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Camelbak Urban Assault Backpack Review: Near Perfect Office EDC

The Camelbak Urban Assault backpack has been around for a while now but I’m surprised it hasn’t been talked about more.  My previous work backpack was the 5.11 COVRT 18, which I reviewed on EDC Forums last year.  It was a great pack too, but it bugged me that it wasn’t a little more structured and the mesh external water bottle pockets weren’t ideal.  That caused me to embark upon a search for a better Work Every Day Carry solution and my research led me to the Camelbak Urban Assault (CUA).

The Urban Assault is a mid-sized backpack with a capacity of 1953 cubic inches or 32 Liters.  It’s dimensions are 20 inches long x 16 inches wide x 13 inches deep (both of these are actually incorrect on the Camelbak website – go figure).  The pack weight is 3.75 pounds empty.  I found the size to be perfect for my daily commute, which is by car or train.  I’d probably opt for something a bit smaller if I was flying – especially if I was in coach and wanted my bag to fit under the seat in front of me while allowing for some leg room.  Your mileage my vary.

The exterior of the pack is made from a combination of 840D and 1680D ballistic nylon.  Up top, there is a fleece lined comm pocket that can also be used to house an iPod.  It’s protected with a storm flap.  The laptop pocket has a Polyurethane water resistant zipper, which is a feature that many bag makers forget.  The zippers are YKK and Camelbak included the best out-of-the-box pulls I’ve ever used.  I usually cut off most OEM pulls in favor of 550 paracord.  These aren’t 550 but they are mated with some excellent hard plastic sheaths that are both aesthetically pleasing and extremely functional.  I have no issues opening the zippers even while wearing gloves.

The laptop compartment is well thought out.  It’s thickly padded and actually raised and not flush with the bottom of the pack.  That means you can drop the laptop in and not risk it bottoming out.  It also protects the device should you carelessly drop the entire pack on a hard surface.  A full sized laptop, even up to 17″, should fit without issue.  My 14″ Lenovo Thinkpad fit with plenty of room to spare.

The compartment also doubles as a hydration sleeve.  It has a loop to hang a bladder and there is a pass-through to route the hose through the Comm pocket to the straps.  Not ideal, but the Urban Assault wasn’t built to use a full size hydration system anyway.  Consider it a back up.

The two water bottle pockets are the best I’ve seen in an EDC pack.  Not only do they fit a 32 oz Nalgene with room to spare but they are insulated and low profile.  I use one for my Nalgene and the other for computer cables.

Another great feature of the pack is the inclusion of a built in transporter tail similar to TAD’s EDC packs.  This one does not have molle, but it’s padded and expandable with elastic sides to keep everything tight.  There is also a pocket behind it that runs down the entire length of the pack.  Perfect to store an umbrella, tripod, or anything long.  You can also access the contents without un-clipping the tail.  Again, outstanding.

The Camelbak Urban Assault has a built-in admin pocket with lots of sleeves for various items.  One of the zippered pockets has a see-through micro mesh panel.  I wish more bag companies used the micro mesh because it’s virtually snag free.  Unfortunately, the admin pocket does sit behind the transporter tail requiring you to unclip it in order to access the contents.  It’s one of the few issues I have with the layout of the CUA but having the quick access storage of the tail is worth the inconvenience.

The main compartment is spacious, padded on the bottom, and features a mesh pocket with an elastic top for folders, magazines, etc.  I keep my Motorola Xyboard tablet there.  There is also a large fleece lined sunglasses pocket.  Having it inside the main compartment adds a bit of protection but I still use a case, which fits in the pocket with room to spare.

The D-Fit straps are designed to adjust to the wearer’s shoulder width and they really work.  At 6’4″, I’m not a small guy and therefore they shift to the outer position when I wear the CUA.  As a result, I don’t get the stress on the back of my neck and shoulder blades like I do with some other packs.

One downside – the Camelbak Urban Assault’s backpack straps are a bit narrow for a pack this size.  I don’t find the pack to be uncomfortable to carry under load, but it would be ultra comfortable if they had copied 5.11’s RUSH 24 or even GoRuck on the strap width.  The carry strap is not padded but it does the job.  The chest strap is adjustable and removable.  There are d-rings for a waist strap (not included) but I don’t miss it on a pack this size.


