Introduced in 2020, the Hydro Zip-On Panel is one of four back panels made by Whisky Two Four, specifically for Crye Precision plate carriers. The Hydro Zip-On Panel (HZOP) itself allots for utilization of Cyre-branded oversize zippers, and mounts directly to the carrier’s rear plate bag.
Made overall from a type of nylon with an abrasion rating of 500D, the HZOP has a total dimension of 12” (H) x 9” (W) and has enough material to accommodate a hydration bladder between 70-100 ounces.
At the front, the HZOP has 4” (H) x 6” (W) hook-and-loop panel for attaching identification or morale patches. Below that is a length of shock cord that is laced through nylon loops on the sides to aid in retention and compression.
The sides of the HZOP use corresponding oversized zippers that match Crye’s back panel based on the carrier’s size. At the base of the zipper line is an elastic nylon cuff to tuck the pull-tab into and further prevent any accidental separation. Pass-through slots on both sides allow for hydration tubing to be passed over either shoulder.
The back of the HZOP has four hook-and-loop tabs that work in conjunction with a similar hook-and-loop panel that connects directly to the top of the JPC rear plate bag. This affords a solid anchoring of the HZOP to the JPC. A fold-over, hook-and-loop tab at the bottom of the HZOP attaches to the interior rear plate bag to provide added stability and retention.
The interior is accessed through a three-sided zipper with nylon pull tabs, and aside from a nylon band at the top for hydration bag retention, the interior is otherwise unremarkable. A grommet is on the bottom to allow for drainage should it be necessary.
The Hydro Zip-On Panel is for Crye JPC 2.0 & SPC style plate carriers, and comes in ten different colors to include Ranger Green (featured), Multicam, and M81. The HZOP is sized to match the size of the plate carrier between small and XLarge.
Product Evaluation Scores:
- Cost – Fair (2/5): With its list price of $119.00, the Hydro Zip-On Panel is one of several back panel accessories by Whiskey Tango Four intended to supplement Crye plate carriers. Made from 500D nylon, the HZOP is a no-frills back panel that supports hydration bladders without the excessive size or bulk common in larger assault pack style back panels. In contrast, Ferro Concepts has its Back Panel Water ($105.00) panel, Velocity System offers its SCARAB Zip-On Back Panel ($120.00), and the Antidote Hydration Carrier ($45.99) from ATS (although the carrier does not include carrier-compatible zippers). This demonstrates that while the HZOP does offer higher-end materials and more size, this comes at a corresponding cost that puts it at the higher-end of similar products and a fair price.
- Comfort – Good (4/5): From a comfort aspect, the HZOP (when loaded with a hydration bladder) bore most of its weight into the plate carrier, thus it became more about the carrier’s harness and how it was designed to bear weight on the upper torso. Using a JPC 2.0, the HZOP side zippers integrated with the Crye carrier smoothly, securely, and did not bind or cross-feed. Moreover, the top-access zipper (while not oversized as the side zippers) also moved smoothly around the corners. The nylon pull tabs on the top-access zipper were a little awkward given it was a linear tab of material that was somewhat odd to grab if from the sides. While this did not inhibit function, it is recommended to WTF that a paracord pull tab (with heat-shrink tubing) would have allowed for a more generalized grip.
- Durability – Average (3/5): The overall material used to make the HZOP was a textured nylon made as a style of “duck cloth” and met MIL-DTL-32439 standards, giving it an abrasion rating of approximately 500D. This is a widespread and common fabric used in many similar products on the market and within civilian backpacks, with an appropriate (or average) level of durability to resist abrasion. That said, the thickness of the material was thin, and while that granted the overall product some measure of light weight, it also had the tactile sense of something easily penetrated if pierced. More often with tactical accessories of this type, the more commonly used fabric on the market is Cordura that yields a thicker (yet heavier) fabric. Over the period of review (roughly 30 days) no wear or fraying of fabric, or the A-A-59826 bonded nylon threading was noted despite multiple donning/doffing of the HZOP to the plate carrier or during dynamic movements. The YKK Vilson zippers along the sides also held up correspondingly well, with no separation of the zipper line noted. It is important to note, the HZOP is not an assault pack and its materials (and reinforcement stitching) reflect that it is designed to provide storage for a hydration bladder (and only a hydration bladder). Storage of items heavier than that of 100 ounces of water, or items with hard/sharp edges will almost certainly press the material and threading beyond its intent. This is likely why WTF also produces the more robust 83 backpanel that is intended more as an assault pack.
- Functionality – Good (4/5): Functionally, the HZOP did a very good job as a hydration pouch for the plate carrier it was intended to fit (i.e. the JPC). Other market brands of carriers also do carry similar sized zippers on their back panel, but it is less of a guarantee on compatibility. As such, the HZOP easily supported the hydration bag placed inside, although the nylon loop to hang the hydration bag on was somewhat difficult to utilize based on the design of each company’s hydration bag (some utilize a G-hook, others have cordage, others nothing at all), and thickness of the HZOP’s nylon band itself. It should be noted that as all elements of the HZOP meet various governmental standards in production (i.e. the fabrics, zippers, and hook-and-loop) it is therefore BERRY compliant and available to elements of the professional fields that necessitate such items. The exterior shock cordage was intended to offer compression and retention of the hydration bag’s contents, but basically it only added reinforcement to the overall material itself and the overall pack. The more tension was applied to the shock cord, the more strain was placed on the upper two loops made from the same thin material. One recommendation for Whiskey Two Four would be to change these loops to a more robust Cordura nylon to prevent any tearing/separation from the pack if tightened excessively or over time. Perhaps one arguable element that is absent from the HZOP, as found in other hydration packs or slots, would be a layer of insulation material (typically a rubberized foam) that encloses the water source to prevent it from heating up due to direct exposure from the sun. Over the course of the day it was noticeable as the temperature of the water increased despite being inside the HZOP and correspondingly to the overall volume of water that remained (less water simply takes less heat to increase temps). This was exacerbated if the plate carrier was laid down with the back panel facing upwards.
- Weight – Average (3/5): At an overall weight of 7.1oz (empty) for a size large, the HZOP owed much of its relative light weight to the single-layer fabric used in its design. Use of Cordura in its place would have certainly resulted in a heavier product (esp. when wet). For those looking exclusively for a hydration pouch without the excess accessory pouches, panels, or webbing, then the HZOP was ideal. When filled with a hydration bladder, the HZOP was still neither unbalancing or felt as if it was weighing/pulling the plate carrier’s back panel downward. The HZOP’s ability to utilize the mounting system of the JPC ensured that most of its relative weight was transferred directly to the carrier. In contrast, Ferro Concepts has its Back Panel Water Panel (4.93 ounces), Velocity System offers its Zip-On Back Panel (13.4 ounces), and the Antidote Hydration Carrier (3.6 ounces) from ATS demonstrate that the Hydro Zip-On Panel from Whiskey Two Four is of appropriate (or of average) weight for its design and amid the current market of alternatives.
Overall Rating – Average (16/25)
I am reviewing this product as a courtesy to the manufacturer and via High Ground Media, LLC, so that I can evaluate it and provide my honest feedback. I am not bound by any written, verbal, or implied contract to give positive reviews. All views are my own, and based off my personal experience with the product.
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