Now I’m building a full field kit for the MTR-3B in a Red Oxx Booty Bosspack I recently purchased specifically for this radio.
If you’re wondering why I’d build yet another field kit for the MTR-3B instead of simply using field supplies I already have, allow me to explain…
Field radio kit Golden Rule: Never borrow from one kit to feed another
I never violate this rule. (Well, not anymore, at least.)
I don’t care if I’m building a kit around a portable shortwave receiver, an SDR, or a ham radio transceiver–my radio kits are completely self-contained and organized.
I’m actually plotting a whole series of posts about building portable radio kits and packs because I enjoy the process so much, but for now, I’ll keep my explanation short:
Because I have an active family life and can’t often prepare in advance for field radio time, my kits must be at-the-ready all the time. If we decide (as we are this morning) that we’re heading to a national park for a little hiking and a picnic, I know that when I grab my KX2 field kit, for example, I’ll have everything I need to do a Parks On The Air or Summits On The Air activation. I know my kit contains an antenna, all antenna accessories and hanging supplies, feed line, a fully-charged battery, microphone and/or CW (Morse Code) key/paddles, earphones/speaker, and a transceiver. It’ll also have the little bits we often forget like a pen, notepad, extra connectors/adapters, and even a few first aid supplies.
If you borrow from one radio kit to feed another, you’ll regret it later. I promise.
Case in point
The lab599 Discovery TX500
Here at SWLing Post HQ, I review lots of radios and have a special affinity for field radios. Many times, I either obtain a radio as a loaner from the manufacturer (like the lab599 TX-500), or I purchase a radio with the intention of selling it after the review (as I will with the Xiegu G90). In either case, I don’t want to build a specific field kit for that radio because it’s really only visiting SWLing Post HQ.
The Xiegu G90
When I first took the Xiegu G90 to the field, I felt confident I could simply throw together a quick field kit in one of my smaller backpacks. As I prepared for an impromptu POTA park activation, I discovered that I needed a coax feed line for the kit and the quick solution was to grab the one from my Elecraft KX2 field kit. Even though I knew that would be violating my Golden Rule–a rule I had adhered to for five years and counting–I did it because I was very pressed for time. That activation went off without a hitch–a total success.
Fast-forward two days later and I had another opportunity to do a park activation, but this time I wanted to use my Elecraft KX2 because I knew I would need to hike into the site and I’d also have to both log and hold the transceiver on my clipboard while sitting on my folding stool. The KX2 is ideal for this as it’s compact and has top-mounted controls.
I hiked into DuPont forest, found an ideal site to play radio, starting deploying the antenna and quickly realized I forgot to put the feed line back in the KX2 kit. Doh! Without even a short piece of coax, I had no way to connect my KX2 to the antenna.
Fortunately, I happened to have a spare coax line back in the car and I also keep two extra BNC adapters in the KX2 kit. Still, I kicked myself as I hiked all the way back to the car. Had I only followed the Golden Rule that had served me so well!
In the end, it could have been worse. I still got to do my activation and hadn’t wasted a 2.5 hour round trip to the park.
You’d better believe the first thing I did when I got back home was to put the coax back in my KX2 field kit and my radio world order had been restored again.
Back to the pack!
I picked the Red Oxx Booty Boss for the MTR-3B because 1.) it’s an ideal size for a super-compact field kit, 2.) it can be carried a number of ways (on back, sling, and over shoulder), 3.) with straps detached, it’s compact & easily fits in my EDC pack and 4.) I love Red Oxx gear and love supporting the company. When you buy a Red Oxx bag, you know it’ll outlast you…not the other way around.
I also ordered reflective monkey fist zipper pulls to replace the stock zipper pulls so that the pack would be easy to spot, for example, on a forest floor at twilight.
Extra connectors, mini first aid kit, flashlight, etc.
Here’s the amazing thing: without realizing it, everything in this kit save my earphones was designed and manufactured in the USA. The Booty Boss was made in Montana, the MTR-3B in North Carolina, the Vibroplex antenna in Tennessee, the ABR cable in Texas, the Bioenno battery pack in California. My 20 year old Sennheiser earphones were made in Germany.
I think that’s pretty darn cool and certainly bucks the trend!
Within a week, my battery and cable should arrive and the MTR-3B field kit will be ready for adventure.
Yesterday, I hit the field again with the lab599 TX-500 Discovery. This time, I wanted to give the radio a proper shake-out by hiking to my location with the entire station in my pack.
