How to Pick the Best Military Backpack

Military packs are meant to be tough, useful, and versatile. The armed forces have a wide variety of needs and need bags that are exclusively designed for that purpose. Of course, there are plenty of civilians who want that kind of function and would love to get their hands on a military style backpack. There are two kinds, which you’ll soon learn, but there are a variety of things that you should look for no matter what you need.

We recommend the 5.11 Rush Backpack as the top military backpack currently on the market.

What Qualifies A Military Backpack?

This can get complicated, but a military backpack is one of two things. Either it is the official gear that is used by those on active duty or equipment that matches the specifications that the military has set for those same people.

Each case will require the same basic equipment, although dress codes will help determine the choice for those on active duty.   There are a number of companies that produce these packs, and many are available in military surplus stores. If you want to find the best one, though, you should know exactly what you are looking for and what you should be wary of.

What to Look For

There are only five basic things that you should look at: size, internal capacity, hydration options, comfort, and price. If you are active duty, I would suggest checking your standards to know that you are getting one that fits into your dress code as well. In general, however, these things will help you find the best choice possible for you, no matter what you affiliation with the military is.


Depending on your own needs, the size of the pack can play a huge role in deciding which one you get. The size measurements and capacity are different in that they will fit differently on your body. Tall equipment requires a taller one, whereas smaller, denser objects will require the opposite.

In general, however, the size can range from: -23 X 13.5 X 8.5 -19 X 13 X 12 -23 X 15 X 15 -13 X 16 X 9. This is just a few examples of sizes showing the different shapes that are available. Don’t think of these in terms of overall capacity that will be explained next. Instead, consider your body size and equipment.

Internal Capacity

The internal capacity of military backpacks is measured in cubic inches. The majority of packs that you look at will be from 1,000 to 3,000, although there are some official packs that go up as far as 5,000. Again, this comes to your own needs and what you will be carrying.

Clothing can easily be rolled and packed into smaller space, but electronic equipment can’t be made more compact. MOLLE models are the largest that you will find on the market, in most cases, and are designed specifically for carrying large amounts of equipment with you on missions and in training.

Backpack Size Unit Conversion

Litre to Cubic Inch Cubic Inch to Litres 
Litres x 61 = Cubic InchCubic Inch x .0164 = Litres
LitresCubic inchCubic InchLitres


Hydration packs are a vital part of military backpacks and should never be overlooked. Whether in the mountains, the jungle, the desert, or out at sea, there is a need for water.  CamelBak is the most famous producer of these packs and many military backpacks come equipped with this brand as a standard. They have the ability to withstand a variety of temperatures and can carry up to 3L of water.

To decide which is best for you, look at your situation. The amount of time you expect to move, the weight of your pack, and the temperature will decide how much you need. 3.5 liters is about the average you need for a daily basis, so plan according to that. If you expect day long trips, you need to carry as much water as you possibly can.


Military equipment isn’t very commonly associated with comfort, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any to be had. Padding, straps, and stiff panels can make a military pack much more comfortable.  Look for a model that features padding on the back as well as the exterior.

Many are designed to protect against the elements, but not protect you from the back of the pack. Padded arm straps are also important. Whenever possible, choose one with the best chest closure system. This will distribute the weight evenly throughout your upper body and protect your shoulders from strain.


A price comparison shows how much the government spends on the standard issue models, but it also shows that you can have a quality pack for about the same price of a standard commercial model. For a standard issue US military pack, $50-$80 is about the standard. This won’t get you many features, but it fits the uniform requirements perfectly and functions well enough.

If you want a feature filled model that still fits that standard, $150 will be the average. That gets you a sturdy pack that functions well and remains comfortable even against the elements.  The amount that you are willing to spend will ultimately be decided by your own needs. If you are preparing for a week out in the field, you might want to spend a little more than if you just want something to take your books back and forth from school.

Top Five Military Backpacks

While there are many great military backpacks on the market today, a few stand above the rest. Below is a look at the top five military / tactical backpacks that use good material,  are durable enough to withstand the weather elements, and come at a good value.


If you are in the market for a military backpack, keep all of these things in mind. These aren’t solid rules, but they should give you enough information to make a wise decision. Of course, if you are in the military always make sure that you check with your uniform standards before you make any decision.

There are plenty of returns that happen on bags like these due to small changes in code.  By taking your size, hydration needs, funds, and equipment, you can find the best choice. The right military backpack will last you a long time, even in the most extreme training. Choose wisely and you won’t be disappointed.


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