The Best Tactical Backpack Buyer’s Guide – 2017 Reviews
If you spend any amount of time outdoors, you are going to need a backpack. A tactical backpack is an essential piece of kit for carrying everything you need for your day in the back country. If you get the right one to start with, then it’ll last you for years – so it’s important to get it right the first time! Of course, budget does come into it, but if you need some justification try this: divide the price by the number of times you’ll use the bag. Would you pay $1 for a great rucksack every weekend? It’s a no-brainer.
Like any other bag, tactical backpacks come in many variations: price is obvious, but also size, material, attachments and colour. With the whole internet at your fingertips, there can be an overwhelming amount of choice. That’s why we’re here to help you pick the perfect backpack for your needs.
Keep in mind what you’re planning to use the bag for and what features are important to you (we’ll go over these in the buyer’s guide below) but let’s start off with the main types of backpack you’ll be choosing from.
Different types of tactical backpack
Although tactical backpacks can look pretty similar, they actually fall into a few main types. There are many different ways to classify backpacks, based on the features we’ll discuss in our buying guide below, but we’ll sort ours into three. This is based generally upon how you wear them, the size of the bag and what it’s originally designed for.
These are often also called day bags. By a classic backpack, we just mean one with a standard two shoulder strap construction. These distribute the weight evenly across both shoulders and are generally medium sized backpacks that can carry some gear and a reasonable amount of it! These are often used for day hikes and short adventures that don’t involve camping overnight.
The advantages of a bag like this is that you can carry more kit for longer without it potentially resulting in injury. Some bags will have a waist strap, to help take the weight off your shoulders even more.
Many also come with a chest strap adjustment. This allows you to alter the position of the shoulder straps on your shoulders when wearing the bag. It means that the weight of the bag can be transferred to a place that is comfortable to you. However, this may also restrict breathing if done up too tightly.
A sling backpack is an interesting sort of bag. Instead of having two shoulder straps, there is one much thicker strap, that attaches from top middle to bottom middle of the rucksack. To wear it, you sling it over one shoulder and across your body. Some of them also come with attachments to stop the bag from swinging around whilst you move or run.
One of the benefits of this system is that you can put the weight on only one shoulder, but with more stability. It works well with both left and right handed people (or rather, left and right shouldered!) because most bags will allow you to adjust the positioning of the strap.
The downside to these bags is that they tend to be small and can’t carry much weight. This is kind of obvious, because putting the weight of a camping pack through only one shoulder for a long period of time is not a good idea and will probably result in injury.
These monsters are the largest and most comprehensive type of rucksack. They are designed for multi-day trips or expeditions such as camping or trekking. All of these bags will have two shoulder straps, a hip belt and a chest strap, allowing for maximum adjustment. Many of these bags will also have a rigid frame built into the rucksack back for extra support.
These bags are really designed with comfort in mind. The waist strap takes weight off the shoulders, the chest strap adjusts where the weight on the shoulders goes. They will also usually have extra padding compared to the other types of backpack. This further cushions your body against pressure from carrying a heavy bag over several days.
Although they can fit huge amounts of stuff in them, expedition backpacks are not always the best choice. They are much bulkier than other types of backpack and can look like a massive over-kill for some situations. It’s like driving an articulated lorry instead of a mini.
There is not enough space in this review to write about every possible brand of tactical backpack. So instead, we’ve highlighted the brands mentioned in the best backpack reviews section later – and the some of the ones that made it into the top 10.
Reebow Gear’s mission is simple: provide the best tactical gear to military fans. They want to be the go-to place for all of your tactical needs. How? They provide quality, high-performance outdoor adventure kit that is stylish but functional. They test all of their products to the extreme, taking some of them into combat. Their customers demand excellent quality at reasonable prices. Reebow Gear fulfil their needs.
Red Rock Outdoor Gear
Red Rock was founded in Waco, Texas in 1999. Their ethos revolves around understanding customer needs and developing products that solve their problems effectively. This includes offering a wide range of sporting and tactical backpacks, including a new Mavrik series, that they claim to be revolutionary. On top of this, they are the industry leader in ghllie suits: so if you want to go stealth and camouflaged, these are the guys to talk to.
SOG is a company on a mission. They want to make the best gear for adventurers, that stands out from the crowd and is designed for people who like living on the edge. They believe in quality consumer driven innovation, keeping at the fore-front of technology.
