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Military Bags Buying Guide: Backpacks vs Duffle Bags

Whether you’re just making a quick run to the shops or taking a month-long holiday overseas, you’ll need the right bag. Or a few bags, actually. It’s not just about having space for everything you’ll carry but having the items organised in places that are quick and easy to access, and something that is also comfortable for the long haul. Bags come in all sorts, from small toiletry or waist bags to medium-sized rucksacks, or huge roller suitcases – you’ll find one for each task, and journey.

Depending on where you’re going, for how long, and the gear you’ll be carrying, you need a bag that has the right amount of storage, is divided into functional compartments, made of light, yet durable materials that can handle long wear and tear, and stay intact when facing the elements. Technologies developed for standard military-issue bags, like the MOLLE or the Modular Light Load-carrying Equipment systems, have steadily been adopted for widespread civilian use. The benefits are there for everyone – from hikers, backpackers and campers, to hunters and soldiers, or anyone in need of light, versatile and comfortable tactical carrying gear for rough outdoor environments.
tactical military backpack

Military bags are constantly being revised and developed to offer the highest portability, functionality, durability and comfort for a variety of situations and tasks. Recent soldier surveys within the ADF have provided invaluable data as to what can be improved to suit different body types and different field tasks. For a detailed account see here.

Types of Military Bags

Backpacks and Rucksacks

Backpacks and rucksacks are possibly the most widespread and versatile bag you’ll see. Students, athletes, hikers, photographers and soldiers all have some sort of backpack. Backpacks come in a variety of sizes, with smaller everyday bags having simpler designs, fewer pockets and lower carrying capacity. Larger bags come with multiple compartments and pockets, additional padding and belts, and durable inner panels or frames.
backpack for school girl in forest

Daypacks are a comfortable choice for shorter hiking trips, with numerous internal and outer tops, side and bottom compartments to divide and protect your gear. Larger hiking bags add supported back panels, straps, and belts for even distribution of weight and better upper body movement. They also include compartments and pockets for sleeping bags, water bottles, walking sticks and any additional gear. Durable, weatherproof materials are used.

Military-issue backpacks will have hydration pockets, external ID pockets, front and side MOLLE webbing, modular internal pocket organisation and detachable external frames. They should also fit over body armour. Sizes range from small 20 litre backpacks to large models with over 50 litres carrying capacity. Materials vary, from rip-stop and ballistic nylon to heavy-duty corduroy for outer shells, soft-touch synthetic mixtures and foam padding inside. Military-grade bags have flame-retardant coatings and are supplied with water-resistant covers.

Duffle Bags

Military duffle bags can be used as luggage or for carrying additional gear. Their cylindrical or rectangular shape provides adequate storage but little in the way of flexible cargo organisation. Duffle bags have one main compartment and may include multiple side compartments with meshing for better separation. Most will be large enough to house one or more rifle bags. Duffles have top main handles and side pull hooks and shoulder straps. Many also come with rollers with supporting frames for better carrying comfort. Nylon mixtures are the base material, with PVC bases and coatings providing tear and weather resistance.
duffle bag women

Cases and Ammo Cans

Cases and cans for storing and transporting ammunition are built from reinforced plastics and metals and come in different sizes for different calibres. They feature seals and locks for protection and safety.

Smaller Bags

For storing and carrying smaller necessities like keys, cards and phones, smaller bags come in handy. These include waist packs, ID holders and wallets, sling bags and haversacks. A toiletry bag will fit all grooming goodies. You can accessorise your bag with TSA compatible locks, tension straps and belts, D-rings and clips, external frames, additional inner padding and compartment dividers. MOLLE meshing will give you easy access to frequently used items likes knives, tools and torches.

Which Bag Is Right for You?

It all depends. You may need just one bag or all the bags listed above in a variety of different situations. Soldiers will get standard issue backpacks but may want to change frames, padding, or straps for a better fit. Some opt for larger bags and accessories when carrying more gear. Hikers will go for daypacks when overnight camping isn’t involved. For longer trips, they may want a larger backpack to fit sleeping bags, extra clothing, cooking utensils or first-aid kits. Hunters will want a functional backpack while hunting, but also ammo cases for additional rounds, and duffle and rifle bags to store and carry extra weapons and hunting gear. Athletes will need waterproof compartments and enough space for extra clothing, shoes, wearables and equipment. If you’re still in doubt as to what kind of bag you need, you can find useful advice here.
backpack bag

What to Look for in a Bag?

Consider the storage capacity you need. Look for a bag that comfortably fits all you need for your desired task, with a little leftover space for a few smaller items. Think about how you’ll distribute your gear and the compartments you need. No use in getting an oversized bag and leaving it half full. Larger bags of the same brand will understandably be heavier and more expensive. Furthermore, think of comfort. If you’re walking long hours with a load, you’ll want something manageable. Look for quality padding and internal panels or external frames that don’t get in the way. Straps and connectors will evenly divide weight. A smaller backpack will be more comfortable than lugging a duffle around for longer periods. More durable materials come at a cost. High-end materials and designs may be overkill or a necessity, depending on your use. Decent bags will be durable enough to withstand scratches, tears and keep things inside dry. More expensive bags will bear more beating, like fire or chemicals. Basically, choose the bag that fits your needs and falls within your predetermined budget.