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Why You Should Not Use Military Backpacks For Hiking


Military backpacks are often durable and designed for “rucking”, which is what the military calls hiking under load. They’re function driven, not comfort driven. In a mission, you want to take all your supplies and guns without worrying if the pack will rip, but how comfortable it feels on your back or whether the straps will burn your shoulder skin is a secondary concern. Additionally, even though civilian hiking packs aren’t subtle at all, there’s no mistaking the additional attention you’ll receive on the trail or around a campsite when you’re hiking with a camo pack.

Using military backpacks for hiking is often a problem as you end up with a sore lumbar, a hurt shoulder, and your daily mileage will start to go down. Military rucksacks may pack everything you need in their extensive pockets, but you can carry the same load on a civilian pack and still hike longer and more comfortably. A long-time survivalist and former military officer shared this on a recent forum discussion:

Keep in mind that military backpack contracts are decided by bureaucrats, sometimes go to the lowest bidder (sometimes not), and they are typically colored for rural combat — not for avoiding attention in a populated environment. I don’t see much use for them. – Paul from Minnesota

The Obvious Warning

Clearly, you may choose to use military hiking packs if you plan on carrying really heavy loads and you’re fit enough to do so, or if you already have a good-enough pack and are not looking to spend any extra money right now. I know plenty of guys that carry 50-60lbs on their ILBEs and can still hike 15-20 miles a day. However, the average backpacker will greatly benefit from a lighter, streamlined civilian backpack.

Two Ways To Define Military Backpacking Packs

Okay, so exactly are we talking about when we say “military hiking packs”?

We’re referring to packs that were 1 – used in active service or 2 – designed for active service. You will see a number of military day packs that have been designed this way, and you must ensure you are prepared to use a pack that is meant to be used on all terrain without a thought of comfort. The comfort in a military backpack is in the space saved, and you will note how simple it is to fill up when you are ready.

Military backpacks are often made from hard canvas, unlikely to ever tear, and they often rely on MOLLE straps so you can attach accessories/pouches to them. The idea behind these tactical backpacks is to carry heavier military equipment like guns, ammos, and radios, and to handle any punishment you dole out, but not necessary to reduce your load or to provide the most comfortable fit on your back.

But MOLLE Backpacks Are A Brilliant Invention!

MOLLE (pronounced Molly) straps can be part of a many tactical gear kits, as they give you the ability to quick attach any number of pouches, ammo clips, knifes, radios, and configure your pack load at will. Some packs have MOLLE straps so that you can attach an entire secondary backpack to it – like the USLM ILBE. However, most hiking backpacks come with enough adjustable straps that you’ll be pressed to find a reason to miss it. And, in case you really want MOLLE on your backpack, you can DYI the straps with a bit of sewing knowledge:

MOLLE grid system uses horizontal rows of 1″ Mil-W-43668 Type III nylon webbing (you can try to find Type IIIa), spaced 1″ apart, and reattached to the backing at 1.5″ intervals. Some people love them:

I have been happy with the packs I have used for years because they allow me to straddle the line between the comfort I need and the space I want. I have many trips planned that are all made possible by the packs I have found, and I would encourage someone who is looking for a better pack to look over each MOLLE pack and their cousins to find something that works. – Aramcheck, forum

The Best Military Backpacks

Below is a list of the most popular military backpacks for hiking, along with their key characteristics. Take a look and then compare these to the civilian backpacks we highlight further down the post.



The ILBE is popular because it is used by the Marine Corps, and you may use it on the strength of that recommendation alone. The ILBE Pack is designed to carry a load of up to 120lbs, which is really only possible thanks to the internal metal frames with 2 metal ribs on the outer sides and 2 larger spars in the middle, which help distribute the load. However, the pack weights close to 10lbs.



The Maxpedition is a hybrid pack that will serve you well in a number of instances. You are attempting to balance price and comfort with the Maxpedition, and you have met your match.



The Large Alice comes with a frame that will help you pack everything in a safe place. It is simpler to use the Alice because of the frame, and there are many people who swear by it every year.

