Being an outdoorsman and a Marine, packing, carrying, and relying on a backpack is an everyday part of life for me.
I rarely find myself leaving the house without a backpack. Of course, I know most of you are looking for something with a little more flavor and ruggedness to carry your gear around and that’s where some feature-packed rough and tough tactical backpacks come in!
In this guide, we’ll talk about what characteristics make a backpack a tactical backpack and then we’ll go over what to look for and how to choose the best tactical backpack for your needs!
The market is flooded with backpacks sporting the “tactical” terms but the very terms “tactical backpack” is highly subjective and makes finding a bag that fits your needs very difficult.
- Here Are the Best Tactical Backpacks
- 1. RUSH24 Military Backpack by 5.11
- 2. RUSH72 Rucksack Pack by 5.11
- 3. RUSH12 Assault Daypack by 5.11
- 4. All Hazards Prime by 5.11
- 5. Condor 3 Day Assault
- 6. Condor Venture
- 7. Direct Action Dragon Egg MKII
- 8. SOG Ninja Tactical Day Pack
- 9. Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack
- 10. Eberlestock Skycrane 2 J79
- 11. Eberlestock F3M Halftrack
- 12. Camelbak BFM with Mil-Spec Antidote Hydration System
- 13. Maxpedition Condor-2
- 14. Camelbak H.A.W.G Mil-Spec Antidote With Hydration
- 15. NYK49 Bear KompleX BKX Military Backpack
- 16. Mystery Ranch Rip Ruck Urban Battlefield Edition
Here Are the Best Tactical Backpacks
1. RUSH24 Military Backpack by 5.11
Estimated Price: $130
Internal Capacity: 37L
My Review: 5.11 is a brand you’ll see me raving about despite the topic as I’ve had extensive experience with their company and couldn’t possibly come up with a solid list of complaints. 5.11 has never let me down and although their pricing comes in at a premium, those higher prices are surely worth it in the long run if you’re looking for gear that’ll withstand daily abuse.
This bag is extremely similar to its brethren, the Rush12 and Rush72 (reviewed below), and sits at a happy medium of just over 37L of capacity. Where the Rush72 is far too large and the Rush12 just isn’t quite enough, the Rush24 has you covered!
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The same characteristics we have to come to expect from 5.11 tactical gear is live and well here in this bag including premium-grade build materials (1050D Nylon), fully adjustable sternum and compression straps, YKK zippers that are lockable and are of excellent quality, reinforced grab handle, drainage grommets, excellent resistance to weather, and hydration pouch compatibility.
These Rush bags really set the bar high for other tactical bags in that they are designed by real outdoorsman looking to provide unrivaled quality and performance for real tactical activity. These aren’t made by people that aren’t aware of the abuse and day-to-day journey these bags will face and the impeccable attention to detail is something you just don’t find too often nowadays.
- A lightweight but heavy-duty 37L tactical bag utilizing 1050D nylon materials to attain excellent durability and water resistance
- Fleece-lined eyewear compartment and mesh organizational admin panels to ensure a good spot for every piece of gear you bring
- Wrap-around MOLLE and 5.11 Slick Stick webbing attachment systems
2. RUSH72 Rucksack Pack by 5.11
Estimated Price: $170
Internal Capacity: 55L
My Review: The Rush72 tactical military backpack is a rucksack style 3-day 55L modular bag, meaning it has additions that can be removed to lighten the bag or allow you to carry additional gear over a standard 55L bag. These are constructed of 1000D nylon, meaning they’ve attained a rather happy medium between weight and tensile strength and of course, thick nylon bags are almost always waterproof, as this one certainly is.
As I mentioned in the zippers section, this bag checks all the boxes such as having water-resistant flaps covering zipper tracks, dual zippers to lock, and heavy-duty metal zippers as opposed to cheaper plastic variants. The shoulder straps are some of the best in the market utilizing dual-density stacked foam shoulder straps that are both extremely reliable as well as super comfortable. These bags are also equipped with a very high-quality adjustable hip support system with cinching dual compression waist straps. Lock this bag to your body and have the peace of mind that this thing is going everywhere you go no matter what, securely attached to your bag as it should be.
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This is a bag I would recommend someone shipping out into combat use, so I do place a lot of faith not only in the Rush72 but the quality and outstanding service that 5.11 provides. 5.11 is a company that truly prides itself on being one of the highest quality tactical gear manufacturers and has outfitted many of the men and women that have served our country.
- Purpose-built tactical backpack for 72-hour deployment
- These bags are compatible with the Rush Rifle Sleeves for easy firearm transport and are also compatible with up to 60oz hydration bladders.
- 5.11 Centerline customization that allows the addition and removal of additional storage containers and of course, the bag is well equipped with MOLLE systems
3. RUSH12 Assault Daypack by 5.11
Estimated Price: $100
Internal Capacity: 24L
My Review: The smallest entrance 5.11 offers into the world of tactical backpacks, the Rush12 is a 24L 2-day pack that exhibits a lot of the same attributes and functionality that the other Rush bags do, but on a smaller scale.
Many of the factors we like about the other 5.11 Tactical bags are present here such as the ultra-strong 1050D nylon construction, dual heavy-duty self-repairing YKK zippers on main compartments, great resistance to water and plenty of MOLLE attachment opportunities for all your patches and signifiers.
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A lot of tiny bags like these do away with stability and support features and although I’m not sure why they do that, the Rush bags by 5.11 always come with a few standard things that other brands would consider extra’s, such as a strong sternum strap, compression straps, fully adjustable Yoke style shoulder straps with great padding and excess strap holders, soft fleece-lined pockets, etc.
- 24L 1050D nylon bag with 16 total compartments
- Available in five different color schemes
- Both MOLLE and 5.11 proprietary slick stick webbing attachment strips
4. All Hazards Prime by 5.11
Estimated Price: $200
Internal Capacity: 29L
My Review: I’ve already raved about the company aspect of 5.11 in the Rush72 review so I’ll get right into the All Hazards Prime.
