Can Military Backpacks be Used for Hiking: Check Out the Options


Time to grab your backpack and hit the trail. There’s nothing as liberating as just dropping everything and taking off to explore a wilderness trail. Whether you’re heading out for some serious survivor training or just plain ole fun, hiking is both exciting and fulfilling. It certainly does a great job keeping the military in shape, doesn’t it? So, you would think that their backpacks would be perfect for hiking long distances. Or, are they? Well, the only way to answer that question was to go find out for me. So I embarked on a mission to find out just what makes a backpack right for hiking.

Needless to say, I was surprised to find out that there are a lot of things that went into choosing the right backpack, for example, different people have different preferences when it came to things like colors and/or styles. But you shouldn’t choose a backpack based on aesthetics alone. They are specialized equipment. What works best in one situation might not work as well in another.

That brings us to military backpacks. Are they really good for hiking? Well, the short answer is no. The long answer is that the evidence certainly doesn’t seem to lean in their favor. Military backpacks are designed to cover heavy body armor and are made of heavy, tear-resistant material. Consequently, they’re not very comfortable, and not designed for long excursions by civilians. Instead, I suggest a nice, framed backpack, if you’re serious about hiking.

Backpacking Options

Before running out to the nearest sporting goods store and snatching up the first backpack someone suggests you buy, it might help to do a little research first, so that you’ll know what you’re looking for. For example, familiarizing yourself with the lingo of the outdoorsman would come in handy for finding exactly what you need and want. For example, there are over a dozen types of backpacks on the market today. So I’ll take the initiative and begin breaking them down for you.

The Main Types of Backpacks That Are Ideal For Hiking

Compression Sack

A Compression Sack is a backpack designed for functionality down to the smallest detail. So, if you don’t like wasted space, then the Compression Sack is the right choice for you. One that stands out is an Amazon’s Choice ALPS Mountaineering Compression Stuff Sack. Click here for more details.

Day Pack

The Day pack is characterized by its lightweight and durability. However, it is not designed for long excursions; they’re geared more toward light hiking trips on the weekend. The best choice by far is the HIKPRO 20L – Durable Lightweight Water Resistant Travel  Daypack for Men & WomenCheck this great daypack here.


Drawstring backpacks are characterized by their single-compartment design. The drawstrings which are used to draw the bag close also serve as straps for carrying. They are similar to knapsacks but are smaller in size to carry lighter loads. One such item is the HOLYLUCK Drawstring Backpack Bag Sport Gym Sackpack. This drawstring pack can be found here

Dry Bag

This type of backpack is specifically designed for wet climates. So-called a frameless frame pack, they are more durable than a day pack, it weighs and holds less than your standard backpack. I highly recommend the MARCHWAY Floating Waterproof Dry Bag. It is perfect for boating, kayaking, paddling, sailing, canoeing, surfing or having fun on the beach. Check this drybag here.

Duffle Backpack

Duffle backpacks look like a cross between a duffle bag and a backpack. Its unique design gives you easy access to your belongings and makes more suitable for urban than outdoor trekking. So whether you decide to go to the backwoods or fly to Madrid, the G4Free 3-Way Duffle Backpack does the trick. This highly-rated bag can be found at this Amazon store link


The framepack backpack is designed for serious hikers. The tough aluminum frame makes it sturdier and helps you control your balance while hiking on rough terrain. Most frame packs come equipped with straps on the bottom to hold a sleeping bag. You have a choice between the old-style external frame or the more modern internal frame. I like the option of the TETON Sports Explorer 4000 Internal-Frame Backpack. It can be found here.

Hydration Pack

A hydration pack is designed to hold gear and water. They are sometimes referred to as a hydro-pack, or camel pack. They also come equipped with a handy water hose to drink from while on the go. It is especially handy for distance runners and cyclists. The one I prefer is the Amazon Choice Mubasel Gear Insulated Hydration BackpackThe water bladder is BPA Free and will keep your water cool for up to 4 hours. Get yours here


The knapsack is sort of a cross between a rucksack and a drawstring. These handy backpacks are made out of nylon and, therefore, as lightweight. In addition to the main compartment, most knapsacks come with a handy zipper pouch for carrying smaller items. The stylish leather Jaald Knapsack is rugged and can fit up to 15.6-inch laptops easily. The knapsack has a handle on top, adjustable nice wide back straps. Check this one out here.