Military Hiking Backpacks Comparison

Pack Name Pack Weight Capacity Avg Price Link
USMC ILBE MAIN PACK – 2ND GEN 10 lbs 120 lbs $199 Shop Now
MAXPEDITION FALCON II 4 lbs 1400 / 23L $170 Shop Now
LARGE A.L.I.C.E. PACK 3 lbs 1 oz 3,800 $70 Shop Now

Civilian Hiking Packs

Granite Gear packs seem to perform better than any other because of their heavy-duty construction. You will quite enjoy using the best military backpack for hiking, and each will last even through some of the worst punishment that is taken.

You need not have a pack that will carry 100 pounds of equipment as you may not carry that much on your hike. You will do quite well with a pack that is rated for 60-80 pounds, and you will avoid the problems that come along with a pack that weighs too much. You may use Granite Gear, or you may choose to use a lighter pack that is rated around your hiking level. You know how far you will go with each pack, and you are wasting your time if you purchase a pack that is simply too big for you.

The Best Civilian Hiking Packs

If you’re looking for a solid all-around pack, these are some of the highest-rated packs and are often praised by hiking pros like Andrew Skurka and Phillip Werner:



Light at four pounds, but you will have all the room you need in a bag that may carry up to 65 liters worth of material. You may try this pack when you are trying to split the difference between weight and capacity, and you will enjoy hiking with something that feels like a feather when it is unloaded.



The pack is only four and a half pounds, and you will have 65 liters of space to carry your materials. You are picking up a bit of weight on this pack, but it will help you when you have a little bit of room to pack everything. You are doing yourself a favor by using a pack that helps you organize yourself well, and you will avoid losing space because of its many pockets and features.



The five and half pound pack will give you 65 liters of space to pack yourself for a trip, and it will help you when you are attempting to take a trip that will require a bit of rugged terrain. The pack may be heavier, but it is small enough to keep out of your way on the worst parts of the hike.

Top Civilian Hiking Backpacks Comparison

Pack Name Pack Weight Capacity Avg Price Link
ARC’TERYX ALTRA 65 4 lbs 15 oz 45-60 lbs $450 Shop Now
OSPREY ATMOS 65 AG 4.5 lbs 30-50 lbs $260 Shop Now
GREGORY BALTORO 65 5.5 lbs 40-55 lbs $290 Shop Now

What About UltraLight Backpacks?

As you start to hike more miles every day, you’ll notice that reducing your load has a direct impact in your overall hike enjoyment. Some backpackers take this to extreme and count every single ounce in their packs – that’s the ultralight backpacking community.

Top ultralight packs are slightly less durable than normal civilian backpacks, but they often come out lighter than 3 lbs and can still carry loads of 30-50 lbs. The most popular ones are from ULA Equipment and Hyperlite. If you’re starting to backpack now, an ultralight pack might not fit your needs as they’re focused on minimal gear loads. Stick with a more robust and fully-featured civilian pack that can also double as a good camping backpack.

Why NOT Use Military Backpacks for Hiking?

As you’ve seen, military backpacks are made for specific military functions (rucking) and often overlook comforts expected when you’re hiking for pleasure. They’re often cheaper and more durable than civilian packs, but have a lot less features. The biggest drawback to using military backpacks when you’re hiking is the amount of attention they draw and the position that might put you in.

In truth, civilian backpacks are far from being subtle or even fashionable, but they’re everywhere so it doesnt draw as much attention. And yes, they’re more expensive than military packs, but they can be just as durable and come with a lot more features and much more comfort.

Civilian vs Military Hiking Backpacks Comparison

Pack Name Pack Weight Capacity Avg Price Link
USMC ILBE MAIN PACK – 2ND GEN 10 lbs 120 lbs $199 Shop Now
MAXPEDITION FALCON II 4 lbs 1400 / 23L $170 Shop Now
LARGE A.L.I.C.E. PACK 3 lbs 1 oz 3,800 $70 Shop Now
ARC’TERYX ALTRA 65 4 lbs 15 oz 45-60 lbs $450 Shop Now
OSPREY ATMOS 65 AG 4.5 lbs 30-50 lbs $260 Shop Now
GREGORY BALTORO 65 5.5 lbs 40-55 lbs $290 Shop Now

What Real Users Are Saying

I used my old Large Alice for about 20 years, but now use an Osprey. I like keeping the sleeping bag inside the bag a lot. It keeps dry and carries better. I do not miss the outside MRE pouches on the Alice pack. I greatly prefer the Osprey. It is far more comfortable, better padding and overall more ergonomic. It cost about $100, so if money is an issue, the Alice pack will work, but it is a crude substitute. – KaBar67, New York user at

Do you have experience with any packs we discussed here? Let us know in the comments. There are quite a few ways to hike efficiently, and you may decide to completely ignore our advice. We’d like to know what you decide either way.

