MOLLE: Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment PART II: MOLLE-II Rucksack System

By: William McKinney

President, Bradley's Military Surplus

In my last article I discussed the historical background of standard web gear (LCE,) how it evolved into a tactical load bearing vest (LBV) and progressed into a MOLLE Fighting Load Carrier (FLC). As I mentioned; at this point in time, the Army is also introducing a new MOLLE chest harness known as a "TAPS.” The point I'm trying to communicate is the way soldiers have been carrying their fighting equipment is progressing in a positive direction since I joined the Army in 1982. I would suggest that the military's various backpacks systems have also been progressing in a positive direction although some negative feedback suggest the MOLLE-II frame has durability issues that need to be resolved.

The ALICE (LC-II) Rucksack System:

• ALICE: (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment). • NSN # 8465-01-019-9103 SP0100-05-C-4079. • The main field Pack is approximately 20" x 19." • The large main compartment has a locking draw strings. • It has 3 pouches on the outside of the rucksack. • LC2 – Medium W/Frame has a max load of 45 LBS. • LC2 – Large W/Frame has a max load of 60 Lbs.

The LC-2 rucksack is a very simple system. It has an external aluminum alloy frame, a removable or strapped in kidney belt and shoulder pad set. The kidney pad had a plastic quick release buckle during the 1980's and upgraded to a Fastex buckle in the early 1990's. The shoulder straps also had quick release features. The rucksack came in 3 sizes that consisted of small, medium, and large. The medium rucksacks could be used with or without the frame. The large rucksack was designed to be used with the frame at all times. The main carrying sack was made of OD green nylon material although some medium sized versions came in woodland camouflage. The top loading flap has a hidden map compartment within it, and a radio carrying pouch was intended to remain within the main sack. The design of the LC-II rucksack system virtually remained unchanged since World War II. Older versions used a cotton canvas sack and an "A-frame." Newer versions used nylon materials and a rectangular frame, but the changes were very simple in nature. Most of these changes were designed to make it easier to put the backpack on or off. Once again, the main improvements came in the form of quick release buckles on the shoulder straps and kidney belt. Like anything in life, the LC-II rucksack system had its strengths and weaknesses. Here is how I would evaluate the backpack system: PROS: • This backpack system is incredibly simple. It could be easily assembled or disassembled in 10 minutes or less without using any tools or instruction manuals. There is something that is very "profound" about simplicity when you think about it. • This simple backpack is very durable. • It's an inexpensive rucksack system, and the replacement parts are also very cheap. You could quickly and inexpensively replace any of the parts associated with this backpack system with very little effort. • The capacity of the LC-II main sack was limited, but it reduces the likeliness for soldiers to carry too much weight. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. • Without a doubt the simplicity of the system is its greatest attribute. Cons: • The LC-II system didn't have a built in sleeping bag carrier. • During my years in the Army soldiers would put their sleeping bag inside of a wet weather bag, and used various straps to attach their sleeping bag to the bottom of their frame. These various "spaghetti straps" or tie down straps were somewhat ineffective. The way I remembered it was that the straps had to be continuously tightened or adjusted. Even when it was fixed in place, the sleeping bag would bounce about as you walked. This bouncing and swaying made the system very noisy and annoying. • The LC-II rucksack wasn't waterproof. Soldiers used wet weather bags and zip lock sandwich bags to keep items dry. Before the 1990's you didn't expect too much pertaining to any military equipment. You simply made due with whatever you received. • The shoulder straps during this era had little padding, and it dug deep into the average soldier's shoulders during long road marches. In m opinion the LC-II rucksack system was somewhat uncomfortable. • The loading capacity of the LC-II system was quite limited with the small and medium rucksacks. Even the large system had limited capacity, especially since none of the models had had any type of a sleeping bag carrier. • Soldiers had to think hard about what they would be taking to the field because of the limited capacity of the LC-II rucksack system. In some respects this was a good thing because soldiers tend to carry too many things or too much weight. In other respects it was a serious drawback because there are times when soldiers didn't have enough room to carry everything that was really needed. My Thoughts: The LC-II large ruck system was a good product back in the day, but its time has passed bye long ago. Its best attributes are associated with being inexpensive, simple to figure out and easy to use. It's also very durable, but it pales in comparison to the newer CFP-90 or MOLLE models. I would suspect that the older LC-II or ALICE technology is more comparable to what most second world nations or some third world nations use today.

