The Katara 16 is a 16L everyday carry backpack that can be converted easily to a left or right single shoulder sling bag. There are a lot of options out there for a 16L day pack. The Katara serves this space well with smart design and nice styling.
While the pack is only available in tactical colors (coyote tan, wolf grey, black, multi cam black) , I find the multi cam black can pass for, must to the dismay of true fans of tactical gear, more of a fashion statement because of the pack’s overall styling. The Katara has a much softer outline. The low profile hypalon MOLLE and the low key Vangquest logo on the front helps as well. Both the front and side profile are much softer. The two external pockets has a wedge shaped side profile that make the pack more distinct and also giving it more capacity.
The use of 500D really make the pack softer and lighter. Note that high wearing areas are still made with 1000D. The inside are all done with 210D high visibility Vanquest orange that I personally really like. There are also several zippered translucent pockets in all of the compartments.
Design and Usage
The compartments in the Katara naturally falls into three categories. The main compartment is the largest one with a hydration or laptop pocket. I can fit my 13 inch MacBook Pro with touch bar and my 10.5 inch iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard attached in there. Note that with a slim profile( 3.5 inch from my measurement although their spec says 4), these electronics will eat into the rest of the available space. This laptop pocket cover is tapered at the top so that you can get to whatever is inside from the sides when you use this pack as a sling. I am not sure this design is needed. If I have a small iPad or kindle in there I can get to it from the side. But with my MBP there is no other way to take it out other than from the top. The front of this pocket is looped covered which is great, but with that tapered top it drastically reduce the usable area for the looped back.
The top of the main compartment, on the front side, has a full wide zippered pocket that is just over 4 inch tall I find I can get to this pocket by zipping open just the top of the pack. The zipper stopping webbing on both sides help with keeping the rest of the pack close. For a EDC pack, it is all about quick access to many items and I find this design very smart.
There front of the main compartment also has a three way opennng pocket. Again this is designed for side access. In this case it works well and let me keep some items separately from the main content and get to them quickly. If you do not want to use this pocket, you can also unzip it completely and roll it down to the bottom, giving you a simpler main compartment.
But there is more! The sides of the main compartment both have a pocket and webbing at the top. If you have narrow longer items, you can put them in there. Flash lights and tools perhaps?
Let’s take a break. As you can see at this point — this pack in typical vanquest fashion, has (too many) many organization features. This is a good thing because while you cannot use all the organization at the same time, you can fit the pack to your particular usage. This is a signature design of Vanquest and I am a huge fan of that.
The two front compartments both have an interesting side profile. The bottom one is deeper at the top, and the top one is deeper at the bottom. Both compartments have open pockets in the back and a zipped pocket in the front. The top compartment’s open pocket also have one row of elastic webbing. I find that with these two compartments, I can sort out my EDC items between them. I put the most frequently accessed items in the top compartment, and secondary items at the bottom compartment. The Katara design is not perfect, I wish there is a pen slot somewhere. I ended up just slotting my pens behind the elastic webbing. I also wish there is a fleece lined eye glasses/phone pocket.
The outside of the top front compartment is completely covered with loop materials so that you can decorate your pack with a lot of patches. The vanquest logo is sewn on discretely. The only problem I have with the loop front is, because of the shape of front and the lighter backing material, it is slightly difficult to make the patch stands out.
The Back and straps
The back panel is very well padded. The last quarter of the back padding is extra thick. This helps this small pad rest on the lower back. The design of the convertible straps to switch from backpack mode to sling mode is very well designed. The pack comes with stowaway waist straps. I don’t think anyone would use the waist straps with such a small pack. At least the straps are small and easily put away.
The shoulder straps have a lot of design feature. 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 a elastic loop for security.
There is a padded top carry handle on the pack. The padding is great, but there is a small seam that runs along the center underneath. The padding is nicer than the padding on the same handle on the Javalin 3.0.
This is a very well designed small everyday carry pack. It is a good balance of organization feature and weight. Think of this as the other extreme from a Goruck Echo. While I like the sleek look of the Goruck, I always think for smaller packs, well design built in organization is important. For that I really like the Vanquest Katara 16.