Bug Out Pack Review: The All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (A.L.I.C.E. Pack)

I wish I had $1 for every time someone mentioned or had a question about the military ALICE Pack.  This Bug Out Bag Review Post is long overdue.  In my experience with discussing the ALICE pack with survivalists, campers, soldiers and outdoors men and women, there seems to be very strong feelings about this pack – either people love them or hate them.  I’ve used an ALICE pack before for short overnights but never really put it through the rigors of a potential Bug Out Scenario or hiked with it fully loaded as a 72-Hour Kit.

So, with BUGGING OUT in mind, this post is a review of the MEDIUM Military ALICE Pack as a potential Bug Out Bag.

First, the specs:

  • Main compartment 19 inches x 11.5 inches x 9.5 inches
  • Three pouches (5 inches x 2.5 inches x 9 inches)
  • Main compartment capacity (approximately): 34 litres (2075 cubic inches)
  • Total capacity (approximately): 39.52 litres (2412 cubic inches) – this is maximum volume of all the compartments
  • Separate pouch inside large main compartment
  • Accessory loops for storing extra gear (12 on the top front under top flap, 2 on bottom, 3 on each side)
  • Capacity: 39.5 litres / 2413 cubic inches
  • Material/Fabric: Nylon

Size/Space

As I transferred over the contents from my existing BOB to the Medium ALICE for my 6 mile test hike, it was quite clear that everything wasn’t going to fit.  I normally recommend Bug Out Bags being in the 3000 cubic inch range and the Medium ALICE comes in at around 2400.  I now completely understand why the ALICE pack was traditionally paired with a Belt & Keeper system shown in the illustration below.

This system was designed to carry a variety of items including canteens, entrenching tools and ammunition pouches.  However, when you pair these two items together, you look exactly like a classic soldier – not really a look I’m going for in a Bug Out.  Thus, if using the ALICE pack as a BOB, I would opt not to use the Belt System.  However, the ALICE pack does come in a LARGE size which is about 3800 cubic inches – plenty big for a BOB.  So if after reading this post you decide you might want to try the ALICE – I might suggest the LARGE over the MEDIUM as a primary BOB.

Pack Design

The ALICE pack was built with one purpose in mind – rugged performance.  Field tested by countless soldiers around the world, the ALICE has earned its reputation as a rugged beast of a pack.  With that said, it is a NO FRILLS pack.  Don’t expect the posh features and design of a recreational back-pack.

The Medium Alice has 1 Main compartment with 1 inside pocket, 3 outside pouches and 1 flat velcro pocket on the flap.  it is not hydration compatible but you could probably rig one using the large pocket inside of the main compartment.

The side of the pack does have several webbing loops (top, middle,bottom) which can serve as lashing points.  The middle webbing is horizontal and the top/bottom loops are vertical and though not designed to be MOLLE compatible you can still strap on MOLLE pouches.

The above photo is a view from the bottom of the pack.  Especially with the MEDIUM ALICE, you will have to strap your tent/tarp and foam pad to the bottom of the pack.  There is webbing on the bottom of the pack to help with this.  You can also use the aluminum frame as a lashing point as well.

Speaking of the frame, notice the pack in these photos is mounted to an aluminum frame.  You can use the ALICE pack without the frame but don’t waste your time – especially with loads of 40 lbs or more – it is really uncomfortable.  The frame helps to distribute the weight and makes a HUGE difference with heavy loads.  It also keeps the pack away from your back – which is nice in warm weather.

The ALICE pack isn’t the most comfortable pack in the world.  I can certainly tell the difference in the padded straps and hip belts versus some of my other recreational back-packs.  For extended hikes, this is important.  For this post, I hiked about 6 miles in the medium ALICE with about 35 lbs of gear and the comfort level was manageable, but less than desirable.

I’m used to easy access bottle pockets and without the belt accessory to carry a canteen, you pretty much have to take off the pack to get a drink of water unless you’ve jerry-rigged a hydration system.  This was a huge frustration for me.

