U.S. Armed Forces MOLLE Pack
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $85
Extremely efficient weight transfer to the hips. Very high capacity. Good system called PALS for adding pouches to make items more convenient or to increase volume.
- Weight transfer to hips
- High capacity
- Load stays below neck level, so good for trails with impaired headspace
- People will tease you about it
- Need to pack it so that weight stays forward, but design accommodates that need.
For better copy of this review (with pictures and better formatting) ask me via email JohnLaff (at) gmail (dot) com.
People assume that I am nuts to hike with a backpack that weighs over 10 lbs empty, but I thought I’d outline what I like about the MOLLE II backpack.
The MOLLE II is a standard issue army backpack available online (new) for about $100. It has a very sturdy plastic external frame which conforms well to the shape of the back, a generous set of harness (slash) shoulder straps, a well-padded waist belt and a 3000 cu inch capacity main pack including a front pocket. One would usually add a 1600 cubic inch “sleep system carrier” below the main pack.
It has a great deal of modularity allowing more added components using the PALS attachment system. I use it often with two 500 cubic inch side “sustainment pouches” mounted at shoulder level. With all four of these components, you get about 92 liters of space without overfilling the pack on the top. I would estimate that you can fairly easily add another 500 cubic inches inside the snow collar that can project above the normal top of the pack. (I try to avoid high-loading it and rarely have to.)
The basic 4600 cu inch configuration, without the side sustainment pouches but somewhat overfilled at the top, is shown in the two photos at top right. The picture at middle right shows my own pack with the main pack loaded low and two side-mounted sustainment pouches. Below right is a drawing with two more added components, a daypack (or assault pack, probably 2000 cu inches) rearward of the main pack and a fanny pack below the sleep compartment. That configuration is probably well over 110 Liters (but I would find it awkward).
When I started winter camping I started to need a higher volume pack and usually heavier weights. Once I learned that I could handle the heavier weights on snowshoes, it seemed obvious that just walking with a heavy pack was less of a big deal than I assumed. I started exploring higher volume packs and experimenting with what they allowed me to do. I particularly liked the ability to increase days in the backcountry between resupplies.
I realized that some stuff wasn’t all that heavy, but added volume beyond what a smaller pack would accommodate. I have come to prefer polar fleece over down for clothing because fleece does not absorb water and therefore stays warm even if it gets wet from rain, a fall in water, sweat or whatever. And fleece requires volume. While this factor applies most strongly in the winter, it is nice even in shoulder season backpacking to include pretty bulky fleece wear.
I also find that with higher pack volume I don’t need to compress my down sleeping bag as much as I did with lower pack volumes, which allows it to maintain more loft as the trip progresses. And I can easily carry a closed cell foam sleeping pad when needed and inside the pack rather than lashed on. I also found that once I had a higher volume pack, I was less likely to leave home things I like: a piece of pumice, foot powder and other things that weren’t heavy but were bulky. And there was never a need for “hangers” (other than a pair of socks drying out).
I was worried, of course, by the added weight on the pack. It was about 5 lbs heavier than the packs I was used to. But the sturdy plastic frame and the hip belt (pictured at right) transfer an amazing amount of the weight from my shoulders and torso to my hips and a locking “blast” buckle on the belt keeps it tight for hours of hiking, rather than gradually loosening, as has been my experience with several other packs. It took a bit of accustoming my hips to the added pressure of the belt, but once I did, I estimate that with a 45 lb load inside (55 lbs total) my back and torso is actually carrying less weight than with my old pack, though of course my legs are carrying 5 lbs more.
Think of it this way. It used to be said that a well-designed pack would transfer no more than 20% of weight to the hips and that minimal packs concentrated almost all the weight on the shoulders or torso. If we assume that the minimal pack weighs 2 lbs, the well-designed conventional pack weighs 5 lbs, and with this pack at 10 lbs, the following loads would apply if one filled the pack with 30 lbs of gear, food and water and makes the assumptions below re weight transfer.
weight Empty pack weight Load on legs % wt transfer to hips Load on torso (slash) shoulders
30 2 32 10% 28.8
30 5 35 20% 28.0
30 10 40 50% 20.0
At heavier content weights, the factor becomes more pronounced.
weight Empty pack weight Load on legs % wt transfer to hips Load on torso (slash) shoulders
45 2 47 10% 42.3
45 5 50 20% 40.0
45 10 55 50% 27.5
I find that my legs handle the added 5 lbs of load well and my shoulders and torso are happy to have their load reduced. Wearing the hipbelt tight, which is my preference, and the pack high, virtually no weight is on my shoulders and a quite tolerable load rides on the upper back and on the chest.
