The 12 Best Tactical Military Backpacks

Apr 23, 2020

Category: Gear

Seeing as how backpacks are one of the most ubiquitous pieces of everyday carry gear around, it should come as no surprise that there are a ton of sub-categories therein. And while most folks are probably looking for something that fits more in the realm of everyday usage, hiking haulers, or even college-ready bags, there’s another class of person that needs something a bit tougher, more versatile, and ready for anything.

We’re talking, of course, about the tactical and military crowds. Now, you don’t actually have to be active duty or a veteran in order to desire a tactical military backpack, but knowing what that entails will certainly help you understand what to expect out of these bags. Designed for durability, expandability and modularity, and more — the following 12 bags are the best of the best when it comes to tactical military backpacks. And they’re all available to buy right now.

What Makes A Backpack Tactical?

A Question of Purpose

Determining what, exactly, qualifies a piece of gear as being tactical is no easy feat. That’s probably because, while there’s a clear definition for “tactical” (of or relating to military use), there’s not actually any standards in place as set by a governing body or institution. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell what’s tactical and what isn’t, so long as you keep your eyes on a few specific points, as we’ve outlined below.

Material: One of the clearer indicators as to whether something qualifies as being tactical or not is the materials out of which it is made. For reference, there are a number of fabrics used in the construction of backpacks that are widely used by global militaries. In regards to backpacks, the most common material is ballistic nylon — a woven fabric marked by durability, natural water-resistance, and high tensile strength. For nylon to be considered “ballistic,” it has to be made to a specific military standard that denotes its ability to survive hard battlefield usage. If it isn’t specifically denoted as ballistic nylon, that doesn’t immediately disqualify it as being worthy of a tactical designation — but you should perhaps research it a bit to discover if it can stand up to similar types of punishment.

Modularity: One of the clearer indicators of tactical functionality is the inclusion of a MOLLE grid. Widely used by militaries to allow additional modules to be added onto existing carry systems, MOLLE grids are ideal for tactical usage, as they help increase a bag’s versatility. If you need a medkit, you simply attach it to the MOLLE grid. Same goes for some bladed tool sheaths, ammo packs, some flashlights, and more. Because MOLLE is so popular, however, it can sometimes be found on non-tactical items or things that were inspired by tactical gear. Still, it’s a fairly good indicator.

Intended Purpose: It’s not always immediately apparent, but there are many pieces of gear that were originally developed for military use but are now widely available to the civilian population. Often, however, brands are proud of their military heritage and will clearly advertise their offerings as such. If you see a claim on a brand’s site that their gear is specifically used by soldiers, the likelihood is that this is factual. You can always to a quick internet search to be sure, but if a backpack was made for the Navy SEALs, Army, or Marine Corps, then you can bet your bottom dollar that makes it a tactical bag.

5.11 Tactical AMP24 Backpack

5.11 Tactical has been making excellent budget-friendly military-leaning gear for quite some time now. And that makes them distinctly well-qualified to build tactical military backpacks, like their relatively-new AMP24 series of bags. There’s a lot of features in these bags we’ve come to expect — like a durable nylon construction, plenty of internal storage, hydration bladder compatibility that doubles as laptop storage, etc. — but this bag also has a new feature we really appreciate. It’s called HEXGRID and it’s an alternative take on a MOLLE-style modular attachment grid. And while this one has a 32L capacity, they actually offer a full range of sizes, colors, and styles.

Capacity: 16L, 20L, 25L, 32L, or 40L
Exterior Material: 500D Dobby Nylon & 1050D Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: 15″

Purchase: $160

SOG Prophet Backpack

For those who aren’t aware, SOG is well-known for their selection of everyday carry and military-tactical tools and pieces of gear — especially their knives. As it turns out, they’ve also dipped their toes into the world of carry solutions, as can be observed in their Prophet Backpack. With five different options that range from 18L all the way up to 35L, there’s a size for everyone. On top of that, they also all come with compression straps, modular attachment grids, durable construction materials, stabilizing straps, and internal laptop sleeves. This lineup might just be the best backpacks SOG makes.

