How to Properly Pack a Tactical Backpack

Packing your tactical backpack the right way hinges on two things: your mission and your comfort. You need to be able to stash everything you need and carry it all comfortably, so you need to start with the right gear. The specific needs of your mission should dictate your ultimate decision, but there are a few features that come standard in any quality tactical backpack:

  • Roomy main storage area
  • Zippered outer pockets
  • Reinforced grab-and-go handles
  • MOLLE or 5.11 SlickStick® webbing platform
  • Interior mesh pockets and gear-specific compartments
  • Water-repellent coating 
  • External compression straps
  • Internal hydration compartment
How to pack a backpack

What to Pack in Your Tactical Backpack

Your tactical backpack’s contents depend on what you’re doing. You’ll need different items for a day at the range than you’ll need for a week or more in the field, but there are a few standbys that everyone should have. These are the basic items you need in a tactical pack:

  • First aid kit or IFAK pouch
  • Food, including high-protein, energy-boosting snacks
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Tools
  • Water

If you’re packing a survival backpack, you’ll also need these basic items:

  • Bedding
  • Clothing
  • Communication equipment
  • Defense items
  • Fire-starting kit
  • Flashlights
  • Shelter

How to Pack a Tactical Backpack

Think of packing a 24-hour tactical backpack like building a pyramid. Put heavy items on the bottom, medium-weight items in the middle and light items on top. This configuration is best for your back and usually easiest to carry, especially if you’re making a long trek.

Use the outside compartments of your pack or MOLLE attachments for items you need to access frequently or easily, like flashlights, a tactical knife or multitool, radios and your first aid kit.

The Foundation: Packing the Bottom of Your Bag

The bottom of your pack is for gear you only need to access when you’re done carrying it for the day. Your bedding, additional clothing and most of your hygiene items belong on the bottom, and so do all your heaviest pieces of gear, like entrenching tools.

The In-Between Gear

Your shelter half, poncho liner or whatever you use to set up camp for the night belongs in the middle of your bag. The middle of your bag is also great place for extra food, water and other items you probably won’t need while you’re on the go.

What to Pack on the Top of Your Tactical Backpack

Keep a change of socks, your poncho, self-defense items and navigation gear on the top layer of your bag so you can access them easily. Mid-mission snacks, water purification tablets and other small items belong there, too.

Gear to Attach to the Outside of Your Pack

If your tactical backpack is 5.11 SlickStick or MOLLE compatible, like the Urban Utility Ruck 25L, make the most of it. Attach canteens, your first aid gear, eye and ear protection, holsters and other essentials to the convenient webbing platform.

How to Pack a Survival Backpack

Unlike a run-of-the-mill tactical backpack, a survival backpack will keep you going when you’re away from civilization. This bag should contain enough gear to sustain you for at least 72 hours – longer if you’re not anticipating a short-term emergency or you’re intentionally heading out on your own. You’ll include the same basic gear outlined above, plus extra food, water, and safety, shelter, and self-defense gear.

The key to properly packing a tactical backpack is to put the heavy, less-frequently-needed items on the bottom and work your way up, piling in lighter items as you go. Your pack needs to give you easy access to the gear you need most when you’re on the move – packing from the bottom up makes that possible. 

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