One of the most common questions I get about my gear is an explanation of what I keep inside my Hill People Gear Kit Bag, AKA the weird rectangular coyote pouch that's strapped to my chest. I've had to rewrite the contents list about a half dozen times now, so here is a deep dive into what I keep in there and why.
WHAT IS A KIT BAG?
So the kit bag is a product created by the people over at Hill People Gear, a gear company based out of Grand Junction, CO. They're a great company and they make great products, their heads are really in the right place I think. The kit bag is described by them as their "original and most popular item." Not sure when they first came out, but they've been around since at least 2014-ish. They now offer several different models (I have an Original V2, the SAR and Heavy Recon are also good). Since release, the idea has really gained traction among the more hardcore outdoor people, and several other companies (like Helikon Tex's Numbat) have made similar products (there's even a pic of Kanye West wearing one made by a fashion company called Alyx). But as far as I know, Hill People Gear were the creators of this concept and are still the ones doing it best, so if you want a kit bag I urge you to support them.
INTENT OF THE KITBAG
So I'm gonna talk about what I use my kit bag for. I've watched the great HPG videos about kit bag loadouts, and I think our intents overlap a lot, but just know that YMMV. The kit bag has a few big roles for me.
It's the place where I would put all of my first line survival essentials, especially ones that don't fit well in pants pockets.
It's where I put little items I need to access quickly, such as landnav gear. Again, think of the kit bag like an extension of your pants pockets.
It allows me to conceal carry a handgun when I'm wearing a rucksack, because a rucksack belt is basically incompatible with a IWB handgun holster (if you don't believe me, try it for a few miles).
So role #1, first line items. My kit bag is worn almost EVERY time I go into the woods. It's worn above my baselayer, under any load bearing gear. When it's cold I'll throw a jacket either under it or over it, depending on how likely I am to take that jacket off once I warm up. When walking around camp or foraging, the kit bag stays on, so that I always have its contents. It only comes off when I'm sitting still for a long time to cook or work. When I sleep, it's a pillow.
All of this is because the kit bag contains first line survival essentials. When you get to your RON patrol base, you don't empty your first line survival gear out of your pockets, do you? Well you don't take off your kit bag for the same reasons. If you get lost or separated from your gear, the kitbag contains items to keep you alive. Firemaking supplies, knife, poncho, space blanket, whistle, etc.
Role #2, quick access items. Like I said this is mostly landnav gear. I'm sure a lot of you have awkwardly stuffed maps into your pants pocket and gotten them all creased or fucked up. I'm happy to say that the big pocket on the kitbag fits a 8.5" x 11" map, folded once. It also fits your compass, GPS, protractor, binos, notebook, pens & pencils, etc. No more messing around with pants or shoulder pockets, it's all right there. It can also hold a folding saw, spare rope, spare tape, spare batteries, all those things that you hate to go digging around in your ruck for.
Role # 3, concealed handgun. I basically always have a gun when out in the woods. I think most readers do too, so I'm not going to waste time justifying why. In ideal situations I carry a rifle (and no handgun). But often times, there are too many other hikers, or I'm going fast enough and far enough that a rifle will slow me down too much. In those cases I either carry a handgun on an OWB holster, or if I need to use a rucksack belt, I put the gun in my kitbag. It goes in the big rear pocket. HPG has a video on how you store and draw it quickly. I personally have found that the recommended kydex trigger cover doesn't work well with a weapon mounted light, so I just carry with an empty chamber for the time being, but I'm looking for a slim kydex holster to mount in there. I also wear it whenever I go running, as it lets me carry a gun (and a knife, and pepper spray...) while wearing gym shorts or silkies.
KIT BAG GEAR LAYOUT
Here is everything I keep in my kit bag on a regular basis. Yes, it all fits in there. Fully loaded minus the gun, it's about 3lbs 8oz.
The kit bag has three pockets - a front, a middle, and a rear, each one larger than the last. I'm gonna break down this layout by pocket.
EXTERIOR / FRONT POCKET
-ITW Grimlok: That's the coyote plastic thing on the bottom. Kit bag comes with two. I use it to clip my GPS and my headlamp to when staging gear at home so I don't forget them. When I step off, GPS goes on my wrist and headlamp goes around my neck. When on the trail, I clip my baseball cap or sometimes my mittens onto this grimlok when not wearing it.
-Garmin Foretrex 401: this goes on my non-dom wrist. small, cheap, light wrist mounted GPS that does everything I need it to. I won't buy one of the newer wrist GPS units because they have a short battery life and you can't hotswap the batteries (unlike the 2x AAA that power this unit. This is the GPS I recommend everyone for landnav. I've used the Foretrex 101, 201, 301, and 401. 101 loses signal too often to really trust, 201 doesn't have hot swappable batteries, 301 and 401 are both good. 501 didn't seem to exist? And I haven't used the 601, they're too expensive.
