LAST UPDATED: October 19, 2019
Best Military Backpacks: Even Civilians Love These Bags
These top military backpacks are great for camping, hunting, hiking, and more
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON October 19, 2019
Military and tactical backpacks have become very trendy in recent years. Civilians and soldiers alike are drawn to these accessories because of their versatility and packability. However, military backpacks vary widely in quality and design. How do you know you're getting the best backpack for your money? Our buying guide will help you make an informed purchasing decision.
This MOLLE backpack comes in a variety of colors, is water repellent, and is made with 1000D nylon. It has a capacity of 55 liters. It includes dual-zippered front and main compartments, as well as glove-friendly grip pulls.
The backpack has a hydration pocket, left and right side pockets, and adjustable shoulder straps. The cinch waist strap comfortably secures it to your body. It can be used as a bug-out bag or as a hunting, survival, or tactical sling bag.
It may fatigue your shoulders if you carry more than 20 pounds in the backpack. The main zipper may also fail over a short period of use, and the bottom may wear out prematurely.
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Benefits of Military Backpacks
- Storage. Military backpacks often offer a large storage capacity in a compact space. Their modular designs with lots of pockets help organize your gear and make the most of the space available.
- Rugged exterior. Having a tough, rugged backpack that you know won’t fall apart if you throw it in the bed of a truck or gets a little wet on a camping trip might be important to you. With a military backpack, you’ll get a bag that can get a little dirty but still do its job.
- Flexibility. There are a lot of uses for a military backpack; it doesn’t just have to be an outdoor pursuit. They’ll hold tons of computer equipment or photography kits. Cops love them for their tactical appearance, and because they can keep their important paperwork and gear organized. They’re also customizable with MOLLE webbing attachments.
Types of Military Backpacks
These backpacks are meant to be loaded up to the gills and have tons of pockets and zippers. They’re designed with extra padding in the areas that will fatigue you most. Many large-capacity military bags have internal frames to help distribute the weight in the most ergonomic way possible, so they won’t tax you on long hikes as a regular bag might. They’re also popular choices for bug-out bags.
These are the bags most civilians are likely to purchase. They’re perfect as an overnight bag, a briefcase replacement, or a gym bag. They still have a large capacity so you can haul a lot of gear, but are lighter weight and more low-key than larger military backpacks.
These backpacks embody the old military adage “high speed, low drag.” They’re smaller and less noticeable than the more obvious and larger-style bags, but are perfect for a difficult hike or bike ride. These tactical bags will keep your food separate from your spare clothes or first aid kit for these expeditions. Not usually well-padded, these are light, go-anywhere bags perfect for a bike commuter or hiker.
California-based 5.11 Tactical got its first big break in the early ‘90s when the FBI Academy adopted their design for tactical pants. Since then, law enforcement, firefighters, emergency responders, and military personnel have trusted 5.11 Tactical in the field. Take a look at this small, water-resistant 5.11 Rush12 Tactical Backpack with self-repairing YKK zippers.
Rothco has been around for a long time, getting its start in 1953 in Manhattan, New York. Since the ‘50s, Rothco has been able to offer affordable military and tactical gear to consumers while utilizing military surplus and designs. This Rothco Medium Transport Pack comes in a variety of colors and patterns, so it’s a nice option for camping, hiking, or travel.
In 2003, Los Angeles, California-based Maxpedition started perfecting the military’s MOLLE design as it applies to consumer products. It now produces some of the best tactical backpacks and bags on the market. The Maxpedition Gyrfalcon Backpack is a tactical bag with a massive capacity and internal frame capable of handling just about anything you can throw at or in it.
Kelty has been producing quality outdoor products, specifically bags, since 1952. Typically geared towards outdoor enthusiasts, Kelty has expanded to tactical offerings like this Kelty Tactical Raven 2500 Backpack. The Raven includes features like MOLLE webbing and body armor integration, showing Kelty is taking their tactical line seriously.
Military Backpack Pricing
- $50 and under: This is a good range for a backpack that sees casual use. The zippers and nylon might not be the highest of quality, but will be sufficient for light use.
- $50 to $100: Quality backpacks capable of handling some abuse start in this range. Zippers will be bigger and stronger, nylon will be tougher, and most will come prepared for a hydration bladder.
- $100 and up: Better names, top quality materials like Cordura, and features like internal frames are commonplace in this range. Many will come with hydration bladders and laptop compartments.
The military loves acronyms, and MOLLE is a popular one. It stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, and it’s a system popular with tactical backpack companies. Designed for attaching tactical pouches and components or first aid kits and radios, civilians can use the system to add to their backpack’s capacity and capability. Attach a phone pouch, add a flashlight holder, or just weave a cell phone charger through the webbing.
It may be worth it to you to shop for a tactical pack with a laptop compartment, side pockets for a water bottle, or a hidden everyday carry pocket that only you know about. Many military and tactical backpacks can meet those needs, so shop around to find one that works specifically for you.
