This article was originally published in Issue 1 of our magazine.

Whether you are bugging out of the city or bugging back home, when crap goes down in your town, you’re going to need a sturdy and comfortable backpack to haul your gear with. All the survival equipment in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t carry it with you. But, with thousands of backpacks on the market, how do you go about choosing the right one? We point out a few factors for consideration to help you make the right decision.

When choosing any type of equipment, its use dictates which features work for the job at hand. In this case, we will base our needs off a general disaster scenario. FEMA recommends that basic emergency supplies allow for one person to survive for three days. The idea is that after a large-scale emergency, additional help may not be on hand for a few days. You need to be prepared for that possibility.

Fitment

The most important factor in choosing a backpack is its proper fitment to your body. We want to focus on your torso length, not your overall height. To measure your torso, place your hands on your hips and have a friend use a tape measure to determine the length between your hips to your seventh cervical vertebra.

Now that you have your torso measurement, you have an idea of what size bag best suits your frame. Because every manufacturer uses different size naming conventions, the following chart can be used to find the general size you need. It’s always best to try on the backpack in person if possible. Specialized backpacks are also made for women and children that feature more customized fits.

With your hands on your hips, with thumbs pointed inward toward your spine, imagine a line connecting your thumbs. Start at that line and measure up the center of the back toward the seventh cervical vertebra. The vertebra we're looking for is the pointed bone on the back of the base of your neck when you are looking down.

With your hands on your hips, with thumbs pointed inward toward your spine, imagine a line connecting your thumbs....

You want the large majority of the backpack’s weight to sit on your hips, not your shoulders. If you are carrying a heavy load, which will probably be the case in this scenario, hip belts can really save your back and shoulders. Some backpacks come with dedicated, non-detachable hip belts that will fit a very wide range of hip sizes. If you need custom sizing, choose a backpack with a detachable one, so you can swap it out for one that properly fits you.

Adult Torso Size (in inches)15.5 or shorter16 to 1718 to 1920 or longer
Pack SizeXSSML

Capacity

Backpacks that can fit three days’ worth of food, water, and other essentials that range in the 30- to 50-liter (approximately 1,830-3,050 cubic inches) size category. Of course, the size of your pack will be dependent on your body size, as well as how much weight you can carry. When choosing what to pack in your backpack, remember that the more you carry, the heavier your load will be.

Features

An important part of selecting a backpack is also figuring out which features you need. Some feature built-in compression straps that help you compress your load to make for a less bulky pack. Others include internal hydration bladders. Some have padded compartments for electronic equipment like GPS and radio units. Various others are even equipped with military-style MOLLE webbing systems that allow the backpack to be customized with modular pouches. Do you need lockable zippers or a wet compartment to keep wet clothes or shoes separate from your dry items? These are all things to think about and should be chosen based on your individual needs.backpack-illustration

Regional Considerations

When choosing a backpack, consider the region you live in, as well. Is your area more prone to hurricanes, tornados, or earthquakes? Does it snow in your area? Maybe you need something waterproof. If you live in an area like the desert, maybe you don’t need the waterproofing and opt for a lighter-weight, ventilated bag instead. These are things to keep in mind.

Quality

Just as anything else in life, there is cheaply made stuff and there is the good stuff. By far, the most common material used for the heavier-duty backpacks that we are looking at is some type of nylon. Nylon comes in many forms and fits many applications.

There is Pack Cloth Nylon, Cordura Nylon, Rip-Stop Nylon, Ballistic Nylon, and more, and each come in a variety of thicknesses, or denier. Denier is the measurement unit of the thickness and weight of thin fibers most associated with nylon. The higher the number is, the thicker the nylon, and that means it is heavier, as well.

