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Tactical Backpack vs. Hiking Backpack | How to Choose

People often purchase hiking backpacks over traditional packs because they offer more pockets and storage pouches to hide their valuables. After all, you wouldn’t want to be carrying an expensive laptop in a cheap school backpack. Fortunately, you can try a tactical backpack to wear wherever you go.

Here are the key differences between tactical and hiking backpacks:

Tactical backpacks are worn like a normal backpack without going too high above your shoulders. They’re also more compact and offer plenty of storage, despite the fact that they’re not as bulky as a hiking backpack.

Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following information:

  • Why you should consider a tactical backpack over a hiking backpack
  • Various differences between the two packs
  • Details about two of the best tactical backpacks to review
Man Hiking Looking into Distance with Backpack

What are the Differences Between Tactical Backpacks and Hiking Backpacks?

Many people confuse tactical backpacks as being the same product as hiking backpacks. The truth is that they both serve very different purposes, which is why you should never wear a hiking backpack for regular daily life.

Hiking backpacks are heavy, large, and in the way when you’re trying to move around. They’re perfect when you’re on the trail; there’s no doubt about it. However, they’re not the best solution for going to school, work, or around town.

Here are a handful of other differences between the two choices:

  • Tactical backpacks are known to be much more comfortable than hiking backpacks. There aren’t as many rods and poking pieces since they don’t need to be as supportive. They also usually have more cushion in the back from top to bottom.
  • Hiking backpacks are designed for long-distance hiking in the wilderness, whereas tactical backpacks can be used for short hikes as well as daily living. You can walk anywhere with a tactical backpack without feeling like you stand out from the crowd.
  • Tactical backpacks are mostly used for military and law enforcement services. However, they can be used for almost anything. On the other hand, you’d never see a military member or a law officer working while wearing a hiking backpack.
  • When it comes to weight, tactical backpacks usually weigh more than hiking backpacks. Since they’re made with tougher materials, they last longer and are more durable, but it definitely comes at the cost of a couple more pounds.
  • Tactical backpacks can be worn while you run, jump, and move around because they sit very close to your body. However, hiking backpacks are much more clumsy when you start to get agile.

As you can see, the differences between these two kinds of packs are significant. Some people might still want to try out hiking backpacks for daily living and short hikes, but you might want to reconsider your decision after reviewing the next section.

Why Should You Choose a Tactical Backpack?

Tactical backpacks have been increasing in popularity in recent years. Customers are beginning to understand the undeniable benefits of them, as well as the cumbersome nature of wearing a hiking backpack when they don’t need to.

Without further ado, here are the five reasons that you should choose a tactical backpack over a hiking backpack:

  1. Tactical backpacks are much more organized than hiking backpacks. They come with condensed compartments with zippers and velcro straps. You can even add additional items onto the velcro straps that sit along the exterior, or feel free to remove them to reduce the overall weight of the pack.
  2. Most tactical backpacks come prebuilt with emergency features, which is one of the reasons that it has the applicable name ‘tactical.’ These features include hydration bladders for water, spaces for radio communication or headphones, and nozzles for a variety of uses.
  3. If you’re using the pack for short trips, the compact size of a tactical backpack outshines the massive size of a hiking backpack. There’s nothing like being able to walk off the beaten path without being held back or limited from climbing, hiking, or swimming, and speaking of which, most tactical backpacks are water-resistant.
  4. Tactical backpacks fit in with the crowd. The reason that so many people choose hiking backpacks over regular packs is that they want to conceal their valuables. With a tactical backpack, you can hide your important items without making it obvious. Again, it blends right in with the crowd.
  5. Finally, tactical backpacks have more padding inside and out. Hiking backpacks are built for storage, but that doesn’t always keep your gear protected. With the additional padding and cushioned layers found throughout tactical backpacks, you can store your valuables without the fear of them breaking.

Choosing a High-Quality Tactical Backpack

When you’re ready to pick out a new tactical backpack, you should try one of the following two choices:

  1. 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 Military Backpack
  2. 5.11 COVRT18 Tactical Covert Military Backpack

Here’s a quick breakdown of each backpack:

5.11 Tactical RUSH24 Military Backpack

The 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 Backpack definitely looks more like the stereotypical tactical backpack that you might think of. It’s lined with velcro patches on the back, providing space for you to attach radios, water pouches, tactical knives, and more. It even has two buckled straps to hold the backpack’s shape while you move around.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of this compact backpack is that it can hold an astounding 37 liters of equipment. Most hiking backpacks of the same size wouldn’t even come close to that capacity. It also has a 60-ounce hydration reservoir loaded in the back, but you can remove it to free up more space for other gear.


  • Includes plenty of storage compartments and velcro straps
  • Designed to hold close to your body for more support
  • Comes with a removable 60-ounce water pouch
  • Made with an impressive 37-liter capacity

Regardless of which pack you choose, both of these tactical backpacks are worth every penny. They’re relatively inexpensive compared to hiking backpacks of the same quality, and you can do much more with them.

If you want a backpack that’s compact and loaded with padding, then the 5.11 COVRT18 is a good choice. On the other hand, if you want something that has more storage and external space for velcro attachments, then you should pick the 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 backpack.

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5.11 COVRT18 Tactical Covert Military Backpack

The 5.11 COVRT18 Tactical Covert Backpack is a great choice for those who want a backpack that looks normal but contains loads of internal storage. It has several pouches, a water reservoir, a massive internal compartment for big gear, and two side pockets for water bottles. It’s safe to say that you won’t get dehydrated while wearing it!

If you choose this tactical backpack, you’ll be able to pick from Black, Asphalt, Storm, or Ice. They’re all styled with black lining and drawstrings to seal the compartments. This backpack comes in one size: 19 inches tall x 12.25 inches wide. It has more than enough room for laptops, tablets, water bottles, books, and more.


  • Comes with numerous storage compartments
  • Includes a water reservoir and interior velcro straps
  • Extra padding to protect your valuables
  • Made out of durable 500D water-resistant nylon

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Final Thoughts

There’s no doubting the effectiveness of a hiking backpack on a long trail, but tactical backpacks are much more practical for daily uses. They’re also perfect for short day trips, traveling, and school or work. The next time you think about buying a new backpack, remember that tactical backpacks offer comfort, storage, and protection for all of your valuables.

For more, check out How Much Does a Backpack Cost (By Type With Chart).