A wise man once said, “Thou shan’t be caught dead with a cheap tactical backpack”
Okay, fine, we made that up, but you get the gist: you can scrimp on everything else, but you shouldn’t even try to cut corners where your tactical backpack is concerned.
Any self-respecting prepper or outdoorsman knows that a backpack is essential whether you’re prepping for a disaster or gearing up for a good time outdoors. Your choice of gear can make or (literally) break the rest of your experience, so it’s crucial to pick a tactical backpack that best fits your needs.
In this comprehensive article, we pick apart 5 of the best tactical backpacks in the market today. If you’re ready to know everything about these bad boys and make an informed decision before buying a tactical backpack, read on:
What Is A Tactical Backpack?
What makes a backpack tactical? Is it the material? The capacity? The tell-tale MOLLE panels?
The answer is yes…and no.
Sure, these bags can be made from stress-resistant, high-denier material and can be decked out with features like an extensive carrying capacity, hydration pockets, CCW compartments, MOLLE webbings and the like, but these aren’t the only things that make up a good tactical backpack.
In essence, tactical backpacks are basically bags that are especially equipped to help law enforcement, the military, emergency personnel— and yes —- civilians like hikers, backpackers and preppers carry out tasks effectively and efficiently. These bags allow easy access to important gear and are ideally designed to be comfortable even after long hours of wearing.
What To Look For In A Great Tactical Backpack
When choosing the right tactical backpack, you gotta set some standards. Here are some things that you should look for when choosing a good tactical backpack:
Tactical backpacks come in all shapes and sizes and can take on many different roles. Like any great piece of gear, you gotta know what, when and where you’re using your backpack for.
Are you keen on getting a tactical backpack for bugging out? You might want to consider something durable but low-key so as not to attract any unwanted attention from the sheeple. A bag with easily accessible compartments and enough room for a 72-hour supply is obviously ideal, too.
If you need one for everyday carry, focus on a bag that’s relatively light and compact; something that won’t get in the way when you’re commuting and is easy to stow away whether you’re in an office or on the field. Look for compression straps that help expand or compress the bag as needed.
EDC bags don’t have to be 50L monsters; a rucksack with a 20L capacity at the minimum will often do the trick. A backpack with various compartments (admin compartments for tools, eyewear pocket, laptop compartment, water bottle pocket) is also essential to help you organize your stuff with convenience.
For outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, camping or hiking, the bag’s shoulder, hip, and sternum straps may be your top priority as you’ll be spending most of the time carrying the pack on your back.
Look for a weather-proof bag made from material like polyester or nylon, and don’t forget to check for drainage grommets and dirt-resistant bottoms while you’re at it.
You might also prioritize the backpack’s compatibility with a hydration system for longer hikes or excursions, as well as MOLLE webbings so you can conveniently attach gear like a flashlight or a pair of trekking poles.
Simply put: the best bag out there is the one that meets your needs to a T. Before going over the rest of the qualities below, make sure you already know what you’re looking for to make your job easier.
Capacity and Organization
A tactical backpack’s capacity refers to the total volume it can carry. Manufacturers often express these in either liters or cubic inches. The bigger the capacity, the more gear you can carry—but of course that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best.
As mentioned earlier, the pack’s capacity will also depend on how you’ll be using it. 16-25L is usually enough for EDC and day trips, while long hikes or a full-on bug out situation may need a bag that can carry around 40-60L.
Check the compartments and how they’re organized, too. Consider the ease of use and access to the bag’s admin pockets, mesh pockets, and compartments for hydration bladders, laptops or water bottles.
Some people love a bag with a lot of small compartments and modularities for all their gear, while others find a bag with one large compartment plus a couple of smaller ones better. Others prefer stuffing smaller kits (ie fire kit, first aid kit, toiletries and the like) into a large compartment. That will ultimately depend on you and how you like to organize your gear.
A lot of great tactical bags have main compartments that can be opened all the way in a clamshell configuration so it’s easier to organize your stuff. Others use a “tri-zip” opening for the same reason. Compression straps inside the main compartment aren’t a must, but they do come in handy, especially if you want to keep your stuff securely in their place.
A tactical backpack is usually exposed to stressful environments, so it should be able to handle a lot of use and abuse. In determining the bag’s durability, consider the following:
Denier is the unit of measurement used to define the thickness of individual strands of fabric. The higher the denier, the thicker, heavier and sturdier the material. On the flip side, fabrics with low denier tend to be smooth, silky and easily prone to damage.
