Backpacks, not surprisingly, have been used throughout most of human history. Though their origin is impossible to ascertain for sure, it is generally accepted that they came about as a means for hunters to easily transport larger game.
Backpacks in the military
Backpacks are, not surprisingly, standard carrying gear for most military forces around the world. A typical American soldier will carry between 90 and 130 pounds into combat. Over the years, our military has developed different load-bearing systems designed ot maximise carrying capacity and mobility for soldiers. The three most well-known American systems are ALICE, MOLLE and ILBE.
ALICE (ALl-Purpose Individual Carrying Equipment)
The Alice system as it is known now, is the result of improvement over World War I and II backpacks and gear. Originally called the LINCLOE system, ALICE was developed in response to attempts to lighten each indidvidal soldierís load; the first priority being a lightwieght rucksack (another term for packpack). The original backpack, used throughout World War II, weighed 7.5 pounds and was replaced by Nylon and aluminum materials weighing in at a total of about 3 pounds. The canvas load bearing vest of the 1950s (5 lbs) was also redone in nylon material and reduced to a weight of 3 pounds. The efforts to lighten soldiers loads begun in 1965 geared specifically towards tropical environments (the nationís minds turned towards Vietnam), but the term ALICE was not designated until after 1970, when the project had been completed. Apart from the load-bearing vest and backpack; the individual equipment belt, entrenching, first aid case and canteen were streamlined.
ALICE Gear Today
Though Alice gear has been phased out of active military use, the packs reamin popular today, popular enough that many manufacturers continue to produce new replicas. Uncle Samís carry both vintage (vietnam era) Alice packs as well as newly manufactured replicas. Because of its simple, lightweight design, large outside, easy-access pockets, it reamins a favorite among day to 2-day hikers and travelers alike. IF you spend sometime wandering Astor Place or Burlington, VT during the summer time you are likely to see this pack nestled in among well-used army duffels.
MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment)
The MOLLE load-bearing structure is the system currently in use by our troops today, as well as a growing number of the British Military. MOLLEs defining characteristic are the rows of nylon webbing (PALS system) sewn into loops across the vest, pack, and pouches. All MOLLE gear works with the PALS system. These loops increase carrying capacity as well as make it possible to mix and match seperate components of the system. A soldier deployed in MOLLE gear often carries up to 130 pounds on his back, if caught under fire with a full load, a soldier can quickly and easily detach the larger pack from his vest (leaving necessary combat equipment attached to his torso) in order to immediately increase his mobility, without dropping his entire load.
MOLLE in Civilian Use
MOLLE gear is available new and used from our website. MOLLE bags are especially popular amongst hikers and outdoorsmen because of the utility derived from webbing attachment loops. Using these loops one can attach a water bottle, underslung sleeping bag, or tent easily and without taking up space within the bag itself. Also convenient are the many MOLLE attachment products (such as pouches and cell-phone carriers) that can easily be attached anywhere on any MOLLE bag or pack.
ILBE (Improved Load Bearing Equipment)
ILBE is a program initiated by the U.S. Marine Corps to replace MOLLE. ILBE, like MOLLE uses the PALS webbing system. The ILBE pack has an attachable assault pack as well as a water reservoir. Currently, the ILBE pack does not integrate well with the MOLLE system, and a replacement has been announced. In a year or two you can most likely expect a large surplus of these packs to be seen on the market and most likely used by hikers and backpackers.
Aside from ALICE and MOLLE gear, we carry a large assortment of diverse surplus backpacks. Many of these backs are rubberized for waterproofing and made of either canvas or leather. We have backpacks and rucksacks from the Swiss, the British, the Italians, the Germans and many other nationalities. Take a look at our surplus section for the full list.
Photo: Petty Officer Peter Holdgate, RN
Large Camo Alice Pack with frame
MOLLE 3 Compartment Butt Pack