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Your Definitive Guide to Buying a Tactical Backpack

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Table of Contents

  1. What is a tactical backpack and why should you buy one?
  2. What to look for when buying a tactical backpack?
  3. Some brands that we recommend
  4. The End

When was the last time you took off on a day trip and regretted carrying the same old backpack? Whether you were on a long trip or a small hike, heavy, ill-fitting backpacks can be very irritating.

This is one of the many reasons why indigenous people always carried their luggage on their heads. Well, it’s because shoulders are not designed to hang heavy things from. Ideally, most of the weight should be carried on your hip bones, rather than on your shoulders.

Now, you can’t expect to carry your luggage on your head, can you? A fair alternative would be a backpack.

Also, travel for most of us has changed today - it’s not about going on a trip once or twice a year. We prefer moving around, walking, experiencing new things, and backpacking around the world, rather than sitting in a moving car looking out of a window.

Most of us look forward to our weekends and planned road trips. But, how often do you feel like your rucksack is not good enough? Ordinary backpacks have one big hole on the top to throw all your stuff in. Accessing your things and remembering the order in which you’ve put them in can be hard.

So, do you need different backpacks to accommodate your luggage on your different trips? Not really.

Carrying a heavy backpack with poor placement of your belongings, and inadequate distribution of weight over long distances can make your back feel miserable. Some problems that you might face are fatigue, red marks on your shoulders, pinched nerves, muscle soreness, and backache, especially in the lower back.

What if we said that you could save yourself from all this discomfort and actually have fun backpacking?

It’s true! All you need is one comfortable, multi-functional backpack. It’ll help keep all your things in order and give easy access to your belongings.

There are a lot of backpacks/rucksacks in the market but the number one would be a tactical backpack.


1. Why invest in a tactical backpack?

Tactical backpacks might look similar to other backpacks, but they are completely different.

Inspired from the armed forces, tactical backpacks are remarkably tough, designed to allow you to efficiently organize, and compartmentalize all your gear. These backpacks are lean and not bulky, they also have straps and buckles on the outside giving you multiple options to fasten a diverse array of gear including, ropes and hiking poles.

You won’t have to rummage through one giant pocket anymore. They have explicit pockets or spaces for all your things including your admin docs, pens or pencils, sunglasses, tools, and water bottles.

Whether you’re looking for an everyday shoulder pack or a hiking pack, tactical backpacks are an ideal choice for you. It is an accessory that not only makes travelling fun, but also comfortable. Furthermore, these backpacks have an inbuilt hydration pack to help you stay hydrated at all times on your expedition.

The innovative ergonomic design makes the backpack so comfortable that you’ll hardly notice you’re wearing it.

Here’s a list of things that’ll confirm why tactical backpacks are a better bet than regular backpacks.

Regular Backpacks or Rucksacks Tactical Backpacks
  • One giant pocket to hold all your belongings
  • Several compartments and customization options
    • Fewer or no straps for external attachment. Lacks well-padded shoulder and waist straps
  • The functional straps are designed to go easy on your back, shoulder, and neck.
    • Fewer inner pockets for compartmentalization
  • Has systematic pockets and compartments
    • Usually don’t have a hydration compartment
  • Have hydration compartments and is MOLLE compatible
    • Doesn’t have a detachable daypack
  • Certain bags have a detachable daypack
    • Made of fabric that are not very tough like a mix of cotton or synthetics
  • Made of ultra-strong nylon material and YKK-grade zippers that are long lasting
  • Tactical backpacks are undoubtedly the best way to lug your luggage – a boon if you love hands-free traveling!

    If you don’t already own one, it’s time to get one.


    2. What to look for when buying a tactical backpack?

    I believe the first question you ask yourself is - why do you need a tactical backpack? Once you know the purpose your bag will serve, choosing one is easy.

    In order to help you, here’s an ultimate lineup of everything you’ll want to know about tactical backpacks.

    a) Identify Your Storage Pattern

    Firstly, you need to have a fair idea of what gear you want to carry. So, if you’re going to carry your backpack to school every day, then you don't need as much as space as you would if you were heading out on a 4-day trek.

    Unlike traditional backpacks with a quick access front pocket and a giant empty space for all your belongings, tactical backpacks have many storage slots and pockets.

    The storage scheme of a tactical backpack allows you to keep things like your pens, notepads, hard drives, and batteries separately. Multiple pockets of all shapes and sizes may sound great, but again it’ll depend on what you will want to carry.

    Hence, it would be best to keep a list of things handy while you’re backpack shopping. This way you’ll be able to match your list of things against the pockets and pouches available.

    b) Determine the length of your trip

    12-hour tactical backpack: 

    Ideally these backpacks need to be lightweight, comfortable on your shoulders, and easy to carry. They work really well as a daily-use bag for school or work, and are also perfect for a day hike.