Most tactical backpacks are can easily clock in at 600-1100d, making them heftier, but stronger and more resistant to damage than ordinary rucksacks.
As far as material goes, polyester (400-600d) and nylon (700-1000d+) are most commonly used to make modern tactical backpacks.
Polyester is a synthetic fabric that’s cheap, hard-wearing and generally water-resistant. This material is known for being durable but lightweight, making it a popular textile choice for a lot of products, including seat belts, footwear, outdoor wear and of course, tactical backpacks.
Polyester is a good material because it’s resistant to a lot of chemicals and is easy to maintain. However, it’s relatively thinner than nylon. Bags made from polyester are generally cheaper and lighter, but are relatively more prone to tearing and abrasion.
Nylon, on the other hand, is polyester’s bigger, better and stronger cousin. Nylon strands used in tactical backpacks are tightly woven together, making the material resistant to moisture, cuts, and abrasion.
It also comes in many different varieties. Ballistic nylon, a heavy-duty fabric originally used to protect WWII airmen from shrapnel, is a commonly used fabric for tactical backpacks. While not exactly bulletproof, this material is highly resistant to tearing. Other nylon varieties include Cordura, Kodra and Rip-stop, which all have varying degrees of damage resistance, durability and strength.
Tactical backpacks made from high-grade nylon are pricier and heavier than their polyester counterparts, but they are also stronger and thicker. You can use and abuse them for years, and they’d still hold up like you just bought them yesterday.
The material is only as good as how it’s made, so make sure to check the backpack’s overall construction. Nitpick every detail. Check the type of thread they’re using (nylon is also best for this) and the quality of the stitches. A good tactical backpack must have reinforcements like double-stitching and bar tacks in vulnerable, high-stress areas such as the ones around the grab handles, around the straps, near MOLLE webbings and the like.
As far as hardware like zippers are concerned, tried-and-trusted YKK zippers are considered the standard. These robust zippers come in all shapes and sizes, are self-healing, have tabs that do not pop off, and are guaranteed to never let you down (they haven’t per our experience). A good tactical backpack usually sports reverse-coil zippers to prevent moisture from coming in through the zipper’s teeth, keeping your backpack water-resistant.
Other things that you should look out for include the quality of the straps, buckles, grab handles, and inner mesh compartments.
Weight has always been a huge factor when choosing a good backpack— tactical or otherwise.
The average tactical backpack can easily weigh around 3.8-4 pounds. While this doesn’t seem like much at first glance, it can easily contribute to the total weight of the pack when combined with gear and supplies.
That being said, you have to be strategic about the rest of the gear that you’re gonna carry.
Ideally, a loaded backpack should not weigh more than 20% of your total body weight. For example, if you weigh 200lbs, your bag should ideally be no more than 40 lbs. Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule— it’s really more of a guideline on how to establish your pack’s base weight. Once you know the ideal weight of your pack, you can then start planning on the type of gear you’re going to carry.
You’ll most likely carry that backpack for hours on end, so make sure it’s at least comfortable. Look for wide, preferably padded shoulder straps that distribute the weight evenly over both shoulders. You want the straps to be well-constructed and easy to adjust; stay away from anything that digs into your shoulders or chafes.
Contoured shoulder yokes are a matter of preference— some people hate them for being annoying, some people swear by them for their form-fitting stability. This bit is really up to you.
Padded and well-ventilated back panels help you stay comfy and relatively fresh out on the trail. Look for bags that use fabrics with wicking properties so they don’t absorb the sweat from your back.
Sternum and hip straps secure the pack and help divert its weight to your lower body. Measure the length of your torso and your hips to make sure these features fit well when using the bag.
How We Did Our Tactical Backpack Review
Reviewing the best tactical backpacks out there ain’t no easy feat. It took a couple of months for us to gather the data, test the bags and put together this article. Here’s a quick look on how we did our tactical backpacks review:
First things first: research. We put a good amount of time researching the best backpacks in the market today, scouring through hundreds of reviews, testimonials and lists until we eventually narrowed our list to the top 5 best of the best. We wasted no time in ordering them (we buy all our reviewed gear ourselves).
