The Best Survival Backpack

With all this talk about which survival items should be part of one’s bug out bag (or BOB for short), people forget to talk about the backpack itself.

In what follows we’re going to have a lengthy discussion about the best survival backpack you can get on the market today. Yes, I’m advocating that you get a quality backpack and it’s easy to understand why…

If you have to walk for hours on end by foot, a duffel bag or a suitcase with wheels is suicide. You just can’t drag the entire thing or, even worse, pull it with one hand and switch sides every 3 minutes. These may work as get home bags but, for survival purposes, your bug out backpack is your most trusted ally.

So here’s what you should look for when shopping for one…

Build Quality

There’s no doubt you want something to last you a lifetime, not something that breaks the first time you use it in an actual disaster. Keep in mind that when you fill it up with all sorts of survival gear including heavy food and water, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the seams.

Examine the stitching closely. Does it look solid, are there any hanging threads? A bug out bag that looks and feels cheap will only hold up if you keep it stashed away… and never use it.

Weight

Hiking backpacks have really come a long way the last few years. You won’t care about this tiny detail when you try it on in the store but, trust me, a few ounces less will make a world of difference when you’re forced to carry your backpack for hours on end.

Just make sure you don’t get the lightest backpack possible, it may have less compartments as well as less total space due to the fact that it has less fabric.

Remember that the sturdier the backpack is, the heavier it will be. Due to this, it’s up to you to choose which one is more important: a durable bag or a light bag.

A Kidney Pad

Since you’re going to carry your bug out bag backpack, you need a way to take some of the weight off your shoulders and transfer it to your hips. If you have back problems like I do, this is a must.

Even if you don’t have back problems, keep in mind that depending on your body type, you might not be able to travel with a heavy backpack for more than 10-15 minutes… if that sounds silly right now. Just TRY IT.

Get a backpack that has a padded belt that can be fastened across your belly. Test the belt by taking it camping. You could  even do survival drills with your family, in the middle of nature or at your bug-out location.

If you get a warranty on your survival backpack, go ahead and put it to the test now before your life depends on it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for your money back if it fails.

Most companies require you to register your product in order for the warranty to be activated. Make sure that your backpack doesn’t require you to register it first before the warranty will cover it. If the company does require you to register it, make sure you do so before you test it out, or you could potentially lose your money over a cheaply-made bag.

Pockets

More pockets mean more places for you to store more things. It’s always useful to have quick access to some of your items such as your flashlight, your gun, your knife or your first aid kit.

A bonus would be if it also has pockets on the inside. It’ll make it easier for you to organize the smaller stuff inside.

Color

When disaster strikes, lots of people are going to have backpacks. If you want to blend in, you can’t have a camo bug-out bag! I know it looks cool and makes you feel good about yourself but safety comes first.

Choose a survival backpack that looks just like the ones used for camping in either black, navy or dark blue. Forget those tactical backpacks that look like they belong in a Bear Grylls film shot. You need something low key that fits your needs. In fact, This Bear Grylls 60L backpack on Amazon looks great (except for the logo which might give you away if someone sees it from close distance). No worries, simply cover the logo with a piece of duct tape (and make the bag look more unappealing at the same time).

This doesn’t apply to preppers that plan to tactically bug out should the SHTF. If your bug out plan requires you to remain unseen, a black or camo bag may be the best option for you. Look for one of my writer’s articles “Camouflage for Preppers” to learn about camouflaging, this way you can practice using camouflage if your plan includes it.

Colors you should stick to decrease looter suspicion:

Colors to avoid: red, yellow, teal, bright green, and anything else that stands out.

Water Resistance

While you can’t expect to immerse your bug out bag backpack in water for half an hour and expect all your items remain dry, you do want a good level of protection against moisture. The material need not be waterproof but should be at least water resistant.

Consider THESE scenarios to better understand the importance:

  • You cross a river, you fall, your backpack is submerged for a few seconds…
  • There’s a flood or a hurricane and your BOB backpack somehow lands in water
  • There’s danger behind you, a body of water up front and you need to swim for it.
  • Your bag is taken by a flash flood.
  • Heavy rain begins as you are on the move during your bug out expedition.

You get the idea…

By the way, you should definitely keep most of your survival items in zipper bags. This way they’re almost 100% guaranteed not to get wet should water get inside the backpack for any reason.

Internal Frame

Most backpacks have the frame on the inside, meaning it’s invisible to the eye. Forget the ones with external frames that you saw on people backpacking in old movies from the 1970s. There are two reasons why an internal frame is better. First, people won’t see it. Second, they tend to be more comfortable for people who aren’t used to carrying weight on their back.

The reason a frame is useful is because it holds your bug out gear closer to your back. Without one, the backpack will tend to move away from your back, causing you increased discomfort in the lower back.

Padded Shoulder Straps

For obvious reasons: the more you’re forced to walk with it on your back, the more your shoulders will start to hurt unless you have this. Almost every backpack in the price range of 80 to 100 dollars will have this feature.

[optional] Lockable Zippers

You never know who wants to steal your gear or even put something extra inside. Not a mandatory feature, but it will probably give you some piece of mind knowing you have them.

Size

Bigger isn’t always better. Consider your age, your physical condition, and how long you expect the bug out expedition. If you expect it to last a few hours, you definitely need something smaller. Again, take your BOB for a test drive once it’s at least half-full of survival equipment.

Price

Most survival backpacks cost around 100 dollars but with careful research, you can find cheaper ones of decent quality. You can also hunt for coupons, sales or wait for Black Friday  (or Cyber Monday), because they generally offer the best deals form stores with the best backpacks. If you are in dire need of a bag, and you don’t have a decent one, I would recommend getting one immediately instead of waiting..

