If you’re on the hunt for a new survival backpack, I’m here to help.
But first, what exactly IS a survival backpack?
Well…it’s a backpack tough enough for survival – it’s as simple as that. And a backpack is just a durable container for your gear; you take it everywhere.
Because in an emergency, there’s nothing better than having the right tool for the job.
And nothing worse than having to make do with the wrong tool…
Why? Because your odds of success are significantly better with the proper gear.
Sure, expert survivalists can often make do with what nature provides. Bushcraft can come in handy.
So what’s the best way to ensure you always have the right survival tools nearby?
There’s only one way I know of – carrying a survival backpack.
My survival backpack allows me to carry all my emergency gear and tools just about everywhere I go. But the choice in survival backpack matters – A LOT.
With so much riding on your pack, it would be an epic shame to grab an old cheap back-to-school bookbag you had lying around in the back of a closet.
Sorry Jan Sport, your bags are wimpy…
If the survival backpack you choose isn’t up to the challenge of constant use and abuse, you could be risking it all!
And the process of selecting a quality survival backpack is not as easy as it seems. You need a tough, durable survival backpack (a.k.a. a tactical backpack). One made to withstand the rigors of difficult terrain and dangerous conditions.
So, it needs to be insanely reliable, extremely comfortable, and easy to use, or it will slow you down.
So today, we’re going to help you find a legitimate survival backpack by covering the following topics:
- Best Survival Backpack Features
- How Size A Survival Backpack For YOU
- The Best Survival Backpacks On The Market Today
- Gear You Should Put In A Survival Backpack
**Note: If you want our top recommendations, feel free to SKIP AHEAD HERE.
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Best Survival Backpack Features
Trust me; it’s an overwhelming experience scrolling through hundreds and hundreds of packs. There IS such a thing as TOO many choices – it’s called Analysis Paralysis…
And what’s worse is most survival backpacks all look the same.
So how can you tell if one is quality or not? Seriously – they all look so cool!
Sure, there’s an occasional attempt at a unique feature here and there. But for the most part, they’re carbon copies.
And when someone comes out with a new “unique feature,” how can you be sure it’s not all just a bunch of hype? How can you tell if it’s worth the extra money?
The bottom line is:
Sorting through all the survival packs on the market is a daunting task. You need a way to filter down your options – FAST.
That’s why I recommend starting with key features.
So, let’s go through these features to help make your decision easier.
Size Does Matter? Yes (avoid going too big)
The most crucial aspect of picking the best survival bag is the size.
I’m not talking about how it fits (we’ll get to that later) but rather how much stuff it can hold.
“The difference between “want” and “need” is how far your willing to haul it on your back” – “Just In Case” Jack
Packs are usually measured in volume, with cubic inches or liters.
This number allows us to compare survival backpacks and determine how much gear they should hold.
However, they measure this by filling every pocket of the pack with small plastic beads. Stuffing every nook and every cranny with small plastic beads.
They do this until the whole thing looks like an overstuffed beanbag.
Then they dump all the beads out into a container. They can then measure the total volume of the pack. All without having to measure the internal spaces of each pocket individually.
Of course, your gear doesn’t pack as tightly as those little beads. So you’re left with empty spaces around oddly shaped items here and there.
However, it’s worth the time to reduce empty space as much as possible. To keep your overall load compact and efficient.
And while your first impulse is to get the biggest pack you can find, that’s a terrible idea!
Even if a giant pack allows you to add every tool known to man, YOU HAVE TO CARRY IT. Unless you can afford to hire a golf caddy to haul all your survival gear around. Otherwise, YOU’RE the mule.
How far can you walk with a 100 lbs pack on your shoulders?
Instead, what if you cut down your gear to the bare essentials? How much space will that take?
I’ve found that the 30-40 liter range is about the perfect survival backpack for me. No, that’s not massive, but it’s light and comfortable!
So I’m very deliberate about what goes into my survival pack. I don’t take everything but what I do take goes with me nearly EVERYWHERE.
You see, the problem with heavy survival backpacks is they suck to haul around. So naturally, after about 2 weeks of wearing it daily, you decided to take a day off. You’re only going to leave it at home “just this once”…
Then you realize how nice the break is and take another day off. Then one day, you realize you haven’t taken your pack for 6 months!
But, with my lighter survival backpack, I can hike all day through rugged terrain and still have plenty left in the tank. I can also squeeze through small passages without on branches and rocks.
That kind of maneuverability is important. Especially if you’re trying to save time and save energy – or when you’re in fight or flight mode.
So do yourself (and your back) a favor – keep it reasonable, nibble, and light.