Capacity: 18L, 22L, 24L, 33L, or 35L
Exterior Material: 500D Kodra
Laptop Sleeve: Yes

Purchase: $193

P.D.W. S.H.A.D.O. Pack

Prometheus Design Werx’s lineup of S.H.A.D.O. packs are so superb that, although they’ve been making them for years, they’ve not needed any updates and they remain the only bag the brand presently makes. And that should tell you a lot, considering PDW is still very much at the forefront of constantly crafting excellent military-styled gear. Short for Suspension Haul Access Durability Organized, the SHADO is built from durable Cordura nylon, spandex, and ripstop to give it toughness and versatility in any situation. It also carries 24L of gear, has both internal and external modular attachment grids, adheres to a dual-compartment format for organization, and so much more.

Capacity: 24L
Exterior Material: 500D Cordura Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: 15″

Purchase: $198

Spec-Ops T.H.E. Pack U.A.P., MC

If you’re going to have the gall to call your company “Spec-Ops,” you had better be able to back up that name with some of the best tactical military gear around. Luckily for this brand, that’s exactly the case. If you can look past the somewhat awkward nomenclature of this particular bag, you’ll come to realize that T.H.E. Ultimate Assault Pack is a powerhouse of a backpack — boasting a 1000D Cordura nylon construction, dual compression straps, a modular attachment grid, hydration bladder compatibility, and more. Perhaps best of all, this superb tactical backpack is made entirely in the USA.

Capacity: ~42L
Exterior Material: 1000D Cordura Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: Yes

Purchase: $220

GORUCK GR1 Backpack

If we were forced at gunpoint to pick out the best overall backpack of all time, the GORUCK GR1 would absolutely come to mind. The same bag that got this company off their feet and vaulted them into the hearts of the everyday carry and tactical crowds, this backpack has only gotten better with time. And while it looks a bit more subdued than some of the other options, we find that its minimalist styling is more a point of pride than one of pain. Of course, that sleekness still leaves room for a modular exterior grid, your choice of a 21L or 26L capacity, and (of course) the bag’s signature bombproof laptop sleeve. It’s also made in the USA, comes with a lifetime guarantee, and has been tested in the field by actual Special Forces soldiers.

Capacity: 21L or 26L
Exterior Material: 1000D Cordura
Laptop Sleeve: 16″

Purchase: $265

T.A.D. FAST Pack EDC

Right alongside the GR1 in the conversation for the best overall backpacks, Triple Aught Design’s FAST Pack EDC is absolutely a contender for the top spot. The bigger brother to the award-winning Litespeed, yet still very nimble, this pack shares most of the same features in a slightly bigger format — making it better for those that have a large haul of gear. It also boasts one of the most comprehensive external PALS webbing grids of any bag on this list, it has plenty of storage pouches both inside and out, it’s comfortable to carry thanks to padded straps and a back panel, and so much more. If you need more of a vote of confidence than that, just look at the user reviews on TAD’s site for further confirmation.

Capacity: 28L
Exterior Material: 1000D & 500D Cordura Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: No

Purchase: $345+

Kifaru Shape Charge Backpack

If you’ve never heard of Kifaru International, the likelihood is you’re not a big hunter — as hunting gear is kind of their specialty. As it turns out, that specialty translates beautifully into the creation of some truly exceptional tactical military-style bags. And while you could really close your eyes and point at their catalog and find something worth hauling, we’re partial to the Shape Charge backpack you see here. This particular bag boasts a 33.5L capacity, an external MOLLE modular grid, compression straps, custom sizing (one of Kifaru’s biggest bonuses), five different colorway options, stabilization straps, and a wealth of organizational options.

