Backpack Review of the FAST Pack Litespeed made by Triple Aught Design (AKA: T.A.D., TAD, TAD Gear)
Who: Patrick Ma, a designer, artist, and former US soldier
Where: Dogpatch, San Francisco, California, USA
When: Since 1997
What: The best performing gear possible, made in America.
Why: To inspire and enhance your world explorations with gear that will help you make it back to tell the tale.
First Impressions top
I really like bags that have serious functional capabilities and don't skimp on ergonomic straps. This pack certainly qualifies. The FAST Pack Litespeed (FPL) is a carefully thought out piece of military gear. Other tactical bags can be very busy and brutish, but the FLP is designed to be a svelte pack that allows high maneuverability in tight areas such as the jungle (actual or urban). Compared to the GoRuck it still looks 'professional military,' covered in PALS webbing. But the attention to detail still lets you remove accessories and manage straps to get a clean look without sacrificing functionality.
As a point of reference, the FAST Pack Litespeed joins my carry quiver among the ranks of the Osprey Momentum 34, the Mission Workshop Rambler and a "3-day" assault pack by Voodo Tactical. The FPL is constructed WAY better than the Voodo pack, but has fewer pockets. It's similar in durability and weight to the Mission Workshop, but the FPL isn't waterproof like the MW. The Osprey is the lightest and has the most organization, but is the least durable.
I have primarily been using the Litespeed to commute, (urban and suburban - the metro north public transit system) 'couch surfing' in NYC, day-hikes and long activities. As a "civilian," I would not normally choose a tactical pack for commuting in NYC. I wouldn't want to be mistaken as someone in the military. However, the functionality and style of military gear is becoming more acceptable in public (see this popular skate backpack).
Pack Description top
The Litespeed is a 21.3L (1300in^3) front-panel opener with webbing rows on the front, sides and bottom. Compression comes from the two straps on the top (in line with the shoulder straps) and the two across the middle of the pack. In this picture, the removable Transporter Tail, a webbing-covered flap, is attached to the pack for exterior storage of items such as a rain jacket (below).
The quality of T.A.D. products is paramount: these bags actually accompany soldiers in the field (see their gallery). This backpack is proudly made in the USA and features all the best materials, including Cordura fabric, Hypalon, large YKK zips, and ITW Nexus plastic hardware. The webbing is sewn and then bar tacked, the seams are double stitched, and the suspension is top notch. All this amounts to a pack that is as durable as anything you can buy at any price.
To get the most out of the best "pocket" on this pack, you've got to use the PALS webbing. I know, not really a pocket. It's really an empty grid, which you can build on in order to design your own pocket layout. For those not acquainted with tactical molle accessories, they are extremely varied. Universal molle pouches are made for medics, soldiers and law enforcement; they range from bottle holders to pencil organizers. This built in versatility comes with significant weight. I find the pouches to cumbersome to arrange and re-arrange for everyday carry.
_Transporter Tail top
The unconventional pocket is the Transporter Tail (AKA beaver tail) which is very versatile. For EDC, you will probably find your water bottle or extra layer will end up here for the convenience of easy access. I used it to deliver a large custom bag, the package was secure under the Tail, and it wasn't too hard to get access to the pockets. In the extended configuration, the makers may have envisioned carrying a rifle, but it's well suited to carry a longboard too.
_Main Pocket top
On the inside of the front panel there are two zippered mesh pockets. On the back there is a large flat sleeve for a hydration system. A key clip, a loop, and two 3/4" tri-glides are sewn into the top seam.
In the bottom mesh pocket, I usually carry a small med kit, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and an emergency energy bar. The top mesh pocket usually holds my large camera (Canon G11) and an extra pair of sunglasses, leaving room to spare. On my photo excursion day I had:
The main pocket is spacious and more readily accessible than other EDC packs which do not open all the way. However, it becomes more cumbersome to access when you add the transport tail, more pouches, and gear compression. I was worried that the two top compression straps would block access to the main compartment, but I actually found that I could keep the main zips open on top and reach in in-between the straps. For hardcore tactical guys this is a very loose setup. For me, it's a good blend of convenience and mobility.