    With ample storage space, you have enough room to organize all your things without getting overly complicated. Also, the hydration pack will ensure you stay hydrated at all times.

    24-hour tactical backpack: 

    If you’re looking to travel for a few days, a 24-hour / multi-day backpack is what you’ll need. This will allow you to pack your clothes as well as all the gear you need.

    Most 24-hour tactical bags will provide you with a laptop compartment, hydration compartment, and strategically arranged storage pouches. The smartly placed pockets, compartments, and external straps give you extensive space to neatly organize your gear both inside and outside of your backpack.

    These backpacks are great for airplane travel, day trips, overnight packs, and sometimes 2-night trips.

    With a little careful planning and self-discipline, you can pull off a backpack that feels light on your feet.

    72-hour tactical backpack: 

    Owning a 72-hour tactical backpack will give you the confidence you need to take off on any adventure trip. These packs are slightly larger; it can accommodate a sleeping bag and a 4-season tent, perfect for any extended trip of five nights or longer.

    These military backpacks are engineered to handle any extreme situation. They are sturdy, water-repellent, and provide generous storage space. The most critical aspects of these backpacks are the level of comfort and quick access they provide.

    You can customize your bag with a wide range of additional components including, a medical kit, extra compartments, pouches, detachable daypacks, and more.

    You get the absolute freedom to create a bag that fits your personal style and need!

    c) Backpack Capacity

    Depending on your storage needs and length of your trip you can pick a suitable backpack.

    For a day trip, a 24-hour / 30-liter backpack is optimal. The 30-liter backpack will easily accommodate your daytime gear, including food and water. In case you have more luggage, you’ll need something bigger. However, if you need even more space you should check out a multiday or a 72-hour pack.

    d) Choose a well-fitted backpack

    While purchasing a backpack, make sure you buy one that fits you properly. The backpack you purchase needs to match your height, snugly fit your torso and waist length.

    Torso length: 

    this is the distance between the vertebrae at the base of your neck to the top of your hip bone. In order to measure, you can start at the bump at the base of your neck and measure all the way down your rib cage to your hip bones.

    There is a size inconsistency across backpack brands, which is why you’ll have to check your torso length and purchase a backpack that suits you.

    If you can't find a backpack to match your size, then buy one with an adjustable suspension.

    This is great because you can modify the suspension to properly fit your torso. The only drawback here is that it adds extra weight to your pack.

    Waist size: 

    Ideally most of your backpack's weight should be supported by your hips. Find a pack that correctly fits your waist.

    Waist straps also secure your backpack and offer the stability you need while hiking, walking, or even riding a motorbike. To get maximum benefit and not strain your shoulders or neck, ensure your hip belt fits comfortably.

    e) Look out for these essential features

    A grab handle / reinforced carry handles: You will need a tough grab handle to minimize the risk of tearing the handle off the bag. An ideal grab handle must provide you with a fitting grip.

    If your backpack has only one grab handle on the top and you want a couple more on the sides, you can buy additional web-compatible grab handles and fix it. This will help you easily haul your backpack from any side.

    Also, in situations where your backpack feels heavy on your back, you can use these attachable, MOLLE compatible grab handles to carry your pack in your hand, like a handbag.

    Load Lifters Straps:

    These are the straps that connect the top of the back panel of the backpack to the top of the shoulder harness. Ideally, this strap needs to be at a 45-degree angle towards the backpack.

    Make sure they fit well. Don’t tighten these straps too much because initially, it might feel great but over time it will become uncomfortable and might even pinch your shoulder.

    Load Control Shoulder Straps: 

    Having the correct load control shoulder straps is absolutely essential. These straps need to wrap around your shoulder snugly. Well-padded shoulder straps prevent sore spots.

    Neither should your shoulder straps be too loose nor too tight. If it’s loose it will cause strain and fatigue over time. And, if it’s tight, it will stress your shoulder, neck, and upper-back.

    Also, make sure the anchor points of your shoulder straps are one to two inches below your shoulder blades. If it is not, then your hip belt is at not the right level and your pack’s torso length is incorrect.

    We recommend you to purchase backpacks that have an air mesh, sleeve pockets, and D-rings on your padded shoulder straps, as this would be an added advantage to have.

    Chest or Sternum Strap: 

    A sternum strap keeps the shoulder straps from pulling apart or falling off. It gives you the much-needed stability and freedom to move, especially on rough terrains.

    The strap also takes the pressure off your shoulders and helps evenly distribute the load. To experience maximum comfort, ensure this strap is approximately an inch below your collarbones.

