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.
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.
Mad Duo Clear!
About the Authors: Richard “Swingin’ Dick” Kilgore and Jake “Slim” Call are the HMFICs at Breach-Bang-Clear (breachbangclear.com). 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.