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Kifaru OTW Bag

11/25/10 - The Kifaru OTW (Outside The Wire) is a "Go Bag" intended primarily for military and law enforcement personnel who might need a bag for fighting out of on the move. A prototype debuted at the 2010 SHOT show and after months of input and testing from guys in the field, it was finally introduced. Unlike other 'go bags' currently offered, the OTW has no zippered openings or flaps to deal with. One-handed opening and closing feature allows the user to have instant access to the main compartment's contents.

Background - For the past couple of years, Mel Terkla from Kifaru Military spoke about coming out with their own 'Go Bag', but wanted to design it specifically to fight out of. The term 'go bag' can have different definitions, based on who's using it. It's different from an EDC bag, which is an 'every day carry' bag with commonly used items for every day needs. The 'go bag' or 'grab and go' bag is commonly used to describe a small-midsize bag pre-packed with mission-essential items that can be grabbed in a hurry. For me, the difference between a 'go bag' and 'bug out bag' is that the bug out bag is usually larger and more discreet, and may contain shelter, water, food and other more survival-oriented items, rather than mission-oriented items like ammunition and equipment. To further define its role, Kifaru named their bag the OTW (Outside The Wire), which is a term more commonly used in the military to define the area outside of the 'relative' safety, or perimeter of a base. The design and layout of the OTW further reinforce its focus - it is not meant as a discreet civilian carry bag.

Overall Specs - The OTW weighs 3lb, 6 oz. and construction is 1000D Cordura, the same as all the other Kifaru packs, and available in the standard Kifaru colours - Coyote Brown (shown here), Olive Drab, Black, Foliage Green, Crye MultiCam and UCP/ACU. Because the OTW has an inward slope at the top, the capacity/volume is less than its 'box' dimensions when opened up. When open, the OTW measures approximately 15" long x 8.5" wide x 10" tall. Closing the wide-mouth opening reduces the volume of the top half of the bag.

External details - The design of the OTW was inspired by turn-of-the-century doctor's bags, which were used when making house calls. The doctor's bags were characterized by their flat bottom with slightly rounded sides, reminiscent of the shape of a barn. The mouth of the doctors bag usually had a collapsible metal frame that opened when the carry handles were separated, creating a gaping opening where the contents could be easily seen and extracted. This design is also commonly used on some purses and handbags. (I had to throw that in since Mel always kidded me about carrying 'man purses').

The OTW has four rows and ten columns of PALS webbing on the front panel, and two webbing grab/carry handles. Right above the PALS webbing is a strip of loop velcro for ID tags. On the back of the OTW is another velcro area to which the cover flap secures to, and a smaller square below it where the inner carry handle can be secured out of the way. Both the front and back panels of the OTW are stiffened with HDPE sheets to provide support for installed items and structure for the bag.

There are four tab loops on the bottom to serve as attachment points for some of the different pockets that Kifaru offers. The distance between the center of the tabs is 8.5". A Kifaru long pocket can be dock and locked at the bottom of the OTW bag via the tab loops. Two 2" wide metal bar sliders sewn at the upper corners of the bag are the sling attach points.

The sling itself is a length of 2" wide webbing, left unpadded for use with armour or vests. In the photo below, you can see that there is a side-release buckle with a loose end coming out the male side. On the loose end is a metal slider. This is referred to as the 'governor', and acts as a stop; limiting the webbing's travel through the buckle when it is loosened. The loose end acts as a pull tab for shortening up the sling. To loosen, the buckle is simply lifted. The sling is quite long, so I rolled up the excess length near one of the bag attach points and secured it with velcro one-wrap.


Shoulder sling


Side view

Sling attach points

Behind the front PALS panel is a flat map pocket. Inside, the upper four inches of the pocket is lined with hook velcro. I'd have lined the entire panel (or the bottom 4 inches instead of the top) with velcro as it'd be able to accommodate accessories that attach with velcro, like elastic loops for pistol mags etc. With only the top four inches lined, any accessories will stick out of the top and prevent the pocket from closing. There are also two plastic tab loops inside to which a chamber pocket can be hung from. The front grab handle can be stowed inside the map pocket so it's out of the way.

