Helikon EDC Side Bag Review
Tactical shoulder bag with Molle/PALS webbing
Shoulder bags are often the unloved stepchild of tactical and utilitarian outdoor gear. They have to function well in that narrow range between “just put it in your pocket” and “you’ll need a rucksack”. I do use them, but they have to work hard to earn their place in my kit loadout.
This a review for the Helikon EDC Side Bag, supplied as a sample by our friends at Military1st. It’s not our first shoulder bag review – last year we had a good look at the Helikon Bushcraft Satchel, and that bag is still used at least once per week.
Can the Helikon EDC Side Bag improve on it?
This is a small-ish padded, contoured ‘tactical’ shoulder bag with a removable waist belt and MOLLE/PALS attachments. Nothing immediately jumps out as being novel or different from every other MOLLE-compatible shoulder bag hanging up in the corner of the Original Outdoors offices – which is not necessarily a bad thing for something that is meant to blend into the background.
The Helikon EDC Side Bag comes in 6 colour variations: coyote, olive, black, melange-grey and melange-blue plus the Shadow Grey of the review sample.
It has a subtly asymmetric cut and slight contouring in the foam padding to help with fit against the hips and lower back, and adjustable shoulder strap with pad and a removable and adjustable waist belt for stabilisation.
The public-facing side of the bag is bristling with pockets, cord, hook/loop panels and laser-cut MOLLE/PALS attachments. A central main compartment has a smaller pouch on the front, home for a water bottle on one side and a small zippered pouch on the other. Behind the main compartment is a slim and discreet slot that runs the full length and width of the bag – evidently intended for a CCW or similar. Underneath the bag is another corded attachment point for strapping clothing or soft items to the bag.
There are subdivisions within the main compartment and the attached pockets with some versatility in size and placement for kit organisation and separation.
The fabric choices and build quality are exactly what I have come to expect from a brand like Helikon – nothing too fancy but rugged and durable.
For review items like this (where they need to be used and lived with for a while to properly assess them) I usually try and find a suitable role for them in my work as an instructor, then see if they can meet my expectations. For the Helikon EDC Side Bag I opted to use it as grab-bag for a series of tracking courses we were running through our partner brand Outdoor Professional for police forces in the South of England. I needed to keep some items close to hand – notes, writing tools, torch, map, GPS and flagging tape – plus have a home for a windproof layer and water/flask of very strong coffee.
The fabric was a little stiff when first used, and it took a little while for it to soften up and become more flexible against my body. The shoulder strap has plenty of adjustment and will fit most users, as does the waist strap. I found myself ditching the waist strap for most of the time, but did reattach it for a subject-trailing session where we followed a track for several miles across the Downs.
When worn on the shoulder with the waist belt attached it can be easily rotated from the small of the back, around the side and onto the front for access to the pouches, then back out of the way. This was particularly useful on a few occasions where I needed to jump into a vehicles, be driven quickly to another location and then hop out again quickly.
The internal pockets and division within the compartments worked well enough for what I asked of it, and I didn’t feel concerned about vital kit slipping out the moment I opened the zip. The CCW pocket at the rear comes with a removable holster/weapon mounting point, which isn’t of much use in the UK outside of a military or airsoft application, so I removed it. That pouch does happily take an OS map and a bundle of A4 notes, although you do have to be aware of the tapering towards the base.
The bottle attachment pouch is generous but can be cinched down to hold smaller bottles if required. I used either a Kleen Kanteen, a Grayl purifier or various thermal flasks in it with no bother, and whatever container I used was easily slipped in and out with one hand. It is also worth mentioning that the asymmetric layout of the bag means that there isn’t any discomfort or imbalance when carrying a full water bottle.
The bag weighs in at 570g, which is quite respectable with that much padding and thick webbing.
The laser-cut MOLLE/PALS panels will be fine for small clips and attachments but not for larger pouches or anything that requires two vertical rows of webbing. Other than small clips for lanyards or hanging items temporarily I didn’t find any use for them, but they don’t add much weight and very little bulk so there is little penalty for them being there.
The generous hook/loop panel is nice to see as it allows for larger patches to be used – in my case one saying ‘Instructor’ so that I am not confused for a tramp that has wandered into the training facility, and An Baner Kernewek so that I can annoy people from Devon.
Nothing has frayed, there is no loose stitching and no defects or faults to be seen.
For that difficult middle-ground that shoulder bags need to perform in I think it just about passes. I would have like it to have had a slightly larger main compartment so stuff a slightly thicker layer into, and to maybe have the shoulder strap completely removable as it is on the Helikon Bushcraft Satchel. It is rugged and built to a higher quality than the price would suggest, and I don’t foresee this thing falling apart any time soon.
If you have need of a bag larger than your pockets but smaller than a rucksack, or want the versatility of a bag that rotates around the waist easily, then add it to your shortlist. I’d happily take this into testing environments, and it’s going to become part of my personal kit.