SOG started out manufacturing reproductions of the Bowie Knife used by special ops units in Vietnam. It started as a commemoration, but soon developed into a full line of useful and innovative tools, tested by the US Special Forces.
3V gear test all of their gear in the snow and deserts of the Wasatch Mountains in Northern Utah. They style themselves as “built for do-ers”, giving the customer the best gear they can at an affordable price point. Even better, it all comes with a lifetime warranty and 30-day unconditinoal guarantee. If the zip breaks one day in the far future, just send it bag and they’ll either replace it or give you a new bag.
3V Gear are a small company that was born out of the military. They continue this ethos by creating functional, good-looking but unusual bags for servicemen and survival specialists.
I know what you’re thinking. Monkeys? How can monkeys be tactical? At Monkey Paks, they use the word monkey to refer to their customers: servicemen, survivalists and adventurers. Not in a bad way. One the company’s founders was in the army and his drill-instructor used to call his soldiers “monkeys”. When he wanted to make soldier-worthy backpacks, the word stuck with him.
All Monkey Paks gear comes with a year’s warranty and a “Love it” guarantee. They pride themselves on giving their customers personal attention, usually from the monkey founder himself!
G4Free is one of the rising force of companies that sell online, but only through Amazon. That’s right – if you want one of their backpacks, you can’t find it in a shop or any other online store. They’re Amazon exclusive.
G4Free sell a variety of products in the sport and outdoor industry, everything from fishing to snowboarding.
Overview of Top Five Best Tactical Backpacks
Every rucksack listed on this page would be a good choice of military backpack for you to buy – depending, of course, on the particular features you’re after. But, to make it a little easier for you, we’ve reviewed the top five tactical backpacks we could find.
The Reebow Gear Military Tactical Assault backpack came out as our best in review. It has a roomy 34 litre capacity, enough for any day walk and probably enough for an overnight bivvy too. In fact, the bag is described as great as a three day assault pack, but unless you’ve got a very small tent, I wouldn’t recommend taking it camping. Saying that, the overall dimensions aren’t very large, so you’re getting a good amount of inside space for how big it looks on the outside (think TARDIS bag)!
This bag is made to last. It has double-stitched seams throughout, heavy duty zips and is made from a durable, water resistant fabric. It is compatible with a 2.5 litre hydration bladder (like Camelbak or Platypus) so you can drink on the move – no more annoying stops for water. Note that you don’t get a hydration pack free with the bag.
In terms of fit and comfort, the Reebow Gear Military Tactical Assault pack comes with adjustable shoulder and waist straps. The shoulder straps have a good amount of mesh padding and there is a chest strap between them, so further adjust where the backpack weight falls on your shoulders.
This backpack, like most military backpacks, also has a MOLLE system. It is, however, a little different to the standard military spacing, coming in at less than ½ inch between each MOLLE. But this really doesn’t pose a problem. It has loads of pockets and compartments – great for the compulsive gear organiser. Overall, it is an excellent bag for the price and quality.
The Red Rock Outdoor Gear Assault Pack is a hardy and durable bag. It’s made from a strong and rugged 600D polyester material. Like the previous bag, it has fully adjustable shoulder straps and hip belt, with optional chest strap. These straps have comfortable mesh padding, which also extends to the back panel. This helps to ventilate your back, whilst adding to the comfort of the fit – particularly important if you’re going on a long journey.
The reason we didn’t score this bag as highly as the Reebow pack is its size. It’s 12 x 19 x 12.5 inches in dimension, giving you a volume of 20 litres in the main bag and 3 litres for a hydration pack in the separate pouch. Reviewers say that you can still get a surprising amount of stuff in it if you pack well, but it’s less versatile because of it.
To make up for this, there are lots of ways to attach extra pouches or gear. There is MOLLE webbing throughout and additional D rings on the shoulder straps for small things you need to grab quickly. They can also work for attaching the mouth piece of your hydration pack to the bag, stopping it from swinging around.
We love having the choice of eight tactical colours and camouflages, so that you can choose a pack to blend into your surroundings.
… and now for something completely different. Never mind going on long trips or camping, if you want a small and light tactical backpack, then this is the bag for you. It’s a great little bag for short trips or maybe as an everyday carry sack. Reviewers often comment about how much you can fit in it, even for a small bag about the size of a sheet of printer paper.
