A tactical backpack can be used for everyday carry or as an emergency bug-out-bag when you need to get out of Dodge quick. It’s a backpack that is designed to be practical and tough, and of course, comfortable when carrying heavy loads.
Most military backpacks come with a Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS for short), so that you can attach more pouches, bags, and slings (a.k.a. Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, or MOLLE).
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- Our Top Picks for the Best Tactical Backpacks and Sling Backpacks
- What 10 items you might want in your survival backpack
- Why you need a tactical backpack in the first place
- What to look for when buying your first (or next) tactical backpack
Best Tactical Backpacks Reviewed in this Post
- Best Tactical Backpacks
- Best Budget Tactical Backpacks
- Best Tactical Sling Backpacks
The 5.11 Rush 24 Military Backpack is arguably the top performing tactical backpack on the market. If you are looking for a bug out bag or EDC pack, don’t dismiss it right away because of the tag – many people have found that the value of this backpack more than justifies the price. Here are some reasons why:
This backpack contains roughly 29 different storage compartments of all different sizes to help you organize and separate your gear. In addition to a roomy main storage area, the pack comes with a 60 ounce hydration reservoir pocket and port (you’ll have to buy the hydration bladder separately), a fleece-lined eyewear pocket, three mesh admin compartments, a hook and loop area for patches, dual side pockets, and a stuff-it pocket with an integrated draw cord. What’s more, it is compatible with any standard MOLLE add-ons and comes with a wrap-around PALS web platform.
In addition to the durable fabric that makes up the shell of this backpack, the Rush 24 is made with self-repairing YKK zippers (possibly the best zipper brand in the world), which means that if they don’t close right for some reason, you can simply unzip the compartment and then zip it again and the zipper should work properly.
While not waterproof, the backpack is covered in a water-repellent coating to help keep water out. Of course, if you do happen to fall in a stream or drop your pack in a lake, there are two drainage grommets located on the base of the backpack that would allow for the water to exit. These “air holes” also help to maintain a dry interior, which reduces the chance that mold or mildew will take hold and thus increases the longevity of the bag.
Stability & Comfort
The contoured yoke shoulder straps help to ensure that the weight of the pack sits comfortably over your shoulders. The shape of these straps is intended to fit the shape of your body better than other backpacks that come with straight straps, and as a result, the 5.11 Rush 24 does not add extra weight in a waist strap. If you need extra stability or flexibility, these straps can be tightened or loosened, and there is also a sternum strap that adjusts to your preferences. Finally, the pack also includes a “grab-and-go” handle on the top as an additional carry option.
This backpack comes with two compression straps, one on each side, which will tighten and make your load more secure if needed. While the Rush 24 would benefit from an additional pair of compression straps, the manufacturer has angled these straps to aid in pulling the pack together and compressing the weight.
With a 37-liter capacity, we believe the 5.11 Rush 24 Tactical Backpack is the best edc backpack available, and that’s why it is our Top Pick for the best overall tactical backpack.
The Maxpedition Falcon II Tactical Bag is another beast of a bag comparable to the 5.11 Rush 24. It has multiple storage areas, including a large, main compartment that unzips almost completely, like a suitcase. It also has a roomy secondary compartment, an upper front pouch, and a lower and larger front pouch – all of which contain inner pockets, hooks, loops, and sleeves.
Also, like any good tactical bag, the Falcon II is equipped with the standard external PALS webbing to fit any modular lightweight load-carrying equipment (MOLLE) you might want to include on your pack. And the designers of this backpack have not forgotten a separate compartment in the back of the bag for a hydration reservoir. (Yes, it does come with a port for the tube, but you will have to buy the water bladder separately….)
Needless to say, this backpack is tough. Its sturdy and rigid design holds up well to tough use due to the 1050D nylon with which it is made. Not only does this fabric repel water, but it is abrasion-resistant as well.
Stability, Comfort, and Compressibility
The shoulder straps on the Falcon II are both padded and adjustable, and unlike the Rush 24, this backpack includes a sternum strap AND a waist strap, for maximum stability during long treks.
What’s more, it has an additional pair of compression straps on the sides, making four in total, with two straps on the bottom and a Y-strap on the top. Not only will these straps compress and stabilize your gear, they will also provide additional storage space for things such as tents, sleeping pads, towels, or simply a rolled up sweatshirt or jacket.