As opposed to the 5.11 Rush72, this bag consists of a stronger and heavier 1050D nylon, meaning its more resistant to damage and since its only 29L, it still manages to be quite a bit lighter than the large Rush72. The Rush72 is purpose-built for 3-day excursions while the All Hazards Prime bag is more so developed with the intent of single day or double day assault excursions in harsh environments.
These bags are ideal for those of you not willing to sacrifice mobility for storage and allow the operator to maintain excellent agility while not having to worry about the bag security and stability. I will mention, however, that these bags do not have a waist strap like the Rush72 due to their smaller and more compact design.
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Something that I especially enjoy using is the 180-degree full face opening mechanism that allows the entire front compartment to be easily accessible from the face of the bag instead of just the top. This allows for quicker access to your heavier gear and ammunition as well as the deployment of first aid kits. As with nearly all 5.11 bags, these are compatible with hydration pouches and are riddled with MOLLE systems on the outside and reinforced handles.
- Purpose-built assault bag utilizing ultra-strong 1050D denier nylon
- 180-degree front opening pouch for ultra-fast access to your full suite of gear
- Designed to be quick and nimble, these bags only weigh about 3.8lbs
5. Condor 3 Day Assault
Estimated Price: $80
Internal Capacity: 50L
My Review: The Condor Assault pack was designed to be used as a 3-day excursion system with a very healthy balance of accessibility, comfort, ruggedness, and cost. These are some of the cheapest ultra-durable high performing tactical bags on the market so if you’re on a tight budget but are looking for top tier durability, Condor is a brand worth getting familiar with.
These packs, similar to the 5.11 All Hazards Prime, allow for the 180-degree opening of the main compartment allowing for full access to all of your essential gear in a flash without the need to dig through the top of the bag. These bags have a really intuitive design after you get that front flap open as they allow you to secure your gear with clip straps. This means you can yank those zippers down in a heartbeat, opening the bag up entirely but your secured gear will stay in place.
A lot of brands claim to have good airflow along your back while also maintaining comfort and I must say, many brands fail in that regard trying to hit both but falling short on both. These, however, offer excellent airflow with their individually sectioned back panels that raise small portions of the bag off of your back allowing for air to travel through and cool your body.
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These were clearly designed by true outdoorsman because some of the attributes of these bags are just amazing! One of these amazing attributes being the quick-release gear tensioning systems that allows for snappy pulls of gear with instant access. These bags also allow for 2 3L hydration reservoirs, perfect for 3 days out in the desert!
A 50L bag can certainly lack stability and comfort when packed full but Condor has you covered with a removable cinching waist straps and sternum straps that do a great job of distributing the weight over your entire body and keeping things stable when the action hits.
- Seven pockets in total with the main compartment opening up in 180-degrees
- 2 3L hydration packs as well as tons of MOLLE attachment strips
6. Condor Venture
Estimated Price: $75
Internal Capacity: 27.5L
My Review: Interested in Condor’s tactical backpacks but finding the Assault bag a bit too big? Never fear, enter the Venture pack at almost half the size! The Venture pack is constructed from very high-quality Ripstop Nylon in five CRYE Precision Multicam color configurations and sports five spacious compartments with a padded 15” laptop sleeve.
These bags are amazingly versatile and actual bags I’d recommend for general daily usage as well as tactical operations alike. The price is exactly what I’d expect to pay to get my hands on such a high-quality bag and I think this is one of the most value-rich medium-sized tactical backpacks on the market. The front organizer pouch is both removable and opens up in 180-degree fashion giving you excellent access to your most important gear.
The Venture is decked out with plenty of MOLLE and PALS strips with a sternum strap and detachable waist belt enabling this bag to be used as a quick gym bag and a long-distance hiking pack, all in the same day! Of course, taking this thing hiking you’re going to need a hydration system and lucky for us, these are compatible with 2.5L reservoirs like the bladders Condor offers here.
- One of my favorite front 180-degree organizer pouches with a 15” padded laptop sleeve
- Water-resistant nylon Ripstop construction with compression straps and MOLLE system
- Detachable waist strap and compatible with hydration bladders
7. Direct Action Dragon Egg MKII
Estimated Price: $150
Internal Capacity: 25L
My Review: The Dragon Egg MKII is a highly versatile double day pack specifically designed for tactical operations. First and foremost, I’d like to point out that these do have laser-cut MOLLE/PALS systems which is an extremely expensive detail you used to only find on ultra-premium backpacks at much higher costs. With that said, I do believe this bag at under two hundred bucks is an absolute steal for many reasons.
Something else that stands out to me is the Patented Combat Ventilation System. I wouldn’t say it’s the best I’ve ever seen, but it is pretty dang good and certainly better than most packs in similar price ranges and you get something pretty interesting called Near-Infrared treating of the outside of the pack. This treatment is supposed to help the bag not show up on night vision, although I haven’t actually tested to see how good it is, I think it’s an interesting idea for sure!
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These are constructed from laminated 500D Cordura, meaning they’re among the lightweights on this page and while not the most sturdy or durable, are excellent for quick movement through hot environments. If you’re operating somewhere colder, I’d recommend a bag that’s thicker, however, in the desert these are tough to beat in terms of their performance, comfort, and durability balance. By the way, I’m a big fan of the fully adjustable side pockets and the Duraflex zipper they’ve chosen to use as it feels solid and reliable.
- Constructed from water-resistant laminated 500D Cordura with Near-Infrared treatment to avoid NV detection
- Hydration reservoir compatible and equipped with a high tensile strength dual wrapped paracord drag handle with plenty of laser-cut MOLLE/PALS attachment points and loops
- Detachable high-density padded hip support system and internal padded sleeves for laptops and communications gear
8. SOG Ninja Tactical Day Pack
Estimated Price: $40
Internal Capacity: 24.2L
My Review: SOG always comes in clutch when I need something of decent quality for super cheap and that’s what the Ninja Tactical Day Pack is all about. No, it’s not the toughest bag ever built and no, it’s not the bag I’d carry with me into a war zone, however, it is an excellent bag for those of you looking for a nice flat black tactical looking bag that’s both tough on life but weak on the wallet.
