> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Reader Question: Backpacks



Reader Question: Backpacks


I have been working on my 72 hour bags for a while, trying to make them as complete and efficient as I can. My problem is the bag itself, when I search for reviews I have a hard time finding a review I trust on a bag. ....Lot's of billy bad a-s on the web will tell you what they think, but they have no idea what they are really talking about. I looked on the T blog, but did not find a review of a backpack. I am looking for a heavy duty bag that will hold everything I need, and I am traveling light. Just the essentials- but in Arizona one of the essentials I feel is water. At 8lb a gallon and 3 gallons a pack- the bag is heavy. I have 3 small children, ages 6, 4 and 2. So they can not carry much.

I bought a backpack from Emergency Essentials, but the straps busted rather quickly. 

I know I am going to have to spend some decent money and looking at my green bag from Emergency essentials- I realize it should be grey like you recommend in one post on the blog. I am always learning from your blog.

Thanks for your help,


Alex's Response:
First up, have plenty of water ready to load into your vehicle if you do have to bail on the homestead. Have lots (lots) of water on hand for the more likely scenario of hunkering down at home. Also know where water is - have some good maps - because AZ is unlivable without it!

Second, 24 lbs of water is really too much for a pack. 6L is more reasonable. It is the desert...you should not go to go wandering off into the wastelands, especially with 3 little kids in tow. Stay with your vehicle or move to known water sources. 

Specifically to packs, I am a huge fan of Camelbak's military line of packs, at least for daypack in size. They are well made, come with their excellent reservoir, have a good warranty and are just built around carrying water. The Camelbak HAWG, for example, comes with a 3L bladder - add a few water bottles and you will be at the weight you want to carry in water. I do not keep the reservoir full, but store water to fill it nearby.

You can certainly pack a warm-weather bug out kit in a HAWG sized bag...you have to be efficient and pack the essentials, but that should be the name of the game anyways. You should be able to move quickly and without too much exertion with the pack.

If you are worried about drawing attention from others, a black Camelbak is pretty low profile. You will love it and probably press it into double-duty for hiking and day excursions.

If you need more space or want to spend less, the old school military ALICE packs would be worth a look. They are clunky, 'Nam era gear, but they're also durable, functional and inexpensive.

Along similar lines of bigger n' cheaper, check out this Teton bag from Amazon - $65, completely generic looking and decent for the price.

And a note on the kiddos - REI and other stores sell child size packs, designed to hold a small hydration reservoir and a little bit of cargo. The 4 year old and 6 year old could certainly carry these with a liter of water, some snacks, etc.

Readers - comment away! What would you recommend?


  1. Kelty Backpacks: external frame. (I have 20+ years of backpacking experience.)

    1. I'm rolling a Kelty Coyote 80 for my BOB and a Kelty Redwing for my GHB. Both rock solid. The Redwing took me around southern China and back and was awesome, but I found myself wanting more space for a trip of that magnitude.

      My only complaint is that neither bag has a lot of options for attaching things to the shoulder straps, but a few ranger bands solve that.

  2. Been there done that. With three little ones it becomes almost impossible to bug out on foot. Since I am not in the downtown core or near suburbs I looked at all my options and decided with diapers, formula, five kids, etc. we had to bug out with a vehicle. So I turned our camping trailer into a bug out trailer by loading some of the storage spades (like under the seats) with supplies.

    Yes it limits those scenarios which I could have bugged out. But we pay a price for having kids. As a result of this decision I made sure to have a darn good get home bag and hardened our house as best I could.

    1. Get Home is definitely my primary model. My girls are 9 and 4. The 4 year old is strong enough to carry at least a day's worth of her own stuff in a small pack, and the 9 year old probably a few days worth. Plus she is responsible and smart enough to contribute a lot more to the group (cooking, scouting, foraging, etc). Kids are a burden early, but around 7 or 8 they really turn the corner and can be really quite helpful.

  3. I use the Gregory Savant 38. This is my favorite bag I've ever owned next to the REI Lookout 40. Not too big but not too small. Anything bigger than that I would say any external frame or the military ILBE.

  4. By far the best bang for the buck is the two backpacks offered from LA Police Gear, There is the Operator Backpack http://www.lapolicegear.com/lapg-operator-backpack.html for $49 and the 3 Day Backpack http://www.lapolicegear.com/diplomat-3-day-backpack1.html for $29. I prefer the Operator Backpack because it opens fully wide and has a little more room. I've recommended this bag for all my clients for years and never once had a complaint. They are built just as tough as any name brand there's just no markup.

