U.S. Military ILBE Pack
The ILBE Pack has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best expedition packs for 2020.
Reviewers Paid: $100.00-$118.00
Comparison of the USMC ILBE vs Eberlestock v90 Battleship backpacks with the focus on winter camping usage.
- Heavy almost indestructible military backpack
- Very large
- Carries 120 pounds
- Lots of webbing to attach gear
- Comfortable well designed internal frame
- Many YKK zippered pockets
- Expensive—can find used though
- ILBE is now found only used
- The ILBE Assault pack is not recommended for winter
For Winter Camping and Expeditions you need a really HUGE backpack.
I own both the Eberlestock v90 Battleship and a USMC ILBE pack. I shall compare and contrast these with emphasis on winter camping.
Both packs have online reviews on military use, hunting, and expeditions.
Both packs have good reviews on TRAILSPACE.
The Eberlestock v90 Battleship pack is well known for expeditions, military, hunters, and "preppers" as a bug out bag. There are many YouTube videos. It is not so well known as a winter camping bag. This is a huge backpack. Rugged and well suited for winter camping for two or more days.
ILBE front and back Main Pack only
The more well known ILBE bag was built for the US Marines. Troops found the Integrated Load Bearing Equipment (ILBE) backpack's belts interfered with protective plates. That is why it was discontinued. The new replacement FILBE pack is very loose when you aren't using protective vests and it is very uncomfortable without these since everything is loose.
There are not many Youtube videos with the ILBE being used for winter camping. The Battleship has several—one is in German!—just turn on the English subtitles.
Size & Adjustment
Battleship & ILBE - Adjust for your size. Both bags have YouTube videos showing how to do this.
Both carry heavy loads comfortably. The ILBE has some issues when using the assault bag. Both of these packs can easily handle over 120 pounds. More than you can lift! Including all of your winter gear: winter sleeping bag, 2 or 3 sleeping mats, four-season tent, shovel, extra clothing, axe, ropes, tarps, straps for attaching snowshoes, side buckles for pulling a sled, day pack, water insulated pouches, stoves, fuel, first aid kit, extra gloves, puffy jacket, headlamps, extra batteries, on and on.
The ILBE needs a raincover. You can use two inexpensive bag covers obtained from eBay.
The Battleship comes with the raincover included in a small zipper pouch on the bottom.
Both the Battleship and ILBE have holes, straps and pouches for a hydration system. The ILBE water pouch and hoses do not work for winter camping because the water freezes. Just use hot water carried in wide mouth Nalgene bottles carried upside down in insulated bottle carriers.
ILBE Main Pack with the Assault Pack
The detachable ILBE Assault pack is uncomfortable when used alone. It does not have a good padded waist belt. When used with snowshoes, crampons, or XC skis, it unexpectedly shifted on slopes. Rearanging the load and tightening the compression straps did not solve the issue.
The detachable ILBE Assault pack clips on to the ILBE main bag and just sort of hangs onto the upper back part of the main pack so your balance is not stable. This combination locates the weight outside of your center of balance. With a full ILBE main pack plus a full ILBE assault pack. I could not backwoods XC ski in this combination. I could not even get my skis on wearing this combination. It is hard to get up after a spill with this combination. You need to put the skis on first then put on the the pack. I could not back up at all in this setup with either skis or snowshoes.
I found it very hard moving around in the steep narrow trails through dense woods such as the trails found in the White Mountains in New Hampshire with or without snowshoes using this combination. Using the ILBE main pack only worked OK without issues. I carried the Assault bag empty, rolled up and used the Assault bag alone for a day trip and found that it had issues.
ILBE for Winter Weekend, Overnight, or Daypack Use
Using only the ILBE main pack and strapping on winter camping gear using PAL/MOLLE accessories works OK. You need to limit the stuff that you bring so two days is the limit. Just strap on all the stuff so you look like a walking pile of gear. Or pull a sled with some stuff in the pack and the rest of your gear in the sled. I have not sewed on added rings to the waist belt on the ILBE for pulling a sled yet. I shall try it this winter.
