Most everyone carries a bag, whether it’s a backpack, purse, messenger bag, or if you’re a tourist in DC, a fanny pack and FBI hat with CIA shirt. Now, if you were in the military, your bag was a ruck. And if you served a while back, as I did, your ruck had an external frame that would destroy your back when carrying heavy loads over long distances. Fast forward to today. While military issue rucks (or backpack, assault pack, whatever you wish to call it) have evolved to be infinitely more customizable, comfortable, and arguably fashionable, there is still room for improvement. We’re going to review the Arc’teryx LEAF Khard 30-liter backpack and bring to light some key considerations when selecting a bag. At the end of the review, you’ll be better able to select the bag with appropriate characteristics to meet your mission requirements.

LEAF is Arc’teryx’s Law Enforcement & Armed Forces line of products. The LEAF Khard lineup is designed with assaulter in mind. And like almost all Arc’teryx products the quality is high, just like the price.

The Arc’teryx LEAF Khard has amazing potential. The materials and craftsmanship are superb, the attention to detail unparalleled, and at $399 for a 30-liter pack, it should be! Arc’teryx has designed a pack that allows you the versatility to customize the interior compartment according to your requirements. But, there are significant drawbacks to such versatility.

When you consider a pack to meet your needs, you must break those needs down further:  Requirements, Needs, and Wants.

Requirements are your primary considerations. These are directly connected to the characteristics of the bag. These are your must haves and if these are not met, you will fail.

Needs are important, but not vital to success. They tend to fall into the categories of comfort and another layer of redundancy. Like extra padding in certain areas or additional storage capacity. The addition of needs can compromise requirements. For example, I may require multiple access points, but need an additional layer of clothing at some point during the movement. If I add external tie downs to the pack, I have easy access to the additional layer. However, this can comprise an access point.

Wants are nice to have. These generally fall into redundancies to low probability failures. It could be that third set of A123 batteries. Or it could be that fourth pair of socks for a two-day trek.

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In my opinion, when you lay out your gear, this is where you should begin identifying what is a Requirement, what is a Need, and what is a Want. Then, before your mission, whatever that may be, you train with the load. You experiment to see what works for you.

Form/Fit and Function

This brings us to the overarching considerations. How you classify Requirements, Needs, and Wants. As always, I view most everything in terms of form or fit and function. A pack is no exception.

One Bag to Carry it All: The Arc’teryx LEAF Khard Backpack

Does it fulfill my mission requirements and load profile requirements? This question is best answered by my variable needs. Will I be indoors or outdoors? Urban, desert or mountainous? Solo, partner or team? Duration? And so on. Your personal profile [height, weight, chest circumference, torso length, shoulder width, etc] are equally important.

Hip belts with pockets can be used to carry snacks, batteries, etc. But, hip belt pockets tend to be fixed. So, if your waist is large, you are not able to access the pockets. In addition, the pockets can become caught behind your back, leading to frequent adjustments. Case in point, I have an Osprey Escapist that I wear when mountain biking. The hip pockets are a pain in the a**, especially when I first put on the pack and they cause the hip belt to get caught behind my back. It’s a minor annoyance, but one that I deal with every time I use this pack. It’s also cumbersome when I use it while riding public transportation, as the hip straps cannot be tied down, which leads to the strap hanging and, inevitably, leading to someone sitting on the strap.

Form and Fit questions tend to be more variable. For example, I can adjust the fit the pack, by adjusting the shoulders, shifting the weight inside the various compartments, etc. Environmental considerations are also variable and fall into this category.

In terms of function, we will see an inextricable link with fit.

Function

Does it function in a manner that enables me to perform my mission?  This question is best answered by the unchanging characteristics of the bag. If I will be outdoors, what is the environment? Wet and rainy? Snow? Will I be carrying a heavy load, greater than say 35-40lbs? Over what type of terrain?

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Function questions tend to be fixed. For example, the bag size, interior compartment, any external storage are generally fixed. While you could attach various external bags to the pack (I’ve commonly seen this with the GORUCK craze, where individuals will add small external bags, instead of simply selecting the appropriate size pack or selecting a pack with an externally accessed compartment for your boo-boo (medical) kit. Each addition to your pack should alert you to use a different pack. While the addition of a simple external boo-boo kit is unlikely to seriously affect your daily carry, it will make a significant difference during long movements.

During land navigation (land nav) in the Army, the simple protective mask, which was wrapped around the left thigh, would cause you to list to your left, and if you did not stop frequently to re-orient, you would find yourself off course. This leads to unacceptable delays that in real-world missions can be the difference between life or death.

Additional considerations related to the function of the bag are found in the materials used to manufacture the bag, are they waterproof? Is there an internal frame? Water bladder option? And so on. If I’m in an urban environment, is the material strong enough to hold up to friction against concrete, brick, and other coarse materials? The environment is also related to the color of the material. What are the dimensions? If I will be in confined areas, whether structural or surrounded by people, I will need a more vertical, thin pack.

Arc’teryx Design of the LEAF Khard

In the case of the Arc’teryx LEAF Khard 30-liter pack, Arc’teryx designed the Khard to be “comfortable and functional to a specific end.”  As part of Arc’teryx’s Law Enforcement & Armed Forces (LEAF) line that “specific end” is not the civilian market. That being said, this pack will function well for most civilians. However, that statement comes with one major caveat:  you do not require a dedicated laptop compartment. This is not a commuter pack and your laptop, unless you tether it down, will be tossed from side to side as you make your way through the day. This will be worse if you live in an urban area and have to jog to catch a cab, Uber or public transportation.

