Backpacks run the gamut from the fairly useless to the ultra-durable, ultra-functional backpacks people take with them to climb the world’s highest peaks. Today, however, we’re going to take a look at one particular type of backpack that doesn’t always get a lot of press: the survival backpack. Survival is a pretty broad topic so we’re going to narrow it down a bit. For the purposes of this best survival backpacks review guide, we’re defining a survival backpack as one that will allow you to carry at least 3 full days of essential survival gear. The point is that if push came to shove, either due to a natural disaster or because you got caught in a wild winter storm in the mountains, you’d be able to survive solely on what’s in your backpack.
The Best Survival Backpack
Our first Mountaintop survival backpack is their 55-liter Internal Frame backpack that is every bit as practical as its sibling (reviewed above) and several orders of magnitude above it in the looks department. This is a beautiful looking survival backpack but it’s way more than just a pretty face.
The Mountaintop 55 liter Internal Frame Backpack like most good survival packs can be extended upward to create more storage if needed. There’s also copious additional storage in the lid pocket and several generously proportioned external pockets that will keep everything from your compass to your iPad nice and dry. There’s a hydration pocket that provides you the ability to have plenty of potable water on hand as well as plenty of webbing on the exterior of this survival backpack to accommodate more water bottles.
- Model55L/70L + 10L
- Weight4.4 lb
55 liters of storage with additional space available in and under the cap pocket
Compression system allows you to adjust the profile of the pack to suit the load
Extremely comfortable waist band with lots of hip padding
Chest straps helps you keep the load stable no matter what you’re going through
Waterproof rain fly not included
The Mardingtop 65+10 Internal Frame Backpack leads off our list because it’s an excellent example of what a person should be looking for in a survival backpack. This is a 65 liter bag that’s large enough to hold several days of food and all of your survival gear comfortably. Things that aren’t practical to carry inside the pack – like a collapsible shovel – can be attached to the numerous MOLLE loops on the pack’s exterior and Mardingtop also includes an effective and easy to deploy rain cover.
We love the way the Mardingtop 65 Liter feels when you sling it. The load sits nice and high and the optional waistband allows your hips to comfortably shoulder some of the load. The detachable side pockets provide plenty of storage for emergency gear like a headlamp, tactical flashlight, camping stove/fuel, compass and more while the MOLLE webbing means anything that’s impractical to carry inside can be easily attached to the exterior.
- Weight6.1 lb
Adjustable chest strap to keep your fully loaded pack from jostling around.
Plenty of MOLLE webbing on the exterior for all types of emergency kit
Water resistant 600D polyester throughout
Large top pocket for easy access to your most vital items
No complaints considering the price. It’s all good.
The Deuter Aircontact 65 looks like it’s ready for the remotest Alaskan backcountry. It’s got plenty of available volume so you can get 3 or 4 days’ worth of dehydrated camping food, power banks, fuel, backup dry clothes, emergency blankets and anything else you need comfortably inside. This is a pack that’s all about balance and comfort. It slides on like a new pair of socks and is still comfortable after 4 continuous days of navigating mountain passes.
The Deuter Aircontact 65+10 won’t let you down when the going gets tough. Its large storage volume means you’ll have plenty of food, water, and emergency supplies with you to survive until the cavalry arrives. The pack features a pivoting hipbelt that allows you to execute tough maneuvers without your position being compromised by the demands of the load. And the ripstop Duratex 330D fabric ensures your supplies won’t be compromised by penetrating branches or other hazards.
- ModelAircontact 65+10
- Weight6.88 lb
Composed of durable, tear resistant Duratex 330D polyamide fabric
Plenty of MOLLE webbing to compensate for the lack of exterior pockets
Proprietary Aircontact System
Outstanding comfort and durability
It’s heavier than some other backpacks in its class
The afromentioned lack of exterior pockets
The Gonex 100L Internal Frame has one of the largest carrying capacities of any survival or tactical backpack. It complements its generous allotment of pockets with plenty of MOLLE webbing on the exterior as well so if you need to carry for the family during an emergency you can. The whole bag, in fact, is MOLLE compliant which makes the logistics of survival much easier.
The more important items you have with you in any survival situation the better your odds of emerging in one piece. The Gonex 100 liter survival backpack allows you to take everything but the kitchen sink, and you might be able to strap that to the exterior using the MOLLE webbing. The carrying straps adjust to people of different heights and the 900D polyester construction is highly water resistant so your supplies stay nice and dry.