Battleship for Winter Weekend, Overnight or Daypack Use
The Battleship has no balance or room issues. In fact, the tendency is to pack way too much and get overloaded. Always wear a hood using the Battleship since it is very high. It hits overhanging branches and the snow gets knocked loose. Cold snow going down your back is no fun. Properly packed, you can XC ski and snowshoe with this bag.
I have added rings to the waist belt to pull either an expedition or a Beast sled. The bag can carry XC skis, poles and snowshoes using the various MOLLE/PAL straps and webbing. You can carry a daypack inside this bag or on your sled.
1-inch kit (Amazon $15 Tatuo 30 Pieces Tactical Gear Clip Strap for Molle Backpack Webbing Attachments Ring Hook Tactical Vest Belt) with 1-inch strapping (Amazon $11, 21-Piece Set of 10 Black Plastic 1 Inch Flat Side Release Buckles, 10 Tri-glide Adjustment Clips, 1 Compatible 10 Yard Roll of 1-inch Wide Black Nylon Web Strapping)
Make your own web straps with a roll of 1-inch wide black nylon web strapping (Amazon $6 Strapworks Heavyweight Polypropylene Climbing Webbing) and various buckles. Remember to use a lighter to melt the ends of the straps so they don't unravel like a cat and your grandma's knitted sweater.
These are not ultralight packs. The foam back padding and waist belt alone weigh more than some packs.
The Battleship and ILBE main pack only weigh almost 9 pounds empty. (Add on the pounds for MOLLE straps and buckles.) Both packs have lots of zippered and mesh pockets, MOLLE/PAL straps. and compression straps—all these options add to the weight.
Both packs are military. The ILBE is almost indestructible and the Battleship is also very rugged. Both packs far exceed most lightweight backpacks found in stores in both quality and ruggedness. There is a YouTube video showing the Battleship loaded with 600 pounds of cement bags for example. Both packs have survived cold and wet snow conditions and have traveled through deep woods. The Battleship is used in Afghanistan.
These bags complement each other nicely. Use the ILBE main pack only with accessory straps for winter weekends or winter daypack trips and the Battleship for longer trips. Compressing the Battleship with no loads affects its balance a bit.
I have one weekend winter camping so far with my new used ILBE and accessory Assault backpack. The packs were purchased from Amazon third party seller Military Outdoor Clothing. They were listed as unused but there was a year's worth of scuff marks on the bottom of the waist belt.
Two nights of food, fuel, water, and winter gear seems to be the limit of the ILBE. The hydration and assault bags are not useful in snow. Two nights in the woods in winter is really the minimum load for the Battleship. It can handle a lot more. I have three winters use with the Battleship and it is still NEW showing no wear.
Source: bought it used
Price Paid: $149.99 and $14.75 S&H
By far the best pack at even double its price. It's an Arc'teryx Bora in disguise and Cadillac in comfort. This mama will carry a HEAVY load in comfort and last for lifetimes; that's plural.
- Comfortable no matter the load
- The most durable materials and the best manufacturing
- NO WONDER; IT'S MIL-SPEC
- 74 liters with a place and access for everything
- Comfortable under 50 lbs
- Just bearable at 65 lbs. +
- I'm 66 years old w/ muscular build 5'/8" 135lbs.
- It weighs 8.5 lbs. empty; NOT for ultralight packing
I bought the first one three years ago in "very good condition" from ammocanman on eBay for $135 shipped and liked it so much that when I recently saw a new one from a smaller vendor on eBay for $100 I jumped on it and gave the first to my 36-year-old son.
FYI; they cost the military $700+ per unit. What a bargain for a civilian. Designed by Arc'teryx of Canada and based on the Bora 95 they were manufactured by Propper in the USA of 725 Cordura nylon; though the main pack and lid capacity is 74 liters with expansion to around 88L+/- and that's enough for me. The PALS webbing on the lid, front, and sides allows one to attach anything and the compression straps secure any load; light to heavy.
The main things I'm stoked on is its comfort, quality, and durability. The two aluminum staves are so near perfect as issued that I left them as is and the perimeter wire frame keeps the pack body from barreling even with 60 lb. loads. The shoulder straps and hip belt padding are the best I've worn and this is imperative to comfort. The hip belt is easily canted to the user's iliac crest/hip shape with velcro tabs at the front tip of the hip belt, so that there's full contact of the widest, thickest, and firmest hip belt I've ever worn.
