Attachments and add-ons to a pack can make a huge difference. Of course, any bag worth buying should function
fine out of the box, but the right pouch or drop-in organiser can solve all kinds of problems, or create entirely new uses for a piece of kit. In terms of revolutionizing the function of the pack, it’s hard to get more substantial in a single accessory than adding a ‘beavertail’ type attachment. These tails fit to the outside of a pack, creating a flap of material across the front, usually with a lower fitting that creates a hinge, with space at the sides and at the top to stuff things in or pull them out. Sometimes this comes built-into the pack, as with the Vertx Gamut or 5.11 Rush 72, but a number of companies are producing removable Tails as accessories to be mounted on their packs, or taken off when not in use.
These beavertails perform a number of functions when fitted to a pack: they create extra volume for cargo when a bag is full; they work as compression panels when a pack needs to be reduced in size. They’ll add protection, from abrasion or water ingress, create a ‘quick grab’ area for items that don’t need to be zipped away, and just look cool.
Options come in many styles; different designs offer different benefits, and so I grabbed a selection to compare. I have here the Triple Aught Design Transporter Tail, Mystery Ranch Stick-It, and the OV Innovations Cache.
The Stick-it is famous for two reasons: its ability to expand the volume of Mystery Ranch’s legendary 3DAP pack, and its rarity on the market. Since it was officially discontinued collectors have chased Stick-it tails around the world, and I’ve seen them sell on the used market in the region of $200.
The Stick-it is made from 500D Cordura, and fits to webbing at the base and tabs, higher up on either side, found on several Mystery Ranch packs, especially their military line. It is gusseted to expand outwards, although the Cordura is double-layered around two small sheets of HDPE plastic, which help the tail keep its shape vertically. I purchased mine from an licensed MR stockist here in the UK, but it was supplied without buckles to mount it on the pack! After being offered a refund I chose instead to source my own hardware and have used this attachment on my Sweet Pea and Urban Assault packs since – usually for hiking and outdoor pursuits, but basically any time an extra pocket on the front of my pack would come in handy.
The Stick-it’s disappearance from production left a gap in the market, despite plenty of demand – this is where OV Innovations stepped in with their Cache design.
OVI are a small company based on Phoenix, Arizona, who produce pouches, accessories and upgrades for packs already in use – mostly Military kit, although they’re plenty practical for the everyday user or long-distance backpacker. After talking about my Stick-it online, they got in touch asking if I’d like to try their accessory to compare the two. The Cache works on a similar principle, but is simpler, stripped back in its function.
The cache uses two fibreglass stays to keep rigidity and does away with the double-layering, making it much lighter than the stick-it, whilst keeping the durability of the Cordura material. It’s designed to affix to any pack with a lower and two upper mounting points: OVI list over 40 potential hosts on their website, and in my testing I was able to find others beyond what they mention.
TAD’s Transporter Tail was designed for, and is included with, their Fastpack Litespeed and EDC models. The Transporter Tail is both a simpler and more complex design than the Stick-it or Cache. It doesn’t expand when filled or have any feature that keeps it rigid, but when used with the Fastpacks gives a number of different options as to how it can work.
These bags have mounting points inside as well as out, so the transporter tail can be used to create an internal divider for contents. It’s also heavier than the other two attachments I’m testing, partly because it’s made from a heavier (1000D) material, but also because the design is covered in PALS webbing, although a sterile version is available for those who wish to clean up the look of their pack.
The Transporter Tail fits directly into the Fastpacks’ compression system, meaning that the whole thing can be cinched very tight, really lowering the profile of the bag from the wearer’s back.
The primary use of these beavertails is for overload cargo storage – this is best for bulky items which would take up a lot of space inside the pack, a helmet is an obvious example that cyclists, mountaineers or military staff will be familiar with. Each of these flaps held my climbing helmet easily, without throwing off the load of the pack, or feeling unsecure. That said, the expanding gussets on the Mystery Ranch and OV Innovations models wrapped right around the shape of the helmet without leaving gaps at the sides for my lid to fall out, which I’ll accept is a risk with the TAD design.
