Are Tactical Backpacks Worth It?

Tactical backpacks are different, in many ways, from typical civilian bags and packs. To be suitable for everyday carry (EDC), outdoor applications, or first aid, a backpack needs to offer versatility, ruggedness, and increased capacity, all without sacrificing comfort. But are the differences really that significant? Let’s find out. 

Tactical Backpacks — Are They Worth It?

Yes, they are. Compared with civilian backpacks, tactical backpacks are durable, provide multiple storage compartments, and are MOLLE compatible, allowing you to attach accessories for increased capacity.

Overall, tactical backpacks are worth it if you need a high-performance bag for hunting, hiking, camping, or travel.

What is a Tactical Backpack?

Before exploring whether tactical backpacks are worth it, it’s worth asking, “What is a tactical backpack?” The first definition of the word “tactical,” according to Merriam-Webster, is “of or relating to combat tactics.” In order for an article of clothing, an accessory, or a weapons system to be tactical it must, therefore, be suitable for use in combat or in support of military forces. 

As a result, tactical backpacks are strong, durable, provide adequate storage capacity, and exhibit compatibility with a variety of accessories. In fact, modularity is one of the most common and recognizable characterizing traits of a tactical backpack. While dozens of companies produce tactical backpacks, two of the most well-known manufacturers are 5.11 Tactical and LA Police Gear. The most important features to look for include the following:

  • Durable Construction

Tactical backpacks are generally composed of high-strength materials, such as Cordura nylon and polyester, with a high denier rating — typically 600–1,200D. Denier refers to the density of the fabric. The denser the fabric, the more rugged the material.  

In addition to strength, tactical backpacks also often provide some degree of weather resistance. If you intend to use your tactical backpack for long-distance hiking, carrying camping supplies, or for hunting, resistance to rainfall is essential. However, few backpacks are truly waterproof, so it’s still necessary to avoid submersion. 

  • MOLLE Compatibility

One of the most immediately recognizable features of a tactical backpack is MOLLE/PALS webbing, which consists of a series of horizontal fabric strips in a grid for attaching accessories to exterior surfaces. Webbing significantly increases the customizability of your backpack and also allows you to attach equipment using carabiners. In some designs, the webbing is laser cut for increased discretion.

Depending on your needs, you can attach the following to exterior webbing:

  • Front and side packs
  • Flashlights
  • Individual first-aid kits
  • Water bottles
  • Bed rolls
  • Knives and knife sheaths
  • Hand axes 
  • Machetes
  • Pistol holsters
  • Magazine pouches
  • Rifle slings
  • Hydration Bladder Compatibility

Many tactical backpacks have a sleeve or compartment for a hydration bladder — a water reservoir — with tubing ports for access. 

  • Ergonomic Shoulder Straps/Harness

Reflecting the need to carry heavy equipment for protracted periods, many tactical backpacks have contoured shoulder straps with high-density foam padding for comfort. Many designs also use a sternum strap to keep the shoulder straps from sliding off and a waist or hip belt for uniform weight distribution. Many tactical backpacks also have a drag handle on top for one-handed carrying.

  • Increased Storage Capacity

Tactical backpacks generally have more storage capacity than backpacks designed strictly for civilian use. You’ll find a multitude of internal compartments, sleeves, and pockets for storing a wide variety of contents. Some have spaces for laptops, CCW (concealed-carry weapons), and other specialized equipment.

  • ID Patch/Name Plate

For identification purposes or displaying other types of logos or patches, a Velcro name plate or ID panel is a common addition. 

Should You Buy a Tactical Backpack?

The characteristics that define a tactical backpack are not only useful to military personnel. A tactical backpack has several benefits for civilians interested in everyday carry, travel, multi-day hiking (backpacking or trekking), camping, hunting, wilderness survival, and responding to short- and long-term emergencies and natural disasters. 

  • School and Work

Many civilians purchase small tactical backpacks for attending classes on campus and commuting to work. The design of tactical backpacks protects fragile contents against impact, and provides organizational pockets for pens, pencils, markers, calculators, and other small items. When you have to carry textbooks, binders, paper files, or study materials, the spacious compartments are often the perfect size. And the shoulder straps ensure that carrying everything you need won’t dig into your 

  • Travel

Traveling can be stressful, placing high demands on both you and your luggage. The durability, ergonomics, and modularity of tactical backpacks create an ideal system for air travel, train travel, and cross-country road trips. 

The organizational pockets are suitable for passports, boarding passes, and itineraries, while the main compartment can usually accommodate several changes of clothes and toiletries.

  • Hunting

Whether you hunt with centerfire/rimfire rifles, muzzleloading rifles, handguns, shotguns, or compound/recurve bows, a tactical backpack is a vital accessory. The main compartment can often accommodate a takedown or folding rifle for transport, and the webbing allows you to attach a quiver to the exterior. 

  • Backpacking

For multi-day hikes — i.e., backpacking or trekking — a hydration bladder can keep you cool and hydrated during the spring and summer months, especially in dry climates, when temperatures rise. 

  • Shooting

For those who shoot competitively or recreationally, or participate in shooting courses, tactical backpacks can fulfill the role of a range bag. Some backpacks also have a CCW pocket with Velcro attachment points for holsters, and it’s common for a tactical backpack to contain a felt-lined pocket for eyeglasses or shooting glasses.

What to Look for in a Tactical Backpack

In addition to the features that typically comprise a tactical backpack, you should consider your specific requirements when searching for a suitable example. 

  • Storage Capacity

The first consideration when purchasing a backpack or bag is usually storage capacity — the volume. The storage capacity of a backpack is generally expressed in liters or cubic inches. For example, a 12-hour backpack may have a volume of 24–36 liters (1,464–2,196 cubic inches). A 24-hour backpack should have a correspondingly higher volume to accommodate more supplies.

  • Weight and Dimensions

Tactical backpacks can vary considerably in weight and external dimensions, depending on capacity, material, and special features. If you need your backpack to be compact and lightweight for a specific application, you should determine these limitations prior to investing in a backpack. 

  • External Appearance

This is more than a matter of style or personal preference. The color or pattern can detract from, or contribute to, a backpack’s utility. For example, black is generally less recognizable than woodland camouflage or khaki, especially when combined with MOLLE webbing. On the other hand, if you need your backpack to be highly visible — e.g., because you intend to use it for emergency first aid — some models are available in bright orange.

  • Specialized Compartments

Do you need a tactical backpack for transporting your laptop, batteries, and power/charging cables? Look for one that has a padded laptop sleeve. If you carry a concealed weapon, some backpacks also afford CCW compartments.

In Conclusion

Tactical backpacks, whether for 12-, 24-, or 72-hour use, are useful for a wide variety of applications, from the mundane to the exotic. If you need an EDC backpack for campus life or commuting to work, and you find that civilian backpacks are not enough, a tactical backpack can prove more than adequate for the task. On the other hand, if you are a hunter, outdoorsman, shooter, or EMT/paramedic, this type of pack is specifically designed to handle whatever life throws at you.


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