MaterialPack Cloth NylonCordura NylonRip-Stop NylonBallistic Nylon
Abrasion ResistantYesYesYesYes
Water ResistantYesYesYesYes
WeightMediumLightLightHeavy
Also Used InGym Bags, Tote BagsMotorcycle Jackets, BootsParachutes, FlagsLuggage, Laptop Bags
NotesPuncture-resistant, but once punctured, this material rips very easilyCordura comes in many variations and is the most popular fabric in use for backpacks todayFeatures a grid of heavy threads sewn into the fabric to stop rips from getting biggerMade to protect from shrapnel during WW2. This material is puncture- and tear-resistant, but extremely heavy

Other important details to look at in your pack are the zippers and plastic buckles that are found on most all backpacks made today. Make sure that the zippers perform smoothly and reliably when pulled at different speeds and angles. Plastic buckles should feel sturdy and have positive feedback when they are locked in place. We find packs that feature name-brand fasteners, such as YKK zippers and ITW buckles to be excellent choices.

Although we can’t be certain of a particular emergency or disaster that we might face, it doesn’t mean we can’t anticipate and prepare for one. Along with proper planning, preparation, equipment, and supplies, a sturdy, useful, and comfortable backpack can form the backbone of your survival gear. There are a lot of choices available to you, but don’t be overwhelmed. With a little patience, you will most likely find a backpack that will fit your needs.

Buyer’s Guide

We have assembled a few great backpacks that caught our eye. These bags each have some great features that we have highlighted. Some of these bags are made for the role of survival backpack, while others are simply adapted for the role. Remember, it’s best to choose a bag that best fits your body, as well as your needs.

Selecting the Right Survival Backpack

  • CamelBak Motherlode

    Make & Model - CamelBak Motherlode
    Colors - Foliage (shown), Black, Coyote, AUC, ABU, MultiCam
    Capacity - 37L + 3L reservoir
    Outer Dimensions - 20H x 14W x 13.5D in
    Empty Weight - 4 lb, 4 oz (with reservoir)
    Features - The 3L Hydration Reservoir has its own separate section with drinking tube access port. Main and secondary compartments feature inner organizational pockets. The third, smaller compartment is good for small items. Compression straps and MOLLE webbing add to the backpack's usefulness.
    MSRP - $234.50 (as shown, price varies by color)
    URL - http://www.camelbak.com

    The CamelBack Motherlode has a 3L Hydration Reservoir that has its own separate section with drinking tube access port, and the main and secondary compartments feature inner organizational pockets.

  • Deuter Futura 32

    Make & Model - Deuter Futura 32
    Colors - Fire-Cranberry (shown), Storm-Titan (Blue), Black-Titan
    Capacity - 32L
    Outer Dimensions - 25.6H x 13.4W x 9.5D in
    Empty Weight - 3 lb, 4 oz
    Features - Deuter's Aircomfort back ventilation system allows you to keep your back dry from sweat, and its ergonomically formed, soft hip belt with breathable wide air-mesh offers extra carrying comfort. This pack features plenty of quickly accessible pockets.
    MSRP - $139
    URL - http://www.deuter.com

    Deuter's Aircomfort back ventilation system allows you to keep your back dry from sweat, and its ergonomically formed, soft hip belt with breathable wide air-mesh offers extra carrying comfort.

  • J-Tech Gear Heracles Operation Backpack

    Make & Model - J-Tech Gear Heracles Operation Backpack
    Colors - Camel Tan (shown), Black, Deep Olive Drab, MultiCam
    Capacity - 30L
    Outer Dimensions - 19H x 16W x 10D in
    Empty Weight - 4 lb, 4 oz
    Features - Designed for heavy load-outs with consideration toward transporting a laptop, this backpack features padded interlayers designed to mitigate shock to electronics. The Hercules Backpack also supports hydration bladders, measuring as much as 3 liters, and features a detachable front pouch, exposing elastic cords capable of securing large bulky items, such as jackets.
    MSRP - $141 (as shown, price varies by color)
    URL - http://www.jtechgear.com

    The J-Tech Gear Heracles Operation Backpack was designed for heavy load-outs with consideration toward transporting a laptop, this backpack features padded interlayers designed to mitigate shock to electronics.