This TX-500 transceiver is on loan, so I haven’t built a custom field kit for it like I have with my other radios. To be on the safe side, I packed the rig and all of its accessories in my Red Oxx C-Ruck pack.
The C-Ruck is loaded with three antennas, two LiFePo batteries, DC distribution panels, extra adapters/connectors, and essentially everything I need to handle pretty much any field situation. I take it on every field activation when I can afford the space in my car/truck because it’s so complete and stocked, it’s like a mini shack in a bag complete with tools I might need in the field.
This radio bag was total overkill for a quick day hike into Pisgah National Forest and I did remove a few heavy items like a larger battery, my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical, and other extra accessories. But at the end of the day, my four-legged hiking partner (Hazel) and I both agreed that I would kick myself if I arrived on-site and realized I was short, say, one PL-259 to BNC connector.
Turns out, the C-Ruck was just what the doctor ordered. The TX-500 is so compact, it fit in the C-Ruck’s top flap pocket that holds my logging notepad. I used that top flap to strap down my folding three legged stool for the hike.
The best part was the C-Ruck made for a perfect field table! The front pocket of the pack (which contains supplies like a first aid kit, emergency tarp/sleeping back, protein bars, etc.) propped the TX-500 in place.
After finding a nice spot off-trail, I set up my EFT Trail-Friendly end fed antenna in short order, plugged it into the TX-500, plugged in my 6 aH Bioenno LiFePo battery, the TX-500 Speaker/Mic (which conveniently clipped o the C-Ruck top flap), and finally my homebrew CW key cable.
Since I had no mobile Internet service at this site–no surprise–I started the activation in CW which gave me the best opportunity to be auto-spotted by the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and for CW hunters to find me on the announced frequency via the POTA site.
I started calling CQ and was instantly rewarded with a string of contacts on 40 meters.
After working that small pile of hunters, I moved up to the 20 meter band, started calling CQ, and made this short video:
Shortly after making this video, I heard thunder nearby and had to pack up. I’d hoped to work a few stations on 20M in CW, then switch over to SSB and work more. I’m willing to tempt fate when it’s just rain, but I don’t play with lightening.
All in all, It was a very pleasant–although short–activation. Hazel and I really enjoyed the hike. Frankly both of us love any excuse to hit the trails or parks.
Hazel was more interested in squirrels than DX.
I’m finding that the TX-500 is a very sturdy and capable field radio with fantastic ergonomics.
This morning, I pulled out the scales and found that the radio, speaker/mic, and power cable all weigh in at 1 pound 9 ounces. That’s a lightweight kit by any standard.
Easy on batteries
Also, the TX-500 only seems to need about 110-120 milliamps of current drain in receive. That’s an impressive number for sure–right there with the benchmark Elecraft KX2. I’m pretty sure I could operate for hours with only my 6 aH LiFePo battery pack.
More to come
I still have the TX-500 for a week and hope to continue taking it to the field. I had planned to go out again today, but the weather forecast is dismal. Instead, I’ll chase some parks here in the shack!
Yesterday, I mustered up the nerve and drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway (site K-3378 in POTA).
My wife and kids were knee-deep in another project so I planned to go solo until my dog, Hazel, caught wind I was leaving with my radio backpack in-tow. Always ready for a hike or road trip, she jumped in the car the moment I opened the door.
I’ll admit it: I was nervous. I had the same jitters I had the first time I spoke in front of a large crowd.
In the end, though, I really had nothing to fear. The POTA community is a very kind, courteous, cohesive and supportive group of radio operators.
I picked the Blue Ridge Parkway as my first site not only because it’s so convenient to where I live, but it’s also one of the most activated parks in the POTA program. I knew a BRP activation wouldn’t attract a mad pile-up of park hunters because everyone in POTA has this one in the books already.
My full radio kit–including my KX2 transceiver, KXPA100 100W amplifier, two antennas, Heil headset, two battery packs, chargers, and all accessories–is packed in my Red Oxx C-Ruck and always ready for action. I grabbed the full kit, although in truth I only needed the KX2, my CW paddles, coax cable and antenna.
Conditions were rough yesterday. Propagation was pretty good, but there were pop-up thunderstorm everywhere in the region, so the bands were very noisy with constant static crashes. Herein lies one of the great things about CW: you can use a filter width so narrow that it doesn’t affect you as much as it does operating phone.
Because I had limited operating time, I deployed the Wolf River Coils TIA portable antenna. It takes me all of 4 minutes to set up.
I got on 40 meters, started calling “CQ POTA” and the next thing I know I had 13 stations logged.
