The soldier’s backpack has been around for several centuries. Carrying their essential items they need to move, fight and survive; the backpack is the focal point of how soldiers live and operate under hostile conditions.

The modern backpack can trace its origins to the emergence of firearms. Before the advent of rifles and muskets, backpacks were mostly limited to a few items. This was because the items needed for the soldier’s survival and comfort were found on the wagons that followed the soldiers when on the move.


As firearms became the central weapon of the typical soldier, the need to carry items that cleaned and maintained the rifle or musket became paramount. This meant that soldiers were carrying several items so they could keep their weapons in top working order. The backpack grew out of this need to carry more items to maintain their equipment.

Here I have listed down some of the best military backpacks.

Another reason for backpacks to emerge was the transition from wagons to rails, trucks, and other means of supply. Freeing themselves of the need to have their supplies transported alongside the army, soldiers were now expected to carry more on their persons. This means that the soldiers themselves are now carrying food, water, and other essential items.


The modern US Army has specific guidelines for the size, shape, and qualities that backpacks must have in order to be used. They award the contract to a manufacturer who meets the requirements and is provided to their soldiers for use. The uniformity of backpacks follows that of the weapons, uniforms, and training that all soldiers undergo.

Having said that, different backpacks are utilized by the US Army, along with the Marines. The backpacks tend to differ superficially in terms of overall size and appearance, depending on the use. For the most part, all military packs must meet basic guidelines of durability, impact, resistance, and carrying capacity. But what fills a backpack can vary somewhat from soldier to soldier.

Essential Items

Although some personal items are allowed, there are essential items that all soldiers must carry in their backpacks.

  • Hydration: Replacing the canteen is the hydration bladder. This consists of a bladder with a tube attached so the soldier can drink while on the move. The bladder is filled before setting off for the mission. Plus, the bladder can be refilled when necessary.
  • First Aid Kits: This is essential for treating minor to moderate wounds on the battlefield. The first aid kit is more comprehensive than what you will find sold in stores. The kit itself not only addresses minor cuts and abrasions but more severe injuries that can be stabilized until they receive the proper treatment. The first aid kit is designed to keep a soldier going until they finish the mission or reach the needed assistance.
  • Food: Soldiers need plenty of calories for them to move and fight, especially on long missions. Power bars are the typical food of a soldier, lightweight, but packed with calories that provide the energy needed to keep moving. Some foods have self-heating elements so that building a fire is not required. Other essential foods include cookies, peanut butter, and daily nutritional shakes.
  • Gun Cleaning Kit: Keeping the weapon operating is essential to the survival of the soldier in combat. This means that a proper gun kit that cleans and maintains the weapon is carried in the backpack.
Soldier preparation ready for war and combat and eaiting command

Other essential items that are found in a typical US soldier’s backpack include the following.

  • Sleeping bags
  • Sunscreen
  • Fire kits
  • Medicine (usually inside the first aid kit)
  • Compass
  • Small flashlight
  • Night vision gear
  • Signal mirror
  • Shelter

Keep in mind that the backpack will have items that depend on the conditions in which the solder is operating. A jungle environment will have items designed to repel mosquitoes, netting, and the like while a cold or arctic environment will have more thermal options, such as hand and foot heating packs. However, both types usually carry sunscreen and sunglasses.

The shelter may consist of a poncho, small tent, or lean-to that provides cover for sleep or inclement weather. It’s also common for soldiers to carry extra socks, gloves, and other clothing items, assuming they are small enough to fit into the backpack.

Personal Items

There are a limited number of personal items that a soldier may carry in their backpack. They are usually present to alleviate the one enemy that every soldier will face, boredom. The items themselves can be wide-ranging in terms of usage. However, they are almost always small, lightweight, and durable enough to withstand the rigors of moving around, impacts, and the environment. Such items may include the following.

  • MP3 players
  • Photographs
  • Notepads & pens
  • Small books and games

The presence of personal items provides the soldiers with something to do when at rest or waiting for their next action. A deck of cards can provide plenty of entertainment when sitting around with nothing to do.

Assault Packs

As the name implies, an assault pack is really a smaller, more focused backpack designed for short missions. While standard US Army backpacks may supply a soldier’s needs for up to a week or more depending on the circumstances. An assault pack is designed for 24 to 48-hour quick-strike missions.

There are different items carried depending on the specific mission that an assault pack is used. But some of the more common elements include the following.

  • Water: Hydration Bladder
  • Food: Power Bars
  • Change of socks, t-shirt, & underwear

The water, food, and other perishable items carried in an assault pack are designed to last for three days. This is in case the mission goes longer than expected. You will find assault packs used for strike missions such as a hit and run raids against enemy targets. This may include the capture or elimination of enemy leaders.

While calling an assault pack, a smaller version of a backpack is not complete; it does describe the primary function.

The backpacks and assault packs carried by the US Army and Marines tend to be durable, rugged, impact-resistant, and comfortable enough to carry for short and extended missions.


My name is John Winger, I was born and raised in Virginia. I spent a good part of my early adult life in the US military, namely the Army and served in Iraq. I saw my fair share of combat missions and thanks to that experience I have a better understanding and appreciate for what my country means to me and the world.