Military Backpack vs. Hiking Backpack

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The backpack you choose will make a big difference when you’re hiking. Some think using a military pack is ideal for hiking, and in some cases, it may be. However, in the military vs. hiking backpack debate, there are some essential features to understand. Let’s discuss what makes these two packs differ.

Military Backpack vs. Hiking Backpack

Let’s look at the differences between military and hiking backpacks.

The Size

One of the main differences between the two is their overall size. Although you might think that military or tactical backpacks would be larger than hiking backpacks, this is not the case.

Military packs have ample space, but the focus is more on organization and carrying an array of heavy essentials. As a result, they aren’t all that large, as a soldier out in the thick of it for weeks cannot afford to lug around a massive backpack at all times.

On the other hand, hiking backpacks tend to be larger. If you go on a hike, you likely won’t need to run at top speed or dodge bullets, so having something a bit larger will work.


Military backpacks have good capacity. Military personnel must carry first aid gear, communication equipment, extra magazines, ammo, and other vital equipment.

However, military backpacks are more compact and designed for long-term carrying—weeks or even months—so their capacity is limited. Compare the capacity of a military pack to a hiking backpack, and you’ll quickly notice the capacity difference.

Hiking backpacks are often large and designed to hold all your essentials for a multi-day hiking and camping trip. They are bigger and heavier and have more internal capacity.

Organizational Features

A significant difference between military backpacks and hiking backpacks is that military packs generally have better organizational features, especially the interior Soldiers must be well-organized and able to access essential and lifesaving gear at a moment’s notice. For this reason, military packs will have many small compartments, dividers, and organizational features.

On the other hand, while some hiking packs may also have decent organizational features, they don’t stand up to military packs.

Hiking packs tend to be more about maximum space and capacity. They will have a few zippered pockets, but the main compartment will usually just be one large area you stuff everything into. It’s not the best for organization.

Military Backpack vs. Hiking Backpack

MOLLE Features

A good military backpack usually has a MOLLE system. MOLLE is a strap system consisting of various loops, straps, and clips, with different gear having corresponding counterparts.

This makes it easy to carry additional gear outside the pack. You won’t see this feature on a standard hiking backpack. This system was designed by soldiers for soldiers.

Emergency Features

Most military packs have emergency features that most hiking backpacks don’t. We’re talking about specialized compartments for radio transmission gear and water hydration packs. Some hiking backpacks might have hydration pouches, but these are much more commonly found on military or tactical backpacks.

The Fit, Comfort, and Support Features

Hiking backpacks are designed to hold many items and may come with a metal frame to keep things stable and help distribute the pack’s weight. In addition, some hiking backpacks may have good padding in the back and on the shoulder straps and various support straps.

However, hiking backpacks usually don’t excel in comfort. Military packs are designed for long-term wearing and typically have much better padding in all areas and support features, such as the high-quality sternum, chest, and waist straps.

In addition, hiking packs usually come in different sizes to suit many people. On the other hand, military packs are often one-size-fits-all, as they are designed to fit the average soldier.

Construction Quality and Materials

One of the most significant differences between military and hiking backpacks is the construction quality, especially the materials used. Hiking backpacks are designed to maximize capacity while keeping the weight down.

Therefore, they’re often made with materials that aren’t that tough or thick. Unfortunately, they can easily break or tear, limiting their weight capacity.

On the other hand, military backpacks are often a bit heavier, even though they are smaller because they are built with multiple layers of super-tough materials. Soldiers cannot have their military backpacks falling apart during a combat mission.

Intended Purpose/Who They Are Best For

The main difference is that military backpacks are designed for soldiers who need high-quality and super durable gear that can hold their equipment in an organized manner. In addition, the tactical backpack must be comfortable for weeks or months. On the other hand, hiking backpacks are lightweight and designed for capacity.

Military Backpacks vs. Hiking Backpacks

As you can see, although both are technically backpacks, military and hiking backpacks aren’t built for the same things.

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