My Bag of Tricks

It is great to sit down and FINALLY write this article that has been over a year in the making.  Having said that, this article will serve as a bit of a monument to my thinking at this time, and no doubt the items described as well as the possible uses for this bag will go through many iterations over time.  I know this because there have already been versions 1.0-10.0 just in the last year or so, and I see no reason why this evolutionary path would change.

I should note that I had most of this article ready-to-go, but once I signed up for Bill Rapier’s “Compact Carbine Deployment” course, I figured I would wait to see if the class content caused me to change anything in setup or thought processes on this topic.  I will also note here that, in addition to Rapier’s class, I took the Combat Shooting and Tactics (Paul Howe) “Urban Defense Course” in 2015, during which we spent three days deploying compact “carbines” from bags.

Mission Statement

The purpose of this bag is to provide an incognito means of carrying a weapon system with more capability than my concealed handgun into places where a more overt carry method might attract unwanted scrutiny.  Please note that I am not talking about doing anything illegal here.  “Unwanted scrutiny”, in my case, most likely means strolling into my in-laws’ house or through a hotel lobby with a pseudo long-gun but without an obvious long-gun case, tennis racket case, baseball bat bag, or guitar case.  This all presupposes that I already have my “regular” EDC gear with me.  The bag and its contents are meant to supplement and support what I already have on me.

Rationale

This project was already WELL underway before the Las Vegas massacre in 2017.  However, in light of that attack and the resultant possibility for increased attention placed on bags/cases that could conceal long-guns in hotels, the utility of this system now makes even more sense to me.  My rationale for the in-laws’ aspect resides in the fact that they know I’m a “gun guy” and regularly carry a handgun.  However, I recognize that, while they respect my decision and commitment, strolling into their house with an AR-15 might be a bit more than they are currently prepared to handle (though they are coming around!).

When traveling, be it to their house, to a hotel for a stay during a multi-day class, or to a rental property for the annual family vacation, I like the idea of having something on hand that provides more punch, reach, and potential accuracy than my regular concealed carry handgun.  The reading of this book about the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008 (thanks to Greg Ellifritz for that book recommendation) as well as the additional plans the San Bernardino attackers had to attack innocents on the freeways of California helped further develop my plans for both the weapon system and the additional gear earmarked for this bag.

Firearms

I wrote this article over two years ago about my continued “affair” with the AR Pistol.  I wanted something that could be concealed in an innocuous-looking backpack bookbag, of the type any college student might be seen carrying.  I also wanted something that would not be subject to the rules and regulations that govern traveling with NFA items.  To that end, I purchased all of the parts as described in the linked article.  Since that article was written, the only change I have made is the type of brace I now use (SBA3).  I have shot it from time to time to make sure it still works and has maintained its zero, but .300 AAC is not cheap to feed, and so I have not put a ridiculous number of rounds through it.  I recently had a friend who used to operate abroad in a covert manner (.gov agency stuff….don’t ask!) handle and shoot it, and he said that he could definitely see the utility of such a system.

When traveling, I keep a Magpul Gen 3 20 round magazine loaded into the magazine well with the chamber empty and the bolt forward (the bag and gun get picked up and put down a lot).  This mode of bag carry was the preferred method for both Howe and Rapier.  Additional magazines are carried within the bag as described below.

One other note:  it is my personal opinion (echoed by Bill Rapier in the aforementioned class) that an AR in 5.56mm with a LawTac folding device and 11.5 inch barrel is probably the ideal weapon here.  And I already have one!  However, this would necessitate a larger bag.  While some might say, “then go ahead and get a bigger bag.  Why put the cart before the horse?”, one must remember that I am diminutive and even a “regular sized” bag that I describe in the next section looks big/long on my back.  A larger bag on my back might not fit in as many environments and also feels ungainly on my body.  I find 5.56mm ARs with barrels shorter than 10.5 anathema, hence my choice to go with .300 AAC, which was developed in part to be shot out of short barrels.