The CFP-90 or Vector Pack Rucksack System:

• Pack Weight: 6.5 lbs • Main Sack: 31" x 8" x 14" • Total Size 4026 Cubic Inches Not Including The Assault Pack • Sustainment Side Pouches: Right Side: 18" x 6" x 3.5" Left Side: 9.5" x 6" x 3.5" • Assault Pack: 14.5" x 16.5" x 4". • CFP-90 W/O patrol pack Max load 100 Lbs. • CFP-90 W/Patrol pack Max load carried 120 Lbs. • Made with The 1000 denier nylon

Field Pack • CFP-90 military issue field pack • Straps with quick release • Removable aluminum staves for rigid construction • Adjustable side compression bags and belts • Material : Nylon Cordura • Compression straps • 66см Х 33см Х 23см • NSN: 8465-01-286-5356

It's obvious that the military's decision makers focused hard on the weaknesses of LC-II system as it built the next generation of military backpacks. It widened the shoulder straps on the newer ruck systems and included more padding. It increased the loading capacity of the main sack, and included an internal sleeping bag carrying system. This newer and larger system was known as the CFP-90 by the Army and the Vector Pack by the Marines. It was also commonly called the" Lowe Ruck" by soldiers because the first models were built by the Lowe Alpine Company . Here are other thoughts about the CFP-90: PROS: • The CFP-90 was a product of the 1990 era. It marked a new beginning. • The CFP-90 is the largest backpack system ever issued in the Army. • The main cavity of the CFP-90 system is incredibly large. It offers soldiers enough room to carry everything they need. Maybe this is too much room for many soldiers. Soldiers tend too over pack, and this additional weight saps the average soldier's energy. With this being said, there are many times when the additional capacity would prove useful. Virtually everything in life is contingent upon the situation. • Using a string tied divider, the main carrying sack is compartmentalized into a main body and sleeping bag carrier. At the bottom of the rucksack there is a zipper for easy access for your sleeping bag. This is a clever concept. You can dig out your belongings from the top, and you have quick access to your sleeping bag from the bottom. • The internal sleeping bag carrier is an ideal way to transport a sleeping bag. This is especially true when combined with the sleeping bag compression sack that was introduced at the same time as the CFP-90. This new approach created a tighter more compact configuration that reduces bouncing, swaying and noise. • The CFP-90's shoulder pads are significantly wider, more padded and much more comfortable than the older LC-II model. This padding makes the CFP-90 much more comfortable on long road marches. • The attachable / detachable assault pack was an OUTSTANDING IDEA that was well received by soldiers. When the situation allows, the larger ruck system could be stored away in a patrol base or CP, and soldiers can rely on the lighter more stealthful assault pack. This concept has become very popular giving birth to more enhanced assault packs as well as the larger 3-Day assault pack. • The CFP-90 system has an adjustable lumbar pad and various shoulder strap adjustments that creates personal comforts for the individual soldier. Since every soldier has a unique combinations of height, weight, injuries and physical conditioning these adjustable systems are very desirable. Cons: • There were some misgivings about the CFP-90's internal frame. It may be ideal for many civilian applications, but many soldiers questioned its durability or transition into military use. • The whole backpack system was a bit too "top heavy." Soldiers loaded it with too much gear, and it stood too high. The combination of excessive height and weight made it unstable. • The 1000 denier Cordura nylon use to make the CFP-90 is said to be water resistant. If it is then it isn't very water resistant. Rain will penetrate this ruck system, and waterproof bags are required to keep your belongings dry. • The original CFP-90 assault pack was very simple. It was similar to a square map case bag with a zipper, and it possessed a couple Fastex buckles that could attached it to the main rucksack system. Although this flimsy assault pack was grossly underdeveloped in modern day terms, it laid the foundation for what would come in the future. My Opinion: The introduction of the CFP-90 marked a new modern era in the US military. There were many stark differences between the CFP-90 and the older ALICE backpack system. There were huge differences between the newer tactical load bearing vest and basic web gear. The Gore-Tex sleeping bag with its compact compression sack system runs light years ahead of the older down filled sleep systems. The differences made to individual military equipment during this era were so vast and profound that it indicated the US military was willing to experiment and seek out a new direction. In my opinion, this marked the end of the Korean and Vietnam War mentality. I can't say it was a renaissance because there wasn't a rebirth of military learning and science pertaining to individual soldier's equipment. In reality, it marked a new beginning. Instead of rhetoric about taking care of soldiers, the US armed forces began offering better equipment to its troops. Without a doubt this new direction benefits the average combat arms soldier, and I would suggest that the Army as a whole wins as well. Therefore, the introduction of products such as polypropylene, Gore-Tex, Thinsulate, polar fleece, compression sacks, load bearing vests and the CFP-90 were all good steps in the right direction. All of these advents were a sign of progress.

THE MOLLE II BACK SYSTEM:

Features

• Constructed of 1000 Denier Cordura and regular nylon • External pack frame • Shoulder strap assembly with quick release mechanism • Waist belt • Removable waist pack • Main ruck sack (3000 cubic inches) • Assault pack (500 cubic inches) • Sleep system carrier (designed for the modular sleep system) • Two sustainment pouches • One fighting load carrier • Three 30 round double magazine pouches • Two grenade pouches • Two 1QT general purpose pouches • Comes in Desert or Woodland camouflage • Weight: 23 LBS

The MOLLE system can be broken down into 4 major categories that consist of the following items:

• The Rucksack & Assault Pack System • Hydration System • Field Loading Carrier (FLC) • And a Wide Assortment of MOLLE Attachable Pouches.