My nerves dissipated quickly after I logged the first couple of contacts and I was even looking forward to stations answering my call. The operators were also incredibly patient with me and two of them even followed me to higher bands and made contact there.
Hazel was a bit upset this activation didn’t include a hike, so several times she insisted on “helping” with the logs as I sweated it out!
All-in-all, I logged 17 stations in one hour on three bands using about 10 watts of power.
I deployed my station quickly, and I packed it up quickly. A pop-up thunderstorm, once again, chased me off the air. That’s okay, though, because I was already feeling pretty chuffed about bagging my first CW activation.
If I’m being completely honest here in front of my community of radio enablers, as soon as I arrived back home, I started mentally putting together a super-compact CW activation kit built around an LnR Precision MTR3B transceiver. I’ve always wanted one of these little CW-only transceivers to carry in my EDC bag for impromptu field radio fun, but never could justify it. Until now! 🙂
My Red Oxx Micro Manager packed with a full radio field kit
Yesterday, my family packed a picnic lunch and took a drive through Madison County, North Carolina. It was an impromptu trip. Weather was forecast to be pretty miserable that afternoon, but we took the risk because we all wanted to get out of the house for a bit.
Although that morning I had no intention of performing a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, my family was supportive of fitting in a little radio-activity, so I jumped on the opportunity!
A quick glance at the POTA map and I determined that the Sandy Mush State Game Land (K-6949) was on our travel route. Better yet, the timing worked out to be ideal for a lunch picnic and before most of the rain would move into the area.
Ready for radio adventure
I had no time to prepare, but that didn’t matter because I always have a radio kit packed, fully-charged, and ready for the field.
The Micro Manager pack easily accommodates the entire kit
This 20 year old blue stuff sack is dedicated to antenna-hanging. It holds a reel of fishing line and a weight that I use to hang my end-fed antenna in a tree or on my Jackite telescoping fiberglass pole. The sack also accommodates a 10′ coax cable.
The Elecraft KX2 transceiver, EFT Trail-Friendly Antenna, hand mic, CW paddles, C.Crane earphones, and wide variety of connectors and cables all fit in this padded Lowe Pro pack:
The advantage to having a simple, organized radio kit at the ready is that everything inside has its own dedicated space, so there’s no digging or hunting for items when I’m ready to set up and get on the air.
This level of organization also makes it easy to visually inspect the kit–missing items stand out.
Yesterday I parked our car at one of the Sandy Mush Game Land parking areas, deployed my field antenna, and was on the air in a matter of seven minutes at the most.
Technically, this should read “Activator” parking area! (A questionable inside joke for POTA folks!)
We planned for heavy rain showers, so I fed the antenna line through the back of my car so that I could operate from the passenger seat up front.
I also brought my Heil Proset – K2 Boom Headset which not only produces better transmitted audio than the KX2 hand mic, but it frees up my hands to log stations with ease. This is especially important when operating in the front seat of a car!
The great thing about the KX2 is that it’s so compact, it can sit on my clipboard as I operate the radio (although typically I have an elastic strap securing it better). Since all of the KX2 controls are top-mounted, it makes operation a breeze even in winter weather while wearing gloves.
Since I routinely use the KX2 for shortwave radio broadcast listening as well, I know I always have a radio “locked and loaded” and ready to hit the air. My 40/20/10 meter band end-fed antenna works well for the broadcast bands, as long as there is no strong local radio interference (RFI). When I’m faced with noisy conditions, I pack a mag loop antenna as well.
What’s in your radio go-kit?
Having a radio kit stocked and ready to go on a moment’s notice gives me a great sense of security, and not just for recreational ham and shortwave radio listening reasons.
Sometimes I travel in remote areas by car where I’m more than an hour away from the nearest town and where there is no mobile phone coverage.
If my car breaks down, I know I can always deploy my radio kit and get help from the ham radio community in a pinch. Herein lies the power of HF radio!
If you haven’t built a radio go-kit, I’d highly recommend doing so. Although I’m a bit of a pack geek, keep in mind that you don’t need to purchase special packs or bags for the job. Use what you already have first.
I’m plotting a detailed post about the anatomy of an HF radio field kit. In the meantime, I’m very curious how many of you in the SWLing Post community also have a radio kit at the ready–one based on a transceiver or receiver. Please comment!
Better yet, feel free to send me details and photos about your kit and I’ll share them here on the Post!