The extremely well-padded shoulder harness keeps weight off the top of the shoulders and concentrates it on a broad area of the upper back and on the pectoral area.
I have always preferred external frame packs, but I always acknowledged the truth of one of the standard criticisms of external frame packs – that the load tended to shift around too easily. A slight mis-step often resulted in a shift of the weight on your back, which tended to raise the risk of a stumble turning into a fall. The MOLLE pretty much eliminates that problem. The frame is so stiff and the weight transfer so solid, that the pack just sticks to your back like glue (while still allowing air circulation, keeping you back cooler).
The volume distribution of the pack is quite unusual. Most high-volume packs require you to carry a lot of weight quite high, well above shoulder level. This moves your center of gravity upward and also creates a problem when you have to walk in trees with branches just above head level. If you don’t overfill the MOLLE above its natural top level, all of the pack is below neck level. (See the middle picture on the first page) This also allows you to look over your shoulder when you want to look at something behind you (e.g., a person you are hiking with, or a sound that’s interesting). The MOLLE also avoids low weight. Nothing hangs down at butt level, an uncomfortable problem with some packs. (See the same picture)
The MOLLE avoids high and low weight by having a front-to-back dimension (particularly in the sleep system carrier) which is much deeper than on any other pack I’ve seen. Once again, the picture of my pack at middle right on page 1 illustrates this. This feature worried me until I learned that the pack is designed to allow it to be easily packed with high-weight items kept high and close to the back and high-volume items to fill the lower and rearward parts of the pack.
In filling the sleep system compartment, you just lie the empty pack on the ground with the frame downward and first load the heavy things you need at night – shelter, sleeping pad, ground cloth, maybe some dense food items that you won’t need that day. Then put in the high-volume low-weight items like expedition weight fleece layer, sleeping bag. The weight is thus close to your back, while the volume is in the back.
Once the lower compartment is full with things you won’t need until nighttime, set the pack upright (it will stay upright on the base created by the sleep system). Inside the main pack is an optional internal “radio pouch”, which can be firmly attached centered high and tight to your back, and where you can insert your bearcan filled with your heaviest items (usually food). If you don’t need a bearcan, the radio pouch can just be filled directly with higher weight items. The remainder of the volume of the main pack than can be filled with lighter weight items.
The result is a weight distribution that keeps the center of gravity as close as possible to your natural center of gravity with a pack. While any pack will require somewhat of a forward lean to compensate for weight on the back, this one requires surprisingly little lean (particularly compared to what it looks like).
The Army’s MOLLE system comes with PALS attachment points for various added gear to fit your needs. Most of the components have lash points that corresponds to attachment straps (shown in picture to the right) on a wide variety of available pouches and containers. The lash points create a very tight meld of the pack to the additions so things don’t flop around as you walk.
I prefer to keep some items within easy reach. I keep handy a water bottle, map, compass, GPS (or cell phone), altimeter, pencil and pen, notepaper, suntan lotion, mosquito repellant, sunglasses, binoculars (or camera), and Spot Tracker, all in distinct locations on the hipbelt, shoulder straps or sternum strap. These are items I want to access without the need to stop and take off my pack. I use four standard-issue military pouches -- a mapcase pouch, a canteen pouch (or 200-round SAW gunner pouch) and two different sizes of grenade pouch -- on the hipbelt and several civilian grade attachment devices on the sternum strap and shoulder straps.
The configuration of the pack (especially the wide, flat bottom of the sleep system compartment) makes it easy to just find a convenient rock (or log) and sit on it and let the pack stay attached but with all the weight transferred to the rock. On a longer rest stop, the shoulder straps have a quick release buckle which can be popped open with a pull on a lanyard and easily re-attached afterward. The packframe also makes a quite comfortable backrest to lean against.
