What Makes a Bag ‘Tactical’?
MOLLE webbing, pronounced Molly, stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. It is an internationally recognized standard in the tactical backpack market.
If a manufacturer includes MOLLE webbing in your EDC pack then any accessories you buy that support the MOLLE standard will transfer from tactical pack A to B to C and so on.
A full description of the MOLLE system is beyond the scope of this review, but for more information, check out this article.
Don’t Go Bursting at the Seams
Another essential factor to consider when looking for a backpack is the zippers. Personally, I learned this the hard way when riding through Texas several years ago.
A friend and I were on a week-long trip from Alabama to New Mexico and back on our bikes, so needless to say, I had quite a bit of gear stuffed into my pack. Back in those days, I aimed more for economy than quality and paid the price for doing so.
At some point during the endless expanse that is Texas, my overstuffed pack burst open and half of my gear, including my gloves and cold weather gear, went flying down the interstate. Of course, I didn’t realize this until night fell in the desert, and I was left trying to stay warm in day gear.
Upon inspection, I realized the zipper itself had failed and cost me a couple of hundred dollars in gear and supplies. Learn from my mistake and make sure the pack you are buying uses quality hardware, not cheap knockoffs.
Specifically, you will want to look for YKK zippers. YKK zippers are durable and self-repairing, so if a few teeth get chewed up in an accident, it can generally be fixed byjust zipping it up a few times. YKK makes half of all zippers world-wide for a reason.
Light Pack, Heavy Fabric
Another vital thing to consider is the fabric used to construct the EDC pack. In most cases, a quality pack manufacturer will include the weight of the material in the product description. If not, don’t immediately discount the pack, but do put it under extra scrutiny.
Generally the heavier the fabric used in the construction of the pack, the better. Manufacturers often use nylon, polyester, and Cordura for backpack construction. These fabrics offer strength and water resistance, but if the material is too light, it is still going to fail.
Look for 500D and better ratings. Not all manufacturers will include this in their product description, so let that be a point for makers who do.
This one may seem obvious to some, but it is easy to overlook. Make sure the straps and back are padded. You don’t want to be walking miles with a loaded pack and nothing to keep the straps from digging into your shoulders.
You should also aim for wider straps to help disperse the load more. What may start as a minor annoyance can quickly turn painful when you have a loaded pack.
Another feature that is typically not included in “book bag” style backpacks is access for hydration packs. Many tactical backpacks will include routing for hydration pack access. The style used will depend on the pack, but in general, there are two options here: bladder inserts or additional pack.
The better of the two, in my opinion, is the bladder insert option. Packs with this option already have a pouch built in for adding a water bladder and have routing for the tubes. This allows you to add a hydration system without the need for a second pack.
Pockets Inside of Pockets
Perhaps one of the most important things to consider when looking for a backpack is the pockets.
Not only the number of pockets but also the sizes and layout of the pockets. A pack with only one, large pocket is not going to do you much good considering it doesn’t allow for any organization.
Likewise, a pack with dozens of small pockets, but only one large pocket is similarly inconvenient as it offers you only limited storage for larger gear. Too many pockets can also mean spending more time trying to remember where you stashed a particular item, rather than only having a few places to check or remember.
Generally, fewer pockets with a better organizational system is preferable to just having more pockets to the pack.
Best EDC Backpack Reviews
The RUSH12 is the smallest in 5.11’s RUSH series of backpacks. It sits alongside the RUSH24 and RUSH72 with the number being the number of hours 5.11 rated each pack for when packing.
The RUSH12 is one of the more expensive packs on this list, but it is still cheap enough to be considered a high-end value pack.
5.11 makes this pack out of heavy duty 1050D Nylon. This is a good, thick material that is resistant to snags and tears. YKK Zippers are the gold standard around the world. They offer better strength and are self-repairing.