What to look for in an EDC backpack

| March 14, 2014 | 8 Comments

I strongly believe the best style of bag for carrying a firearm in public is one that blends in with all the other bags out there.

I realize that “purpose built” bags made by firearms accessory companies may have advantages such as padded compartments for protecting the firearm and breaking up the gun’s outline. Compared to less expensive bags, purpose built bags tend to be made of more durable materials and have better components, such as zippers and pulls.

However, almost every (say, over 90%) purpose built bag either looks like a gun bag or can be readily identified as such based on distinguishing visual characteristics such as a logo, color scheme, or feature.

The best bag to carry an every day carry (EDC) firearm is one that fits you and your environment.

For me, that’s usually a backpack. I purchased a day pack-sized bag from Mountain Hardware. The Agama is my specific model, but it’s apparently out of production.

Instead of reviewing my Mountain Hardware Agama pack, I’m going to tell you what I look for in an EDC backpack.

Overall, here are my criteria:

  1. It has to blend in
  2. It has to be built to carry more weight than I plan on carrying
  3. It has to have two zippers that I can lock
  4. It has to have at least one grab handle
  5. It has to have padded shoulder straps that I can easily slip off my shoulder

Criteria #1: It has to blend in

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Okay, so that’s a pretty plain looking backpack. It’s a little bright, but it looks like a hiking backpack, not a military one.

What brands do you see in your environment? If I had to just rattle off some brands from my neck of the woods, I’d consider Columbia, Mountain Hardware, Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Kelty, North Face, Osprey etc.

These are all targeted towards hikers, or people who want to seem like hikers / outdoorsy folks. You’re most likely going to want a “day pack” form factor, which means you won’t have an internal or external frame, and the bag will be between 1800 and 2400cc in capacity. Make sure you get one that’s tall enough to fit your blaster.

I wouldn’t pay too much attention to what color you choose, as long as it’s not a military color or pattern. Avoid olive drab, coyote, or any camouflage pattern for example.

Criteria #2: It has to be built to carry more weight than I plan on carrying

This sounds obvious, but it’s going to cut out a lot of brands you might see carried at Wal*Mart or Target.

My AK weighs 8.5 pounds, and I carry a spare mag with me as well as a trauma kit. I also carry a 13″ laptop, my lunch, and a Thermos full of coffee. I keep a 7″ tablet and a USB battery pack in the smaller pocket, and sometimes carry an additional laptop and up to two more tablets.

Make sure the backpack you choose is built to carry at least 30 pounds. Not only will you be stressing the material, you’ll be stressing the stitching, seams and zippers. One of my reoccurring fears is that I’ll bid my co-workers a good night and then the bag bbbrrrrrziiiiiiiiiiiiips open and pukes my rifle out onto the floor.

If you buy a pack rated for more weight you can also make a qualified assumption that the overall construction will be hardier, too.

Criteria #3: It has to have two zippers that I can lock

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I keep my bag locked for several reasons. One is to comply with my state’s firearm storage laws. One is to do my best to meet the ATF’s requirement that NFA items be only accessible to authorized people. It also deters casual theft — a former co-worker had her laptop stolen from the same train I took into work for 9 months. The thief unzipped her laptop bag and took her laptop without her noticing.

Additionally, I want to establish a clear message that I don’t want my employer or law enforcement going through my bag without my consent and an exceptionally good reason. Dealing with law enforcement is the topic for another post, but I don’t want anyone at work to get the idea they can open my bag. I used to think this was a stupid concern until I saw a former co-worker open another’s bag and take out some Midol. “I figured she’d have some,” said my co-worker. I don’t have any Midol, but I do carry a bunch of cables and stuff my co-workers might innocently (or not innocently) look for.

Let’s not fool ourselves — two zippers with a luggage cable lock isn’t going to keep out someone determined to get into a bag. They could cut the fabric, after all. But I do the best that I can, and every bag I use to carry a firearm has two zippers.

Criteria #4: It has to have at least one grab handle

Just about every backpack in will have a single grab handle on the top of the bag.

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Some backpacks, like my Agama, also have a pull handle on the front:

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I want two (ideally) reinforced handles so I can grab the bag in different ways if I’m in a hurry.