These all make it the perfect pack for extended hiking, no matter the load, BUT at 8.5 lbs. empty it's not for the ultralight through hiker, quite obviously. It is the only pack I'd use for ANY and ALL hiking. The interior waterproof coating of both the new and used ILBE packs I have appears brand new with no degradation of the used one, which only shows its age in minimal fading of the MARPAT colors. The military requires the most durable products.
To waterproof the outside of the pack and protect it I bought two 80L waterproof pack covers from an eBay China vendor for $3.58 each shipped. Still and all, it's the best bang for the buck.
I did not buy the three-day Assault pack for several reasons: 1. I want the heaviest weight as close to my spine as possible and the 1500 c.i. Assault pack rides piggy-back the main pack. (Oooopsy!) LOL! 2. Though made of the 725 Cordura like the main pack the shoulder straps on it are poop and there's only a web strap for a hip belt, so NAAAAH! I easily rig the lid of the main pack as a day pack, though it wasn't designed with that in mind all it took was two extra buckles and 1" webbing. I may even Frankenstein two shoulder straps in the future for more comfort. Of course for day hiking there are some very worthy packable day packs that one could throw in the main pack.
P.S. The medium hip belt they come with was to big for my 30" waist/33" iliac crest, so one call to Arc'teryx of Canada and they found a brand new small that I ordered for $36 shipped and easily replaced in minutes. BIG HURRAH, for a great company.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $100+$36 for a small hip belt
A little heavy, but very versatile and affordable.
- PALS webbing
- The Assault pack attaches to the main ILBE pack
- Amazing comfort
- AMAZING COMFORT (worth saying twice. the shoulder straps are amazing.)
- Lack of storage pockets
- Lots of extra material
- No bladder sleeve on the inside, but has ports
- A little bulky for my taste, but managable
I just bought the Arc'teryx ILBE pack with the Assault pack included for $99 + shipping. I was originally just looking for a rigid day pack for fishing, and the ILBE Assault pack caught my eye because it has the internal frame and pals webbing for attachments if ever needed.
Everywhere I looked the Assault pack and similar packs were $40 +/-; then I found the combo deal that gave me a top notch hiking pack for an additional $60. I couldn't pass it up, even though i didn't really need another hiking pack, and this one is advertised at over 8.5 lbs. I figured after I use it for a while I'll figure out what military add-ons I don't need and I'll start stripping it down to necessities and see what I can get the weight down to (they say this is a militarized version of the Arc'teryx Bora 80).
The material is thicker than average hiking packs, and the seams are reinforced a little more, so no matter what I do the pack is going to be heavier than average, but it's advertised to hold up to 120 lbs (I normally don't go over 35 lbs), so I expect it to last a lifetime.
If you get one used, make sure you know what condition it's in. These were U.S.M.C. issued, and some have been severely abused/altered from what I read online. The reason the military has stopped using these is because it doesn't fit well over body armor. As a hiker this is not an issue to me, so this bag that the U.S. government paid $400 for seems well worth the $100 I paid.
Shop around and you can get a good deal on a bomb proof hiking pack, if you're willing to sacrifice a little weight for durability.
Source: bought it used
Price Paid: $118 with shipping and the ILBE Assault pack (both in excellent condition)
If anyone wants one of these, they are available on eBay and Amazon as ILBE packs. The Marine Corps is discontinuing this pack and it is their version of the Bora 80 having been designed by Arc'teryx.
I bought one these off Amazon for $55 and the supplier was Allegheny Surplus. It was in fantastic condition.
I bought two Molle canteen pouches and attached them one to each side. They are small but will hold various small items. I also bought a Molle containment pouch that I attached to the back in which I can store the bigger items I might need quickly such as my tarp and rain gear. The containment pouch was $8 and the canteen pouches were $3 a piece. All used, but GI stuff is rugged.
There are some YouTube videos about this pack and they walk you around and through it. One interesting facet is a way of using your hydration pack with this pack.
Source: bought it used