A good tactical backpack is a gear staple for any adventurer—but what makes one tactical backpack better than another? How do you know what the best tactical backpacks are and which pack is best for you?
Tactical backpacks, as compared to other backpacks, are specially designed to allow greater mobility and durability. They were originally made for police and military use, which speaks to their durability and usefulness. These tough, multi-use packs are great for outdoor activities as well as everyday practical use.
With so many differing features like padded shoulder straps, zippers, compression straps, compartments, and waist straps, it can be challenging to pore over articles and weed through specifications to find the right tactical bag that is suited for your needs.
That’s why I’ve created this guide to the best tactical backpacks. Read on to learn more about how to choose the right tactical pack for your next expedition.
- Best Tactical Backpack Overall: Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault Pack
- Best Budget Tactical Backpack: Red Rock Large Assault Pack
- Best Laptop Tactical Backpack: Nike SB RPM Backpack 26L
- Best Photography Tactical Backpack: Lowepro ProTactic BP 450 AW II
- Best Sling Tactical Backpack: Hazard 4 Plan B Sling Backpack
- Best Hiking Tactical Backpack: 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 2.0 BACKPACK 55L
1. Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault Pack: Best Tactical Backpack Overall
Need an escape from the bustle of the city? Take the Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault Pack along with you on your next hiking adventure!
Mystery Ranch is known as one of the best tactical backpack brands for load-bearing, and they make several bags fit for adventurers (also check out their 3 Day Assault Pack for longer excursions).
What makes the Mystery Ranch 2 Day Assault Pack one of the best tactical backpacks for hiking is its carrying capacity and numerous compartments. In addition to the spacious main compartment, there are several zipper pockets throughout the bag designed for different uses.
There are external zipper pouches on the lid as well as the side flaps of the bag, complemented by water bottle pockets on both sides. There are internal zipper pouches as well as two padded pockets suspended from the frame of the bag. There is even a laptop sleeve at the back of the bag that is easily accessible from the top, keeping it safe from impact.
There is Molle webbing on the outside of the pack for you to attach items to it using carabiners, as well as loops on the bottom to easily attach a mat or sleeping bag.
The bag is designed with Mystery Ranch’s “Futura” system, which gives the bag a padded yoke and partial internal frame that can be customized to fit different body types. This is coupled with removable chest and kidney straps to better support the weight and prevent strain on your neck and back.
The 2 Day Assault Pack does not feature any Velcro strap keepers. This may be an issue for those who constantly need to adjust their straps’ tightness depending on adventure. Also, for an “everyday carry bag” (EDC) it is on the heavier side, weighing 3 pounds, which may not be ideal for some.
It can hold up to 27 liters and is constructed out of 500D Cordura nylon and YKK zippers, ensuring that the day assault pack is durable and can take on all the adventures you find yourself on!
2. Red Rock Large Assault Pack: Best Budget Tactical Backpack
This spacious rucksack is arguably the most value-packed tactical backpack for those on a budget. This pack is very spacious and comes with expandable compartments that can store up to three days’ worth of supplies.
The Red Rock Large Assault Pack is made out of 600D polyester and weighs about 3 pounds and provides up to 35 liters of internal storage space.
The bag is equipped with mesh shoulder straps that are contoured to fit your body along with a waist belt and adjustable sternum strap that offer increased support and stability. The padded shoulder straps and waist belt help distribute the weight of your equipment evenly across your shoulders for more comfort while on the go. Trust me, when you’re worn down from the sun and distance, any comfort feature can seriously make a difference!
Its built-in internal dividers and zipper pockets allow for simple space management. The bag has Molle webbing on the outside that allows you to add external pouches should you need more packing space.
Molle webbing, also known as PALS webbing (Pouch Attachment Ladder System), is a unique storage system found on many tactical backpacks. Molle webbing provides external easy access to gear that you may not be able to fit in your pack, or want to be able to conveniently locate. Molle attachment points can secure items like a first aid kit, a knife, a canteen, and more.
