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Published Nov. 3, 2021

The tactical backpack community is interesting. We get the folks who use them for military, law enforcement, or first responder purposes, where they’re appropriate tools for the job. But we’re also curious about the people who get them for show — especially in the concealed carry crowd — because the morphology of many tactical backpacks is so obviously military and the whole point of carrying a weapon in public is to do so without anyone knowing you are doing so. Of the gear reviewers here who carry concealed, we sure as hell don’t do it wearing 5.11 cargo pants and a concealed carry vest while wearing an obviously tactical backpack. That’s just bad planning.

Yet tactical backpacks have their place – typically on the backs of soldiers and infantry Marines, in the squad car trunks of S.W.A.T. members, and in the basements of apocalyptic preppers. To that end, our trusty team of gear reviewers took a look at the range of tactical backpacks on the market to help you decide which are the best for your needs. What did we learn through our hands-on testing? Read on to find out.

This 37-liter bag is 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. It also offers a concealed carry compartment, fleece-lined glasses pocket, hydration system port, and side compression straps. The bag is rugged — made from water-repellant 1000 denier nylon — but that ruggedness comes at a cost in terms of weight and for this size of pack, we’d like to see a hip belt for carrying heavier loads. While it offers excellent internal organization, we didn’t like the placement of the chest strap as it rode up towards the neck. And 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.

Specs
  • Capacity 37 L / 2275 cubic inches
  • Weight 3.84 lbs
  • Concealed carry capable Hidden CCW compartment with loop panel
PROS

Superb internal organization

Comfortable shoulder straps

Padded back

Hidden CCW compartment

CONS

Poorly designed chest strap

Heavy empty weight at 3.84 lbs

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. 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. 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 affordability, the Wakizashi isn’t a true operational backpack as it lacks the durability and features required for tactical applications. It is an adequate and serviceable EDC bag.

Specs
  • Capacity 24 L / 1464 cubic inches
  • Weight 2.2 lbs
  • Concealed carry capable No
PROS

Good functionality

Adjustable sternum strap

MOLLE compatible webbing

Quick release shoulder straps

CONS

Lacks true clamshell design

No laptop sleeve

No hip belt

Editor’s Choice

We like tactical backpacks on the down-low. After all, the whole point of carrying concealed is to do so unnoticed. We like that this pack looks more like a college kid’s bookbag and eschews tacticool vibes. 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. It is 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. On the downside, for $129, we’d like to see yoked shoulder straps like the RUSH models.

Specs
  • Capacity 32 L / 1953 cubic inches
  • Weight 2.64 lbs
  • Concealed carry capable Dual-access CCW compartment with internal loop panel
PROS

Low-key appearance

Outstanding organization and functionality

TSA-friendly rear laptop compartment

Dual side water bottle pockets

Durable and lightweight

CONS

Lacks yoked shoulder straps

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?)

Specs
  • Capacity 24 L / 1464 cubic inches
  • Weight 3.15 lbs
  • Concealed carry capable Yes
PROS

Outstanding interior organization

Well built of 1050 denier nylon

Hydration reservoir pouch

Side compression straps

Padded laptop compartment

CONS

Weight, heavy for size

No hip belt

Best Urban Pack

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. 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 the Giro was among the most expensive of the lot at $14.

Specs
  • Capacity 35 L / 2135 cubic inches
  • Weight 3.44 lbs
  • Concealed carry capable No
PROS

Low-key appearance, visually appealing

Waterproof and abrasion resistant

Quick access side pocket Magnetic roll top closure

CONS

Lacks clamshell design

Main compartment could be bigger

Lacks MOLLE webbing

For our gear reviewer, the GPS was love at first sight. Made of heavy 1000 denier polyester, this bag doesn’t hold water or stretch like nylon and is also incredibly abrasion-resistant. It is built with quality YKK zippers, and 550 cord zipper pulls. The wide-base design enables it to be free-standing and it has three separate removable pistol storage cases. Each case has four magazines in see-through mesh pockets. While we loved this design, we wished 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 in them. It also has marked pockets for earplugs, shooting glasses, targets, ear muffs, and tools. 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. 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.

Specs
  • Capacity 3 pistols
  • Weight 6.15 lbs
  • Concealed carry capable Not applicable
PROS

Excellent organizational capability

Heavy-duty teflon coated construction

Water resistant

Internal honey comb frame

CONS

Pistol cases tight for larger frame revolvers

Pistol cases lack labels for identification

Unnecessary hip belt

While we respect Mystery Ranch’s long record of designing and building great packs, the 27 liter 2 Day Assault Pack, or 2 DAY, left our reviewer perplexed. We felt the 2-DAY is a pack that can’t figure out what its purpose is. While we found it to be comfortable to wear, easy to use, well-made, and flexible, it’s not a great assault pack as it lacks the features you need to make it work as an actual assault pack. Of note, the 2-DAY’s material is NOT shielded to absorb near-IR frequencies, meaning you will light up like a Christmas tree in the enemy’s Generation 3+ night vision. If you need a true assault pack, check out the Mystery Ranch 3 Day Assault Pack. After a thorough test, we found the 2-DAY to be more of a military-style EDC backpack that, in its effort to be a jack of all trades, became a master of none. And we prefer our EDC bags to be low-profile and low-key.