This particular version of the Maxpedition tactical backpack holds approximately 25 liters and comes in at a price similar to the 5.11 Rush 24. Due to its smaller size, we have chosen this pack as our Runner Up for the best tactical backpack, but with the extra compression straps, waist support, and compartment set-up, you might find that this pack is the best choice for you.
Best Budget Tactical Backpacks
The Reebow Gear Military Backpack contains most of the features and similar quality of the higher-end backpacks, but at a much lower price. This backpack has a similar design as the Maxpedition with a large and small storage compartment, and an upper and lower pouch. Throughout the pack are numerous pockets and loops, along with the essential MOLLE webbing, and a strap for a laptop in one of the large compartments.
Furthermore, this tactical backpack is compatible with most hydration packs (sold separately, of course), but unfortunately there is no dedicated hydration tube port if the bladder is stored inside the backpack. Still, you could easily store the water pack inside the pack and pull the tube through the dual zipper (leaving the backpack just slightly open). On the other hand, the water bag could also be stored on the outside against your back in the large, unzippered pouch.
The Reebow tactical backpack includes heavy duty zippers with pull cords, along with durable velcro and tough, plastic clips. Like the competition, this backpack repells water and has small eyelets on the bottom to reduce internal moisture or to drain the pack if necessary.
Stability, Comfort, and Compressibility
This backpack also comes with ventilated and padded shoulder straps and back pad. The adjustable shoulder straps are curved to fit comfortably over your shoulders and chest without pinching. It also includes a waist strap, which is removable if you find that it gets in the way.
Although this tactical backpack does not come with a Y-strap, it features two pairs of compression straps on the sides, along with a third pair on the bottom, all of which work together to keep your load stable, compact, and secure.
At 40 liters, this military backpack offers a high quality product for a much lower price than 5.11 and Maxpedition. It would make for a great every day carry pack, range bag, or bug out bag, and it is estimated to hold three days’ worth of supplies. What’s more, Reebow will include an American flag patch with your purchase.
Another badass rucksack, the Hannibal Tactical Molle Assault Pack comes with all kinds of different compartments, pockets, pouches, sleeves, hooks, and loops. With a primary compartment that opens like a suitcase, a secondary compartment containing mesh pockets and an elastic strap for a laptop or other large items, and two smaller compartments on the front, it’s unlikely you will run out space.
While the MOLLE loops may be spaced more closely than your standard PALS webbing, both sides and the front of the backpack are covered in loops to attach your additional MOLLE gear. Each pocket comes with two zippers and utility cord pulls, which are useful when wearing gloves. And, there is an additional, zippered storage area made just for a 3L hydration bladder and includes a port for the hydration tube.
The Hannibal Tactical Backpack is made with 600D Oxford fabric – a standard material used in outdoor gear, such as heavy duty camping chairs. This rugged material is both water-resistant and durable.
Stability, Comfort, and Compressibility
This backpack contains several features to help maintain a level of comfort, such as padded shoulder straps and a padded back pad. The waist, sternum, and shoulder straps are adjustable, too, but unfortunately, the waist strap does not come with any padding.
The Y-strap and buckle on the top of the bag offer additional storage space for a sweatshirt or light jacket, while also helping to compress the pack. There are two straps at the bottom as well, and two compression straps on either side.
The Hannibal Assault Pack comes with great value as a durable, comfortable, 36 liter tactical backpack. The package would also include a US flag patch, two d-ring clips, and a removable buckle loop, and one of the best advantages of this backpack is the 100% Satisfaction Guarantee and two-year warranty. If you want a dependable backpack at a great price, the Hannibal Assault Pack might just be the best tactical backpack for the money.
Best Tactical Sling Backpacks
If you prefer to access your backpack without having to remove it, then a tactical sling backpack might be the best thing for you. They provide similar storage and durability as regular tactical backpacks, with the added advantage that you can simply kneel and swing the pack around for rapid access.
The Gowara Gear Tactical Sling Backpack features an impressive number of compartments, including a large storage area and two zippered pockets on the front. Within the primary compartment, there are pockets and an elastic band for securing larger items. In the smaller, front pockets, there are small sleeves, clips, and pouches for organizing your gear and items however you prefer. Also, on the front there is a drop pouch for miscellaneous items, and on the back next to your body is an additional, open compartment with a snap strap that would be great for a small firearm, Kindle, or guidebook. Around the outside of the backpack, Gowara Gear has included MOLLE webbing, in addition to velcro and bungee straps.