  5. Great advice all around!

    I for one use an ALICE frame--not an alice pack mind you--and I lash stuff onto it. Its a hobo solution for sure--not going to win any beauty pageants with the thing--but its rather versatile and gets the job done. Right now I have a large sealline bag on the bottom and a large heavy duty plastic ammo can on top of that. I find it more than adequate to carry the necessities--and then some. And there's still room to hook something else onto the back. You also have the option take everything off and use it to carry firewood, a military water can, a large can of gas etc. Its not my idea--Dave Canterbury came up with it first. He uses a Bulpak which is a lot more expensive and heavy duty than an ALICE frame, but I find the alice gets the job done if you swap out the straps and make sure to get the radio shelf.

    For bugging out you really should keep things super light weight and try not to over prepare. Your BOB should be mission specific. My plan A is to bug in--hunker down if at all possible. My plan B would be to bug out via car--only if necessary. Hopefully there is a specific place somewhat nearby that will be safer--if not I guess I might as well stay in my home. For a car you can pack a bin of food, a case of water, tents, sleeping bags etc etc. Now if all else fails and for some reason I have to abandon my car and go on foot (likely a very dangerous action) then that's my plan C. Some people act like if a disaster strikes bugging out on foot is there plan A. Not a smart idea. I would only bug out on foot if it was the last resort and I had no other options. And only if I had a specific destination in mind that I could get to in 1-2 days of hiking--somewhere safe or perhaps somewhere I'd be able to secure transportation. I'd want to get to safety ASAP--not stay on the road and try to hike for 500 miles. Nor would I escape into the mountains--with only my BOB--and try to live in the wilderness long term. I'd be heading to a known location--somewhere at least somewhat safe. Otherwise I wouldn't leave my car in the first place. So the name of the game is to travel as quickly, easily, and with as little weight as possible. Just the raw essentials--no need for a tent or a 10 piece cookset or 10,000 feet of bankline or any of that stuff. That is fine for bushcrafting or perhaps to bring in your vehicle, but if I'm on bugging out on foot I'm going to want some cash (as much as possible), basic food, water, a good map/compass, essential documents (passports), maybe phone chargers, and maybe some other very basic EDC items.

    Remember--you might have to carry this crap for 50 miles or so. That 70lbs wilderness survival pack is going to get awfully heavy after 12 hours of walking.

  6. I'm a bit of a pack nut. I've owned several high end civilian style packs, a few military packs and a few low end civilian packs. The LAST one I would ever consider using is the Alice Pack. It's uncomfortable and packs kind of crappy.

    For 72 hours, you can eat a single meal a day and keep the rest of the pack for the kids needs as far as food goes. The rest seems to be self evident once you consider your needs. It's always better to put a kit together, then buy a pack. If you buy the pack then fit the kit to the pack, you might have to compromise. Compromise is no good when your life and your kid's lives are on the line.

    You have 2 main options, tactical or civilian grey man packs. The grey man packs can be fairly rugged, but are generally more lightweight. The military packs are more rugged, but heavier and scream "I'm a threat" to most people.

    I have both, I keep both packed and ready to go to have the option to sneak out of town, or into town.

    1. Meister, In fairness to the old ALICE comparing $200+ nice commercial bags to the lowly $30-40 ALICE is a bit uneven. That being said I agree they are not particularly comfortable. Budget and the other gear you plan to use in conjunction with the pack will largely dictate what makes sense.

    2. I fully agree with that assessment. If you don't know any better, you can get used to an ALICE pack, but they still seem to be the bottom of the heap. The newer ILBE rucks are available for 60 from some places and are 3 times better than the ALICE. Then again the ILBE isn't half the pack an Osprey is. It's subjective. Hopefully a person could be prudent enough to keep the pack as small as possible.

  7. Dear E,
    If you are still looking for your bags, I would consider looking at Survival Gear Bags ( http://survivalgearbags.com/ ) they are a sponsor of the The Survival Podcast ( http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/ ). Both are great sources of information.
    If you see a piece of kit on the Survival Gear Bags website and want more info than the reviews are providing you can call or email the owner and ask directly they are regular people that are truly in touch with the prepper lifestyle not some mega-retailer that is just trying to cash-in on the hype.
    The Survival Podcast is as I said a tremendous source of information as well.
    Good Luck on your search.

  8. 5.11 Tactical makes great equipment. I've carried their 24 hr bag for 18 months with no problems. Best prices then were on Amazon.

    1. They make great stuff but the price is up there. I've carried their RUSH 12 every day for a couple of years now and have the RUSH 72 as my BOB. The 12 still looks like new after a great deal of abuse.