Laptop Backpack

Anyone who routinely carries their computer around with them is probably familiar with the laptop backpack. They are characterized by a padded main compartment for a laptop or tablet computer. Laptop backpacks are usually waterproof and are comparable in size to the backpacks carried by school children. The stylish Matein Laptop Backpack fits a 15.6″ laptop comfortably and is ruggedly suitable for work, school or travel. It even has a convenient built-in USB charger port. This affordable and high-quality backpack can be found on Amazon.


Outdry backpack incorporates elements from a variety of outdoor backpacks to create an all-around backpack. Most of them are waterproof and frameless. One particular outdry bag I think will fit all your needs, is the Mountain Hardwear Unisex Scrambler RT 20 OutDry Backpack.  It was rainproof tested over a 24 hour period with no water leakage. The top load is excellent and provides a little extra possibility to squeeze in more things if you need to. Get one on Amazon.

Rain Cover

Just as the name implies, rain cover backpacks are designed to keep the contents of your backpack dry. They come with a waterproof cover, but normally the covers are detachable. Some of them even have a handy pouch for storing the cover when not in use. Except for the cover, they look just like day packs. One such backpack with rain cover is a 50L hiking backpack by Loowoko. It meets size requirements for most airlines carry-on size requirements, with enough room for a 3 or 4 days trips. Check it out here.


The biggest difference between a rucksack and traditional backpacks is, whereas traditional backpacks have zippers or drawstrings, rucksacks come with straps and buckles. They are often made of canvas and cotton. One classical rucksack that I think you might want to look at is the 21101 Specially High-Density Thick Canvas Backpack Rucksack by Gootium. I think it’s worth a look. Get the latest info on Amazon

Sling Bag

Sling bags are characterized by a shoulder strap that makes for easier carrying. However, they’re not designed for carrying large loads. They have a triangular shape and the shoulder strap causes it to hang low on the back. Check out the OutdoorMaster Sling Bag. It is spacious but compact. Special to this particular bag is its hidden anti-theft pocket and a water bottle holder. Get the latest pricing on Amazon

Suitcase Backpack

Suitcase backpacks can come in a variety of designs, but what sets them apart from other backpacks are the wheels on the bottom. This feature makes it ideal for transporting heavier loads. Here is one, the SWISSGEAR Full-Sized Effortless Folding Wheeled Garment Travel Rolling Luggage Bag.  It has various pockets for socks, shoes, folded clothes, toiletries and two corner pockets as well. It is very sturdy and has high-quality materials. You can get more information here

Tactical Military

Military backpacks, or MilTacs, are similar to the ones soldiers are issued. They are typified by the number of compartments they have; the chest and waist straps, and the connection for more bags. Military backpacks are known for their durability and long life. Check out the REEBOW GEAR 3 Day Assault Pack Molle Bag Backpack. It is made of high-density fabric-durable and water-resistant.  The bag is double-stitched with heavy-duty zippers and utility-style cord pulls. It has side and front load compression systems, with a comfortable padding back area. Ventilated with mesh padding shoulder strap it has lots of options. Find out more here from Amazon.

Traditional Backpack

These backpacks are worn by millions of school kids each day. They are typified by having dual shoulder straps, a main compartment, and a handy smaller pouch for odds and ends. A functional but stylish and traditional pack I recommend is the Herschel Pop Quiz Classic Backpack. Look at this backpack on Amazon

Why are There so Many Different Types of Backpacks?

Wouldn’t one backpack design work just as well for every backpacker? Well, a backpacker might be able to get by with any of the many backpack designs, but by the same token, different situations require a different level of preparedness. For some situations, a toe might suffice, but for longer, more rugged treks, a military backpack might be called for.

Frame backpacks are characterized by their ability to carry a lot of stuff in relative comfort.

The frame acts as a skeleton that holds the bag’s shape and helps keep your stuff organized. The aluminum frame also prevents the bag’s contents from being squished or crumpled. That stability and sturdiness make carrying it more comfortable on long treks.

