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.