Long-time SWLing Post readers know that I geek out about a number of things: radio, of course, but also travel and packs. No doubt my love of backpacks and carry bags stems from my love of travel…and the need to have a radio or two along. In the past, I’ve reviewed a number of backpacks, travel pouches and cases. What follows is a new pack review.
Introducing the Red Oxx Hound
Last month, Montana-based company Red Oxx sent me their latest small carry bag for evaluation and review. This small crossbody bag, affectionately known as The Hound, is made to stay by your side and carry your important gear––just as you’d expect of man’s (or woman’s) best friend.
Red Oxx is not a new name here on the SWLing Post. In the past, I’ve reviewed the Red Oxx Lil’ Roy and helped Red Oxx evaluate and review their first-generation Micro Manager pack. I also travel frequently with my Red Oxx Mini Boss, one of my favorite one-bag travel packs. I have several other Red Oxx brand accessories and travel cubes. All of which hold up very well, indeed.
Hazel thinking, “Seriously? Another pack?…Okay, I like the name, but are there any treats in there?”
In the spirit of full disclosure, this pre-production pack was sent to me at no cost for comment, evaluation, and eventual review, assuming no design changes are made before production.
So what is the Hound? I would describe it as a small padded EDC pack with a carry strap, designed to be a stand-alone, to function as a travel pouch––and/or to moonlight as a packing cube, since it easily fits inside another travel pack.
In terms of size, the Hound is somewhere between the Red Oxx Lil’ Roy and Micro Manager. It’s roughly 9” tall, 7” wide, and 3” deep, by my measurements. It’s not quite big enough to hold my Microsoft Surface Go tablet, but it holds my eReader and my wife’s iPad Mini with room to spare.
On the front exterior panel, you’ll find a zippered pocket. While this pocket isn’t pleated, the pack is forgiving and flexible, so it’ll easily hold a thick paperback book as long as the main compartment isn’t packed out densely.
On the inside of the Hound, you’ll find one main compartment with one open pocket opposite the side panel of the external pocket.
The floor and two 7”x 9” side panels are padded and do a great job protecting contents. I like the new super-thin Hyper-Cel padding Red Oxx uses for the Hound because it gives the bag’s contents padded protection without making it too rigid, thick, or unforgiving, if you want to cram a little something extra in.
I posted a small teaser a few weeks ago when I took one of my favorite radios (the Panasonic RF-B65) and a copy of the WRTH to a local park for some relaxed radio listening. Both the Panasonic and WRTH fit inside with just a little room to spare for small accessories like earbuds, spare batteries, a wire antenna, and a snack. The radio fits perfectly in the interior open pocket and is essentially protected on all sides, save the top, which is no problem if you’re carrying it with the strap.
Like all Red Oxx packs, the Hound’s exterior sports 1000-weight Cordura nylon material that’s available in twelve solid color combos (plus 4 extra “Red Eye” colors for a limited time) . This is a proven, incredibly durable material that will surely outlast this bag hauler’s handling.
The Hound also features the Red Oxx standard #10 YKK Vislon zipper on the main compartment, and a #5 zipper on the front pocket. These beefy zipper pulls also have attached “monkey fist” knots made from nylon cording that permit easy zipper operation. The Hound is designed for and ships with a shoulder strap made of durable webbing. Two D-rings on opposite sides of the main zipper insure balance on the shoulder.
Taking the Hound for a walk
The Hound makes for a great bag to protect your portable tech, but also accommodates other items in your everyday carry (EDC).
In fact, if you’re a bit of an EDC minimalist (ahem…not quite me) you likely don’t want a full backpack or shoulder bag to carry your gear. Something the size of the Hound would make for an ideal lightweight carry companion.
Red Oxx went through a couple iterations of this bag before adopting its current dimensions; the result is an incredibly useful and accommodating pack.
The Hound packed in the top of my GR1
One function I find the Hound ideally suited for is as an in-flight kit bag. Being a one-bag traveler when I fly, I only carry one main travel pack that can fit under the seat in front of me. Having this flexibility means that I don’t have to worry about being first during a boarding call to grab that limited overhead bin space, because I know I’ll always have space for my bag.
Thing is, when my bag is stowed under the seat in front of me or especially in an overhead bin, the last thing I want to do is reach for it during a flight to grab a book, protein bar, water bottle, and the like. That’s why I always pre-pack a removable bag for the flight. When I get on the aircraft, first thing I do is open my backpack, pull out my in-flight bag, stow the pack, and keep the in-flight bag at my seat.
