I felt every muscle from my shoulder to the tip of my toe as I focused what little energy I had left from the 2 hours of sleep we got the night before The Reaper. Looking up to see a soul crushing hill at the end of the hike I hear “Hey there Snuffleupagus!” in the all too familiar tone of my Drill Instructors voice. I didn’t have to think long about what I had screwed up as he immediately explained to me how I was hunched over like some fat-body mopey elephant with my strings flapping to and fro in the breeze. He was of course talking about my unkempt Improved Load Bearing Equipment (ILBE) pack with the plethora of unrolled straps waving mightily to attract any Drill Instructor within a mile radius. It would be impossible for me to roll those straps as quickly today as I did in that moment.
Marine Recruits storming The Reaper during The Crucible
I made it up The Reaper then back down to pin on the EGA, and yes, I did shed a tear when they put that beautiful ebony EGA in my dirty, disgusting, unworthy hand. That stringy mess made the crucible possible for me and everyone else there. Talk to any Marine who has had the opportunity to use the ILBE pack and they will tell you it is as deep as Santa’s endless gift sack. Every recruit pack will contain a poncho, insect repellent and blister kit, ear plugs, mouth piece, a pair of extra socks, sun screen, meals ready to eat, assault pack (daypack), combat boots, utilities, skivvies, socks, leather gloves, hygiene kit, foot care kit, an e-tool, gortex top, gortex bottom, towel, trash bags, ISOMAT, shower shoes, canteen, canteen cup, and a camel pak. The purpose of the ILBE pack does not end in boot camp of course, it is much more important outside the wire. Since 2004 these packs have been carrying rounds, 60mm and 81mm mortar round capable, and everything else that would allow for survival in the harshest conditions wartime could offer.
Loaded down ILBE pack
Prior to the ILBE system the Marine Corps along with other branches were utilizing the Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) system. In 2002 the USMC began the process of phasing out the old to discover the new. In a Marine Corps Systems Command article from July of 2002 Captain Dave Pinion explained “We have heard the complaints from the fleet loud and clear.” A survey of the fleet confirmed that the fighting Marines of the new Middle East campaigns did not like the load systems built for previous conflicts. Some of the more common complaints were the MOLLE straps were too short to adjust over body armor and the zippers would burst when loaded down for the field. Over the course of the following year many packs were tested until one company won out creating a pack that was “modified to fit the Marine Corps’ needs, but this is essentially a high-quality pack you could buy off the shelf at a sporting goods store.” According to Captain Pinion. The winning design came from Arc’teryx in the way of a modified Bora 95 pack made specifically for the Marine Corps Infantry.
Capacity and Capabilities
The improvements to the ILBE system over the MOLLE were aimed at the increased durability, decreased weight, and increased simplicity for the Marines deployed into a new war. The system can be broken down into two main components: the pack system and the assault pack or day pack. The main pack has 4,500 cubic inches of storage in the main chamber with two side pockets that are just absolutely perfect for a canteen and canteen cup. There are a series of straps up the side of the pack that are there for irregular shaped items to include large rounds or even snowshoes should you be so inclined. To allow for the use of MOLLE accessories from previous systems Arc’teryx put webbing all around the back and sides of the bag. There’s also a little flap that we use to go over the e-tool, but can also be used to hold in an assault pack. The front of the pack has an improved frame that hugs tight to your back. Reviews of the MOLLE system will consistently speak to the pack moving around because the frame is away from the body. Having the ILBE pack tight to your back does make for a bit more perspiring, but the pack is measurably more stable due to the proximity. If the pack doesn’t fit your back exactly the inner metal frame can be custom bent to match your contours. The belt on the bottom of the pack is massive and really helps to spread the load repositioning pressure away from your back. This strap can rub pretty good on a long hump with heavy weight which is something to pay attention to. There is a dust cover that lives atop the pack with a zipper of its own to allow for even more pack out. All of this equipment was designed to carry a maximum capacity load of 120lbs, which is drastically beyond adequate for most civilians that would gravitate towards this bag.
The MOLLE webbing and dust cover top
If you came here looking for a reason not to get a pack like this for yourself I am not going to be able to help you. These are very durable packs that are great for going out into the wilderness. It is hard for me to think of a better review for functionality of field equipment than that of the United States Marine Corps.