These bags are almost fully constructed from polyester, which is a material that allows the bag to be super lightweight and somewhat water-resistant while still being fairly durable. The zippers are much nicer than I’d expect from a budget range bag and they have a nice shroud over them ensuring water won’t seep through. Every compartment except the small upper accessory pouch has dual zippers so that you can lock them.
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I’m actually very impressed with all of the hardware they’ve used while still being able to offer this bag at such a cheap price. Don’t let that cheap price scare you away. If you need a good bug out bag or just a tactical feeling day-to-day bag, these are excellent choices available in a bunch of different color schemes.
- Compatible with hydration bladders and equipped with yoke-style shoulder straps and adjustable sternum slider
- Velcro patch attachment point and MOLLE loop strips
- Grommet drainage holes to ensure water doesn’t pool inside (backpack is slightly water-resistant but not entirely waterproof )
9. Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack
Estimated Price: $135
Internal Capacity: 34L
My Review: When Oakley first started making bags, I really felt like they were kind of a fad and didn’t pay much attention to them because I always thought they were a bit overpriced. Don’t get me wrong, Oakley makes great products, but I usually find things I like more at lower prices, so I generally pass on them not because they aren’t good but just because I find better deals. Finally, a buddy of mine got his hands on one of these and after giving it a thorough look over, I’ve changed my mind about these and would certainly recommend them for those of you looking for a daily backpack that is easily capable of withstands abuse for many years to come.
I’m not sure you’d want to lug around your kitchen sink in this thing but the idea still stands, you can pack just about anything in this bag and it’ll do a great job of protecting it while also protecting your back. Of course, these aren’t really built to be combat use focused, as per the dedicated headphone storage on the front of the bag, but hey, you can just as easily throw some Marine Approved ear protection in there too and make this an excellent range bag among many other things! Versatility is a trait I love and it’s a trait you’re going to recognize immediately with this backpack.
In the guide, I talked about how a balance of nylon and polyester materials usually makes for the best configuration and that’s exactly what we get with the Oakley Kitchen Sink. The material blend here is a healthy balance of 69% nylon and 31% polyester, ensuring the bag is extremely durable but also attempting to keep it lightweight enough to make sure you’re nimble and ready to move.
This bag supports side panel access to up to a 17″ laptop and the bottom storage area is built for shoes, although it can be used for tons of other things, but probably not a kitchen sink. There are so many attachment points on the outside of this bag, though, that perhaps you could attach the kitchen sink to the outside? Jokes aside, the mounting hardware on this bag is among the best I’ve ever seen in any bag I’ve reviewed. These mounts are all metal and very reliable.
- Adjustable mesh padded back pad and shoulder straps designed for maximum cooling
- 69/31 blend of abrasion-resistant nylon and polyester
- Several purpose-built containment systems including shoe storage, hardened headphone or ear protection storage, sunglasses holder, etc
10. Eberlestock Skycrane 2 J79
Estimated Price: $500
Internal Capacity: 40L
My Review: This will likely be one of the most expensive tactical packs I ever recommend and after seeing the low 500D nylon construction, you may instantly give this bag a pass.
That would be a mistake. Simply put, if you need a bag that is fully compatible with weapons systems while being extremely light, the Skycrane II J79 is a top contender. These bags are purpose-built to be extremely lightweight, allowing you to transverse highly difficult terrain quickly and efficiently. These are not the most durable bags ever built, but the lightweight to durability ratio is simply perfect if moving fast and easily is a priority. Are they durable? Well, 500D certainly isn’t the best nylon rating you can get, but this is actually Ripstop nylon, which is considerably more durable than regular 500D nylon and, of course, is water-resistant.
Something I love about this bag is its versatility. There’s pretty much nothing you can carry for long distances that you can’t fit into this bag. The options and variations you have available to you with this system are unbelievably unmatched by any other bag on the market. The bags are designed with complete scalable modularity in mind, allowing the user to completely configure the entire storage system to fit your needs and shed excess weight when necessary.
The Skycrane II is equipped with MOLLE systems just about everywhere possible and utilize the Cam Expansion system, meaning it has special characteristics of customizability such as an open load bay, additional core storage expansion, and unmatched gear stability systems.
The bag is expensive, but you’re actually getting two bags, sort of. The G1 Little Brother is a zipped-in addition to the pack that can also be used as a standalone system. Furthermore, if you’re investing in this bag and will be using it in tandem with a weapons system you should also be picking up the compatible Eberlestock Tactical Weapon Carrier system found here.
If this is the first tactical backpack you’ve ever owned, this bag may be a bit difficult to adjust to and utilize properly. These bags are a favorite among highly skilled outdoorsman and can be a lot to handle if you’re new to this type of configuration. Once you get acclimated to its design, though, these are some of the most customizable backpacks ever built.
Check out their video below and I promise this bag will be on your wish list!
- Fully customizable, scalable, and modular design with the intent of full mission-purpose load-outs
- Constructed of lightweight 500D Ripstop waterproof nylon
- Includes the G1 Little Brother Zip-in addition
11. Eberlestock F3M Halftrack
Estimated Price: $250
Internal Capacity: 35L
My Review: If you’re planning on wearing out your boots, this is the bag for you. The Halftrack is my number one recommendation when it comes to a balance between tactical and long-distance trekking. This bag has been purpose-built for long-duration outings and checks all the boxes for a top tier tactical backpack.
Let’s start with water. This pack is capable of carrying two 3L hydration bladders on the sides of the bag and 2 2L bladders in the inside compartment sleeves for a total of 10L of potential water carrying capabilities. Now, I’m not saying you should carry 10L of water in a bag with only 35L of internal capacity as it would take up a lot of gear space and a 35L bag is really only built to be a 3-4 day pack, however, this means you have options in where and how you configure your bag and it’s gear around your water bladders.
This is a framed pack and it comes with a very well known and well respected Gossamer polycarbonate padded frame and is equipped with some of the best air-mesh ventilating foam on any tactical backpack at any price point.
That 35L of storage space feels a whole lot like 40-45L of storage space and how they’ve gone about designing the storage is an absolute genius! When you open the front the entire main storage compartment becomes wide open and available to you giving you full access to just about everything. Furthermore, you get adjustable padded shelves that can fold down with ease when not in use, allowing for a taller area of storage. These shelves are especially excellent for use as a divider between your handguns and your other gear or a good way to set the bag up and almost use it as a type of table. There are tons of ways to utilize this bag in methods I would have never considered with traditional backpacks. As a last note here, we also get tons of MOLLE on the inside.
