I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Up in Calumet, their...
Over the last few years, we've noticed a dramatic shift in the backpack market. Manufacturers have realized that many consumers want the toughness and versatility of a military-style pack, but without an exterior that screams tactical. Even if you're not a hardcore adherent to the “gray man” philosophy, it's hard to deny that a black, coyote tan, olive drab, or camo-patterned bag covered in PALS webbing, pouches, and morale patches stands out in most civilian settings.
Want to test this claim for yourself? Next time you're at an airport, keep an eye out for those packs, and observe the people who are wearing them. The backpack often goes along with certain types of clothing, trail shoes or boots, outdoor-oriented watches, wraparound sunglasses, tattoos, and haircuts/facial hair. Even the individual's build and stance can be noteworthy. Combining these cues can suggest that the person may have a military/first-responder background, or may be someone with an interest in shooting or emergency preparedness. Some are OK with making this information known in a public setting; others want to maintain a lower profile. Either way, a backpack is one of the easiest signs to spot from a distance.
Knowing this, many of the leading manufacturers of tactical packs have rolled out more discreet offerings to address this movement. Stitched PALS webbing has been reduced, replaced by smoother laser-cut panels, or phased out entirely; color choices have been expanded beyond black, tan, green, and camo; bulky exterior lines have been smoothed to produce a streamlined appearance. There's a whole spectrum of choices available now, from designs that are overtly tactical to those that could pass for a plain book bag to the untrained eye.
You may already be familiar with 5.11 Tactical's RUSH backpacks. This line includes some of the most popular tactical packs on the market — the sort of thing you'll frequently see while people-watching as we described above. We'd certainly describe them as traditional and mainstream. On the other end of the spectrum, 5.11 Tactical offers some discreet packs, such as the Dart series. These are generally designed to be compact and used for light-duty every-day carry.
The All Missions Pack (AMP) line splits the difference between these extremes. It offers durable materials and large capacity, but with a sleeker, toned-down look that's less conspicuous in urban settings. Like the RUSH series, the 5.11 Tactical AMP series is available in a range of sizes denoted by trip duration in hours:
The All Missions name is indicative of the goal: a backpack that's appropriate for hard use as a duty or bug-out bag, but also for more casual use as a laptop carrier or commuter pack. As 5.11 Tactical designer Scott Lambert put it in the video below, “there is a demand now for a backpack that can be both overt and covert.”
All AMP backpacks are built from water-resistant 500D Dobby Nylon — a geometric weave fabric with more texture than standard ballistic nylon — and a reinforced 1000D Nylon base. The main compartments offer full-clamshell opening with quad-zip zippers, so you can easily open the top, either side, or the entire pack. Color choices are Black, Kangaroo, Ranger Green, and Tungsten. Kangaroo and Ranger Green are darker and more subdued colors than standard Coyote or Olive Drab; Tungsten is a subtle blue-gray color.
Much of the AMP's versatility hinges on its rear panel, which can be swapped out for various modular Gear Sets. Instead of permanently-attached PALS webbing, the AMP series has a large field of hook-and-loop material and several buckles that can be used to attach various panels and pouches. By default, all AMP packs include a HEXGRID Gear Set, which can accept MOLLE-compatible pouches and accessories in vertical, horizontal, or angled orientations.
Five other replacement gear sets are offered, ranging from $25 to $45 MSRP:
If you're really into morale patches, you can remove the Gear Sets completely and use the large loop-backed area to stick on your favorite pieces of flair. Gear Sets can also be attached to the inside of the main compartment to add more modular storage capability.
In order to evaluate the AMP collection, we decided to test two models, the AMP24 and AMP72. Although there may not seem to be much of a difference between a 32-liter pack and a 40-liter pack on paper, these two bags serve substantially different purposes and offer some distinct features.
This pack is small enough to be used as part of an EDC around town, but large enough to serve as a get-home bag or carry-on luggage for overnight trips. We've brought it on several recent flights, carried it at trade shows and events, and stashed it in the trunk of a car while driving around town. Since we primarily planned to wear it in urban areas, we selected Tungsten, a color option somewhat outside the tactical pack norm.
We also toned down the appearance by swapping the standard HEXGRID Gear Set for an Admin Gear Set in the matching blue-gray hue. This Gear Set is perfectly-suited to the EDC application, since it provides ideal spots for pens, a flashlight, a trauma kit, hand sanitizer, and other tools we wanted quick access to.
A flap immediately above the Gear Set area opens to a CCW pocket, which offers a webbing strap to tie down a handgun holster. This pocket is also lined with loop fabric, so you can attach a Velcro holster if you prefer.
