Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Guest Post: Tidewe 5500cu External Frame Backpack

by George Groot

George is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before.

I’ve written before that military issue rucksacks generally suck for actually hauling lots of stuff long ways. The Infantryman on patrol needs a rucksack that doesn’t increase his overall profile from the front, so military rucks get bigger away from the body rather than packing gear higher and closer. This leads to “rucksack lean,” where you put your shoulders forward to get the weight closer to where your natural center of gravity normally is. Civilian backpacks don’t have that design consideration, so they are generally more “up” than “out” when packing in your kit, which leaves the weight closer to your center, and minimizes the “rucksack lean” quite a bit.

I mentioned in a previous post that for the past few years I've participated in the Mammoth Sniper Challenge, a three-day event in January where there’s a lot of ruck marching, no resupply of anything except water, and you sleep outside. I needed a rucksack that would hold a winter level sleep system, all my food, ammo, shelter, and clothing for three full days. I’ve lived out of a large ALICE pack for long enough to know that it can be done, but it’s not exactly comfortable, so I went looking for an affordable, large capacity, civilian hunting pack. 

A “merely good” external frame rucksack/backpack can cost several hundred dollars, and all of the more affordable options are made overseas, mostly in China. While I ultimately ended up choosing an American-made (and more expensive) ALPS OutdoorZ Commander freighter frame and pack bag, the Tidewe 5500cu (90L) hunting backpack may be a decent option for you given the volume that it can carry and the features that it has.

The Good
  • Two main compartments, two zippered side “sustainment pouches”, and two small convenience pouches on the waist belt. 
  • A built-in pack cover for rain, a convenient top flap cover for items you may need to grab quickly, and a center flap pocket (ideal for storing magazines). 
  • A rifle buttstock pocket to strap a full-size rifle to the side of the rucksack. 
  • Cinch straps across the body so you can pull the load tight against the frame, or use the straps to attach items externally.

The Bad
  • The nylon straps are a bit “floppy” and not milspec stiff, which means you will likely need to adjust them more often as they slip, or you’ll need to modify the straps to stay in place. 
    • If you are handy with needle and thread, then modification isn’t a bad thing. 
    • If you are fine with tightening down attachment points when you do a rest stop, there's no need to modify them. 
    • If you aren't fine with either, then this isn't the pack for you.

My initial test with the pack was about a 30 pound load: two tarps, 100 rounds of 9x19, 100 rounds of 7.62x51, a complete Army modular sleep system, a sleeping pad, two days of MREs, a one pound cylinder of propane and burner, wool hat, neck gaiter, a few rifle magazines, and a half gallon of water. I took it on a one hour hike (about 4 miles) and at that weight level it is much more comfortable than either an ALICE or MOLLE military rucksack.

I started off with a light weight because I was in the “condition my feet” level of ruck marching, and needed to get a good set of callouses built up between now and January. Over a span of weeks I increased pack weight and distance until I was able to knock out a 12 miler.

I used this pack for Mammoth Challenge 2023, but for this year I replaced it with the Alps. 

Final Verdict
The Tidewe 5500cu is a decent hunting pack, but not a great rucking/hiking pack. I recommend it for hunters, or for a short  “into the woods” weekend camping trip. If used for long hauls, you'll have to keep tightening the straps that connect the pack to the frame or the whole thing will shift and/or rock on your back and suck the energy out of you.

I do however recommend the Tidewe over a large green ALICE pack, because you can pack the weight closer and higher than the ALICE, making things much less painful on your back and shoulders. 

The Tidewe pack can be removed from the frame so the frame can be used purely as a cargo carrier, for deer/elk or even firewood, that's pretty useful. (My Alps pack has the same feature.) If you just need an external frame backpack for hauling things around short distances, a used one off of eBay or secondhand store is probably going to be more affordable. 

All in all, if you don't have a good hunting pack or hauling frame pack, the Tidewe 5500cu isn't bad for what it is, but honestly I would look for a used Alps or Eberlestock, or another better brand on the used market, over a new Tidewe 5500.

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