Custom Carry: 15 Best Modular Backpacks

Photo: Black Ember Modular Bags

Versatility is the name of the game in regards to modular systems. And there are some of us – depending on our profession or leisure activities of choice – who depend upon that versatility when it comes to our choice of carry. For instance, a photographer is going to have a wide array of gear they need to carry with them from job to job. And that means they need a bag that can change its structure to suit that gear.

One of the best means by which you can carry an ever-changing set of gear is the modular backpack. These bags are often either internally or externally expandable (and sometimes both), giving them the ability to quickly change to suit your needs at any given time. If you’re looking for a carry solution for your dynamic and fluctuating loadout, you’ll certainly want to take a look at our following collection of the 15 best modular backpacks.

Our Criteria

There are a lot of bags on the market that incorporate the ability to function within a generic modular system – the most common of which is, of course, the military-created MOLLE. But, just because a bag has a MOLLE-compatible grid, that does not make the bag itself modular. For our purposes, we weren’t looking for bags that could be made modular with third-party expansions. Rather, we hoped to include bags that have their own built-in modular system (outside, inside, or both) or are part of a non-generic brand-focused modular system which can be purchased in part or in full from the creators of said bag.

Want To Know More About MOLLE?

While we left the generic and widespread MOLLE mil-spec modular system off our list, you can still learn about what it is any how it functions in our Ultimate Guide to Mil-Spec Outdoor Gear.

RVCA Zak Noyle Camera Bag

Designed not just for camera aficionados, but for real flesh-and-blood action photographers, RVCA created this bag alongside Zak Noyle – an actual expert in the field of action sports photography – to ensure it was up to snuff for even the toughest outdoor shoots. That partnership also means that this backpack features a versatile internal storage system, is made from water-resistant polyester, and has a wealth of easy access zippered pockets for the adventurer on-the-go.

Base Volume: 24L
Material: Polyester
Notable Feature: Removable Compartmental Camera Bag

Purchase: $100

GoPro Seeker Sportpack

As time goes by, GoPro’s action cameras get tougher and more capable. That also means people need an increasingly better means by which to transport them from adventure to adventure. Luckily, the brand has you covered there too with their own Seeker Sportpack. Built into its 16-liters of internal storage is a padded separately accessible pocket that can store up to five GoPro cameras and the SD cards necessary to store their footage. It also has an optional removable integrated chest mount so you can shoot on the go, and even has a hydration bladder sleeve to keep you from drying up.

Base Volume: 16L
Material: Nylon
Notable Feature: Compartment For Up To 5 GoPro Cameras & SD Cards

Purchase: $160

Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack

At first glance, you might be wondering what, if anything, makes this hiking offering from Osprey modular. And you might be surprised to know that this is actually two bags built into one. There’s the larger main 42-liter pack, but it also has a detachable 13-liter day pack that can be taken off an used by itself for shorter trips while you’re out traveling. The biggest benefit of this comes for those who like to backpack for long periods of time and those that jetset to must-see destinations. The idea here is that you can leave the greater pack at your campsite or hotel and take the smaller one with only the necessary supplies for a short outing.

Base Volume: 55L
Material: Polyester
Notable Feature: Removable 13L Day Pack For Short Trips

Purchase: $174+

Standard Pacific Field Rucksack

What we really love about Standard Pacific’s Field Rucksack is that it wasn’t built specifically for city use or for hiking purposes. Rather, the brand went to great lengths to create a bag that was versatile enough to handle both brilliantly. That means that this bag not only features a handy top-loaded fleece compartment for your delicate tech gear and a padded laptop pouch for your Apple or PC, but it also comes with a waterproof rainfly cover, a dual-access main compartment, removable toiletry and shoe pouches, and so much more. Truly, this is one versatile city-to-country gear hauler.