    Padded back panel: 

    As your back and abdominal muscles are used to support the weight of your backpack, a padded or cushioned back panel will give you a lot of relief while carrying the pack.

    The foam back panel not only takes the shape of your back ensuring no back pain but also protects you from sharp objects inside your pack.

    Most importantly, the cushioned back panel allows air to travel between the backpack and your back. The ventilation reduces the amount of sweat making your backpacking experience comfortable.

    Side Compression Straps: 

    Side compression straps help in compressing the volume of your pack. It brings the pack closer to your body and also helps in keeping all your belongings in place.

    Before packing loosen the compression straps of your backpack. Organize your luggage and distribute the weight evenly. After you have completed packing the bag, tighten the compression straps.

    If you’re attaching more gear under the compression straps like a water bottle, snowshoes, sleeping pads, or a tent, ensure you carry the same weight on your left and right sides. Uneven distribution of weight in your backpack will strain on your back and shoulder muscles.

    Zippers: 

    You need to pay special attention to your pack’s zippers. Make sure they are solid and strong. Low-quality zippers break/tear and leave your gear exposed.

    YKK industrial thick zippers and zipper tracks are what you want. A majority of industrial zippers have self-healing attributes: they retain their original form when moved back and forth, which is perfect for rough use.

    Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment (MOLLE): 

    MOLLE is a load carrying system used by the military. This system has improved the way in which soldiers can carry and quickly access their gear.

    Designed for rough use in extreme circumstances, the MOLLE gear is lightweight, water resistant, durable, and cannot be easily ripped off of the equipment.

    It offers several external attachment points including, pockets, webbing straps or gear loops to attach a wide range of gear to your backpack.

    The pockets or compartments make it easy to organize your things like pockets in your hip belt can accommodate small items like a phone.

    You not only save space inside your bag but also get quick access to your gear.

    Using the MOLLE system you could attach your trekking pole, ice axe, helmet, rope, first aid kit, and more outside your backpack, within your immediate reach.

    Hydration / Hydration bladder or compartment:

    MOLLE compatible backpacks come with a hassle-free hydration system. This convenient on-the-move hydration pack is a water reservoir, allowing you to hydrate on the move.

    You can enjoy hands-free access to water. Most tactical backpacks are designed to hold a 3-liter hydration bladder. We recommend you to purchase a 3-liter hydration bladder, as they don’t weigh much when empty and you don’t have to fill it up all the way. It’s better to have a larger bladder than a small one.

    The only drawback here is that hydration bladders are expensive and slightly heavier than the water bottles.

    Sleeping bag: 

    Use a compression sack to cut the size of your sleeping back and pack it. If you don’t have space for your sleeping bag inside your backpack, you can attach it to the bottom of your pack. Use chords or compression straps to affix your sleeping bag.

    Removable Daypack: 

    This is a detachable frameless pack from the main backpack. It is built to hold a day’s worth of gear.

    Ideally, the size of a daypack is 600 cubic inches to 2,500 cubic inches. Some backpacks give you the option to convert your daypack into a hip belt pack.

    Rain cover: 

    A tactical backpack is water resilient and not 100% waterproof. It’ll survive a splash of water but not heavy rain. If you expect rain or prolonged exposure to snow on your trip, carrying a rain cover that envelopes your pack will be a good idea.

    f) Material of the backpack

    Unlike regular backpacks, a tactical backpack is not made using synthetics, canvas, or a mix of cotton. It is crafted for minimal wear and tear and built using nylon, polyester or Cordura. Backpacks made of these materials are highly durable and can withstand heavy load.


    Cordura:

    Designed by Dupont, Cordura is a fabric that is forged by using a high-tenacity fiber technology.

    Cordura has been the most preferred fabric for the manufacturing of high-performance gear. It is abrasion resistant and also the most favored fabric for the US Army combat uniforms.

    So, you can imagine the quality you can expect.

    You'll want to know that Cordura Nylon is different from Cordura. These backpacks are extremely light and tough. However, the drawback is that the weave in Cordura Nylon is comparatively bigger, making it less water resilient.

    Polyester:

    Polyester is a great material but it is not as tough as nylon. Tactical backpacks made of polyester are affordable. You can choose from multiple color options.

    The only drawback is that backpacks made of polyester may not be very sturdy or long lasting.

    Nylon:

    This is the most popular fabric used. It is strong, light to carry, water resilient, and resists tear. Nylon can withstand abrasion and tear because it comprises of a sturdy diagonal weave.

    Rip-stop Cordura, nylon or polyester:

    This fabric has diamond-shaped or box patterns, creating a grid-like system. This grid-like system makes the backpack extremely sturdy. Even if you manage to make a hole in your backpack, it won’t expand and rip off. This is even better than regular nylon or polyester.