The Rip Tab and One-handed Open/Close - The mouth of the OTW's main compartment opening has two metal rods sewn into it, which are rigid and keep the mouth open wide. There is no metal hinge joining the rods; their separation at the ends creates a natural hinge. A cover flap is sewn around the outer opening of the OTW's main compartment. This flap seals over the 'seam' between the two metal rods when the bag opening is closed, preventing dirt and debris from entering. The Rip Tab is a 6.5" long, 2" wide tab that is sewn to the edge of the cover flap. Pulling on the Rip Tab disengages the cover flap velcro from the patch on the back of the bag, and opens the mouth of the bag in an instant for one or two handed access without removing the bag.

To close the bag, the Rip Tab is grabbed with the palm facing up, the opening slammed shut, and the cover flap wrapped down to engage the velcro - all in one quick movement. It's easier and faster than described.


Rip tab

Flat map pocket with grab handle stowed

OTW opened up

Interior organization


Internal features - At each end of the OTW's main compartment are nalgene/canteen bottle pockets with elastic shock cord (shown below with a Source Hydration Kangaroo canteen). The pockets are fairly roomy and will accommodate other equipment like night vision goggles etc. There are two elastic bands on the floor of the bag to further secure contents.

Inside the 'body side' panel is a bellowed slot pocket. The panel itself is lined completely with loop velcro for mounting velcro-backed pouches and holsters. The bellowed slot pocket is closed with a 2" wide webbing strap, and velcro. Since the panel is stiffened, it'll support the weight of a handgun there without collapsing.

Inside the opposite (or outside) panel are various elastic loops. Near the bottom of the bag are five elastic loops, sized for flash bangs, smoke grenades or M203 rounds. They're a tight fit, but I was able to fit 30-round M4 mags in them as well. Sewn above those are eight horizontal loops for chem lights or needle packages. There's a small paracord loop for a keychain LED light, up at the top, which is a very good idea for illumination of the contents in the dark.

Also inside are four common loops for hanging chamber pockets, dummy cording pouches or pullouts. A Kifaru fold-out will also fit inside the OTW.


Internal elastic loops



The OTW is not a small bag for running and gunning; nor is it a big bag for carrying a lot of stuff. Because of its shape and rigid bottom, it's definitely not as low profile as some 'messenger' type shoulder bags when running around, as it won't flatten out. The flip side is that it's much quicker to open and close than any other bag, and because of its wide, flat bottom, items are much easier to locate and retrieve. The rigid, flat bottom is also a plus when setting the OTW on the ground. It doesn't tip over. The mouth stays wide open and doesn't collapse, so it's easy to locate most items visually.

So, the user has to determine what his priorities are - compactness or speed of access. As mentioned before, the barn-shaped cross section prevents the OTW from being 'stuffed out' and filled to the gills like some other bags. The user must pack accordingly and remember not to place bulky items near the top of the bag if they want to be able to shut the opening.

M4 mags on front panel

Added snap

When adding pouches to the PALS webbing on the front panel, care needs to be taken not to overload it, as the map pocket closure velcro tends to pull apart from the load as there's only a 0.5" strip of hook velcro holding it closed. This happens especially if the outer grab handle is stowed inside the map pocket, as it further reduces the available velcro engagement area. The above photo illustrates it with 8 M4 mags, which is more than enough weight to sag open the front pocket. To eliminate this issue, I installed a snap under the front pocket pull tab. When I close the front pocket, and I have the front panel loaded up, I snap it shut, and the snap keeps the velcro from separating under load. It also provides a bit more security for the front pocket without making it any slower to open.



Sling cinched tight


When I first saw the OTW, I asked Mel why he hadn't provided a waist strap to prevent it from bouncing when running. He explained that when running, the OTW's sling is supposed to be cinched tight, with the OTW worn higher up on the back, so a waist strap wasn't needed. Plus, a waist strap could interfere with equipment and would also be a pain when rotating the OTW from the back to the side or front when accessing the contents. I found that all to be true when I tried out the OTW - a waist strap was unnecessary on this design.