On a recent cross-country trip I packed out my GoRuck GR1 backpack and left room at the top to stow the Hound. The Hound made for an ideal in-flight pack. It carried my reading glasses, a book, a Kleen Kanteen water bottle, granola bars, pencil, pen, paper, earphones, adapters, my iPhone, a small battery pack, and an assortment of cables. And there was room to spare.
The Hound taking its inaugural flight on an Airbus A321!
Another benefit of carrying a bag-within-a-bag? Say you buy your kiddos or spouse some gifts, or someone gives you a cool item that you plan to carry back home––let’s say, a shortwave radio. By having a separate pack, you can always carry the Hound outside your pack freeing up capacity for the new item(s) in your pack. Since the Hound is designed to be carried over the shoulder, your hands are still free.
You could even use the strap to tie the Hound to your main bag. Since the Hound is so small, you won’t get charged extra, even by unforgiving low-cost carriers.
If you’re into radio gear, then the Hound should easily accommodate most full-featured portable radios (like the Grundig G3, G5, Satellite, Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Tecsun PL-660, etc.) It’s also large enough to hold any HT (handy talkie) on the market, although you might remove long antennas unless you close the zippers around it. No worries, no antenna will poke through this bullet-proof fabric.
And of course, women readers: the Hound would also make a great casual crossbody purse that would be as comfortable on a hike as touring a European city. In fact, after I received the Hound, my wife nearly walked off with it. I could tell, she was already mentally sorting out how all her gear would fit inside. Likely the only thing keeping her from declaring this one hers is the fact that this bag is khaki––if it were her favorite shade of Red Oxx red, I’d likely have already been forced to surrender it!
Is the Hound for you?
If this simple, super-sturdy bag is the size and configuration you’ve been looking for to haul your radios and other EDC (or, let’s face it, dog owners: biscuits and baggies) around with you, then I can recommend it without reservation.
While I truly enjoy doing product evaluations, beta testing and reviews, my time is very limited. I’m picky about what I choose to invest my time in. When Red Oxx contacts me about gear evaluations, I make time. Why? Because their products have never disappointed me.
Red Oxx build and materials quality is second to none. All their gear is designed and manufactured in Billings, Montana––yep, in the good ol’ US of A–– and will last a lifetime. Or potentially longer.
Plus: in the unlikely event your Red Oxx gear is damaged due to rough treatment (or even neglect), Red Oxx will fix it. For free…and for life! Their “No Matter What” warranty requires no receipt and no explanations. No doubt, this is one of the reasons why used Red Oxx gear appears on sites like eBay with prices near what you’d pay for it, brand new. These bags not only hold your gear, but they also hold their value: a bit of a rarity in today’s disposable world.
This top-notch workmanship comes at what most of us would consider a premium, when compared with mass-produced gear you’ll find on Amazon or a big-box store. But for me, I still find incredible investment value in Red Oxx gear. On top of that, I feel like I’m supporting a company that takes pride in their their simple-but smart innovations, their good work, and their hard-working employees who do it.
Yesterday, my calendar was pretty full. Not an uncommon thing these days. I needed a break from all of the running around town, so I set aside the better part of an hour to play radio.
I packed up my Panasonic RF-B65 and the latest copy of the WRTH. (I didn’t plan to actually reference the WRTH’s schedules for this outing, but I do enjoy reading through the station listings while I tune around.)
I found a local park en route to my next appointment and set up my kit on a picnic table only moments after light rain had moved through the area.
I didn’t know what propagation would be like, and frankly I didn’t care. Sometimes, it’s just nice to tune through the bands and see what’s there.
I call this a “radio therapy” session because, for a small portion of the day, the ritual takes my mind off of everything else around me. I get some of the same benefit from mountain biking and reading a good book (although, not at the same time).
Everything was going according to plan: the weather was pleasant, I had the whole park to myself, and Hazel (my canine companion) noted each and every squirrel within a 50 meter radius of our picnic table.
My bliss was cut short by two things.
First of all, the batteries in my Panasonic were running low. I had forgotten to charge them. (Doh!) Oh well. That didn’t really matter because secondly, a landscaping company brought their crew by to mow the grass…starting at my side of the park!
That’s okay–I still managed to get a good twenty minutes of radio therapy and Hazel counted at least 47 squirrels to harass on a future visit.
Hazel thinking, “Seriously? Another pack?”
I’ve also been evaluating a soon-to-be-released pack manufactured in Montana by Red Oxx. Turns out, it’s the perfect size to protect my RF-B65 and still have room for a copy of the WRTH, a wire antenna and–had I thought about it in advance–four spare AA batteries. Since I’m also a certified pack geek, expect to see a review of this mystery bag soon!
