Review: Meet the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi backpack, a small EDC pack trying to fill some big shoes

Does this samurai have what it takes to topple the mighty 5.11 Tactical Rush 12?

Like most people, I’ve been carrying backpacks for years. In addition to carrying a sturdy pack loaded with a laptop and books during college, I also spent many years working in the aquatics industry and relied on a solid bag to pack along a towel, sandals, dry clothes, and other essentials. This latter experience slowly molded me into who I am today as a person and as an everyday carry (EDC) practitioner. Water taught me how to find a good backpack.

For years, I went to work, clocked in, and slung a waist pack around my hips. My lightweight pack contained critical first aid and CPR equipment, and whatever I lacked, I could find close by in a fully-loaded first aid kit on the wall. As my training and experience increased, I increasingly found myself feeling naked every time I left work. I wanted a full first aid kit with me wherever I went, but quality first aid kits don’t play nicely with pockets. Finally, I pulled the trigger and snagged an EDC backpack that I promptly loaded with my own custom-built first aid kit. For the past few years now, I have taken my pack with me virtually everywhere I go, including a fast-paced tour around the Mediterranean to christen it.

Editor’s note: the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi backpack also made Task & Purpose’s roundup of the best tactical backpacks of the year.

In the world of tactical and EDC backpacks, 5.11 Tactical’s Rush series of bags sets the bar for the rest of the pack. Some try to go the innovative route, demonstrating their impressive upgrades over the gold standard, while others stick with a proven model, mimicking success while attempting to keep things affordable. Samurai Tactical’s Wakizashi tactical backpack goes the latter route, attempting to provide budget-conscious buyers with an affordable alternative to the vaunted 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 backpack. Does the Wakizashi accomplish this mission? Let’s find out.

Unboxing

We all know but rarely think about the fact that packaging costs money, but the folks at Samurai Tactical clearly do. To help minimize cost, the Wakizashi comes with two simple black tags: one for Samurai Tactical and the other for the bag itself. The product tag advertises all the key features and critical dimensions in both standard and metric units, a nice feature for anyone trying to translate cubic inches into liters. Both tags sport a good amount of white text and just enough subtle red and chrome accents to get your attention without bulling you over. Understated, but classy.

My first impression of the Wakizashi was how much it mimics the industry-standard 5.11 Rush series of backpacks, and the Rush 12 in particular, a pack I recently reviewed. While the Wakizashi is its own product, the similarities with the original Rush 12 are undeniable. The massive amount of MOLLE-compatible webbing, the overall layout, and features like the quick-release shoulder straps are virtually identical to the 5.11. 

The Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack
The Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack (Brian Smyth)

That said, there are plenty of differences between the two, most notably the not-quite-clamshell design of the Wakizashi’s main compartment. While the pack does sport a tough nylon exterior, it does feel a little thin compared to the Rush 12, and the shoulder padding is noticeably thinner than that of the market leader. The external plastics also feel like low-budget options, and the Wakizashi lacks both a hip belt and an attachment point for said accessory. On the flip side, the top carry handle is stuffed with soft, comfortable padding, noticeably thicker than the Rush 12’s handle, and the sternum straps are adjustable in two directions. It also weighs considerably less than its 5.11 competitor.

The Wakizashi measures just over 17 by 11 by 6 inches, giving it 24 liters of cargo capacity. Like most backpacks, its hydration reservoir resides inside the main compartment with a hose opening at the top. It boasts a padded, ventilated back panel, an adjustable sternum strap, side compression straps, and a lined pocket for your phone or sunglasses. The side water bottle pocket and drain holes at the bottom of the main compartment are a nice touch, especially for non-operator types. (Admit it, desk jockey. You ain’t a SEAL.)

The Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack
The Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack (Brian Smyth)

How we tested the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack

After getting my hands onto the updated RUSH12 and taking it on a whirlwind tour across the country, I combined my fresh memories of my jetsetting adventure with past carry-on-only excursions, international travel, EDC usage, and hiking trips to evaluate the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi. Using this knowledge, I engineered my testing protocols to see just how well this pack lives up to my expectations for a tough, reliable pack.

Primarily, the Samurai pack served as my EDC bag, hosting my Vertx S.O.C.P. panel with all my first aid gear, ballistic panel, and other odds and ends attached to it. While nowhere near as heavy a load as a three-day travel loadout, my EDC loadout is much closer to what I would tend to use the Wakizashi for in the real world.

In addition to experiencing my daily carry routine, it also underwent some longer-distance routes to help simulate sunny day hikes or trips through the urban wastelands known as airport terminals. This included a trip with my leaky two-liter hydration reservoir to see how well it handles wet misadventures. I also took some time to pack the Wakizashi full of sweatshirts and other voluminous odds and ends to see if it could handle stuffing as well as a Thanksgiving turkey.

The Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack
The Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack (Brian Smyth)

What we like about the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack

No review would be complete without pros and cons, and no backpack would be complete without them either. Honestly, the Wakizashi’s two most obvious positives have to be its price point and its weight. This pack is light on the back and on the wallet, and combined with its relatively compact size, it makes for a very good EDC backpack. My full EDC loadout took up roughly half the interior cargo space, leaving me plenty of room for a wide variety of extras. When I packed it to the gills for an imaginary three-day summer vacation, it handled the bulging load well enough, although the zippers strained a bit at the corners. (When pressed into such service on a regular basis, however, I have a suspicion that it may not keep it together under the intense strain. A bag of this caliber can only take so much.)

The Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack
The Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack (Brian Smyth)

While it certainly is no 5.11 pack, the Wakizashi is plenty durable for most people. It has good ventilation on the back panel and shoulder straps, allowing it to go above and beyond basic EDC duties. The pack itself has plenty of functionality, and the side water bottle pouch is a nice bonus for both EDCers and day hikers.

In terms of meeting tactical needs, the Wakizashi delivers nicely in the feature department. As one might expect, it has plenty of MOLLE-compatible webbing on the front and sides, four webbing attachment points on the underside for a lightweight sleeping bag, and dual cinch straps to tighten down your gear inside. The adjustable sternum strap allows for a custom fit and helps reduce shoulder strain over long periods of time. The quick release shoulder straps can be a huge bonus in a tactical situation gone sideways.

What we don’t like about the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack

No bag is perfect, and budget-level offerings tend to compromise a bit more than their higher-priced brethren. The Wakizashi’s two most obvious shortcomings show up in the main compartment. This pack lacks a true clamshell design, thanks to the water bottle pouch on the left side of the exterior, and the lack of a laptop sleeve is a real downer for some people. The third negative feature that caught my attention was the lack of a hip belt and the lack of attachment points should you decide to buy one separately. I also noticed that the Wakizashi lacks a dedicated concealed carry compartment, and this is a major drawback for some individuals. I must admit that it doesn’t bother me much, but for those who care, it certainly is worth mentioning.

On my pedestrian adventures, the Wakizashi’s back panel padding did a swell job of keeping my back cool and dry in high temperatures, but during a good 25-minute walk around my neighborhood with a very leaky water reservoir inside, I discovered a whole new side to this bag. After only about 10 minutes of walking, my cotton t-shirt started reminding me that I had a leak, less than half the time it took for the Rush 12 I recently tested to reach the same saturation level. The back panel padding was much worse, acting like a sponge. By the end of my 25-minute walk, I found a small pool inside the reservoir pouch, and the back panel padding squished significantly whenever I applied pressure. All the while, the grommet-reinforced drain holes in the main compartment’s bottom panel were about as useful as a politician in a combat zone. While this does mean that the reservoir pouch will protect much of your gear from a good soaking, your lower back and rear will leave you feeling like you forgot to change after your last swim.

In terms of build quality, I found the choices of material to be a bit lacking compared to higher-end bags. The build materials felt similar to a classic Jansport off the rack at Walmart, and the foam underneath the mesh lining on the shoulder straps crinkles a good bit when you touch it. The fit and finish inside the main compartment was also a bit disappointing with thread ends and frayed material edges visible inside. While I do think the bag will last a few years, you certainly will end up replacing it before your senator goes up for reelection or the Army selects another new ACU camo pattern.

Verdict

After a few weeks toting the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi around everywhere I go, I’ve come to the distinct conclusion that this pack is a jack of all trades but a master of none. As far as I’m concerned, it does best as a basic backpack that can be pressed into service in a variety of roles, but it will not excel in any single one of them.

Despite its tactical exterior, the Wakizashi is not a true operational backpack. It lacks the necessary durability, and the list of features fails to meet the standard of bare essentials for tactical applications. It is more than a serviceable EDC bag, but its size is a bit much to be a truly streamlined option. It’s lack of a hip belt or the option to add one makes it a less-than-ideal hiking or get-home bag.

As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” While the affordability and lightweight nature of the Wakizashi are truly admirable, this pack serves best as a school backpack, oversized EDC bag, or knockaround pack for short-term adventures. It will handle the basic rigors of American life, but it lacks the ruggedness and specialization it needs to truly stand out from the crowd.

FAQs about the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack

More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief. 

Q. How much does the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi tactical backpack cost?

A. The Wakizashi’s MSRP comes in at $40, but at press time, the Samurai Tactical website listed it for $32. Do a little window shopping, and you could find it for under $30.

Q. What is an EDC backpack?

A. An EDC backpack, like the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi, is a (usually) lightweight backpack that keeps your critical daily gear handy. These tough, lightweight packs keep items such as water bottles, jackets, snacks, first aid kits, and other pocket-unfriendly gear close at hand.

Q. Are the Samurai Tactical Wakizashi and the SOG Ninja the same backpack?

A. No. Despite their shockingly similar looks and layout, they are not identical. These two bags have slightly differing dimensions and features, such as the Wakizashi’s heavily padded carry handle.

Got questions? Comment below & talk with T&P’s editors

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For over 25 years, Brian Smyth has been neighbors with the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army’s Ivy Division. He loves the challenge of crafting words and has written for The Drive, Car Bibles, and other publications. Nothing gets him going quite like the roar of dual Pratt & Whitneys overhead, the smell of cordite, and the stories of the Greatest Generation.

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