Camouflage is contextual — what blends in effectively to one environment may stick out like a sore thumb in others. Whether consciously or unconsciously, humans notice individuals who don't match their surroundings. Try showing up to a Broadway play in gym shorts and a stained tank top, or strolling through a high-crime neighborhood at sunset in a three-piece suit. In the first scenario, you might just get some dirty looks; in the second, you run the risk of much more severe consequences. Either way, you'll feel bystanders' eyes tracing your every move.
There are many situations where camo-patterned MOLLE-compatible tactical gear won't seem abnormal — military deployments, hunting trips, backcountry hikes, and so on. But there are others where, in an ironic twist, camouflage accomplishes the exact opposite of its intended purpose. If you walk into a mall, sporting venue, or other urban place with a MultiCam tactical backpack, it's likely you'll turn some heads. Pair this with wraparound shades, mid-cut boots, and a shirt emblazoned with your favorite firearm brand, and it won't take a rocket surgeon to deduct that you're probably also carrying a concealed weapon.
If you're looking to avoid this unwanted attention, you could go to the opposite end of the spectrum and lose the tactical backpack in favor of a cheap bookbag from WalMart. This would undoubtedly appear less conspicuous, but at the expense of quality, durability, and organization for your every-day-carry gear.
The ideal urban/suburban pack is somewhere between these two extremes, with the features you'd expect from a tactical pack wrapped in a discreet exterior. This is the target Grey Ghost Gear set for their Gypsy backpack. As the product page states, “Nobody wants a bag that yells, Yo, we got us a badass here!”
The Grey Ghost Gypsy is a waxed canvas backpack with a flap-top design, much like that of a messenger bag. This sort of thing is all the rage with hip urbanites, bike commuters, and — dare we say the word in a serious context — millennials. Even if you couldn't care less about appealing to those demographics, waxed canvas is an old-school weather-resistant material that has stood the test of time.
The pack is available in four colors: black, charcoal (pictured), olive, and field tan. Total volume is 22 liters (1,368 cubic inches). MSRP is $225.
After popping open the two retention buckles and peeling back the flap, you'll begin to see that there's much more to this pack than its subdued canvas exterior. The interior is lined with tough nylon, and the stitched seams are clearly designed with durability in mind.
At the top of the main compartment, there's a 12-by-7-inch stretch mesh pocket that's big enough for a small laptop, tablet, or various other supplies. We filled it with some protein bars and an empty Hydrapak hydration system, which can be filled with water for longer walks, bike rides, or emergency get-home bag use. There's also a Sawyer Mini filter in here in case we ever find ourselves needing to collect water from questionable sources.
On the back wall of the pouch below the mesh pocket, there's a large area for attaching Velcro-backed pouches and accessories. We installed a universal holster insert here at a 45-degree angle, so the handgun inside can be accessed through the top of the pack or through its side-opening zippers:
Moving down the front face of the pack, there's another deep zippered pouch where we stashed an EDC electronics kit, as well as two rows of PALS webbing where pouches and other modular gear can be attached. This is hidden when the top flap is closed. Since adding bulky MOLLE gear here would seem to defeat the purpose of the bag, we used the webbing to retain a carabiner and a Thyrm CellVault with some spare CR123 flashlight batteries.
Directly underneath the webbing, there's a concealed pouch lined in waterproof Hypalon rubber. We stowed a shemagh inside — they come in handy for numerous purposes.
Outside the Hypalon pouch is an organizer pocket with a flap closure. However, after opening the flap, two water-resistant zippers allow this pocket to be opened further:
Stretch mesh pockets in this organizer fit small and mid-sized items including pens, a lighter, a small bottle of hand sanitizer, and a TacMed Solutions Pocket Medical Kit (see Pocket Preps in Issue 28 for a full review of this item). Another two zippered pockets on the front flap fit cordage, a flashlight, and a Petzl E+Lite micro headlamp.
Two more pockets reside on the corners of the top flap. These are ideal for storing quick access items, and they're lined with soft cloth that won't scratch up your sunglasses.
Lastly, a pair of pockets on each side of the pack can be used as-is to carry long and slim items, or can be unzipped and expanded to carry water bottles.
The shoulder strap yoke has an integrated carry handle, although its offset placement causes the pack to feel front-heavy when carried with one hand. The rear face of the pack has a black Hypalon panel with slits for clipping on small items, such as an identification light for nighttime bike rides.
The base of the pack also includes two more rows of PALS webbing, but these are essentially invisible when the pack is being worn. Again, we'd never add MOLLE gear here, but the loops would make a nice attachment point for strapping on a bulky jacket or blanket at the small-of-the-back position.
As a backpack to fill the void between 1000D nylon tactical gear and off-the-shelf bookbags, the Grey Ghost Gypsy hits the nail on the head. We got positive feedback about its appearance from friends who are tactical gear connoisseurs, as well as from those who'd normally shy away from that sort of thing. This broad appeal is an indicator that Grey Ghost Gear has accomplished its mission with the aesthetics.
From a functional standpoint, we also quickly grew to appreciate the Gypsy. Rather than leaving the user to organize small items in one or two cavernous compartments — one of our biggest gripes with backpacks — it features more than a dozen pockets of various sizes where loose gear can be stored. Better yet, these pockets are organized in a logical manner throughout the pack, instead of clustered together in one spot.
We also greatly appreciated the hidden side zippers, which allow fast access to gear in the main compartment without unbuckling and opening the top flap (or removing the pack).
Wearing the Gypsy is comfortable, thanks to the broad yoke that distributes weight across the shoulders and a ventilated mesh back panel. We loaded the pack with a little less than 20 pounds of gear, and it carried it easily. The 15″ by 4″ by 17″ main compartment fit a jacket, hat, 1-liter water bottle, iPad, and a few pieces of reading material with lots of room to spare. Although we'll primarily use it as an every-day-carry pack and occasional overnight bag, it could accommodate longer trips if you pack efficiently.
The expandable side water bottle pockets yielded mixed feelings. On one hand, when they're zipped up, they keep the pack slim and are the perfect size for standard AR-15 mags. However, when they're unzipped, the ultra-thin stretch mesh tightly grips larger-diameter bottles such as a Nalgene. Using these expanded pockets consistently may lead to the mesh wearing through or tearing at the base, and it will almost certainly cause the elastic to lose its rebound. So, unless you're only carrying small 16oz bottles, you may want to keep your beverages inside the pack.
The waxed canvas shed water easily during brief downpours, so this pack should have no issues resisting weather. But we did notice the material tends to pick up stains easily, at least in the Charcoal color we selected. Setting the bag down in dirt left some brown marks on the base, and it picked up some faint grass stains on the top flap (pictured on the left).
This gives the bag's appearance some character over time, but a large and/or colorful stain in the wrong place could be unsightly. Rubbing with a damp cloth can minimize stains, but if you rub too hard you may need to re-treat the bag with wax to retain its waterproofing. Here's a helpful guide on the steps for cleaning waxed canvas.
The Grey Ghost Gypsy backpack looks slick and fits into a range of urban or rural environments. You could easily wear it downtown in the city, take it on a day hike in the hills, or just about anything in between. But the attraction isn't just skin-deep — it also offers quality construction and thoughtful organization for all the gear we use on a daily basis. All this without a single blotch of camouflage, loop of conspicuous PALS webbing, or field of Velcro for look-at-me morale patches.
For these reasons, the Gypsy has supplanted several of the more aggressive-looking packs we own and earned a place in our EDC loadout.
To learn more about the Gypsy pack, its counterpart the Wanderer messenger bag, and other Grey Ghost Gear products, go to GreyGhostGear.com.