Capacity: 33.5L
Exterior Material: 500D DWR Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: No

Purchase: $358

C.D.W. Project T.O.A.D. DryBag V_1.5

Though their catalog is woefully small nowadays, Colfax Design Works still manufactures some of the best tactical military carry solutions and accessories around. And the crowning jewel of their present lineup is the Project TOAD DryBag. Available in black, coyote, or camouflage, the hybrid duffel-backpack has a 40L capacity, it’s manufactured entirely in the USA out of waterproof Cordura nylon, it boasts mil-spec webbing and hardware, and it’s completely submersible — meaning you can dunk it in its entirety underwater and none of the gear inside will even get damp. It also features a variety of exterior lash points, a locking buoyancy valve, has removable shoulder straps, etc.

Capacity: 40L
Exterior Material: Waterproof 500D Cordura Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: No

Purchase: $390

Eberlestock F4 Terminator Pack

Eberlestock is well known for crafting some of the best tactical, military, and hunting gear and accessories around. But their bags are undoubtedly the highlight of their catalog — one that they give quite a bit of well-deserved attention to. In fact, the Terminator pack you see here has gone through four different renovations to become what it is today. As it stands, this is the lightest Terminator pack the brand has ever built — thanks largely to the inclusion of an Intex II aluminum frame which runs all the way around the pack. It also has comprehensive webbing throughout the exterior, tons of internal and external organizational slots and pockets, it can be adjusted to house firearms, and it comes with its own removable rainfall.

Capacity: 67L
Exterior Material: Waterproof 500D Cordura Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: No

Purchase: $469

Mystery Ranch Jump Komodo Backpack

Mystery Ranch’s Assault Pack is one of the better urban-focused tactical packs around — with its unique triple-zipper format and exceptional building materials. As it turns out, it also happened to be one of the best starting points for the midsized Jump Komodo Backpack you see here. A bit more on the militaristic end of the spectrum, this backpack features PALS webbing on the exterior and inside for MOLLE attachments, smaller internal pockets, hydration slots (yes, plural), and a stowable stabilization belt. For reference, the name absolutely refers to airborne operations and, yes, this bag can handle actual air insertion missions via “Jump-rated Type 7 webbing on all jump connections.” Of course, this tactical military backpack is also made in the USA.

Capacity: 37.5L
Exterior Material: Teflon & PU-Coated 500D Cordura Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: No

Purchase: $495

Arc’teryx LEAF Assault Pack

Arc’teryx is already a well-respected outdoor brand, but their LEAF lineup (short for Law Enforcement and Armed Forces) takes things to the next level with unheard-of levels of superb design, durability, versatility, etc. And the crowning jewel of the carry solutions within that lineup is the Assault Pack you see here. Not only is this weatherproof bag built from waterproof Cordura nylon, but it has internal channels for routing communications cables, it is compatible with 3L hydration bladders, there’s a small personal items pocket at the top, and it has internal expansion panels for Velcro packs and additional organizational options. And while all of those features are enough to garner this bag some well-deserved attention, the fact that it is used by actual law enforcement and armed forces personnel essentially solidifies its spot on our list.

Capacity: 30L
Exterior Material: Waterproof 500D Cordura Nylon
Laptop Sleeve: No

Purchase: $499

Matbock Mr. Dry 2.0 Backpack

The fact that the Matbock Mr. Dry 2.0 is actually used by Navy SEALs should be reason enough to earn it a spot on this list and the respect of everyone reading. Of course, even if the SEALs didn’t even use this bag, it would still be a remarkable specimen for military and tactical usage. Available in a trio of sizes (56, 77, and 122 liters), this hybrid backpack-duffel is available in three different colorways, it’s entirely submersible — meaning you can dunk it up to 150 feet underwater without anything inside getting even a drop on it — it supports usage with the Mystery Ranch NICE frame (the industry standard), and it can be inflated for added buoyancy during waterborne missions and/or adventures. Obviously, this bag is a bit too hefty and expensive to be for everyone, but for those that can afford it, it definitely can’t be beaten.

Capacity: 56L, 77L, or 122L
Exterior Material: Waterproof
Laptop Sleeve: No

Purchase: $800

The Ultimate Guide To Mil-Spec Outdoor Gear

A lot of the bags on this list were actually built to mil-spec standards. But what, exactly, does that mean? Learn all you need to know on our comprehensive guide to mil-spec outdoor gear.

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