-Manker E03H headlamp: this goes around my neck. AWESOME headlamp. $35 shipped, aluminum body, powered by 1x AA, mechanical swappable colored filters, pocket clip, magnetic mount, long run time, good max and min lumens. Can't recommend it enough. I think I own 4-5 of them.
-Morakniv 511 Knife: also a great product. $20 for two of them on ebay. Weighs almost nothing due to thin blade, but good steel. I've ground down the spine on mine so it can strike a ferro rod better, and given it a forced patina with vinegar. Rope cutter, cooking/eating utensil, defensive weapon. I carry it on my non-dom side of the kitbag in a custom kydex sheath that's bolted on. That way it doesn't interfere with shouldering a rifle, I can quickly draw it one handed, and I can watch it as I resheath it so I don't accidentally sink it into my pectoral.
-Mechanical Pencil, Blue Pen, Black Pen: These get stuffed inside the front pocket. Pencils can be erased, pens work better on laminated maps. I just throw in whatever pens and mechanical pencils I have handy, but I'm open to suggestions if there's a specific model that's superior.
-Silva Ranger compass: When I need a real bearing and my wrist compass won't suffice, I go to this. Declination adjustment key dummy corded to compass body, and compass body dummy corded to the kit bag with elastic shock cord.
-Nikon Pocket Binoculars: Not sure the model, I think they're an older model of the Aculon line. These actually come in handy a lot when you get to a high point and need to observe something far away. Dummy corded to the kit bag with elastic shock cord.
-Garmin InReach Mini: It's a satellite-based communicator and emergency beacon. Can send texts and coords to people in your contacts, can also call search and rescue when the SOS button is held. Waterproof, Shock Proof, Long Battery Life. This item offers fantastic peace of mind if you go into the woods alone or you go to very remote places. Always charge and test it before you leave home. Dummy corded to kit bag with 550 cord.
-Fox40 Classic Whistle: "Pealess" whistle. Doesn't rattle, can't get jammed. Use it to get attention if you're lost or in distress. Can also be used for tactical communication in lieu of radios or spoken word (see: the North Vietnamese Army and every other army before radios). Dummy corded to the kit bag with elastic shock cord.
-Bahco Laplander Folding Saw: Cheap, sharp, sized perfectly to fit in a kit bag. I tied orange 550 cord to it so I don't lose it on the forest floor. Gets dull and needs to be replaced every 6-12 months.
-Smith's Pull-Through Knife Sharpener: Kind of an optional item. I'm terrible at sharpening, so the pull-through design means that even people like me can get their knives *kind of* sharp.
-Bic Lighter: for starting fires.
-2x Panasonic Eneloop Pro AAA Rechargeable Batteries: One change of batteries for the Foretrex GPS (it will go about 24 hours on one set of batteries). Stored in a dime baggy to keep out water.
-OD Duct Tape: Wrapped around a little piece of HDPE. Used for miscellaneous gear repairs.
-Knock-off Rite in the Rain Notepad: Put all your notes in here.
-OD Emergency Poncho: In case you're caught in the rain away from ruck or shelter. Can also make a basic shelter with it.
-Mylar Emergency Blanket: space blanket to wrap yourself in if you lose your gear and are stuck outside overnight. Will probably need to be used in conjunction with a campfire.
-Telescoping Fire Bellows Tube: probably the most utility per dollar I've gotten out of any piece of gear in my entire life. I mean it. These things are like $3 on ebay. It makes fires so much easier to start, maintain, and stoke. Collapses down to almost nothing.
-Glock 19: yeah yeah, gun stuff. It's a Glock 19 with a Streamlight TLR-1HL, a Trijicon Type 2 RMR, and suppressor height iron sights. Everything else is stock. Like I said, HPG recommends using a dummy corded kydex trigger cover when carrying in the kit bag, but those don't seem to play nice with weapon mounted lights, so I'm just carrying with an empty chamber until I can find a minimalist kydex holster to mount inside the kit bag rear pocket.
-Topo Map: 1:25,000 MGRS/USNG + USFS topo map that I create using caltopo.com then laser print onto regular 8.5" x 11" paper and "laminate" using packing tape. Fold once to fit inside kit bag.
-USGI protractor: a great tool for doing more advanced landnav (resection, intersection, plotting distance) on 1:25k, 1:50k, or 1:100k maps. I've done the old ranger digest trick of drilling a hole in the center and adding a length of micro cord to calculate azimuth.
So that's basically it. Here's a brief list of things that sometimes come and go from my kit bag loadout:
OPTIONAL / OCCASIONAL KIT BAG CONTENTS:
fire starter (usually not needed here in Colorado)
Atwood micro cord
A mini laser rangefinder
Spare handgun mag
Hand / Foot Warmers
Good luck out there!