What Makes a GOOD Backpack?

Whether you live out of a backpack all the time in the field or just carry one periodically, you need one that does the job and helps you carry what you need comfortably. Backpacks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, each serving a different purpose. There is no one pack that does it all; different outings require different equipment. Spend enough time outdoors and you’ll probably end up with a collection of backpacks, large and small, for every scenario you can think of. Here is what you should look for in whatever pack you choose, whatever your mission.

Backpack Material

Material is all about compromise and mission. In the old days, backpacks were usually made from canvas, or a similar rugged material, without much concern for weight. Durability was the name of the game. Today, you still want a backpack that lasts, but with improvements in fabric technology comes new lighter-weight materials that stand up just as well, if not better, to the rigors of the outdoor world. You can still find canvas backpacks, but they are far less popular because of weight and their tendency to rot while in storage during the off-season.

Instead, synthetic fibers have taken over, including Cordura, nylon, ripstop nylon, polyester, and PVC fabric. The advantage of these materials is widespread – from their light weight to holding up to twig and branch pokes along the trail, to continued use year after year. Cordura, for example, is naturally water resistant and lighter than canvas, yet holds up under years of use.


How strong is the material? The most common two measurements are Denier (D) and Tenacity.

Denier is basically the thickness or density of the materials, measured by the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of yarn. That’s the technical side. What it means to you is the overall thickness and durability of the fabric, the higher the better as far as durability, but that higher number also means a heavier fabric. So you have to decide: do you want thin and light, or thick and heavy?

Tenacity is the measure of how well the fabric resists additional tearing once it has been compromised, measured in grams per denier. Nylon’s tenacity is typically called Type 6 because it has a low tenacity of 3-6 g/D. Again, in laymen’s terms, Tenacity tells you how well the material will hold up once a hole is poked or a tear is started in a the material. Ripstop fabric is going to have a very high Tenacity.

Water Resistance

One function every backpack needs is water resistance – no matter what the mission is. You never know when a rainstorm might pop up or your backpack finds a puddle or the accidental splash from the creek on your 12 mile ruck. And you might sweat a little. Throwback to the “good ol’ days,” and the best (and only) waterproofing of the day was a heavy wax brushed onto already heavy canvas. It worked, sort of, for a while, but had to be reapplied after a few good storms and was never really a good solution. Fast forward to the modern era and waterproofing is almost a given when it comes to most backpacks.

Nylon backpacks, for instance, are now made with a PVC or polyurethane coating, or treated with silicone to shed the raindrops. These coats are permanent and do not break down over time as easily as their wax forefather.

To keep what’s inside decently dry, look for a high nylon or breathable fiber content and zippers with rubber seals on the teeth. No backpack is completely waterproof, but give your contents a fighting chance with quality water resistance.


Stitching is literally the thread that holds it all together. It’s also where the backpack is likely to fail at the most inconvenient time, typically as you’re packing or struggling to put that heavy load on your back. While conventional wisdom might suggest more stitches are better – like added reinforcement – that’s not always the case. Typically, backpacks are constructed with 6-10 stitches per inch along the seams. Anything less and the bag becomes unreliable and can’t hold much weight. Anything more and the material might fail from too many needle punctures.


No matter how long your expedition, you’ll carry everything on your back, so your backpack needs to be comfortable. A key component is the straps, which serve a dual purpose: lifting the load, and holding it to your body. They need to do both well.

Narrow straps will bite into your shoulders and hurt. Good straps are wide and padded. That’s the comfort part. Support-wise, straps need to bind strongly to the pack. Look for extra stitching (called “bar tack” in industry lingo) at the top and bottom to help keep those beefy straps attached. Remember how a chain is only as strong as its weakest link? Same principle with straps. If one breaks, you’re lugging the backpack around on one shoulder for the rest of your hike. Good luck with that.

Compromising on comfort makes for miserable outings, so for maximum comfort choose closed foam padding because it will hold its shape better over time and resists breaking down longer than cheaper materials.

MOLLE & Accessory Pouches

Not everything you need will fit inside the backpack, especially for longer expeditions. Some supplies can strap to the outside. But they need something to strap to, somewhere to attach. Look for a backpack with MOLLE or a similar universal attaching system. Pouches large and small can hang neatly from the outside, offering quick access to items you use a lot, such as water bottles, maps, and a compass. You did remember those, right?

The standard is one inch tall webbing with one inch of space between rows. This will fit almost all MOLLE-based accessories and pouches. Anything smaller or larger requires custom-made or specialty pouches and makes the backpack less universally compatible.

Backpacks made from high quality material make the hike more enjoyable and help the backpack last for many years.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

David Workman

David Workman

Content Marketing Manager at Propper
David Workman is the Content Marketing Manager for Propper International, a leading manufacturer of military, law enforcement, and civilian tactical gear.
David Workman

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