How to Choose a Tactical Backpack?

How to Choose a Tactical Backpack?

How to Choose a Tactical Backpack?

It’s crucial to pick the right tactical backpack. On the one hand, your pack should be roomy enough for all your gear to paste in; on the other hand, it shouldn’t be too bulky. It also needs to be durable, feel comfortable on your body and possess functionality that allows storing your belongings safely. Given an overwhelming choice of backpacks available on the market and your own criteria, this is to help you navigate in quest of a perfect tactical backpack.

What Is a Tactical Backpack?

The word ‘tactical’ means that a backpack comes with features that originated in the armed forces. Among others, these features include special pouches for ammunition, MOLLE mesh, and compatibility with a hydration system, ensuring significant combat advantages. Moreover, such backpacks usually have a militaristic look, and their colors (olive, coyote brown, camouflage, etc.) match military uniforms, enabling the concealment of troops during field operations.

Tactical Backpack Types

The size of a tactical backpack is dictated primarily by the volume of contents it has to accommodate. It’s measured in cubic inches, i.e., the length multiplied by the height and the width. That’s why liters is the most accurate measurement when it comes to the size of a tactical backpack, the shape of which isn’t always rectangular. In terms of contents, it may be an EDC (everyday carry or 12-hour), a 24-hour, or a 3-day backpack. The backpack volumes increase respectively, ranging from 5-35 liters through 30-40 liters to 40-65+ liters.

Load Distribution

It’s vital to know how to carry all your gear correctly since tactical backpacks are a priori designed to carry a lot. They possess special features to help you avoid injuries and delay fatigue.

Shoulder Straps

Shoulder straps are the foundation of tactical backpack ergonomics. They aren’t only adjustable-their different styles make a backpack better fit your body.

Straight shoulder straps are rarely used on tactical backpacks. Their appearance prevails over functionality; thus, they aren’t very ergonomic. In contrast to straight straps, curved ones are the most used type that emulates the natural body shape, providing many padding and adjusting possibilities as well. The purpose of one-piece shoulder straps is to ensure that a tactical backpack stays firmly attached to the body, even when moving actively, while a sternum strap contributes to a better distribution of the weight between chest and shoulders, preventing the backpack from swinging, which adds to maintaining a load balance and reduces fatigue.

Hip Belts

When there is a need to carry a heavy load over long distances, the question of load management arises. Hip belts help transfer some weight from your shoulders and back to your hips. The correct use of these belts envisages adjusting a tactical backpack so that their padded section hugs the top of your hips. The backpack location on your torso allows carrying the weight faster, feeling less tired at that.


Typically made of lightweight materials, backpack frames are used to optimize even more the load-carry ergonomics. These frames either add rigidity to a backpack structure or attach directly to hip belts. There are frame sheets usually inserted in smaller bags to keep their shape, improving the overall weight distribution and relieving pressure on the shoulders. Internal frames are more suitable for larger tactical backpacks and represent built-in stays (aluminum rods) attached straight to the hip belt to transfer the load from the upper body to the hips. Although less often used nowadays, external frames are sometimes superior to internal frames for some tasks like carrying game or cumbersome items by strapping them directly to the frame.

Different Ways to Open and Access

Not only carrying comfort but also the ease of getting to your gear makes a tactical backpack convenient. Provided a variety of opening and access styles, let’s review the most common ones.

  • A splayed opening gives immediate access to all the compartments when a backpack is unzipped. Such an opening also enables to separate off small and large items for keeping the contents organized.
  • In clamshell backpacks, a zipper fastener is attached to three sides, with the fourth one acting as a hinge. Things are grouped within the main compartment using pockets of different sizes.
  • Top-access tactical backpacks are designed to retrieve items from the top down. It allows packing the contents tightly so that they don’t fall out from a pack staying upright.
  • The Y-access (also called 3-zip) style is loved by experienced backpackers because it enables them to open the entire front of a backpack, providing immediate and full access to its contents.
  • Backpackers prioritizing the order may choose a bag with front access, in which a vertical zipper is placed along the bag front.
  • In roll-top backpacks, there is a top flap that rolls up and closes with a buckle. Such an opening style is advisable for tactical backpacks used in poor weather conditions since it makes them very water-resistant.

In addition to main access openings, there can be side access openings that allow taking out something directly from a backpack bottom. Backpacks with this access type can even be opened on the go by just swinging them around like a sling bag.

Organization Features

To prevent the backpack contents from being messy, your tactical gear needs to be packed properly. There are many ways of organizing it instead of throwing things into your backpack randomly.

  • The main compartment is, as the name suggests, the largest section of a tactical backpack. Usually, it contains the bulkiest and most essential gear accessible by opening a zipper.
  • The secondary compartment is usually located in front of the main one and accommodates lighter and smaller items.
  • The compartment for carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) comes in handy because it’s difficult to draw a gun from a holster, having a backpack on your shoulders. It provides discreet storage and quick access to weapons.
  • Pockets (including mesh) are the primary organization system of a tactical backpack. On the outside, they’re intended to store larger gear, while on the inside, they’re used for organizing smaller items for quick and convenient access.
  • Laptop sleeves are usually padded, protecting a tablet or laptop when backpackers need to transport it.
  • Document pouches and pen slots are convenient for carrying important documents (including ID papers), making notes in a notebook, or using maps when GPS is unavailable. To protect documents from crumpling and tearing and avoid the loss of pens among bulkier items, tactical backpack manufacturers created compartments specifically for storing such items.

Even a voluminous backpack can accommodate fragile eyewear thanks to a special pouch lined with microfiber fabric, and loop Velcro fields sewn on it are very convenient for occupational identification badges with hook patches, especially if you’re a police officer, an EMC worker, or a member of the armed forces.

MOLLE Webbing

Introduced in the 1990s for the U.S. military, the MOLLE system is essentially a feature that allows adding storage pouches and pockets to a tactical backpack. Apart from storing phones, radios, magazines, flashlights, etc., it provides unhindered access to accessories without having to stop, remove, unzip and dig in your backpack.

This feature was also appreciated by civilians who use it for creating extra storage space and having their gear organized, easily accessible, and balanced.

Hydration Bladders

This is another feature that originates from the U.S. Armed Forces and offers a solution to the hydration problem. A hydration bladder is a rubber reservoir placed within the backpack to hold many liters of water. By drawing to your mouth a bite valve of a hose, the other end of which is attached to the bladder, with the hose itself running through a channel in the pack, you can drink water on the go. This hassle-free hydration system exists in many tactical backpacks, providing travelers with an all-day water supply.

Tactical Backpack Materials

Since tactical backpacks are primarily designed for military and law enforcement personnel, they must not only help them store and transport their gear but also withstand rough treatment. This is the reason why such packs are made of the most durable materials available.

  • Cordura is a material that has been used for almost half a century in the U.S. Armed Forces due to its resistance to tears, abrasions, and scuffs.
  • Ballistic nylon was introduced during World War II to protect aviators from shrapnel since this fabric, developed by Dupont, is pretty resilient.
  • Rip-stop fabric, as would be expected, doesn’t rip or tear. Although it may be less durable compared to Cordura or ballistic nylon, rip-stop fabric performance on this characteristic is above average, which, coupled with lightness and thinness, makes it a suitable material for tactical backpacks.
  • Although clothing is its primary use, polyester is another popular material for tactical backpacks because, provided the necessary durability, it ensures a high level of carrying comfort.

In this article, we have highlighted the main features to pay attention to when choosing a suitable tactical backpack, which, as we hope, leads your quest to a happy end.