All in all, if you need to cover a lot of ground quickly and you need the tactical aspect of a bag that is ready to face imminent abuse and smile in its wake, this is the bag for you. This is by far the most comfortable and versatile 35L bag on the market out today due to its excellent ventilation, thick foam padding everywhere the bag could possibly contact your body, hip support system, and sternum strap.
- Excellent usage of its internal storage with a fully openable front side revealing adjustable padded shelving
- Constructed of 1000D nylon that is water-resistant and comes with a rain cover for heavy rains
- The ability to carry four different hydration reservoirs makes this one of the most hydration system friendly bags I’ve ever reviewed
12. Camelbak BFM with Mil-Spec Antidote Hydration System
Estimated Price: $200
Internal Capacity: 20L with a 3L water reservoir
My Review: I’ve been a huge fan of American made Camelbak products for as long as I can remember originating with their best in class hydration systems. I figured that I loved their hydration systems so much and that they did such a good job of transporting water that surely they could build a good tactical pack as well, and I was right.
These bags’ primary design features revolve around good old H2O. The hydration system found in this pack is the Mil-Spec Antidote reservoir with a quick link exit port and QL Hydrolocking bite valve adapter kit. These are among the best water systems available for rough terrain and combat situations built thus far.
The bag itself is constructed of Corduroy 500D which is a happy balance between lightweight and durability. Usually, I’d shoot for 1000D or 1050D, but with this bag carrying so much water already and naturally being a heavy pack when loaded, the 500D material was a solid choice to ensure the pack doesn’t add too much weight to your overall loadout.
These packs are designed to be utilized for 3-4 day excursions and are actively used by our servicemen in combat zones. This bag, although it says it’s the same size internally, is noticeably larger than the next bag I’ll talk about, the H.A.W.G. This bag also offers a bit more customizability and in my opinion, is heavier but more comfortable when carrying heavy loads. The Camelbak Motherload is another great bag if you need more storage but is quite large to be considered a true tactical backpack, hence why I didn’t add it to this list. On the flip side, the Camelbak Mule is the compact tactical-ish backpack that is much smaller than the H.A.W.G and BFM.
- Top tier water deliverance system trusted by combat veterans all over the world
- Camelbak BFM tactical backpack includes the coveted Antidote Hydration System and multiple routing clips and exit ports for water delivery customization
- The main compartment utilizes clamshell opening design and has the ability to be upgraded with medial inserts
13. Maxpedition Condor-2
Estimated Price: $115
Internal Capacity: 23L
My Review: Not to be confused with Condor backpacks (not better or worse, just different), the Maxpedition Condor-II is ultra-lightweight hydration (3L) focused day assault tactical backpack that is likely one of my favorite small 23L bags. This bag is incredibly comfortable and stable and although it’s rather small, it still comes with a heavy-duty waist strap and hip support system that I’d expect to find on larger bags, yet still, the total pack weight is only 3lbs.
This is a favorite among CCW enthusiasts as the bags rear compartment is purpose-built for handguns of all sizes, including a locking mechanism and excellent padding for protection. This bag is rated for 23L of internal storage but I’m telling you, it feels like a lot more. The design of the storage is hard to explain via text but it’s just so intuitively genius how they’ve laid out these bags storage containment systems.
- Plenty of D-rings, MOLLE, and PALS webbing on the outside and inside of the pack
- Dedicated handgun storage
- Excellent cinching suspension system allowing for great compactness when excess storage is present, allowing the bag to be as small as possible when partially filled and compatible with TacTie load-bearing extenders
14. Camelbak H.A.W.G Mil-Spec Antidote With Hydration
Estimated Price: $130
Internal Capacity: 20L with a 3L water reservoir
My Review: The Camelbak H.A.W.G is the slightly smaller version of the BFM that is equally as capable of being a 3-4 day pack, however, with a little less customizability but being more streamlined and easy to use, especially when needing to move quickly. The two are both constructed of the same material, the 500D Corduroy, and utilize the same Mil-Spec Antidote 3L hydration systems.
Really, the main difference here is appearance and personal preference. I personally prefer the BFM, but I know a lot of people prefer the H.A.W.G so really, it’s up to you! A final note here, I found that the H.A.W.G is more stable than the BFM when standing alone while filled with gear. A small detail, but an important one to some people.
- Comes equipped with the Mil-Spec Antidote hydration system with multiple routing options
- Features tons of MOLLE/PALS and D-loops
- Additional storage units are modular, meaning they can be removed if not in use, lightening the pack
15. NYK49 Bear KompleX BKX Military Backpack
Estimated Price: $100
Internal Capacity: 50L
My Review: This is a rather unique take on the traditional tactical backpack and I’ll go ahead and just say that this is by no means a choice for combat, however, does fit the bill in terms of what I’d expect out of a tactical backpack under a hundred bucks.
These tactical packs are constructed from 1000D nylon which ranks them among some of the toughest bags out there and offers tons of versatility in terms of packing and outside attachments. They aren’t exactly built for a hydration system, however, if you have a small one, you can make it work with the headphone port. There are plenty of cinching straps and MOLLE on the outside of the bag and contoured yoke-style shoulder straps are rather comfortable. There is a very nice vented pouch purpose-built for wet clothing which I thought was a very nice touch, not always a feature you expect to see on tactical backpacks.
All in all, these bags aren’t the best at anything, however, at under a hundred bucks, these offer incredible durability and tons of storage versatility without breaking the bank and without sacrificing on low-quality build materials. These bags are suitable for about 4-5 days worth of clothing and gear and are excellent short-range hiking bags with a sternum strap but no waist strap included.