_Admin Pocket top
The "admin pocket", located at the top of the outside panel of the pack, is the only exterior pocket on the bag. Today I had my primary sunglasses, a few pens, gum, some duct tape, wrapped around a credit card, a folding spoon and ear buds. The access to this pocket and the organization inside are pretty standard.
This pocket was less impressive than the rest of the pack. I want easier access and more varied organization. As the only exterior pocket I was disappointed this wasn't magical (high expectations I guess)!
The suspension on the FAST Pack Litespeed is excellent. The shoulder straps are contoured and padded for optimal ergonomics and thus comfort. They are reinforced with 1" and 1.5" webbing back to back. Clips at the top of the shoulder straps (A,B) compress the top portion of the pack flat against your back. I used one of the provided elastics from the waist belt around the clip to better secure my hydration tube (B), before it is threaded into the elastic (D). The back panel is flexible but still manages to provide some rigidity for load support as well. Thick perforated foam is covered by heavy-duty mesh (C) to allow for some air circulation. The contours on the back panel are designed to allow the pack to bend naturally with your movements in the field. You can release the pack quickly via the side-release buckles at the bottom of the straps (G). I personally find, for my body type (5'9" 150lbs), that these clips create noticable, but not bothersome, pressure points. The adjustable sternum strap (E) rounds out the feature list!
Tactical companies make fast-access molle sheaths for soldier's weapons and ammunition. I want pouches tailored for my daily gear. My camera, computer charger, sunglasses, and other civilian gadgets. I received the OP1 ($55), the GPP1 ($35) and the iComm ($20) pouches from T.A.D. to review. Price-wise these pouches are comparable to Maxpedition or Tactical Tailor gear.
MOLLE is the intended organization scheme on the exterior. Triple Aught provided me with a bunch of their pouches that complete the system, my favorite is the Organizer Pouch 1. I keep it filled with a couple daily items and a few for preparedness. On the back all the pouches include TAD's own molle attachment system. While I don't have much experience with molle pouches but I can say TAD's come off quicker than they go on (I believe the opposite is true with MALICE clips).
Organizer Pouch 1 (OP1) top
The OP1 is a slim; zippered organizer pouch, on its exterior is a Velcro flap pocket and a "stealth" pocket. Inside its got one flap and one zippered pocket with rows of 1" and 2" elastics to secure small items. On the back there is TAD's own molle attachment system.
It can mount to the front of the pack or the Transport Tail. Since I keep the transport tail off most of the time I keep my OP1 mounted right on the front.
This pouch is perfect for small items, you can fit markers, pens, utensils, papers, ID, knives, tools, etc in here and they'll stay put. The exterior pockets on this guy are a huge plus, too. You've got sleeve pockets under the flap (for a maglite, pens, or cords), and behind those, is a shove pocket. You can see from the top view, that without opening the pouch completely, the OP1 gives good access to my pens and the shove pocket.
General Purpose Pouch 1 (GPP1) top
A great little piece of gear, a simple pouch that offers some organization and doesn't get in the way of the main compartment. It happens to fit my camera (Canon G11) snugly, but with room to spare for memory cards and other accessories. I'm glad there is an exterior zip pocket because exterior pockets are scarce on the Litespeed.
The flip side with molle is that is does take a while to attach each pouch, so it is not something I would want to do daily. A great feature of this pouch is the pass-through under the molle which allows you to slide it onto your pack's waist belt or cross strap more quickly than the molle. I like that you could even use it on a regular belt, I could see myself doing that to carry my camera and a few essentials for a day out.
iComm - small pouch top
The piece is heavy-duty, easy to open, and has a rigid back. You can mount it to the horizontal PALS or the vertical webbing (like shoulder straps) via the two strapping option on the back.
In general I am not impressed when other companies use iNames. Doesn't help that I don't fit! If you have an Otterbox Defender Case on your iPhone the velcro barely clings closed. That being said, a naked iPhone fits with room to spare and it fits my Nikon Coolpix camera like a glove.
