Gearing Up: Best Backpacks for Offensive Security 

by Dec 27, 2023General

By: Jason Haddix, CISO

Not so long ago, I kicked off an interesting chat asking for the globetrotting offensive security crowd’s ultimate backpacks.

You know how this gig rolls – often you’re jetting off and landing at a client’s doorstep or sometimes even strutting into a boardroom to present.  You have to pack a ton of gear – multiple laptops, wires/chords, and maybe even squeeze in some threads for the weekend.  And let’s be real, who wants to deal with checked luggage when you’re hustling from one stop to the next? 

So, armed with input from some of the finest offensive security minds, I set out to find that unicorn of a backpack that checks all the right boxes:

  • Spacious:  It has to fit all my gadgets plus clothes/toiletries for weekend activities.
  • Slick but Practical:  Needs to blend in when I’m in my blazer mode for meeting clients, but still keep it real for the tactical side of things.
  • Doesn’t Break My Back:  Comfort is key, especially when you’re lugging around your electronic arsenal.
  • No Bag-Check Drama.  It has to fit in the overhead bin like a dream.

Let’s dive into some of the community’s top picks, then declare the front-runners and winner!

CabinZero – Classic Backpack 44L

The Cabin Zero was a strong contender in my final round-up for its whopping 44-liter capacity.  It’s no joke – this backpack can haul everything I need and then some.  It looked to be the best travel backpack, but there were a couple of deal-breakers that nudged it off the top spot. 

I was hunting for a backpack that could flex between tactical-cool at conferences and slick-professional in front of VIPs.  The Cabin Zero, despite its size and functionality, just didn’t quite bridge that gap in style. 

That said, if the style isn’t a big deal for you, this backpack received a bunch of thumbs-up from the community.  So, it’s worth a look if you’re after space and practicality over looks. 

Osprey – Sojourn Porter 46L

The Osprey backpacks were real crowd-pleasers in the discussion, and one that almost had me sold – the Sojourn Porter 46-liter.  This one packs a ton of space, and digging a bit deeper, I found out it’s hailed as one of the comfiest travel backpacks around.  It was seriously tempting. 

However, I ended up passing, for pretty much the same reasons the Cabin Zero didn’t make the cut.  Style-wise, it just didn’t have that sleek, dual-purpose look I was hunting for – you know, something that’s both ‘road warrior’ and ‘boardroom-ready’. 

But here’s what I really love about it:  those thick-walled compartments.  When you’re dealing with these monster-sized travel backpacks, you often find they’re just a thin layer of nylon squishing all your stuff together.  Not ideal for pricey electronics.  The Sojourn Porter, though, gets it right – its compartments are robust enough to safeguard your gadgets but still compress enough to squeeze into those tight overhead bins.  Definitely a solid choice if you’re prioritizing gear protection and comfort over style. 

Tactical Packs

Oh boy, do I have a soft spot for ruck bags!  And it’s not just me; tactical, military-style bags in general have a special place in many people’s hearts.  In the discussion, these types of bags snagged a solid number of votes, with ruck bags leading the charge and some other contenders making a strong showing too.

These bags are the real deal – they’re built to handle gear and tough weather, come in various sizes, and boast a ton of add-ons to boost their utility.  One of my favorite Red Team YouTubers, Deviant Ollam, often showcases his travel bag setup for physical engagements.  He rocks a ruck bag tricked out with some killer mods and packed with all sorts of cool tools. 

But here’s the rub:  despite my love for them, a ruck bag didn’t make the final cut for me.  It just didn’t quite align with my need for something that could effortlessly switch from rugged to refined – that blend of tactical functionality and boardroom elegance.  Still, there’s no denying these bags are a hit with the crowd, and for good reason.

Timbuk2 – Clark Commuter Backpack

There was a notable buzz around Timbuk2 bags in the discussion.  Before I set my sights on a new backpack, a Timbuk2 was my go-to for daily use, and boy, did I appreciate those handy side-slip laptop compartments.  But as time went on, my trusty Timbuk2 started to feel a bit cramped with all the gear I needed to lug around.

The main hitch with most of their larger models is that they veer heavily towards looking like typical travel backpacks or bike messenger bags.  While that’s great for some, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for in my quest for the ultimate pack.  Despite this, I’ve got to hand it to Timbuk2 – the four years I spent with one of their bags were nothing short of solid.  They didn’t do me wrong, and for anyone whose gear load is lighter or who digs that urban messenger vibe, Timbuk2 is still a worthy contender. 

TLDR – My Finalists

In the end, my quest boiled down to these top three contenders. 

I was looking for something that struck a balance between inconspicuous, executive flair, and a roomy capacity of over 30 liters with expansion options.  Each of these finalists had its unique appeal, whether it was the ability to convert to a duffel, internal compartment layout, or special features for non-standard-sized gear like cameras. 

After much deliberation, I went with the Mark Ryden Wayfar Anti-Theft Travel Backpack.

The Nomatic was a close second, but its steep $399 price tag made me pause.  The Aer, while very compelling, still carried that nylon look that I wasn’t too keen on. 

Overall, I’m stoked about my choice and glad I put in the legwork for this research.  Who knows, maybe in a year or so, I’ll dive back into these findings and switch it up again!  But for now, here are some other strong contenders that were still in the running during my last round of decision-making: 

Wrapping Up

This deep dive into the world of backpacks for offensive security pros was more than just a quest for the right gear; it was a journey through a variety of options, each with its strengths and quirks.  The decision was tough, but the Mark Ryden Wayfar stood out for me.  Thanks to the community’s input and some serious pondering, I’ve landed on a backpack that not only meets my needs but also adds a bit of flair to the mix.  I hope this exploration helps you find your perfect travel companion, whether it’s for hitting the road, hacking all the things, or presenting to clients! 

Honorable mentions from thread:

About Jason Haddix, CISO

Jason has had a distinguished 15-year career in cybersecurity previously serving as the CISO of Ubisoft, Head of Trust/Security/Operations at Bugcrowd, Director of Penetration Testing at HP, and Lead Penetration Tester at Redspin.  He’s a hacker and bug hunter to the core, ranking 51st all-time on Bugcrowd’s leaderboards.  Jason has also authored many talks and has spoken at cons such as DEFCON, Black Hat, OWASP, RSA, Nullcon, SANS, and many more. 

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