Whether you’re looking for a bag for day hiking or an everyday go-everywhere pack, the right tactical backpack offers a perfect combination of ample storage, practical features, and all-day comfort.
It’s simple. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time wearing a backpack, choose a reliable one. Unlike many other backpack categories, tactical backpacks offer lots of utility for a wide variety of activities including long hikes, military deployment, traveling, and cycling.
Good tactical backpacks have numerous pockets, compartments, and clever features. Features to look for include external ports for nozzles and headphones, hydration bladder compatibility, two-way radio holders, compartments for medical supplies, and more. Furthermore, all-weather capability and durable materials define the characteristics of high-quality tactical backpacks.
For both professional and recreational applications, tactical backpacks offer carefully structured layouts that carry comfortably and keep gear secure, even when packed with heavy loads.
We’ve examined and reviewed options from across the tactical backpack market and determined which packs rank among the best in 2021.
Scroll through our list to view our picks, or jump ahead to the specific category that you’re interested in.
The Best Tactical Backpacks of 2021
Best Overall: Mystery Ranch 2-Day Assault Pack
This 27L pack from Mystery Ranch is one of the most versatile tactical packs on the market in 2021. Thanks to its lightweight profile and compact size, the 2-Day Assault Pack ($200) is the perfect choice for a weekend of camping when you don’t want to lug around a full-size backpacking pack.
Firstly, it’s both comfortable and secure on your back, thanks to removable hip straps and shoulder straps. And second, at just 3 pounds, it won’t weigh you down while hiking.
For professional and urban use, an integrated and padded laptop sleeve and robust YKK zippers add impressive multiuse utility. For water storage, the 2-Day Assault Pack is compatible with water bladders. Each pack also includes dual water bottle holders.
We love that this pack is made from hardy material. Its premium 500-denier Cordura fabric is field-tested and built to last.
For quick overnight adventures or practical everyday use, the 2-Day Assault Pack from Mystery Ranch offers great features and overall value at $200.
- Durable materials
- Highly versatile for overnight adventures or everyday use
- Easy-to-use three-zip opening
Runner-Up: REEBOW Gear Tactical Backpack
This sturdy pack from REEBOW Gear ($39) has a large capacity compared to other options on this list. For those looking for a backpack that can handle overnight trips and outdoor adventures up to three days in length, this pack is a well-built, good-value choice.
An abrasion-resistant outer material holds up well to the elements, and the pack’s strong zippers are built to last. Furthermore, a low-profile hip strap and integrated sternum strap keep the pack secure even when weighed down with heavy loads.
Ultimately, as an urban day bag, camping pack, or emergency go bag, this offering from REEBOW boasts impressive value at just $40.
- Good capacity for two- or three-night trips
- Durable for the price
- Hip and sternum straps for heavy loads
- Waist belt not large enough for some users
Best Budget: SOG Ninja
In 2021, many good-quality tactical backpacks are affordably priced, and the SOG Ninja tactical daypack ($28-34) is a prime example. Easy-to-adjust shoulder straps and a soft, padded hip belt combine with a stiff suspension for maximum comfort.
For everyday use as a professional or school backpack, an integrated padded laptop sleeve is accessible via a long side zipper. In the main compartment, several interior zippered compartments with small sleeves keep all of your gear in its own designated place.
Water bottles, sunglasses, or electronic devices will fit easily in the pack’s accessible side pockets. Two separate hydration bladder hose ports provide versatile options for multiple configurations. From daily commutes to weekend hikes, the SOG Ninja is adjustable, durable, and wonderfully affordable.
- Integrated laptop sleeve
- Multiple hydration hose ports
- Breathable mesh helps prevent sweating
Best Large Capacity: 5.11 RUSH 100
Designed specifically for military deployments, the RUSH 100 from 5.11 ($250) is a versatile, heavy-duty bag with plenty of capacity for gear-intensive pursuits.
Compatible with any size hydration bladder, this pack thrives in hostile environments where water is scarce and must be carried on your back. Also beneficial for burly environments, a 500-denier outer material holds up well to repeated abuse and abrasions.
With a 60L capacity, this is one of the larger packs on this list. The large internal storage is easy to organize thanks to an internal zipper admin compartment. Further, a custom aluminum and fiberglass internal frame supports heavy loads by transferring the load to the padded waist strap.
A 270-degree zipper allows the main compartment to fully open for easy packing and unpacking. On the outside of the pack, webbing stitched in a MOLLE configuration allows for modular customization and endless options for additional external storage.
