ALICE stands for All purpose – Lightweight – Individual – Carrying – Equipment. It served with all branches of the U.S. military for many decades and it can be found everywhere…literally.
Designed in the late 1960’s, it went through many changes over the years and it has been almost exclusively replaced by the new M.O.L.L.Y. (Modular Lightweight Carrying Equipment). The ALICE equipment is roughly equivalent to the Canadian 1982 pattern webbing, but it is significantly more user-friendly and can carry much more equipment.
The objective of this review is to familiarize you with the ALICE pack so that you consider including one in your Disaster Preparedness plan. Below are some of the pros and cons of the ALICE equipment in general and the medium pack in particular.
At some point in your Disaster Preparedness Plan (DPP), you will need to invest money in a quality backpack/rucksack/ruck. A good ruck is not only great for a weekend getaway to the mountains or a fishing trip, but it will also become a very important part of your Bugout System (BGS). History shows that a Seventy-Two-hour pack or Bugout Bag will become one of your most prized possessions in a “grid down” or other emergency scenarios.
Selecting a quality pack therefore, will be of utmost importance. You will need something heavy-duty first of all and preferably lightweight and with the ability to waterproof it. Many packs on the market fill these criteria but no pack does it as well as the ALICE pack.
There are three sizes available. Small is also known as the “Butt pack” because it was designed to sit on the soldiers’ web belt just above his butt. This pack is usually too small to be used for anything more than a day hike and it needs to be worn with the ALICE web belt and suspenders which make up the basic webbing. All pouches, canteens as well as the butt pack can be clipped to the ALICE pack. Medium is a regular-sized rucksack which can be carried with or without an external frame. With the frame, it can hold up to about 50 Lbs of gear but the ALICE clip system will allow you to attach more gear to the outside of the pack. The large ruck can only be used with the frame and can carry about 70 lbs of gear.
The medium pack is probably the best all-around size for most tasks.
You probably won’t find many people who will try to argue about the toughness of the ALICE pack. It is very likely that all ALICE gear is probably some of the toughest. I have carried excessively heavy loads and no matter how much stress I put on the stitching and the straps, the pack stayed together. I have used my pack on canoe trips, hunting and fishing trips, camping and hiking expeditions and it is my go-to pack for a bugout bag. I saw my pack tumble down a mountain, get dropped from a truck while moving at 60 kilometers per hour and once it also ended up in a lake. I will admit that one fine day I decided to change the aluminum frame because due to one particular incident, it got crushed and mangled beyond recognition.
I have owned civilian hiking packs in the past but none of them lasted as long as my ALICE which has been with me almost two decades now. I also love the fact that my ALICE pack is in olive drab color, which seems very difficult to find in civilian packs. There is the advantage of standing out if you happen to get stranded or lost in the wilderness but for the most part, I prefer to have to work as little as possible at not being spotted. The packs also come in woodland camo pattern as well as black.
The medium ALICE pack, as mentioned before, can be used with or without the frame. This advantage ads several additional options in terms of load capability. The pack itself provides lots of room for tying up additional pouches, canteens, machetes, and tools to the outside of it. You can also carry a tarp between the frame of the pack and your back as there is plenty of room for this above the pack’s waist belt.
One of the best advantages however, is the ability to remove the pack off the frame while leaving the shoulder straps and the waist belt attached to the frame. Now the frame itself can be used to carry such loads as a twenty-liter water jerry can or firewood. This is probably the best feature on packs which have a removable, external frame. Most civilian packs have an internal frame which greatly limits their use.
Many former U.S. servicemen argue about this point. There are those who find these packs uncomfortable, however when properly set up and modified, if need be, you will be able to carry heavy loads in your pack for a long time.
Main point to remember when wearing your pack, the shoulder straps should come over your shoulders parallel with the ground. The burden of the load should be resting on the waist pad and carried by your hips and not the shoulders. In the end, the more you wear it the more you will get used to it and this is why practice is more important than the equipment. Turn your hunting, fishing and hiking trips into training Bugouts. You can also modify your exercise routine by going for a brisk walk with your pack two or three times per week instead of a jog.
Since the ALICE pack is just about all but retired from the U.S. Forces, they can be found almost anywhere. They will be listed for sale on E-bay anywhere from about $70 to $300 which is amazing since a new hiking pack at MEC will start at about $200. At the lower prices, however, it is likely that the pack will not come with a frame and straps so make sure you double check. Frames and all straps are available for sale separately. Every military surplus store will have them and carry all the required accessories for them. You can also explore Amazon and purchase ALICE packs there. There were literally millions of them made and many have never seen action which means that even to this day they can be found in brand new condition.
When packing your ruck, store the less needed items, such as clean socks and underwear at the bottom of the pack. Sweaters, jackets and raingear, items which you might need faster access to, closer to the top. Also pack the heavier things such as water, ammunition and spare boots, closer to the top of the ruck. This will allow you to carry heavier loads further. The ALICE pack comes with three outside pockets. These should be used for the most often used articles, such as a rain jacket in wet weather, and rations.
Pack your ruck in such a manner that if you had to drop it and leave it behind, you are still left with enough tools to start a fire and at least make a warm meal. For more information look here. If there are several people in your group, you may want to consider packing all the packs exactly the same. That way there will be zero confusion if someone needs to get the rations out of everyone’s pack or find a first aid kit fast.
If you can find a plastic trash can measuring no more than 8.5” deep, 11.5” wide and 13.5” tall (you may have to cut it down) and preferably with one side flat, you could use it as a plastic insert for your pack. This will give it more form and allow you to maximize your space inside. Manufacturing either paracord handles or cutting handles into it will provide you with a water carrying device which will have no equal in the field.
There are many backpacks out there that would make great survival packs or Bugout bags. The ALICE, however, stands out for many reasons. It is relatively inexpensive, very tough, and very adaptable. It is designed for the worst environments with tremendous abuse in mind. If you do decide to purchase one, you will most likely find that the pros will greatly outweigh the cons and you will have a great pack for many years to come.