Since 9/11 there has been increased popularity in military-inspired products. Known as ‘tactical’ gear (or ‘tacticool’ by some), many of these items go beyond merely inspiration and are in fact quite well designed and built and are functional and rugged. Civilian Lab, a company in this tactical gear this category, has a growing portfolio that includes the Hazard 4 brand of products. I had the opportunity to review the Hazard 4 Tonto mini messenger bag, and to put Hazard 4′s motto “progressive tactical” to the test. Let’s see how it fared!
Inside the Box
Opening the shipping box, I found the Tonto bag itself, the shoulder strap, and a 2010 Hazard 4 product catalog. Everything looked very professional and well built from the start. From the outset, the bag had a nice, hefty feel to it, which is important to me in making a good first impression.
Overview and Dimensions
I found Tonto’s name to be interesting. Fans of classic TV from yesteryear will remember the name Tonto as the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, forever faithful and often pulling the ol’ Ranger’s fat out of the fire. The marketing folks at Hazard 4 must have had something similar in mind with the Tonto bag. The Tonto bag is classified as a mini messenger, presumably due to its fold-over flap with buckle fastener design, features which are common to all messenger-style bags. The Tonto I reviewed was in ready for night ops in all black color, and it is also available in a desert scheme coyote tan, both of which are popular ‘tactical’ colors. The majority of its construction is from DuPont® Cordura® 1000D, a water-, stain-, and rip-resistant nylon. Tough stuff indeed. Its approximate external dimensions are 7.5 x 10 x 5 inches (19 x 25 x 10 cm).
Starting at the top of the bag is a carry handle with an interesting design. The core of the handle is a nylon strap that traverses from the left side of the top of the bag to the right side. This nylon strap is surrounded by a flexible rubber outer layer. The top of the rubber portion has small circular holes, while the bottom is a bit more exposed. All this in combination results in a strong, ventilated handle with a nice, grippy texture. One of the finest I’ve evaluated. Just feels great in the hand.
Front Flap Pocket
Moving down the front of the bag is a zipper pocket that is actually integrated into the front flap. This pocket has two zipper pulls (as do all the zippers on this bag) and inside is a strip of Velcro loop material for mounting modular accessories and also a divider with Velcro strip closure.
Velcro Patch and Flap Bottom
Continuing on down, in the top portion of the front face of the bag sits a rectangular section of Velcro for affixing IDs, morale patches or other items. The bottom portion of the front face, which is the bottom of the flap, is made from a tough material that has a vinyl-like feel, presumably because this is a high-use area where one would tend to routinely grab when opening the flap. A nice touch.
The rear of the bag has two notable features, a belt-strap and a concealed pocket, each described in greater detail below.
The back of the bag has a short strap that is stitched at the top and attached with Velcro at the bottom. I presume this is a belt strap, but this bag seems a bit largish to have hanging from my belt. Perhaps it could also be used to attached the bag to a MOLLE-style modular webbing system that is found on many other tactical-type items.
Concealed Back Pocket
The back of the bag also has a long pocket that is secured at the top with Velcro. This pocket runs the entire width and almost the entire length of the back of the bag, but is rather thin and might be best for papers, maps and so forth. However, it is nearly concealed, and that might come in handy, perhaps for packing a small pistol. This is a tactical bag, after all.
Also at the bottom of the front of the bag is the main buckle, used to secure the flap. This is one of the most well-designed buckles I’ve encountered. It is large, robust and feels very solid. It can be operated one-handed, sliding home with a tactile and audible click. It also includes a slide button that indicates “Lock” and “Open.”
The buckle is on a wide nylon strap that has some excess length that can be loosened or tightened depending on the volume of the bag’s contents. There is a plastic D-ring attached to the end of the strap’s loose end so that an item can be clipped to it. The loose end of the strap can also be tucked into a smaller strap on the bottom of the bag, to keep it from flopping around:
Under the Flap
Under the front flap is an elastic strap that connects via Velcro on end. I have to admit I’m unsure of the purpose of this feature.
The entire flap itself actually has a pocket in it that closes with a strip of Velcro. Like the thin, concealed pocket on the back of the bag, this one might be good for maps, notebooks, and so forth.Also under the flap, on the front the bag, is an array of MOLLE-style modular webbing into which can be clipped all different types of items. I’ve placed a few different types of pens and one of my EDC knives in the view on the right as a demonstration.
There are two double-pull zippers under the flap. The zipper towards the front of the bag accesses a fold-down panel that contains several organizer pockets of various sizes on the vertical side, and a large, transparent pocket with a Velcro closure strip on the fold-down side. There is also a narrow strap on either side of the fold-down flap that only allows it to go to horizontal, and no farther. My assumption here is that the transparent pocket can be used to protect a map from the elements and when the fold-down flap is opened, the two straps keep it level so that the user can read it hands-free.