The pack's main compartment is highly versatile thanks to the quad-zip system. If you lean the pack onto its side and unzip it from the bottom, you can reach the large vertical-zip mesh pocket inside the lid — we stowed an electronics kit in here, but it also has PALS webbing to attach your keys, knife, or other items.
Unzipping the top of the compartment provides access to a horizontal-zip mesh pocket, an additional hidden pocket behind it, and an opening to stuff gear into the AMP24 from above. There's also the always-welcome sunglass pocket lined with soft fabric.
Two deep water bottle pockets on the inside of the main compartment keep the side profile smooth, and eliminate the need for the bulky MOLLE bottle pouches we've tolerated in the past.
Zippers just outside these pockets look like they offer an additional H2O access point, but they actually lead to another set of slim pockets between the bottle pockets and the main compartment.
We didn't find these areas particularly useful, since the bottles occupy the same space and make the contents difficult to access. Don't expect to fit much in them aside from some paracord or charging cables.
Lastly, the hydration compartment is supported by a stiff thermoformed polymer sheet, providing improved comfort against the back and added protection for a laptop. It fits a 15-inch laptop snugly, and leaves no hint of its valuable contents once the shoulder straps are in place.
Although the AMP72 shares many of the features we just mentioned AMP24, it's much more than a scaled-up version of that design.
The first difference you'll notice is the addition of a hip belt. Anyone who has carried a 30- or 40-pound pack for many miles can testify to the value of spreading that weight across the hips rather than the shoulders. That's a big plus, and a key feature for any through-hiking pack or bug-out bag.
Another upgrade is less visible, but can be felt around the perimeter of the backpack. The AMP72 has an built-in aluminum frame, which is connected to the shoulder straps via adjustable load lifters.
The difference these components make for carrying heavy loads cannot be overstated. Instead of feeling strain in your shoulders and back, your legs and core can support the weight in a much less strenuous manner. Admittedly, this doesn't compare to a purpose-built external-frame pack for extremely heavy loadouts or week-long treks, but it's more than sufficient for moderate use on the trail.
The third substantial upgrade is another full-zip compartment behind the main compartment. It opens to the side, and is designed to hold a gun up to 24 inches in length. That's a few inches too short for a disassembled 16″ AR, but offers more than enough room for an AR pistol, SBR, or our trusty 10/22 Takedown.
The compartment is nicely padded to protect the weapon, and has a barrel sleeve at the base as well as an adjustable retention strap.
Frankly, the 5.11 AMP series feels like a huge upgrade in comparison to its RUSH siblings. The RUSH packs certainly have their merits — they're simple, utilitarian, and highly durable workhorses. However, they also have a tendency to feel ungainly when fully-loaded, and their appearance is anything but discreet. The All Missions Packs are slimmed-down, modernized, and well-thought-out. Depending on your choice of colors and Gear Sets, they can also look substantially less militaristic (albeit not entirely so) to the casual observer. Nobody is going to confuse one of these with a Jansport book bag, but you'll at least be less of a focal point than the guy who's decked out in webbing, pouches, and look-at-me patches.
Beyond aesthetics, we really enjoyed the functionality of the AMP series, and frequently found ourselves discovering new places to stow gear. If you're the kind of person who wants a place for everything and everything in its place, the multitude of pockets will be right up your alley. The swappable Gear Sets offer many ways to set up the interior and exterior storage to your liking. The Admin set is our favorite, followed by the Double Deploy.
That said, some of the pockets are more crowded and less usable than we'd like. We previously mentioned our issues with the side pockets that share space with the internal water bottle sleeves — the “stash” pocket at the bottom of the pack has a similar issue, and can only fit something slim and crushable like a beanie or gloves. The sunglass pocket on top of the clamshell lid is also right on top of two others — the interior mesh pocket and the hidden pocket behind it.
If you want to use all three, you'd better have some very flat sunglasses. Even the waist belt wings on the AMP72 contain two diminutive zippered compartments, each about the size of a pack of gum.
Fortunately, the solution to these issues is simple. Don't obsess over cramming something into every pocket, and accept that some can stay empty. If you can do that, “too many pockets” will never be a problem.
Overall, the 5.11 Tactical AMP24 and AMP72 get a strong thumbs-up from us. They might not be the perfect pack for all missions — sorry, no such product exists — but they're impressively versatile and configurable. The AMP24 makes a great EDC pack to get you through a daily commute, and has enough space for short weekend trips, day hikes, or use as a get-home bag. The AMP72 is a good choice for backpacking, hunting, and range days, as well as a solid mid-size bug-out bag platform.
To learn more about 5.11 Tactical AMP backpacks, go to 511Tactical.com.