Base Volume: 25L
Material: Water-Repellant Nylon
Notable Feature: Quick-Access Top Zipper & Full-Access Clamshell Opening

Purchase: $199

Boundary Prima System

An all-in-one adaptable and dynamic modular system, the Prima comes in three parts: a main 25-liter bag that expands to 30 liters, a 10-liter removable Verge case perfect for carrying camera gear or bulkier electronics, and a .3-liter Fieldspace removable laptop sleeve with additional small storage. Even better than that, the whole system is also made from water-resistant sustainable Bluedesign fabrics, includes YKK Stormguard zippers for a little extra protection from moisture, and comes with a lifetime guarantee from Boundary.

Base Volume: 25-40L
Material: Bluesign Sustainable Textiles
Notable Feature: Main Bag Expandable From 25-30L Plus 10L Verge Case

Purchase: $200

Triple Aught Design Spectre System

Triple Aught Design is well known for making some truly badass carry gear. In fact, their FAST Pack series is arguably one of the absolute best ever created. But they also have their own modular system they call Spectre. Available in parts, the base of the system is one of three bags of varying sizes made from super durable technical materials called Dimension Polyant LS-42 and X-51. The other pieces include additional packs, alternative harnesses, and more. But the big highlight of this one is that, while Spectre operates as its own system, it’s also compatible with MOLLE/PALS systems.

Base Volume: 22L, 34L, or 46L
Material: Dimension Polyant LS-42 & X-51
Notable Feature: Spectre System Incorporates MOLLE/PALS Into Its Functionality

Purchase: $225+

Mission Workshop Arkiv System

To pair with the fact that all of Mission Workshop’s brilliant offerings are all USA made, weatherproof, and guaranteed forever, the brand also offers their own modular system called Arkiv. Even better, they have an online customizer, so you can build your own Arkiv bag from the ground up. That means choosing between one of three base bags – their R2, R6, or R8 – and then choosing your ideal loadout from their lists of color, module, and accessory options. As if that’s not enough, they also offer several already-built Arkiv packs, if you’d rather just trust their expertise.

Base Volume: 20-40L
Material: Waxed Canvas
Notable Feature: Comprehensive Online Customizer

Purchase: $235+

Slicks Modular Backpack

There are a lot of modular bags aimed at conveniently and comprehensively stashing all kinds of gear, but there are few – if any – as well suited to the business traveler as the Slicks Backpack. Offering a lot of the same great features you’d expect out of a modular pack – like the ability to swap out modules on the fly, decent water resistance, and a solid 30 liters of internal volume – this bag also has some neat tricks not typically seen in backpacks. For instance, the packages available include those that feature a shirtcover to keep your collared shirts wrinkle free, a suit bag for your slacks and coat, and a dopp kit with a hanger attachment to make all your accessories easy to get to.

Base Volume: 30L
Material: 600D PU-coated Nylon
Notable Feature: Full Suite Of Travel-Friendly Modules Available

Purchase: $239+

Black Ember Citadel Modular Pack

When creating the Citadel modular pack, Black Ember wanted to get two things right: it had to have expandable modularity, but it also needed to remain slick and minimalist. Sure, those seem like opposing ideologies, but we think Black Ember pretty much nailed it on this one. The base bag is handsome and unique, but it also features an interesting grid system that makes it easy to attach and remove modules on the fly. It’s also water-resistant rated at IPX06, features comfortable 3D shoulder straps, and has a breathable back panel. Just remember, additional modules (what the brand calls MODs) must be purchased separately.

Base Volume: 25L
Material: 900D 3-Layer Micro-Hex Performance Textile
Notable Feature: Minimalist Laser-Cut Hypalon Modular Grid

Purchase: $255+

Peak Design Everyday Backpack

People have made a bad habit of confusing the word ‘everyday’ with ‘ordinary.’ Thankfully, Peak Design is here to set the record straight. Their Everyday Backpack is certainly anything but ordinary, but it’s definitely versatile enough to use it day-in and day-out. Part of the reason is its durable construction out of a weatherproof 400D nylon exterior fabric, its comfortable shoulder straps and back panel, and sleek appearance. But the real star of the show is on the inside. Along with a 15″ laptop sleeve, this bag features an infinitely reconfigurable divider system that allows you to customize it to suit whatever it is you need to haul on any given day.

