This review we’ve put together for the best ILBE assault pack variations is a little different from how we normally review items. ILBE stands for Improved Load Bearing Equipment, and it was issued to the United States Marine Corps in 2004. The original packs included a main backpack, the smaller assault pack, and a hydration bag.
The ILBE pack set was retired by the Marines in 2012, which is why they’re available to the general public now – but they don’t come cheap! If you can get your hands on the assault pack, or any of the full set in general, they’re great bags for serious campers and hikers. They’re also just great memorabilia items for anyone collecting this type of gear.
The assault pack is the perfect size to utilize as a regular backpack, and it’s comfortable to lug around some heavy equipment. The brand Arc’teryx created a civilian version of the assault pack shortly after the ILBE sets were issued to the U.S. Marines, but it was discontinued not too long after. This is partially why you won’t find a ton of options online, and many you will find will be gently used. We did a little digging around to find the best listings for the ILBE assault pack, but we also selected some other options as well that include the full ILBE set or just parts of it.
Materials – We thought we’d start our readers off with the main pack that was included in the original ILBE set. This is not the assault pack, but it includes MOLLE webbing across the front to attach the assault pack and plenty of other attachable gear. There’s additional MOLLE webbing on the sides of the main pack with buckle clips as well. You’ll find several zippered compartments throughout the design. Internally, there is a metal frame, which allows the pack to maintain its structure. It can hold up to 120 pounds of weight. This means there is quite a bit of foam padding throughout the design as well. The back of the pack has a highly padded surface to protect your back, and there is a specially padded area to protect the lower back in particular. Also, to support the weight, is the thick waist strap. All nylon straps included at the waist and the shoulders are fully adjustable, so you can carry your pack throughout the afternoon.
Performance – While this is not the assault pack, if you believe a regular backpack-sized pack won’t suit your needs, then you’ll want to purchase the main pack. Even if you don’t need all that space, this is an awesome collector’s piece to get your hands on. 120 pounds of storage is quite a lot, so consider this if you enjoy camping for a week at a time. You could even store an entire group’s items in one pack. With the thoughtful amount of padding, you can carry the pack as you need to, and that lower back support will really see you through some long afternoons.
What we say – The USMC ILBE pack is the best choice for those who need more than just a back pack and like to go on extended hiking or camping trips. This happens to look great with your collection of military gear you keep in your office too!
- Plenty of padding and lower back support
- Three sides of MOLLE webbing
- Holds up to 120 pounds of gear
- Very large and bulky
- Carry 70 Liters/ 120 lbs
- Internal Metal Frame with External Foam Padding
Materials – This is the pack that will be easiest for you to find online and the most popularly purchased part of the full ILBE pack set. The approximate sizing of the assault pack is just over eighteen inches in height, eleven inches in width, and ten inches deep. It is MOLLE compatible, and it attaches to the main pack of the ILBE set. There is also MOLLE webbing on the front of the assault pack, intended to carry even more additional gear. While it does not include the issued hydration system, it does have the exit holes, and you can fashion your own hydration system to go inside. There are multiple adjustable nylon straps and buckle closures for adding gear to the sides of the assault pack. You can also adjust straps as needed so it fits securely and tightly to your body. The shoulder straps have quick release buckles, and there’s even a nylon handle at the top of the pack, for when you don’t want to carry it on your shoulders.
Performance – There are plenty of good reasons to purchase the ILBE assault pack. It is the perfect size to be carried comfortably through an entire day, even if you’re engaged in a lot of physical activity, but it can still carry quite a lot of items. Keep clothes and personal things in the main compartment, and you can really get creative with the MOLLE webbing and extra storage space for everything else. Quick release buckles will make it easy to let your things go if you ever need to. The assault pack is like the happy medium between the serious camper or simple, every day use.
What we say – The ILBE assault pack is the most ideal part of the ILBE set for the average enthusiast. It’s good for camping/hiking or simply transporting some items.
- Perfect backpack size
- Quick release buckles
- Plenty of MOLLE webbing
- Have to fashion your own hydration system
- MOLLE II compatible
- Adjustable sternum, waist and quick release shoulder straps
- Hydration system tube exit holes
Materials – To put it quite simply, this option combines the main pack and the assault pack from the ILBE set. Everything is the same, from the materials and extra add-ons here and there. There is also a noticeable price difference, once you combine the two items together. The metal frame and loads of foam padding will still make this a comfortable duo to carry for long-distance or long term travelling.
Performance – There is a point where such a massive amount of storage space in two bags seem unnecessary. For campers or travelers, we suggest using the main pack as your main storage system for all your essentials or larger gear. Then, you can utilize the smaller assault pack for your daily travels. Expecting anyone to carry around both packs throughout the day seems pretty silly, but this pair can offer you quite a lot of versatility.
What we say – The main pack and assault pack duo from Arc’teryx is the best option for those who don’t own carrying cases or luggage. You’ll have a main storage system and an everyday carrying pack that will make the perfect combination.
- Can use large pack for long distance travels and small pack for every day
- Plenty of back support when carrying
- Extra space won’t be necessary for everyone
Materials – Finally, we’ve come to the full and complete set of the USMC ILBE pack. This is the only option listed that includes the hydration system with the main and assault pack. Surprisingly, this is a brand new set that has never been used. Since we’ve covered all the detail on the main and assault pack, we’ll discuss the hydration system. It is a three liter sized bag, and it has four quick release buckles for attaching to MOLLE webbing or anywhere else you can strap it to. The nylon straps with the buckles are adjustable, so it won’t hang low when it’s full of water. There is a single drinking tube that runs from the top of the system, which can fit through the slots the were specifically designed for it in the matching assault pack.
Performance – If you have the money, it would be very worthwhile to purchase the complete set of all three pieces. Even if you don’t need it for your own personal use, it’s a great set to own in a collection of United States Marine Corps gear. However, the hydration system is a very handy piece. Paired with the assault pack, you can have the perfect combo for long days outdoors without running out of provisions.
What we say – The full ILBE Gen 2 set is the best choice for serious collectors as well as for those who believe they could really benefit from having the hydration system.
- Includes all three pieces
- Never used
- Hydration system includes quick release buckles
- Very expensive
- Marpat Main Pack
- Marpat Assault Pack
- Source hydration
Our Favorite ILBE Assault Pack
For the sake of this review, the best choice for most of our readers would be to purchase the assault pack only. You can still find some new, never used versions of this online, but most you find will have been gently used. With that detail aside, the assault pack is the one piece from the ILBE set that would be the most useful to everyone without being overkill on weight and storage space.
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