26 thoughts on “Why You Should Not Use Military Backpacks For Hiking

  1. Robuck says:

    If you think military packs are cheaper, you’re pretty uninformed and probably shouldn’t be writing an article on the subject. A Kifaru or Mystery Ranch pack will run you $700+. They’re also extremely comfortable.

    • DOON says:


  2. Anne says:

    So, what you’re saying is that you shouldn’t use a MOLLE type pack because it will draw attention? I’ve done the AT with one comfortably with no issues and it’s still in great condition, always kept moisture out, had extra cushioning and never slacked enough that I needed a frame — never had a thing said to me about it. People wear converses to thru hike, sometimes they wear no shoes at all! Some people cold soak and others use a cat food can with alcohol as a stove. Some people make their own packs from industrial strength trash bags, some use tarps as tents and hammocks… I understand the push for the UL and other marketed hiking gear, but there’s no downside to using a 50L military pack vs a hiking pack aside from weight, if any difference is there at all.

  3. Paul everest says:

    You really need to update your information it is lacking , the molle packs are very comfortable and will still be in use long after the commercial ones are in the trash, there is a reason for the weight difference, quality.

    • Paris St. Claire says:

      You’re telling me your military-style non-military grade backpack will be in use long after my 20 year old Osprey with lifetime guarantee? Oh honey chile….ya done drank the koolaid.

      • Daniel Kreb says:

        Wow, just wow. Paris St. Claire you’re so ignorant. The MOLLE 2 pack is not a “military-style non-military grade” pack. It’s used by the Army constantly, so it’s military issue, therefore military grade. It’s not a cheapo Amazon Chinese no-name “tactical backpack” that just has PALS webbing and a camo. I 100% guarantee that in a stress test that literally any military-issue pack will out-perform your Osprey. In a survival or SHTF scenario, the fact that it has a “lifetime guarantee,” will be worthless.

  4. James Smith says:

    It may be true that people that people wearing camouflage and carrying a pack like the ILBE might attract attention, but people who are stealth camping on private property, or people who are up to no good, employ reverse psychology and wear non military looking clothing so they don’t raise alarm bells. They say so themselves. I’ve got an ILBE coming from Ebay, can’t wait to get it.

  5. Christopher says:

    There are three primary reasons people use a military or military surplus backpack (and no, Maxpedition is NOT a military backpack). First, military, former military, or military enthusiast, and want to somewhat live that ‘lifestyle’ through hiking with military gear, or just ex-soldiers liking what they like, and being familiar with what they’re familiar with. Second, people looking for durability over what others harp as comfort. Third, people on a budget that will not allow for a good quality pack without spending beyond their means. Like it or not, you can’t compete with any of these points, no matter how you claim military gear is bad. It is (largely) cheaper than comparable civilian equipment, and can also be comfortable.

  6. John says:

    First of all, the ILBE is about 8lb2oz, that’s fully rigged with radio pouch. It CAN be lightened by removing things like the rubber hose handles, or even more by cutting off parts of the sack you don’t want. But that’s something I don’t suggest.

    Here’s the kicker, for the AT, stay light if you will. You’ll never be in any real predicament. But I see far too many ultralighters that skimp on gear and end up quitting because they bought an ultralight pack.

    On the PCT, unless you’re hitting the Sierras at the perfect time, you should carry quite a bit of extra gear for safety. And once you start loading up those civilian packs for 10 days and adding snow shoes, crampons etc, they quickly reach their max limit.

    And NO pack, civilian or military, is comfortable when loaded to it’s max capacity. Add to that, they get much more prone to break once you load them to their max capacity.

    An ILBE will carry 120lbs, but that means that while a civilian pack is at it’s limit at 50or60 lbs, the ilbe is at half capacity. Making it still VERY comfortable, and without comparison to the civ packs.