Comfort Startings and Ends With Padding
When I hear the word “comfort,” I cringe. I can’t help it. Being a self-reliant and resilient human is the exact opposite of “extreme comfort.” Being resilient is all about intentional challenge and purpose.
But today, I’m not talking about obscene societal comforts and luxuries – such as day spas, conditioned air, and motorized sofas (a.k.a, cars).
When it comes to wearing a survival backpack, comfort should rank high on the priority list.
Why? Because if it fits properly and comfortably, it will reduce discomfort and distraction. That way, you’ll be more focused on the task at hand.
Pack comfort helps to increase endurance and speed by avoiding frequent overload and adjustment stops. So in this instance, comfort is a REAL tactical advantage.
Get a pack with well-built and generously padded shoulder straps. Your shoulders are the main point of contact between your body and the pack, so they’re pretty freakin’ important.
If you ignored my advice about size and weight – and your backpack weighs over 40 lbs – make sure you get a pack with hip straps as well. That way, most of the weight of your pack should ride on the hip belt.
These hip straps transfer the load directly to your legs instead of your shoulders.
But that’s only for heavier packs. For lighter survival backpacks, which I recommend for daily use, a good set of padded shoulder straps is more than enough.
Just make sure the shoulder straps have good risers.
Risers, you ask? That’s just cool-kid lingo used by pack manufacturers. Risers are the adjustment straps above your shoulder. They help to keep the pack snug and close to your back for better balance.
An adjustable sternum strap across your chest is also a nice comfort bonus. This prevents the shoulder straps from sliding out and pulling back on your arms.
For women, contoured shoulder straps can be a lot more comfortable. Women often need a bit more space around their chest area – so keep an eye out for women’s specific packs. They’re harder to find, but sometimes you can swap the straps from another pack.
Throw It Down A Cliff, And It Survives Cuz It’s Tough As Hell
All design features are pointless if the pack falls apart at the seams.
- High-strength webbing straps
- Heavy-duty zippers
- Abrasion-resistant materials
- Double stitching in key locations
YKK “self-healing” zippers are an industry-leading standard. I’ve never had one blowout on me, even on packs I’ve had for over 30 years.
Cordura and ripstop nylon are great choices as well.
While I love lightweight silicone-coated nylon, this isn’t the proper application. It has lower resistance to abrasion, punctures, and tears – not good enough for survival.
Waterproof survival backpacks are nice, but I’ve never seen a pack that didn’t leak. I’d rather save the money on “waterproof” and invest it elsewhere in my kit.
A durable survival pack with a heavy-duty trash bag as a waterproof liner is a far more cost-effective option. You can also swap in a new trash bag liner if yours ever leaks.
Quick Retrieval Systems (a.k.a small exterior pockets)
There might be more unique pack pocket layouts than there are manhole covers in New York.
Recently, it’s been like an arms race between manufacturers. It seems like the one who can add more special pockets than anyone else wins.
Sure, I appreciate additional organization – but to a point. It’s getting out of hand.
Remember, each additional pocket requires more material and more zippers. This adds up to more weight. Unnecessary pack weight is bad – ask your back – it agrees!
So instead of a pack with 30 different pockets, look for one with:
- 1-2 main compartments for clothes, freeze-dried food, and camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc.)
- a few medium pockets for things you “might” need during the day while hiking
- a couple of small pockets for those easy-to-lose items
I’m a fan of a few strategically placed small pockets. Either directly on the hip belt, on the shoulder straps, or near the top of the pack.
These provide a place to stash small items while on the move. Yet keep you from taking the pack off to get to them.
A lighter, a knife, some sunscreen, snacks, a compass, and a topo map live in the small exterior pockets.
If you carry a gun, stash a few rounds of extra ammo in an exterior pocket for quick, easy access. You can’t afford to root around the bottom of your pack to reload mid-combat!
MOLLE and other exterior mounting systems have a place here as well. They provide easy attachment points for all kinds of items. They allow you to expand your carry capacity and customize your pack.
However, keep in mind – exterior items are easy for others to see. So you might want to keep your loaded pistol in a concealed pouch.
Also, exterior items tend to catch on branches and other obstacles and are easy to lose if knocked loose.
Thirst-Quenching On The Go? – Yes, Please
A hydration system can be a huge timesaver while on the move. Most can carry 2-4L of water in a flexible plastic bladder.
You drink from the bladder via a hose, eliminating the need to carry a separate water bottle.
Place the bladder in the pack’s center, right against your back. This provides the best load distribution and balance.
Of course, be sure to keep any sharp objects away from the bladder. If you pop a hole in it, you may not know about it until it’s too late. Like when you eventually feel the water dripping out the bottom of your pack and soaking everything inside.