This tactical sling backpack is also quite tough, being made from 600D polyester, like the Hannibal Tactical Assault Backpack above. And, it comes with heavy duty zippers and utility-style pull cords.
Stability, Comfort, and Compressibility
Many people prefer the comfort and fit of a sling backpack over a regular one, and the Gowara Gear Tactical Sling Backpack does not disappoint. It has an adjustable, single shoulder strap that is padded, along with a padded and breathable back. Also, it comes with two smaller straps that can be attached to the main sling for extra stability and to reduce sway when walking or running.
The designers included a single compression strap on either side of the backpack, in addition to a Y-strap on the top. A purchase of this backpack would include an American flag patch as well, and it would make a perfect gear bag for taking firearms to the range, for holding a camera, stand, and equipment, or for carrying your laptop, planner, and notebooks.
Another great product by Reebow Gear, this tactical sling backpack comes with plenty of storage space for a small everyday carry bag. The primary compartment contains a pocket with an elastic strap to secure a 9.7 iPad, for example, and an additional small pouch that can be zipped. The front of the backpack has two zippered pouches, one small and one large, and both of which contain other pockets and tension bands for organizing and securing miscellaneous items.
If you plan to add other MOLLE accessories, this sling pack has PALS webbing on the front and sides, as well as on the shoulder strap, and there is an additional pocket on the back that would be perfect for a handgun, and it comes with a large velcro patch and snapping strap for extra security.
Like their military tactical backpack, Reebow made this sling backpack out of durable material, using 600D polyester fabric. It includes heavy duty zippers and tough, plastic buckles and clips.
Stability, Comfort, and Compressibility
This tactical sling backpack has an adjustable and comfortable shoulder strap, along with two smaller straps which stablize the bag and help to prevent swaying. The only downside to the sling is that it is off-set slightly and prevents the bag from being worn on both shoulders.
As a smaller sling backpack, Reebow Gear did not include any compression straps. However, the bag is quite compact as it is and has several attachment points for a bungee cord if compression is absolutely necessary.
Jordan Jonas’ Essential Items for Survival
Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Tactical Backpack
Why You Should Buy One In The First Place
Tactical backpacks are designed to be used for a variety of situations, and because of this, they are perhaps the most practical type of backpack you will find.
Because of their storage capacity and durability, they are well-suited for camping, backpacking, and expeditions (and that’s why we like them so much), but they can also be used for every-day-carry backpacks, such as a work or gym bag, for carrying your books and laptop at school, for toting your guns and ammo to the range, or as a hunting backpack.
Another popular use of the tactical backpack is as a bug-out-bag. A lot of people like to have a survivalist backpack handy that has been filled with essential supplies and gear, so that if you are stranded or have to get out of Dodge in a hurry, you have everything you need right there. For the prepper, a tactical backpack is a great choice for its many compartments and MOLLE add-ons.
What’s Most Important In A Tactical Backpack?
To begin with, you want a backpack that has multiple compartments, pockets, pouches, hooks, and loops for organizing both small and large items you might need to carry. The best tactical backpack will have ways of securing loose items within each compartment. For example, the 5.11 Rush 24 has multiple pockets and velcro straps for keeping magazines secure when heading to the range, but these could just as easily be used for pencils or laptop cords.
Of course, you also want your tactical bag to hold all of your gear. While the backpacks reviewed in this post are not the largest ones out there, they should be sufficient to hold enough supplies for one person for 1-2 days, or maybe even three days. (If you are looking for a large tactical backpack, check out the 5.11 Rush72 or the Mardingtop 75L for extra large storage capacity.)
PALS & MOLLE Compatibility
If you are already familiar with military gear, you will know that MOLLE compatibility is a necessity when carrying your survival gear on your back. MOLLE stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, and it uses the Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS) to add pouches, bags, clips, and straps to your tactical backpack, so that it can be customized to your needs. When choosing your next tactical bag, make sure it is PALS & MOLLE compatible.
The last thing you want to check for is a hydration pouch, especially if you plan to use the backpack for hiking, trekking long distances, or as a bug-out-bag. While you probably have to purchase the hydration bladder separately, you want to note whether or not a pocket has been incorporated into the design of your backpack, or if it was simply added as an afterthought.
Look for a hydration tube port as well, especially if the designated pocket for the hydration reservoir is inside the backpack. (Why is this important? Well, having to keep the backpack slightly unzipped so that you can run the tube over your shoulder and drink when you need to is, simply put, a pain in the butt.)
