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Sand goes with Marines as peanut butter goes with jelly, and I don’t just mean in terms of the sandy deserts of the Global War on Terror. The purpose of the Marine Corps is to storm beaches, and what do beaches have? Sand! Anyway, sand is coarse, and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere, but it can be useful not just for building sweet sandcastles but building sweet muscles. To that end, 5.11 Tactical has recently released a pair of sandbag training tools that are perfect for fitness whether it’s in your home gym or on deployment.
Sandbags are nothing new. Lots of people and companies have been producing sandbags for purposes of working out, and they’ve done well; heck, we took actual sandbags, filed them up, and duct-taped them into makeshift kettlebells when I was a Marine. The 5.11 Tactical PT-R sandbags do things a little differently, though, and they are available at a fair price point — and the combination of features and price point make them stand out. Let’s see why they should potentially accompany you on your next deployment.
There is no box, per se. The sandbags come empty and folded roughly in half around a small cardboard backer. Pop off some thin ties, and you are ready to add sand. How much sand depends on which bag you went with. The PT-R sandbags come in 50- and 100-pound sizes. For this review, we have both.
You can choose between either black or 5.11 Tactical’s own ‘kangaroo.’ Kangaroo is the fancy name for flat dark earth. I chose FDE because, let’s be honest, FDE is cooler and shows up better in pictures. The bags are made from 1050D nylon, which offers some decent water resistance, and it also dries fast and is quite tough.
On the outside, we have seven different handles that are reinforced, massive, and heavily textured for an easy grip. Inside of each PT-R bag are two internal liners. These liners are more than just liners, and also work as separate workout tools. Each can be loaded with half the weight of the total bag. So with the 100-pound PT-R kit, you have two 50-pound bags, and with the 50-pound PT-R, you have two 25-pound bags. These internal liners also have handles, and they form their own quasi kettlebell-like sandbags for various exercises.
How we tested the 5.11 Tactical PT-R sandbags
I filled them up and worked my tail off! I tried various workouts I could find online and modified several of my workouts from barbells to sandbags or from kettlebells to sandbags. I blasted through strength, cardio, and conditioning workouts. I’ve left sweat and blood on them. Heck, I even used one as a pillow after five rounds of a HIIT workout.
I lifted them, dropped them, tossed them, and threw them a time or two. I have a barnyard gym, and that’s where they sat. While not totally exposed to the elements, they weren’t brought indoors after being filled with sand.
Saying they’ve had it rough might be an understatement. However, what else am I supposed to do with them? These are tools made to work, and as such, they need to take some abuse. If they weren’t tough, they wouldn’t be deployment-ready, and speaking of….
What we like about the 5.11 Tactical PT-R sandbags
1. You can pack them!
Anytime you travel in the military, go ahead and assume it will be cramped. It could be a cramped bus ride, a cramped ship, or a cramped plane. You won’t be able to bring everything you own, and after you pack your mission-ready gear, you’ll find yourself with very little room left to pack extras. Good luck even carrying a single 30-pound dumbbell or kettlebell.
I’ve known dudes that have tried, and it never looked comfortable. The PT-R sandbags can be easily packed in a ruck, seabag, or gear bag. Without sand, you can roll them up, secure them with some zip ties, shove them in an empty corner of your pack, and head on out.
Obviously, this requires you to find some sand once you get settled on your deployment, but believe it or not, that’s often not very hard. You might have to break out the E-Tool and dig a bit, but dirt just happens to be just about everywhere.
2. One bag is actually three.
Sure, one sandbag is great, and you have plenty of options from fitness companies around the world. However, the 5.11 Tactical PT-R bags give you three options in one. The main bag gives you either 100 pounds or 50 pounds of weight, and the internal lines divide that into two 50- and 25-pound bags, respectively.
This gives you three options total for various exercises. You can use the bag for deadlifts, squats, and cleans, then pop out the two internal bags and use them for curls, flies, or swings. Versatility is the name of the game, and if I’m humping it overseas, the more it can do for me, the better.
3. Adapt and overcome.
While the bag might be able to hold 100 pounds of sand, that might be too much for you at first. Trust me, working with sand is different from working with heavy metal barbells. Downloading the bag to 70 pounds or 50 pounds might be necessary. As you get stronger, you simply add more and more dirt and make the bag heavier.
If you have both bags, you can obviously alternate per exercise, but that’s not necessary. It might not be fun to dump and fill the bag depending on the workout, but you can do so quite easily. You can change the difficulty by how you hold the bag as well.
Doing lunges with the bag over your shoulder is tough, but it’s even tougher to do lunges while bear-hugging the bag. The multitude of handles allows you to try different grips and exercises to increase or decrease intensity. Since the bags are soft and malleable, they can be held in various different ways.
You can also do everything from traditional weight training to cardio with the sandbags, and they can replace a lot of equipment a normal gym would have.
4. Ratchet up the intensity.
Sandbag workouts are unlike any other workout. Because the bag is soft and malleable, you can use significant weight and go hard and fast. It will break you off fast and deliver a surprising workout. You’ll have to reduce the weight or your movements significantly. Suddenly cleaning 100 pounds feels a whole lot harder.
This is mainly because the bag and the sand are always moving and swinging. It’s insatiable, so you’ll work more and work stabilizing muscles to control the bag. You’ll feel it in your core, and it will suck, but suck in a good way.
5. It’s safe(er).
Nothing involving fitness is 100 percent safe. Bad form, stupid practices, and a lack of common sense can get anyone hurt. However, sandbags reduce the problem significantly. Sandbags are softish and less likely to break bones and skin when dropped incorrectly. You drop a barbell on your foot, and you risk smashing toes and breaking feet. Drop a sandbag on your foot, and well, you’ll likely be fine.
Safety is pretty dang important all the time, but it’s critical on deployment. Seriously, if you get injured overseas, you’re shorting your team, your squad, your platoon, etc., a person. Now someone has to pick up your slack. Additionally, depending on where you are, you might not receive any kind of serious medical aid for hours or days.
What we don’t like about the 5.11 Tactical PT-R sandbags
There isn’t much to dislike about a sandbag. It’s so utterly simple, you know what you’re getting into with sandbags. It’s a bag of sand! However, I can find anything to complain about if I try hard enough. The main problem I have with the PT-R Sandbags is inserting and removing the liners from the main bag. It feels like I need three hands to get the bags back into the main bag. The mouth closes and collapses as I try to fit the big, fat liners back into the bag, and it’s often quite frustrating to do mid-workout when you are trying to keep your heart rate up. Having an actual third or fourth hand in the form of a buddy helps.
The 5.11 Tactical PT-R sandbags present a fantastic deployment-ready option for fitness. The bags have proven to be plenty heavy-duty and can take some serious abuse without issue. The PR-T sandbags are easily stored, provide a vicious workout tool, and make it easy to take your fitness with you anywhere you go.
FAQs about the 5.11 Tactical PT-R sandbags
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q: How much do the PT-R Sandbags cost?
Q: Is there any hardware that will bang off me while I work out?
A: Nope! There is no hardware present to beat you up while you work out. The single zipper is protected and covered, and it won’t interact with you.
Q: What’s the weight of the empty bags?
A: The bags and liners weigh 3.02 pounds (100-pound bag) and 2.6 pounds (50-pound bag)
Got questions? Comment below & talk with T&P’s editors
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Travis Pike is a former Marine machine gunner who served with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines for five years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He plays in the great outdoors of Northwest Florida and enjoys good beer, sharp knives, and long walks in the woods.