- Constructed from water-resistant 1000D nylon and available in five color schemes
- Soft fleece-lined storage pockets to protect your gear
- Contoured Yoke straps with 2 stages of outer compression straps
16. Mystery Ranch Rip Ruck Urban Battlefield Edition
Estimated Price: $130
Internal Capacity: 22L
My Review: The all American Mystery Ranch has developed a very sleek design offering many of the capabilities and attributes of a tactical backpack without losing its modernistic styling and lightweight mobility. I will say, though, there are no MOLLE/PALS systems so if that’s a must, keep scrolling. This backpack really feels like a tactical backpack in disguise as a regular backpack! If you don’t like MOLLE, this may be a great tactical backpack for you as the outside is rather clean-looking, absent of daisy-chained MOLLE strips.
Alright, so the centerpiece design attribute here is the quick-rip zipper configuration that, in theory, allows you to slightly pull on one of the YKK URE zippers and then just rip back the flap, unzipping both sides quickly and allowing you access to the heart of your storage. It works. I’m not sure its something I couldn’t live without but I see what they were going for and I think it’s a pretty neat design idea.
The Rip Ruck is constructed from the ever so loved lightweight 500D Cordura, which, with the quick-rip function I might have rather had something a little heavier, but 500D Cordura certainly isn’t a bad thing and enables the pack to weigh a very light 2.5lbs.
This is the kind of bag you’d buy for those of you that are hard on daily usage backpacks but I would not recommend this for heavy tactical operations. This bag is meant to be tough, light, and quick to access your gear but it’s not made for combat, more so just being tough against general day-to-day life, which it does exceptionally well. Expect this bag to outlive most other daypacks under general usage.
- Quick-Rip fast access design with high-quality YKK URE (Urethane) zippers
- Constructed of 500D Cordura with a total pack weight of 2.5lbs
- Thin sternum strap and double-density foam padded shoulder straps with expansive or compressible storage units and two exterior accessory pockets
What Qualifies a Backpack as “Tactical”?
Defining exactly what a tactical backpack is can be quite difficult because this term is mostly a subjective definition of what specific people think is tactical. A tactical backpack can come in so many different form factors with a massive plethora of different characteristics, attributes, materials, sizes, weights, color schemes, etc.
So really, what I can tell you to try and paint a picture of what we’re looking at today is this: A tactical backpack is a backpack that hosts attributes and tools that allow a military service member the ability to protect and transport their gear, primarily for combat type situations. Many people can benefit from the same attributes of a tactical backpack as a Marine would such as hikers, campers, hunters, and really anybody that needs a backpack tougher than the average book bag.
Tactical backpacks often offer waterproofing and other protection such as foam layers and/or super tough and durable materials to ensure the protection of weapon systems and other gear such as communications electronics, clothing, shelter, food, etc. We’ll talk about these rough and tough characteristics in-depth later on.
Many tactical backpacks are also colored in a way that ensures a tactical advantage, such as being black for night operations, tan for desert usage, or perhaps sometimes of green or camouflage scheme to ensure covertness in wooded areas.
If your lifestyle doesn’t warrant the features of a tactical backpack, it may not be entirely worth the extra money.
Just keep in mind, in some circumstances, a high level of durability could be the difference between life and death. If your backpack fails while you’re deep in the sticks or a combat zone and you’re unable to carry your water, food, gear, and weapon systems, you might be in some serious danger, all because you cheaped out and didn’t pick up a quality tactical backpack.
Size Does Matter So Let’s Talk About Liters
Before we start shopping around, we need to figure out how much internal storage space you need and what type of gear you’ll be stuffing into your tactical backpacks. We’ll talk about firearms later in their own section so here we’ll focus on how you can determine what size backpack you need.
Sizing for backpacks is almost entirely universally set in the form of Liters. A common example you’ll likely see when shopping around for any kind of backpacks, not just tactical backpacks, is something like “50L capacity”.
Tactical backpacks can be found in all kinds of different storage amounts and it doesn’t always have to be exactly a factor of 10 like 50 is, but sometimes they do use a factor of 10 even when it’s not exact, like when a bag is 49L, they may classify it as a 50L backpack. Keep that in mind because it can impact your user experience. If you absolutely cannot have less than 50L, you have to double-check and make sure that a 50L branded backpack is actually 50L and not just close, like being 48.5L or something like that.
So, the advertised storage space of a tactical backpack in Liters can give you a rough idea of how large the pack will be and what you can fit inside of it, however, this is only a portion of the whole equation. Backpacks come in many different shapes, sizes, and form factors and these may limit your ability to fully utilize the full internal storage space. Let’s say you have something like a short shotgun you’d like to carry with you in your bag when hunting. That shotgun might fit in a 40L bag that is tall and skinny but might not fit in a 40L bag that is rounded and symmetrical, even though both bags, in theory, have the same internal storage space.
So, with the above problem in mind, if you can, I highly suggest you actually measure out your largest pieces of gear and check them against the manufacturer’s actual measurements for the bag. I personally have learned this lesson, not once, but twice, where I bought tactical style bags that I figured had more than enough space for my stuff, only to come to find out that even though the advertised space is present, my gears still doesn’t fit quite right.
What if you don’t have your gear or you don’t know yet what gear you’ll be using?
Well, that’s a tough one, because not knowing and not having a plan for the future of your tactical backpack makes choosing the right size almost impossible. If this is the case, and you cannot wait to order a tactical bag, it’s better to have more space than you need than to not have enough space and be forced to carry or leave important pieces of your loadout at the base or at home. I always advise putting your future backpack at the bottom of your shopping list and choosing the model you need after you’ve shopped around and purchased your gear or have obtained a good idea of what gear you’ll be getting.
Choosing a backpack that is too large, though, can have severe consequences. For those of you having to hike long distances, and trust me as a Marine I am well experienced in lugging tons of gear for unimaginable distances through harsh terrain, you’ll need to consider weight. Every piece of gear adds up and you should be trying to figure out your pack weight before setting off, however, many people fail to take into account the actual backpack itself! Most tactical backpacks in the average size range will probably weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-5lbs.
If the pack is too heavy, your mission may fail or your outdoor adventure may turn into a nightmare of soreness and fatigue. We don’t want that, so make sure you choose essential gear, figure out if it’ll fit, and buy the lightest and smallest tactical backpack that you can still fit your gear inside of, with maybe just a tad bit of extra space just in case.