The downside of this backpack is that it is made from polyester, which is not as durable as materials like Nylon or Cordura. It may not be able to withstand as much wear and tear as other high-quality tactical backpacks at a higher price point, but it is a fantastic starter tactical pack for those who are on their first few camping or hiking trips!
3. Nike SB RPM Backpack 26L: Best Laptop Tactical Backpack
The Nike SB RPM Backpack is perfectly tailored for the rugged urban explorer. This backpack is designed for convenience, allowing urban dwellers to navigate day-to-day life in the cities with style.
While it may not look like typical tactical backpacks seen in the outdoor community, this sleek yet functional bag retains many features that you would expect from one. There are also plenty of zippered compartments to store smaller items, versatile velcro straps, and loops to attach gear.
This backpack’s small size makes it ideal for maneuvering around the crowded concrete jungle. But don’t be deceived by its lack of bulk, as the zippered main compartment is pretty spacious!
A unique feature that may appeal to adventurous city dwellers is its buckled straps that you can use to secure a skateboard. This makes it easy to secure and detach your board for convenient commuting.
If you tend to carry a heavier load, this backpack offers a stabilizing sternum strap for added support along with a padded back and customizable curved straps that fit comfortably on your shoulders. You can even carry it with the top handle if you prefer!
There are water bottle compartments on the side so that you can stay hydrated, and an internal padded laptop sleeve to keep your computer safe as well.
The Nike SB RPM Backpack is made out of 100% polyester, which is water-resistant and easy to maintain with occasional spot cleaning. As compared to other tactical backpacks, it is on the smaller side but can still hold up to 26 liters.
As this is a backpack for everyday urban use, it may not be ideal for long trips or tough weather conditions. However, for the modern city dweller who is always on the go, it’s the perfect balance of compact, sleek design and ample packing space and organization!
3. Lowepro ProTactic BP 450 AW II: Best Photography Tactical Backpack
Designed by photographers, for photographers, the Lowepro ProTactic BP 450 AW II is perfect for traveling with your photography gear!
As a photographer myself, I know the struggle of finding a backpack that accommodates camera gear well. This tactical backpack takes the cake for its intentional design and ample storage space.
When it comes to ergonomics, this backpack design doesn’t fall short. It is designed to be worn close to the body using a chest strap to reduce the load on your back and neck. The hip belt can also be used to secure it to your lower body, reducing the stress on your shoulders.
The padded shoulder straps ensure that the pack load remains stable as it is held closer to your center of gravity. This stability combined with a padded back panel prioritizes comfort, which is important when lugging around many pounds of camera gear.
Made with reinforced ballistic nylon and heavy-duty zips, this tactical backpack will withstand the wear and tear of your adventures. It even comes with a rain cover that fits snugly over the bag.
The bag has plenty of storage options and ways to access them. There are Velcro dividers in the main compartment to sort your lenses and cameras, which can be accessed from the top, side, and even back of the bag.
There is a dedicated cradle-fit padded laptop sleeve that can securely hold a 15” laptop, and an internal hard case to store fragile equipment like drones! On the outside, there are multiple straps and loops to attach additional tactical gear. An attachable accessory pouch (sold separately) can hold other gear like tripods.
This tactical backpack weighs in at 5.95 pounds and holds 25 liters total. Though there is the smaller version (called the ProTactic BP 350 AW II), we recommend sizing up to fully maximize this tactical backpack’s benefits.
5. Hazard 4 Plan B Sling Backpack: Best Sling Tactical Backpack
This tactical backpack is much smaller than the others in this article and is perfect for those wanting an easily portable, versatile bag for their everyday adventures.
This backpack is hallmarked by its signature multi-mode sling, making it easy to configure depending on your preference. Plus, its small size makes it perfect for shorter excursions, or outdoor activities in tight spaces such as caving.
