LAST UPDATED: March 10, 2021
The Best Rucksacks (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Protect your gear with these durable rucksacks.
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PUBLISHED ON March 10, 2021
Are you looking for a new rucksack? In general, a rucksack is the same as a backpack except it's a bit larger and much more rugged than the kind you'd see on schoolchildren. The word has German roots: “der rücken” translates into "the back." Members of the military often refer to their backpacks as rucksacks, so that gives you a little idea about their construction.
They are a great option if you plan on going camping or hiking and are commonly made of waxed canvas or other high-quality materials. They have pockets and can accommodate heavy loads and a lot of gear. They often feature hip belts and chest belts. If you're in the market for a new rucksack but don't know where to start, check out our buying guide below. We feature some of the best of the best to make your search a little easier.
This rucksack has a 37-liter capacity and comes in seven colors. It features a MOLLE/SlickStick system and a hydration pocket.
- Water repellent
- Glove-friendly pull tabs
- Plenty of storage compartments
- Chest strap is positioned a bit high
- Slightly heavy
This bag has a 50-liter capacity and can accommodate a 50-pound load weight. It's made of 1000D Oxford fabric, has an external frame, and weighs 6.5 pounds.
- Multiple outside pockets
- Padded and adjustable shoulder straps
- Shoulder straps could be thicker
- Straps are tough to tighten
This bag is used by the U.S. Marine Corps and can accommodate 125 pounds. It has an external frame, hip belt, and shoulder harness.
- Two main compartments
- MOLLE webbing
- Designed for long-term use
- Slightly heavy
- Frame may break after a short period of use
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of a Rucksack
- They protect your gear. The main purpose of a rucksack is to hold your belongings securely. A high-quality rucksack will protect your clothing, shoes, athletic gear, and other personal items efficiently and effectively.
- They're versatile. These types of bags can be used for numerous activities. You can use them for hiking, hunting, or as a bug-out bag or range bag. Users love their multipurpose capabilities.
- They're made for all types of weather. Depending on what type of rucksack you choose, many work equally well in hot, cold, dry, or wet environments. That's why they're popular with the military as well as civilians who like camping, hiking, etc.
Types of Rucksacks
This type of rucksack is on the smallest end of the spectrum. It typically accommodates 15 to 30 liters of gear. They are a good option if you need one for your daily commute. They're also good for hiking and other types of activities in which you want to carry something more lightweight.
A mid-sized rucksack is ideal for people who need to carry clothing, toiletries, and other, larger items. This is a good option for backpackers and those who want to carry gear such as sports equipment. These bags can accommodate 30 to 50 liters of gear.
Larger rucksacks can accommodate 50 liters of gear or more. This makes them a more practical option when it comes to multi-day hiking or camping. You can fit a tent, sleeping bag, and other items on your back with this type of bag. They often have multiple compartments and/or mini pouches that can be detached for more customization.
Based in Irvine, Calif., 5.11 Tactical produces purpose-built gear for a variety of scenarios. The company started a law enforcement line in 2003 and also makes clothing, fitness equipment, and bags and packs such as the 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 Military Backpack.
Headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va., Eagle Industries has been around since 1982 and was inspired by the Navy SEAL community. Its products are Berry Compliant and made in America. Check out the Eagle FILBE USMC Main Pack.
Direct Action is based in Malta, N.Y., and is known for its advanced tactical gear. It makes vests, belts, pouches, holsters, knives, and packs, such as the Direct Action Dragon Egg Tactical Backpack.
- Under $75: You can find several good rucksacks for a reasonable price. These bags are often smaller than some higher-end products and may not have as many features. Still, there are some good options available.
- $100 and up: If you want a high-quality rucksack that can accommodate more gear, expect to spend a little more. These bags can cost several hundred dollars, depending on their features and ability for customization. If you want a dependable rucksack that will last, it will be a little pricey.
If you plan on using your rucksack while you're outdoors, you need a bag that can withstand certain types of weather conditions. Most are water-resistant as opposed to waterproof, which means they can withstand a little bit of rain or moisture. However, your belongings may get drenched in a downpour. Look for a rain cover to help out in these circumstances.
Comfort and Adjustability
Nearly all rucksacks come with adjustable straps for the shoulders, and some also have straps for the hips and chest for more security and to better distribute the load weight. Check to see if the straps are padded for comfort and ventilated with mesh material for airflow. Some brands also have compression straps, which allows you to cinch them down to make them more compact.