The organizer pockets can be used for all sorts of things like notebooks, flashlights, batteries, rulers, chop sticks, Pixie Stix…you get the idea.
I’ve included a close up of the logo patch because, well, it looks pretty cool.
The main compartment of the bag is accessed through the second double-pull zipper. Incidentally, all of the zipper pulls on this bag are knotted paracord, which cuts down on sound for operations in which silence is essential. They are also easier to grab, in my experience.
The main compartment of the bag has several interesting features as well. The main body is padded, which affords a level of protection to the contents. It’d like to report that the main compartment has enough space for an iPad, but alas, it does not. Though iPad compatibility may not have been one of Hazard 4′s design considerations for the Tonto, I consider this to be somewhat of a miss, considering the popularity of the iPad. Perhaps this can be updated in Tonto 2.0. The main compartment also has a thin pocket on either side into which items can be placed. These pockets are thin enough that they can be pushed out of the way to accommodate larger items in the main compartment if needed.
Along the back wall of the main compartment are two horizontal Velcro strips that can serve two purposes. The first purpose of the Velcro strips is that they can be used to retain modular Velcro items.
The second is that the Velcro strips can work in conjunction with a fold-over partition located on the inside front wall of the main compartment. This partition is sewed into the bag on one end like a hinge and attaches to the bag with Velcro on the other end to keep it out of the way. When needed, the Velcro end of the partition can be removed from the front wall of the bag interior and attached to the corresponding Velcro strip on the back wall of the bag interior, thus creating a divider to separate items in the main compartment. The divider is padded to keep the contents from being damaged by bumping into or rubbing against each other. You might use this to separate your DSLR and a lens, or a bottle of water from your bag of Doritos.
Not to be outdone, the sides of this bag contain several features as well. First, there are two sets of suspension rings, two along either side of bag, and two on either side of the top of the bag, to allow the user some flexibility in how they wear it–high and tight or low rider style. The right side (when the bag is viewed from the front), has more horizontal MOLLE-style webbing for attaching modular items or holding small items that you may want to access quickly. In the image below, the right side of the bag is show with several items for demonstration. The left side of the bag has a vertical strip of MOLLE-webbing over a zippered compartment.
The zippered compartment on the left side of the bag has a thin pocket (similar to the two in the main compartment) that can be sued to hold items or as a divider. The compartment also is large enough to hold a can of soda or a bottle of water. And by Jove, it actually does. Look at that!
There is a also a small spring-loaded hook attached to the outside front of the zippered compartment for keys, a small flashlight and the like.
This bag has one of the most comfortable shoulder straps I have ever used, and it also has several integrated features. The strap itself is made from a durable nylon material, wide enough to feel comfortable by distributing the load. There are not only one but two buckles to adjust the length of the strap. The hooks are swivel-type, durable plastic with metal spring-loaded latch mechanism. In addition, the shoulder strap includes a separate stabilizer strap which can be used to help keep the bag in place while you are out on maneuvers. The stabilizer strap is fully adjustable and can be removed and repositioned easily via a Velcro connection to the main strap and a hook to the bag.
The strap pad is removable and slides along the strap to adjust for comfort. The top of the strap pad has yet more MOLLE-style webbing to attach gear. The strap pad is thickly padded for weight distribution and comfort and the bottom of the pad has a mesh texture that helps grip and also allows moisture to dry.
The bag is easily adjustable for various heights and preferred wearing styles. I tend to wear my gear bags across my chest and slung behind me in the classic messenger bag style rather than over one shoulder and hanging beside me in, well…purse style. I found that in my preferred mode of carry, both with or without the stabilizer strap, it rides quite comfortably. I like to throw in my camera, some protein bars, pen and notebook and still have room for other stuff. I can also report that on a weekend trip to the Indiana Dunes, my 9-year-old daughter wore the Tonto while hiking. It adjusted down to accommodate her size quite well and she enjoyed using it. One other thing to mention here is that some may make comparisons between the Tonto and a purse-like or Euro man-bag. Although I can understand this perception, with the color, style, and ruggedness of this bag, I see this as a weak comparison. This bag looks much more hard-core than haute couture.
Hazard 4′s Tonto 4 mini messenger bag is the real deal. It is very solidly built from high quality materials and well constructed. Many features have been packed into its small size, and it has been well designed to include not only lots of pockets and compartments to stash gear of all shapes and sizes, but placement of the features make ease of use intuitive. It can be adjusted for multiple wearing preferences to suit the user’s preference. The only drawbacks I could find are that it is not large enough to accommodate an iPad and its remotely purse-like appearance (though a very manly, hardcore purse). It’s a great kimosabe to accompany you on missions, whether they be of the tactical, urban, or rural variety when you don’t want to lug your ginormous gear bag. I’m looking forward to trying out more of Hazard 4′s products.