The Corps New Ruck: A Review

January 9, 2013  
Categories: Gear Curious

Ruck is an important word. It’s a noun and a verb. It’s as emblematic of what many of us do as boots and a rifle.

In the last decade of war, a lot of new technologies have emerged for our warfighters.  Up armored vehicles, electronic counter measures, advanced night vision devices, UAV drones (Drone Strike! would be an awesome band name), small arms optics…these have all become common place in the services. They are increasing proficiency and saving American lives. Unfortunately there is a lot of common gear that’s been (and in some cases remains) lacking, gear that makes a difference to the man behind the gun.

From left to right: USMC ILBE, USMC “FILBE” aka “THE USMC PACK”, Blackhawk! MALICE, SpecOPShop LLC “Son of ALICE” prototype ruck, and Gregory USSOCOM issued UC-21 “SPEAR” system Pack.

Over the last few years, the USMC has been working on an improved rucksack for general issue. When the decision was made to deviate from the Vietnam-era ALICE system, our troubles began. The first “improved” pack was the MOLLE. It was a great idea, but horrible in execution. Load distribution was practically nonexistent, the plastic frame snapped like a dry twig on your first hump, and the attachment pouches were limited in application.  In short, it was hated by all and instantly abandoned by those who could. Most specialized units continued to use commercially available packs, traditional large ALICE type “mountain” rucks, and other custom/ modified options.  The MOLLE was replaced with the MARPAT pattern ILBE, which did away with the external plastic frame in favor for a rigid internal frame, similar to what is used in many civilian backpacks. Once again, it was another unpopular choice made by higher ups that don’t patrol, let alone ruck distance under heavy load. It offers limited options for where/ how to carry your gear and is extremely difficult to use while wearing body armor.

Side view of fully loaded “FILBE” with Assault pack attached topside.

Earlier this year the Marines started issuing a new Rucksack, originally termed the FILBE (Family of Improved Load Bearing Equipment). In typical indecisiveness, a proper name could not be figured out for it and it’s now simply the “USMC Pack”.  Despite the brilliant name, the ruck is actually the first decent thing to come along since the ALICE all those years ago.

The Pack is full of features and is actually well thought out. In stark defiance of the laws of probability, past history and tradition it’s almost like the individual junior Marines were considered for its development. Starting with the main bag, the modern ALICE influence is apparent. The main compartment sits higher on the shoulders than previous designs, and is supported by an external polymer frame made by Down East. For everyone that remembers the old MOLLE frame, rest assured this design is vastly superior in quality and structural integrity. Polymer technology has advanced leaps and bounds the last few years, and this frame appears to be up for long service life.

The outside is covered in PALS webbing, so you can set up your ruck how you see fit. There are five outside pouches included with the system, one horizontal zippered “assault pouch”, two sustainment pouches and two hydration pouches for additional H2o bladders.  In addition, there is an “assault pack” which is closer in size to a three-3 day bag then the older ILBE assault pack.  It shares the same waterproof zippers the assault pouch has, and includes several small zipper pouches inside to subdivide small mission essential gear.  The assault bag attaches to the top of the ruck, further placing the weight higher up in the system. We were skeptical of this system at first, but it helps protect sensitive gear from damage, distributes the weight better, and allows quick access to both small pack contents and the main pack compartment.

There are three features that are small but stand out as great additions. The first is the separate zippered sleeping system compartment. It allows access to the lower section of your ruck, without unpacking the whole thing. It has a divider that allows you to open up the main compartment, should you need more space for bulker gear. The cinch straps compress the load down surprisingly well

Lower section of ruck with zipper access open for sleeping system

The second feature is the hydration system made by Camelbak, which comes with grimlock biners to attach to the pack or your armor system. It’s a great set up that will undoubtedly see more use out of the ruck than in it.

Top of Ruck open, showing Camelbak hydration system

Lastly, there is the ever present issue of wearing a ruck while wearing armor. Pack straps tend to slide off your plate carrier, and the sternum strap is almost useless. Luckily, there is a Mystery Ranch Mystery cinch included. The strap attaches to your armor via the PALS webbing, and then is tucked under and around the shoulder straps. It cinches the pack straps in, but is still quick to don and doff.

Pack worn with full kit, showing the quick release of the mystery ranch strap attached to USMC SPC armor.

Knife hand the world - join us on our mission

Now for the downside. The ruck had a failure the first time it was used. Mile five of a 15 mile hump, the pack’s shoulder strap tore off while hoisting on. Immediately pissed off at the brand new pack’s failure, it was quickly “fixed” with some 550 cord. This held up for the remainder of the cross country hike. For the price, design and manufacturer- this is complete bullshit. If a different Marine had been issued this same ruck at the last minute before a deployment, he might have had to deal with a broken strap for year even before he arrived in theater.

The verdict is this: despite the failure, I like this Rucksack. As far as issue packs go, this is the first one worth a damn since the ALICE.  It hauled 75lbs across 15 miles of treacherous  mountain trail, and the only thing that hurt afterwards was…well nothing. It distributed the load perfectly, with equal pressure placed on shoulders and lower back. Will we be trading out our old modified large ALICE in favor for this pack?  We will have to see what supply has to say about switching it out for a new one.

Despite a ridiculous failure at the outst of its first hump, this pack receives a passing grade.


