Tactical Fitness: What Type of Rucksack Should You Get for Training?

A service member takes a ruck-march test.
A service member from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and Naval Postgraduate School took the ruck-march test for the German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, Oct. 9, 2021. (Winifred Brown/U.S. Army photo)

Do you have any recommendations for a good rucksack for training? I am not sure if I should be using an ALICE pack, frame or no frame, hip strap, chest strap, etc. I hope you can share insight into what pack or features I should be looking for to train effectively.

ALICE rucksack.

When it comes to rucksacks, there are many options to prepare for Army, Ranger, special forces, SEAL, the U.S. Marine Corps and other schools that require rucking as part of their training. The all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment (ALICE) pack is primarily used in training programs for the USMC and some National Guard units. It is a pretty basic model that is useful but not one of the most comfortable from which to choose. You can find inexpensive surplus ALICE packs on eBay for relatively nothing with and without the frame.

ALICE packs have been replaced by modular lightweight load-carrying equipment (MOLLE) and MOLLE II packs. They are used by most Army, NATO and British forces. The USMC flirted with the MOLLE but developed its own similar, larger version called the improved load-bearing equipment, or ILBE.

The MOLLE and the IBLE are more expensive than the ALICE, but more comfortable and carry much more weight and equipment. You can find these online for good prices on eBay and tactical gear stores.

MOLLE 2 rucksack.

Depending on the service for which you are training, you may see a few of these during your training pipeline. A final option is to get a 40- to 50-pound weight vest and train with it to get used to rucking and walking with the added weight.

Personally, I am not a fan of the frame but prefer the waist and chest straps for stability. All of the models are reasonably priced for what you are getting. I like the weight-vest option for training, but you will need to learn how to make your ruck fit you better by practicing your rucking. If you are going to spend several hours with 50-plus pounds on your back, you need to get to know your pack.

IBLE rucksack.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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