Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Guest Post: Military Rucksacks

by George Groot

George is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before.

One of the more common logical fallacies among preppers is “If it’s milspec, it must be good, right? After all, the military uses it!” That belief is wrong. Milspec, short for “Made to Military Specification”,  is nothing more than any other industry standard such as Z87 for eye protection lenses or ISO 27000 for risk management framework compliance.

The focus of today's article is milspec rucksacks. I will specifically address the two most common types found on the surplus market, A.L.I.C.E. and M.O.L.L.E., hereafter simply called “Alice” and “Molle” (pronounced “Molly”). Alice is “All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment” and Molle is “Modular Lightweight Loadbearing Equipment.” Both of those contain at least one lie in the title; I’ll let you figure out which it is.

These come in two main flavors: medium and large. The medium Alice pack can be used with or without a frame, and is a decent size for a get home bag. If you use it without a frame it won’t be very comfortable for heavy loads or long distances, but it's fine to throw in the trunk of your car and will carry enough to get home. There was a “field pack, small” designation for a Small Alice pack, but I’ve never even seen one over the course of my career.

The large Alice pack is simply not usable without a frame. Also known as the great big green life sucking tick, it can hold a lot of crap and in the military, most of that crap is mission essential items first with comfort items secondary. The large Alice pack was designed for Infantry patrolling, which is a slow process. The top of the Alice ruck will not extend above your shoulders, ensuring that it doesn’t increase your profile, which is why it sticks out so far from your back. This means even if you pack it correctly, with lighter stuff on the bottom and heavy stuff on top, the extra distance of the center of gravity of the pack will force you to lean forward to prevent being pulled back.

The MOLLE Family
The smallest member of the Molle backpack family is the Assault pack. It has an internal plastic sheet in lieu of an actual frame. Not meant to carry heavy stuff long distances, it is designed to carry extra water, ammo, radio batteries, and medical supplies for actions on the objective; in other words, mission-essential items only, and no comfort items. It can carry slightly less than a medium Alice pack.

Medium Molle is my preferred Molle rucksack because it has the best design for long range rucking. It is narrower than a Large Alice or Large Molle, and has a minimal U-shaped plastic frame. You can add external “sustainment pouches” high on the sides if you need extra storage.

Large Molle is in my experience the worst rucksack for actual hiking. It is heavier than the Large Alice, but only holds marginally more. The straps are notorious for coming undone under heavy weight (i.e. 45 to 85 lbs, the standard packing list for an Infantryman), and like the Large Alice, it is designed to put the stuff you are hauling on your back in a manner that doesn’t significantly raise your silhouette while patrolling.

Tips & Tricks
What Alice and Molle have in common is that when compared to a civilian hiking pack, they have poor ergonomics. Soldiers have taken to modifying their gear with sleeping pad foam, 100 mph tape, and 550 cord to make them more comfortable.
  • Add foam to the straps with 100mph tape. Increasing the distance that the straps have to travel over your chest by adding foam material is a good way to distribute the load a little better and give yourself more leverage to control the load. Your hips are the leverage point, and being able to get the weight of the pack on your hips is the purpose of the belt, so use the belt assembly for that purpose. 
  • Add 550 Cord reinforcements to the quick releases. It sucks when you are trying to cinch down a strap and the quick release assembly comes undone (the thing to do when receiving fire is drop to the dirt and ditch your ruck so you can fire back, which is not something most civilian packs are designed for), so reinforcing the straps so they don’t come undone is helpful. 
  • Use bungee cords to keep the pack tight against the frame. If you don’t have a full pack, the worst load distribution is “loose” and “settling to the bottom.”  The outer pockets on an Alice pack should only hold your poncho, poncho liner, and a med kit, and the bottom of a large or medium Molle should be where bulky but light items are. To keep the pack tight and not shifting, some bungee straps can be used to keep it all tight against the frame, ensuring the center of gravity doesn’t shift on you during movement.
Rucksack Shopping
If you are in the market for a rucksack or hiking backpack, please look at alternatives to Alice or Molle; there are many great civilian alternatives that are lighter with better ergonomics. However, if you already have an Alice or Molle pack and want to use it as a get home bag or part of your preps, then by all means modify it to perform for you.

The best designed rucksack will be “tall and thin”.  There won’t be one huge compartment on the bottom to put everything in (aka Alice), and there will be plenty of padding on the straps for your shoulders along with a nice wide belt for your hips. The material will also be smoother than the rough synthetic used by Molle. There are many good hunting packs that are designed this way.

However, if Alice or Molle are what you can get, look for a Medium Alice with frame or a Medium Molle rucksack. These are not the largest options for carrying stuff, but are the easiest to configure for carrying stuff comfortably.

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