Due to its small size and weight, this backpack is much more versatile and can be used for day-to-day activities as well. The bag can be worn on your back or on your chest. The ambidextrous sling is padded, ensuring that it hugs your body without any gapping, making it a lot more comfortable compared to other sling bags on the market.
As a tactical backpack, it features support for robust Molle straps to attach bulkier objects that do not fit in the pack. It boasts a quick-release buckle and a stabilizer strap that keeps your bag secure and compact so that it does not get in the way while you are on the move.
When navigating the great outdoors, the golden rule is to stay hydrated! Despite its small size, the Plan-B Sling has hydration bladder compatibility and can accommodate hydration reservoirs up to 2 liters.
Although compact, this bag incorporates dividers to organize your belongings, and additional dividers can be purchased separately to maximize your organization even more.
This pack is made out of 1000D Cordura with PU x2 coating for water resistance. Its total carrying capacity is 11.8 liters and weighs 2.4 pounds.
6. 5.11 Tactical RUSH72™ 2.0 Backpack 55L: Best Hiking Tactical Backpack
A well-designed, quality tactical backpack is one of the most important things you’ll need for a backpacking trip. The 5.11 Tactical RUSH72™ 2.0 Backpack 55L is perfect for a weekend trek.
Made out of 1050D Nylon, this bag is water-repellant and durable and meant to last you for many years of outdoor adventures. The resilient pack features customizable Molle webbing that allows you to add additional external components and pouches to carry more equipment.
This bag has a unique padded laptop sleeve, which is great for weekend warriors who may need to be online at some point during the trip. And if you don’t need to bring along your laptop, you can simply use that compartment for other storage.
This bag has 55 liters of storage capacity, which gives you plenty of room to store all your gear, clothing, and food for a multi-day trip. It even has a front pocket perfect for those items you want to easily access.
The backpack also offers tailored comfort, featuring padded shoulder straps and adjustable sternum straps to make it more comfortable to carry for longer trips. It has multiple large organizational pockets allowing you to easily access and store maps, pens, and other documents. No more digging through your items to get to the bottom of the bag!
It is secured with rugged, self-healing YKK zippers and 5.11’s signature centerline design to customize the bag with additional purpose-built pouches. It also features an integrated drainage grommet that’s compatible with the 5.11 tier system.
The bag is made from high strength, water-repellant 1050D Nylon and has a fleece-lined pocket for sunglasses, a cinching waist strap, dual compression straps, a hydration pocket to store your water, and a grab-and-go handle. The compression straps are key for backpacking trips, as it enables you to pick things in tightly and maximize space.
With all these features, the bag weighs in at just 5 pounds, making it lightweight and comfortable for your adventures!
What To Look For in a Tactical Backpack
Everyone’s needs and preferences differ, so you need to choose the backpack that is perfect for you and your adventures. Here are the most important aspects of tactical backpacks that you should consider before making your purchase:
Tactical backpacks come in various sizes, so you should pick the one that fits your needs best. The size of your tactical backpack should depend on the length of journey you’re partaking in and what you’re bringing along for the ride.
One type of bag is an everyday carry (or EDC) pack, also known as 12-hour packs. As the name suggests, this backpack holds your daily necessities and is perfect for short hikes or daily commutes. Generally, EDC bags range from 5 to 35 liters in capacity.
If you’re going to be on the road for a while, the 24-hour backpack may be a good pick for you! These tactical backpacks typically range from 30 to 40 liters in volume, so there is sufficient space to pack more belongings for you to last a day or two.
Finally, for avid trekkers who will be in the outdoors for a few days, a 3-day backpack is an absolute must. Typically ranging from 40 to 60 liters in volume, these backpacks can accommodate your items for those multi-day trips.
Tactical backpacks ought to have ergonomic load management in order to provide comfort. A tactical backpack that carries your load well can prevent exhaustion and even physical injuries.
First and foremost, you should look out for padded shoulder straps, as they are one of the most fundamental features of tactical bags. Straight shoulder straps can maximize comfort due to their large size and greater cushion area. However, curved shoulder straps generally provide a more ergonomic fit as it tends to follow the natural contours of the body.