What I Really Like top
The overbuilt durability with the 1000D Cordura. The removable transport tail and upgradeable waist belt increase functionality. The high quality comfortable straps and great load compression. Velcro patch panel and T.A.D. morale patches, especially the Dogpatch patch. I made the 5 patch myself!
The end loops of the straps have these awesome Velcro wings threaded through! I wish TAD sold a pack of these and I would buy them for all my other bags!
My Setup top
I like the minimalist, easy-access setup for my EDC. With the Transport Tail, OP1, GPP1 and iComm all installed the pack begins to feel bulkier and overly militaristic for city business. I keep the cross straps stowed on the sides, so they don't inhibit the main zip.
I keep the OP1 on the back ready to lay open and the transport tail stuffed inside at the bottom. This makes for a thin, streamlined pack with clear access to the sides of the main zip and a wide-open front to lay out the OP1.
The "stealth" pocket on this thing acts like a quick-access, flashlight-cave when pointed down. I find I can stick a cliff bar or Chapstick in there to grab on the go. If you mount it upside-down you create a cool little pocket in the space between Velcro tabs, where the front Velcro flap now flaps up. I'll stick my sunglasses there if I'm taking them on and off a lot, it's just nice to have another exterior stash spot if you need it in a pinch.
For an overnight or if I need some specialty gear, there's enough room in the main pocket that I don't have to make any adjustments; the fatter pack (shown below) carries just fine.
If I ever need to carry something "extra" I've got the transport tail inside which laces up pretty quick (much quicker than molle accessories). If you need to carry something like a tripod the cross straps are quickly deployable from their stowed position.
What I Would Change top
1. Add some documentation - with so much functionality, I would love if they gave us somewhere to start. Obviously, for us gear geeks half the fun is just playing with the pack and getting comfortable with a few set-ups for different occasions, but I'm sure the guys at TAD could teach us something! There are also a few details I'm not sure how to use.
2. I'd love to see T.A.D. make some add-on gear specifically to integrate with this bag. For instance, another option instead of the flat Transport Tail with some zippered storage pockets built in. Maybe a bigger, yet slimmer OP panel that attaches and removes lightning-quickly to the front of the pack. I also like the idea of having a pouch already packed for the next activity, and swapping pouches quickly to transition, rather than un-packing and re-packing. It just feels like there are some cool options to explore that bridge the gap between combat and civilian stuff.
3. The admin pocket - I want wider access, a loop to clip keys, some elastic, and maybe even mesh pockets, essentially, something laid out more like the OP1 pouch. Jordan May suggested, in his review, that the zipper follow an arc rather than just going straight across. That would probably be a good improvement; the arc would allow better access and works well on my Momentum 34.
Final Words top
Would I recommend it to a friend? Hell YES. It will excel in any situation where durability and agility are important. As a daypack for light hikes or, around town, I think most will find to be a bit heavier than they would prefer and more durable than they truly need. Some may find that this pack does not have enough organization or protection for their daily possessions; then again, this is not that type of pack.
This pack is great for a soldier but would also be useful for downhill mountain bikers, trail crews, park rangers, rugged hikes, ski patrols, hunters and skateboarders. $240.00 is a good amount of money, but you undoubtedly get a high quality product that is similarly priced to competitors like Kifaru, Mystery Ranch, and Maxpedition, and to other brands like Mission Workshop and GoRuck. It's really comfortable to carry, it tightly wraps your torso and doesn't shift around. Even without any molle pouches this pack is really versatile. The FPL is built for rugged high-performance missions: it can be precisely configured with mission specific gear. It has the capability to accept more gear and large loads when the tail is installed. The provided compression straps secure any load and there are plenty of loops on the pack to lash even more gear if necessary. If you find you carry a lot of fragile technology and need padding or, want an ultra-light backpack rather than extreme durability this pack is probably not for you. If you plan to try or already use molle pouches and want a rugged pack that will carry well under load and lasts forever get this pack!
A huge thanks to Triple Aught Design for letting me have a pack to review. Extra kudos for including the modular pieces!