And this brings us to a key issue with using the Khard for everyday carry:  the interior compartment demands you purchase additional storage. Not additional storage because the pack is too small. Additional storage because the inside is bare bones, think of a military issue duffel, nothing but a single pocket on the top flap and velcro panels on all other surfaces. If you’re someone who knows how to pack gear, already owns the additional pouches to properly square your kit away, then this won’t frustrate you too much (or drain your wallet). Otherwise, look to spend considerable time either making your own bags (simply stitch velcro on back) or search for appropriately sized velcro-attachable bags online.

One Bag to Carry it All: The Arc’teryx LEAF Khard Backpack

Design

A weatherproof Assault Pack that is carried when conducting Direct Action tasks that is also combat enabler capable. The main internal compartment is configured with velcro for the insertion of aftermarket modular pouches.

Features

  • 30-liter capacity allows the pack to be employed as an Assault Pack
  • PPE compatible allowing the pack to be worn with body armour & helmet
  • 15mm removable aluminum stays can be custom shaped to curvature of the spine or wearing with PPE
  • Dual-density shoulder straps distribute weight over broad surface for sustainable long-term carry
  • Removable/scalable hip belt (with hip pods) allows for equal weight distribution
  • Clamshell zipper opening provides easy access to main compartment
  • Internal Velcro® loop panels (x3) allow for versatile pouch configurations
  • Top zip pocket (with retention lanyard) stores mission essential personal items
  • Side zip pockets holds 3L water bladder; hydration port for external routing
  • Main compartment communications porting allows for the external routing of communications cables
  • Side grab handles for ease of transfer to ground mobility vehicle or non–standard tactical vehicle

Materials

  • INVISTA 500d HT Cordura® Plain Weave

Care

  • Surface clean only.

Another consideration:  Price. At $399 for the LEAD Khard 30 (it is Arc’teryx afterall) it is not inexpensive. And additional internal storage options will easily cost you an additional $150+.

Beyond the high price and absence of storage bags with the purchase, you’ll also need to add Ranger bands or tie downs of various lengths to prevent the long webbing of the hip belt from dangling and getting caught or sat on.

In addition, I would highly recommend purchasing additional elastic band to weave through the external webbing of the pack. The webbing is location on the top, back, and both sides. The elastic band opposed to the MOLLE system is something I prefer. The webbing, while not as secure, is easily accessible, lower profile, and can easily removed and with it the likelihood of snagging or getting caught. In addition, it removes a hold, where someone can easily grab and pull you down to the ground or tie you up.

All this being said, the Khard is one of my favorite bags, particularly for the winter when I prefer a bag with a little more space, allowing me to add or shed layers. The Khard constructed of a very durable material that although not waterproof, sheds light rain and snow with ease. The bag does not outwardly scream tactical with an urban wolf gray, which considering I spend most of my time in urban environments, allows me to blend in rather easily. The bag has a secure contoured fit to my back, so the slightest tug from a nearby person is easily felt; and finally, the quick release shoulder straps are AMAZING! Removing and/or adjusting the pack is incredibly easy.

Another great feature is the ability to unzip the pack like a top-loader, messenger bag or a regular pack. In addition, there are handles on the side allowing you to carry the pack like a duffel. If you elect to do this, be sure you have the hip belt tied down. It is non-removable and will drag along the floor with a potential to get caught in escalators, wheelchairs or people’s feet in heavily populated areas. Also, there is an almost internal frame. I say almost because instead of a traditional interior frame, Arc’teryx has inserted a solid contoured piece of material to maintain the integrity of the pack. There is a downside, a significant one depending upon your usage. Your back will sweat. Now I am a heavy sweater already and I would much rather have some type of mesh similar to Osprey’s Airscape between my back and the pack.

Now for the downsides. The shoulder straps and hip pad will not support heavy weight. While I stop at 35-40lbs, that is being very, very generous and I would not recommend using this pack at those weights for distances of over 5 miles.  The shoulder straps are thin, and like the handles, are non-cushioned. Over distances of 7-miles, the thin straps and nascent cushioning will lead to neck and shoulder fatigue. The hip pad also is lacking cushioning. So, if you’re someone who likes to carry a lot of gear, take this into consideration. Personally, I believe less is more. So, 30-liters is more than enough for me.

The shoulder straps lack tackiness/friction. During the winter, or while wearing a jacket with a nylon exterior (read: slippery) the straps will slide, unless you use the chest strap. This is a common issue with almost all packs, however, and is easily solved with the use of either Ranger bands. One additional issue is the exterior material, while durable, is also loud. The friction of the pack and your clothes, especially any light jacket is annoying. This is a trade-off for the durability of the material. A tighter construction, as in most Osprey packs, would result in a pack that is prone to tears. I once used an Osprey pack in an overnight movement and when I returned the pack was torn to in at least 6 places.

If you’re in need of a durable, versatile, pack capable of operating in a wide range of environments, then the LEAF Khard 30 is definitely worth considering.


AuthorBenjamin Drader is Founder and Chief Instructor at District Combatives in Washington, DC. He served 8 years in the U.S. Army and has worked directly for two National Security Advisors, a Director of CIA, a Secretary of State, and a Prince. He enjoys ultra-marathons, off-road triathlons, and spending time outdoors with his German Shorthaired Pointer, Derby.