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Posted by Charles Verhoeff on

Choosing a Military Backpack – What you need to consider before purchase

If you’re in the market for a serious backpack, of course you’re going to be adding many military backpacks to your shortlist. We’ve got a ton of backpacks here on the site but there’s one common thread among them all: they’re all either some form of Government issue, or tactically equivalent. When I was in the US Marine Corps, we didn’t get a choice out of Boot Camp which gear we could use. However, once we landed at our first duty station, the options became available.


Military backpacks have a variety of uses that make them indispensable tools. They have strength, capacity, and special features, so, unlike cheap commercial school bags, these packs are ideal for creating a bag for hiking long distances. There are a lot of Government issue, as well as military style/spec backpacks available for sale though, so it’s important to make sure that you know what to look for. In this article, we will give you the background on what to look out for in a military backpack, so that you can know if you are getting a good deal.



While it seems like the appearance of a military backpack is unimportant, it’s actually significant for some uses. Having a good camouflage pattern can make a real difference. If you have an interest in hunting, hiking, or war games like paintball, a dull green backpack will stick out where a camouflage one would not. Before buying a backpack, look at the pattern and make sure that it is real camouflage. Most people will use military backpacks in a forest environment, so look into those kinds of patterns. Some common camouflage patterns include Marpat, Kryptek, Multicam and Pencott (this is by no means all the patterns available).


Whether you’ve got a small, one day pack like the 5.11 Rush 12, or a monster hauler such as the ALPZ Commander, packing a military backpack is critical for efficiency and you’ve got to be intelligent about it. Luckily, most quality packs have many internal compartments to help you split things up. You need to be sure that it has the capacity to hold everything you need it to hold – and then a little. If you have a specific use for the backpack in mind, then plan out how large of a backpack you need to manage your usage. On the other hand, if you aren’t sure exactly what you need to load up(you DO know what you need to complete your objectives, right?), then err on the side of too big. You’d rather have more space than you need than run out of space and need to get a new bag. Unused space can still be useful in the future.


The material of a military backpack needs to be light, but strong. The weight is important, because you are going to be wearing it for extended periods of time. You want it to be as light as possible without compromising on strength and other features, like waterproofing. A military backpack can hold a lot of gear, and that gear isn’t guaranteed to be super light. Make sure that the backpack’s material is light enough, but yet durable, that you can manage the weight of the backpack and the load at the same time. Another thing to think about in terms of weight is that you’ve got many choices in design, such as internal or external frame. Read reviews from users who have used each of the backpacks you are considering to see if any of them complain that it is too heavy. The strap design is also important – if the straps are designed poorly, they will cut into your shoulders and make carrying the backpack very uncomfortable. Bad shoulder straps can completely ruin your entire expedition. Maxpedition packs are one of the brands we like when it comes to comfort. There is an excellent book about packing intelligently. It’s geared toward Bug Out Bags specifically, but it’s worth the read.

Special Features

As we alluded to above, a military backpack should have some extra features to make it worth your while. While you’re general GI packs like the ILBE or Medium ALICE packs provide fundamental functionality, gingerbread is not included. Extra compartments, and webbed pockets are what really put the fancier backpacks over the top – and some of the packs available offer an unbelievable amount of exterior and interior amenities. Some military backpacks come standard with extra straps so you can attach a bedroll, a sleeping back, or a similar item. A military backpack should offer a lot of these extra features. Waterproofing is also essential as you need to be able to rely on your backpack to get you through just about anything.


The first thing to do is settle on a budget. Once you have a price range, you will have a shorter list of backpacks to compare. Next, you can go through that list and see what is available. You need to decide on a core set of features that you absolutely must have, and then some optional features that you would like to have, but are not necessary. Narrow down the list to backpacks that have all of your must-have features. The resulting set of backpacks is your new shortlist.Within that shortlist, you can consider each backpack carefully. See the prices for each one, examine their unique features, and decide which one looks best. This process will save you time and ensure that you are going to stay within your budget.

The experience of shopping for, and purchasing a military backpack can be very rewarding. These backpacks are tough, long lasting, strong, and spacious, so they are excellent for a verity of applications. Just remember all of these useful tips so that you can choose the right military backpack for your needs when your shopping time comes!

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A former US Marine, full-time father and husband, and part-time survivalist. I like old things, like music, furniture and time-tested survival technique, but there's always a place in my heart for new technology such as weapons and sleeping bag fill. I'm here to share my knowledge and experience, and I hope you'll share yours as well.