    In addition, the side mountings means that I can reshape the carry bags for tent and sleeping pad to fit slim and snug on the sides. Keeping weight close to the body. Which means when others are post holing and tipping over because their packs are now looking like pregnant refrigerators. I’m walking on snowshoes, with a weight load MUCH closer to my body center. Meaning I don’t trip as much, i don’t tip when i do, and i don’t have to fight it at every step.

    The Ultralight community is too engrained in their idea that weight is everything they miss the point completely. The RIGHT gear is everything, and having a comfortable way to carry it is paramount.

    I loved being comfortable in the sierras because I had worked half as hard, and carried all the things that they skimped on to stay light. When they were cold, wet, tired and miserable. I was comfortable and warm.

    It doesn’t have to be a military pack, but it’s hard to find a civilian pack at 3lbs that can do what the military packs can.

  7. JQRocks says:

    There are reasons NOT to use Mil pack in hiking. But way more reasons make you want to use them.

    Mil sustainment packs are generally designed for maximal load as 100-125 lbs. While civilian packs are around 50-60 lbs top. You can’t really compare the comfort level with different load. 60 lbs in a USMC FILBE with 1606 frame won’t be that bad than the top-notch civilian packs, if not better.

    Mil pack is very heavy duty, most hikers won’t need 100 + lbs for 3-7 day hiking. But if you have to carry any pack over 70 lbs, you won’t want you backpack fail you in the wildness. Mil packs are being tested every day, their durability has been battle-tested.

    Also Mil pack is way more expensive than civilian pack (2 or 3 times). The reason you think it’s cheap is because you can’t get them from retails. The most common way to get them is through surplus, if you don’t have one issued to you. Surplus most frequently sell used item. So, cheaper.

    As for attention issue… I saw more wild creatures on the trail than human. Didn’t really attract any attention for real. Plus, not all mil pack have camouflage. You can go with solid coyote.

  8. Rob says:

    Here’s my take on packs.
    The contents count more.
    I’d rather haul a 17lb Alice pack than a 22lb osprey. You will feel that extra five lbs. The kidney belt is the only real feature that provides better feel by transmitting weight to your legs and relieving the core. If you focus investment on light weight sleeping system and tent, your big 4 items (Pack, pad, sleeping bag, tent) can easily be under 10lbs. If the loaded pack weighs 10lbs, and has a kidney belt you are way further ahead than if your big four items weigh 15lbs! Then add in your food and water, If you keep all of that under 20lbs and your pack has a Reasonably good kidney belt, you won’t have trouble carrying it no matter what brand it is as long as it’s somewhat durable. That’s my take,
    Packs don’t matter as much as what’s in them.

  9. JJ says:

    I go camping and hiking a lot and I still use and prefer my ALICE pack from 1983!!! best there is in my opinion, tried many but still LOVE my USMC ALICE pack!! I got 4 of them now.

  10. Joe says:

    strange thing is .. I go hiking and most people actually have military backpacks and camo clothes .. so basically I don´t see anyone 😀 full military equipment in my group too … no need for comfort if we do quite hard terrain and need everything as robust as it can get .. the last hike 12 hours in straight rain with ice … I was happy to have all that robust gear .. once I bough civilian shoes for hiking once they got completely wet I mean we went through water 20-30cm deep as it run down the hill … the shoes got easily cut once the material was completely soaked with water … was the last thing I replaced by “military grade” equipment .. also actually there are companies doing military style gear for civilian use so they combine benefits from both sides .. I think neon yellow and orange clothes with backapack draw a lot more attention than my camo jungle setup 😉 But maybe here in Europe it´s a different prefference. Also the hunter gear is great for hiking which also happens to be complete in camo.

  11. Johnny says:

    I think the author should put in you should choose a pack that you’re happy with and what you want it to perform. Both civilian and military packs perform great depending on the user. I got the Osprey and I choose my IBLE over the Osprey anyday. Osprey is a great bag but I can’t throw it around and abuse it. Yeah there’s lifetime warranty and stuff on these civilian made bags but I don’t want it to break down while i’m in the middle of a ruck. I just want to get my miles in, throw my gear down when I’m done and enjoy the scenery. Just bought myself a 511 Rush 72 and field tested on a little 5km packed with just 35lbs and worked great because of the outter pockets. I’m not much into adding molle pouches but it does come in handy when I bring my girlfriend on these rucks because she may need sunblock, moleskin, extra water, etc (usually I’m carrying it) and it’s just easier to access. To me choosing the right pack is the same as choosing the right footwear and socks.