For $250, this pack is more expensive than others on this list, but it also offers additional volume and is very well crafted. For those looking for a bag capable of packing out an overnight camping trip or storing lots of heavy supplies, the 5.11 RUSH 100 is a burly and reliable choice.
- Lots of pockets for ease of organization
- Heavy-duty fabrics and zippers
- Many options for modular customization of storage systems
- Adjustable torso strap includes quick release and load lifters
- Main compartment opens all the way for convenient packing and unpacking
- Not very water-resistant
- Not the most comfortable waist strap
Best of the Rest
The Monoki military tactical backpack ($29-41) is made of high-density double-stitched 900-denier fabric. This outer material is durable and water-resistant. A versatile mid-size volume means that this bag can be used as a small overnight camping pack, hunting backpack, hiking backpack, urban EDC (everyday carry) backpack, or travel bag.
True to its military-inspired styling, the Monoki Military 3-Day Assault Pack features MOLLE stitched webbing on the outside for easily attaching gear or tactical pouches. Inside the bag, spacious military-style compartments and dual-zippered closure pockets round out the storage system.
For large loads, a simple waist strap can be used to transfer the load to the hips. This pack is hydration bladder-compatible and comes in either 35L or 42L sizes.
- Breathable back panel
- Included sternum and waist straps for heavy loads
- Ergonomic design
- MOLLE webbing system for exterior storage
- Waist strap is not padded
This tactical bag ($45) is rated to carry up to 100 pounds of gear. Compared to its competitors, this bag is tough, highly durable, and very military-minded.
An expandable interior storage compartment can accommodate 20 to 40 L of volume. Proprietary compression straps let you cinch the pack down so it stays compact even when it isn’t full.
Notably water-resistant on the inside and out, this bag can handle overnight trips in inclement weather. In addition to its heavy-duty quality and tactical appearance, the 24BattlePack is full of internal features.
A built-in concealed carry holster, an insulated hydration bladder compartment, and a padded laptop storage area round out the bag. Built with features for various occasions, this bag is hard to beat when it comes to versatility.
For $45, the 24BattlePack is a top-notch value.
- Collapsible and expandable design
- Internal features including concealed carry holster and laptop storage
- Waterproof lining and rugged metal zippers
- Short straps are not ideal for taller users
In a lightweight and compact package, the 5.11 AMP 12 Tactical Backpack ($140) offers advanced modularity that gives this small pack the versatility of a much larger one.
The recently released AMP 12 is a great addition to any tactical gear kit. An innovation hook-and-loop front panel is the foundation of this pack’s impressive modularity.
Various 5.11 gear sets can easily attach to the pack’s loops. Unlike traditional sewn webbing attachment points, the hexagonal loops can mount gear at different angles for improved ergonomics.
On the bag’s interior, hook-and-loop paneling offers endless potential configurations. Multiple mesh-lined pockets allow for quick organization of your smaller gear.
For professional use, laptops up to 15 inches can be stored alongside the back panel. A four-way zipper makes for easy access to every area of the main compartment.
Built with 500-denier Dobby nylon, the AMP finds a sweet balance between lightweight and durability. Thermoformed back panels form to your body for unmatched support.
A truly advanced and well-considered tactical backpack, the AMP12 manages to be overt and covert simultaneously. For $140, this pack really does live up to its own tagline: “One bag, all missions.”
- Lightweight and durable
- Compatible with 5.11 gear sets
- Full clamshell zipper for easy packing and unpacking
- Hydration and laptop-compatible
- Heavy-duty and water-resistant 500-denier outer material
- Fleece-lined eyewear/media pocket
- More expensive than other bags of its size
The Mole is the smallest medic pack that is made by Mystery Ranch. The Mole ($550) is a compact and feature-packed medical backpack. Designed for quick emergency access to orderly medical supplies, the Mole splays open to expose removable pockets that allow you to work out of your pack.
On the front of the Mole, MOLLE webbing offers plenty of opportunity for modularity, and a removable Stick It flap creates an ideal place to store a helmet. Padded shoulder straps and a 1-inch waist strap fit securely to your body while on the go.
For EMS professionals or military personnel, this niche bag does exactly what it was designed to do. For users with needs that aren’t strictly medical, this bag is probably not the best choice since its design is so purpose-focused. Still, in its class, this is a truly standout tactical backpack.