In my experience, the buckle on the hipbelt is often a weak point on transferring weight to the hips. The MOLLE has a very sturdy, locking “blast” buckle at the waist that just stays locked in place once you tighten it to your comfort level. I like my hipbelt quite tight, and always previously have slowly had buckles that seem to allow just enough movement that the belt gradually loosens perceptibly, allowing the weight to gradually shift away from the hips and back onto the shoulders.
There is a very large clear map case under the top flap of the main compartment. While this is more than you are likely to need for maps, it provides added water protection to the contents of the main pack and is a convenient place to put your rain jacket for prompt access and so that it doesn’t get all balled up (repeated folding adversely affects raingear’s DWR coating).
For stuff you will need during the day (e.g., lunch) there is a compartment on the back of the main pack that holds items you need to access easily. The side sustainment pouches also provide easy access to gear. (I tend to put kitchen items on one side and toileting, emergency and repair items on the other side.) As noted above, a variety of add-on pouches are available.
The pack is quite waterproof. While I would put any down gear in a waterproof sack where I have a risk of falling into a stream, the pack protects my gear well in pretty heavy rain.
This is definitely “bomber” level for durability. While I carry some replacement buckles in case one breaks, the construction seems about as durable as can be imagined. Army specs call for it to be capable of carrying a 120 lb and surviving a 10 foot vertical drop. I inadvertently put is down once on some volcanic rock that would have torn any normal fabric, and I couldn’t even see any abrasion. It is fair to say that some of the weight of the pack is devoted to more durability than we are likely to need, it’s nice to know that a pack failure is VERY unlikely to spoil your trip. Also, you can probably let your grandchildren inherit it someday.
The parts that might wear out with heavy use (hipbelt, shoulder harness) can readily be replaced from available online sources. Field repair kits for buckles are also readily available online
If you use the two side “sustainment pouches”, your pack will be somewhat wider (left to right) than your shoulders. See picture to right. On my recent nine-day Grand Canyon trip, this once required me to take the pack off to take it through a narrow area between two big rocks on either side of the trail. But it was only that once, and the Grand Canyon trails involve more narrow passages than trails in the Sierra. The fact that the pack stays below neck level (see the same picture) meant that overhangs were less problematic than with a more typically configured high-volume pack, which often rises above head level.
Buckles and closures:
The various buckles and zippers are sized so that they can be opened and closed with gloved hands. They are quite sturdy.
Unfortunately, it is only available in various tones of camouflage. Mine is “Desert tan”.
Note that the current MOLLE large ruck is slightly different than the version reviewed (the 3000 cu inch main pack and the 1600 cu inch sleep system carrier have been downsized and combined into a single divided 3730 cu inch bag). But the version reviewed, with a separate sleep system carrier below the main bag, is the one generally now available for sale cheaply on the Internet at present.
You can see the newer modification of the pack at the link below (though the prices quoted at this site are way higher than you can find elsewhere for the earlier version reviewed in the attachment)
Further information and pictures here:
If you buy it, it will generally arrive as components that you must assemble yourself. Assembly instructions, which will also give you a good view of the pack, are available in this video:
There are variations on the basic MOLLE design for various purposes, various camouflage patterns, and some changes over time. The particular components that for the basis of the above review are listed below. The NSN numbers, in particular, will identify the particular version I reviewed. Note that different camouflage patterns have different NSNs – these are for desert tan:
Packframe (tan) NSN 8465-01-519-6440 DEI P (slash) N #1603 manufactured by Down East, Inc. (I also own an earlier, slightly different, version of the frame in black plastic NSN 8465-01-465-2158)
Shoulder straps NSN 8465-01-491-7513 SP0100-04-D-4183-0007 Lot No 1 manufactured by Specialty Defense Systems
Molded Waistbelt NSN 8465-01-491-7429 SP0100-04-D-4183-0007 Lot No 1 manufactured by Specialty Defense Systems including “Blast buckle” imprinted with “ITW NEXUS ILL 4 Patented”
