7 Tougher-Than-Hell Military-Inspired Backpacks
Last Updated March, 2018: We’ve updated our guide to the best tactical backpacks with additional picks. Prices and links have also been updated.
Once it’s declassified, advanced military technology tends to drip down into civilian goods. It’s how we got GPS, the internet and the Jeep. But the relationship goes both ways, with innovative outdoor products and materials influencing what the military uses overseas.
The tactical backpack exists on a spectrum that covers outdoor-specific and everyday use. Like the warzone-ready backpacks worn by servicemen around the globe, today’s military-inspired backpacks are tougher-than-hell, and have organizational features that go far beyond the capabilities of ordinary backpacks. Heavyweight reinforced nylon, weatherproofing capabilities, MOLLE webbing and earth tone colors are common themes in these crossover bags. There’s no tougher catch-all for all the things you carry throughout your day.
Additional contribution by John Zientek, Michael Finn and Tanner Bowden.
Editor’s Pick: GORUCK GR1
Nearly ten years ago, ex-special forces soldier Jason McCarthy founded GORUCK with the simple conviction that he could build a backpack unlike any that existed at the time. He wanted a backpack that would be ideal for serviceman fighting overseas and commuters heading in for a day at the office. His answer was the GR1 Rucksack, a backpack that has become the standard-bearer for military-inspired everyday bags. The GR1 blends commuter-friendly features such as a padded laptop compartment and interior organizing pockets with a tough, take-anything construction. The pack has a plastic backing plate and a false bottom for extra protection and its weatherproof exterior seals up with silent zippers. The GR1 is also equipped with MOLLE webbing on the face and straps, and a velcro hit for your favorite patch.
Volume: 21 or 26 liters
Weight: 3.2 lbs
Materials: 1000-denier Cordura nylon
Best Lightweight Tactical Pack: Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O.
Suspension, haul, access, durability, organized — these are the guiding design standards that Prometheus Design Werx applied to the S.H.A.D.O. (hence its acronym-style moniker). The pack leans more toward technical outdoor than tactical, but it’s not without fundamental military-inspired features such as strap-mounted MOLLE webbing and an oversized velcro panel for patches. The S.H.A.D.O. is filled with small features that make it a great everyday and adventure pack — a laptop sleeve, hydration compatibility, an external bungee for securing gear — but it’s useful component might be a massive, top-to-bottom zip opening into its main compartment.
Volume: 28 liters
Weight: 2.7 lbs
Materials: 500-denier Cordura nylon
Best Bug-Out Bag: 5.11 Tactical RUSH72
The “72” in its name refers to “72-hour capacity” — often considered the benchmark for standard bug-out bags. With its two side pockets and front admin pocket, it’ll hold three or more days of food, water, shelter and assorted survival tools. The front admin pocket neatly organizes smaller goods, and a sleeve tucked away in the main compartment holds a large hydration bladder.
Volume: 55 liters
Weight: 4 lbs
Materials: 1000-denier nylon
Best Everyday Backpack: Triple Aught Design FAST Pack Litespeed
At its core, the FAST Pack Litespeed is an exceptionally versatile everyday backpack. Its versatility is owed mostly to its size (light, compact) and its organizational features. It is loaded to the brim with pockets. But the MOLLE webbing isn’t just for show; Triple Aught Designs makes a wide variety of modular attachments, allowing you to further specialize the pack according to your everyday needs.
Volume: 22 liters
Weight: 3.8 lbs
Materials: 1000-denier Cordura nylon
Best Weekend Backpack: Mystery Ranch 3 Day Assault
The 3 Day Assault is the perfect pack for going off-grid. Made in the USA, its three-zip design allows easy access to your gear at a moment’s notice, and internal sleeves can integrate up to three hydration reservoirs. Side webbing allows for integration of a range of accessories, and the Futura Frame system keeps your back feeling great after long days on the trail.
Volume: 30 liters
Weight: 4.6 lbs
Materials: 500-denier Cordura
Best Dry Bag: Arc’teryx LEAF DryPack 25
Built to be a maritime Spec Ops companion, the DryPack 25 is totally waterproof and has two MOLLE panels, inside and out, for the assortment of modular pouches. Jutting out from the shell is a small black tube which, when thrown in water, is used to manually inflate the pack into a lifesaver.
Volume: 25 liters
Materials: URETEK 725-denier HT Cordura
Best Hydration Pack: Camelbak MilTac M.U.L.E
With just two simple pockets, the MilTac M.U.L.E is a dead-simple hydration pack built for fast missions. It holds a 3-liter hydration bladder; the lower pocket’s low-profile MOLLE panel accepts a few small modular pouches, and the suspension system, which stays snug on your back, can be rapidly removed using the side-release buckle.
Volume: 8 liters
Weight: 1.8 lbs
Materials: 500-denier nylon
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