The Best Rucksacks (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Protect your gear with these durable rucksacks.
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BY Noelle Talmon / LAST UPDATED ON March 31, 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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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
- 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.