I needed to find the best tactical bag I could use as a carry-on for airlines. People say I travel a lot, but I think that depends on one’s perspective. I might travel periodically for work, but that is usually limited to a trip to Las Vegas for a SHOT Show or to tour the , which pales in comparison to the corporate businessman or woman flying from meeting here to meeting there. It’s more common to find me traveling for vacation and adventure than for work; and compared to the average American, who doesn’t take the vacation time they deserve, I probably do travel more for vacations.
Regardless, I travel enough that I have become particular about how I travel. I am mindful of what I should pack, how to pack it, and what to pack it all in. I have had to watch the weight of my carry-on bags. I have also flown on smaller Cessna planes that limit what you can bring. I have also had my luggage delayed enough times that I try to avoid checked bags whenever possible.
Being a prepper also forces me to see travel, and thus luggage, through prepper eyes. Compound that with the fact my wife and I trend toward the more adventurous side of travel. That means we always skip the all-inclusive resorts in favor of finding our own way, which at times, has led us to… shall we say “questionable” areas in places like Belize and Mexico. We have generally found the American stereotypes of these places (and of the people) to differ wildly from the reality there. Still, the same as you might travel to parts Chicago, D.C., or Detroit and suddenly be struck with “I probably shouldn’t be here,” the same has happened to us more than once in foreign countries.
So, being a prepper with a bag fetish (don’t judge) and an interest in travel, I set out to find the best tactical carry-on bag for flying. I had five criteria in mind:
It must be a backpack. Carrying a bag by hand from terminal to terminal, from airport to shuttle, and while out adventuring, gets very old very fast. I want to wear that weight on my back.
It must fit within airline dimensions for carry-on bags. This may seem obvious, but it rules out many backpacks that might otherwise fit the bill. I wanted a bag that will fit just within the dimensions so that space can be maximized. Not smaller, and not bigger. “It won’t fit,” are three words you don’t want to hear as you attempt to board the plane.
It must have features that allow easy access to different items. I wanted a bag where I could access different items without having to sort through the entire bag.
It needed to be a tactical carry-on bag. “Tactical” means different things to different people. For some, it just means “.” For me, it means solid construction with top-grade materials, able to accept MOLLE accessories, and possessing the best safety features I can get.
The market for bulletproof backpacks has shot up (no pun intended). Mass shootings, school shootings, or the natural development of the firearms and related accessories market, pick your reason(s).
Whatever they are, the demand for bulletproof backpacks is only increasing. I never set out to buy a bulletproof backpack, but it fit the bill. Let’s see how it fit into my criteria.
It must be a backpack.
It’s a backpack. I can carry all the weight on my back, but should I want to carry it by hand, it has a nice carry handle at the top. Criteria met!
It must fit within airline carry-on dimensions.
United and Delta Airlines’ carry-on bag dimensions are limited to 9”x14”x22”. This seems like the industry standard. The Tactical One Pro comes in at 9.5”x15”x20.5” (according to the manufacturer’s website). My measurements of the pack, when full, differed only slightly. Technically, it is not an exact fit, but I have never seen airline staff standing by with a tape measure, and I would be shocked if they told me I had to check a bag because it’s 1” oversized. That won’t happen. I’ve seen people get by with worse.
Also read: Building a TSA-Compliant Bug Out Bag
Related note: I didn’t think it would be a problem, but I reached out to Leatherback Gear to verify that body armor is allowed on airplanes. I didn’t want to buy a pack only to get lengthy questions from TSA agents. This was Leatherback Gear’s response:
“Great question! During development and testing, this was a key issue for us to confirm and verify otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for our backpacks to be sold in our mind. Rest assured, our backpacks travel through airports all over the world from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to New York to Toronto to Copenhagen to Dubai to Tokyo to Bogota and everywhere in–between.”
It must have features that allow easy access to different items.
