military grade travel bag

How To Choose A Travel Backpack That Stands Up To Any Adventure By Mike Dowell

Traveling is fun and adventurous. Some of us travel because we’re retired and want to see the world, while for others; it’s purely exploration. With 196 countries spread out over 7 continents, there’s bound to be a place you’ve never seen. And in this article, we’re going to teach you how to choose a backpack that will be happy to accompany you anywhere.

No matter where your travels take you, there’s one thing you’ll need, which is so important for so many reasons and fits perfectly into every single situation you’ll ever encounter – and I’m not talking about room service. This one thing – this indispensible thing – is a backpack. I know what you’re thinking, “I haven’t worn a backpack since school and I don’t intend on taking any text books to Australia with me!”, and I’m here to tell you that backpacks aren’t just for school. This is a lightweight bag that carries most anything you’d need for a short time. It’s comfortable on a bike ride, easy to wear while climbing the side of a cliff and performs flawlessly as a carry-on bag for an airplane flight. Backpacks come in all shapes, sizes, colors, materials and price ranges. With this large of a selection, it’s imperative that you choose just the right pack for the adventure you’re taking it on – I’m going to walk you through this process.

The 3 types of backpacks

Backpacks have come a long way since their inception. There are hundreds if not thousands of designs today and many of them will be just right for you. I like to group them into three categories:

1) Consumer Grade – These are the backpacks you find in Target, Walmart and the like. They’re great for a 5th grader to carry his/her books and a bologna sandwich around but they won’t last much longer than a school year. Imagine how long they would (or wouldn’t) last on a 1-year foot excursion through Canada! Consumer grade backpacks are designed to meet low price points so the manufacturers generally cut a lot of corners to keep costs down. Low zipper quality is extremely common on these types of backpacks. Ever get a zipper that doesn’t zip? It just splits the two sides apart no matter which direction you pull it? Try hiking with a backpack that won’t stay shut, or, for that matter, try anything with a backpack that won’t shut – you’ll be ready to upgrade immediately.

2) Military Issue – These are the rucksacks that are issued by the US Gov’t to Soldiers and Marines. These backpacks are incredibly durable and well designed but, unless you are in the military, you can’t get them! Thegood news is, there are a few companies which manufacture bags just as high quality as these and, because they are of the highest quality, the US Military permits the use of such gear in place of general issue. These are “Military Grade” Backpacks and you can find tons of reviews at

3) Military Grade – These are the sweet spot packs. Tough, like military issue gear, yet available to the civilian population. These are hands-down the finest packs you can buy and we are going to be mentioning them a lot. These backpacks are remarkably durable, spacious, ergonomically designed and well positioned to serve you wherever you may be and for however long you’re staying. Simply put, you won’t find better travel backpacks than those which are in this category.

Anatomy of a solid travel pack

There are hundreds of considerations you can make when you’re choosing a travel pack but, to spare some of your time, I’m going to talk about a few of the most important design factors.

Frame design

Not all packs have frames, usually just the larger ones. If you’re shopping in this category, there are 2 frame designs to choose from: External Frame and Internal Frame. External frame backpacks are a great choice if you’ve got a large load you will be carrying. That’s because the external frame really allows you to balance and distribute the load (weight) evenly. The downside to external frame backpacks is that they tend to be bulky and are difficult to move around unless they’re strapped to your back. My favorite design are packs with an internal frame. These bags are less bulky and a little more conforming to your body. The frame is built inside of the pack and is fully integrated. While this design doesn’t provide nearly the load distribution of an externally located frame, it’s still well suited for nearly all travels and excursions. As I mentioned before, not all backpacks have frames. My ultimate, all time favorite military grade travel bag is the 5.11 Rush 24 and it has no frame to speak of. 5.11 Tactical has an entire line of amazing packs.

Overall layout

This is a critical design feature of any bag. How are the pockets laid out? What about the compartments inside? Speaking of the inside, what is the internal volume(how much stuff you can stuff)? I really prefer MOLLE packs. MOLLE(pronounced like the name “Molly”) is an attachment system which allows you to hook things to the outside of the bag. With a nice MOLLE bag, you can pack almost as much gear on the outside of the bag as you can on the inside! Another thing you want to look for is a highly compartmentalized inside area which gives you lots of places to separate your items and keep things organized. As far as size, to give you a point of reference, I consider 2000 Cubic Inches to be a good size for most trips. Large enough to hold most of what you need but small enough to easily stow in an airplane – great carry-on size.


We’ve talked about size but what about durability? As far as fabric is concerned, you want a high quality, water resistant Nylon. Most high end packs will be constructed of 1050D Nylon. Look for large zippers – #8 and #10 are what you will find if you’re shopping high-end. A good, strong zipper has a certain feel to it and a very low failure rate. Another consideration would be ergonomics. Where the shoulder straps ride on your body can make all the difference in the world. Make sure to select a model with wide shoulder straps and a sternum strap. The sternum strap pulls the shoulder straps closer together which prevents the weight of the bag from pulling backwards on your shoulders. This is possibly the critical ergonomic aspect of a backpack.

In the end

There are thousands of backpacks to choose from and I hope this information will help you in selecting one that’s just right for you. Depending on where you may be traveling, your needs will vary but if you’re looking to purchase a backpack that will last a lifetime, be certain to look for a military grade model with at least 2000 cubic inches of internal capacity. Happy Trails!

About Mary Abe