- Highly configurable
- Lots of tactical features for military personnel or medical professionals
- Internal main pocket is easily customizable
- Designed with quick access to essential medical equipment in mind
- Heavy-duty and compact
- Expensive compared to other similarly sized packs
- Specific function that does not offer versatility outside of medical applications
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Tactical Backpack
There are many high-quality tactical backpacks on the market in 2021. These packs come in various sizes, styles, brands, and colors, and it can be difficult to figure out which one best meets your needs.
It is important to understand which features you most need from a tactical backpack before purchasing one. Some backpacks on this list are made for specific purposes, like field medics and military personnel. Others are more versatile and would be suitable for both professional and recreational use.
If you are looking for a compact and low-profile bag for quick day missions, you will not want to purchase a clunky 60L bag. Likewise, if you need a large backpack to store three days’ worth of camping supplies, you’ll want to avoid packs that are made for students on the go.
The purpose of this buyer’s guide is to help you determine the different characteristics and features available on the tactical backpack market and allow you to make an educated decision. The essential considerations for purchasing the tactical backpack that best suits your needs are materials, budget, capacity, and extra features.
Most technical backpacks have an outer material made from abrasion-resistant polyester, nylon, or oxford. These materials typically come with a denier rating, which basically rates how thick and sturdy the material is overall.
Tactical backpacks are made to be more durable than regular backpacks. Look for a denier rating of at least 500 to be assured that your pack will maintain its robustness over time.
If you are concerned with waterproofing, make sure you buy a pack with a water-resistant coating. A good coating will force water to bead on the surface instead of absorbing into and soaking your bag.
Tactical backpacks on this list range in price. First, decide what your actual backpack budget is, and then try to find the highest-quality option within your range.
Sometimes, paying more money means additional features like padded waist straps and insulated hydration sleeves. But other times, prices are simply tied to brand recognition.
Capacity and MOLLE
Liters denote the volume of a pack’s carrying capacity. While every bag on this list has an efficient design that is meant to maximize the available storage, total volume varies a lot. The greater the backpack’s volume, the more gear it can carry.
Everyday-use backpacks usually range in size from 10 to 30 L. This volume is great for day trips, school, carry-on luggage, and work.
Multiday packs — sometimes known as assault packs — hover around 40-60 L. This larger capacity allows you to store enough gear for a single or double overnight trip.
Assault packs are often specifically designed to store sleeping bags, cookware, water, food, weapons, and tents. Usually, packs of this size also include a built-in hydration system and a port for a drinking tube that can be accessed on the go.
In 2021, all tactical backpacks utilize hardy zippers and organizational compartments. On the outside or the front panel, many packs also have a MOLLE webbing system for custom and modular exterior storage.
MOLLE is an acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. MOLLE backpacks have a series of fixed points sewn into the pack’s fabric. Small pouches can easily be attached to these fixed points, or you can simply attach gear directly to the MOLLE with carabiners.
In addition to the basic ability to carry gear, tactical backpacks come with a whole host of extra features. These features vary in their application and purpose, so look for features that will have actual value in your life.
Common features include hydration bladder capability, laptop storage, MOLLE, specialized compartments, integrated concealed carry holsters, and more.
Some packs, like the Mystery Ranch Mole, have many features that are all meant for medical applications. This is great if you’re a medical professional, but fairly useless if you aren’t. Features differentiate one tactical backpack from the next.
What Are Tactical Backpacks For?
Tactical backpacks offer several different applications and purposes. Simply put, a tactical backpack is a specialized backpack that is durable, modular, and packed with useful features.
Some tactical backpacks focus on hunting, with field medics using others. Tactical backpacks take after designs originating in the military. But not all tactical backpacks are for military personnel.
Who Should Carry a Tactical Backpack?
In short, anyone who wants a reliable and heavy-duty backpack. While tactical backpacks look different than recreation-focused backpacks, they are often great options for camping and backpacking trips.
Many people choose to utilize tactical backpacks in their professional lives. Tactical bags are popular among law enforcement, medical professionals, and military personnel. Many people use tactical backpacks as go bags or bags that are packed and ready to go in the event of an emergency or evacuation.
What Kind of Backpack Does the Military Use?
The military uses a variety of backpacks depending on the branch and the specific application. Many military rucksacks are very similar to the options featured on this list.
What Should I Pack in My Tactical Backpack?
Anything you want! Just like a normal backpack, a tactical backpack will hold any gear you choose to stuff into it.
However, many tactical backpacks are specifically designed to hold certain kinds of gear. Some options on this list hold camping gear, while others are better suited for carrying medical supplies.
Have a favorite tactical backpack? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.