  • Mystery Ranch 3 Day Assault BVS

    Make & Model - Mystery Ranch 3 Day Assault BVS
    Colors - Black (shown), Coyote, Foliage, MultiCam, OD Green
    Capacity - 33L
    Outer Dimensions - 18H x 11.5W x 8.5D in
    Empty Weight - 5 lb, 9 oz
    Features - The 3 Zip design provides top or panel loading access. The internal sleeves and ports integrate as many as three hydration reservoirs into the pack, and external webbing, quick-access open-top compartments and compression straps add to its capabilities.
    MSRP - $345 (as shown, price varies according to options and color)
    URL - http://www.mysteryranch.com

    The 3 Zip design provides top or panel loading access. The internal sleeves and ports integrate as many as three hydration reservoirs into the pack, and external webbing, quick-access open-top compartments and compression straps add to its capabilities.

  • Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack

    Make & Model - Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack
    Colors - Black (shown), Dark Red, New Khaki, Worn Olive
    Capacity - 34L
    Outer Dimensions - 20H x 14W x 8D in
    Empty Weight - 4 lb, 4 oz
    Features - With a padded side panel that is large enough to fit a 17-inch laptop and front zip pocket with an accessory organization panel, this backpack has space to spare. The bottom compartment provides spacious shoe storage, and its bottom panel is abrasion-resistant for enhanced durability.
    MSRP - $200
    URL - http://www.oakley.com

    With a padded side panel that is large enough to fit a 17-inch laptop and front zip pocket with an accessory organization panel, the Oakley Kitchen Sink backpack has space to spare.

  • Osprey Stratos 34

    Make & Model - Osprey Stratos 34
    Colors - Tarn (shown), Cactus, Shale, Magma
    Capacity - 34L
    Outer Dimensions - 24.5H x 14.5W x 13D in
    Empty Weight - 2 lb, 10 oz
    Features - This hydration-compatible backpack features an integrated rain cover to keep your gear dry even when it is pouring. It is also equipped with a mesh, back panel and Osprey's trademark LightWire frame and zipper-pocketed hip belt.
    MSRP - $129
    URL - http://www.ospreypacks.com

    This hydration-compatible backpack features an integrated rain cover to keep your gear dry even when it is pouring. It is also equipped with a mesh, back panel and Osprey's trademark LightWire frame and zipper-pocketed hip belt.

  • Tactical Tailor Three Day Plus Assault Pack

    Make & Model - Tactical Tailor Three Day Plus Assault Pack
    Colors - Black (shown), Coyote Brown, OD, MultiCam, Ranger Green
    Capacity - 46.7L
    Outer Dimensions - 20H x 20W x 16D in
    Empty Weight - 3 lb, 10 oz
    Features - Each of the seven compartments on this pack is spacious with four of them featuring large, easy-to-grab YKK double zippers and the two side compartments with adjustable heavy-duty plastic buckles. Hydration tube ports and compression straps are also built in. The hip belt and shoulder straps are exceptionally well padded.
    MSRP - $225
    URL - http://www.tacticaltailor.com

    Each of the seven compartments on The Tactical Tailor assult pack is spacious with four of them featuring large, easy-to-grab YKK double zippers and the two side compartments with adjustable heavy-duty plastic buckles.

  • The North Face Overhaul 40

    Make & Model - The North Face Overhaul 40
    Colors - TNF Black (shown), Weimaraner Brown
    Capacity - 41L
    Outer Dimensions - 20.5H x 12.5W x 9D in
    Empty Weight - 3 lb, 6 oz
    Features - Multiple layers of specialized foam in its shoulder straps promise added support and comfort. This pack is designed to comfortably store electronics, such as laptops, fitting most 17-inch laptops. It is large and padded enough to carry just about any gear that needs a mild level of protection.
    MSRP - $159
    URL - http://www.thenorthface.com

    The North Face Overhaul has multiple layers of specialized foam in its shoulder straps promise added support and comfort. This pack is designed to comfortably store electronics, such as laptops, fitting most 17-inch laptops


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