- Buyer's Guide
The Best Modular Backpacks
If there’s been a trend in the past few years, it’s been modular design in carry. But what exactly does ‘modular’ mean? In essence, a ‘modular’ backpack features a range of smaller parts or modules (such as pouches) that can be used in tandem with the primary bag. The key benefit of a modular backpack is adaptability. Add modules you need and remove ones you don’t, allowing you to tailor different carry setups to different loads and environments.
In addition to the separate modules, modular design also encompasses the means by which those modules (or other gear) are secured onto or inside the bag. Think webbing, magnetic buckles, O-rings, Velcro panels and more. The possibilities are kinda endless.
And when you really get down to it, there’s two variations: external and internal. So we’re going to explore both below, and give props to the brands pushing the envelope and doing it well.
The origins of lacing and latching modules to the exterior of a pack stem from the military’s MOLLE and PALS webbing. And nearly every ‘tactical‘ pack you’ll spot will have PALS webbing somewhere, so below we’ve chosen pieces that have done it best, and/or differently, with brands and designers introducing modular design to photography, fashion and everyday use. And those pushing past the criss-crossing of PALS and moving to magnetic connections and fully modular harness systems.
The Colfax Design Works SDP_01 is a weatherproof rolltop pack that uses an Advance Modular Cargo System (A.M.C.S.) to adapt to a variety of carry needs.
Black Ember’s Citadel Modular Pack provides slick modularity through magnetic hardware that quickly and securely attaches modular accessories (MODs) to the pack. And with a range of modular pouches and straps to choose from, it’s easy to adapt to diverse loads.
One of the first pieces to bring modular design to daily urban carry, Mission Workshop’s Arkiv Modular System offers extensive customization thanks to its use of ‘rails’ to connect your modules to. And from a choice of base packs and colorways to numerous modules and accessories, its versatility in the urban arena is hard to beat. A classic, no doubt.
The Bootlegger system takes an innovative approach to modularity with its Super-Tramp suspension. The modular suspension allows the user to swap out a range of packs and attach them to the harness, such as a dry bag, camera pack, hydration pack or daypack.
Triple Aught Design’s Spectre system is a well-considered modular system featuring a range of backpacks, carry rigs and accessories to adapt to a variety of urban and outdoor carry needs, like hiking, running and fly fishing. Designed to be lightweight yet durable, the modular components can be used together or individually depending on your requirements and existing carry setup.
The KUIU ULTRA Pack System is primarily designed for hunting but is adaptable to a variety of carry needs and environments. The KUIU Carbon Fiber frame and suspension serves as the system’s foundation and is able to accommodate any KUIU ICON Pro or ULTRA packs. Pouches and additional accessories allow you to further customize carry setups to suit specific settings.
Hailing from Indonesia, Orbit Gear make some of the best value modular packs around. Sleek aesthetics and weatherproof builds make this a great modular system for urban and travel environments. The system features two backpacks and a messenger, along with a choice of straps, cubes and pouches that are versatile enough for exterior and interior organization purposes.
A luxurious and heritage take on modularity, the Hold Fast Sightseer Backpack System features the Sightseer Backpack along with a range of Sightseer Pouches. The waxed canvas and leather backpack includes an integrated slider on the shoulder straps for quick access to a camera on the go. Additionally, the pouches can be secured in a variety of configurations to suit your needs.
Urban styling meets modularity with the Spyder Skid Backpack. Handmade in Berlin in collaboration with Bagjack, this gym bag’s stealth styling is complemented by features such as multiple attachment points, ergonomic rotating buckles, and a removable ‘grid’ for attaching pouches.
Currently only a concept (but an awesome one!), this system combines a hard frame with a choice of soft modular attachment options to configure carry setups to your specific needs. The Lattix frame can accommodate a range of bags, and the system can double as a mobile workstation with the attachment of a tripod mount.
A bold European fashion piece, the NAUT’s modular system utilizes the Modulor platform as the base, to which the 8L M1 and 20L M2 modules can be attached. Use them together for larger loads or separately for smaller loads, with no need to unpack when you just need one or the other.
The rugged Acronym 3A-7TS Tec Sys Messenger Backpack (made in collaboration with modular pioneers Bagjack) features a Tec Sys grid for securing pouches and other items externally. Additionally, the main compartment liner, the laptop sleeve, the back pad, the interior pocket, and logo tape can be removed to customize your carry to changing loads.
This, and many of Acronym‘s and Bagjack’s early designs, inspired so many. Notch this down as carry royalty. Oh, and it’s now a unicorn. So good luck tracking one down!
The Y-3 Multipocket Backpack merges clean streetstyle, minimalism, and functional modularity. The bag offers multiple exterior pockets that can be removed and used internally as organization pouches or separately from the pack.
Internal modularity also originated in the military with medic bags and first responders, folk who needed to carry a lot of gear, in varying formats, and access key items quickly. But now it’s commonplace in travel and everyday carry pack loadouts. In reality, any pack can have internal modularity with just the addition of pouches, but we’ve chosen the below because they’ve taken it a step further, and not only built-in internal attachment points and specialized pouch quivers, but entire modular ‘systems’.
The Prima System includes a choice of three modular components to help you adapt to diverse carry requirements. The Prima Pack, Verge Case and Fieldspace allow the bag to function as a work bag, camera pack, daypack and more, there when you need them and removable when you want to cut carry weight.
Black Ember’s V4 and V4M backpacks offer a variety of modular options for different needs. Both packs feature multiple exterior attachment points to secure additional items, while the V4M also features an interior mag-lock mod-panel that works with a range of modular units for further organization.
The Arc’teryx LEAF Assault Pack 30 opens out flat for great access throughout the main compartment. And for added functionality it also features Velcro loop panels that allow pouches to be placed according to specific carry needs.
Available in 25L and 40L sizes, the Meridian Transport Case offers three compartments and an integrated Helix attachment system to organize and secure gear internally. And with multiple carry options, you can further tailor the case to specific settings.
Not only does the Brain Bag offer a variety of pockets for organizing your gear, but also a range of attachment points to secure additional items. Whether you’re attaching personal gear or using Tom Bihn accessories such as Caches or a Freudian Slip, you can alter your carry setup for diverse work, EDC and travel needs.
Want to keep your clothing wrinkle-free and your gear tidy whether you’re commuting or catching a plane? Slicks is ready to lend a helping hand with modular bundles tailored to meet specific carry needs. Choose from the BIZ, TRIP or SUIT bundles which feature various modular accessories such as the Suitcover, Tripcover, Washbag and more to cater to diverse needs on the go.
Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O. Pack with EDCO Panel
Team the PDW S.H.A.D.O. Pack with the EDCO Panel and you’ve got a versatile modular option for work or play. The panel can be easily removed to transfer items between bags if desired, and features a MOLLE-compatible grid as well as two mesh pockets on the reverse side.
Kickstarter’s most funded bag and Carry Award winner, the Everyday is a pack that can flex from photography work to daily duties with ease. Mostly thanks to three FlexFold dividers that create modular internal origami-style shelves. Position them as needed and remove them when you don’t. Load them up when you need to shoot. And take them out when you’re rollin’ away for the weekend or off to work. Simple. Awesome. And super versatile.
Any awesome pieces you think we’ve missed? Please share in the comments!