I position my bag under my work area so I can grab the top handle easily, but in the event that I have to grab the bag from the side or even from below I can use the front handle.

Typical examples are grabbing the bag rapidly from my car, or if I have to assume concealment near the floor / under my work area.

Criteria #5: It has to have padded shoulder straps that I can easily slip off my shoulder

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The Agama’s shoulder straps are thick and the attachment points are stitched securely to the bag. Since this bag was built for day hiking, it was no problem comfortably carrying my SBR around all day at the zoo, or the park, or on long hikes.

The one thing I didn’t want, though, were straps with a grippy finish / coating. You may be familiar with this from a padded shoulder strap found on a gun case, messenger bag, or laptop bag. Some backpacks have these, too, and I definitely didn’t want them on my EDC bag.

The reason: you will have to move the bag in order to access your rifle.

You will need to practice this, and in doing so it will become clear why you don’t want grippy straps. The straps have to stay on your shoulder when you’re jogging or running, but not so grippy that you have a hard time maneuvering the bag to the front of your body at the same pace.

I loosen the tension of my left strap, rotate the bag to the front of my body via my right side, and go to work on the zippers. I can do this while running, but obviously it’s best done stationary.

Conclusion

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If you intend to carry a rifle (or rifle-sized firearm, like an AR pistol) in public, consider finding a durable bag just like ones everyone else carries. This means avoiding military-style bags, typical military or law enforcement colors, and try not to put a lot of crap on your bag. I love pins, morale patches, and name tapes, but I don’t have any of those on my EDC bag. I want to blend in.

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If you know what this patch means, you can make assumptions about what’s inside.

The best way to blend in is to stick with a hiking-style “day pack” backpack that is large enough and durable enough to conceal your EDC weapon, but not so big that it seems out of place.

If you stick with brands known for catering to hikers and outdoor activities you can make assumptions about construction and durability.

From a purchasing standpoint, it’s much easier to put your hands on hiking backpacks than it is to try to find a single store with different purpose built bags in stock.

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Good luck, and let me know if you have questions.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.
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8 Comments on "What to look for in an EDC backpack"

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  1. Aaron says:

    You might want to check this out so that you don’t get a false sense of security about your locked zipper:
    http://youtu.be/wpIJVWXsBBI

    Love the site!

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      Totally agree. The lock isn’t even a theft deterrent when you keep something in a nylon bag that can be opened with a hobby knife.

      • Nick says:

        I get everything you said about the locking, deterant, preventing searches, but are you considering your firearm in storage and transport and not CARRY (like a cpl would carry a pistol) there for you can carry a SBR? The ar pistols, as a cpl could be loaded or at least fed a magazine.

        • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

          Hi there! I am not sure I understand your question. I think you’re asking if it’s legal to carry an SBR concealed. If so, then the answer depends on each state, what’s covered by each state’s license, and how each state defines a pistol vs a rifle, etc.

  2. Sunshine_Shooter says:

    Great article, and follows my personal line of thinking (currently testing out a bag from Wal Mart while at the gym). One thing I’d recommend is switching from (what appears to be) a TSA-compliant lock. If you are looking to deter unwarranted searches by LE, carrying a lock designed to be opened at-will by LE doesn’t seem to be the right move. There’s also the fact that having an NFA item secured behind a lock that is designed to be opened by unfamiliar people (TSA screening agents) might violate the “only accessible to authorized people” part of NFA ownership.

    If I’m off-base, please disregard.

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      Hi! Great comment. Do you have any recommendations on a similar lock without the TSA capability? Maybe “flexible shackle lock” or similar search terms.

  3. Matt Shepard says:

    Which Agama do you have? Mine doesn’t look quite the same as yours.

    Love the article btw, keep it up!

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      Thanks for reading, and for the comment! The Agama I purchased is five years old at this point. One frustrating thing about doing bag reviews (and recommending bags) is that the manufacturers make adjustments to the bags over time. The Adidas Rydell (my favorite bag) was replaced by another bag, which in turn has been changed three times. Every “edition” has pros and cons, but it always makes it difficult to consistently recommend something.

      When did you get your Agama?

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