You can load a rucksack in a couple of different ways, depending on its construction. Some are top loading, which means there's an opening at the top, which is covered by a flap. Other bags are front loading in which there's a zipper on the front. Some have a top and bottom compartment with a zipper on the bottom, so you can access the bottom compartment without having to pull items out of the top compartment.
Some rucksacks can be quite heavy on their own without equipment loaded inside of them. You need to determine whether you want a lighter-weight option or one that's a little larger and can accommodate more items. Some of these bags have external frames to better distribute the weight for more comfort.
- Extras. If you are using a rucksack for your daily commute, it's convenient to have a laptop sleeve. You may also want extra pockets for items such as your wallet, smartphone, and keys. Some bags have pockets on the side to accommodate water bottles, which is handy. Others have a hydration system, which can be helpful if you are planning a long hike.
- MOLLE System. This type of system lets you attach different types of gear to your bag. This can include anything from a multi-tool to a knife or magazine pouch. Many rucksacks have these straps, which are designed to hold all kinds of equipment. They can take some trial and error to configure, so keep that in mind.
Best Rucksacks Reviews & Recommendations 2021
The 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 Military Backpack is water repellent, can accommodate up to 37 liters, and is available in seven different colors. It is one of the top military rucksacks available. It features a spacious main storage area, dual zipping side pockets, and a stuff-it pocket that includes an integrated drawcord and glove-friendly pull tabs. The backpack also has a grab-and-go handle that's reinforced for durability as well as a hydration pocket, a fleece-lined eyewear pocket, and a MOLLE/SlickStick web platform that wraps around the bag. Other features include two drainage grommets, self-repairing YKK zippers, three mesh compartments, a side water bottle pocket, and an area to affix a nametape or patches. There are also two compression straps and a contoured yoke shoulder strap system.
However, there have been some complaints that the chest strap is too high and is not very comfortable when it's buckled. Also, it's a little heavy, at 3 pounds.
The MT Military Rucksack Alice Pack can accommodate a 50-pound load weight and has a 50-liter capacity. The main compartment measures 23 by 14.5 by 10 inches. The rucksack weighs 6.5 pounds, which includes both the pack as well as the external frame, which has two shoulder straps and a kidney waist belt. It is constructed of high-density 1000D Oxford fabric and is waterproof. There's a pouch with drawcord closure and several outside pockets that can carry small items as well as long objects. The rucksack includes equipment hangers and buckles and straps to anchor the pack to the frame. The shoulder straps are padded and adjustable, and there's a quick-release buckle for convenience. The frame is made of aluminum and iron, so it's lightweight yet strong.
The biggest complaint about this bag concerns the shoulder belts, which could be a little thicker. They can also be a little tough to tighten and restrict access to the main compartment. Also, it can be slightly uncomfortable rucking with 50 pounds or more.
The Eagle FILBE USMC Main Pack is currently used by the United States Marine Corps, so you know it's a premium-quality rucksack. Designed for the infantry, this pack is great for long-distance use and can accommodate 125 pounds. It has a lightweight plastic frame, hip belt, and shoulder harness, and the straps are adjustable for comfort. There are two compartments in the interior: the upper compartment provides 55 liters of space, while the bottom one provides 26 liters of space. There's a zipper on the pack's bottom, so you don't need to open the upper portion of the rucksack to access the bottom half. The bag also features a mesh pouch in the lid, a standard radio harness, and a drawcord to secure gear. There's even MOLLE webbing that wraps around and on top of the pack as well as reinforced stitching and heavy-duty zippers that can withstand long-term use.
However, it's a little heavy, and there have been reports that the frame is not particularly durable.
If you're looking for a rucksack that's a little bit smaller, consider the Direct Action Dragon Egg Tactical Backpack. It has a 25-liter capacity and is made of 100 percent Cordura 500D fabric, which is durable and water-resistant. The bag is available in several color options, including Pencott Greenzone, Adaptive Green, Flektarn, and Urban Grey. Several of the options are NIR (near-infrared) treated, which makes the bag harder to see with night vision. The Dragon Egg Mk II has a 15-inch shoulder drop and redesigned side pockets with elastic. It also features a combat vent system for added comfort. The MOLLE/PALS system is lightweight, low profile, and snag-free. Users like the variety of interior pockets and that it's reliable and has comfortable shoulder straps, which don't dig into your shoulders. Overall, it's well made for the price.