Anyone else planning a little radio therapy soon? Please comment!
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a huge fan of Red Oxx gear. I’m fairly choosy about the quality of packs that I buy and am willing to pay a premium for packs that offer exceptional durability and are guaranteed for life. Red Oxx gear is designed and made in Montana, USA, and is nearly bullet-proof.
I love the design of Red Oxx bags; they can’t always be accurately described as tactical, low-profile, or urban, however. Red Oxx leader Jim Markel describes the bags’ strengths this way: “Tactical strength without looking like you’re going to war.” That’s fair.
Their designs are unique to the company and, I would argue, in Red Oxx bags, form definitely follows function.
After posting my review of the Red Oxx “Lil Roy,” I received a message from a representative at Red Oxx. They kindly noted that they were impressed by the detail my review provided, but also recalled that last year, I’d made a suggestion that they design an EDC (Everyday Carry) bag especially suited to those of us who like to carry radio gear (or any electronic gear, for that matter) out to the field. I specifically requested if they would consider designing a medium-sized bag with padded sides and floor, and the option for an over-the-shoulder carry strap––?
My hopes were not unfounded. Red Oxx replied, saying that they’d actually designed just such a bag and wanted to know if I would test it prior to release, and offer any input.
Well…How could I resist?
The “Micro-Manager,” as their new product is aptly and amusingly named, arrived the day I left on a weekend trip. As I drove down the road with the unopened box next to me, I simply couldn’t wait to see what the design looked like. Since I didn’t know the dimensions, configuration, compartment size, nor the coloring, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.
Introducing…the Micro Manager
Upon reaching my destination, I opened the box and removed the Micro Manager––and by golly, I was very impressed with the bag’s size: modest, handy, but not dinky. Just about right.
I say this because portable radio gear is a funny thing. Quite often I find a great pack in terms of material and features, but it’s either too small or too shallow for portable gear––or, at the other extreme, swallows my equipment, so that I have to fish around in its yawning depths to find my rig and add extra padding. Rarely is a bag appropriately sized in terms of height, width, and depth for radio carry. The Micro Manager appeared to be just about the size I’d have made it, if I designed it myself. But I had still to test it with the actual equipment, so I tried not to get my hopes up too soon.
I unzipped the pack, noting that the Red Oxx-standard extra-beefy #10 YKK VISLON zippers actually extend to within an inch of the bag’s base. In terms of main compartment access, structure, and configuration flexibility, I find this nearly ideal. The zippers also have attached “monkey fist” knots made from nylon cording that permit easy zipper operation. These look rather cool, too. In addition, the Micro Manager is designed with the Red Oxx Claw Shoulder Strap in mind, having two D-rings on opposite sides of the zipper––this means balance on the shoulder. And the Micro Manager includes the Claw Shoulder Strap, which is sturdy and solid.
Like all Red Oxx packs, the Micro Manager’s exterior sports 1000 weight CORDURA nylon material that is available in twelve solid color combos; mine is “Olive.” Which is, well, olive––olive green––just as you’d expect. No weird color names to throw you off.
Inside the Micro Manager, Red Oxx opted for a red 400 denier CORDURA Brand nylon lining which makes the interior resilient to nearly any kind of damage, and easy to wash up. The vivid red color of the lining also means that any items in the bottom of the pack stand out, making it a cinch to find whatever you’re looking for in there.
But I wanted to check the pack even more closely, from the inside out. And so I did just that: I turned the pack inside out, examined it up close, looked at the stitches and the basic construction: this is clearly one rugged bag.
Durability is not in question here. Tom Bihn is another excellent US pack company; I’d say Red Oxx’s products and Tom Bihn’s run neck-and-neck, though Red Oxx has more of a tactical leaning and beefier hardware than the urban sleek, neat packs Tom Bihn produces.
In short, the Micro Manager is one tough pack. I would argue the toughest I’ve ever used for field equipment.
This little pack is built like a tank.
Of course, what really makes this pack ideal for radio gear is the fact the floor of the pack as well as the side panels are lined with Volara 4-pound closed-cell foam padding. This isn’t super-thick padding, but it’s dense, and in my view effective for radio gear. Nor would I want thick, bulky padding in this pack. It’s simply enough to absorb the shock of setting the pack down, even a hard or hasty set-down, and would likely help protect the contents if the pack were dropped.