My biggest frustration with the ALICE pack was the strap closures and adjustments.  I hate those OLD SCHOOL metal strap adjusters and closures where you have to feed the webbing in and out of the metal buckle to get open or adjust a pocket.  It is ridiculously time consuming and frustrating and nearly impossible in cold weather with gloves on.  I much prefer modern squeeze buckle closures.  Fortunately, the 3 pouches on the ALICE at least have snap closures but I hate snaps too.  The main compartment is controlled by the old school metal adjusters.

 

Bottom Line

The bottom line is I LIKE the Medium ALICE pack, but I don’t think I’ll be switching it to my BOB anytime soon.  I certainly wouldn’t turn it down or turn my nose up at it as a BOB, but it’s not my first pick.  Unlike many others I spoken with, I do not LOVE or HATE the ALICE pack.  In general I really like it, with a couple frustrations that would prevent me from getting too excited.  It would be a great secondary BOB for an additional family member.  The ALICE pack has been been phased out by MOLLE Packs in most of the military branches.  Thus, surplus units can be found on-line or in military surplus stores for a very affordable price – typically $60-$80.  This is an excellent value if your style is to go with a traditional military style pack versus a modern recreational style pack.  Everyone has different preferences and the fact is that some people just like and prefer military gear and some don’t.

As I’ve said many times before, choosing a BOB is a very personal decision and the fact is that MANY different types and styles of packs will work.

 

Medium ALICE Pack Pros/Cons

Pros:

  • Built to last
  • Rugged & Tough
  • Versatile
  • 2 sizes (both sizes mount on the same frame)
  • Proven by 1000s of soldiers in the field
  • Very affordable
Cons:
  • Not the most comfortable pack on the market
  • Old school metal adjusters and closures
  • No easy access pockets for bottles, etc.

If anyone is interested in picking up a Surplus Medium ALICE pack – we have a few in stock for $65.  Here is the link: http://willowhavenoutdoor.com/store/products/medium-surplus-military-alice-pack/

I know some of you LIKE the ALICE packs and some of you HATE the ALICE packs.  Help others reading this post make an informed decision by sharing your thoughts and personal reviews in the comments section.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

Creek

Comments

  1. Brent Davis says:

    The last time I used the traditional ALICE pack was in Boot. I will still take that over the crap that is issued these days. BUT the cons that were mentioned above have been resolved by BLACKHAWK’s own version of the ALICE pack, the S.O.F. Ruck Pack. I’ve used the S.O.F. Ruck for several deployments; from urban streets to mountainous terrain. It is hands down the best ruck for the job. Just the right amount of padding, extremely durable, easy to replace or rig up parts to make it operational again, and plenty of internal and external pockets for organizing.

  2. Patrick says:

    Hey Creek

    About the strapping buckles, you could buy the push clips (that im also a fan of) and then just replace them on the pack, and a needle and thread can secure the female clip to the strap, just a thought if your not happy with the current strapping.

  3. Steve Ayers says:

    I have worn an ALICE pack for 26 years. I prefer the Large one as you can fit everything in it. I was issued the medium one in Korea but after one trip to the field invested in the large one. After the year was over I decided to weigh my pack as I had avoided that due to knowing that it would be in the back of my mind going up the mountains "Why did I pack so much!". The weight was 96 pounds that I carried on week long field trips, up mountains and across creeks. At the time I weighed 150 pounds. It got alot lighter when they took my machine gun (26 pounds +30 pounds of ammo) away. I am not saying it was comfortable but you get used to the pain and it goes numb after 4 days.

  4. David Jones says:

    First a little background so you understand that this comes from one who’s “been there – done that”. I spent 22 years in the Army and saw the evolution from the Vietnam era small ruck to the system you are referring. I was an infantryman in the 82nd and then 3ID in germany and then a medic with Special Forces. After retirement I took my son’s Boy Scout troop to Philmont and both my boy and I carried medium rucks on the frame. I carried 75 lbs. at Philmont which was a lot less than I carried on most missions with SF.
    In SF, I had more options and chose the pack by the mission but for most missions it was still my pack of choice. The two biggest advantages were first the ventilation afforded by the frame/pack offset. Our area of operation was SE Asia and it made a great deal of difference in the heat. The second advantage was the frame. I would mount my aid bag on the same fram as my ruck. Overall it’s a decent system for overland travel, but it isn’t right for all operations. For instance, don’t try mountain climbing with it.
    As for the canteen issue, in the military I had my LBE to carry canteens. With the Boy Scout trip I mounted 2-2 qt. canteens to the lower webbing on each side of the ruck; this made them easier to get to, but you still needed someone to put them away for you.