What’s particularly different about this bag is the sling system. Instead of having two straps like a normal rucksack, it has one wider strap attached in the top middle of the backpack. This single strap is adjustable and has MOLLE webbing and plastic D loops for potential extra space.
It is made of high quality 600 D polyester, with a PVC lining that makes it water resistant. The interior is divided into four compartments and has a hidden pouch in the back of the rucksack. Again, there is a choice of tactical colours, two camouflage and two matt.
Back up to a large day bag is the SOG Ninja Daypack. You can see why they call it the Ninja – it’s a sleek design that comes in one colour: black. The patch with a skull wearing a beret might be somehow related too… The outside is simple and uncomplicated, with lots of MOLLE webbing on either side, for that added volume. That’s if 27 litres capacity isn’t enough for you.
The main thing to note is that this bag doesn’t have a hip belt. For some of you, this’ll be a good thing – if you don’t like using waist belts then the straps won’t hang there annoyingly hitting things as you move. However, if you like to use a hip belt to take the weight of the bag off your shoulders, I’m afraid this isn’t the bag for you.
The back padding on this SOG daypack is very good. It’s comfortable spongy webbing with some depth, that allows airflow between your back and the rucksack. Goodbye sweaty t-shirt. The shoulder straps are fully adjustable and there are compression straps around the bag, to keep it slim when you haven’t filled it.
There are many pockets, with a roomy main compartment. Notably, you have a hydration pouch that gives you a choice of hose exits. Have your hydration hose on your left or right side – great for ambidextrous use.
Have you been waiting for our bug-out bag recommendation? Good, because you’ve found it. The Explorer Tactical Gun Concealment Backpack has an epic 56 litres of space, enough to carry all your kit for several days of sleeping wild.
The bag has loads of pockets and compartments, perfect for organising your belongings. It has six zip pockets on the front and four side pockets. There’s one long laptop pocket, one pocket described as “easy iPad access”, a specific sunglasses pocket and – in case that wasn’t enough space - there’s space for adding MOLLE on the front. Yes really.
The bag is made of 600 D polyester, which seems to be the fabric of choice for these tactical backpacks. It describes itself as a “gun concealment” backpack, but some reviewers found this misleading. The description is referring to the two pouches on the waist belt. These can take a hand gun each, no problem.
Don’t forget that the makers offer a lifetime guarantee on this product. If it every falls short of the mark, just send it back.
The Best of the Rest
So there you have it! Our top five recommendations for the best tactical backpack for the money. They are all great choices in their own right, but like in any selection some great bags didn’t quite make the top 5. Here are the next 5 best backpacks that are worth a look at. If you have a specific bag in mind (like a sling bag) and want some more suggestions, then check these out:
These five backpacks include a variety of capacities and features. Some, like number seven, are a “backpack bundle” that includes not only the backpack, but a hydration system and some extra MOLLE bags. If you’re starting from scratch, that could be a great way to get up and running quickly.
Only one expedition style rucksack made it into our top five, so it’s definitely worth giving the larger of the bags in our best of the rest section a look in. If anything, it’s good to see what else is out there before you make a purchase – even if you decide to go with the one we selected for you! With that in mind, we’ll talk about what features you should be looking at in the best tactical backpack if you’re going solo.
To the uninitiated, a rucksack is just a rucksack. But that could leave you easily tricked by cheap knock-offs or overwhelmed by the choice out there. In the section below, we’re going to go through all the features that we look for when buying a military backpack. They’re the things that come up most in reviews and the areas that you’re most likely to find a fault – if there is one. To help you find the best military backpack for you, we’ve listed some of the main features you’ll probably want to consider:
The quality of a backpack can be determined by many things. It’s the overall soundness of make, that’ll be the difference between a backpack that lasts for a few days and the backpack that lasts a lifetime. The best way to try to judge this is by looking at things like the seams and zips. Are the seams double stitched? Does the stitching look good, or like you’ve let a four year old loose with a sewing machine? Are the straps finished nicely? Do the buckles look flimsy? Is the zip cheap? All these questions will help you assess the bag. If you’ve got a bad feeling about any of them, then you might regret a purchase later.
Most of the bags in our top five tactical backpack review section are made of polyester. However, you can also get bags in nylon, ballistic nylon or fabric.