Unlike standard backpacks that are mostly sewn together, a lot of the straps and attachments on military backpacks are removable and replaceable. Say you love a bag’s capacity and compartments, but hate the straps. Just buy new straps that suit you better and replace the ones you hate. It’s that easy to customize these backpacks.
- Visibility. Military and tactical packs have the ability to make you stand out in a crowd. This is fine if you don’t mind, but if you’re going for the “Gray Man” approach, you may need a different product. MOLLE webbing and morale patches let people around you know that you’ve got a tactical mindset, so be aware of the attention that might bring.
- Security. It’s difficult to secure a military or tactical backpack’s compartments. Luggage locks usually won’t work because the pull tabs are often nylon loops that can be cut with a knife. Modular pouches that you attach to the MOLLE system rarely have any security features as well. It’s worth noting this so you can keep an eye on your stuff and plan accordingly.
Best Military Backpacks Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Our top pick is the 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 Military Backpack. This tactical pack has a large capacity at 55 liters, is water-repellent, and features 1000D nylon material for the body of the bag. The main compartments are double zippered and the pulls are glove-friendly. This tactical bag also has expandable side compression straps. There are MOLLE webbing attachments throughout, and it comes in a nice selection of colors as well. If morale patches are your thing, there’s Velcro space available on the front to display your patch.
We like the RUSH72 for its large capacity and quality material. We feel it’s an excellent tactical backpack because it comes hydration pack-ready, and the adjustable straps are very comfortable. A bag this big benefits from waist straps, and 5.11 delivers with a cinch-style strap that adds comfortable support. This rugged pack is perfect for hunting, survival, or bug out and tactical needs.
However, backpacks this big are heavy, even unloaded. The added weight may fatigue the user over time, so you should know that going in. Disappointingly, there have been complaints about the main zippers and the bottom wearing out of the backpack.
The Orca Tactical Backpack is our best value pick. It’s a small, lightweight daypack that's made with 600D nylon and is covered in MOLLE webbing. For strength, stress points have been double stitched. The YKK zippers are rust-resistant, and the body of the bag is water-resistant. These features make the Orca a good deal at this price point.
There are a number of features we like about the Orca Tactical Backpack. The mesh liner between the bag and the user’s back increases airflow, making hot day hikes more comfortable. The side compression straps make the bag expandable to suit the user. At this size, the shoulder straps can be configured to be worn as a sling pack. We also like that it’s hydration pack-ready, and the 100-percent money-back guarantee gives the user some confidence in the product.
At this price, there are going to be some drawbacks. It’s a smaller tactical pack, so the pack’s capacity might be an issue for daily use. The stitching is susceptible to fraying and coming apart, and at this price you aren’t going to be getting name brand material like Cordura. The nylon is also lower quality, but we still feel it’s a good value.
Our honorable mention is the CONDOR 3 Day Assault Pack. Just as the name states, this tactical backpack is designed to keep the user in the field for three days. To do so, it has a large 50-liter storage capacity, an internal frame, seven separate compartments, and is capable of holding large hydration packs. It has heavy-duty D-rings attached to the shoulder straps by nylon webbing, Velcro morale patch space, and chest and waist straps.
We like that the Condor 3 Day Assault Pack is capable and comfortable. You can really load it up. Weight would normally be a factor, but the CONDOR tactical backpack’s adjustable shoulder straps and internal frame help distribute the weight properly. We also like the foam between the frame and the user’s back, which helps keep you cool and comfortable.
The material quality is the concern here. Overload the main compartment and your zippers may pop off or fail before too long. The nylon isn’t top quality either, so you may see wear and tear show up after a few uses.
- Even if you're not a member of the military, you can find some benefits to using a military backpack. They tend to be more durable and last longer than traditional backpacks. However, they may also be a little more expensive.
- Military or tactical backpacks are usually weather-resistant, comfortable, and practical. That makes them ideal for many types of people and a great gift for those who favor military-style fashion.
- If you're planning a long hiking trip, choose a backpack with a large volume capacity to hold more gear. At the very least, you want one that can hold between 30 and 60 liters.
- Use the large compartment for bulky items and the extra pockets for small objects that you can quickly access. Make sure the pack has enough pockets to accommodate all the types of items you plan on carrying.
Q: Is a military backpack better than a standard hiking backpack?
A: Military backpacks tend to be more versatile, durable, and packable than standard hiking backpacks. They contain numerous compartments, and you can attach multiple items to the outside of them with straps or clips.
Q: What is a rucksack?
A: A rucksack and a backpack are essentially the same things. However, a rucksack may only have one large compartment, while a backpack may have several pockets.
Q: What is a MOLLE backpack?
A: This type of backpack features a webbing system that allows the user to attach a variety of accessories to it. The majority of tactical backpacks incorporate a MOLLE system in some way.
Our pick for the best military backpack is the 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 Military Backpack. It has a large volume, comes in several different colors, and can be used for a variety of applications.
For a more budget-friendly option, consider the Orca Tactical Backpack.