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If you’ve spent any time in the military over the past 20 years, there’s a great chance you’ve got a collection of issued rucksacks, backpacks, A-Bags, etc. to lug around your gear. The number of these bags can grow exponentially for every re-enlistment and/or PCS you go through. Heck, I was in the Air Force and I even have a Blackhawk RAPTOR pack and an Alice Pack with frame. These things are durable, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one to use them extensively after leaving the service. But let’s face it: As tough as these things are, they’re big and bulky and aren’t exactly what you need for activities that don’t involve deploying overseas, military exercises, or camping for a week in the mountains.
While I am currently in the market for a replacement backpack for camping, I decided I needed something smaller as well, something that I can take on a quick hike or maybe an overnight trip. At some point in the past, the marketing powers-that-be decided that the best way to sell to military folks, veterans, and those that like military hardware was to make their products coyote brown and slap the word “tactical” in the name. With some things, especially backpacks, adding MOLLE webbing is also a must for that tacticool image. I keep wondering when someone will add webbing to business attire. It could be called “Business Tactical.” You hear me, Jos. A. Bank? Call me, we’ll make millions.
It’s with this cynicism in mind that I came across the SOG Ninja tactical daypack. It’s not that I question SOG’s bona fides with making quality gear — their knives are legendary, after all. But what the hell makes a daypack “tactical?” My RAPTOR was “tactical.” It was tough, could hold a lot of gear, and had enough pockets that, to this day, I still find long lost challenge coins in them. So I had to find out what it was about the SOG Ninja Tactical Daypack, priced at about $35, that qualified it to be “tactical” and whether it was any good.
The SOG Ninja comes shipped in a standard cardboard box, wrapped in clear plastic. The first thing I noticed as I pulled the plastic off is the hook-and-loop patch with the SOG logo — a skull wearing a beret. Kind of cool, I guess, but maybe a little excessive for something called a “daypack.” Maybe that’s just me.
I had to admit the Ninja appeared well-made. Only 18 inches tall and just over a foot wide, the first of the “tactical” features was readily apparent, in that it features MOLLE webbing on the sides and back. I took a close look at the webbing and compared it to some of the MOLLE on my old issued gear. Not surprisingly, the Ninja’s stitching isn’t nearly as thick as the stuff Uncle Sam normally hands out. That aside, the webbing appeared functional and not just cosmetic, so that was a plus.
As a daypack, the SOG Ninja is small, with a holding capacity of 24.2 liters. If you’re not into the sexy worlds of backpack volume or geometry, you may wonder what that really means in terms of “how much stuff can it carry.” It’s more like the backpack you carried around in high school or college and less like a pack more suitable for deploying or even camping for a few days. Still, the Ninja is simple and (mostly) well-designed to maximize storage space. It not only has one large exterior pouch with inner pockets and organizer, but it also has two smaller accessory pockets for things like cell phones and small maps. Inside the primary storage compartment are more zippered pockets, as well as a water bladder pocket designed for a reservoir that is sold separately (it fits up to a 2-liter bladder). There is, as you’d expect, a tube port at the top so you can actually drink your water.
How we tested the SOG Ninja
I decided to test the SOG Ninja in three different ways. First, I simply packed it with essential gear intended for a long day out in the field or wilderness to see how quickly it filled and whether it was comfortable to carry. Added to this, I stress-tested the MOLLE webbing and top handle to see how durable they were. Next, I took it on numerous hikes to assess how well it performed and how comfortable it was in action. Finally, I used it as an everyday carry bag, just to determine overall strengths and weaknesses. Here’s how all that played out.
Load out test: Keeping in mind that the Ninja is a daypack, I loaded it with essential food and equipment to carry me through a day out in the field. My packing list included one MRE, a couple GoMacro protein bars, a survival knife, a Gerber MP800 multitool, ferro rod, first aid kit, flashlight, extra light source (deflated solar charged lights), and a paper map. For good measure, I also rolled up the woobie that I used as a background in the above picture and crammed it in there too. All told, the pack was largely full, but still had room for additional socks and a water reservoir. Since I didn’t have a reservoir handy, I used the Ninja’s side pocket to carry a 24-ounce water bottle. Now packed, I snapped the Ninja on. After tweaking the padded shoulder straps and sternum slider, it felt good.