Main pack 3000 cu inch capacity NSN#8465-01-491-7519 SP0100-04-D-4183-0001
Sleep System Carrier 1600 cu inch capacity NSN# 8465-01-491-7508 SP0100-04-D-4184 (slash) 0001 Date: M10-5-05 (the second-bought MOLLE)
Radio pouch (internal to the main pack) approx 430 cu inch capacity NSN 8465-01-491-7446
2 Sustainment pouches 500 cu inch capacity each NSN 8465-01-491-7511
Canteen (slash) general purpose pouch (I wear this mounted on the hipbelt for binoculars, compass and mosquito repellant) NSN 8465-01-494-0272; 200-round SAW gunner pouch (alternative to canteen pouch), administrative pouch (for maps and writing material) and 2 versions of grenade pouches (fit sunglasses, suntan lotion and Spot Tracker)
Not reviewed, but I also own: Pack cover (IMHO, useless); Waist Pack (aka fanny pack) NSN 8465-01-491-7445 SP0100-04-D-4183-0003 Lot No 1 manufactured by Specialty Defense System: Replacement Buckle Set NSN 8465-01-465-2080
My weight measurements:
- 2 lb 3 oz frame
- 3 lb 10.5 oz frame plus shoulder straps
- 4 lb 13.5 oz. frame, shoulder straps & hipbelt
- 7 lbs 5 oz. add 3000 cu in main pack
- 8 lbs 9.5 oz. add 1600 cu in sleep system
- 9 lbs 3 oz. add internal radio pouch to main pack
- 10 lbs 2 oz add 2 sustainment packs
- 10 lbs 14 oz. - add fanny pack
Feel free to contact me with questions. JohnLadd@gmail (dot) or 415-648-9279.
Misc. additional pictures on following page
Frame Side-mounted sustainment pouches
200-round SAW gunner
pouch (mounts on hipbelt) Field repair buckle set
There are newer and better frames that are stronger polymers than the original. We have a Gen IV and it is good to ~90kgs (factory rating). With the addition of the patrol pack this pack has proven to be quite good for hunting/hiking. One can move whole quarters out on the frame. I might get myself one.
- Newer frames seem very strong (civilian use)
- Configurable pouch system
- When adjusted a very comfortable pack
- Can act as a very good platform for prone shooting (if you hunt)
- The miles of webbing (can be taped up)
- Not an Ultralight system
- Can creek and groan under heavy load (so does the backpacker)
This a good enough backpack for civilian use. I bought one for my son and it's not failed yet.
The pack has some weaknesses, miles of webbing, a stiff feel against the body, and a bit of bounce. It can take a lot of gear for hiking and is comfortable enough to make a 30km day not too taxing beyond just the distance exertion expected.
I have never needed to carry a baseplate for a mortar out hunting or extra rounds for the MG or mortar so I can't attest to the ability of this pack to carry miltary loads but works well for large hunting or hiking loads.
At 30kg it starts flexing a bit, but my son never loads more than 25-30kg loads anyways so it's a good pack for what we do. He likes it and woodland 'flage works well here so it's a fine pack for us.
My pack is a CFP 90 and I love it. My next pack will be the Eberlestock g4, I think.
Design: External frame military ruck
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 45 lb
Height of Owner: 5' 10" & 21" torso
Price Paid: $45
For civilian backpacking, the Molle pack is decent. Everyone says it's not durable enough for military use, but for civvies it's plenty as far as I can tell. I used it this spring for a three day trip in the mountains of North Carolina (the Black Balsam range in Pisgah Nat'l Forest) and I was very happy with it.
First, it's very comfortable. The load sits nicely on your waist with proper adjustment, and the waist belt & shoulder straps are very comfortable. The pack is also very large. Mine has just the main pack and sleeping bag attachment, and that left a ton of room on my short trip in the spring. Actually, there's almost too much room, making over-packing a potential problem if you aren't careful.
The drawstring method of closing the main & sleeping bag compartments is excellent. I've had plenty of cheaper zippers break on me so I prefer the drawstring. You don't have to line up the sides when closing it, and it's quicker to open and close. There's also one zippered top pocket for all the small stuff. It's large enough to hold a lot of snacks, gear, etc. but not so large as to lose things in it.
The general design of the bag is well thought out. The carrying handle on top works well. The main compartment is covered by a waterproof plastic top cover which doubles as a map pocket. There are indeed a lot of straps, but the compression straps are well placed. There is webbing all over as one would expect from a mil-spec bag. I lashed a pouch to the waist strap to use as a camera bag, and it worked quite well for the trip.
