I bought Savior Equipment’s “S.E.M.A” backpack a bit after SHOT Show using a 35% off coupon I received from them at the show. I believe this coupon was being handed out freely, so I don’t think I am overly biased, but full disclosure, etc. I didn’t want to post about it before I had a chance to utilize it for hauling things around for a good month or so. We’ve passed the benchmark, so I felt justified in writing a review.
I became aware of Savior Equipment due to the large number of well-reviewed soft gun cases they have on Amazon. I own a couple of them – they’re pretty good, and seem to be holding up. It seems fairly obvious that they are spec’ing out cases for Chinese manufacture and importing them, but given that specs and QC are about 80% of the Chinese import game, that’s not a small task.
“S.E.M.A” stands for “Savior Equipment Mobile Arsenal”. In the interests of not wearing out my period key, I am going to refer to it as the SEMA backpack, or just SEMA. I don’t remember exactly what I spent on it, but it was on the order of like ninety bucks shipped. I ordered the black version. If I could engage in a bit of unlicensed marketing consulting, I’d say that maybe picking a product name that doesn’t sound like a bodily fluid might be a smart change.
The SEMA arrived in a timely manner in a big, solid box. In the box was a big, solid backpack. I really cannot stress enough just how big this thing is. There is a bunch of internal structure to the backpack, so it is big all the time. Further, that internal structure adds a fair bit of weight, so even unloaded, it’s not exactly light. Savior gives the dimensions as 18” H x 12” W x 9” D, which sounds about right. Many backpacks can get that big, but the key point here is that the SEMA is always that big. There are cinch straps on the upper left and right, but they do nothing but basically get in the way.
Most of the volume of the backpack is in three compartments: the pistol case cavity, the top back pocket, and the top front pocket. There’s also a thin front pocket behind the pseudo-PALS webbing. I found this completely useless – it doesn’t open very far, and it’s too tight to get much into. I have no idea what they intended it for, but even paper targets didn’t fit well.. There is another larger “organizer” pocket behind that pocket, which you will need to undo the cinch straps to get access to it. The pictures on the website seem to indicate you’re supposed to put your smartphone, earplugs, eyepro, and other assorted sundries into that pocket. It mostly went unused for me.
I configured the backpack such that I had ammo in the top pocket closest to my back, and everything else in the other top pocket. Some good news here is that you can fit quite a bit into those pockets. You could quite comfortably get half a case of 9mm and probably close to half a case of 5.56×45 in just one of those top pockets, especially if you stacked the boxes carefully.
The pistol storage part of the back pack is, honestly, something of a disappointment. Probably a third to a a half of the volume of the backpack is spent on this feature, and you can’t help but think they’re using a LOT of space on it. At first blush, it seems very premium – you get three zippered pistol pouches that look very nice. But there’s also a big void where a fourth pouch of some sort seems like it should have gone. I wound up using this for my MidwayUSA 6 pistol magazine pouch. I imagine it would probably also fit a similar AR mag pouch.
The zippered pistol pouches themselves are also a big of a mixed bag. They’ve got room for like 4-6 magazines, which is great, but the pouch that the pistol itself goes into is really tight. Like, crazily so. There’s an internal divider that doesn’t do much of anything. The utterly perplexing thing to this is that if they had just used the space between the divider and the wall of the pistol pouch to make a pistol storage pocket, it would have been MUCH more comfortable for everyone involved. It doesn’t need to be tight, guys – that’s what the zipper is for! On the plus side, it can hold some big pistols, including my Maxim 9.
The shoulder straps on the SEMA are adequate. There’s waist straps, too, but they’re not detachable. Bit of a shame, since I never use them. The stitching on it is acceptable, but not confidence inducing. There’s padding on the back, which seems to help comfort somewhat.
I’ve been using the SEMA for range trips and matches since I got it. It is not a comfortable backpack when loaded up; I constantly felt like I was going to tip over backwards due to the weight distribution. In general, the weight distribution on this pack is awful. That is probably my single biggest beef with it. If the ammo compartment had been at the bottom, or, even better, in some sort of large pocket parallel to my back, the backpack would have been more comfortable. I guess, strictly speaking, there is nothing stopping me from stuffing ammo into the pocket that the pistol pouches go into, and I may attempt this at my next multi-gun match.
The extremely inefficient space usage of the pistol compartment is also a head-scratcher – if you’re bringing fewer than three pistols, you’ve lost a lot of space, and even if you do bring that many, you’re still using like 1/4 to 1/3 of the giant backpack’s volume on them. I genuinely have trouble getting this backpack into my car’s trunk if there’s much else in it, which is quite a problem!
Now, even with all of that said, it’s still a vastly superior option to hauling around my regular range bag, simply because backpack > duffel bag when it comes to hauling heavy loads. It was MUCH nicer at multi-gun matches to just pick it up, sling it on my back, and hike to the next stage (along with a pair of rifles/shotguns). I was not able to put in QUITE all my ammo into it (shotgun shells are bulky!), but I am now wondering if I could have pulled it off by dumping a pistol pouch and putting boxes of shells into the pistol compartment.
If I were going to give Savior Equipment some advice on a notional SEMA v2:
- Eliminate the useless two pockets up front.
- Create a dedicated ammo pocket on the back of the pack running vertically.
- Improve the pistol pouches and try to make them a little smaller/lighter. If this involves vertical orientation, that would be great.
- In general, try to reduce the pack’s empty weight.
I don’t know if I’d give this a buy or no buy, especially at $120. The design is not badly executed for its price point, and I think I see the appeal for people who carry a bunch of pistols to the range regularly. But it’s so big and heavy empty that it feels like overkill for smaller range trips, and gets very weighty and unbalanced once you start dumping in a lot of ammo. I suppose I’d love to see a minimized version of the bag optimized for carrying two pistols in minimalist pouches, some range gear, and a lot of ammo… just with a much shorter height and a somewhat reduced back-to-front length.