The Tactical One Pro has many pockets and feature that appealed to me. It has a felt-lined sunglass pocket (I wear prescription sunglasses, so this was a big plus). It has an internal organizer pocket for pens, pencils, etc. (perfect for working vacations and actual work travel).
It must accommodate a laptop.
I’m still using an over-sized 17” Dell laptop.
It needed to be tactical.
This was the biggest criteria. Plenty of backpacks fit the above four criteria, but in this “tactical” prerequisite, the bags ran the gambit from a few MOLLE features to full on bulletproof. Just because this pack is named the Leatherback Gear Tactical One Backpack - Black didn’t mean it got a pass. I did some solid research into the subject and this pack came out on top. Here’s why:
It’s bulletproof. This is the biggest tactical feature of the pack. are NIJ Level IIIA Rated Armor. That level will protect the wearer against nearly all handgun rounds up to .44 magnum with a mass of 240 grains and a velocity of 1,340 ft/s. This armor will even stop 12-gauge slugs!
It won’t just protect your bag, but also your front. There are not one but TWO armored plates in this pack. You can see this as double the protection for your back (stopping even higher-caliber rounds) or as protection for both your front and your back.
“How does a backpack protect your front?” you ask. This bag is tactical in every way. One zipper splits this backpack in half, exposing shoulder straps that allow you to wear it as conventional body armor vest.
Quality of construction. Leatherback Gear didn’t cut any corners in the construction of this pack. The fabric is water resistant and strong. The zippers are covered with fabric protection. The Velcro and strapping are all heavy-duty.
Detachable straps. The Tactical One Pro has detachable straps. Why? To add versatility. They can be removed for use as tourniquets, door stop straps, or anything else.
RFID protection. There is an RFID (radio frequency identification) lined/blocking pocket to protect your credit cards and passports from being captured and hacked (another benefit for travel protection).
MOLLE. I assume most readers are familiar with the MOLLE system for carrying equipment. It’s an acronym for “Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment”. It’s the system used by many NATO armed forces, the U.S. and British Army in particular. There are many accessories available for MOLLE-equipped packs and vests, making it a truly versatile system. The Tactical One Pro is no exception with its many MOLLE loops on the back and sides. (For a complete description on how to use MOLLE for prepping, see Joe Nobody’s book The TEOTWAWKI Tuxedo).
What I Do Not Like
The Tactical One Pro was hands down the best tactical backpack I could find for use as a carry-on bag, but there are two aspects that I don’t like.
My biggest, and immediate, criticism of the bag is that it’s lacking a place to store a water bottle on the side. This may not matter as much to others, but I carry a water bottle every day in my 5.11 laptop bag. I bristle at the idea of paying for bottled water, particularly when it’s airport pricing. It’s a waste of money; the plastic bottle is unnecessary waste. Whenever I am flying, I go through security with an empty water bottle and promptly fill it on the other side of security at the nearest water fountain. This bag lacks any easily-accessible feature to store that bottle.
This is where the MOLLE features of the pack come into play, however. Given the wide breadth of options available for MOLLE products, I can easily attach a MOLLE-compatible water bottle holder to strap onto the side of the pack. I can buy a MOLLE-compatible medical pouch, EDC pouch organizers , a shoulder strap bag, and various clips and straps to attach almost anything else.
The second aspect I didn’t like was the price. At $399.99, this tactical carry-on bag does not come cheap. I do not think the bag is overpriced, however. I did a very thorough analysis of packs of this type. If you want high quality, you have to pay for it. A pack of this type of construction costs a lot to produce, so expect a high price point on that alone. Then you add two plates of armor and you hit the justified $399.99 price point. Still, even though it’s a justified price, some of us may have to swallow hard when making the purchase. That said, I have now gone through many lower-priced packs that I have had to replace over the years because their quality deteriorates over time. That won’t happen with this pack as the construction is dramatically better. So, while a pack like this might cost more up front, it may break even (or even save money) in the long run as it stands the test of time.
What about you? Do you have a preferred carry-on bag for flights?
All photos by the author