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Published Jun. 30, 2021

The tactical backpack community is an interesting bunch. I get the ones who use them for military, law enforcement, or first responder purposes. They’re appropriate tools for the job. I’m more curious about the people who get them for show — especially the concealed carry crowd — because the morphology is so obviously military and the whole point of carrying concealed is to do so without anyone knowing you are carrying a weapon in public. Personally, I don’t carry concealed. That’s my choice. But if I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t be wearing 5.11 tactical cargo pants and a tactical vest out on the town. Want to be low-key? Wear a tie-dyed hippie t-shirt and carry your everyday carry items in a low-profile backpack. This is why my range bag is an old tool box with molded foam inserts for my pistols. It’s low-key, lockable, and doesn’t raise any questions if you get pulled over by the law for speeding. 

In any case, tactical backpacks exist for a reason and many of our readers use them on the job, so we wanted to evaluate a half dozen of them and let you know what we think.

Of all the backpacks we looked at, the 5.11 Tactical Rush 24 2.0 emerged as the top contender. The Rush series by 5.11 has been a top-selling line since they first hit the market in 2007 with over a million sold, according to the manufacturer. The Rush series comes in three variants — the 12, 24, and 72 — corresponding to the number of hours the bag is supposed to support without resupply. The Rush 24 is a 37-liter bag, so it’s plenty roomy with seven compartments, and good for everything from going to the gym to a weekend trip. Inside the main compartment is a padded laptop stowage that can accommodate a 15-inch computer. The Rush 24 offers excellent internal organization, but we didn’t like the placement of the chest strap as it rode up towards the neck. It also offers a concealed carry compartment, fleece-lined glasses pocket, and hydration system port. We also liked the side compression straps. The bag is rugged — made from water-repellant 1000 denier nylon — but that ruggedness comes at a cost. The bag weighs a hefty 3.84 pounds, which is heavy for a 37L pack. There are civilian bags that weigh half this. One downside: For this size of pack, we’d like to see a hip belt for carrying heavier loads. While the shoulder straps were cushy, shoulders inevitably get tired after a long day with a heavy pack. Overall, this was our favorite tactical pack.

If cost is a factor, the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi might be your jam. Funny name, really. Wakizashi is the name of the shorter of the two swords samurai carried, the larger being the katana. While the 5.11 Rush series sets the bar for tactical backpacks, Samurai Tactical headed the other direction looking to go after the budget-conscious market. At first blush, it could easily be confused with the 5.11 RUSH 12, and its similarities are undeniable. The abundant MOLLE webbing, overall layout, and features like the quick-release shoulder straps mimic the RUsh 12. Heck, even its 24-liter capacity is the same. It, too, has a hydration reservoir compartment, a ventilated back panel and side compression straps. The differences are abundant as well. While the Wakizashi is made of some tough nylon, the denier is thinner and the shoulder padding isn’t as cushy. The plastic buckles and clips are also of lower quality. Like all of the packs we reviewed, it also lacks a hip belt, which makes us sad. Its carry handle is thicker than the Rush 12 and the sternum strap can be adjusted to the left and right. The Wakizashi also doesn’t have a true clamshell design and it lacks a laptop sleeve. While we like its $40.00 affordability, the Wakizashi isn’t a true operational backpack as it lacks the durability and features required for tactical applications. With that said, it is an adequate and serviceable EDC bag.

Best Premium

When it comes to cool, it’s hard to beat Italian style. Whether it’s suits or sunglasses, these cats know how to hit the town. Our pick for best-looking and most low-key (least visibly tactical) is the Velomacchi 35L Giro Backpack. Ok, ok! We confess. This bag was designed with motorcyclists in mind, but hey, it’s a sweet bag that’s very functional. And, a big part of being “tactical” in an urban environment is blending in, and nothing makes you stand out in a crowd of civilians like a coyote brown pack with MOLLE attachments and a big-ass Punisher velcro patch. (You KNOW who you are!) Velomachi’s motto is “Built for speed and made to last” and their bags don’t disappoint. Over three years of use, our contributor evaluated the Giro through heat, wind, rain, snow, and mud. What did he love about it? First, it’s rugged. Made from 300 denier Aquaforte high tensile nylon, it’s waterproof, abrasion-resistant, and low drag when you’re doing 150 mph on your Ducati. We love its top-loading design and magnetic roll top closure. It also has a quick access side pocket for laptops and a key pocket. The Giro is hydration system compatible. It’s not exactly light for a 35L pack at 3.44 pounds, and you’ll drop a few Euros to look this cool. The Giro was the most expensive of the lot at $149.00. But, hey! You’re worth it!

Honorable Mention

The 5.11 Tactical RUSH 12 2.0 is a well-built bag, just like its larger siblings, and is constructed out of water-resistant 1050 denier nylon. It offers 24 liters of capacity, a hydration reservoir pouch, a concealed carry compartment, two external zipper pouches, side compression straps, breakaway shoulder straps, a sternum strap, MOLLE compatible webbing, and an attachment point for a hip belt. (It does not come with a hip belt.) The RUSH 12 2.0 will accept a 15-inch laptop in a padded compartment and, we dig the fleece-lined glasses compartment. While there’s much to like about the RUSH 12 2.0, the two downsides we identified were the price ($99.99) and its weight. For a 24 liter bag, it has a lot of junk in the trunk at 3.15 pounds. Our tester also thought the positioning of the CCW compartment could be improved, and lamented the lack of a hip belt. (Are you getting the message yet, tactical backpack designers?)