- ModelTactical Backpack 100 Liters
- Weight5.4 lb
100 liters of high quality storage
A robust but lightweight internal framing system keeps everything in its place
Waist strap houses 2 additional pockets for vital items like your compass and tactical flashlight
Fully adjustable shoulder straps are well padded for extra comfort
When fully loaded this survival backpack is going to be heavy so beware
We love the way the Teton Sports Fox 5200 Internal Frame Backpack looks and the way it feels when slung over the shoulders. It’s comfortable, stable and easy on the upper body and it keeps your load beautifully balanced even if you’ve filled it to the hilt. Considering the affordability of this backpack that’s saying a lot.
The Teton 75+10 has a classic mountaineering profile and indeed you’d do well bringing this along as you attempt to summit Shasta or Mount Blanc. There’s an uber-discreet internal support system that’s not a full frame but effectively mimics one. The hip strap is extremely comfortable and can be adjusted to different sized climbers and the hydration pack (bladder not included) makes sure you always have plenty of clean H2O at the ready. There’s also plenty of external webbing and elasticized cords for attaching other items.
- Weight6.1 lb
75 liters of storage space. Enough for nearly any survival situation
Thoughtfully engineered carrying system with plenty of paddin
Discreet aluminum framing system protects your supplies from getting crushed
Special external bladder for water
When fully loaded it will be too heavy for many
What the OutdoorMaster survival backpack lacks in style it makes up for in practicality with 60 liters of storage in the main compartment and another 10 under the top pocket. This is a great bag that provides you with the space you need and minimizes the impact of carrying a heavy load for extended periods of time.
You’re not going to take this survival backpack up K2 but you could very well use it to climb a more modest peak like Whitney or Ranier and you’d be smart to load it up with provisions in the event that there’s a life-threatening weather event heading your way or spring snow melt is sending the Mississippi over the levee into your town. The pack disperses the load well between the shoulder and hip straps and the waterproof rain fly means your vital supplies will stay dry.
- ModelHiking Backpack 60L
- Weight3.8 lb
60 liters of storage capacity
Water resistant shell with waterproof zippers and a fully waterproof rain fly
Plenty of padding on the hip and shoulder straps
Plenty of external water bottle storage
Shoulder straps, while well padded, are narrow
The Titan 55 Internal Framed survival backpack from High Sierra is a great looking piece of survival gear that’s easy on the eye, easy on your back and easy on your budget. It’s constructed with lightweight fabrics throughout and provides 55 liters of high quality storage space with plenty of options for how you want to arrange things. Padding is generous and effective and the external pockets are every bit as durable and practical as they look.
This is a great mid-sized survival backpack that is really built to last and won’t wear you out. The pack is constructed from tough, water-resistant Mini-Diamond Ripstop Nylon in the upper portion and 840D Nylon in the bottom. As for extras, there’s a removable media pocket for your smartphone or portable GPS device, zippered pockets on the waist belt for those items you need at the ready, lots of padding on the back panel to protect your spine and the ability to lash ice axes to the back quickly and easily.
- BrandHigh Sierra
- Weight4.6 lb
A 55 liter, top loading main compartment
Lots of additional storage in the cap pocket
Sleeping bag compartment loads through the front for added convenience
Additional storage available on both the hip and shoulder straps
Not a lot of webbing or cords for attaching gear to the pack’s exterior
Here’s another vertically oriented mountaineering backpack that doubles effectively as an all-purpose survival backpack. The Mountaintop Internal Frame Backpack is large, durable, versatile and brimming with cords, straps and webbing on the outside so you can take everything you need to survive 3 or more days in the wild or at the emergency shelter.
This Mountaintop Internal Frame provides plenty of space for trekking in the Himalaya or hunkering down at the storm shelter with the kids. 70 liters of capacity in the main compartment means you can take along things other packs might force you to leave behind like candles, additional clothing, an inflatable mattress for the kids to sleep on and more. If you find yourself isolated in the wild there’s plenty of room for extra food, fuel for the camp stove and water so you can hold out a good long time before you have to start worrying.
- Model70L + 10L
- Weight4.6 lb
A full 70 liters of top loading storage capacity means you’ll never be caught short
Load stays up on your shoulders where it belongs
Plenty of external cords, webbing and straps for the shovel, tent poles and more
Fully adjustable shoulder straps
Not really built for those over 6’ tall as the hip belt will ride up
The G4Free 40 liter Water Resistant Backpack surprised us by earning a place on our list, and surprised us even more by demonstrating that it’s such an outstanding overall value. At 40 liters the G4Free occupies the low end of the survival backpack size spectrum but it’s so incredibly convenient we couldn’t deny it a place.