In terms of this expansive capacity, the Cache outshone the other two models here, its design being more flexible than the Stick-it. Carrying a heavy outer layer that might need to be grabbed at quick notice, every one of these tails worked equally well, but again the Transporter Tail ran the risk of contents spilling out the sides, which personally I disliked. When empty, the Mystery Ranch tail retained a bit of curvature, which is fine if it matches the pack; the TAD’s square shape sits flat against the Fastpacks’ front panel, whereas the OVI has less horizontal structure, and will lay flat or bend to fit the shape of whichever platform it is mounted to.
There are other, specialised use cases, of course, which might set these designs apart. The Triple Aught Design Tail, for example, has a pocket-type cavity built in a way which is ‘hidden’ in normal use, but with the Tail hanging loose can be used to support long items such as a rifle stock or skis. Lacking either of those to test, I was able to prove this concept with hiking poles, but it feels like a niche function to me. The Stick-it’s doubled-back panelling creates a similar kind of cave which can sort-of work in the same way – I think it’d hold skis easily at least, but the OVI Cache lacks anything to perform that kind of ‘long item’ role.
I’ve seen other manufacturers do interesting things with Beavertail type accessories. The Kifaru Grab-it veers away from the expanding gusset design, offering a wide top opening that can be used like a bucket on the outside of packs. Combined with lash straps this can accommodate some very large external cargo indeed. The Prometheus Design Werx Gear Trap fits into this role but features an extra zipped pocket on one side, and a whole field of PALS-cut loop material on the other, for mounting additional pouches or patches as the user likes. I like the idea behind those, but personally, I’d worry about compromising the flexibility of the tail, which starts to defy the point.
In fact, there are a number of reasons not to use a beavertail at all. With a pack designed to accept external pouches (like the Triple Aught Design Fastpacks, and many others), a tail might obscure them and block access. Similarly adding the stick-it to a Mystery Ranch pack obstructs full use of the tri-zip design. On a pack like my Hill People Gear Tarahumara, the Cache blocked access to the pack’s zip entirely, meaning I’d have to empty and unhook the tail every time I wanted to get into the bag. So there are negatives, but adding the Cache really does bump up the capacity, so it’s a measured trade-off. This is always the case with accessories and, like I said, a good pack shouldn’t need extras to function well. If you find yourself regularly filling a bag and needing the overflow space that a beavertail provides, it might be time to look for a bigger pack.
Speaking of the which, the Tara wasn’t designed with a beavertail in mind (quite the opposite, you might say), but the cache fits to it perfectly well anyway. I mentioned the versatility of the design, but the subtle differences add up. Amazingly, Mystery Ranch’s new version of the 3-Day Assault Pack won’t accept their Stick-it properly. The Cache, however, fits it fine. When OVI supplied the cache for review they asked me to test it with the Fastpack Litespeed, which it fits to brilliantly. I lent my Cache to a friend who put it on a Berghaus mountaineering pack, and used that to carry his helmet for the weekend.
I was even able to fit the Cache to my North Face Kaban pack, albeit imperfectly, which might be a gamechanger for the cycling commuter the Kaban is aimed at. Other designs aren’t nearly so widely compatible. The Transporter Tail is designed for the Fastpack series, and will pretty much only fit those, without adding some extra slides and buckles to the mix from elsewhere.
Beavertail attachments, then, have a lot of potential uses. They’re not for everyone, but in the right case they can transform a pack, holding all kinds of extra or awkward loads. The TAD Transporter Tail is iconic and a major part of the appeal for users of the Fastpack series, but it has to stay there. The Mystery Ranch Stick-it is, as I see it, part of Perfect Pack mythology. As of January 2018, a listing for this attachment has reappeared on MR’s website in Blaze Orange, and no other colours. Hope for full reintroduction exists, but since the mounting points are disappearing from MR’s packs (the upper webbing tabs are missing from the new Urban Assault and Streetfighter models, for example), I would say that is unlikely. The OVI Cache, in my opinion, is the best option on the market at time of writing to fill that gap.