Phase two was all about testing. We subjected these bags to all kinds of tests— filling them to full capacity, measuring their water resistance, checking out the compartments, testing its features— the works. And yeah, we might have kicked them around a bit. And rolled them down a hill (for, you know, science). We also put together a team composed of individuals with various frames and body types test the bags’ comfort level and ease of use.
Lastly, we took these bags for a hiking trip to further test their mettle.
Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself.
Here are 5 of the best tactical backpacks in the market today:
What Are The Top 5 Tactical Backpacks For Survival, Everyday Carry and the Outdoors?
Maxpedition Falcon II
- Capacity: 23 L/1400 cu. inches
- Dimensions: 9″(L) x 10″(W) x 18″(H)
- Weight: 3.2 lbs / 1.45 kg
- Material: 1050-d ballistic nylon
- Features: MOLLE webbing, reverse-coiled zippers, hydration pocket, sternum straps, waist support, ergonomic accordion design
The Maxpedition Falcon II is honestly one of the best examples of great, practical product design. This tactical backpack may look a tad bit smaller than most bags out there, but don’t be fooled— with a 23-L capacity and 1050-denier ballistic nylon material, this bad boy is roomier and sturdier than it actually looks.
One of the reasons why this Maxpedition bag remains a favorite among preppers and outdoorsmen is its intelligent design. It’s like an accordion on steroids. The Falcon II has three levels of compression, so its compartments can expand forward with the help of two compression straps found on the sides of the bag. This feature makes the Falcon II truly versatile, as it allows the bag to remain compact and unobtrusive even when you stuff it to full volume.
On the flip side, you can also compress the bag to a smaller size if you’re only carrying a few items and don’t need to use all of its compartments.
Speaking of compartments, this bag has a lot of them, and they have more room than they let on at first glance. The main compartment opens all the way to a clamshell style, so you can lay it flat and organize your stuff without a hitch.
Looking inside, you’ll see that the compartments are lined with durable fabric with wicking properties and smaller mesh compartments. Its hydration reservoir is a bit smaller than most bags and it’s got a single port found right below the grab handle. If you don’t plan to carry a hydration bladder, the pouch also doubles as a compartment for concealed carry or for a 15”-17” laptop.
As far as durability goes, the Maxpedition Falcon II does not disappoint. At 1050-d, you can kick this bag around and it will take a beating. Its ballistic nylon fabric is pretty thick and robust, albeit a bit on the heavy side. Its stress points are also reinforced with double-stitching and bar tacks, allowing the bag to carry heavy loads without ripping the sides, grab handle or straps.
The Falcon II is not entirely waterproof, but with layers of polyurethane, it’s resistant enough to moisture. Its robust YKK zippers do not come with a rainfly flap either, but they are reverse coiled to prevent moisture from getting into the bag. The bottom of the bag also has a water and grime-resistant layer to help it stay relatively clean and dry.
Lastly, this pack is plenty comfortable. Its straps are wide and padded, and it also has ergonomic hip and sternum straps for added comfort and support. A unique Y compression strap up front helps distribute the pack’s weight evenly. Since it expands forward and keeps its shape, the bag doesn’t feel bulky even when stuffed to full capacity.
Overall, the Maxpedition Falcon II’s clever design make it one reliable workhorse. It’s smaller and a bit pricier than most tactical backpacks out there, but it’s definitely one of the best, especially if you’re looking for an EDC backpack.
5.11 Rush 24
- Capacity: 33 L capacity/2000 cu inches
- Dimensions: 12.5″ L x 8″W x 20″ H
- Weight: 4.2 lbs/1.9 kg
- Material: 1050-d nylon
- Features: MOLLE webbing, reverse-coiled zippers, hydration pocket, contoured shoulder yoke, sternum straps, fleece-lined eyewear compartment, zippered water bottle pocket
5.11’s bestselling Rush tactical bag might be rated for only 24 hours, but if you know how to pack a bugout bag, you can definitely use this tactical backpack to survive for a couple of days more. Otherwise, you can always use it as one badass EDC bag or overnight camping bag.
At 3.79 lbs, the 5.11 Rush 24 is heavier than what we would’ve liked. Still, with 1050-d nylon for its material, it’s robust for a 24-hour rucksack. It’s pretty easy to clean, and its compartments are plenty spacious, too.
