By John Markwell
Blending in is an important aspect of threat mitigation. Being “the gray man” or “gray woman” is an important attribute of one’s personal security plan. If “they” don’t notice you, most likely you will not become a target. Even non-gun folks notice the tactical look of many of the tote bags used by gals and guys for hauling around their everyday carry gear; including, sometimes, their every-day-carry (EDC) weapon. We personally never really noticed the ubiquity of the messenger bag until we were watching the news one morning and, low and behold, just about every other person lined up in New York to buy some new IPhone had some sort of messenger’s bag slung over their shoulder. Hum?
Although we live in an extremely rural area where a messenger bag, satchel or briefcase seems awfully out of place, we do, occasionally, travel to “the city” (not to be confused with making a trip to “town” to the feed store). Like many out there, we have a propensity to plan for the worst and often end up with more stuff being hauled around than just our pockets will hold. Also, we’ve found some sort of tote bag to be handier than carrying a bunch of bags around the shopping mall.
The folks at Grey Ghost Gear (greyghostgear.com) in Idaho recently sent us one of their Wanderer Messenger Bags for evaluation. Our background in the rock climbing/guiding business led us on a lifetime pursuit of the perfect rucksack (which we never found) and we have a pretty critical eye when it comes to the materials, design and construction of soft goods; especially when it comes to packs and bags of any sort. The Wanderer is a “hell-for-stout” piece of gear and we have been thoroughly impressed with its construction, thoughtfully planned features and the materials chosen for its construction. It’s also pretty low-profile and handy for everyday use.
The material used for the body of the Wanderer Messenger bag is a heavy waxed cotton canvas. This material has always been a favorite of ours as it is tough, pretty waterproof and doesn’t have the “tactical” look.
The bottom and lining of the Wanderer is Cordura nylon. The adjustable shoulder strap is simple 2-inch seatbelt webbing. The Wanderer measures 20.5” long by 11.5” tall and is 4.5” front to back. All of the external zippers of the Wanderer that are exposed to the weather are waterproof, insuring protection of the items inside.
Pockets? The Wanderer has them in spades! On the ends are two pockets; one flapped and zipper- expandable (about the size of a quart water bottle) and the other an open-topped sleeve (might have to find a compact umbrella for that). Inside, the main compartment is divided 1/3- 2/3 by a lightly padded panel: the 1/3 section is perfect for a laptop and the 2/3 sized section could hold an array of normal travel items or a collapsed PDW or AR pistol if they were less than 19 inches in length. There is a side release buckle set-up to secure the contents of this main compartment. The flap covering the bag is secured by two magnetic snaps and has two 9×5 inch zippered pockets that are lined with a soft material to protect glasses, phone screens, etc.
Under the flap and on the front of the main body of the Wanderer is a zip-down panel that provides access to sleeve-like pockets for the storage of items the size of rifle magazines or back-up batteries, and the back of the panel has two zipper-closed pockets for storing small loose items. There is also a shallow 14” wide pocket above the zip-down panel that is sized for an iPad sized device or a fixed blade knife. One handy aspect of the Wanderer’s pockets is that the folks at Grey Ghost made some of them shallow enough that you don’t have to go digging to the bottom of an eleven-inch deep pocket to find some small item that has shifted to the bottom through a whole bunch of other stuff. The very back of the wanderer is a full sized padded and loop-lined pocket that is sealed with a waterproof zipper. This pocket is pleated to the inside of the bag and is designed to carry one’s EDC weapon of choice without printing.
Using the Wanderer turned out to be an exercise in true utility. First and foremost, we set the Wanderer up to carry an EDC sidearm; in this case our Overstreet Custom Glock 19. A call to our buddy Mike Barham at Galco (galcogunleather.com) had one of the Gen2 Carry Safe purse/briefcase holster inserts on our doorstep in a jiffy. This elastic holster comes mounted to a leather back-plate via Velcro and has a separate spare magazine carrier attached. We scrapped the stiff back plate and mounted the elastic holster and mag pouch directly to the back surface of the full sized rear pocket of the Wanderer which is Velcro lined just for this purpose. This worked out OK but it would have been more effective if the holster was attached to a Velcro coated back plate with more surface area. Positioning of the holster and mag pouch took a bit of fiddling to get the angle of presentation just right and we found that the lower on the back panel the elastic holster was mounted the better the bag carried over the shoulder. This pocket, by the way, is sealed by a waterproof zipper.
We put a 1-quart Nalgene water bottle in the expandable end pocket and compact umbrella (borrowed from my wife) in the slash pocket on the opposite end. Added to this basic load was a Swiss Army knife, a Filson lightweight vest and a Track Phone. In the main compartment we could carry our laptop but, unlike many, we seldom travel with that. We did however carry the Wanderer with one of our AR pistols taken down and stowed in the main compartment and a couple of spare mags in the pockets behind the zip-down panel on the bag’s front. This worked out pretty well especially after we stuck the upper receiver with its optic into an old ski sock to offer some protection.
For the Wanderer’s first formal outing we loaded up for a trip to the local medical facility where we had some preventive maintenance scheduled. A change of clothes and a few other items disappeared in the depths of the Wanderer; our wallet, phone etc. was kept handy in the two pockets on the exterior of the Wanderer’ flap cover. Through two different trips, the Wanderer and its contents didn’t even garner a single sidelong glance from anyone and fit right in with the upscale environment of the medical facility. Having used this handy bag for a while now, the only feature we would add to the Wanderer would be a grab handle on top of the cover flap. This would make it more convenient to haul it in or out of a vehicle and keep the bag more upright when doing so.
As of this writing the niche of the Wanderer is still evolving. It will probably replace our old nylon briefcase for my annual trip to the SHOT Show and will likely end up behind the seat of the pickup full of that everyday type stuff most of us haul around “just in case”. For those who need an unobtrusive tote bag that doesn’t scream “tactical” or “gun” the Wanderer from Grey Ghost gear is a very viable piece of gear that is incredibly functional and built to last. Fans of the TV series “24” should note that this bag would be Jack Bauer approved. The Wanderer is currently on sale for just a hair over $150 direct from Grey Ghost Gear. Good shooting.