The padded straps reduce wear and tear on the shoulders. If the weight shifts and the straps are too thin it can cause muscle strain and bruise on the shoulders.

How to Pack Your Backpack

Just cramming stuff into your backpack is a very inefficient use of space. Being prepared is about more than just trying to see how much stuff you can cram into your backpack. Getting to know your backpack and how best to use it is also essential to make sure your hike is as uneventful as possible.

What Goes Where?

First of all, there is no one-size-fits-all way to pack. What goes inside a backpack depends on the individual backpacker. However, I do have a few tips I can offer you on packing your frame pack to make your hike as painless as possible.

Don’t Overdo It

Overpacking can not only slow you down but can be painful as well. So make sure you pack only the things you’ll need for the hike.

Know Where Your Brain Is

This may sound like a silly statement to some, but not to hikers. In hiker lingo, the Brain is the handy pocket on top of the flap that closes the main compartment. The Brain is where you keep important stuff like your compass, GPS, knife, or a handy snack. It is totally up to you.

Don’t Forget About Your Kangaroo Pouch

The kangaroo pouch is located on the front of the backpack. It is mainly used for dry goods, so don’t stick wet gear in there with your dry stuff. It is also a good idea to stuff a couple of plastic bags in there as an added layer of protection.

Weight Goes on Your Back

When packing, make sure that the heaviest items are placed in the area that will be closest to your back. Any bulky items or metal gear should be placed in that area. This technique also helps you stay balanced.

Compression Sacks are Your Friends

Again, overpacking is never a good idea, adding a couple of compression sacks will force out excess air and make your backpack sturdier. So, instead of packing your clothes lose, compress them down in a compression sack for added convenience and room.

No Faith Rule

The label on your backpack may read waterproof, rip-proof, and a few extra snacks. Water-proof, but that does not mean it can’t be damaged. So make sure you include a repair kit with needle and thread when you pack. Also, toss in a couple of plastic bags as an added precaution.

The Definition of Necessity

Before you begin packing, make a list of all the things you think you might need for the trip. Extra socks, food, water, and some lighter fluid. After you’ve compiled everything on your list, double-check to see if the items are things you need. If not, lay them aside.

After you’ve packed those items into your backpack, check it for weight, first to see if there’s room for extra items, then to make sure it isn’t too heavy. After all, it would be nice to be able to take along a few extra snacks.

Pro Packers

You won’t learn everything there is to know about packing the first time around, but, after you’ve made a few treks, you’ll instinctively know what to take and what not to take. In time, knowing what you need to pack will become second-nature to you. After all, packing is a skill that takes some time getting used to., but the experience will pay off in the end. Anyone can do it, however, if they have the will and put enough effort into it.

Make the Most of What You Have

Don’t worry if you get ahead of yourself the first time around. Part of learning how to prepare properly is knowing how to make the most of what you have. For example, if the occasion calls for taking more than one type of backpack, then you should take the time to familiarize yourself with all of them. It takes more than brawn to become a good backpacker. Learning the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment is just as important as your strength. And this will only be perfected with time and practice.

If you’re working with a limited budget, then it may be necessary to postpone the purchase of certain types of equipment. There’s nothing wrong with taking these steps incrementally. Beginning with simpler equipment and working your way up may be a plus in some cases. So, stay within your budget and learn to be a smart shopper. It’ll save you time and money in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Backpacking is a fun sport, but it requires a lot of skill as well. It’ll take time and experience, you will eventually get to where you need to be. Start small. Take a day pack on a short excursion one day, then work your way unto, let’s say, a military backpack. Then when you feel confident enough, make it an overnighter.

The shorter treks will help acclimatize you to the outdoors if you’re not used to it. Then when you’re ready, start taking longer and longer hikes. It is also a good idea to take a friend along at first, just in case something goes wrong. After all, accidents can happen on the trail, and having a friend there to help is a plus.

The feeling you get from backpacking is amazing, and the freedom you feel is indescribable–being out in the wild and away from the madness of city life–is a feeling you’ll never forget.

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