One cautionary note – water bladders are plastic, so you can’t boil water in one. So you might want to stash a small single-walled stainless steel water bottle if you’re forced to boil water to purify it.
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How To Size A Survival Backpack For YOU
Like clothing, packs come in many sizes to fit many different body types – from Xsmall to XXlarge. Picking the correct size is crucial to ensuring the pack fits properly and is comfortable with a load.
Pack sizes are determined by torso length. A measurement of the distance from the base of your neck to the small of your back.
Have someone use a flexible measuring tape. Start at the large vertebra at the base of your neck to the top of your hips.
When you’re looking at packs, check the sizing and find the one that best fits your torso length.
Most packs come with adjustability built-in. Usually, by changing the hip belt and shoulder straps, mount points to fine-tune the fit.
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Best Survival Backpacks On The Market Today
Here are a few of the best survival and tactical packs we’ve found on the market.
They represent a wide range of prices and options. But each one has some great features and might be the right one for you.
The EVATAC™ Combat Bag is a badass bug-out bag and ideal for anyone serious about putting together a legit survival backpack.
Our founder (“Just In Case” Jack) owns and wears this exact survival backpack.
Why? Because it’s constructed of 600D Polyester, which makes it tough as nails.
The Combat Bag’s zipper and clips are heavy-duty and long-lasting.
The padded shoulder straps make carrying this bug-out bag very comfortable, and there is a chest strap that can sinch it down tight to keep it in place if/when you need to run.
There are a total of 10 compartments that can help keep you and your survival gear organized. By the way, these compartments are waterproofed to keep your gear dry.
There’s even a padded compartment that can fit a laptop or other sensitive gear.
The best news is that this tactical backpack sells for a fraction of the price of similar bags at the time of writing.
Interested? Check out my detailed review of The Combat Bag by EVATAC:
A huge name in tactical gear, 5.11 makes some of the most popular survival backpacks out there today.
They cover a wide range of sizes (both in volume and in torso length). It can handle just about any situation – short of an expedition to Everest.
Of course, this type of quality doesn’t come cheap!
On the other end of the price spectrum, The Reebow Gear Tactical is a basic pack with some great features. It includes MOLLE webbing, durable fabric, and a simple pocket layout.
Some reviews mention the straps falling off. But you’re supposed to double them back through the buckles, which seems to be confusing people.
This might be perfect if you need an inexpensive pack to serve as a bug-out bag or evacuation kit.
The Condor 3-Day pack lands between the 5.11 and Reebow packs.
It’s a bit more complex than the Reebow and priced accordingly. Yet it’s not the expensive bomb shelter that 5.11 makes.
It’s a solid, well-built pack with a large main compartment.
That single large compartment can be a little floppy and shapeless if it’s not full. But you can manage that with the compression straps.
The internal straps help keep gear in place while on the move. The MOLLE webbing allows you to add anything you want to the exterior panels.
Of course, if you don’t already have any survival gear, you could look into a pre-packaged kit that includes a pack.
These are very basic survival kits but serve as a good base on which to start your collection of gear.
And if you’re in a serious rush, and cannot afford to spend the time building your own bag, then it’s better than nothing!
Just keep your expectations in check on the quality of the gear.
As A Way To Introduce You To Skilled Survival, We're Giving Away Our Ultimate Survival Gear Checklist. Click Here To Get Your FREE Copy Of It.
Gear You Should Add To Your Survival Backpack
OK, here’s the deal. We’ve covered the gear to put into different bags several times before – actually, a lot of times before.
So instead of rehashing the same lists again, I’ll refer you to a few of those high-quality articles:
- How To Build A Get Home Bag From Scratch
- Bug Out Bag Checklist – 104 Items To Build The Ultimate Bug Out Bag
- How To Build An Ultimate Go Bag For Any Emergency
- How To Build The Ultimate Emergency Survival Medical Kit
- 54-Item Survival Gear List – The Complete Life-Saving Checklist
- How To Build An INCH Bag “I’m Never Coming Home”
So as you can see, we’ve covered this topic a lot, and I’m not keen on regurgitating the same info again here.
So if you want advice on what to add to your survival backpack, choose a few of the ones above, and you’ll be good to go!
Choosing a survival backpack (a.k.a. SHTF backpack) is no easy task.
This investment will contain most of your critical survival gear, so don’t skimp. Get the most durable and comfortable pack you can afford.
Then you’ll find you’re much more prepared to face the challenges of an emergency situation.
P.s. Are you ready for the tough times ahead?
Find out now by taking my short Readiness Score Quiz - it’s absolutely free. Once complete, you’ll know exactly where you stand on the “fragile” vs.” resilient” spectrum.
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