  9. I touched on packs in a reply to a comment here. If you are on a tight budget the ALICE is as bomb proof of a pack as you can get for $30-40. On the other hand there are a lot more comfortable and easy to use designs out there. On a casual dining type budget I would look at Kelty. They make a good pack at a pretty solid price point.

    Huge money go Eberlestock, Mystery Ranch or Kirafu.

    As to water. I lived in Arizona not too long ago. My pack had a gallon of water in it and my wife's 2 quarts. That's just for normal use. Our vehicle would have a couple gallons in small containers and a 5 gallon jug. If we had to leave our vehicle I would fill up all our bottles, force as much water down our throats as I could then put the extra couple gallons in my ruck. I also carried an (empty) 6 quart bladder just in case. Yes that would be heavy but it would realistically give us a couple days of water.

    Agreed on Camelbacks for the older kids. They carry really well and even just a quart each helps a lot.

  10. check out Kifaru bags.. Mystery Ranch too.

    1. I am going to guess 500$ is not in the budget for a pack. Nice packs, but out of most folks price range.

  11. E -

    I live the PHX Metro area as well. Your questions is a good one for many preppers in the area. If you're going to be taking care of little ones then you will hurt yourself badly trying to carry enough for all 4+ of you on your back, even with each of them helping with their own little packs. I would skip spending money on a heavier duty packs and invest in a child's bike trailer or my personal favorite recommendation, a Gorilla Cart. It has big wheels, can carry 300 lbs and has slots to put up some little railings. Connect it to a waist belt with an extension and free your arms. This will enable you to also care for the little ones while walking, give them turns in the wagon (on the pile o gear) as their feet tire out.Additionally you can connect it to a bike to pull, and the kids can be on their own bikes, abandon the bikes if needed.


  12. Like everything in life, what pack you choose is mission dependent.

    If you're sporting a battle belt than you should definitely check out Max's recent article for another point of view. Geared more toward the SUTs and carrying mission essential gear, but good read nonetheless. -Mervo


    1. I doubt E will be wearing a battle belt and worrying about small unit tactics. Max's stuff is good tho!

  13. If you select an ALICE or similar you are going to be hating life after an hour or so of humping.

    If you select a Camelback or some other type of frameless day pack and you put more than 25 lbs or so in in you are going to be hating life after an hour or so of humping.

    If you SERIOUSLY plan on walking for days or weeks under a ruck then you need to invest in a quality ruck with frame from a quality manufacturer like Gregory or Kelty (or Mystery Ranch, Kifaru). You NEED a padded waist band to transfer the load to your hips. You NEED a QUALITY suspension system and quality overall construction.

    If you haven't walked at least ONE WHOLE DAY (or night) with your chosen ruck loaded with your gear and supplies then you really don't have a clue and you are in for a rude surprise.

    My 2 cents, former 11B Infantryman, about a zillion miles under an ALICE and other rucks.

  14. For unlimited budgets Eberlstock is the way to go. For those more frugal Sandpiper Of California has some excellent selections. I have the (BOB) and have used it hard 4 times a week for over a year, hauling 150lbs railroad gear. Very sturdy and well designed.

  15. I think Mike nailed it with the bicycle trailer. I'd also consider pre-positioning supplies.

    If you get a bike trailer, make sure to have some stuff to fix flat tires. Especially if you have several bikes. Maybe stuff to fix chains too, but I am not a bike guy, so I don't know. Just throwing out non-expert ideas.

    It has been said, but I will say it again, make sure your pack transfers the weight from your shoulders to your hips.

    Make sure your sleeping system is lightweight. If you are carrying a sleeping bag from walmart rated to 40 F, that thing is a lot heavier than a light weight sleeping bag for $40.


    Watch what you are carrying for clothes. Don't back a tent, pack a lighter weight tarp. Learn to use it. Watch the weight of your tools you are carrying.

    Be sure to take the wife and kids camping! They are at ages where they can really enjoy the outdoors, and if you have to head out, you want to go on a "camping trip," not a scary "bug out." That will allow you to get a good feel for what you need with food, clothes, water, sleeping arrangements, etc.

    Also, consider some coloring books, a few pencils or crayons, and some other lightweight toys, including stuffed animals. Maybe you already know this. I think minimizing the stress and scariness of a new situation will help a lot.

    Also, you don't probably need a whole sleeping bag for each of them. One blanket for all three of the children might be just fine. Just double it over and stick 'em inside. Like putting 3 kids in a bed. A good poncho liner might be just the trick. They can share heat, be close to each other, and you have less to carry.

    Good luck.