The MOLLE backpack system consists of the following items:

• An external frame. • Quick release shoulder strap system. • Molded kidney belt. • Main rucksack with built in sleeping bag carrier. • Attachable / detachable Assault Pack. • 2 Attachable / detachable sustainment pouches. • Internal radio pouch.

Pros: • All of the MOLLE-II rucksack components are well constructed with the exception of the frame. • The backpack's material is thick, water resistant & durable. Although this system is water resistant I would still recommend using waterproof bags. • The MOLLE-II assault pack system is more advanced and has more capacity when compared to the older CFP-90 model. • The newest MOLLE-II package includes an impressive 3-day assault pack that offers significantly more capacity than the standard assault pack. • The MOLLE backpack and assault pack systems use PALS webbing that allows the allows the addition of other modular MOLLE pouches and components. • The current MOLLE-II backpack system has a built in sleeping bag carrier that will house a compressed Gore-Tex sleeping bag system. Being able to store equipment up top in the main sack and offering easy access to your sleeping bag from the bottom is a wise concept. • The older ALICE backpack didn't offer enough loading capacity to soldiers. The CFP-90 offered too much room and encouraged soldiers to overload equipment. The MOLLE-II backpack system is not too big or small. It is the ideal size for military use. • This backpack is an impressive looking system. This is especially true for the Multi-Cam version. CONS: • Several soldiers have told me that the MOLLE-II frame is prone to break, and it can't take the punishment of rugged combat conditions. When I researched this subject on line I found many reviews that supported this position. It appears the MOLLE-II frame needs to be upgraded to improve its durability, especially for use in combat air drop operations. • The original MOLLE-I backpack system used an attachable / detachable sleeping bag carrier. This weaknesses was corrected with the newer MOLLE-II model. I feel a built in sleeping bag carrier is necessary for military use. • The MOLLE-II system is a bit complex. Assembling and disassembling the main rucksack is difficult, and it requires needle nose pliers. For some, they may require instructions as well. MY Opinion: If I had to distinguish between the ALICE, CFP-90 and MOLLE-II back pack systems, I would suggest that the major differences were associated with loading capacity, comfort, improved sleeping bag carrying systems and the introduction of the assault pack. When most people speak about the CFP-90 they tend to focus on the internal frame design. When these same people speak about the MOLLE-II backpack they tend to focus on the modular capabilities of the system. I would suggest the best attributes of the newer military backpack systems had nothing to do with internal frames or being able to attach additional pouches. The modular concept surrounding the MOLLE backpack is slightly overrated. Very few soldiers use the additional add on features of the newer MOLLE system any differently than the older CFP-90. Yes, soldiers love the modular add on concepts when it is associated with a tactical vest, but this concept doesn't carry over as well to the ruck system. I would suggest that the biggest improvement was the introduction of the assault pack. The concept surrounding the detachable assault pack was outstanding. The next best concept was the built in sleeping bag carrier. Widening the shoulder pads and increasing padding was another significant improvement. Internal frames and being able to add pouches is of less importance as being able to work out of a smaller assault pack, addressing the problems with carrying a bulky sleeping bag, or reducing shoulder straps from painfully digging into a soldier's shoulders. As for issues surrounding loading capacity, I believe soldiers tend to overload clothing and equipment into their rucksacks. This is especially true when you consider soldiers have to carry food, weapons, ammunition and radios in addition to what is carried in their backpacks. Personally, I don't believe a fully loaded ruck should weigh more than 50 or 60 pounds. With this criteria in mind, the capacity of the LC-II rucksack was adequate, the CFP-90 was overkill, and the MOLLE-II is ideal. SUMMARY: Many Army soldiers share a similar mindset as the traditional baseball fan in the respect that they don't like big changes. It is common for "military purists" to look back on the good old days with fondness. Many soldiers miss their older equipment and complain about the changes in the military when, for the most part, these changes are for the better. This is especially true about the changes made to individual soldier's equipment. The CFP-90 is grossly superior to the older LC-II rucksack system in almost every respect. Likewise, the strengths and weaknesses of the CFP-90 were taken into consideration when designing the MOLLE-II backpack system. This explain why I feel the MOLLE-II system is the best backpack the military has ever issued. Yes, there may be some bugs in the system. Yes, the frame needs to be improved so it's more durable. With this being said, the improved shoulder straps, kidney belt, sleeping bag carrying system and the introduction of the assault pack are all outstanding improvements. I'm sure the average soldier who has used all 3 systems mentioned in this article would confess the MOLLE-II is the best system up to date if pressed. I also think they would quickly admit that they love their assault packs. In summary, I would recommend the MOLLE-II backpack system to any soldier and a wide variety of civilian backpack users. This system is comfortable, practical and despite having some shortcomings with the frame it is durable. It could be put to use in many civilian applications, and it is very inexpensive when compared to other big name brands. I would suggest the MOLLE backpack offers civilians more value or bang for the buck when compared with many civilian options. I would encourage backpackers to do their homework, compare prices and take a closer look at this piece of equipment. I believe you will discover that the MOLLE-II backpack has much to offer the rugged outdoorsman and professional soldier. Sincerely; William G. McKinney Bradley's Military Enterprises President