As a final note, sometimes you’ll see a backpacks total capacity written in inches per square foot. That’s fine too and it all means the same thing, just know that backpack capacities in Liters are far more prevalent in the market than square inches is, especially if you’re outside of the US.
Internal Frame Versus Frameless Backpacks
First things first, you can certainly find tactical backpacks in both frameless or internal frame configurations. Both have massive advantages over the other in certain situations and warrant some future planning before purchasing to ensure you make the right choice.
In my experience shopping around, it seems like there are more options in the frameless category and it also seems to be cheaper to purchase a frameless backpack, although spending the extra money on a frame is certainly worth it if your activity demands it.
So, does your situation and activity arise as a valid necessity for an internal frame? Well, that depends on many factors, some of which come down to personal preference as well as your size and athletic capabilities. A general rule of thumb would be to try and go for an internal frame if you’re carrying over 25lbs, but this can obviously be subjective.
A tactical backpack with a frame will allow you to carry much heavier and larger packs with much higher levels of stability and comfort while lowering the impact the bag has on your central nervous system, fatigue, and joints. A frame will keep the bag more rigid and in place, ensuring the bag isn’t bouncing around as you move. A moving bag isn’t such a horrible deal when its something like 10lbs but once you set something larger like 60lbs on your back, each movement becomes a major drag on your energy and stability, furthering muscle fatigue and even forcing your body to burn more calories to compensate for the movement and instability.
A tactical backpack with a frame has some obvious drawbacks, though. We’re going with backpacks that have a frame if we have heavier packs for the stability attributes but in doing so, we’re adding even more weight to our total loadout. Backpacks with any kind of frame are naturally going to weigh more since the frame is usually made out of aluminum, carbon, or some other material that has weight to it that wouldn’t be present otherwise. If your pack won’t exceed 20lbs and you don’t plan on carrying heavy packs over long distances or rough terrain, then buying a backpack with a frame is just adding weight for little to no reason.
A frameless backpack has the obvious advantage of being lighter. I’m sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, in my experience, I’ve never seen a pack with a frame that has the same weight as a pack with no frame when the two packs have the same size and material composition.
Frameless backpacks also tend to error on the side of minimalism and thus weighing even less. Backpacks with a frame often have other attributes that are designated for long durations under heavy loads like extra straps, other stability measures, hip supports, extra back padding and support, options for hydration packs, extra clips, mounts, etc. Simply put, backpacks with a frame generally tend to be well equipped for extreme hiking and backpacks without a frame will attempt to be as light as possible.
This isn’t always the case and you can certainly find frameless tactical backpacks with tons of features you’d expect an internal frame pack to encompass, like hydration compatibility, straps, padding, hip support, etc. It’s just rarer to find these things in a frameless design but I’ll try my best to show you a few options that fit in this category in the reviews section.
One last note here is that a backpack with a frame requires far more careful attention when planning and choosing a specific backpack. Some frames simply aren’t comfortable for certain people and they won’t fit people that are exceptionally short, tall, skinny, or heavy unless you find a pack designed for that. This makes sharing your tactical backpack more difficult too as a nice frame may compliment your style and size well but may offer a horrendous experience for your buddy.
Carrying Firearms in Your Tactical Backpack
Tactical backpacks were mostly designed for military usage with outdoorsman and hunters coming in second and everyone else pretty much not being the focus of the design case. What do military servicemen and hunters have alike? They carry boomsticks!
There are tons of awesome tactical backpacks that double as pistol range bags and are even capable of carrying rifles. In my reviews section, I’ll be focusing on tactical backpacks for everyone and not just firearm owners, so if carrying firearms is your number one consideration, you can check out the Marine Approved range bags page to find purpose-built firearm backpacks and range bags.
With that said, there are many considerations here when shopping for a tactical backpack. Most of the bags on my list are fully compatible with firearms, but it depends on what firearms we’re talking about and the dimensions of said firearms. Some tactical bags will have purpose-built mounts on the outside of the bag to carry long guns, like hunting rifles. I’ll add a few of these to the review list as I’ve had great experiences with tactical bags with outside mounting for rifles. Carrying your rifle when you’re not in an active combat zone sucks, mount that puppy to your bag when you can and save yourself a lot of fatigue and open up your hands for other things like navigation and hydrating.
Why use your tactical backpack to accommodate a firearm? Well, a quality tactical backpack is certainly going to offer higher quality and more protection from the elements and outside damage than an ordinary backpack would. Tactical backpacks also sometimes come with special attributes for firearms specifically and as always, a waterproof tactical backpack is going to be a huge factor in keeping your gear and firearms dry.
I already mentioned this before but I think it’s important to mention again since a lot of people end up sending a backpack back to the seller because they failed to measure. Measure your guns people! Heck, you don’t even have to measure them because in most cases, you could simply look up their dimensions online. Make sure the bag you are buying is long and thick enough to accompany your firearms with there attachments, scopes, magazines, ammunition, and shooting protection equipment.
Please keep in mind that concealing a firearm in or outside a backpack is NOT always legal everywhere and since I’m certainly no lawyer, it’s up to you to make sure you are complying with the laws in your area of operation. Some places even have laws where you can conceal the firearm in the bag but you can’t have the ammunition with it or some other special circumstances must be met like the magazines can’t be in the same storage section as your firearm or whatever other crazy things lawmakers decide! Read up on your local laws and make sure you don’t end up a criminal by accident!
Hydration Equipment Compatibility
I am a huge fan of using Camelbak hydration systems in tandem with just about any backpack that has compatibility for it. If you don’t know what a Camelbak hydration system is, you can check out the CamelBak website here to get an idea. Unfortunately, not all tactical backpacks are compatible and usable with water hydration packs, which isn’t a big deal if you’re an old school water bottle carrier, but the water bottle life isn’t for me so hydration compatibility is very important in my considerations!
Many tactical backpacks offer a pouch deep inside hidden away from your gear that you can slide a water bladder or water reservoir into and then these bags usually offer cutouts for you to run the hose and mouthpiece through. Some bags even have clips along one or both of the shoulder straps to help keep your hose in place and conveniently next to your face for quick access to water.