For the next part of this test, I added a few extra items to the inner zipped pockets of the main compartment, specifically my Buck 110 pocket knife and a Personal Rescue Tool (PRT). I then closed everything up, and started to shake the Ninja at various points: first the carry handle at the top, then followed in succession with the shoulder straps, the MOLLE webbing, and finally the carry handle again. It held up pretty well, except with my final shake I felt something give inside, like a thread broke. I examined the bag closely, and couldn’t find anything obviously damaged, so it may have just been the new bag breaking in. I also looked at the inner pockets. My Buck 110 and the PRT shaking around didn’t damage the pouches. For this first round of testing, the Ninja did well.
Hiking: The Ninja performed admirably out on the trails. I carried it on a number of hikes ranging from one to seven miles, with a variety of loads. One time I just tossed in six water bottles, a can of Deep Woods OFF!, my knife, and some power bars, and even with that awkward, jumbled load I never felt too uncomfortable with it on my back. Because of the adjustable straps, I was able to tweak the fit as needed, so it was always secure. High marks, then, on basic functionality.
The SOG Ninja is advertised as being “water-resistant.” The experienced traveller or outdoorsman will immediately recognize that this does not mean “waterproof.” I got the chance to test this out on a couple of hikes where, as luck would have it, it started to rain. I actually wrapped some of my gear in paper towels to see if I could detect small amounts of water intrusion. Not surprisingly, when exposed to long (say, over a half hour) periods of even light rain, some water got through. Keep that in mind if you plan on taking the Ninja out in potentially inclement weather.
Everyday carry: This might sound funny, but this is where I felt the Ninja excelled. The simple but functional design makes it a great choice for an EDC bag. One early morning, my family participated in a 50-mile cycling event, and we packed some snacks and clothes for three people to change into. On another occasion, I found that the pack is a perfect fit for a laptop, snacks, and miscellaneous paperwork. The outer pocket will hold a mouse and power supply, while the accessory packs can carry a phone (if you wanted to do that, for some strange reason).
What we like about the SOG Ninja
The SOG Ninja is sensibly designed and appropriately rugged. The daypack material is thick enough to give a degree of protection against rain, but as mentioned earlier you don’t want to push it. But if you do push it, the designers made sure to put drainage holes in the bottom to make sure your stuff won’t sit in a waterlogged compartment. Plus, I have no qualms with tossing this bag around or dropping it on the trail, as it’s made for that kind of abuse.
I like how the Ninja’s compartments are organized. The organizer and zippered pockets in the outer and main compartments just make sense. Unlike with my larger RAPTOR pack, I didn’t have to spend several minutes rifling through endless pockets trying to find keys or my phone or an errant cable. The Ninja has it all laid out to both offer good storage options and to keep things organized.
What we don’t like about the SOG Ninja
There are two things about the design of the Ninja that bother me. First, the main compartment doesn’t open symmetrically because the zipper stops at the water bottle holder on the left side. This is admittedly minor, but unlike other backpacks, this design prevents one from fully opening the bag, which is really annoying when packing or unpacking. You can see this in the loadout photo earlier in the article.
The second thing about the Ninja is unfortunately common to smaller daypacks and backpacks. When wearing the pack, it’s impossible to reach anything, even on the sides. I couldn’t even reach my water bottle without unclipping the sternum slide and removing it from my back. If you’re out of water in your reservoir, having to stop just to drink is annoying.
The SOG Ninja won me over, not because of the “tactical” features like the MOLLE webbing and water reservoir (as nice as they are to have), but because it’s simply a well-made product. It will serve you well so long as you keep in mind that it’s a daypack and not really intended for long excursions or heavy lifting. It’s solidly made for its mission, and versatile enough to serve as an EDC bag for work or school or for more demanding use on hikes and even short overnight camping trips. That’s a lot to get for a price under $40.
FAQs about the SOG Ninja
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the SOG Ninja cost?
A. You can find it on Amazon for around $35.
Q. What’s the difference between a daypack and a regular backpack?
A. Size. A daypack is meant to carry enough gear and supplies to get you throughout the day. The Ninja, for example, can hold a 2-liter water reservoir and decent sized water bottle, plus food and other essentials. That’s great for a day hike or to get you to an established camp, but not too good if you’re on a multi-day trip.
Q. Where is the SOG Ninja made?
A. Potentially a couple of places. SOG’s Amazon product page indicates China, but the product card that came with the one I reviewed said “made in Myanmar.”
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W.E. Linde spent 12 years in the Air Force as an intelligence guy and loved both his enlisted and commissioned time. Now a civilian, he toils away as a healthcare business analyst by day and wannabe writer by night because who needs sleep when you have coffee? His time in the military made him appreciate just how funny the term “military grade” can be. He currently writes for Duffel Blog and for the humor site Damperthree.com