Everything You Need to Know About Tactical Backpacks

By Derrick Ferrell
Updated on
Man wearing tactical backpack hiking in the woods
Image credit: Syda Productions

Individuals that have the need to carry survival gear, hard metal tools, weapons, and other EDC equipment are sure to benefit immensely by using a high-quality tactical backpack.

A proper tactical backpack will survive under the force of rugged items and a harsh environment. Moreover, it will also offer smart pocketing, advanced organization, and easy access in emergency situations.

What Are Tactical Backpacks?

Tactical backpacks are the toughest, most durable, and particularly designed to hold a wide assortment of EDC equipment. They are normally intended for outdoor activities, thus incorporating high levels of environmental resistance.

Furthermore, tactical backpacks most serve highly active individuals. As such, they also provide great fitting and stabilization to stay in place during all sorts of movement and activities.

The Origin of Tactical Backpacks

The term ‘tactical’ is popular these days even among mainstream users. However, all tactical gear, including backpacks originates from military equipment, though back in the day it wasn’t labeled as ‘tactical.’

With that in mind, one might think that military backpacks must be the best tactical models, right? Well, it is not that simple. Sure, there are many aspects that military backpacks cover perfectly; however, they also have their drawbacks.

For instance, military backpacks tend to be designed to accommodate special military equipment, which is not something an everyday user would be interested in. Moreover, military equipment is financed by the government, which tends to run on a tight budget. Meaning that the gear may not always be of the highest quality.

With that said, exploring the use of classic military backpacks, surely is an option. Though, users looking to get the most out of their tactical backpack, are advised to look at reputable commercial brands instead.

Key Features

Unlike with many other EDC backpacks where looks and fashion play an important role, tactical models focus more on functionality. Everything must have its purpose. For a backpack to be titled as ‘tactical’ it must incorporate a set of properties listed below.


Every part of a tactical backpack must be very strong. The base material, the lining, the padding, the strings, the zipper…they all need to be able to successfully defy high forces, whether coming from the inside or outside of the backpack.


It is not enough that a tactical backpack is strong, it must be strong in the long run. Even when exposed to increased external forces and tough environmental conditions, it needs to preserve its strength and functionality.

Weather Resistance

The key purpose of tactical backpacks is their outdoor use. Thus, they are expected to have weather-resistant features. Water and dust/sand resistance shouldn’t be a challenge for a high-quality tactical backpack. Moreover, it should also be cleaned very easily. That way getting any mud on it is not even the slightest problem.


Tactical backpacks must offer top-notch organization options. This means that they have multiple compartments, external pockets, internal pockets, and internal dividers. That way they are able to perfectly accommodate any EDC gear while keeping things tidy. Proper organization is also essential for easy access.

Perfect Fitting

Tactical backpacks are intended for active users. This means that they must be able to fit the users’ backs perfectly and offer harnessing that enables detailed adjustment for a rather tight fit.

Comfort & Ergonomic

Tactical backpacks are often used for an extended period. As such, they need to offer a high level of comfort and ergonomics. It can be rather challenging to find a perfect balance between ruggedness and comfort; however, with a proper material selection many reputable brands manage to get things right.


Modularity is more of an advanced feature, though an extremely practical one. This includes internal adjustable compartments as well as external MOLLE options. Typically, modularity is achieved by using the Velcro system. The great thing about modularity is that oftentimes it offers universal use options. It is definitely considered a must-have among military personnel.

Other Important Features

Here readers can find a list of other extremely important features that they should look for in an ideal tactical backpack.

  • Top-loading main compartment
  • Side stretch pockets
  • Removable accessory board
  • Media pocket
  • Grab-and-go handle
  • Drainage grommets
  • CCW compartment
  • Chest straps
  • Yoke shoulder straps

Best Materials

When considering the key features of a proper tactical backpack given in the previous section, readers can see that many of them are conditioned by proper material selection. Of course, users rarely have to worry about choosing the materials as this is done by the manufacturers. However, it is still recommended to know what the best materials are, especially when purchasing a new tactical backpack.

One can find many different opinions on which type of material is the best for tactical backpacks. But after in-depth research, it is clear that high-quality nylon comes on top. But not just any nylon-500D–1200D CORDURA nylon fabric offers the best results.

Nylon 500D-1200D beats nylon 200D, Kobra, and polyester in all important aspects. Of course, there are some materials that are considered even more advanced. For instance, X-Pac (VX) is even tougher and offers a higher level of water resistance but it is not as lightweight.

Best Sizes

When it comes to tactical backpack sizes, the guidelines follow the same principles as for any other EDC backpack. As such, anywhere between 15-26L is quite standard.

However, since tactical expeditions often include outdoor adventures that can last several days, some larger capacities may also be considered more often than not.

Must Fit These Items

The required size always depends on users’ needs and the items they want to pack within their tactical backpack. Of course, many users have different plans and daily whereabouts, so it is practically impossible to list all the items that everyone will be pleased with.

There are certain items that tend to be carried in many tactical backpacks. The following list covers those items and may serve as a rough guideline for non-experienced users looking for ideas on what to pack in their tactical backpack.

Items Commonly Carried In Tactical Backpacks:

  • Wallet + extra cash
  • Flashlight
  • Knife
  • Multi-tool
  • IFAK
  • Extra socks
  • Extra T-Shirt
  • Deodorant
  • Fire starting kit
  • First aid kit
  • Water bottle
  • Pens and notepads
  • Essential snack (protein bar or similar)
  • Sunglasses
  • USB Storage
  • Battery packs
  • Smartphone
  • Keys
  • Laptop/tablet (urban users)

Best Brands For Tactical Backpacks

These days there are countless backpack manufacturers. And while many of them try to offer at least one solid tactical EDC model, many fail to do so. Luckily, some manufacturers specialize in tactical gear and thus offer reliable tactical backpacks. They are listed below.

  • 5.11
  • Amabilis
  • Oakley
  • SOG
  • Mardingtop
  • Red Rock
  • Lowepro
  • HDE
  • Victorinox
  • Direct Action
  • Mystery Ranch
  • REEBOW Gear
  • Prometheus Design Werx
  • Goruck
  • Triple Aught Design
  • Kifaru
  • Colfax Design Works
  • Arc’teryx
  • Matbock