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About the Authors: Richard “Swingin’ Dick” Kilgore and Jake “Slim” Call are the HMFICs at Breach-Bang-Clear ( They write for current and former military, LEOs, contractors and trained and educated responsible armed citizens. They are the most door-kickingest, trigger-pullingest action figures in the tactically operational tactical operator world. Subscribe to them and stay informed about TTPs, new kit, and latest in what’s stoopid (and occasionally inspiring) in the military and modern society or check them out on Facebook.



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Swingin' Dick

Swingin' Dick

About the Author

Richard "Swingin' Dick" Kilgore is half of the most storied celebrity action figure team in the world (and the half that doesn't prefer BBWs). He believes in American Exceptionalism, America, holding the door for any woman (lady or whore) and the idea that you should be held accountable for what comes out of your fucking mouth. Swingin' Dick has been a warrior gyrovague for many years now and is, apparently, impossible to kill -- he once had a complete body transplant after an IED hit the gun truck in which he was riding. True story, one of the Cav guys mailed his head and arm home. Swingin' Dick comes from a long line of soldiers and LEOs (his Great Uncle commanded an Air Cav battalion in Vietnam and his many times removed great grandfather was one of the few original Burt Mossman era Arizona Rangers). Swingin' Dick detests Joy Behar and Chris Matthews almost as much as he enjoys traveling the world to crush crime vice and evil. He believes the opportunity to lead eeeelight team of Breach Bang Clear minions is the most improbably awesome thing an action figure has ever done and he's immensely proud of his perfect hair. Loyalty and respect should start from the top down.


  1. LT

    It’s almost like they took the research that civilian retailers have been doing with backpackers and mountaineers for decades and applied it. Novel concept.

  2. Goobs0351

    As a grunt who has been issued the ILBE, the “Mountain Ruck” (old-school ALICE), and the new USMC Pack, and spent considerable field time with all of them… I think this new system is garbage. And I’m far from the only one; these are not only my thoughts but a compilation of what I have gathered from other Marines I have worked with.

    First of all, upon taking on the inane amount of crap we’re required to bring out to the field as per the usual Marine infantry packing list (I mean come on, a whistle? Really?), this pack instantly takes on the dimensions of Santa’s toy sack (yes, even if you ditch most of the bullshit things like the whistle). Attaching the assault pack on top instantly makes things worse, because the anchor points aren’t far enough down the pack to keep it tightly on top of the main pack. This means with every move you make, the assault pack is shifting to some extent, meaning your whole weight shifts. And that’s just rucking; taking a knee during a field op can send even the stockiest warfighter sprawling if they aren’t attentive to which side their assault pack has shifted to at that particular moment. Overall, after a short time, items in the pack settle into it’s blob-like rounded shape, making the weight uneven, and the assault pack only contributes to the issue. You can occasionally counterbalance with a sustainment pouch, but it’s not totally reliable.

    The frame, while better than the ILBE, is all show: the pack doesn’t hold to it properly when the pack is either particularly top-heavy (aka carrying a 240, SMAW, Mortar, etc) or when it gets too hot and humid. Plus, the hard plastic/polymer/whatever pieces tend to flex an ungodly amount. This all means your back gets contorted into an awful posture where your are leaning forward with your shoulders while your lower back is slowly being crushed. Any movement longer than 10 miles in these conditions, and you will be feeling the pain in short order.

    I will admit there are a number of nice things: The bottom zip accessing the “sleeping system compartment” is fantastic, and the overall layout of pockets and whatnot is also a vast improvement. The CamelBak system is in every way superior to the old Source system, as well. And the mystery ranch sternum cinch is a godsend… except most Marines don’t have a clue what it is. I had to look it up myself, even after taking the class on how to use the new gear, and when I had to attend the class again (admin lost the roster, you know how it is), I asked the rep why they weren’t including the cinch in the class. “Oh, well, most Marines won’t have the pack on long enough to really need it, so the (insert name of Marine Corps command that’s in charge of this shit) told us to just leave it out.” Fantastic. Another pack chosen by POGs, and then when there IS something cool in it for the infantry, we’re not even informed. I try and convince my guys to use it, but it seems to have gone the way of the Sidewinder flashlight: Lock it away somewhere safe, and don’t ever pull it out until the day you have an inspection or need to turn it in.

    I have nothing nice to say about the new Assault pack except that it’s larger. I stick to my Camelbak Motherlode (it may not be from a sexy company, but it’s been through absolute hell and three deployments and not a single thing on it has broken or failed).

    As soon as I got back from a deployment with the new system, I dragged my Mountain Ruck out of the closet, promised it my cheating days were over, and never wore the USMC Pack again. When a particularly motarded LT got on my ass about having a green pack when everyone else’s was Coyote, I ponied up and bout a Tactical Tailor MALICE Pack. Expensive, yes, but so worth it to see the looks of pain and frustration on my fellow grunts’ faces and know that I wasn’t dealing with the same thing.

    If you’ve got the cash, invest in a pack that’s worth the salt you want to put on it. You and your back will be extremely happy about it in the future.

  3. MSgt S Bergman

    Great review. Had the same problem with the strap breaking. I used a nylon strap around the frame and buckled to the shoulder strap. Tension that caused the failure is now on the pack frame. Works so far.


  4. Billy G'land

    is this the one made by Eagle industries?

  5. FleaBitten

    I’ve seen the same problem with shoulder strap on my pack as well as some of my buddy’s packs. Luckily, I have a sewing machine and was able fix it, barely. Its a bit difficult to get to and you have take the pack apart. However, I agree that it distributes weight better. I have almost zero hotspots, unlike with the ilbe.

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