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The evolution of the humble field pack (part2)

The evolution of the humble field pack (part2)

One would think that a country’s soldiers would be afforded the very best equipment that could be provided them. Up until the 2001 Australia like a number of our close allies received the very best training in the world, some of the most advanced weaponry, but the worst large field packs. In the field, the soldier’s packs are their home and everything for their comfort, survival and efficiency must be carried on their backs. Throughout World War 1 and World War 2, the packs carried by the soldiers were nothing more than bags with straps sewn into them . They were made from cotton, they became saturated in the rain and their carrying capacity was limited. The evolution of the army’s backpacks was slow and in the early 1980s, the ALICE pack was developed by the US. Although an improvement over the preceding models, the full packs on long marches became uncomfortable and chafing not to mentioned the dreaded popped rivet after a not so soft jump. Uncomfortable, broken soldiers are inefficient soldiers and being miserable is a good road to failure. Finding a Better Solution after September 11, 2001, Australia as with most modern armies started the Rapid Fielding Initiative to equip their warfighters with the best state of the art equipment to enhance their mobility, lethality and survivability in the fields of Afghanistan and Iraq. As part of this initiative, the MOLLE pack was developed. M.O.L.L.E. stands for ‘modular lightweight load carrying equipment’. It is constructed of 1000 Denier Cordura, it has an external pack frame, a shoulder strap assembly, waist belt and a quick release. The main rucksack is 3000 cu in. and houses the Gortex sleeping system, night vision goggles, gps, personal items and body armour. There are pouches for grenades, a hydration bladder that eliminates canteens and there is a separate assault pack to carry extra ammunition. The MOLLE pack has seen extensive service by all nations involved in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. However, soldiers in the field voiced criticisms of certain aspects of the MOLLE design. For example, the external plastic frame of the main pack was prone to breakdown under field conditions and a number of lower back injuries were attributed to the ball-and-socket mechanism between the frame and waist-belt. In addition, the straps were too short to accommodate body armor. Since 2001 the search for the optimal field pack has continued. The Australian model it seems to have largely followed for better or worse the US model of bigger, wider, more pouches for the field pack large. The experience of the civilian mountaineering world seems to have been largely excluded or ignored. The revolution in the civilian world in both type of materials used for both frames and bag and the frame sizing has very much left defense in its shadow. The days of one size fits all and the thought process that a pack has be 1000D to be robust enough is very much gone the way of the dodo. The Crossfire DG family of packs begin to represent the innovation of the civilian mountaineering into the military environment. Will be continued in part 3

British Commando Bergan Bergen

Learning from the past is important as they say otherwise you’ll repeat the same mistakes . Can we learn from old traditional designs, or techniques and apply them to modern design? Are all earlier design’s and technology inferior? External frame backpacks are interesting not only of their more versatile modularity, but also because the structural component of the pack is clearly visible and offers a great opportunity to explore structural innovation. New technology and new materials open new opportunities. The civlian back country/mountaineering community have generally been at the cutting edge of pack innovation with the mantra “every gram counts”. From the first recognised commercially made external frame in 1952 when Asher “Dick” Kelty started the Kelty brand from their garage in Glendale, California. One of the biggest innovators in backpack design, Kelty was not only one of the first to produce and market external-frame back packs specifically for civilian use, but Kelty is also considered to be the inventor of the rectangular aluminium framed backpack, the hip belt, using nylon, adding zippers to the pack pockets and the padded shoulder straps Jump forward a few years and the emergence of The ALICE (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) load bearing system, was adopted as United States Army on 17 January 1973 to replace the M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE). A simple pack that took-pretty much ANYTHING you threw at it. Its critical vulnerability being the allumnium frame and the dreaded rivet pop.

Pack Tips

Since then there has been variants of the ALICE Frame that have come and gone in plastics, metal, polymers but all still largely drawing on the tech and innovation of the original 1973 adopted system. Jump forward to 1985 and Ian Malley’s WE SAS Pack a design and pack out of left field that was widely accepted and adopted across big army.

Clam Shell2