external hard drive and cables, iPad Mini, and a Canon 5D Mark3 with two lenses, in addition to my go to travel kit, including some food, water bottle, sweater and some other odds and ends. The Recon swallowed everything I fed it. Although it claims 30 Litres, I am convinced its larger than that. There was room for more, but the pack didn’t seem overstuffed.

Aside from the tough industrial yet somewhat tactical look of the pack, it is unique in several ways; materials used, layout/design and hardware.

Fully loaded my pack didn’t seem awkward or feel unbalanced and because of the X Ply material, it was surprisingly light. The pack is actually 3.16 lbs, while other packs of that size and type are around 4 to 5 lbs. The X51 1000d Cordura © with tear resistant X-ply layer is backed with a laminated PET waterproof membrane protecting your contents from downpour, puddle splash or whatever else your adventure will throw at you. There isn’t much rain in Las Vegas, so I didn’t get a chance to test out the membrane’s waterproof capability that week. The webbing used is a lighter weight webbing which accounts for some of that weight savings and probably some back fatigue at the end of the day.

I have never had a pack where primary access used was a roll top and I wasn’t sure about it. At first I thought it would be a huge pain the ass to get in and out of the pack and that I would hate it. Not the case… I got used to the roll top access and it didn’t bother me. I was in and out of the pack with water, laptop and supporting cables, batteries, chargers etc. about once an hour, so I got very used to going through the motions. Sure it might take a you a second or two longer to access the bulk of your carry, but there are benefits to the design. Roll tops are inherently waterproof and there is a dependability there with the roll top over a zipper. There’s no zipper to fail, although there’s plastic hardware, but you get the point. The other benefit is there’s a bit of expand-ability when it comes to the compartment size. You can unroll it a bit taller if you have a slightly oversized item in the main compartment.

One of my favorite features on the pack is the split compartment design. I used this section of the pack to hold my camera and two medium sized lenses, (inside a padded zipper case of course). Having that capability of easy access to the bottom of the pack is not often utilized in pack design these days. This could be used for some smelly gym shoes, or light boots or whatever else you wanted to quarantine away from your other items.

At the top of the pack, behind the roll opening, is a smaller pocket for personal items that uses YKK Weather-Guard zippers. It’s about 8 inches deep and was really very spacious. I stuffed sunglasses, wallet, external battery for iPhone, snacks and much more. Inside that pocket is a smaller zip pocket, for smaller extra-sensitive items. The internal material of the pack is 210d Ripstop nylon in a lighter gold color, which helps to brighten up the cavernous interior.

Everyone has to carry a laptop at some point. Every pack should have a space dedicated for laptop carry in my opinion. Colfax Design Works didn’t mess around with their laptop accommodation. The laptop compartment is well padded and with the same rain blocking YKK zippers. It’s very deep and swallows the MacBook Pro easily. The compartment itself is about 18.5 inches deep, which is large compared to other packs.

Quick release buckles are becoming more and more common it seems. CDW was forward thinking in including this type of buckle on the roll top and the sternum strap. At first the sternum strap was awkward for me to use, because I am so used to the 3/4 ITW type of closure but like the roll top I evolved and found them easy to use. All the hardware used is Mil-Spec for urban warfare.

Colfax pays attention to detail, evidenced by the zipper pulls that use elastic shock cordage attached with heat shrink tubing and the padded carry handle.

The shoulder straps are pretty wide at 3.5 in. at the top. They are thin in the padding department, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. The width spreads out the weight in a different way compared to a heavily padded but thinner strap. I think the shoulder straps and the back padding could be a little more luxurious, but with that cushion comes a price. You’re paying in weight and in cost.

There are load lifting straps at the top of the shoulder straps as well to pull the pack closer to your back for a tighter fit. Plastic hardware keep those straps close and tidy. There is no waist belt, but I didn’t find that I needed it with an average weight being carried. For heavier loads, Colfax has made a waist belt available as a separate purchase and it slides in behind the lower back panel on the pack. When fully loaded, I didn’t find the pack to be sloppy feeling, as some packs don’t distribute weight well. It felt snug and close to my back and it didn’t throw my balance off.

There are some cinching straps on the sides of the pack to pull tight, reducing drag, if you are traveling lighter. I found myself wishing that there was some kind of strap with buckles on the front to offer the option to strap a jacket or extra cargo to, but that’s just because I am used to that feature with other packs. So in fairness, this pack is a different animal so if you never knew of that feature on a pack, you wouldn’t need it.

The webbing and real estate on the back of the pack allows for addition of some Dopp Kit pouches, also by Colfax, if you are in need of more cargo space. Using Colfax A.M.C.S. (Advanced Modular Cargo System) you can add on more pouches for more carry options. The webbing is of course capable of holding other pouches that are MOLLE compatible. Colfax now offers the Dopp Kit in a larger 1L size.

The pack fits well. It’s sized right, not too big not too small… for me at least. The back padding is sufficient for the job. I like a lot of cushion, as mentioned earlier, but that’s my preference. When sized right with the shoulder straps and load lifters cinched, the pack feels snug and secure. No complaints here.

The Recon is just a cool pack. It’s hard to explain in words, but it has a bad-ass look to it. It mixes the urban chic with a military industrial flair and the DNA of the pack is the same. It’s like a rat rod motorcycle with dirt tires on it. It utters “go anywhere and do anything” and look mean doing it. With the laptop pocket and split compartment design its built to be out all day. The Recon is a slick commuter pack with hefty mil-spec additions, designed to evolve with you over time…and built to survive the end of it. The rugged construction will ensure that it gets you there, in style.

David Massey Senior Contributor & Recon Specialist

David Massey is from the USA and works full time as a MultiMedia Producer, Photojournalist and writer, creating imagery for an aeronautical university and shooting freelance assignments wherever they may be. He’s traveled to Africa, Asia, Europe and Central America in search of a good story. More…