    Almost all tactical backpacks are made of rip-stop fabric. This gives your pack added protection as it won’t wither easily. It has excellent waterproofing and is light to carry.

    When you read the specifications of your backpack, you might also see numbers like 650 Denier, 1000D or 1000 Denier. Basically, Denier is a unit of measurement that determines the thickness of individual threads in a fabric.

    Higher the denier count, more durable and tough the material. Backpacks made of 600D and higher are recommended, anything with a low denier count will tend to wear away quickly.


    3. Here are some brands to consider:

    5.11 Tactical:

    5.11 Tactical backpacks are great, they offer several storage options, made of 1000 denier water and abrasion resistant nylon, self-healing YKK zippers, and plenty of MOLLE webbing.

    Some backpacks also have dual compression straps giving you extra stability to brave through any terrain you might encounter. They have a separate and well-secured compartment for the hydration bladder.

    If your hydration bladder bursts due to an unforeseen circumstance, the drainage grommet will help you drain the water from the pack, not allowing your things to get wet.

    You can get these very useful, highly popular, durable backpacks under $200.

    Maxpedition:

    Maxpedition backpacks are highly durable, constructed using 1050-Denier nylon. It can pretty much hold up to any tough conditions that happen to come its way.

    However, they look comparatively smaller, don’t underestimate it. It can actually carry a lot more than you think. You’ll just have to pack wisely.

    With a variety of compartments, plenty of storage space, and quality construction, this is a pack that is worth the investment. If you are carrying a Maxpedition, rest assured that your pack will be the least of your worry.

    It is a great choice if you’re looking for a well-structured backpack for day-long activities.

    Hazard4:

    These are superb compact backpacks with a really good design. They are engineered to look slim and get in and out of tight spots.

    Hazard4 backpacks are not ideal for a family but it’s great for a single person to comfortably pack his/her belongings. The MOLLE straps on the backpack help in customizing the backpack as per your needs.

    Manufactured to give you maximum comfort these backpacks have cushioned panels on the back that not only keep your gear from digging into you but also keep the air flowing across your back.

    Hazard4 backpacks are not cheap, but certainly are worth the money.

    Snugpak:

    You can buy a 40-liter Snugpak and still expect it to be lighter than the others mentioned here. It has a top-loading design made of abrasion-resistant 600-denier nylon. The MOLLE webbing on the outside helps you expand the bag.

    A few excellent features of these backpacks are the VELCRO® strips, padded shoulder straps with an adjustable sternum strap, hydration compartment, and a waist strap that can be hidden.

    The only drawback is that the hydration sleeve is placed inside the main compartment and is hard to get it in or out of the backpack when it’s full.

    However, Snugpaks are ideal for those who need highly sturdy but super light backpacks.

    Red Rock Gear:

    These packs are constructed using 600 Denier polyester and PVC lining. The PVC lining makes the hydration pack water resistant and adds to the overall structure of the backpack.

    These backpacks have ventilated padded back panel and a fully adjustable contoured padded shoulder strap with plastic D-rings for external attachments.

    You can stay hydrated at all times on your journey as a hydration bladder can be placed in the hydration compatible sleeve with port holes for routing the hydration hose.

    One deficiency in this pack is that it lacks a waist strap. Nonetheless, these are good backpacks you can buy.


    4. Conclusion

    Here’s a quick rundown for you:

    • Choose a backpack that fits your shoulder, torso, and waist size
    • Check for proper padding on the back panel, waist, and shoulder straps
    • Pick a size that can accommodate all your belongings
    • Make sure it has storage compartments for all your gear
    • Ensure you have an adequate hydration bladder
    • Finally, pack smartly and distribute your load evenly

    As a backpacker, you'll face multiple challenges dealing with the unexpected. So why would you want to challenge yourself unnecessarily with an ill-fitting backpack?

    Travelling is much more fun when you have enough space to store and carry your things.

    Backpack manufacturers regularly come up with a variety of packs, various designs, sizes, configurations, and everything else. Rather than just buying any regular backpack, buy one that absolutely suits your needs.

    It’s only natural that when you buy an expensive high-quality backpack, you’ll want to use it on several occasions. For that reason, tactical backpacks are perfect for your everyday use as well as adventure trips.

    With a tactical backpack, all your items can be stored away in specific places. It’s almost like a shelf at home, where everything has its own place.

    When packed properly, these backpacks allow you to experience maximum convenience while meeting your movement needs. Built to last and endure extreme conditions, tactical backpacks are the ultimate solution to carrying your luggage.

    Own a tactical backpack with multi-functional features and revolutionize the way you travel.