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For my early hurricane deployments as an Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Structures Specialist, I used to just sling multiple bags over my shoulders — wear one backpack normally, the other reversed over my chest, and maybe a third slung on one shoulder. This gets old fast if you’re having to transfer between different vehicles or walk on foot any distance at all. I’m not exactly known as a minimalist packer. As an engineer, I love redundancy and fully subscribe to the “two is one, one is none” mantra of having backups for backups. But the end result of carrying multiple overstuffed bags ended up looking ridiculous and made it tough to move with purpose and efficiency. So I ended up just purchasing one giant bag, the Sherpa Jr. by Red Oxx Manufacturing, which would serve as a “mothership” to my smaller bags and keep my bulky gear all in one place.
No more clipping boots or helmets to the outside of a smaller pack because they won’t fit inside — the Sherpa Jr. is like a black hole that sucks up all sorts of bulky gear. It streamlines my movement because I only have one bag to carry. It’s one enormous, impossible-to-miss or misplace bag. The dimensions on this mother are 27 by 15 by 15 inches. That’s over 6,000 cubic inches, and it’s not even the biggest bag Red Oxx offers. In this case though, I feel like this size is about the maximum practical for anything I do. If I had a bigger bag, I’d be tempted to stuff that one too, but it’d end up being too heavy to lift or carry without throwing out my back.
I used to have a gear room full of black packs to the point where it was hard to tell them apart. Nowadays, when I buy a pack I look for any other color than black. One of the things I love about Red Oxx Manufacturing is how I can order any of their bags in one of 13 colors, including an obnoxious (in a good way) bright blaze orange or a gorgeous bright blue (they call the color Mariner). In this case, I bought the Sherpa Jr. in a limited-edition lime green color, so that I could find my gear easily even when it was thrown into the back of a tractor trailer with similar bags strewn all around it.
I own seven other bags from Red Oxx. Nothing they make is inexpensive (the Sherpa Jr. is $335), but the build quality is just levels above what I’m used to seeing from similar items manufactured in overseas factories in Vietnam or Bangladesh. Red Oxx’s factory is in Billings, Montana, and is owned by veterans with a background in parachute rigging, so they know more than a little bit about building gear you can rely upon.
I’ve covered the contents of my smaller 5.11 RUSH72 in Issue 52 of RECOIL OFFGRID and 5.11 RUSH12 pack in Issue 48. I’m able to have these packs fully loaded and then just drop them into the Sherpa Jr., although sometimes I’ll leave those packs empty and just load the items separately until I have a better idea of what the mission profile will look like.
New for this hurricane season, I’ve been able to transition to the lighter and much more comfortable SAR Tactical Helmet made by Team Wendy. It’s amazing how much less cranky I am when I don’t have any pressure points boring into my head. I also bring a ridiculously heavy pair of Honeywell Technical Rescue Boots, which provide me the quiet comfort of knowing that, even if I go down in a helicopter crash and my body is converted to charcoal briquet status, my feet will still be pink, soft, and intact inside the boot’s protective shell. It’s the little things that count.
Most people are surprised when I tell them that in terms of advanced technology to locate and rescue victims, what we used at the Surfside (Champlain Tower) condominium collapse in Miami in 2021 was mostly the same technology that my predecessors used following the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. My primary surveying equipment to monitor the stability of the building was a decades-old, manually controlled Total Station, which didn’t even know how to talk to a computer. In contrast, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) engineers, sent to the collapse because of the large proportion of Jewish residents inside the building and community, had more advanced technology and techniques than anyone else.
I use a drone on a weekly basis for my “day job” as a structural engineer, and was ready to bring it down to Surfside, but was told that they had plenty of drones there, I’d be able see whatever I needed with a radio call. So naturally, I never had access to a drone while I was there. Like my friends in the military can probably relate to, close air support never seems to be there when you need it most. So now I bring my DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Drone with its onboard thermal camera for every deployment, and I stuff the huge heavy box into my Red Oxx Sherpa Jr. bag and just deal with the extra weight, because I’m never going to have that particular problem again.
I’ve always found it helpful to tuck in some completely unnecessary personal items, but my psychologist friend Dr. Meg Fitzpatrick, PsyD NCSP, helped me verbalize it and put a name to it for the first time. She first suggested a Mental Health Go Bag to tuck into my other kit. This is mostly just stuff that’s going to make me feel better and — critically — do my best to truly unplug during the few off-hours that we get. Mine includes delicious food that won’t spoil and refuels my body, often a box of Honey Stinger Nut + Seed Bars.
I’ll also add packets of instant micro-ground coffee, so I can feel human again with a caffeine boost even if I have nothing more than a lukewarm bottle of water to mix it with. Besides that, I throw in my new Sitka Ambient Hoody that weighs practically nothing but is still toasty warm. Unlike the rest of my issued gear, which are mostly cotton blends, it dries quickly when wet.
I top these off with little sample sizes of something that smells really good. The catch is that it needs to be a new smell and also a smell that I’m comfortable leaving behind and never smelling again after the deployment, to avoid unnecessary triggering. Of course, there are some triggers you’ll never get away from, but it’s nice to be able to at least minimize them going forward.
I hope this Red Oxx duffel gives you some good packing ideas for your own adventures. Finding good gear is like finding good friends, especially as you get older. It’s few and far between, but once you get it you’ve got it for life.
Andrew Schrader is a licensed professional engineer, commercial pilot and Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) specialist. He has been deployed by the State of Florida for four separate hurricane events, as well as the Surfside (Champlain Towers) condominium in 2021. He is the lead Structures Specialist for the State of Florida’s US&R Task Force. Find him on Instagram at @reconresponse.