[optional] MOLLE Webbing

MOLLE backpacks have this interesting webbing on the outside, which allows other, smaller bags to be attached to them. This will allow you to carry more items on your back, but the trouble is, they will also draw more attention. So if you’re in the middle of the riot and people see your fancy backpack, they could righteously assume you have some quality gear inside.

If you live in a small town, you can get MOLLE backpacks but if you’re an urban prepper, a regular backpack is better. Forget looking tacticool and start looking like a gray man.

Which Brands?

The recommended backpack brands are REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, High Sierra, Goruck, Specopsbrand (famous for its T.H.E. pack) and EMS.

the north face unisex jester

If you can’t carry too much weight or if you simply want something smaller, try The North Face Unisex Jester Backpack (in either black or grey) or a Goruck 5.11 Rush 12 Back Pack. Goruck is actually a bit pricey but if you can afford it, the quality is unbeatable.

You may also want to look at:

What NOT TO Get

You don’t want:

  • …a tactical-looking survival backpack that will attract attention particularly during riots. People will label you as a prepper in a matter of seconds and you can become a target.
  • …one in bright colors. Just in case you’re trying to keep a low profile.
  • …cheap Chinese knock-offs. Stick to the brands I recommended and you’ll be fine.

Additional Considerations

Before we wrap this up, let me give you a few more tips and tricks to make sure you get the most out of your backpack:

  • Ensure all items that are not water resistant are all wrapped in zipper bags (lighters, tinder, meds etc.).
  • Ensure that the items that don’t handle shocks very well are wrapped in shockproof bubble wrap (emergency radio, walkie-talkies, thermometer etc.).
  • Get a backpack that has warranty and try it out after you buy it with a heavy load. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t be ashamed to return it.
  • When deciding which size to get, keep in mind you need to keep some free room. You never know when you’ll need it as you’re bugging out.

update by Reaper 01/08/2018

About Dan F. Sullivan

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My dad was military. My grandfather was a cop. They served their country well. But I don't like taking orders. I'm taking matters into my own hands so I'm not just preparing, I'm going to a friggin' war to provide you the best of the best survival and preparedness content out there.

14 comments

  1. Avatar

    Great article and thank you for asking for input. You make a pack water proof by lining every inside space with a plastic bag or similar container that can be tied off particularly when intentionally keeping air inside of the space when you tie it off. This makes the pack a flotation device. It worked great in Vietnam. That was a great second suggestion on not using an external pack frame. Things do get caught on it and people like to hang things on it which will make unwanted sounds when you want to stay quiet when moving and out of sight. (if it hits the fan I do not want anyone to see me or hear me)
    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.
    Bill Snapp

  2. Avatar
    Dan F. Sullivan

    Thanks, William for your insights and your kind words. That trick you tried in Vietnam is awesome, I never would have thought of it. I should probably write an article on how to make your BOB float, lol!

    • Avatar

      After I wrote the make your pack a float piece I should have added that you could have ballooned each pocket by blowing in it because there was always extra room in each water proof plastic bag in each pocket.
      Keep up the good work
      Bill Snapp

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        Thanks, Bill. Your insights are great!

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          Mr. Sullivan if you really want some good advice on how to be quiet and unseen when moving around in a life and death situation while carrying a back pack I recommend you put a call out to veterans who were LRRPS (Long Range Recon. Patrol) in Vietnam and ask for their input. They were obsessed with being quiet because they were out in the jungle along side of the enemy.

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    I bought the new US Army backpack. It comes with a detachable patrol pack that is neat to use on short trips of 2-3 days. The backpack itself is BIG and will hold enough to keep you supplied for quite awhile.

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      Sounds good, Dan, but I have two concerns:

      1. Aren’t those packs camouflaged? This could potentially give you away for being a prepper.

      2. If you’re going to fill it up with stuff, won’t that be to heavy? Just asking.

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    Two comments, as I was reading I thought of something a former deputy sheriff told me, blue is a color that stands out and makes a person easy to see. He was talking about blue being easy to see from his experiences in Montana, near Yellowstone NP, when looking for lost hikers. Pick your color accordingly.

    I was recently was working with my BOB and saw something for the first time. There are strips of reflective webbing sewn across the back of the pack. These are like the toned down reflective strips on a child’s book bag, or on runner’s shoes. They are designed to make the wearer more visible to drivers passing a school bus stop, kids walking to school in low light, joggers jogging at night or in low light. These same strips may make you more visible when trying to keep a low profile.

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    I would say that having your primary weapon in your pack is not good. Having to take your pack off to access it seems like a good way to not be able to access it in time. There might be times when having it in the pack is appropriate, but those would be situations where you are unlikely to need it, and the risk of having on your person is too high.

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    JOHN H BORDLEMAY

    You recommended a Dick’s Sporting Goods backpack. They are anti gun and I would not spend a dime in that store. They refuse to sell so-called assault rifles and will not sell a gun to anyone under 18 years of age even though in Pennsylvania you can buy a rifle or shotgun at 18 years of age.

  7. Avatar

    It’s a shame people diss the external frame packs.
    They are rather better at everything if you’re carrying more that a very tiny amount.
    They are much, much more comfortable if they are designed right (kelty/jans) The downfall is people worried about looks, people trying to sell new bags to people who did not need them because their external would last till the end of days like the cockroaches. Sure there are issues with now limited batches being made poorly (alps)
    People who want short term like a 15-30L pack.

    I very much wish Kelty would bring back the large super tioga 5600 sized pack.

    Also if you’re in a riot – If you have a large flashy non-tactical bag – People think you’re a very easy mark with lots of goodies. So plus and minus there.

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