Buying a day pack or assault pack is…well it can be real pain in the ass. You can spend A LOT of money on an assault pack, only to find that it doesn’t hold enough kit, lacks a feature, or worse, is downright uncomfortable. To this end buying your first pack is something of a rite of passage. Leaving the land of standard issue behind, and finding something that works not just for the mission but for you.
The first thing we all need to understand is that military issue isn’t necessarily the best. The grim, disgusting reality is that whichever service or agency you are in will rarely buy the best. They will buy the item with the lowest possible price per unit. This is a matter of simple defence economics. As a Military College student, I worked on a study of footwear for deployment to Afghanistan. After months of work we narrowed the options down to good, better, and best relative to an exhaustive list of features (many of those features found their way into our Selecting The Right Pair Of Boots article in fact.) Surprise! The final choice was not even on our list, it simply was the most cost-effective option. There are other stories abound of armourers and other military professionals finding the cost per unit of NATO Stock Numbers (NSNs) only to find that issued kit is the tactical equivalent of the 99-cent store. The bottom line here is that standard issue may not meet your mission specifications.
Simply put, we want quality, durability, and comfort. We need to be able to easily organize mission essentials and sniffle items so they are easy to get to, and we need to be able to carry the pack for an extended period (24 hours or longer in this case.) Doesn’t seem too complicated, right? Well the truth is the market is absolutely saturated with everything from the absolutely incredible to the downright awful. So where to begin? Let’s start with base material. Most military gear is made from 500-1000 denier Cordura nylon. For a very long time I was, like so many, romanced by the idea that quality gear was always 1000 denier Cordura. I ended up paying for this dearly when my brand-new ruck was about 5 pounds heavier than my team mates. 1000 denier is heavy, and heavy generally means uncomfortable. There are exceptions but I would advocate a pack that is based on 500 denier it will be lighter, and frankly, just as durable in my experience.
When it comes to wearing the pack, look for broad well-padded and adjustable shoulder straps. The straps should feature either molle/pals webbing or non-stitched webbing for running your hydration bladder tube, GPS, ranger beads etc. I generally prefer some sort of waist belt with an integrated kidney pocket that can house small sniffle or mission items (multi-tool, lip balm, batteries etc.) however this feature is not mandatory and is largely personal preference. Finally, if you need to wear a given pack with armour, test fit the pack and your armour carrier to ensure that they are compatible. If your plate carrier does not permit you to easily don your pack (or take it off for that manner) it may be necessary to explore carrier mounted options. Carrier mounted packs are a topic for another day, however the ubiquitous Eagle/LBT MAP, Haley Strategic Flat Pack, and Crye GP are all excellent options.
There is a tendency to gravitate to a large number of pockets. This however is not a good idea. A large number of pockets can be make finding a specific item a hassle. To this end a large main compartment with 1-2 mesh or similar internal pockets, a hydration pocket, and perhaps an eye wear and magazine pocket (which ideally should hold 2-5 rifle magazines) is ideal. Above all remember, proper packing will negate the need to attempt to organize with multiple pockets. Finally, look for molle/pals webbing to attach additional mission specific equipment (med kits for example) and quality top compression straps that will prevent “floppy pack syndrome” when the pack is not fully loaded.
To conclude, buying a quality pack does not need to be frustrating exercise. The features mentioned in this article will equip you to easily identify quality packs that will meet your needs whether they be military, law enforcement, or civilian focused. As a final point a 24-hour pack should be approximately 40 litres (2500 cubic inches.) This size will enable you to carry the bare essentials for a 24-hour mission/excursion. While larger 72 hour packs or long-range packs (rucks) will need similar features there are some key differences. Remember to subscribe so you don’t miss the long-range pack article.