The front, sides and even the straps of the pack are generously decked out with MOLLE webbing panels. There’s too many of them for our taste, but you’d love this feature if you’re a prepper who wants the freedom to customize and modify your bag. This backpack is compatible with 5.11’s tiering system too, so you can expand your carrying capacity to one more bag if you want.
Shoulder yokes will always be a matter of preference. You can hate them or love them, but one thing’s for sure, 5.11 designed their straps and yoke the right way. The bag’s thick, padded straps and contoured shoulder yoke make it one of the most comfortable and ergonomic in this list, especially if you see yourself using the bag for hours on end. The yoke fits the shoulder perfectly, and if it doesn’t, you can always adjust it to fit your frame. The straps are pretty solid as well; they’re easy to adjust and don’t dig into your shoulders when you move around.
The bag’s frame is likewise robust and does an excellent job of keeping the bag’s form.
What we like most about the Rush 24 is that it has a lot of well-thought-out details that, when added together, make one solid backpack. For example, it’s got thick elastic bands that keep any dangling straps neat and organized. It also has multiple compartments and pockets that are thoughtfully designed. The Rush 24’s water bottle compartments are zippered, so your bottles remain accessible but neatly tucked at the sides. It also has a fleece-lined eyewear compartment conveniently located near the grab handle for glasses and shades.
Perhaps the biggest downside to the Rush 24 is that it doesn’t have a waist strap for added support during longer treks. And then there’s the price tag. At around $130, this bag can be way beyond the price range of many a prepper or outdoorsman.
Still, all things considered, the 5.11 Rush 24 is a pretty solid investment. Its functional features and numerous admin compartments make it a great companion for EDC, survival and the outdoors. Like the Maxpedition, The Rush 24 does not come cheap, but if you’ve got money to spare and want a bag that will last for years, the 5.11 Rush 24 is a solid choice.
Condor 3-day Assault Pack
- Capacity: 50L/3038 cu. Inches
- Dimensions: 22″H x 17″W x 11″D
- Weight: 4.9 lbs/2.2 kg
- Material: 1000-d water-resistant nylon
- Features: MOLLE webbing, reverse-coil zippers, hydration pocket, sternum straps, padded hip straps, grab handles, compression straps within the main compartment
Keen on packing your whole life into a rucksack? The Condor 3-day assault pack could be the one for you!
Kidding aside, this tactical backpack has 7 roomy compartments that collectively clock in at around a ginormous 50L capacity. This feature is honestly the Condor’s strongest suit, making it ideal for bugging out, hunting, or even multi-day camping or backpacking.
It’s spacious main compartment can be opened in a clamshell configuration and is decked out with compression straps so your stuff stay organized. The Condor also has reinforced grab handles up top and on the sides for when you just need to grab it and go.
The Condor’s other pockets are also roomy; it’s got CCW and admin mesh compartments plus MOLLE webbings on the outside for extra attachments. This robust backpack can fit not just one but two hydration bladders in its reservoir. It’s a shame that accessing these compartments isn’t as easy as you would with the Rush 24, though.
Its rigid frame offers excellent support, and its straps are some of the thickest we’ve seen so far. Adjusting the straps can be a bit cumbersome for folks with smaller frames. The broad, padded hip strap can feel almost like overkill for some users, too. Thankfully, there’s an option to remove it, so no love lost between us and the Condor.
The Condor didn’t do too well when exposed to moisture. Sure, it’s got huge reverse-coil zippers and a zipper rain fly tab to match, but the material itself isn’t too resistant to water. Its back panel could improve in the ventilation department, too. Taking a hike, you can actually feel all that sweat from your back seeping into the bag. Not the best feeling in the world.
While its admittedly not the best-performing bag out there, the Condor is surprisingly cheaper than most backpacks of its size with a price tag at around $90. It’s available in many different color varieties to suit your preference, too, so if you want something spacious, relatively durable but affordable, you can definitely set your sights on this one.
Trekking King Tactical Backpack
- Capacity: 60L/3661 cu inches
- Weight: 3.2 lbs/1.45 kg
- Material: 1000-d nylon
- Features: MOLLE webbing, removable compartments, hook and loop fasteners, sternum strap
We’ll be honest, we didn’t have a lot of high hopes from this tactical backpack from Trekking King, but its solid performance and no-nonsense features have more or less changed our initial reaction.