During a desert camping trip back in August, I did some running around with the OTW loaded up with equipment just to see how it felt with a load, and whether I could run my carbine reloads out of it. As I mentioned above, the specific role that the OTW bag can be used for is dependant on the user. Based on my conversations with Mel, one of the intended possible uses of the OTW are as a 'grab and go' bag that the user can snatch in a hurry along with his weapon if there's no time to don his gear or load bearing equipment with his normal load of ammunition. The user will then be using the OTW to fight out of, in place of 2nd line gear. The OTW can be grabbed (by the sling), donned, the sling cinched up tight, loosened and doffed, all with one hand.

The other intended usage for the OTW is to supplement the equipment/ammunition carried in 2nd line gear. The user might carry an extra supply of magazines that he would use to replenish his supply or his team mates when given the chance, or other mission-essential equipment that may not readily fit in 2nd line pouches or be too bulky to carry when inside vehicles. In this role, the OTW could be carried in a vehicle, then donned when exiting the vehicle. Both of these roles benefit from having a bag that opens and shuts quickly with one hand, that can be carried cinched up on the back then swung around to the front or side for immediate access to the contents. Mel also mentioned the OTW being used as a medic bag.

With the OTW loaded up with spare mags in the elastic slots, and other equipment like NVGs etc to provide some load, I ran around basically to see how cumbersome or floppy it was, and how quickly I could access it. I wore it over my load bearing vest, and found it easy to lengthen and shorten the shoulder sling when needed. Cinched up tight, the OTW is pretty stable and though you can't prevent it from bouncing some when you run, it stayed put until I loosened up the sling.

Loosening the sling to drop the OTW to waist level puts it at the right level to access the contents. Using the rip tab, the OTW is the quickest-opening bag I've used - more so than one with a zipper, and definitely less cumbersome than one with a flap. Rip-pull-access, grab a mag and reload. The OTW was also quick to close. Grabbing the rip tab palm up, the opening is slammed shut and the rip tab and flap wrapped over the opening and secured. It's all done in one quick movement.

Reloading from inside the OTW is of course slower than reloading from vest-mounted pouches, but as mentioned before, it's intended more for fighting out of if you don't have ammo pouches, or for replenishing empty pouches during a lull etc. As illustrated above (though I only tried it later one), ammo pouches can be mounted directly to the outside of the OTW for quicker reloading/access, since the OTW isn't designed as a covert bag.

The flat bottom and rigid sides are a double-edged sword, in my opinion. The advantage is that the OTW sits flat on the ground and doesn't tip over, plus all the contents are easily seen and accessed with the mouth open wide. The rigid sides also protect the contents from bumps and knocks better than a soft bag would. The disadvantage is a higher profile when wearing it - just something that needs to be considered when moving in confined spaces. Not so much when moving through doorways and narrow spaces; more so when turning around. You just need to be aware of the volume that it takes up and how to move when you're wearing it.


OTW at waist level


While the OTW was designed for a relatively focused purpose, that doesn't mean that it's limited to that role. While it isn't a covert or discreet-looking bag, I'm not sure that the general public really notices or knows what PALS webbing is. Only folks that are familiar with this sort of gear would notice it in public. With some commercial brands blurring the lines between military gear and non-military looking gear, I don't think that the OTW really catches the eye of anyone who isn't familiar with it. I used it around work, and the only comments were from guys who know that I write reviews and specifically look out for anything new and interesting that I might be trying out. I'm sure that people reading this review and looking at the pics will find a myriad of other roles for the OTW other than was it was originally designed for. As usual, one can be assured of the excellent Kifaru quality in both materials and workmanship.

But for those that the OTW was designed for, it'd be hard to find another bag in this genre as quick to access and close. Additional photos and information can be found on Kifaru's forum thread on the OTW.





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