Best Tactical Backpacks

Updated August 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

22 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
118 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best tactical backpacks

Last Updated August 2019

Anyone who enjoys outdoor activities that require traveling know just how important it is to have a good bag to carry all of your supplies. While a classic backpack may seem like the best option — allowing you to carry your gear hands-free — it usually isn’t durable or large enough to work for every outdoor excursion. That’s why a tactical backpack is an ideal alternative: It’s tough and spacious enough for nearly any outdoor activity you have in mind.

A tactical backpack is designed to be highly functional for military personnel, first responders, and law enforcement officers, enabling them to easily access their equipment and accessories when out in the field. Featuring a variety of compartments to help organize supplies, tactical backpacks are a popular option for civilians as well, particularly campers, hikers, fishermen, and hunters.

But if you want a bag that works for all your outdoor trips, you have to find a tactical backpack that suits your particular needs. That means deciding what material, weight, capacity, loading design, and other features best suit your purposes.

Pack items that you need easy access to in your tactical backpack’s exterior compartments so you won’t have to open the pack to reach them.

Key Considerations

Material
Tactical backpacks are made of extremely strong, durable materials, so they can withstand the elements. Here are some common fabric options for tactical backpacks:

  • Canvas is the old-school tactical backpack fabric. While it’s highly durable, canvas isn’t always water-resistant and can be extremely heavy. If you prefer natural materials, however, canvas can be a good option.

  • Polyester is a synthetic material, but it’s often stronger than canvas. While it doesn’t absorb water like canvas does, polyester can let water through its weave so the items inside your backpack may get wet during a rainstorm. When wet, polyester typically takes longer to dry than the other varieties listed here.

  • Nylon is an extremely durable, lightweight material. It resists water well and dries quickly, but it tears more easily than other options.

  • Ripstop nylon is a thicker, more durable type of nylon that doesn’t tear or rip easily. It’s still lightweight, though, so it doesn’t add any unnecessary bulk to your backpack.

  • Ballistic nylon is another thick, highly durable type of nylon that is even more resistant to tears, rips, and punctures, but it’s usually heavier than ripstop nylon.


Weight
The weight of a tactical backpack is a very important feature to consider, especially for those who plan to use it for long periods at a time. In general, tactical backpacks are heavier than standard packs because they’re larger and offer more compartments. And a tactical backpack is only going to get heavier once you add your gear, so you want as lightweight a model as you can find to make sure you can move quickly and easily while wearing it.

For easiest maneuvering, opt for a tactical backpack that weighs approximately 5 to 6 pounds.

Front-loading vs. top-loading tactical backpacks
Tactical backpacks allow you to add items through either an opening in the front of the pack or an opening at the top of the pack.

Most travelers find that front-loading bags make it easier access to your gear and supplies. If you’re concerned about organizing your supplies, a front-loading tactical backpack is usually your best bet.

Top-loading tactical backpacks often weigh less because they have fewer compartments. If you want to make sure your bag isn’t too heavy, you’ll probably prefer a top-loading pack.

EXPERT TIP

If your tactical backpack is looking a little drab, personalize it by adding fun patches to the exterior.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tactical backpack features

Capacity
A tactical backpack should have enough storage space for all of your gear and supplies. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the larger a pack, the heavier it will be, making it more cumbersome to carry, and potentially slowing you down.

Backpack capacity is typically measured in liters. In general, you should choose a tactical backpack based on how long you plan to travel with it.

If you are only using your pack for day trips, choose a model with a 20- to 35-liter capacity.

For trips that will last a few days, a tactical backpack with a 40- to 50-liter capacity is your best bet.

For three to five day trips, choose a backpack with a 50- to 70-liter capacity.

Compartments
A tactical backpack should have plenty of pockets and compartments for storing your supplies. In addition to the main interior compartment, you’ll likely want a pack that features both interior and exterior pockets in a variety of sizes. In most cases, the more compartments or pockets that a tactical backpack has, the easier it will be to organize your gear and find items when you need them.

Water resistance
A tactical backpack should hold up well when you’re trekking through the elements. In particular, you want to be sure that your bag can withstand rain, snow, and even the occasional splash from a lake, river, or ocean.

Some fabrics used for tactical backpacks are more water-resistant than others. If you’re keen to prevent the items inside from getting wet, choose a model with an exterior that’s treated with a water-repellent coating.
 

MOLLE webbing
A common feature of authentic tactical backpacks is modular lightweight load-carrying equipment (MOLLE) webbing. This webbed system allows you to attach a variety of pouches, pockets, and other accessories to the exterior of your backpack for additional storage options.