  12. Fred Furner says:

    I am in a militia and since we are all self-funded and volunteer on long search and rescue missions through rough terrain, we’re forced to make considerations for lower cost and functionality. The gear is expensive! What we typically recommend for a 72hr mission is a medium ALICE as the start point. They cost about $60 including the frame at an army surplus store. You do have to dig to find a good LC-2 version, and if you want to spend about $30 in occasional upgrades, you can find lots of great additions from

    Add some compression straps, upgrade the shoulder straps and cummerbund and it becomes a great pack. You can get the sleeping bag carrier to hang below the pack, this will help distribute the weight closer to your body. But just getting a base LC-2 for $60 is really all you need.

    I’ve been using my Medium ALICE which was manufactured in the early 80s now for 3.5 years, with some extreme abuse every 2 months or so, and it just keeps ticking.

    The large ALICE is just massive and doesn’t do a good job of keeping the load close to your body.

  13. Balázs Rappert says:

    So here’s the thing. We have to differentiate from day-hikes and multi-day overnighters. I usually prefer a 20l assault pack for day-hikes as I wouldn’t be carrying too much gear to notice problems in weight distribution. If I stop to grab a quick bite, pun on my rain jacket or extra layer or headlamp, I want my gear organized, and assault packs are excellent for that. They’re designed for in-and-out ‘assault’ situations, and are perfect for day-hikes, as opposed to a 20-30l hiking pack, which is basically one main pouch you end up shoving your stuff into. I really don’t need the hassle of digging through my rain gear, my extra layer, my food, my med kit and everything just to get to one stray energy bar.

    Multi-day overnighters are a different breed. Comfort is key, as your bag will be heavier and you’ll be practically living with it on your back: you have your tent, your sleeping gear, cookware, gas stove, food for the entire trip, powerbank, etc. You end up packing your bag every morning anyway, so you just put the things you’ll need quick access to on the top. Also, stopping to fish something out of the pack isn’t as annoying if it doesn’t matter where you set up your tent.

    I actually own 5 backpacks, all for different purposes: the 20l MIL-TEC Assault pack for day-hikes, a 30l Quechua Air for multi-day hikes, a 10l collapsible Simond pack for multi-pitch climbing routes, a 30l Simond Alpine for long multipitches, ice climbing or mixt routes and a 50l Forclaz Trek 100 for really long trips or when I need to carry both sleeping and climbing gear. SO yeah, always use the right tool for the job.

  14. Dale says:

    Saying that military rucks are by in large not as comfortable as hiking civilian rucks is seriously uninformed. Mystery ranch? Eberlestock? Tactical Tailor? Kifaru? And more I’m forgetting off the top of my head.

  15. bingus says:

    lmao this is literally propaganda to by overpriced hiking bags, don’t be stupid, go with Military quality my friend..

  16. a guy says:

    The only solid point here is the weight, but that can be worked around as others have noted. His main argument is “the attention a military pack will draw and the position that will put you in.” What, other hikers looking at your weird pack? So what? What position? Are they all gonna gang up on you and curb stomp you cause your pack isn’t neon pink and made out of cellophane like everybody else’s?

  17. gorge says:

    I don’t agree, I feel like military backpacks are best for hiking, they have so much space in them, I prefer to use military backpacks for hiking. its comfortable from my perspective

  18. Sandor says:

    For hiking…the large ALICE is not a bad pack. The biggest mistake people make employing the econmical ALICE is in the use of the kidney pad. It is not a waist belt. Next issue is improper packing; poor weight distribution. I am not militery or ex-military so I can not comment on the utility of this pack for that use but I am a backpack hunter and hiker and will say that if this system is utilised correctly it is an excellent option for those on a budget. There are many companies who build better straps as well and I have up straped my ALICE to these and am very happy with the results for my use. It won’t work for everyone but don’t count it out. For all my hunting, hiking, and mountaineering I use two packs. They are the Lowe Alpine Saracen and a modified ALICE. Never lacked for comfort and have spent less than $250 on both packs. I have carried heavy loads (eg. moose quarters) relatively comfortablely in both and didn’t break the bank to do it. Wish everyone one well and great trails.

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