In a word: roomy.  The Propper Expandable Backpack has space that just won’t quit for a pack that can be squeezed into the average airline carry-on limitations.  I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to put this pack through its paces over the last 2 weeks on a cross-country trip through New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Oregon.  This trip involved a little bit of everything: hiking, camping, caving, climbing, and shooting.  I was able to use this pack in several roles: as a hiking day-pack, overnight camping pack, and range gear bag.  To be honest, I was barely using all of the space this pack has to offer.  The nice feature of all that room isn’t necessarily so that it can be stuffed full of heavy equipment, but when packed with all of the essentials, everything is very quick and easy to find and access.   Also, when the elements change on us, this pack has the capacity for all of that lofty, insulated stuff we need to stay warm and dry. 

Propper Expandable Backpack with Dark Angel Medical D.A.R.K. trauma kit.
Propper Expandable Backpack shown here with Dark Angel Medical D.A.R.K. trauma kit attached.


From the outside, it’s a good-looking pack without too much of an uber-tactical look that will attract attention, a few small Velcro patches and some strips of PALS webbing notwithstanding.  Let’s face it though, just like neckties, military practicality finds its way into common fashion and most folks don’t even blink at PALS webbing on stuff anymore. Carrying this bag around a college campus or down the main street of your town isn’t going to attract undue attention depending on what kind of ancillary gear you attach, or morale patches as the case may be.  This bag’s appearance is very suitable for a low-profile “get-home” bag. 


The Propper Expandable Backpack has two, zippered pouches on the front (9” tall X 10” wide on the bottom and 8” tall by X 9” wide on top), and medium-sized (9” tall X 5” wide) zippered pouches on each side.    Most of the zippers have heavy-duty rubber pull-toggles on them.

Propper expandable Backpack top admin pocket
The generous top-front admin pouch is really nice.  These are usually slightly too small on many of the packs I have owned and this one is big enough to hold all of those “grab-and-go” items like flashlights or headlamps, gloves, bundles of paracord, compass, notebook, duct-tape, fire-starters, hand sanitizer, and sunblock.
Propper Expandable Backpack bottom admin pocket
The bottom-front admin pouch is great for medical gear.  I am carrying a spare tourniquet, Israeli bandage, first aid bag, and some toiletry items in mine and there is still plenty of room.
Propper side admin pocket
In the right-side pocket, I have a Lifestraw, Cyalume stick, and a Mora bushcraft knife that all fit in there nice and snug.   The left-side pocket was a good place to throw snack items like energy bars.
Propper Expandable Backpack Eyewear Pocket
On the top of the bag there is a lined, zippered pocket for eyewear.

The main compartment is huge, 20” tall X 12” wide X almost 5” deep, with a 9” X 7” zippered mesh compartment up at the top where I keep a folding Emberlit stove and a pocket down at the bottom big enough to hold an extra-large poncho and SOL heavy-duty emergency blanket.   I barely used the rest of the space in the main compartment most of the time.   If more room is needed for carrying especially bulky items like extra clothing, winter coats, mittens, etc…  there is a circumferential zipper that releases an extra 2” of depth in the main compartment.

Propper Expandable Backpack Main Compartment
The main compartment is huge, and expandable.
Propper Expandable Backpack in Utah
On long hikes in the Utah desert with thirsty dogs, the Propper Expandable Backpack’s extra capacity was very helpful for carrying plenty of water.
Propper Expandable Backpack
Behind the main compartment, there is another zippered compartment 20” X 12” by a little over 1” deep, that I found as a perfect place to carry a wubbie.
Shoulder straps and padding
There is adequate padding and rigidity on the back of the pack to keep it comfortably upright while carrying it, and the shoulder straps are also very well padded.  There are elastic-top mesh compartments on each shoulder strap big enough to carry a cell phone, small camera, or radio.

The only way to really find out if this pack works well was to try it out.  I probably didn’t need a pack for some of the hikes I was on, but I took it along just to see how comfortable, durable, and user-friendly it was. 

In Utah and Nevada I did a lot of scrambling climbs up the rock formations, aided by my Crawford Staff – also an indispensable piece of gear for this kind of terrain in my opinion.    I found that the Proper backpack, modestly packed at a total weight of about 18 pounds, didn’t interfere with my balance, stayed where it belonged, and was unexpectedly comfortable. 


Rock Climbing in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains with the Propper Expandable Backpack
Climbing the rock formations in Goblin Valley, Utah with the Propper Expandable Backpack.

I give the Propper Expandable Backpack a thumbs-up and I plan on using it to replace a larger bag that I am currently using for my “get-home” bag.   If you need a durable, expandable backpack with plenty of capacity, that is still small enough (correctly packed) to meet most airline carry-on bag limits,  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Propper.

By Michael Lake

Writer Michael Lake is a Benefactor Life Member of the National Rifle Association and has been actively involved in a variety shooting activities since 1989. In addition to being a certified range safety officer he holds several NRA instructor ratings and armorer certifications. He has received training from the US Army Marksmanship Unit, the US Marine Corps Rifle Team and some of the finest private training facilities in the nation. In 2013 Michael co-founded Adaptive Defense Concepts, a Northwest Ohio-based Training organization. currently a contractor for the Department of Energy managing safety for the National Homeland Security program in Eastern Idaho, an instructor for Badlands Tactical Training Center, and is an accomplished Freemason.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.