The MOLLE webbing system allows you to customize your backpack for specific trips, so if you’re going to be traveling for longer than usual and need a few more exterior compartments on your pack, you can attach some pouches to the MOLLE webbing and be on your way.

MOLLE webbing is typically standard among tactical backpack manufacturers, so if you purchase a backpack with MOLLE webbing from one brand, you can usually connect pouches and other add-ons from another brand without any difficulty.
 

Hydration System
Some tactical backpacks feature a design that allows for compatibility with a hydration system, which usually consists of some type of bladder that you fill with water and hoses, allowing you to drink on the go without taking off your backpack.

A compatible pack has a compartment to place the bladder, hose ports, and routing for the hoses. Some tactical backpacks include the bladder, while others require you to purchase it separately.
 

Color
Because tactical backpacks are inspired by military gear, they usually come in neutral colors that won’t stand out when you’re outdoors. Most packs are available in black, tan, gray, army green, and brown. Packs that blend these colors in a camouflage print are also available.

DID YOU KNOW?

Some tactical backpacks include a rain hood to help protect it from inclement weather.

Tactical backpack prices

Tactical backpacks usually vary in price based on the material, capacity, and the number of compartments. Most models cost between $18 and $200.

Inexpensive: The most affordable tactical backpacks cost between $18 and $55. They are usually made of polyester or canvas, offer less than 20 liters in storage capacity, and only have a few compartments. They typically don’t have MOLLE webbing or a setup for a hydration system either, but they’re a good option for day trips.

Mid-range: Tactical backpacks that are made of basic nylon, offer a storage capacity between 20 and 40 liters, and a variety of compartments range in price from $55 to $110. They typically feature MOLLE webbing and a hydration system setup. These packs are a good option if you frequently take weekend trips.

Expensive: The most expensive tactical backpacks cost between $110 and $200. They’re usually made of durable nylon like ripstop or ballistic, offer a storage capacity of 40 liters or more, and feature a large number of compartments in a variety of sizes. These packs are ideal for anyone planning to travel for three or more days at a time.

EXPERT TIP

If you’re concerned about having a waterproof backpack, avoid canvas bags because it’s a difficult material to waterproof.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • When you’re packing your tactical backpack, take the ratio between your body weight and the weight of the pack into account. Most people shouldn’t carry more than 25% of their body weight in their pack.

  • Pack items in your tactical backpack according to their weight. Heavier items should be at the bottom, while mid-weight items should go in the middle and lighter items should be placed on top.

  • Centering your tactical backpack on your upper back provides the best balance as you’re moving and helps reduce back and shoulder pain.

  • To keep your tactical backpack in good condition, clean it after every trip. In most cases, you’ll only need to spot clean the exterior with water and mild dish soap and vacuum out the interior.

Others Products We Considered

The 5.11 RUSH12 Tactical Assault Molle Backpack works well if you’re looking for a bag to help you stay organized on a day trip. It’s made of water-resistant nylon, has a 24-liter capacity, and offers 16 individual compartments to make it easy to find all of your items.

We also like the Direct Action Dragon Egg Tactical Backpack because it’s large enough to take on a weekend trip and features MOLLE webbing that allows you to customize the pack to suit your needs. It’s also extremely lightweight, so it won’t slow you down when you’re on the move.

You can save space inside a tactical backpack by packing some items inside others. For example, you might put your plates and utensils in the pot you plan to cook in.

FAQ

Q. What can I use a tactical backpack for?
A.
Because they’re designed to be lightweight and spacious, tactical backpacks work well for nearly any outdoor activity that requires you to carry gear. You’ll likely find a tactical backpack extremely useful for camping, hiking, fishing, and hunting. But these bags work just well if you simply need a large, easy-to-organize backpack for everyday use.
 

Q. Can I use a tactical backpack to carry a laptop or tablet?
A.
Tactical backpacks aren’t meant for carrying electronic equipment like a laptop. However, if you purchase a large enough tactical backpack, you can probably fit your computer or tablet inside for travel. Just be sure to pad the laptop by surrounding it with softer items in case you drop the bag.
 

Q. What type of MOLLE accessories can I attach to a tactical backpack?
A.
Each brand makes different MOLLE accessories that can be added to a tactical backpack. A medical kit, wallet, flashlight holder, pen holder, holster or rifle sleeve, and glove pouch are some options you may want to consider.

The team that worked on this review
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Kailey
    Kailey
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Steph
    Steph
    Web Producer

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