Base Volume: 20L
Material: Weatherproof 400D Nylon
Notable Feature: Infinitely Reconfigurable FlexFold Internal Divider System

Purchase: $260

Boreas Aperture 38 Modular Backpack

When it comes to camera-focused modular backpacks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that are quite as comprehensive as this one from Boreas. Crafted from a silicone-polyurethane-coated stretchy ripstop fabric, this bag is designed to mold to your carry without sacrificing its durability and usefulness. One of its biggest highlights, however, comes in the form of a reconfigurable modular camera bag that can be removed as needed from the larger backpack. This allows photographers to keep their photo equipment separate from all their other everyday carry gear without having to carry a separate case. And that’s only the beginning of what makes this bag so neat.

Base Volume: 38L
Material: Nylon 210D Ripstop & 140D Stretch Polyspan
Notable Feature: Comprehensive Reconfigurable Removable Camera Gear Case

Purchase: $275

Y-3 Multipocket Backpack

As proof positive that modularity and minimalism can coexist in concert, we present to you the V-3 Multipocket Backpack. Crafted from stretchy and waterproof fabrics, this bag is an excellent means by which to carry all your gear – whether it be tools, EDC, or tech – regardless of the weather outside. It also has the benefit of a handsome minimalist appearance, aided by the fact that the removable modular pouches are mounted on its sides rather than the front of the bag. This also means easier access is granted to the large main compartment – especially helpful if you’re trying to get to your super light laptop.

Base Volume: ~18L
Material: Polyester, Neoprene, & Elastane
Notable Feature: Side-Mounted Modular Cases Eases Access To Main Compartment

Purchase: $295

DSPTCH Camera Ruckpack

With all the necessary gear and tech used for photography, it should come as no surprise that most of the best modular bags are geared toward the activity. Still, some are better than others. DSPTCH’s Camera Ruckpack definitely ranks amongst the best, both for its super durable and water-resistant ballistic nylon exterior and for the fact that the main pack offers up dual access to an internal removable camera pack. It also features a 15″ laptop sleeve so you can edit your photos on the go and even has a lid that was built with consideration for tripod storage. Honestly, this is one of the best camera bags for the man that refuses to slow down.

Base Volume: 23L
Material: Ballistic Nylon
Notable Feature: Dual-Access From Main Bag Into Removable Camera Compartment

Purchase: $295

Lexdray San Francisco Camera Pack

Quite literally everything that Lexdray makes is superb. That goes double for their San Francisco Camera Pack. This bag is built from water-resistant nylon for superb durability day-in and day-out, but also has what could be called one of the most versatile formats out there. And there’s one simple reason: while the bag comes equipped with a single removable modular camera pack, it actually has room inside for a total of 3 – should you want to shell out the cash to buy two more. That’s good news for the spartan photographer traveler that stashes his clothes along with his gear and is also excellent for more comprehensive day-tripper photo journeys that require more gear. Best part, you don’t even have to put the modules inside it if you want. That way, it also works as a great everyday backpack.

Base Volume: 26.5L
Material: 1000D TPE Ripstop Nylon & Neoprene
Notable Feature: Customizable Layout For Up To 3 Large Modular Inserts

Purchase: $299

Naut Modulor M1 + M2

Certainly the most unique bag on our list when it comes to appearance and format, the Naut Modulor is actually a 3-in-1 bag. The main pack is a 20-liter bag, perfect for larger-scale gear hauling. The secondary smaller pack is 8-liters in volume, making it excellent for quick trips where you just need a little bit of gear to get you through until you return to your point of origin. Put them together and you have a formidable travel pack that can carry all your gear without requiring you to lug around a bunch of extras when you just need a quick getaway.

Base Volume: 28L
Material: Water-Resistant Coated Canvas
Notable Feature: 3 Bags Built Into One For Increased Versatility

Purchase: $524

Best Everyday Carry Backpacks

If you’re looking for something a little more focused on the day-to-day, you’re sure to find one on our list of the best everyday carry backpacks for men.