However, the bag rolls forward when you set it on a flat surface due to its shape. Also, the bottom tends to rub your lower back, which can be annoying when you're walking or hiking for long periods.
The ARMYCAMO Small 30L Rucksack is another excellent option designed for military and everyday use. This water-resistant bag comes with an American flag embroidered patch that is 3.5 by 2.5 inches, and it also has a hydration compartment. It features several compartments that can accommodate up to three days of clothing, toiletries, and other gear. The rucksack is made of tear-resistant 600D polyester with a mesh padded back and padded shoulder straps designed to endure heavy-duty use. The MOLLE straps provide plenty of versatile attachments, while the compression straps let you tighten everything down to save space. Overall, it's very good quality, expands well to accommodate your belongings, and is perfect for a variety of activities from small hikes to overnight stays. The company also provides a 100 percent, money-back guarantee in case you experience any issues.
Unfortunately, the straps tend to slip and do not stay tight. Also, some users have found that it's a little too small.
The ARMY PANS Backpack is designed for use as a general three-day pack for both men and women. This water-resistant bag has a small MOLLE system, so you can affix small pouches to it depending on your preferences. There are four main compartments, including a front compartment for smaller items, such as a cell phone, wallet, or keys. It's also designed to hold a laptop and other types of gear and equipment. There's a side mesh pocket for a water bottle and a buckle that makes the bag more compact. There's also Velcro on the front for a nametape or a patch, and the back strap has a walkie-talkie pouch. The chest belt is adjustable for comfort. One of its best features is its expandable ability. You can expand it from 8 to 13 inches for a maximum capacity of 64 liters.
Unfortunately, it's a bit heavy. Also, if you have broad shoulders, the shoulder straps are difficult to adjust for comfort.
The CVLIFE Tactical Backpack is a durable, water-resistant rucksack with a 13-inch shoulder drop. Made of Oxford fabric, it features a large main compartment, a detachable front bag that can transform into a fanny pack, and two detachable accessory pouches for first-aid use. You can use it as both a 50-liter or 60-liter backpack depending on how you arrange the detachable pouches. It has a MOLLE system, so you can add other items and pouches. It also features dual-density ventilated shoulder straps, a cinching waist strap, two compression straps, heavy-duty zippers, and rain-diverting flaps. Overall, it's a great rucksack for the price, and it's customizable and feels solid.
One downside is that the zippers are large and a little noisy. Also, the padding on the shoulder straps is a bit thin.
The Hannibal Tactical MOLLE Assault Pack has a 36-liter capacity and is compatible with a 3-liter hydration bladder. It measures 12 by 20 by 13 inches and is made of water-resistant 600D fabric. The bag has two main compartments, two small compartments in the front, and a back compartment for a hydration bladder that you can purchase separately. The compartments feature several pockets for versatility. It can accommodate a laptop and other types of gear, and one compartment opens like a suitcase for easier access. The bag has padded and adjustable shoulder straps as well as an expandable waist belt. There is a Y strap and buckle on the front in which you can secure a sweatshirt or jacket. Bottom straps can accommodate a tent or sleeping pad. The bag also has a MOLLE system, so you can add other pouches or gear.
Unfortunately, there's a strap that goes up the center of the outside, which can interfere with the opening and closing of the bottom back pocket. Also, there have been some complaints that it lacks smaller pockets on the outside.
- Try the rucksack on to make sure it fits. This is easy to do if you shop in person, but you can also try it on at home if you order one online. If it doesn't fit properly, return it.
- If you plan on taking your rucksack on a multi-day hike or trip, practice using it in advance. Figure out how you want to adjust the straps, and make sure your upper body, including the back and shoulders, can accommodate the weight when it's full of gear.
- Pack the bag properly. Put bulky items on the bottom and essential items on the top, for example. Use accessory pockets for items you need to access regularly, and use tool loops for oversized or longer items.
Q: What is the difference between a rucksack and a backpack?
There's not much of a difference between a rucksack and a backpack except that a rucksack is typically large and more ruggedly constructed.
Q: Why is it called a rucksack?
The name is derived from the German word “der rücken,” which means "the back."
Q: Is rucksack American or British?
Members of the military in the United Kingdom and United States often refer to their military backpacks as rucksacks.
Our pick for the best rucksack is the 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 Military Backpack. It has a large main compartment and is durably designed and water repellent. It's also available in a variety of colors. For a more budget-friendly option, consider the MT Military Rucksack.