Which Rucksack Should You Use?
When it comes to military backpacks, there is constant argument over which of the two primary systems should be used. ALICE (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) is the old-school style dating back to the Vietnam War. It is much loved by many old hats in the military, and it even has some fans in among younger folk in the survival and prepping circles. MOLLE is the new kid on the block, utilizing modern materials and design for a more ergonomic and convenient system that appeals to the customizing mindset. We’re going to take a peek at these two systems and see which one of them is better for carrying all of your important gear when you’re caught in a survival situation.
ALICE: An Old, Faithful Design?
ALICE packs are older in design and in the materials used, and it shows. On the one hand you have less convenience than you would expect out of even the average civilian backpack, as most of the compartments are opened and closed by loosening metal straps rather than simply unhooking a button or clasp. You also have a heavier external frame for your pack made of metal rather than lighter plastics. Since ALICE was designed without Camelbak-style water bladders in mind you are forced to either rig up something yourself or use an old-fashioned canteen for hydration on a long trek in the heat.
On the other hand, the older materials tend to be quite durable, and the metal strap design isn’t as likely to break under heavy wear and tear. The metal external frame is not only rugged, but it can also help put some airspace between you and your heavy pack, keeping you cooler by providing additional airflow. The external frame also makes it easier to customize in some ways if you have a creative side, since it offers plenty of strong points for you to hang heavy items off of.
MOLLE: A New Gold Standard?
In contrast to the older, heavier ALICE packs MOLLE packs are designed for maximum comfort and customization. Modern plastics and other materials make the pack much lighter overall, and an internal frame that molds to your body for better mobility. The latest MOLLE packs also make heavy use of a powerful Velcro-like system, where you can attach flashlights, smaller packs, and various other accessories to the primary system rapidly. Although some have found the Velcro annoying when in heavy brush or forest, most have said that the MOLLE gear hangs onto gear just find even when there are lots of branches and obstacles to rip things away. These strips make it possible to use one pack for a variety of different missions, since each time you head out all you need do is detach any unnecessary items and move on. Much simpler than trying to loosen straps and empty compartments in an ALICE pack!
On the other hand, many complain that the internal frame has a harder time with heavy loads and tends to become hot and heavy since the pack hugs the body and leaves very little cooling airspace between you and it. Furthermore, the greater amount of plastics has led to some accusations of inferior durability compared to the heavier metal and canvas of the ALICE packs. In this regard it seems to depend on exactly what each soldier needed out of his pack, but generally those with heavier loads and more rough-and-tumble action noticed greater damage to their MOLLE packs than those who did general frontline work with lighter loads.
Which Military Backpack to Choose?
Although this may sound like a cop out, the truth is that both ALICE and MOLLE have their place. For one thing, your own habits will dictate whether the lack of easy customization via the MOLLE Velcro will matter to you. If you always carry a similar loadout, what’s the point of being able to customize? On the other hand if you like to pack and plan based on having rapid access to items the metal straps of the ALICE pack may slow you down in a crucial moment, making the MOLLE a better fit.
In general, I would say that the ALICE system suits long-term, rough treatment, heavy loaded excursions. When you’re walking 3 weeks to a destination with every scrap of food, water, and gear you can possibly lift that greater durability and ease of transport becomes the primary concern. On the other hand if you need quick access in a dangerous area, say if you’re patrolling near your retreat or heading into town to trade or scout, then the more rapid deployment of the MOLLE pack may be better suited. As you reach closer and closer to the middle of the road between them, your personal habits and needs will become the primary deciding factor.
As a final note, ALICE packs generally tend to be cheaper than the MOLLEs since they’ve largely been abandoned by the U.S. Military and surplus is available, while the MOLLE packs are still in active use and supplies are more limited. I left this for last since your decision should really be based on the quality and utility of the military backpacks you have rather than the price whenever possible, but for those operating on a shoestring prepping budget this could be an important consideration.