A tactical backpack should be made of durable materials, since it will most likely be subject to extensive use (as an every-day-carry) and possibly harsh conditions (as in the wilderness). The Maxpedition Falcon II uses very tough 1050D nylon fabric, but if you decide to go with something else, I would recommend not going with anything lower than 600D.
Unfortunately, the level of denier rating will not guarantee that the backpack is waterproof. If you are worried about the contents of your backpack getting wet, look for backpacks that are water-resistant or come with a water repellent coating. You might also find our review on the Best Waterproof Backpack helpful.
As you might expect, finding a backpack that lasts will greatly depend on the quality of the zippers and seams. Look for seams that are reinforced and for zippers that are self-healing. A self-healing zipper is one that, when the teeth come apart, can be unzipped and then re-zipped as normal. In other words, the slider is designed in such a way that the zipper works in both directions.
Stability and Comfort
Naturally, you will want your bag to be stable and comfortable. Tactical backpacks can usually handle a lot of weight, but if you are trying them out at the store, you probably won’t be able to try them on with the amount of weight you will be carrying on the trail.
When backpacks carry significant weight, the shoulder straps tend to pinch toward the center of your chest. Additionally, if the straps are not padded or shaped to the contour of your body, they can become quite uncomfortable.
The highest quality tactical backpacks will include some kind of waist support, such as a padded waist strap. Even if the waist strap is not padded, it can add substantial support and help to stabilize the load of the backpack.
The highest quality tactical backpacks will include some kind of waist support, such as a padded waist strap.
Some backpacks will include a sternum strap as well, and if you are a woman, the sternum strap may increase your discomfort rather than reduce it. In this case, a waist strap would be ideal.
If you are planning to purchase a tactical sling backpack, you will want to ensure that it comes with waist straps for stability. Typically removable, these straps can help reduce the bounce and swing of a sling backpack when you are moving.
Due to their large capacity and multiple compartments, tactical backpacks will often come with compression straps to tighten up the load and make the weight of the backpack more compact.
This is especially important if you expect to be moving quickly, over variable terrain, or for long distances while wearing the backpack, since the compression straps help to move the bag’s center of gravity closer to your natural center, in your torso. Without compression straps, it might feel as if the backpack is loose and floppy, and it will be more awkward to wear.
You may find that some backpacks have only one pair of straps on the sides, but the better backpacks will have several – some on the sides and bottom, and possibly some on the top.
A common compression strap that you might find is the Y-strap, which can double as an extra storage space on top of the backpack for a rolled-up jacket or tarp.
Other Things to Consider
In addition to the utility, durability, comfort, and stability of your next tactical backpack, you may also want to consider the size and color.
Tactical backpacks come in many sizes, but the most common are these:
- Small: 20-30 liters (1 day of supplies and gear for one person)
- Medium: 30-50 liters (2-3 days of supplies and gear)
- ✈ fits well in the overhead compartment on an airplane ✈
- Large: 50-80 liters (3 days and up to a week)
The majority of tactical backpacks come in either black or khaki, with the rest usually in gray or camouflage. The color you choose for your tactical backpack may be purely a style statement. However, you might choose the color based on how the bag will be used. For example, if you plan to use it mostly for hunting, then camo might be the best option.
Making A Final Decision
In this review of the best tactical backpacks and best tactical sling backpacks, we have considered: the capacity of the backpack and what kinds of storage compartments you should look for (Utility); the durability of the materials, zippers, and seams (Durability); the straps and support integrated into the design of the backpack (Stability & Comfort); and the ability to compress the backpack if needed (Compressibility).
Taking all these factors into consideration, I recommend the 5.11 Rush24 as the best tactical backpack for its toughness, large capacity and numerous compartments, and the quality of its design. If you want a tactical backpack you can depend on for years to come, I would choose the Rush 24.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or feedback about any of these backpacks, let me know below. And, I’d love to hear about any other tactical backpacks you have tried!
More Resources from Explore New Trails
- Best Snake Boots for the Wilderness
- Top 5 Best Backpack Coolers
- Top 5 Best Waterproof Tents
- Best Waterproof Backpack
- Best Camping Mess Kits for Hungry Hikers
- Tips for Camping with Kids: Family, Fun, & Safety
- The Benefits of Outdoor Exercise and How to Get Started
- How to Plan a Backpacking Trip
- Choosing the Right Hiking Clothes for Safety and Enjoyment