In previous posts we've covered your feet, but what about your back? How you carry your equipment is as critical as the equipment itself. How you get your mission-essential gear to the objective can make a big difference in how effective you are when it comes time for some tactical site exploitation. What you look for in a bag is just as important as how you decide what's going on your feet. I have come up with my list of favorites here on my review for best tactical bags for military use.
What to Look for
Strap width and padding: straps that are too narrow and too thin can dig into your shoulders and add excess strain to your neck and back. Straps that are too wide slip off your shoulders and, frankly, are worse than narrow straps. Unless you plan to join the French Foreign Legion and enjoy carrying a ruck with cord for shoulder straps, check the feel of the straps first.
Kidney pad and waist belt: a good kidney pad is a must for a bag you plan on carrying it for any amount of time. Kidney pads protect you from heavy loads bearing down on (you guessed it) your kidneys. You won't find these on an assault pack, but we'll get to those later. A good kidney pad is firm and doesn't give easily under pressure. It also helps keep the bag’s weight off your hips and up high on your shoulders. A good waist belt is easily cinched to the body to keep the core tight. They help protect your back (more specifically, the sensitive muscles and disks in your back) from the strains of heavy loads.
Bag depth/sizing: bag size is generally measured in volume, usually cubic inches, and is totally dependent on your intended use. Bags for machine gunners can measure in excess of 5,000 cu. in.; some three-day bags may only hold half that amount. A quality bag will usually hold around 3,500 cu. in., which allows you to carry a variety of tools and gear.
Pouches/attachment points: if you plan on carrying anything outside your bag or attached to it (like a glorious, field-stripped MRE) you'll want a bag that has some sustainment pouches included. At the very least, you'll want some MOLLE attachment points. A good bag will have streamlined pouches that reduce its footprint, and that keep its weight centered on you.
Check out BEST SELLING bags for rucksacks
We all know the CIF-issued MOLLE rucksack is awful. It’s too wide, the waist band is awful and has no padding, and comes equipped with an all-too-fragile suicide clip system that makes for an uncomfortable and unwieldy bag. If you're looking for an upgrade, we've got you covered. Here are our top 5 rucksacks, in no particular order:
1. ALICE pack (various manufacturers) – excellent all-around tactical bag
An excellent pack with a storied history, the ALICE attachment system was introduced in the Vietnam era and has been a soldier favorite ever since. Featuring an aluminum frame, ALICE attachment points (don't worry, MOLLE pouches work fine on it too), and a kidney pad that lasts for years, the ALICE pack has endured over forty years of service for a reason.
It can commonly be seen on our pipe-hitting brethren on Fort Benning, JBLM, and Hunter Army Airfield, if you catch my drift. The ALICE pack is still commonly used in other airborne units for its extreme durability and utility in the field. Tactical Tailor makes an excellent ALICE pack with some in-house modifications that take this rucksack to a whole new level.
2. ILBE Pack (Marine Corps issue) – great bag with superb functionality
The ILBE was adapted from an Arc'Teryx design, a mountain brand known in the tactical community for its LEAF products. The ILBE looks more like a mountaineering bag than a rucksack, and is more than capable to handle any environment you throw at it. The additional length of the ILBE makes it great for storing long, inconvenient items like a 240 tripod or spare barrel bag.
The bag’s only negatives are a lack of third-party manufacturers, leading to somewhat high prices at surplus shops... That is, if you can ever find an ILBE on the shelves.
Kelty is another well-known mountaineering brand, and has only recently begun manufacturing bags for us tactical athletes. The Eagle is similar to the ILBE in dimensions, but has a much sturdier external frame, at the price of being a little heavier. It comes in a variety of colors and patterns, making it an ideal third party tactical bag. The Eagle also comes equipped with vertically mounted sustainment pouches and plenty of MOLLE webbing for breach kits, aid bags, command pouches, and nearly anything else you can name.
4. Tactical Tailor MALICE Pack – not your daddy's ALICE pack
The battlefield is constantly evolving, and so is the gear we use. The MALICE pack is our generation's revolutionary field pack. Think of it as an ALICE pack, but with better straps, a more durable kidney pad, and additional pouches. The fastening system has also been improved on the MALICE pack; it uses Tactical Tailor's own FastEx modification, replacing the standard cinch system with sturdy clips to keep the straps out of your way.
5. Condor 3 day assault pack– Large load cargo capacity
The Condor 3 Day Assault Pack is a Heavy duty carry and drag handle with 2 double zippers on the main compartment for easier access to items. There are about 7 different compartments for you to keep things in. What I like most about the bag is that there is one compartment for hydration systems and gear strap around the bag to secure gears and pockets.
With plenty of space for whatever you need, these bags are tough and designed to take a beating. If there's a Mystery Ranch bag on your back and you're not punishing it, you're not using it right.
CHECK OUT BEST SELLING BAGS FOR assault packs
Assault packs are game changers. The great ones have a built-in hydration system (or at least dedicated space for a bladder), firm but comfortable straps, a chest strap, and a minimal waist belt. Assault packs are a great tool for missions that won't last more than 24 hours, short hikes, or going to the range for a day or two. In no particular order, here are our top 5 assault packs:
1. CamelBak Pack – top of the line assault pack
“CamelBak makes a tactical bag? What?” Well yes, they do, and the Talon is fantastic. It features a dedicated zipper-enclosed pouch for a bladder, rigging attachments included for airborne operations (including leg straps), and excellent construction, all of which set this assault pack ahead of its peers.
2. SOC (Sandpiper of California) variety of assault packs - great variety and functionality
SOC makes incredible bags of varying size and purpose. The SOC line features everything a soldier could ask for in an assault pack. With their 1-day to 3-day packs, SOC bags are known for being extremely durable in unforgiving environments, with great attachment points for adaptability.
3. Red Rock Day Pack – small in size but effective
The Red Rock Day Pack is an excellent day pack. Small and narrow, it has just enough space for a water source and a couple snacks or MRE's. At its extremely reasonable price point, it's a great addition to your kit if you plan on going outside the wire for just a couple hours.
4. Tactical Tailor 3-Day Assault Pack – a durable and tough overnight bag
If you're part of a unit that conducts return-on-daylight missions, Tactical Tailor has a solution for your carrying needs. The Tactical Tailor line of assault packs is incredibly durable, tough, and has enough carrying space for a change of uniform, two days’ worth of water, and a few spare magazines.
5. BLACKHAWK! 3-Day Assault Pack – great concept & decent price point
The BLACKHAWK! line of tactical gear has established itself as high quality at a reasonable price. There are soldiers and Marines climbing the Hindu Kush as you're reading this wearing BLACKHAWK! plate carriers and assault packs. Recently, they've moved manufacturing to a plant in China; quality control has been somewhat of an issue since they ditched the American-made model a few years ago.
Yes, our specialty in the past has been boot recommendations. But don’t let that fool you. We've used the boots we've recommended to carry the bags on this list all over the world. If we can help you decide on a piece of equipment that makes you a better force multiplier, we're happy.