Specs
  • Capacity 27 L / 1647 cubic inches
  • Weight 3 lbs
  • Concealed carry capable No
PROS

Two zippered lid pockets

Easy access 3-zip design

Interior dump pockets

Adjustable yoke

Laptop and tablet sleeve pockets

CONS

Material not IR absorbing

Too small for true assault pack

Lacks velcro strap keepers

Not made in USA

Not only does it have a cool name, the Dragon Egg is made by a company that knows a thing or two about tactical bags. The Dragon Egg MK II is an update to Direct Action’s best selling pack. This is why we think it’s worth a look. Designed specifically for military and law enforcement applications, this mid-sized pack features three zippered compartments. The main compartment is designed to also carry a hydration system and the rear pocket has a padded sleeve that will protect a 15” laptop or squad radio. The partially elasticized side pockets will carry both standard U.S. military canteens or Nalgene bottles. The Dragon Egg also features a unique laser cut MOLLE/PALS compatible panel. The bag is made from 500D Cordura with a water resistant coating and features heavy duty, glove friendly YKK zippers, a chest strap, hip belt, quick release shoulder straps, and a heavy duty paracord handle.

Specs
  • Capacity 25 L / 1525 cubic inches
  • Weight 3.5 lbs
  • Concealed carry capable No
PROS

Durable 500D Cordura construction and YKK zippers

Ventilated back panel

Laptop compatible

Internal mesh hydration reservoir pocket

CONS

Seems a bit heavy for a 25L pack

Why you should trust us

The active-duty and veteran gear 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 and prints what we write. All of this enables us to provide you, our valued readers, our unvarnished, honest opinions on the recommendations we make.

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 especially like ones that come with hip belts. 

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, and that really sucks when you’re in the field. 

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. 

Benefits of tactical backpacks

Organization

Most tactical backpacks are designed with pockets and compartments to enable you to organize your gear so you know where it is – that is if you put your gear in the same place every time (which we recommend). Doing so will help you find exactly what you are looking for quickly, especially in the dark. Most have a clamshell design that enables fast access and plenty of zippered and see-through mesh pockets for stowing and locating your stuff.

Durability

Let’s face it, military life is hard on gear, so it’s important that your tactical backpack is built to protect the equipment it carries and lasts for a long time. It sucks when your gear blows apart in the field and in some situations equipment failure can be life-threatening, so it is worth investing in durable gear. Tactical backpacks tend to be heavier than similarly sized backpacking or climbing packs. This is because they are usually made from reinforced polyester or abrasion and tear-resistant Cordura(™) nylon material. They’re made to withstand a higher degree of abuse and have additional padding to protect the gear stowed within the bag.   

MOLLE compatibility

MOLLE is a military acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment – a system for attaching gear like magazine pouches, holsters, and first aid kits to other gear like plate carriers and backpacks. Being modular, it allows the user to customize the placement of individual equipment. It allows military members to attach additional carrying capacity to their packs and keep the things they need immediate access to handy on the exterior of their packs. 

Pricing considerations for tactical backpacks

Value

Tactical backpacks are generally pretty affordable. You can find relatively inexpensive selections like the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi or SOG Ninja Tactical Daypack for less than $50 with the basic, most important features. At this price point, you might find a lot of familiar design features, but most manufacturers sacrifice the quality of materials and quality of construction to deliver at a low price point. Really check out the construction of these low-cost bags as there’s a lot of garbage on the market as well.

Mid-range

You can expect to pay between $80 and $150 or a mid-range tactical backpack in the 25 to 50 L capacity range. Within this price range exists myriad options, and we recommend making a list of your needs and desires before searching to help dial in your selection.

Premium

We consider any tactical backpack above $200 to be a premium pick. These packs typically feature more capacity, bells and whistles, and modularity than lower-priced packs. Many times, with premium packs, you are also paying for advanced materials that lower overall pack weight. Like most premium products, we’re not convinced the extra cost always delivers extra performance.

How we chose our top picks

All of the backpacks recommended in this review were hands-on 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. Where we see something interesting that we haven’t field-tested, we identify these products as honorable mentions that are worth a look.

FAQs on tactical backpacks

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

What should go in a tactical backpack?

A: This really depends on the mission. Common items are extra ammunition, water, a first aid kit, food, personal hygiene items, a hardshell jacket, a warming layer, a headlamp, communication devices, maps, pens, GPS, and other mission-specific tools. Depending on the length of the mission, you might also consider a lightweight blanket, extra clothing, and shelter. 

What are the loops for on tactical backpacks?

A: The loops serve two purposes: 1) to attach other small pouches to expand the carrying capacity of the pack, and 2) to provide a place to attach immediately accessible items.

What are the benefits of a tactical backpack?

A: Tactical backpacks typically have greater durability, modularity, and organizational options than civilian backpacks.

How heavy is a tactical backpack?

A: It depends. The larger the capacity of the pack and the more durable the material in terms of denier, the heavier it typically is. 

What is the difference between a regular backpack and a tactical backpack?

A: Civilian backpacks tend to be considerably lighter but less durable. 

How do you use a tactical backpack?

A: Like all backpacks, you put it on your back and walk around. So easy a Marine can do it!

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