Should you plan to carry heavier loads, a waist belt becomes necessary. Waist straps ensure an even distribution of the backpack’s load. It transfers the weight from your back and shoulders to your hips, allowing you to leverage your core strength.
This alleviates the pressure on your upper back and reduces the energy needed to lug your items around. So not only is a waist strap able to save you some energy, but it can also save you from sores and muscle aches.
Most waist belts also have padded straps for added comfort and small zippered pockets for easy access to items such as Chapstick and granola bars. It is best to try on backpacks with a waist strap on in person so you can determine if it sits right on your body.
Waist belts often work in concert with backpack frames to fully support the backpack’s load distribution. There are three types of backpack frames: frame sheets, internal frames, and external frames.
Frame sheets are generally used to reinforce the backpack’s back panel and give it rigidity to keep your pack secure. Internal frames are directly attached to the waist belt and transfer a significant load from the shoulders to the hips.
External frames perform the same function but provide more functionality as you can strap items directly onto the frame. However, external frames are rarely found in the bags of today—instead, you may find external compression straps, rear loading straps, and side loading straps.
Compression straps compact the bag and bring it closer to the body, allowing for better balance and load management. As for rear and side compression straps, they serve an organizational purpose—you can store a sleeping pad or a jacket under a strap, and an umbrella at your side compression straps. These straps allow you to carry bigger items that don’t fit in your bag.
Also look for a sternum strap, which wraps around your chest and helps secure the bag to your body for a more comfortable, load-bearing fit.
A backpack’s organization system is an often-overlooked feature! They allow both the interior and exterior of your backpack to be kept neat, allowing you to have quick and easy access to your belongings.
Generally, most tactical backpacks now come ready with a secondary compartment, a laptop sleeve, and mesh pockets alongside their main compartment. However, a good tactical backpack should also have a good organization system with generous pockets and cubes for miscellaneous items. This would include pen slots, document pouches, and glasses pouches.
Some backpacks even have flexible organization systems so you can move panels around the main compartment to accommodate your outdoor gear perfectly. Bags with smarter designs incorporate convenient compartments for easy reach. Some bags strategically offer side compartments to hold water bottles within an arm’s reach or organizational features along their belts to store any valuables or small items.
Molle webbing is another key organizational feature of good packs. Molle compatible webbing provides you with easy access to external gear that you can’t fit or may not want inside of your pack.
You can hook on external pockets for easy access to items such as first aid kits, protection, water, and more. If you’re looking to maximize storage, getting a bag with Molle webbing is a must.
Having an organized backpack can significantly improve your mood when traveling. You would have peace of mind knowing where everything is, and you wouldn’t waste any time trying to find them.
Getting a waterproof and durable backpack is important so that you can protect your belongings. It is also equally important for the material of the bag to be lightweight, reducing the load that you are carrying (especially if you are planning to walk long distances).
Getting a backpack made from Nylon or Cordura would be ideal if you are planning to go through more intense environments, as you would need a bag that can withstand potential abrasions and damage caused by rougher treatment. These two tough materials are used in combat clothing and knife sheaths—a testament to their durability.
If you prioritize comfort and affordability, then you may want a tactical backpack made out of Polyester or Ripstop instead. While the latter is preferable, as it is much more resilient compared to Polyester, they are both lightweight and provide superior comfort.
For hardware, consider getting a pack outfitted with YKK zippers, which are known for their quality and durability.
Backpacks are a necessary part of any adventure ,but finding the right one can prove to be a challenge. As with any kind of outdoor equipment, you must use the right one that is compatible with your needs.
Be sure to consider your options and the brands that can best suit your needs. A pro tip is to set a budget and list of specifications in mind before going shopping. This can help you to narrow down your options faster.
Whether you are using it for the office, a short hike, or a multi-day backpacking trip, I hope this guide helps you find the right tactical backpack for your next adventure!