Since 2011, the folks at Vanquest have been building what they bill as “The toughest bags & packs for everyday carry,” which “help you stay organized and prepared.” They are quick to mention that their products are used by everyone from outdoors enthusiasts to the FBI and USSOCOM. The company is made up of former founding members of Maxpedition, outdoor gear designers, photographers. They are proud of building durable gear that is U.S, designed, but produced in Vietnam to offer their customers a good value. 

Tech Specs

MetricImperial
Height45.7 cm18″
Width26.7 cm10.5″
Depth17.8 cm7″
Capacity16l976 cu. in.
Weight1.2kg2.65lbs
Specifications as listed at: http://www.vanquest.com

Quality and Comfort

Here on The Perfect Pack, we love to review the small brand custom bags. Vanquest is no small maker, but I was pleased with the Katara upon first impressions. 

As fellow contributor PK Shui noted on his blog, “The use of 500D really make the pack softer and lighter. Note that high wearing areas are still made with 1000D.” I couldn’t agree more in regard to the materials used on the exterior of the pack. It’s built to stand up to hard use where it needs it but also has had some of the fat trimmed by using lighter weight materials where appropriate. Vanquest uses durable water repellent treated Cordura for all-weather performance. There are also low profile Hypalon MOLLE-Air side panels plus a laser-cut PALS front panel for modular expansion. This gives the Katara a more urban look while keeping the weight down.

An interesting feature of the Katara 16 is that it can be converted into a sling bag by removing one of the shoulder straps. The Katara can be set up for right or left side carry for quick access. The shoulder straps are secured with hook-and-loop fasteners, durable Duraflex buckles and G-hooks. This is a really clever feature for people who may want to run this as a sling on the weekdays and then turn it into a backpack for adventures on the weekends and is appropriate on the smaller 16 litre Katara, whereas it may not be on larger bags. 

The shoulder straps are very comfortable and well designed with a removable sternum strap. PK noted further, “The straps are well padded and ‘S’ shaped. There is a one inch webbing sawn on top, segmented for easy lashing There is a detachable chest strap. The straps can be opened near the bottom, and the buckle is covered by an elastic loop for security.” When used in sling mode, the sternum strap doubles as a stabilizer strap.  

All of the hardware is functional and built to last. The pack has Mil-grade ITW and UTX-Duraflex® hardware made from high tensile strength Acetal polymer. The zippers are Durable RC-Class YKK with lockable zippers, reversed for protection. To top it all off, the Katara features Vanquest’s signature “Spartan” Zipper pulls. The zipper pulls are some of the best on the market for manipulation and speed, but they can snag on twigs and brush.

Organization

I may sound like a Vanquest fanboy, but I believe Vanquest knocked it out of the park with all the organizational options on the Katara!  

Beginning with the outside of the bag, the top pocket has a zippered compartment, elastic webbing organization, a slip pocket, and a hook-and-loop field for ID patches. The elastic webbing in this compartment is perfect for holding an extra lighter, multitool, ID cards and chapstick. This was easily my most utilized pocket on the entire bag. Lower down there is another exterior pocket with organization inside and two hypalon MOLLE panels so the user can attach accessories. 

Inside of the KATARA, there’s a padded sleeve for a tablet/small laptop that can be accessed from the left or right side of the pack. I put my 13” Macbook in this sleeve with no issues. The sleeve also doubles as a hydration bladder pocket. The front of the sleeve is lined with orange loop fabric for hook-and-loop accessories. 

This brings me to one of my most polarizing parts of this pack- the interior color. The majority of the interior of the KATARA is bright blaze orange. While I understand high visibility color choice makes it easy to find items, or could be used for signalling in a survival situation, I think it’s just too bright. Opening the bag in public simply draws too much attention to the user. I would like to see Vanquest offer the interior in a different color, like a very light grey or a blue. This way the user can still see the interior of the pack but also not alert everyone in the room when they go to grab a bag of trail mix. 

Opposite to the padded sleeve, you’ll find a zippered pocket on top, and a “3-Mode” convertible pocket on the bottom. This pocket can be opened from its left or right zipper, and has a flap top closure. It can also be rolled-down and stored, revealing a large loop field for more hook-and-loop accessory attachments. I found this pocket to be very versatile and come in handy for keeping unconventional items like camera lenses and hard drives secure no matter how awkwardly shaped they were. 

Additionally, There are two internal side pockets with elastic retention for medical gear, knives, or flashlights. I found this pocket fit a tourniquet perfectly with enough retention to keep it in place, but it was not difficult to access when I needed it. 

Usually when I get a new bag I throw a small organizer pouch in the main compartment to hold all of the small items I carry on a daily basis, but with the KATARA 16 there was a divider or a pocket for everything I wanted to bring with me. I think that this is the best part of the bag, as organization is something a lot of the smaller packs have a hard time with. 

I would also like to mention how much stuff I can put in this deceptively small pack. As the years go by and I refine my EDC gear to be smaller and lighter, I can really appreciate a bag of this size. The KATARA lets me take all the things I need and nothing more. 

Last but not least there is a Concealed Carry Weapon compartment housed in between the main compartment and the front organization pocket. The hidden access path to this pocket is kept shut with hook and loop. A large handgun will not fit in the pocket- users will be restricted to smaller options. 

What’s Perfect

  • Material Selection – the perfect combination of strength and weight. 
  • Organization – by far the best part of this pack. 
  • Attention to detail – the team at Vanquest put a lot of time into the execution of the KATARA 16 and it shows.

What’s Not

  • Color Options, This bag is only offered in typically tactical colors with very bright orange interiors. I’d like to see some other color options come with a possible update in the future. 
  • Speaking of visibility, I would like to see a “slick” version of this bag, similar to the GORUCK slick packs. If the MOLLE panels were removed and the bag offered in a few different colors, this could be a really great “LOW VIS” Urban option. 
  • Price –  the KATARA 16 comes in at $175.00 at the time of this review. This is a very well made bag but I’d love to see it in that sub-$150.00 category.

Wrap Up

The Katara is a backpack intended for city, everyday life, vacation or hikes.  With its low weight, numerous compartments and storage options for equipment and gear, it can be used in a multitude of scenarios. Overall the KATARA is a great bag. When I first received this bag I didn’t think I was going to really enjoy it but am happy to say that was  not the case. This is a great EDC bag with incredible organizational options and it’s held together with quality materials. 

Disclaimer: The Katara 16 was supplied by Vanquest for use in this review. The content of the review was not shared with Vanquest prior to publication. Our reviews are impartial and never modified to keep a brand happy.