There isn’t any piece of gear that matters more than a good survival backpack.Everything you carry with you into the woods will need to be stuffed into, strapped on, or carried by your back pack. Therefore, It’s very important that you select a backpack that’s right for your needs, otherwise you could end your trip outdoors with an aching back, sore shoulders or much worse.
Picking the Right Size Pack
One of the biggest keys to picking the proper survival backpack is to know how long you plan to be camping. Overnight packs should be lightweight; but, they don’t necessarily need an external tie down points or a space for a hydration bladder, and they certainly don’t need as much internal storage space as a pack that you’re planning on using for a week-long trip. Most people look for three day packs, which tend to be right in the middle as far as price and size. The best 3-day packs have a lightweight internal frame which gives the backpack structure without the weight and bulk of an external frame.
There are a few things you can look for if you need a pack that can fill more than one role. MOLLE compatibility, which is covered later in this guide, lets you add and remove extra storage space as necessary. Another feature that can really increase the versatility of a backpack is external tie down points. While they might be overkill for an overnight pack, being able to strap hiking poles, rifles, bedrolls, and even tents and bivvy sacks to the outside of your pack can free up storage space and turn a relatively small survival backpack into a workhorse suitable for longer trips.
The Right Material
Most packs are made of lightweight nylon. Nevertheless, there are a few other options if you’re willing to spend some time shopping. Cotton canvas backpacks are still popular in some places, in part because of their ruggedness and durability. Backpacks made with canvas and leather are stylish, but tend to be expensive compared to more modern materials. Still, a few high-end manufacturers like L. L. Bean offer canvas packs. These packs get high marks for being completely waterproof. They are though heavier than the alternatives.
Another alternative to nylon survival backpacks is Cordura. These packs are just as lightweight as nylon, but they’re also more rugged and completely waterproof. If you are looking for a premium survival backpack for use in wet areas of the country, like the Pacific Northwest or the east coast, a backpack made from Cordura is the best option on the market.
Finally, there’s polyester. Most children’s backpacks and low-end survival packs are made from coated polyester fabric. It’s slightly heavier than nylon, and can be made to be waterproof depending on the coating. Still, polyester backpacks wear much more quickly, tend to shred and tear when rubbed against rough surfaces and in general don’t perform as well as nylon does. If you’re looking for an affordable low-end survival backpack, chances are good that you’ll end up with one made from polyester.
Frame Packs vs Frameless
External frames were the standard for rugged, reliable survival packs for a long time. Today they’ve mostly been replaced by internal frames, although both have their place when you’re considering, which backpack to buy. In general, external frame backpacks offer more points to tie down your gear, but you pay for that convenience with weight and bulk.
The best packs use carbon fiber or aluminum for the frame, and only a few low-end models offer plastic frame packs. For the average survivalist putting together a 3-day pack or bugout bag, you’ll want to find an internal frame pack. Longer trips, like weeklong wilderness getaways or extended outdoor survival, might warrant an external frame pack depending on your gear. In general, if your bedroll is compact enough to be packed inside of your backpack, go with an internal frame. If you need to carry it strapped to your back, then an external frame is more convenient.
One accessory that’s important to look for is a hydration sleeve. Hydration bladders are a useful and affordable way to carry your water when you don’t want a canteen bouncing around by your waist. These bladders work best when they can be inserted into a special sleeve in your pack, which is usually in a accessible location for refilling. Although buying a survival backpack without a hydration sleeve might not be a deal breaker, if you’re planning on spending more than an hour or two on the trail, you’ll really appreciate always having your water source at the ready.
Another thing to look for is MOLLE compatibility. Just like the Picatinny rail system on modern rifles, MOLLE straps on your pack allow for modular accessories. First-aid kits, canteen pouches, extra storage and even ammo pouches can strap on to the outside of your pack, freeing up the internal pockets for gear that you don’t need to get to in a hurry.
Finally, look for a survival backpack with a convenient number of different compartments rather than just one large one. The number of extra compartments is personal preference in a lot of cases, but a good rule of thumb is to have three on the back that you can access without opening up your backpack. That will let you store first aid, water bottles, fire starting kits and other essentials and have them at the ready whenever you take your backpack off for a break.
The Bottom Line
The truth is, most people only need a basic backpack consisting of nylon construction in order to keep the weight down, and internal frame to provide structure and help distribute the load without being bulky and a hydration sleeve so that you can easily take sips of water. Some more advanced users might prefer an external frame, a lot of MOLLE straps, or other little touches that make their style of camping and survival more convenient. As a general rule, though, if you’re looking for a survival backpack, you should try to stick to the basics, and if you’re going to spend more money, try to put it towards a boost in quality rather than a pack loaded down with fancy accessories.