It's not designed for a standard internal Camelbak water bladder, but I was able to get mine to work okay (and there are ones designed for it as well). It also doesn't have any mesh side pockets for water bottles, but I carbinered a 1L Nalgene on the side to one of the many compression straps. It wasn't the most convenient thing, but it worked well enough that I was very happy with how it worked.
Well, now to the bad stuff. The Molle has one serious flaw - it's heavy. Not just a little heavy. It weighs a ton. Maybe an entire metric shit-ton. On my bathroom scale, it clocks in somewhere between 8 and 9 pounds. A modern internal frame pack might weigh around 3 pounds, so this is extremely heavy.
Hauling around an extra 6 pounds certainly isn't fun, although the pack is designed to take very heavy loads (and is comfortable doing so). The mountainous terrain especially exacerbates the weight. Our biggest elevation gain was about 4000 feet from the base on my NC trip, with many peaks in there. I had the heaviest pack (~45 lb) out of everyone, and it showed when we were summited several 5000-6200 foot peaks.
For the $45 that I paid, it was a good value. I don't think I would take it on any more mountainous trips though. Beyond the weight issue, it performed admirably. It is certainly more durable than any comparable civilian pack. It gets a '5' for value and a '3' for usability from me, with an overall rating of '4'.
Design: Top-loading, external frame
Max. Load Carried: 80 lbs.
Height of Owner: 6'0"
Price Paid: Issued
I was issued the MOLLE pack the first time I went to Afghanistan in 2002. While the MOLLE holds a great deal more than the traditional ALICE pack and seems to distribute the weight better, there are two significant disadvantages to the MOLLE as used in combat.
The first (and most glaring) disadvantage is the shoddy construction of the plastic frame. After a couple of hikes through the rugged terrain soldiers were breaking the frames on their packs at an alarming rate. Also, because of the way the straps are connected to the frame, soldiers would torque the frame too much when trying to adjust the setup of the main pouches and it would snap. Altogether it seemed that the MOLLE was ill-suited for what has been called some of the most rugged terrain on the planet.
The second glaring disadvantage is the sheer amount of strap material. I was a member of a two-man machine gun crew. Normally a crew has three men to carry the ammunition, tripod, and spare barrel needed for efficient operation of the machine gun, so already my gunner and I were at a disadvantage. Imagine my chagrin when we are suddenly told to displace and I reach for my ammo- and tripod-laden MOLLE...only to yank on the strap and unfurl a foot of nylon before the pack even begins to lift off the ground! I found no efficient way to combat this phenomenon. It just seemed like every time I thought I had the problem solved, I would try to lift my pack and do one of those funny motions that you do when you grab something that's not as heavy as you think it is as the strap runs its course through the MOLLE frame. After I managed to get it on my back, I'd have to walk for some distance with the pack hanging from my shoulders at a 45-degree angle because the straps were too long.
This time, when I have to go traipsing around the mountains near Pakistan, I take along my good old ALICE pack.
Height of Owner: 6'0"
Price Paid: $50
This pack is perfect for what I purchased it for. I was looking for a high capacity, heavy duty pack for elk hunting. Specifically I wanted something to haul 4 quarter bags (heavy canvas ones), field butchering kit including hatchet, saw and knife, my heavy Woolrich hunting coat (which fits perfectly in the sleep system carrier), para cord and a few snacks, Nalgene bottles and odds and ends. This pack does all of that with plenty of room to spare.
If I'm fortunate enough to harvest an elk this fall, I'll use this as my day pack and switch to my freighter frame to quarter it out. This pack would have been a value at twice what I paid for it. I'm going to purchase another one in digital camo.
Also, my Gerber LMF II knife fits perfectly on the waist belt using the MOLLE attachments.
Size: Standard issue
Number of Pockets: too many
Max. Load Carried: Can't handle 75 lbs.
Height of Owner: 66"
Price Paid: ISSUED
This pack is useless. Anyone who gives this pack a good rating or spends money on it has no clue. The MOLLE is too big for one. All of the pockets and straps are overkill. Marine mortarman such as myself would testify that this pack cannot handle the weight of a crew served weapon. Especially since the baseplate of the mortar must be strapped to the back of the pack for long distance movements. The ALICE pack is much more practical.
