In 2021, the best tactical backpacks aren’t just for soldiers anymore. Whether you’re hiking, mountaineering, fishing, or just want a solid “bug out bag” – a bag that that contains everything you need to survive for 72 hours in an emergency situation – tactical backpacks have you covered.
What to look for in the best tactical backpacks
In the abstract, tactical backpacks are equipped to keep you alive in emergency situations. In a more concrete sense, tactical backpacks are more rugged, more durable, and have more pockets than normal backpacks.
The best tactical backpacks have two central qualities:
Above all, tactical backpacks should be able to handle any situation the elements or the universe may throw at them. They’re designed for military missions, and they should be constructed from high-quality materials (such as high Denier nylon or Japanese YKK zippers).
The compartments – both interior and exterior – of a tactical backpack need to allow you to organize your gear efficiently and intuitively. In an emergency, you have to know where your stuff is, as it’s not hyperbolic to say that your life may depend on it.
Now that we’ve cleared up the basics, we’ll break down five of the best tactical backpacks in existence in 2021.
Tier 1 (Under $150)
1. Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack
The Skinny: Kelty is also a label that you can find in your neighborhood REI, meaning it carries a mainstream gravitas that makes some hardcore users balk; nevertheless, the best-selling Redwing 50 is an accessible, lightweight pack that gets the job done on shorter jaunts.
This Kelty model is all about trademarked features. The LightBeam single aluminum stay will make your journey extra pleasant, keeping your load from shifting around on you. Moreover, many users swear by the Dynamic AirFlow back panel, which really does keep your back aired out and cool all day long.
You can also get a great deal of mileage out of your Redwing 50 in everyday situations – it certainly wouldn’t look too out of place just walking around the city, backpacking through Europe (many users used it for just that purpose), or even heading to class or your job.
It was nearly impossible to find a user who had anything bad to say about the Redwing 50. Though it’s not the biggest bag, it carries everything you need and nothing you don’t with remarkable dependability.
2. The 5.11 Tactical Rush 24 Backpack
The Skinny: On Amazon, the 5.11 Tactical Rush 24 has been reviewed by 703 different people. Despite that immense volume, the Tactical Rush 24 is averaging a 5-star review. That right there should tell you all you need to know about the pack’s quality.
A number of different sources have called this one of the absolute best tactical backpacks on the market. And they’re not wrong.
Holding up to 2275 liters of your most important gear, the Tactical Rush 24 keeps it simple with four pockets: a main compartment, two dual-zipping side pockets, and a stuff-it pocket with a drawcord.
The fleece handle and the Japanese YKK zippers are of the highest quality – 1050 Dernier nylon is the highest we’ve seen so far – and the water-resistant coating, the comfortable shoulder straps, and the compression straps that can strap on extra gear all give this pack a little something extra.
Ultimately, the Tactical Rush 24 is just built from the best materials in a simple and intuitive design that’s everything you need out of your pack. If we could pick just one pack from our list, the Tactical Rush 24 is the chosen one, no questions asked.
3. Maxpedition Falcon-II Backpack
The Skinny: Though the Tactical Rush 24 is a pretty much impossible act to follow, the Maxpedition Falcon-II puts up a darn good fight.
Coming in a wider variety of colors than any of the other packs on the list, the Falcon-II expresses a visual personality, both in color and in design.
Boasting Japanese YKK zippers that are top of the line and 1000 denier nylon, the Falcon-II is certainly well constructed, if not quite as well as the Tactical Rush 24. With polyurethane and Teflon coatings, the Falcon-II stands up to the elements as well as any other pack. The shoulder straps contour to your chest and the simple compartments expand in a way that contours perfectly to whatever load you’re carrying.
One drawback – the pack itself is pretty heavy, even when it’s empty. Though this isn’t a game breaker, the longer you use the pack, the more you’ll notice the extra weight you’re carrying.
That said, nearly everything else about the pack is exceptional. Certainly worth an investment if you like the design.
Tier 2 (Over $150)
4. Eberlestock Halftrack Hunting Pack
The Skinny: Very small and minimalist – perfect for 2-3 day use, and used by many as a bug out bag – the Halftrack Hunting Pack is certainly one of the gold standards of the tactical backpack industry.
Coming in a variety of black, tan, green, and camouflage colors, the Halftrack is built from 1000 Denier nylon. It contains two hydration kits (3 liters each) in addition to two hydration sleeves (2 liters each), so you’ll have enough water to get you home safely.
The zippers are big and easy to use, and the Halftrack even includes a pull-out rain cover. A number of different compartments make your stuff relatively easy to organize.
A few drawbacks – it could use straps on the bottom to carry a sleeping bag or other gear and the water bottle pouches aren’t well thought out. Nevertheless, the main compartment is excellent, and the auxiliary compartments can hold oddly shaped things. Overall, it’s a highly versatile pack that is an excellent bug out bag
5. Camelbak Adult Motherlode Mil Spec Backpack
The Skinny: Though the brand name “Camelbak” is sometimes met with derision by hardcore outdoorsmen, conjuring up images of Boy Scouts at camp or dads on weekend hikes in the park, the fact is that the Motherlode Antidote is one of the very best tactical backpacks out there.
Constructed of 500 Denier nylon and capable of holding up to 2580 cubic inches of your gear, the Motherlode Antidote is constructed of hardcore, tough webbing that’s not going to break easily. It also includes Camelbak’s signature hydration system, with a 3-liter bladder, and a number of different useful pockets.
One user was able to fit a Jetboil cooking system, an inflatable mattress, a bivy, and a sleeping bag with plenty of room left over for extra gear.
The only area in which this Camelbak model was a bit polarizing was comfort – a few users complained about the pack on long trips, but the greater majority of users claimed that the pack rides well on your hips and back for extended periods of time.