To be clear: I’m not talking about stashing upwards of $1300 worth of radio gear in this pack and flinging it out an upstairs window to test the padding. I’m not planning to check this bag at the airport, since I like my gear handy, and I’ll treat the pack and its contents with reasonable care. The padding in this case just makes the contents more secure and resilient to the odd drop, bash, or tumble. I think it will do just fine.
But I still had to see how everything fit in the pack. Being the radio geek I am, the first thing I did upon my arrival at home was to throw my Elecraft KX2 Transceiver pack and antenna supplies bag in the Micro Manager to see if my gear fit as well as I thought it might. It all fit like a glove, and still had room for log book, pens, multi-tool, sunscreen, and (of course) bug repellent!
Next, I removed these items, and tried my larger Elecraft KX3 for size in the Micro Manager––again, ample interior room with just enough space left to include a battery pack and antenna supplies. Brilliant!
I tried various combos of gear and kit to find that the Micro Manager is quite a flexible field bag. Finally! A pack up to the task.
But what really makes this pack shine? The large, open compartment is ideal for us “modular pack” folks.
Tom Bihn Pilot (left) Red Oxx Micro Manager (right)
In my experience, frequent travel means modular packing. In my main EDC pack (a Tom Bihn Pilot) all my gear is organized in cubes and pouches. If I’m heading out the door to catch a flight and want to take a backpack, rucksack, or duffel bag, I can whip the stuff out of my EDC bag, and in a matter of seconds, populate the other pack. Not only does it make transitioning from one pack to another a speedy process, but I’ll know exactly what’s in the pack, and exactly where.
When I opened the Micro Manager the first time, I instantly saw that it lends itself to modular packing, since there’s no internal organization walls and pockets are on the interior sides.
So, aside from packing radio gear, tablets, headphones, a DSLR camera, recording gear, or any other accessories, a packing cube could be used in the Micro Manager to carry clothing on a weekend or on a quick one-to-two night jaunt.
Packed for an overnight trip.
All essentials inside: iPad Air in sleeve, Tom Bihn Snake Charmer (I use as toiletries kit), and an old Eagle Creek packing cube.
Fully unpacked. Click to enlarge.
I’ll take a close look at the Micro Manager’s internal dimensions and see if one of the Red Oxx packing cubes might fit the bill. Maybe, if I’ve been extra good this year, Santa will drop one in my stocking.
Packing in a cube and other modular packs would take full advantage of the Micro Manager’s modest-outside, spacious-inside capacity. A full-size internal cube packed with clothing would be easy to stash in a hotel room to reduce bulk while you’re in meetings at your location, thus leaving more room for files/reports, magazines, a paperback (for those of us who still like paper), and the like; then you could simply replace your clothing module in your MM for your flight home.
A great EDC pack, too
I have even pulled all of the packs from my Tom Bihn Pilot EDC bag and cheerfully used the Micro Manager for the day.
The Micro Manager works wonderfully as an EDC pack if I don’t need a laptop (my 13” MacBook Air is a little too large). It packs my iPad Air with ease and the padded interior pocket gives me peace of mind, encapsulating the tablet in padding all around. On the outside of the padded tablet sleeve, Red Oxx has added four pencil holders and two larger pouches which are large enough for most smartphones, business cards, field notes, and other small accessories.
Of course, there’s another interior pouch with an embedded pocket on the opposite side of the padded sleeve. I’ve used this sleeve for note pads, coiled antenna line, a paperback book, and a portable radio over the past few months. I’ve used the embedded zipper pocket for charging cables, wire cutters, adapters, USB memory sticks, you name it. It’s not a deep zipper pocket, so I wouldn’t put anything thick inside simply because I don’t like bulking out pockets, but it’s very useful.
On the outside panels of the Micro Manager, you’ll also find two double-zippered pockets. These are shallow in depth, but are ideally suited for cords, wire, and antenna line. Of course, they’ll easily hold notepads and other supplies.
The Micro Manager is large enough to hold 8.5 x 11” paper in a folder or even low-profile notebook. For someone who carries a tablet to work, this could easily replace a briefcase.
The genius behind the Micro Manager’s flexibility, in my view, is the open design: the ability to open the main compartment zippers either partially or all the way to within an inch of the bottom of the bag. This allows you to fully open the pack without compromising its ability to be self-supporting. Since Red Oxx’s #10 YKK zippers won’t slip backwards, you can even simply open the top of the bag and not worry about the contents spilling out. I like that.