Furthermore, since tactical backpacks often come with some level of water resistance, we’d want to find backpacks that have the cutouts we need to run our hose, the clips we need to keep it in place, and a shroud over those cutouts to ensure rain doesn’t seep into your bag.
Zippers – The Number One Fail Point
Okay, if you want to fact check me, go ahead, I can’t prove without a doubt that zippers are the number one fail point among all backpacks and all backpack users, however, in my personal experience, this has been the case. Simply put, spend a lot of money and you probably won’t have an issue. Attempt to save money by going with a low-quality budget brand will likely end in a damaged and nonfunctioning zipper with just a slight bit of stress and exposure to the environment. It always seems that the budget brands try to compete in material quality and cut costs with awfully cheap and ill-designed zippers.
If you can’t zip up your pack due to a failed zipper, you can’t properly configure your pack to be balanced in weight as your stuff will likely hop and move around. A broken zipper also means broken waterproofing and of course, losing your gear along the trail is a nightmare, especially if it’s your food. A zipper failure when out in the field is a real problem and something that is 100% worth spending the extra few bucks on to have peace of mind.
So, what can you look for in terms of zipper configuration and quality? First and foremost, I try to get bags with as little zippers as possible. My mantra is that if you have fewer zippers, you have fewer points of failure on your bag.
Further than that, though, zipper size matters quite a bit. A zipper that is too small may lack the rigidity and durability to hold together a full pack. Zippers actually come in standard sizes, although you’d be hard-pressed to get that information from the general marketing jargon you’d find with almost any brand in the tactical backpack niche. If you can find the information, though, zippers will come in a size accompanied by a number, like #5. These numbers aren’t special, they simply tell you the rough idea of millimeters in thickness. So, for our #5, you can expect a zipper of roughly 5mm. In most cases, larger is better and more durable, but that’s not the only thing that determines durability.
For a very long time, I always wondered how so many different unconnected manufacturers made seemingly the same zippers. Finally, I had the chance to compare two different zippers unattached from their original bags and I saw the teeth were entirely different! Zipper designs are not created equally so make sure you’re getting something designed by a reputable and high-quality company. Some of the tactical backpacks I’ll review have designed their own zippers for their bags while some of them have sourced zippers from zipper specialists.
Metal and plastic zippers are a hot button issue that many people will argue one way or the other about. Cheap plastic zippers are far inferior to even a comparably cheap metal zipper, however, once you get out of the bottom of the barrel, the difference in quality becomes more cloudy.
High quality plastic resin zippers host many advantages, such as being lighter, more flexible than a metal counterpart, cheaper in some cases, and more resistant to harsh elements. Of course, metal zippers generally win in the category of overall stress and durability but can lose some of its rigidity by being exposed to the weather and, as anytime metal on metal occurs, friction reduces its quality over time.
High-Quality bags might have what’s called a locking zipper. These zippers stay in place and won’t come down their tracks from gravity or general movement because they are locked until the tab is pulled. Take it from someone who almost always overstuffs his pack, locking zippers are amazing and if you can find bags with them, I’d say that’s a big advantage, especially if you’re buying a waterproof bag and tend to find yourself under a rain cloud every time you go out. A waterproof bag is only as waterproof as its zipper and if the zipper can move freely along its track, you don’t have a waterproof bag!
Speaking of waterproofing, zippers, in general, are terrible at resisting water. A light rain might easily be defended against, even by low-quality zippers, but finding yourself in monsoon-like conditions will almost guarantee leakage around even some of the best zippers. To combat this, you can get yourself a tactical backpack that has a shroud or some kind of water-resistant flap that covers the zipper and its tracks, shedding water and hopefully keeping your zipper system dry in the first place.
A quick little note here is that I like to find tactical backpacks that use double zippers, meaning there are two zipper mechanisms on a single track. This allows you to run a small lock between the two zippers, not allowing them to separate and thus making your bag a little more difficult to get into for thieves and thugs. Since I like to use a small tactical backpack as my gym bag, this is a feature I actually use every single day, leaving my bags courtside while I play basketball or working out and having peace of mind that someone isn’t going to rummage through my stuff while I’m busy dunking on these fools.
Finally, there is continuous and finished zipper configurations. A zipper that can easily slide off the end of its track at either side is a continuous zipper while a zipper that has a metal or plastic end cap, preventing it from going any further, is a finished zipper. Continuous zippers can sometimes still prevent the zipper from coming off the track by the use of sewing. I believe sewing continuous style zippers is the cheaper route but unfortunately, the sewing may come undone from abuse and weathering causing you to lose your zipper. In the world of tactical backpacks, I’d focus on getting finished zippers anywhere possible or adding those end blocks to continuous zippers yourself.
What Build Materials Are Tactical Enough For Your Tactical Backpack?
Tactical backpacks are almost always manufactured from nylon, polyester, or a blend of the two, however, these aren’t always created equally and there are even different levels of materials inside of those two material categories.
Before we get started, let’s get you up to speed on Denier. Denier is a measurement of fabric weight in the state of the fineness of the fabric itself. There is an entire science behind Denier statistics but the general idea that you need to know is this, the higher the number, the higher the strength and weight the material will be. If you need an extremely high strength fabric, a high amount of Denier is what you’re looking for, but the tradeoff will be an increase in weight which isn’t always worth the additional durability if you don’t need it. Sometimes you’ll see Denier measurements in the form of something such as “1050D Nylon” so keep your eyes open for a capital D when shopping for tactical backpacks!
The general differences and characteristics between nylon and polyester are certainly worth mentioning and understanding. Nylon is, on average, much stronger in terms of how much it can be pulled on without coming apart and is far more resistant to tearing and sharp objects. Nylon also tends to shed water and dry out quicker than polyester but fails in durability against the sun when compared to polyester. Polyester is the weaker material but also the lighter material and often cheaper choice.
Now, getting into the nitty-gritty here is special proprietary nylon technology like Ripstop. Ripstop fabric is essentially just a really tough and abrasive resistant nylon that is extra thick and consists of supporting threads being woven into the original weave to greater ensure durability.
