“If I could only have one gun…”
We’ve all asked this question. It’s a hypothetical doomsday scenario for most, but anyone hoping to carry a firearm on a backpacking trip has felt the reality of this dilemma. The happy medium between compact, lightweight, and versatile can be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Handguns hit the first two criteria, but most fail to match the long-range capability of a long gun. An AR-pattern rifle can be compact and lightweight, but a .223 isn’t ideal for flying game, which might be the best source of food in a survival scenario.
Plus, if you’re planning to traipse through the woods and scramble over boulders, you don’t want to bring an expensive firearm. You want something cheap but durable, a gun with a design so simple you won’t have to worry about moving, breakable parts.
Meeting each of these criteria might be impossible, but the Backpack by Midland Arms is about as close as any firearm has come. The Backpack is cheap, compact, relatively lightweight, and currently comes in the three most popular shotgun calibers (12GA, 20GA, and .410GA). Packing birdshot and slugs would allow you to take whatever game happens to be in the area, and the $149 MSRP means you wouldn’t have to worry about marring an expensive finish. Plus, the single-shot break-open design is about as simple and indestructible as it gets.
Here’s the best part: Backpack barrels are interchangeable, and Midland plans to introduce rimfire and centerfire models soon. Between a 12GA barrel and a rifle-caliber barrel, you’d be able to take almost any kind of North American game from distances that exceed the range of shotgun slugs.
Here are the specs on the model I tested:
Barrel Length: 24”
Overall Length: 40.4”
Overall Folded Length: 24.4”
Width Folded: 9.5”
Weight: 4.8 lbs
Length of Pull: 12.5” no spacers to 14.5” with two spacers
Drop in Comb: 1.5”
Chokes: Barretta Mobilchoke
Midland also offers the 12GA with 26” and 18.5” barrels, the 20GA with 22” and 26” barrels, and the .410GA with 22” and 18.5” barrels.
The diversity of Midland’s offerings mirrors the customizability we’ve come to demand from our firearms. These days, customers expect rifles, shotguns, and handguns to be tailored to each individual shooter, and the Backpack’s range of calibers and barrel lengths let you do exactly that. Younger shooters can start with an 18.5” barrel chambered in .410 and gradually work their way up to a 12GA.
Unlike most budget shotguns, the Backpack also allows shooters to customize the length of pull. Plastic spacers can be added or removed from the stock to accommodate a wide range of statures. Right now, each firearm comes standard with two spacers, but Midland plans to sell the spacers separately so shooters can increase the length of pull beyond 14.5”.
Shooters can customize the appearance of the firearm as well. The grip panels on the forend and wrist can be removed, and Midland will soon begin offering colored panels that can replace the standard black.
The stock also doubles as a storage space where backpackers and hunters can keep emergency medical supplies or survival gear. Removing the two screws at the base of the stock is a simple task that only requires a Philips head screwdriver.
The best feature, of course, is the one for which the Backpack is named. An indent in the forend allows the shotgun to be folded into a neat, compact package, which can cut the overall length in half, depending on which barrel you choose. In this configuration, it fits nicely into a medium-sized backpack or can be strapped to the side without the barrel protruding above the backpacker’s head.
Midland sent me the 12GA with a 24” barrel, which is the second largest shotgun the company offers. A 20GA or .410GA with a shorter barrel would have allowed for even easier backpack storage.
At this point you’re probably wondering about quality. A $150 shotgun sounds almost suspiciously cheap, and it’s natural to assume that Midland cut corners during the manufacturing process.
I posed this question to the Midland reps at this year’s NRA Annual Meetings, and while they didn’t divulge their business model, they explained that Midland shotguns are manufactured in the same Turkish factory as many of the big-name brands, including Mossberg. The gunsmiths building the Backpack have experience building firearms for other companies known for high quality and reliability. Midland Arms is also relatively small (only about 8 full-time employees), so they don’t have the same overhead costs as larger companies.
In terms of components, the receiver and barrel are both CNC machined from 4140 steel forgings, the barrel is dark chromed to protect against the elements, and the stock is injection molded. Midland also isn’t reinventing the wheel. Though not identical, the Backpack’s design is based on an old Beretta design, which means that, despite Midland’s relatively short track record, their shotgun designs have already stood the test of time.
“Making guns using these materials and finishes are what ensures Midlands can be handed down from generation to generation,” Midland President and CEO Val Forgett told me via email. “That is what I want to see in this line. I still have my old single-shot from when I was a kid and want to make sure that 100 years from now, today’s Midlands are still being shot.”
My experience with the firearm gave me no reason to doubt Midland’s claims of quality. The shotgun feels solid in the hands, and I couldn’t find any rough cuts in the steel components. The action locks tight without any wiggle, and the trigger, lever, and safety engage positively without any mushiness. Most importantly, the firearm never failed to function as advertised. Only time will prove definitively the Backpack’s long-term quality, but my initial testing indicates that this shotgun will last well beyond my lifetime.
Performance and Function
The Backpack’s simple design is ideal for new shooters and young shooters. The action breaks open via a lever forward of the trigger, which I found to be stiff but not unreasonably so. Shells are loaded one at a time into the chamber, and the action closes with a firm, tactile click. A small silver button on the left side of the receiver indicates the gun’s status by both sight and touch, so new shooters can be certain whether they’ve loaded the firearm. The positive trigger-block safety is located just rear of the trigger.
The 8-pound trigger is heavy but not unpleasant. There’s virtually zero take-up and no grittiness. I found it to be more than adequate for shooting clays, though it might be more difficult to take accurate longer-range shots with Midland’s forthcoming rimfire and centerfire barrels.
Shells are extracted by hand, which is less than convenient, but it also eliminates one more spring-loaded component that might break out in the field.
I enjoyed shooting the Backpack. I loved its lightweight design and short overall length. After shooting clays with the Midland’s shotgun, a standard pump action felt clumsy and over-large. The Backpack is a great option for shooters with small statures, though its customizable length of pull allows it to fit larger shooters too.
It handled well during my time at the clay range. The large, gold front sight is easy to see, and the rubber buttstock pad minimized birdshot recoil even given the gun’s light weight. The receiver also includes a small notch that can be used with the front sight for more precise aiming. The 12GA and 20GA models come with a modified choke and are compatible with interchangeable Beretta chokes.
I shot patterns with birdshot and buckshot at 15 and 30 yards using Federal’s 1 1/8 ounce Gold Medal Grand target loads and Premium 00 buckshot.
While I have few serious criticisms of the gun, I would caution against shooting heavy loads with the 12GA. While the birdshot loads weren’t entirely unpleasant, I didn’t want to shoot more than two patterns with the buckshot. I didn’t even try shooting slugs. The shotgun’s weight doesn’t absorb much heavy recoil, and while the buttstock pad helps, it still felt like most of the energy from the buckshot transferred directly into my shoulder.
New shooters—and experienced shooters looking to avoid shoulder bruises—should probably stick to lighter loads with the 12GA or move down to the 20GA or .410GA.
The Backpack from Midland Arms could be the best value right now in the firearms industry. Its price point fits any budget, and it’s designed and manufactured to function reliably for decades after purchase. The Backpack you give to your son or daughter stands a good chance of being given to their son or daughter, which isn’t always the case with low-cost firearms.
The Backpack’s customizability also allows it to grow with the shooter or be modified to be used in a variety of applications. Whether you’re looking for a first gun, a woods gun, or a survival gun, the Backpack can be suited to meet your needs. The “if you could only have one gun” debate will never be resolved, but Midland’s shotgun deserves a look for your next outdoor adventure.
Click here for more info on the Backpack.