The Bag

I had my old Jansport backpack to use as a model, but ultimately–and despite my generally thrifty attitudes–felt like it lacked the storage options (lots of pockets) and the construction quality I desired.  Armed with a Target gift card courtesy of the parents of one of my students, I left the store with what, in my opinion, is a much better option.

For a bag, I chose the Swiss Gear 5358 Laptop Backpack (I have the black one with red/grey trim, but it also comes in black and blue for an even more innocuous look, and plain black as shown above).  I’ll let our readers check out all the fancy features this bag possesses, most of which were of little interest to me (since I did not foresee using it as a true “laptop backpack” very often, if ever).  What most interested me were main pouches that would accommodate my AR pistol and magazines, and then additional pouches/pockets to store other useful items.

Contents

It is this section that will see the most change over time.  Changes will take place as new items are obtained or depending on “mission”.  For example, if only traveling to my in-law’s house, I will dispense with certain items that are more associated with “hotel survival”.  What follows is a rough overview of some items carried for any of various “missions”.

Pocket #1—(Outermost Pocket)

This is a very thin pocket, and within it I carry “illumination” items including small, battery operated colored strobe lights, chemlight sticks, a backup streamlight flashlight, and spare batteries.

Pocket #2—(Next pocket closer to my back)

This pocket has a number of organizational aids within, which makes it handy for carrying a variety of items.  Loose toward the bottom of the pocket I typically have 4 door stops/wedges of two different styles.  These can be useful for holding open a door with an automatic closer or, conversely, helping to keep a door shut. Obviously, someone can poke them out from underneath, however, they can provide some delay that can enable me to either mount a more effective and timely defense or simply escape.

Also in this pocket can typically be found a backup folding knife (my old Spyderco Tenacious currently fills this role), pen and pencil, small notebook, and Leatherman multi-tool.  Though not in keeping with everything else in this pouch, I also keep a couple of packs of trail mix in here as well.

The big guy at the bottom of this pouch, on top of the doorstops, is a one-quart Ziploc bag set up as a blow-out kit.  It includes EMT shears, Combat Application Tourniquet, Combat Gauze, Israeli bandage, duct tape, and gloves.

Pocket #3–(Top Pocket)

This is the pocket with a hardened interior designed to keep eyewear relatively safe.  I instead use this pocket to keep a pair of small padlocks, which I use to secure the next two compartments from casual thieves, my or others’ children, etc.

Pocket #4—(Large pocket)

Within this pocket is stored my AR Pistol, muzzle down.  This is a .300 AAC Blackout model with 8.5” barrel, LawTac folder, and SBA3 Brace.  It is, obviously, carried in the “folded’ configuration and with a 20 round magazine inserted.  This pocket was modified slightly by me with the addition of a pad (cut from a floor pad….half my basement used to be covered with these to keep my kids from cracking their skulls when they were younger.  I’ve still got a stack of them).  The purpose of the pad is to keep the muzzle from making an obvious protrusion in the bottom of the bag visible from the outside (its version of “printing”), to keep the muzzle from creating too much wear on the bottom of the bag (I don’t want it to rub its way through over time!), and to prevent loud CLUNKS every time the bag is placed down.  To aid with all of this, I countersunk a soda bottle cap into the pad as the resting place for the muzzle of the weapon; this keeps the whole thing from shifting around inside the bag.

At the bottom of this pouch I keep a pair of Mechanix gloves, as I prefer using gloves when shooting my ARs.

Pocket #5—(Pocket up against the wearer’s back)

This is another large pocket and is the one designed for carry of an actual laptop.  It has a half-pocket within for the storage of cords/batteries or even an additional tablet/iPad/Kindle.  There is also a smaller mesh pocket, presumably for phones/MP3 players/spare batteries or some other devices.  In the half pocket I keep a three magazine bandolier.  This was an eBay special, has full hook Velcro on the back, and though it lacked any sort of carry strap, it did come with integral D-rings on the upper corners.  I promptly attached a shoulder strap from an old, worn-out duffel bag to the rings and covered the hook Velcro with some loop from the hardware store so it doesn’t catch on everything.  Inside the bandolier are three 30 round Magpul magazines (the type designed for the .300 AAC rounds).  In the smaller mesh pocket I keep two 15 round Glock magazines loaded with my standard self-defense rounds.

