Words and Pics: Rich Norman
The Tracer is an EDC backpack, designed and built to the same exacting standards as Blue Force Gear’s tactical line. However, because it is an EDC backpack it’s styled with the ‘grey man’ aesthetic in mind; fitting into everyday life by not overdoing the tacticool styling.
Having said that, it’s a great looking bag which offers a nod and a wink to its lineage: a big swatch of loop Velcro real estate and laser cut PALS columns up front.
That’s not to mention the tasteful blue BFG reticle logos on the zip pulls, small brand tag, and on a shoulder strap (the latter being removable).
As a basic proposition, it’s shaped like a classic book bag. Nevertheless, with a stated volume of 36 litres, it’s a bit larger than a run of the mill college Jansport or Eastpak. And, because it’s made in the US, the Tracer is not cheap. Luckily, I got to look at it because Tactical Kit offered to send one over for appraisal.
- Small compartment – top
- Medium compartment, utility pouch-style – front
- Large main compartment, clamshell opening – with padded 18″ laptop/hydration bladder sleeve
- Small, medium and large compartments feature dual zips, with branded zip pulls
- Four-way stretch Tweave bottle pockets – sides
- Rubber grab handle – top
- 36 litre stated volume
- One-wrap style ‘Dapper’ loop interior, for affixing hook Velcro items including – but not limited to – BFG’s Dapper line
- Generous external loop Velcro field – front
- 3-column MOLLEminus PALS field – front
- Double-layer ULTRAcomp base panel
- Non-removable internal frame sheet
- Minimalist padded shoulder straps
- Main fabric: 500D Cordura (denier estimated)
C. Tour of Main Features
1. Small Compartment – Top
For me, one of the bag’s highlights is the small, zipped, top compartment. While it’s small in regards to the Tracer’s other pockets, it’s pretty sizeable when compared to a lot of EDC bags I’ve owned; bags which seemed to treat the capacity of this area as an afterthought. Many times I’ve been forced to crush my unprotected sunglasses into a tiny segment and hope they don’t get knocked, as I squeeze my bag into an overhead rack and hope that “I can get my hard sided case in to that rack” guy doesn’t turn up.
As can be seen in the pic above, I can fit my sunglasses – contained in their bullet case – into the pocket, with room to spare. In addition, the pocket is located in an area which is often dead space; but not only that – the back wall of the void is composed of Tweave. This was a nice surprise. Tweave is a tough, four-way stretch softshell material which allows the contents of the pocket to expand into the top section of the main compartment.
Access is governed by dual zips with branded zip pulls.
Notably, this is one compartment where BFG’s Dapper lining (One-wrap style loop) is not present. I think that’s a shame for a Dapper-themed bag and I’d certainly vote for maxing it out, by giving over the front wall of this compartment to that utility. It’s not a deal breaker, of course – nothing about this bag is.
2. Medium Compartment – Front
Unlike the Tracer’s main compartment (which we’ll get on to shortly) the medium sized compartment at the very front of the bag isn’t a full clamshell opener. Instead, it’s much like my favourite Blue Force Gear utility pouch: it can’t be unzipped so fully that it would disgorge its contents all over the pavement.
Again, access is made possible with dual zips which feature branded zip pulls.
Inside the compartment we find Dapper lining against the back wall.
The external face of the compartment is covered with a 3-column MOLLEminus PALS field, suitable for attaching MOLLE items or for carrying hookable items like the carabiner shown below:
3. Large Main Compartment
The bag’s main compartment is a clamshell opener, which is my favourite type. It allows you to completely fillet the bag and pack with efficiency; or to keep it semi-zipped and load from the top.
Once more, the compartment opens with dual zips and branded zip pulls.
The 18″ laptop sleeve against the back wall is a 3/4 height padded design, but it isn’t suspended off the base of the pack. One consequence of this is that if you drop the bag, there’s no buffer between the laptop and the floor. Many bags get around this protection issue by introducing a gap between the base end of the laptop and the floor, by suspending the laptop compartment or sleeve above base level. So, this is something I’d change if I carried a laptop or tablet.
The sleeve can also be used to carry a hydration bladder and features a suspension loop for that, plus a choice between two hose openings at the top of the bag, under the rather swanky rubber carry handle.
The carry handle itself is a really nice, tactile feature.
The back wall of the main compartment contains the frame sheet. This is non-removable, so I can’t comment on the material used. A bag of the Tracer’s volume really does need a frame sheet, so that it can be carried at capacity in comfort – so it’s good to find one here.
The base of the main compartment is heavy duty, dual layer ULTRAcomp – which those familiar with BFG will know is their laminated Hypalon-style CSM synthetic rubber.
This is an excellent choice because it’s tough and water proof. So the contents of your bag – including that laptop – aren’t going to get wet from below, if you happen to set it down on a wet surface.
The outside face of the compartment features a huge field of loop Velcro.
Lastly, both front and back walls of this compartment are Dapper lined – the front to 3/4 height – so you can choose what organisation you need. I’m all for bags which are sterile in terms of organisation, so I see this as a really good thing.
4. Tweave Bottle Pockets
As mentioned earlier, Tweave is a tough, four-way stretch softshell material. It is commonly used in more progressive tactical gear. Here it is used for the Tracer’s bottle pockets, which are positioned at the sides of the bag.
The bottle pockets are very deep which means my 18oz/473ml Klean Kanteen is awesomely secure.
Diddy little bottle pockets, composed of hyper light but easily destroyed fabrics, are a pet peeve of mine – so BFG’s implementation is a breath of fresh air. On the other hand, being black, the Tweave marks really easily – although a quick wipe with a moistened microfibre cloth keeps it looking smart.
5. Shoulder Straps
The Tracer’s shoulder straps follow the grey man aesthetic and are simple, slim padded affairs. I’m not a huge fan of bulky padding on shoulder straps, so this minimalist take suits me fine. It’s also good to see that the padded section is a reasonably long one. Too often I’ve ended up using bags where the padded section of the strap is so short, that its adjuster has cut into my torso. Needless to say, the adjusters here are excellent quality.
The back panel is plain Cordura. I normally like to see 3D moulded panels here, which create a bit of stand-off for cooling. However, I’ll take plain Cordura over airmesh foam, which for me makes perspiration matters worse – being that it’s a pretty good insulator.
D. How it Carries
The bag carries well. The straps are comfortable and the frame sheet does its job. Adjusting the shoulder straps on the fly is easy.
The only thing missing is a sternum strap. I rarely carry a bag without a sternum strap in situ, so for me this requires attention and I really would expect one on a bag of this calibre.
The Tracer displays classic Blue Force Gear quality, which to my mind is unquestionable. However, as mentioned earlier this is reflected in the bag’s price and it is on the premium side.
Not a quality aspect per se – but worth thinking about in this context – is the colour of the bag. Black pics up scuffs and scrapes relatively easily, so if your use is smart casual or for the office you may want to go with Wolf Grey; although paradoxically, walking around with a grey bag isn’t exactly ‘grey man’. See many grey bags on the high street? No.
The Tracer is a highly competent EDC bag, aimed at those who want to finely control the level of organisation within.
It’s simple – and light weight – but well designed. I suspect BFG made a lot of tough choices in stripping away tacticool gimmicks which end up on similar bags. I particularly like the non-fussy shoulder straps and deliberate but sparing use of Tweave; but the real star is the small top pocket which I think shows great insight into the trials and tribulations of accessing small items in town and city EDC.