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3/21/13

Review: Eberlestock Gunslinger 2

Eberlestock developed their original Gunslinger pack for military SOF groups, and it was an immediate hit. The Gunslinger 2 (GS2) is a refinement of that original's design, adding a full barn door front opening and more compression straps to the mix.

Eberlestock offers a great mix of packs -- so many, that it can be difficult to choose exactly which pack to buy. After much back and forth, I went with the GS2 for a variety of reasons:
  • Big but not too big--Eberlestock says 2700 cubic inches; I'd prefer maybe 500-1000 more cubic inches, but hey, it helps keep you from over packing (mostly).
  • Integrated rifle scabbard - cost, weight savings and greater durability than the "add-on" scabbards. More on why I like the scabbard later.
  • Available in black--more on this later.
  • Compression straps allow for expansion and overflow, strapping excess gear to the exterior.
  • Lighter weight than comparable, more feature-packed Eberlestock offerings--which are all on the heavy side. The GS2 weighs in at an advertised 6 pounds.
  • Lower comparative cost--at a little under $300, the GS2 ain't cheap, but it's not the $500-$600 that some of the bigger/more feature packed Eberlestock packs are.

Unlike many pack makers today, Eberlestock hasn't sacrificed  organization and ease-of-use in favor of shaving off every possible ounce. They understand what it's like to live out of a pack, and their packs are designed accordingly. If you want ultralight, you'll need to go elsewhere.

The GS2's combination top-loader and barn-door front panel means that accessing any part of the main compartment is easy and hassle free. There's no digging and wrestling with your pack to free an item--its quick at hand. It's a great combination.
The main compartment has six pockets -- two side, sized for a Nalgene sized bottle, two smaller back pouches, and two sized for hydration bladders. In addition, the sides and front flap are lined with MOLLE webbing, useful for organizing and adding MOLLE compatible pockets if you so choose. You can see them used to organize some tent stakes in the picture below. The high-viz lining is another nice touch that you wouldn't find on a low-end or an ultralight pack, either.

Inside the GS2s main compartment.
The GS2's lid holds a great admin-style pocket, with two pouches sized for M4 mags, a zip pocket, stash pocket, key keeper and pencil pockets. This is great for carrying commonly used items. It can be easy to over pack, though, which can make the GS2 top heavy--not terrible, but something to watch out for. The top lid also has an undersized fleece lined sunglasses pocket, which is not particularly useful.
An excellent admin pocket for organizing essentials.

On the outside of the main flap, you'll find a generously sized stash pocket. On the sides, two wand pockets--a Nalgene sized bottle fits fine in these.

The pack exterior and waist belt are covered in MOLLE webbing, with ample options for adding pouches and pockets. Eberlestock sells many options, and you can of course use any compatible MOLLE pouch out there. I'm going to add a dump pouch or two to the waist belt for canteens, overflow, etc.

Side profile of the GS2.
The pack fits comfortably, though rides higher than the Kifaru pack that I previously had. Shoulder straps and waist belt will adjust to fit a variety of sizes. The pack does not really have adequate height for the load lifter straps to really do the job of lifting a load off your shoulders, like they do on a Kifaru, but they do pull the load in a bit tighter to your back, helping with stabilization.

The GS2 does not have aluminum stays and instead relies only on a plastic frame sheet for support. It will not carry a large amount of weight particularly well, and certainly not as well as a pack with aluminum stays or a full on external frame. If you need/want to carry > 35-45 pounds routinely, I'd look into one of Eberlestock's other packs. Eberlestock does offer an add-on aluminum frame that I have not tried out, but the consensus I've heard is that it doesn't do much to help and is really more of an afterthought.

Because the main pack body is placed behind the rifle scabbard, out a few inches further from your back and the frame, you do get more load movement and shifting than you would with a conventional pack. In my uses, it hasn't been a problem, but the GS2 does feel/ride differently--a bit wobbly, maybe--than compared to a typical pack. Cranking down on the compression straps helps, too.