Everything I review has its pros and cons, of course. When I begin a review or evaluation, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions. Following is the list I’ve formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the Red Oxx Micro Manager:
Durable construction, solidly stitched
Made with rugged cordura
Lengthy, robust zippers track down to near the base of bag and don’t slide back, making for versatile loading/unloading of the bag––half open or fully open
Padded interior pocket for tablets or (for our use) a full-sized portable radio
Interior pocket for cables, pencils/pens, smartphones, and/or field notes
Ample padding is not too bulky but dense enough to take impact
Carry handles plus a strong claw strap for portability
If the Micro Manager were marketed primarily for outdoor use, then perhaps some rain protection around the zippers might be beneficial. Though I wouldn’t suggest doing this, I did leave the bag out in a surprise shower once and saw no signs of water penetration. The only point of water penetration could potentially be the zipper line. But from my observation, you’ve nothing to fear if you get caught in a downpour; I just wouldn’t leave it out in heavy rain or overnight.
The Micro Manager’s solid build means the bag is not featherweight. It weighs in at about two pounds.
The Red Oxx D-Ring attachment points for the Claw shoulder strap are beefy and nearly indestructible. I’m 100% okay with any added weight.
If you prefer bags with entirely built-in storage, like elastic holding straps, instead of the sort of open construction that permits the carrying of modular cubes or kits for your gear, this bag may not be your thing. But you might want to give it a look just the same; I was glad I experimented with modular kits and have learned to really appreciate their benefits.
And some readers will consider the $130 US price a “con” because similar bag configurations can be found on Amazon, eBay, or elsewhere for anywhere from $20-40. Somewhat better “camping grade” packs might be available at a further premium, perhaps $60-80. So yes, there are many cheaper bags out there.
But here’s the thing about Red Oxx gear: with that price comes rugged and superior quality and durability, in-the-US manufacture, and an incomparable warranty. You’re buying from a company that designs and manufactures all of the their packs in Billings, Montana, USA. Their customer service, in my experience, is without compromise. They guarantee their products with a “no bull,” no-questions-asked, lifetime warranty.
Red Oxx routinely posts photos from their shop where employees are repairing customer bags bags that have been so severely battered that no (sane) company would consider it a warranty repair. But there’s integrity in Red Oxx’s insanity. That’s their customer base––folks who actually use their gear, who travel, who camp, who adventure. Those who get out there, get going, get dirty. These bags really take a beating, and thing is, it appears they can take it.
Remarkably, Red Oxx even honors their warranty without receipt of purchase, even knowing you might have purchased it used. Don’t believe me? Search eBay for Red Oxx bags–look at the completed sales pricing, and you’ll find even used bags selling for within a few dollars of their brand new pricing. Red Oxx doesn’t care how you came to be with their bag––you’re their customer, and that’s all that seems to matter to them.
So it’s clear: Red Oxx packs not only hold your gear, they hold up––and they hold their value––over time. In my opinion, too, this bag is for the long haul.
Those of you who follow my blog know that I typically review radio gear. When I start testing new equipment, I never really know what I’m going to run into, especially if the equipment is mass-produced and the manufacturer has a questionable legacy when it comes to quality control.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the Micro Manager, having only seen a preview ad photo which showed little to no detail. But I knew prior to evaluating this bag that its quality would be nothing less than benchmark. Red Oxx doesn’t allow anything out of their shop that doesn’t obviously meet some of the strictest quality standards in the business. As I mentioned above, I only know of one other pack company in their league, and that’s Tom Bihn. You simply can’t find better quality than these two US companies design into all of their US-made gear.
My only concerns when checking out the Micro Manager for the first time was about configuration and flexibility. Would it effectively hold my field gear without bulging or straining? Would internal organization get in the way of the main compartment’s capacity? Could this pack be used as an EDC bag, or personal carry-on item?
For my use, all of these questions were answered with a resounding Yes!
So…do I recommend the Micro Manager? Heck, yes! Without reservation. As long as your portable kit fits inside, and you like the configuration as I do, you’ll be pleased with the Micro Manager as well as with the company that produces it. This bag will stick around, staying faithfully by your side for many years to come.
On a side note: Shhh…I’ll be purchasing another Micro Manager shortly. While I’ve been testing this bag, my wife has repeatedly tried to steal it to carry her art supplies. For once, I know what to get her for Christmas! And, thankfully, though she edits my reviews, she never reads my live blog. Mum’s the word!
Spread the radio love
Please support this website by adding us to your whitelist in your ad blocker. Ads are what helps us bring you premium content! Thank you!