Complete waterproofing is very difficult in backpacks. Anything with a hole (think zips, openings) will let water through eventually – unless you spend an awful lot of money on it. So your best compromise would be to get something that’s mostly water resistant and wrap any electricals in something definitely waterproof (like a plastic bag). Another issue with waterproofing is there’s always a play-off between waterproofing and breathability. You can’t have both at a reasonable price.
Size and Volume
We talked in the review section about what different size bags are best suited for. If you’re going for a 3 day bug out, you don’t want to be taking a tiny sling bag only. At the same time, if you show up for a day hike with an enormous camping bag, you’ll probably get laughed at. At a rule of thumb, anything less than fifteen to twenty litres in capacity is good for short trips. Anything from twenty to thirty-five litres is good for a day hike or a trip without camping. Anything around the forty, fifty or sixty litre mark is great for camping, long trips and expeditions.
Weight of the rucksack is a factor that’s often forgotten. Think about it. If you’re filling your pack with a load of heavy kit, you want the bag to be as light as possible to start with. Of course, if it’s super-light, it probably won’t be as durable and might break under the weight of the kit you’re putting in it. But, any unnecessary weight you can shed off the rucksack to start with is a bonus for you. On the other hand, how heavy a little day bag is probably doesn’t matter as much. You won’t be carrying it for as long – although a tiny backpack that weighs a tonne won’t be too much fun either.
People may say the bag’s a great fit for them, but everyone comes in different shapes and sizes. If you can’t adjust the bag to fit you the most comfortably, then there’s no way you’ll want to wear it. As someone who’s had lots of pretty ill-fitting rucksacks, let me tell you: when your bag starts rubbing on you shoulders after two hours you are not in for a good day. Things that should be adjustable are the should straps, waist strap (if applicable) and chest strap. All of these help re-distribute the weight of the bag around your body for the best fit and comfort. Again, this is much more important in large bags where you’ll be carrying more weight for longer.
One of the big factors on a military backpack for those of you who like space. Adding MOLLE means that you can add extra pouches and gear – transforming a small sack into a day bag and beyond. But, if the bag you buy doesn’t have the right webbing or fittings for a MOLLE system then you’ve got no chance. Think about if it’s something you’ll want to use before you buy.
This is linked up with the adjustable fittings. Do your straps have padded mesh on them to cushion you against the weight of the bag? The difference between a padded waist strap and a thing tape one is enormous on a long hike. Seriously, raw hips and chafing is not cool. It’s also worth taking a look at the back of the rucksack – the bit that’ll be going up against your back when you wear it. Is it padded? Is it breathable? If you’re going somewhere hot, you don’t want your t-shirt stuck to your rucksack all day.
Pockets and Compartments
For the organised amongst us. Are you the kind of person who just wants a bag to be like a hole to throw your gear in, or do you want separate compartments for each bit? Both have their pros and cons – so it’s really personal preference. Do you like having a separate laptop sleeve, or hip belt pouches or just a large pocket divided into three? Or would you rather have one huge compartment and decide how you fill it yourself?
Hydration Pack Compatible
Not a biggy if you don’t use a hydration pack – although you might want to in the future. Having a separate pocket for your water bladder and a little hole to get the hose out makes a massive difference to easy of use. Having to stop to pull the hydration pack back up again every hour defeats the point of owning one in the first place!
Again, probably not a big deal. Most tactical backpacks come in camouflage, jungle or desert colours, but there’s something really satisfying about a bag that blends in with your surroundings. Black is just too mainstream for some people. Look at the colour options available before you make your final decision. Remember you do have to actually wear this bag, so it’s got to fit your personality too!
Congratulations! If you’ve got this far, then you’re going to know a heck of a lot about tactical backpacks by now! We’ve talked about the different types of backpack: classic bags, sling bags and expedition bags – plus which situation you would use them in. We’ve talked about the brands that you might encounter on your search for the perfect military backpack, who they are and what they stand for. There’s also some good guarantee and warranty information lurking in those descriptions.
After that, we selected the top 5 tactical backpacks for your perusal, covering a range of classic day bags, sling bags and expedition rucksacks. But we felt guilty not mentioning the other great rucksacks that didn’t quite make it into the top five.
Finally, we understand that some of you will want to do some browsing yourself – and we want you to be the best equipped for that task as you can be! So, we’ve given you an extensive ‘features to look out for’ section that covers everything our reviewers look at when they review a backpack. We hope we’ve explained the features well enough that even if you didn’t know anything about military backpacks before you read this, now you’ve got it covered.