Pocket on Shoulder Strap

There is a small pocket on the shoulder strap (probably designed for ear buds) in which I keep a pair of simple ear plugs.

Side Mesh Pocket

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In this I typically keep a simple bottle of water.  First, you never know when you might be stuck somewhere and need some water to drink, flush wounds/eyes, etc.  Also, it lends an air of “normalcy” to the bag.  Stroll through a museum or zoo and you will see countless people with water bottles on their backpacks.

Deployment

As noted, the primary purpose of this bag is to be able to move the AR and the rest of this gear in a surreptitious manner from one place to another.  It is rarely on my back longer than car>hotel lobby>room or car>bedroom in rental house or car>bedroom inside in-laws’ house.  If I was carrying it as an EDC item, I would definitely carry a LOT less inside it in order to reduce weight and bulk as much as possible.

Having said that, there could be circumstances where I might need to deploy the AR quickly, directly from the bag.  For one thing, at some of these destinations, it is helpful for security reasons to just leave it in the bag.  Likewise, if something was to happen on the road, I might need to deploy the AR straight from the bag.  This is why I was happy and lucky to have been able to take a pair of classes that covered some of this material.  Though I did not use this particular bag in either class, I was able to figure out what works, what does not, and do my own testing at home.

To deploy straight from the bag, I:

Remove left arm from strap while swinging the bag around the right side of my body, letting the weight of the bag do much of the work.

Take a knee and place bag directly in front with the part that would normally be against my back facing away from me.

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Open twin zippers for the “AR pocket”, which were prepositioned at the 12 o’clock position for ease of access. If time permits, open twin zippers on the “laptop” pocket as well.

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Grab AR by pistol grip and pull from bag. Deploy stock or brace with left hand, then use left hand to rack the charging handle.

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If work needs to be done, do it. Otherwise, “safe” the AR, reach inside laptop pocket, and take out bandolier.  Throw it over head and left arm so it sits under left arm.

If time permits, rezip pockets on pack and put pack back on.

If time permits, sling AR.

That’s it.  In class, Rapier was able to do steps 1-4, plus fire his first shot, in about 9 seconds, and I have timed myself in dry-fire doing the same.

I hope you found this article useful.  Obviously, if the reader wants to go down this route, he or she will need to tailor EVERYTHING to his or her own needs.  Start with your “mission” and go from there.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please post below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse.  I can be reached privately at civiliangunfighter.robert@gmail.com

One additional note:  several of the links in this article take you to our Amazon Affiliate page.  If you purchase these or other items through the link (link is also available at the top of every page), we receive a small percentage of the purchase at no cost to you.  It’s a great way to support what we do here at Civilian Gunfighter, and we appreciate every penny, few though they may be!  Buying through the link helps us pay for this page as well as purchase gear and books that we then review for you.  So thanks again!

2 thoughts on “My Bag of Tricks

  1. I did the same class with Bill a few weeks ago. It was an excellent day of training and gave me a lot of food for thought about bag carry. It was interesting to see different people’s setups in that class, and equally interesting to read your post and see your thought process as well. As with many things, it’s all about compromises, and which ones you’re willing to accept to meet your goal. You can carry something larger, but it will likely be more obvious, heavier, etc; you can carry something even smaller but it may involve sacrificing effectiveness at longer ranges. Anticipated context will dictate many of those choices. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. Hammer,

      Thanks for sharing YOUR thoughts.
      Compromises abound with the weapon that is in the bag along with any other gear. The danger is to put everything, including the kitchen sink, into the bag, at which point it becomes ungainly and just LOOKS heavy. Mission drives the gear train!

      I didn’t use this setup in class because I didn’t feel like burning through expensive .300 ammo in class, so used a 5.56 upper instead, and as it’s longer, it required a different bag. But I’ve gotten a lot of dry reps with this bag and will do SOME live work with it as well in my training group.

      Thanks for the comments!
      –Robert

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