If you’re into keeping things on the DL, the 5.11 Tactical COVRT18 2.0 Backpack is for you. First off, we like that it looks more like a college kid’s Jansport pack, without all the ‘hey, I’m over here with the concealed pistol’ operator look of many of the other packs. The 32-liter COVRT18 has all the bells and whistles of a tactical backpack while downplaying the wannabe SOF guy or gal look. It has 5.11’s signature Center Line design, a hydration system or laptop compartment, a dual access CCW compartment with an internal loop panel to keep things in place, and dual side water bottle pockets. Like the other 5.11 products, it’s well-built out of 500 denier nylon for most of the pack and a reinforced 840 denier bottom for greater abrasion resistance where it counts. We dig this weight-saving design and appreciate a 32L pack that only weighs 2.64 pounds. The designers at 5.11 also built-in internal zippered mesh pockets in the main compartment and a flex cuff channel, which is actually kinda creepy if you’re not law enforcement. (Why are you carrying flex cuffs again, Jame Gumb? Cause we ain’t putting no lotion in no baskets, Buffalo Bill!) On the downside, for $129.00, we’d like to see yoked shoulder straps like the Rush models.

If you frequent the pistol range, you should definitely check out the GPS Tactical Range Backpack. For our gear reviewer, Drew Shapiro, it was love at first sight. First off, the GPS Tactical Range Backpack is made of heavy 1000 denier polyester, which is pretty thick stuff. The beauty of polyester is that it doesn’t hold water or stretch like nylon. This is ideal for a range bag that might see a few raindrops in its lifetime. It is also incredibly abrasion-resistant. The GPS also has our favorite brand of zipper, YKK, and 550 cord zipper pulls. Ok, enough about the construction. We dig its functionality, too. GPS designed their range bag to be free-standing, so it has a wide base. It has a whopping three separate removable pistol storage cases and each carries four magazines in see-through mesh pockets (so you can easily tell which mags are loaded). We wish the pistol cases were an inch larger in each direction and had labels on the spines so we could tell which gun was in which pouch. You’ll have challenges putting larger pistols (like your ridiculous Ruger Super Redhawk 44 Rem Mag) in them. It also has marked pockets for earplugs, shooting glasses, targets, ear muffs, and tools, so do like your mom told ya and put everything in its place. Ok? The front pocket unzips and lays flat to provide a working surface for laying out ammo and mags. It also includes a waterproof pull out cover for those rainy days. GPS built in a chest strap and hip belt. While we like hip belts, it’s a curious choice for range bags as we’re usually just walking from the car to the firing line, not humping in 15 miles. We wish the other backpacks had hip belts. As far as ammo capacity, Drew stuffed his with 200 rounds of 9mm, 100 of .40 S&W, and 500 of .22, and still had room for more. It’s one of the best range bags we’ve come across.

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The reviewers here at Task & Purpose test the products we review at home and in the field. We have years of experience living and working outdoors with the tools we recommend. We don’t get paid by the manufacturers and have editorial independence. Our editor leaves it to us to recommend gear and prints (almost all of) what we write. All of this enables us to provide you, our valued readers, with our unvarnished, honest opinions on the recommendations we make. Learn more about our product review process.

Types of tactical backpacks

There really isn’t a lot of variation in tactical backpacks, as most of them share a common family of features like large internal main compartments, hydration pockets, MOLLE-compatible webbing, Velcro for your patches, laptop pockets, and hidden CCW compartments The main differentiations are in size, capacity, quality of materials, ergonomics, and durability. We also like ones that come with hip belts. Have we stressed that enough yet? Give us hip belts or give us death, designers!

Key features of tactical backpacks

  • Storage: The most important decision you’ll make when selecting a tactical backpack is capacity. Generally, these range from 20 to 55 liters. How big of a bag do you need? And remember, the larger the bag, the more crap you’ll put into it, and the heavier it will be — especially without a hip belt.
  • Straps: The best bags have cushy padded shoulder straps that prevent fatigue and pinched trapezius muscles. Hopefully, yours comes with a hip belt or has an attachment point for you to add one later to shift the load from your shoulders to your hips where it belongs.
  • MOLLE compatibility: If you work in the military or law enforcement field, the MOLLE attachment points come in handy for carrying additional gear. For carry in the civilian community, we prefer bags without MOLLE that lowers the profile. 
  • Zippers: Look for high-quality zippers like YKK when you’re selecting a pack. Your bag won’t keep everything in if the zippers blow. 
  • Material: Almost every tactical backpack is made of high denier nylon or polyester. In my opinion, many are overbuilt, so it’s worth checking the capacity vs. weight ratio. You’ll want to select a balance between ruggedness and weight. 

Tactical backpack pricing

Tactical backpacks are generally pretty affordable. You can find relatively inexpensive selections for less than $50.00 with the basic, most important features. The more capacity and the heavier the material, the higher the cost, generally. We’ve seen larger packs bust the $200 threshold.

How we chose our top picks

All of the backpacks recommended in this review were field-tested by your trusty crew of Task & Purpose gear reviewers. We take our time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each backpack and also check out the reviews of other experts just to make sure we’re not missing anything.

Related: Grab one of these 6 range bags before your next trip to the firing line

Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015. He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.

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