The G4Free isn’t for guides on Everest. In fact, it’s not for anyone on Everest. However, should you find yourself faced with a sudden evacuation just pop this nifty backpack out of the drawer and open it up. In seconds you’ve got 40 liters of high-quality storage space at your disposal.
- ModelLarge 40L Lightweight
- Weight0.2 lb
40 liters of storage
Folds away into itself for easy carrying
Features a built in emergency whistle in the chest strap
Build quality is generally very high
Only 20 bucks!
Don’t be surprised if it’s smaller than you expect it to be
Not for serious mountaineering
Finally, we come to the last of our best survival backpack list and it’s a doozy. The Teton Sports Scout 3400 with 55 liters of storage capacity and some of the most common sense design touches we’ve seen. The 3400 boasts a slew of features that make the transportation of survival gear easy, convenient and painless.
The Teton 55 liter Scout 3400 has all the style and comfort of a backpack costing 2 or 3 times as much. You can feel the built quality when you sling it and you can see it when you inspect the pack up close. This is no bargain basement survival backpack. This is the real thing. Constructed using durable, water-resistant Diamond Ripstop 600D nylon the 3400 features a roomy sleeping bag compartment you can use for other things if you’re heading to the evacuation shelter, lots of webbing and straps on the exterior and great balance for extended wear.
- Weight4.5 lb
55 liters of storage in the main compartment and more in the lid pocket
Fully adjustable waist and shoulder straps to accommodate different sized carriers
Comes with waterproof rain fly
Affordable low price
No ability to add or remove external pockets
Things To Consider When Purchasing Survival Backpacks
Survival backpacks are used by a wide variety of people, many of whom are not mountaineers and so have little experience with backpacks in general. These folks typically have questions about survival backpacks and here are some of the most common.
Q: What Is A Survival Backpack?
A: A survival backpack is a backpack that has several distinguishing features: it typically has more than 50 liters of storage capacity in its main compartment, it’s water resistant with a waterproof rain fly, it has lots of MOLLE or MOLLE-style mesh and cords on its exterior for gear that needs to be at the ready and it’s comfortable to carry over long distances.
Q: How Much Should A Survival Backpacks Weigh?
A: The survival backpack itself shouldn’t weigh more than 6 or 7 pounds max. When it’s full, however, it’s going to weigh considerably more and the larger the storage capacity the heavier the backpack will be when full. At the high end of the spectrum a survival backpack full of tactical and survival gear, food, clothes and more may weigh in excess of 75 pounds, although most will weigh less.
A: Most survival backpacks load from the top so the items you put in first will be those you won’t need to access often, like spare socks, sweaters, and shirts, underwear etc. On top of that will go food and food preparation materials like the stove and pots and pans and at the top the tent, tent stakes and ground cloth. Outside pockets should contain things like fuel for the stove, tactical gear like the compass, GPS device, tactical flashlight and more. And the MOLLE mesh should be used for items like a foldable shovel, hatchet and anything else that doesn’t play well inside your survival backpack.
Essential Items For Your Survival Backpack
- Water bottles
- Tactical Flashlight
- Survival knife
- Compass and/or GPS device
- Emergency blankets
- First aid kit
- Water filter
- Enough food for 3 to 5 days
- Battery or wind up emergency radio
Also, check out this cool video from Wired with some other ideas for essential items for your Survival backpack:
Factors When Buying The Best Survival Backpack
Here are some of the things you’ll want to consider when shopping for survival backpacks.
Volume - The survival backpack should have a storage capacity of at least 40-50 liters with a practical maximum of about 100 liters. Anything less than 40 or 50 and you’re likely going to have to leave things you should be taking.
Comfort - You might have to carry this survival backpack for days on end so it needs to be comfortable. There should be plenty of padding in the shoulder straps and waist/hip strap and there should also be padding that protects your back from rubbing up against the pack. The pack should also ride high to keep most of the load on your shoulders.
Versatility - You should be able to attach a variety of survival items to the exterior of the survival backpack including things like an axe, a foldable shovel, tent poles, water bottles and more.
Waterproof - While most survival backpacks are not made from waterproof material the best are made from water resistant materials and also include a fully waterproof rain fly which you can cover the pack in when it rains in order to protect the contents.
Survival backpacks can mean the difference between transcending an emergency relatively unscathed and being overwhelmed by events. Even if you’ve never backpacked a day in your life and don’t intend to you and your family will still benefit from having a survival backpack on hand in case the creek rises or the mother of all hurricanes comes roaring ashore.