The only thing good I have to say about the MOLLE is the little "Assault Pack" that attaches to it. It is lightweight and perfect design for a quick assault allowing you to carry just what you need: smokes, ammo, water, and more smokes. I managed to hold on to mine and I still use it all the time in the civilian world. I also have an ALICE and I use it to go camping and hiking.
Design: External Frame, Top Loading
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 120 pounds
Height of Owner: 6 ' 0 "
Price Paid: Issue
More comfortable than the old ALICE pack and the system for attaching accessories to the pack is great. However, the pack is too heavy (not that the weight bothers me, it's just I would rather save it for ammo, food, and water) and does not have enough internal capacity. The design of the main compartment is not conducive to the inclusion of most comm gear. The frame is not strong enough to stand up to the abuse of field operations. Mine broke in two places and that was just the result of airline baggage handlers. I am not looking forward to what is going to happen to it in actual combat.
If you have to spend your own money on this, look elsewhere!
Size: 3000 CUBIC INCHES
Number of Pockets: Alot
Max. Load Carried: 67lbs
Height of Owner: 5'4''
Price Paid: $546
THE U.S. ARMY MILITARY MOLLE PACK IS A GOOD PACK FOR CAMPING, HUNTING, HIKING,A ND IT'S MODULAR. THE PACK CONSISTS OF A LOAD BEARING VEST, FRAME, SHOULDER STRAPS, MAIN RUCKSACK, WAIST BELT, M-16 AMMO BADOLIER,RADIO POCKET, 2 SUSTAINMENT POUCHES, SLEEP SYSTEM CARRIER, AND A PATROL PACK. THIS PACK IS A VERY BIG PACK AND CAN GET HEAVY, BUT I RECOMMEND IT TO HUNTERS AND CAMPERS WHO ARE GONE FOR A WHILE.
ALSO THE GOOD THING ABOUT IT BEING MODULAR IS ALL THE POCKETS ARE REMOVEABLE SO YOU CAN TAKE ONLY WHAT YOU NEED. THE PACK COMES IN WOODLAND CAMO AND CAN BE PURCHASED AT WWW.SPECIALTYDEFENSE.COM.MOLLE STAND FOR Modular Llghtweight LOAD-carrying EQUIPMENT.
Price Paid: FREE
The previous reviewer must have worn this pack to the tent in his backyard. The MOLLE system is useless. The frames crack, the main pack is way to small, and the equipment is not durable.
As a Marine I have other serious problems with the gear too. The pack strap locations are such that you are sure to cut circulation off to your arms when wearing a flak. It actually comes with a video for instructions. That tells you how easy to use it is.
Don't waste your money.
Number of Pockets: A lot
Max. Load Carried: 103 lbs
Height of Owner: 6'2"
Price Paid: issued
The MOLLE Pack is great. Its modularity helps better organize your equipment. The only bad part about it was the frame. Eagle Industries/Down East Inc have a new frame that is stronger, lighter, and more versatile. If you buy a MOLLE don't buy it without the new Eagle Industries fourth generation frame.
Size: 3500 + 1000 + x
Max. Load Carried: 30 pounds
Height of Owner: 5'8"
I own the MOLLE II ruck, sleep system carrier, and patrol pack. I find it very good for general civilian hiking and camping. The waist-belt/shoulder straps are well designed and let you carry a large load easily.
Number of Pockets: Alot
Max. Load Carried: 80-90 lbs
Height of Owner: 5'9''
Price Paid: ISSUE
The U.S. Military Molle Pack is an okay rucksack. I personaly like this rucksack, it is more comfortable than past packs like the Alice Pack. Its organization is great. The LBV is great. I like this pack."
Number of Pockets: 3 on main ruck
Max. Load Carried: 87 lbs
Height of Owner: 5'8''
Price Paid: issue
The MOLLE pack is a worthless piece of crap. The plastic frame breaks under pressure too often. There are too many straps and not enough organization. If you want a good military ruck get an ALICE pack.
Where to Buy
The U.S. Armed Forces MOLLE Pack is not available from the stores we monitor.
You may be able to find it new or used at one of these sites:
Retailers: Do you sell this product? List your site here.