Fit with armor on is not particularly good--the GS2 is not designed around being worn with armor, like some of Kifaru or Mystery Ranch's offerings. So, you have to loosen up straps, do weird things with the waistbelt, etc. If a solid fit while wearing armor is top of your list, I'd take a look at some of Mystery Ranch's packs.

The GS2 is pretty decently sized, especially given its weight carrying limits. 2700 cubic inches is enough space for most bug out kits, go bags or what have you, but not something like a long term, I'm not coming home again pack. Lightweight shelter, food and gear fit without too much trouble. There's MOLLE for additional pouches if you run out of space, and the compression straps work really well for things like sleeping bags and bulky clothing.

Build quality is excellent. It's all 1000D Cordura, which is probably overkill, and partially why Eberlestock's packs are so heavy. Buckles, zippers, sewing and so on are great. No complaints here...when you pick up an Eberlestock pack, you can feel it's a solid piece of kit.

Overall, I am quite happy with the GS2. I'd like aluminum frame stays and a bit better load carrying ability--Kifaru and others, and probably some of the other Eberlestock packs have the GS2 beat in this department. But, overall, the GS2 is a pretty great package with unique features. If you're in the market, I would certainly recommend it. In my opinion, it's one of the best "bug out bag" packs on the market today.

Now onto some of the specifics:

The Rifle Sleeve:
My main interest here was the ability to - if needed - conceal a long gun. Not many ways you can do that, on foot, and the GS2's rifle sleeve allows for it. A little bit of additional work to help break up the outline of the rifle - a sleeping bag strapped to the top or bottom, for example - and the GS2 looks just like any other military-type pack. It's also an exceptionally stable and secure way to carry a long arm - if you need to climb, scramble or otherwise have the gun out of your way, the sleeve is rock solid.

The sleeve says: "Feed me rifles!"
The sleeve will entirely fit a 16" AR-15 with the lower half extended (not pictured). With the lower half tucked in, you have the buttstock extending up out of the top of the pack. The sleeve, lower half tucked in, can entirely accommodate a folding stock rifle or a broken down AR-15, with very little visual signature--looks just like a regular pack.

The GS2's sleeve is just wide enough to fit an AR-15 with an Aimpoint PRO and 30 round magazine.  Taller than that and you won't fit, though 20 round mags are always a choice.

Of course, know your local laws and be smart if you decide to carry a long gun in your pack.

When not needed for a rifle, the sleeve is still useful for a wide variety of long, relatively skinny objects. Axes, saws, bolt cutters, arrows, tent poles--all sorts of items.

Black:
Your mileage will vary on this one, but it was important to me that the pack draw little interest and maintain a relatively low signature. Something I could carry through a hotel lobby, for example, without raising eyebrows.

Look at most backpacks and bags when you're out in public...they're mostly black. If it's black, it's typical, it's boring and quickly forgotten. Black color also helps obscure the details of the pack--depending on the lighting, you have a hard time spotting the MOLLE webbing and some of the other pack details if you're more than a few feet away. It all just kind of blends together.

Basically, the black color helps take the military/survivalist signature of the GS2 down a notch or two.

But what about camouflage, you say? Well, black does a decent job in my current area (Southeast--lots of heavily grown, shaded forests) and can do even better with a coat of spray paint or roll in the mud. And, Eberlestock has rain flys in Coyote Brown and various camo patterns, which can strap on in a moment and cover the main pack body.
The GS2 with rain fly.
So, black was my way of having it both ways--lower profile "urban survival" grey man considerations, and then slap on a rainfly if I need to hit the woods. Have my cake and eat it too. I'd like a black and a multicam version, but don't want to fork over cash necessary.

The Eberlestock Gunslinger 2 is available from a variety of online retailers, including Amazon. Retail is just under $300; you can occasionally find them used for less, but they retain their resale value fairly well.

For further info, Eberlestock has a great overview of the pack up on YouTube.

4 comments :

  1. I ordered one this morning, your review spurred me into pulling the trigger finally.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool! Glad I could help - I think you'll enjoy the GS2!

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  2. Are you an official member of M.H.I.?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd tell you, but Agent Franks would probably show up on your doorstep soon thereafter.

      Delete