This backpack is one of the cheaper ones in the bunch at a little over $40, so it’s not too heavy on the budget. And although it doesn’t have as many compartments nor does it sport a hydration bladder, this tactical backpack is plenty spacious at a 60-liter capacity. It’s significantly lighter than the other bags on this list, too.
This rucksack lies on the longer side and sports the tell-tale MOLLE webbing on its front and sides. The hook and loop up front is also a good touch for patches and the like.
The Trekking King backpack also comes with extra MOLLE-compatible pouches, which you can attach at the bottom and the sides. Some members of our review team loved these parts as they allow you to expand your carrying capacity, but some didn’t want to bother with these attachments or simply weren’t impressed by the packs’ material.
The great thing about this feature though is you can transform the Trekking King however you like. With the compartments on, you can turn this into a bug-out bag. Remove them and you have a very spacious, low-key EDC bag that can fit daily essentials like laptops, water bottles and even helmets.
Comfort-wise, this rucksack ain’t too shabby. While it can use a sturdier frame to support your back and a better ventilation system, the bag’s straps are secure and are quite easy to adjust. The material is lightweight but durable, too.
The Trekking King may lack all the bells and whistles that come with a pricier pack, but it’s a good enough backpack for those with a tight budget. Its spacious main compartment can hold a lot of stuff and it’s got a lot of customization options that many outdoorsmen and preppers will find adequate at the very least.
SOG Op Ord Tactical Day Pack
- Capacity: 2389 cu inches/39.1 liters
- Dimensions: 17″(L) x 9″(W) x 7″(H)
- Weight: 3.48 lbs / 1.58 kg
- Material: Polyester
- Features: MOLLE webbing, hydration pocket, reverse-coiled zippers, hook and loop fasteners, adjustable sternum slider
At only a little over $30, the SOG OpOrd tactical backpack is the cheapest in the bunch and…well, it shows. While it’s not exactly bad, you basically get what you pay for with this backpack.
Instead of the usual ballistic nylon with a high denier, the SOG OpOrd is mostly made of polyester. The material makes the bag lighter, but it’s also thinner and flimsier than the rest of the tactical backpacks on this list. We noticed that the bag fails to keep its form even when stuffed at full capacity. It’s not a big deal in the greater scheme of things, but it would’ve been nice if it could stay upright for longer. It sure would help make the bag more comfortable.
Looking inside you’ll see that the main compartments are spacious enough, but its inner linings are also quite thin— similar to a school book bag’s— and could easily be damaged after some hardcore activities. Its zippers are reverse-coiled but only the main compartment is double-zipped. The rest only sport one zipper, which can be a bit cumbersome, especially if you need to access the compartments on the go.
Within the main compartment, you can find a pouch where you can insert a hydration bladder. The ports are found near the grab handles, which are thankfully sturdy and double-stitched. The bag also sports a padded area at the back for electronics.
While its shoulder straps are padded, they’re not as well-made as, say, the 5.11 Rush 24 or the Maxpedition. It sports a contoured yoke, but it doesn’t fit quite as well as the other bags with the same feature, either. In fact, this bag was quite uncomfortable after a few hours on the trail. Its sternum strap is removable but it’s not the easiest thing to adjust. It also often digs into your chest.
Like all of the other bags, the SOG OpOrd is decked out with MOLLE webbings all over the front and sides. We found the pirate logo and tactical vest design up front a bit cheesy, although the mesh compartment does an okay job of keeping stuff like water bottles within easy reach.
All things considered, we don’t recommend the SOG OpOrd if you’re spending a long time out on the trail. It’s not the most comfortable bag out there, and its material doesn’t feel like it can hold up against high-stress situations. Still, if you need a spacious school, work or EDC bag while sticking to a budget, this is enough to do the trick.
Well, what can we say? You can’t survive a SHTF situation without a backpack, and you wouldn’t want to be caught dead without one either. They’re simply essential, whether you’re using them for bugging-out, EDC or for recreation.
We hope that this review gave you a lot of insights and helped you make a well-informed decision about your next tactical backpack. At the end of the day, the best tactical backpack is still the one that best meets all your needs.
Did you like any of the tactical backpacks in this review? We know that this list isn’t exhaustive, so if you’ve got other good suggestions, don’t hesitate to sound off in the comments below and we might just review them in the future.