Kodra and Cordura nylons are created by a special air treatment process specialized by the company Dupont. These are meant to be resistant to abrasions and are similar to Ripstop, however, they are generally heavier and more costly. There is some debate on whether these are more durable than Ripstop and what I’ve found is that on a small scale, like a square inch, Cordura is more resistant to tearing, while on a larger scale like a square meter, Ripstop seems to fare better.
Some cheap tactical backpacks are made of Oxford Weave, similar to most regular low-quality backpacks. This material is awful in terms of durability and ruggedness and is the primary reason why we’re shopping for tactical backpacks and not just backpacks in the first place! If a tactical backpack is made from Oxford Weave, it’s not really a tactical backpack in my opinion!
MOLLE Webbing Systems
When digging around trying to come up with a nice tactical backpack that fits all of your requirements and durability needs, you may want to consider one last major attribute that could make or break your tactical backpack experience.
MOLLE is a universal acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment and is very common to find attached on tactical backpacks. In lamens terms, this is super-duty velcro, kind of, as it operates on similar principles. When you see MOLLE technology in rows stacked above each other, this is called PALS, or Pouch Attachment Ladder Systems. MOLLE is mostly used by the military but outdoorsman can certainly reap the benefits of quick access detachment of important or life-crucial gear.
The general idea here is two-sided. First, MOLLE systems allow you to attach additional gear to your bag that may otherwise not fit or sit snugly with your other gear already packed away, increasing the amount of gear your bag can carry.
The other usage, probably the more important one, is that MOLLE allows the attachment of gear that you may quickly need access to and may otherwise not have the time to open and rummage through your bag to retrieve. Imagine having to open your backpack every time you need a full magazine in a firefight, it’d be a nightmare.
Good examples of using MOLLE is the attachments of patches, first-aid kits, magazine pouches, ammo pouches, food containers, MOLLE compatible holsters, communication devices, etc. You can also attach D-rings or carabiners attached to the MOLLE as there is usually raised spaced behind the MOLLE strip, expanding the gear you can further connect to the outside of your bag.
If waterproofing is your main concern, anything attached to the outside MOLLE technology will not be protected, however, some tactical backpacks have MOLLE systems on the inside of the bag either with or without MOLLE on the outside. Some tactical bags purpose-built to carry firearms might even use MOLLE for detachable and configurable sectional walls, allowing you to store your firearm in the same storage unit without it touching your other gear.
MOLLE is a must-have on any tactical backpack I personally use because I’ve just gotten so familiar with using it, however, some tactical backpacks may not utilize MOLLE and that’s perfectly fine if you don’t plan on using it. MOLLE that isn’t being used can sometimes gather a lot of dirt and dust and maybe even snag on stuff so if you absolutely won’t use it, it might be advantageous to get a backpack without it.
There are similar MOLLE systems that aren’t real MOLLE but work in similar ways such as the 5.11 SlickStick webbing platforms. Most of these systems, MOLLE or not, work in similar ways and will be mostly compatible with each other, however, I’d do a quick check before I ever bought a bag that had a MOLLE-like system I wasn’t familiar with.
How to Pack Your Tactical Backpack
I almost discarded this section because one could make the argument that it’s not important information regarding actually purchasing a tactical backpack, but after a little though and actually running through how I pack my bags myself, I realized that knowing how to pack your tactical backpack actually helps to identify the characteristics and dimensions of the bag you might want to buy. This won’t be the most comprehensive bag packing guide ever made but I’m hoping I can give you a few tips that will enable your planning process to further help with finding the perfect bag!
Packing a backpack correctly not only enables you to carry the maximum amount of gear and food as possible but it actually makes a huge difference in how the bag sits on your back and reacts to movement. A badly packed bag can easily feel heavier than it actually is and may even cause extra unnecessary fatigue and back pain while also limiting your ability to be agile and adaptable to the terrain.
How I attack my packing stage is with a pyramid style approach and I think this is a general idea most advanced outdoorsman use as well. I put my largest and heaviest items at the very bottom, laid out horizontally if possible. If I had two long items that are both heavy, I try to stand them up on either side of the bag to balance its weight. If taking the pyramid approach, finding bags that have a wide base may be something to look out for.
Speaking of balance, it’s incredibly important that your bag is as equally balanced as you can possibly pull off. Of course, a perfectly balanced bag is probably impossible due to the very nature of gear weighing and coming in different shapes, but the general idea is to distribute the weight as equally over your back as possible and having your legs share equal portions of the shock from your loadout.
After putting all of my heavy goodies at the bottom I then start to pack essentials in places they fit, like food and clothing, mostly taking up the center of the bag. After that, I just stuff away the soft stuff, like bedding, rain gear, towels, etc.
This strategy is fine and dandy but you also can’t follow it 100% of the time because in some cases, you might actually need some of your heavier gear while you’re on the move and putting them at the very bottom of the pack may be a major hindrance so really, you’ll just need to put thought into it and plan out the usage of each and every piece of gear.
The stuff that goes on the very top is often somewhat light but more importantly the stuff I need and use the most often, especially things I need when on the move like snacks, water ready for immediate use, self-defense weapons, primary weapon system attachments, emergency preparedness items, and communication gadgets like a GPS or satellite phone.
Tactical Backpack Reviews
In this section, I’ll do my best to put together my experience in using tactical backpacks and recommend backpacks in all price ranges across a multitude of use cases and internal storage capacities. Of course, there are hundreds of tactical backpacks and it would be nearly impossible for me to review each and every one of them so if I miss an awesome tactical backpack, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to get my hands on it!
This list of tactical backpacks will cover multiple price points to ensure I have recommendations for everyone and not just the absolute best bags money can buy.
As always, I like to follow the mantra of “buy once, cry once”. This essentially means that you pay a high price for premium products and you won’t need to buy anything else again for a very long time, hopefully forever!
Let me know if you have any questions or comments below! Thanks for checking out our website and be sure to read some of our other guides before you go!
Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines that specialized in Mortars. In his free time, he enjoys hunting, hiking, running, shooting guns, and reviewing gear. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. We are currently looking for former Marines to join the team who are interested in writing about tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. For more information about us or joining the team, check out the “About Us” tab.