  5. matt says:

    I spent my time in uniform,in Korea I was a Scout,with the 1/503 Inf.
    We were issued the CFP-90 pack which was alright.
    I really liked my LBE,it had 4 m-16 ammo pouches,which only 2 carried ammo-the others held “pogie bait”
    or snack foods trail mix,can of soda,etc.
    It also had 2 canteens each with a ss canteen cup,and lastly it held a old time canvas butt pack which held
    a small stove with a butane cylinder,3 packs of real Korean ramen noodles,odd parts of MRE’s and sometimes my poncho liner,with my poncho tied up and attached to the bottom.
    I was confident I could go with just my LBE for three or so days,living by our “travel light,freeze at night”
    motto.

  6. I own the large A.L.I.C.E. pack and have recently added a medium sized one where the straps, belt, and kidney pad have been upgraded with M.O.L.L.E. straps, kidney pad, and such. Much more comfortable for carrying. Since, because of my wife's poor health, we could never bug out on foot, everything would be thrown into a vehicle and we'd have to drive out of here. No choice really.

  7. Joe says:

    I am an Eagle Scout and have been on 3 tours overseas. I have considerable experience with hiking and backcountry, as well as military equipment. My question/concern is that in a bugout scenario does someone really want to identify themselves with military equipmement? It could cause people to think the person is possibly prior military or at least identifies with that culture. I think using military equipment, especially a ruck, screams “I am prepared”. Is this something you want others to think of you if a real situation occurs?

    My thought is that the civilian world offers much better equipment for the same purposes (albeit far more expensive). I think if you can afford it then you should avoid military equipment with only a few exceptions. I would hope this allows you to fly under the radar.

  8. michelle says:

    My first BOB was an ALICE pack, but now I am looking to upgrade especially since I’m noticing that as I add more items to my bag, I have less room to fit it all in. Also, if I am in a situation where i need something, getting to it would be a problem. As a starter BOB, the Alice pack is sufficient especially since I gor mine on sale from the local army surplus store.

  9. Michael Hargis says:
  10. Steve Smull says:

    I used the medium Alice pack in Nam! 69 to 70. Got to like it after I made a few changes to it. Making it easy to get my water. Adding straps to the sides so I can tie things to each side. On the top added a few straps so I could carry a banket wraped up in my poncho. In the front I added a few straps to carry my entrenching tool. Hooked my 2 knives to the front straps! It served me great! So I did buy one for my BOB. But had my wife do some alternations to it. She is a seamstress, so that helps.

  11. Seath Stevenson says:

    Having been in the service I have use both A.L.I.C.E. as well as MOLLE and the both have there Pros/Cons. Most Cons can be fixed/changed if you have some IMAGINATION. I currently use a large ALICE pack which has been modified to include a 2.0L Hydration Pack. I do include a modified belt system to make it easier to get to my water. Currant issue cantens have a special cap that can except a hydration tube which I have on a 2qt that is also attached to my pack for those long trips (like the AT). With a lot of thought and extra planning the ALICE pack is one of the best and cheapest BOB that can be assembled. Althought I do agree it could be a Big Red Flag in a actual Bug Out Situation. I and my Family will be armed so that should keep the unprepared back at lease until were either out of ammo (which would take some time) or the situation has pasted. I just hope it won’t come down to hurting other to protect Me and Mine but that is what we are Trained To Do.
    HOORAY!!!

  12. Bruce says:

    Great review – looks like I can skip testing this pack out for myself.