I’ve been carrying the Camelbak Urban Assault almost daily for over a month now and it’s really served me well.  It’s doesn’t have the molle attachments that some other packs in Camelbak’s line up have, but the built-in features of the CUA gives it’s owner the flexibility to organize and carry a lot of gear in a professional and sleek looking package.  Need more capacity?  Camelbak makes a larger (2380 cubic inch) version of this same pack called the Urban Assault XL.  There is also a Concealed Carry capable version but oddly it’s only available to LEO’s and military.

The Camelbak Urban Assault retails for $171.00 which includes the 70 oz (2 L) Omega® WaterBeast™ Reservoir but it’s available from a number of sources for less if you shop a little.  More information is available on Camelbak’s website.  For more pictures and additional discussion go here or leave a comment below.

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13 Responses so far.

  1. David King,R.N. says:

    Nice review!
    Have never been a Camelback fan, except for the simple hydration carriers they started with.
    May hafta take another look, now!

    • admin says:

      Thank you sir! I’m fairly new to the Camelbak bandwagon. Like you, I really considered them to be a hydration company that also had a few backpack options. But, I’m starting to come to appreciate the larger packs in their lineup. In addition to the CUA, I also acquired a BFM 500 and will be doing a review on that next year. It’s too large to EDC, but it shows real promise as a winter hiking pack and/or a 72-hour BOB.

  2. Billy says:

    Seriously…… Stop it. I’m trying to pick a knife or a bag and you are really starting to sway me.
    Lol…. Nice review, keep the good stuff coming.

  3. Derek says:

    I’ve been using my 5.11 Rush 24 for work/business travel and it’s served me really well. However, I’ve been obsessing over the CUA lately because of it’s features and looks. Is there any benefit to switching from the Rush 24 to a CUA? Is the quality comparable to the Rush 24?

    • Blaine B. says:

      Hi Derek. I personally switched from the 5.11 RUSH 24 to the CUA. The quality is definitely comparable. The selling points for me where the superior laptop setup, insulated bottle pockets, the slick (non-molle webbing) exterior which looks more professional in a work setting, and the transporter tail which provides a quick access pocket for hats, gloves and other items. It also seems like it’s lighter although I can’t say for sure because I haven’t weighed them on a scale.

  4. David says:

    Hi Blaine. Thanks for the review. I’ve been considering the CUA as a laptop and book bag for a while now but am doubtful about the size of the laptop compartment. Do you think it would fit a laptop with dimensions 16.5in by 11.3in by 1.4in without the padding in the compartment being too compressed? That’s a Dell Vostro 3750 (if you happen to have one lying around…) and it’s a beast. It has crossed my mind that I should buy a bag I like the look of and then get a new laptop to fit it. A further thought, given the expense of shipping a CUA to where I live: do you think the same laptop would fit in the TT Urban Operator? There are local TT stockists. Thanks in advance for any help you can give.


  5. SGT Tran says:

    I bought one for $128 to use as a carry for an overseas month long family vacation. I like it so far, but it hasn’t left the house since I brought it home. Removed the bladder and will leave here in the US, and probably mate it to my Camebak HAWG whose bladder needed replacing anyway.

    • Blaine B. says:

      First off, thank you for service! Hopefully that CUA won’t sit in the closet too much while you’re on deployment. It’s still of the favorite bags in my collection.

  6. Walt says:

    Do you think the CUA-XL is too large for air travel and tours of duty at Grad school?

    • Blaine B. says:

      Grad school? No. I think you’ll appreciate the extra capacity for books, etc. For air travel, I haven’t flown since acquiring my XL but the regular CUA fit under a airline seat and the XL is only an inch longer and a inch wider. Might be close though and you certainly can’t stuff it full.

  7. […] Camelbak Urban Assault review was one of the first we did here on Loadedpocketz and it remains a favorite.  After reviewing the […]

  8. Eliseo says:

    Camelbak Urban Assault or Vertex Gamut for an everyday bag?

    Also, this site is awesome and I am glad I found it. Your reviews are very indepth and I am pretty sure you sold me on a few accessories I didn’t even know I needed, lol.

    • Blaine B. says:

      Eliseo – you can’t go wrong with either. The EDC Gamut is still in my rotation during the warmer months here in Chicago. During the winter, when I need a larger pack to carry shoes or an extra layer to work, I opt for the Camelbak Urban Assault XL. I’d suggest you try both and see what works for you. Keep the one you like and return the other. I don’t think it would make sense to keep both. They are too close in size and utility.

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