  13. Ronald P. Collier says:

    The shoulder straps and waist belt can be upgraded with the MOLLE counterparts cheaply. The main straps are easy to retrofit with the common side release buclkes either by simply trimming the ends of them so they can be untreaded from the buckles and either thread the new lashing straps into the old buckles or sew them on in place of the old buckles. The snaps are not so easy as they require sewing the new straps in their place. The lashing straps are also cheap and readily available. For more storage on the medium ALICE add a MSS (modular sleep system)carrier to the bottom. Also a cheap mod and adds a huge amount of storage.

    • Ronald P. Collier says:

      Also added a sustainment pouch on both sides for even more storage.

    • Xavier C says:

      Ronald you can replace the metal hardware with side-release fastex buckles without sowing. Supply Captain carries field expedient repair buckles that slide-in. You will have to cut the metal buckles with a Dremel tool and be careful not to cut the straps.

  14. I don't really understand the problem with the closure system. The 3 smaller pockets have the snaps; the internal "radio" pocket is a spring-lever (this is the only one I can see being a problem at times); and as for the two straps for the large compartment, I've never unfed them from the metal – no matter how full I've stuffed my bag I can still get in it by just loosening the straps and moving them to the side. One thing I noticed is you don't have little loop ties on each of the metal parts for the strap – that's a HUGE help for loosening the straps, especially if you have cold/numb hands.

  15. Ken says:

    Great Review! One pointer to guys new to using an ALICE that is important for having it last, NEVER sit on it frame down. If you have to sit on your ruck, which I don’t recommend, make sure it is frame up. While that frame is pretty tough, I have carried 150-200 lbs loads without issue, I can’t count the number of frames I have seen bent completely out of shape, with folks complaining about comfort, because they used the ruck as a chair with the frame on the deck. I have to say I love the ALICE, though my usual is a heavily modified large ruck, but as the ruck itself goes, they can be heavy and that needs to be factored in on the total weight, I have smaller/lighter rucks for when I don’t need to carry heavy loads. That being said, if you have to carry heavy loads, you usually need a heavy pack to take the load.

  16. Victor says:

    My father was Navy BUT he had to use the A.L.I.C.E. pack on “leave” he told me to clip the A.L.I.C.E. attachments (canteen, knife, ect.)to the waist belt for added space.

  17. Xavier C says:

    The ALICE is fine with a few modifications. Replace the straps with the MOLLE ones as mentioned before, and replace the metal hardware with plastic replacements like MOLLE gear uses.they make some that you can install without sowing, just cut out the metal ones. Once you adjust the straps you can just pop clips. If you really want you can replace the aluminium frame with a plastic airborne frame. This works for both Medium and Large ALICE. You can hang two canteens to the MOLLE waist belt if you wish.

  18. Lee Harbert says:

    238546 9837light bulbs are very good for lighting the home but stay away from incandescent lamps because they produce so considerably heat;; 669782

  19. I'm a former Marine – after 27 years of using different civilian pack systems I've gone back to the ALICE system – I've solved all the issue mentioned in this write-up – I've upgraded the waist belt to the molle II which has molle webbing which allowed me to add a mollee II canteen pouches….( I use two 32 OZ Nalgene canteens which work with my old school USGI canteen cup and stove – then also picked up the Heavy Cover lids – A nice compact cooking set-up) – Added the MARPAT ILBE lid (came up with a great way to do that which allows for the zipper to open from the back of the pack which I prefer) – On the side webbing I mounted two Mollee II sustainment pouches (these can be removed as you use what's in them) – Above the three outside pockets I mounted the Molle II waist pack (I can fit my Keen sandals and my SCHF1 – which has a decent survival kit attached to the sheath and there is still room left for more stuff) – I did the quick release buckle upgrade for the two main straps and added a sternum strap – Also went with the woodland cammo shoulder straps which have a longer padded area – In my opinion these improvements have transformed the Medium ALICE pack into a great BOB – Feel free to click through the next 5 to 11 snapshots to see how it works (the entire picture folder is my journey) :)

    https://www.facebook.com/LosAngelesurbansurvivalandpreparedness/photos/a.659266154093372.1073741858.653205678032753/728995673787086/?type=3&theater

    BTW, I love Creeks book and have purchased several for friends