The ILBE Pack is a US military tactical backpack—previously issued to the US Marine Corps—now available to civilians at very affordable surplus pricing.
The ILBE is extremely robust, has plenty room for your survival gear, it’s modular and it’s very comfortable.
(No time to read? You can buy the ILBE Pack here.)
Bug Out Bag Criteria
A “3 Day Go Bag” is Not a Bug Out Bag
Most 3 Day Go Bags don’t even have room for a sleep system, let alone 4 season clothing and survival gear. Nor do they offer the proper hip support for even weight distribution.
A realistic Bug Out Bag is a 70-100 liter backpacking pack with a padded hip belt to properly carry all that weight. Some refer to this as an INCH bag for “I’m Never Coming Home” Bag.
Ultralight Packs Sacrifice Durability
Ultralight materials aren’t made for the daily wear and tear of longterm living in the outdoors.
A good Bug Out Bag is rugged—thats why we like tactical and military backpacks that tend to use heavy duty materials like “Cordura Nylon”.
And it doesn’t need to be military—civilian packs can be rugged too, you just have to hunt around.
Packs with “MOLLE” webbing allow you to modify your pack capacity as different situations call for different needs.
MOLLE stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, but it’s really just a grid of nylon rows that offer attachment points for all kinds of MOLLE pouches and gear.
(Also referred to as PALS webbing for “Pouch Attachment Ladder System”).
Enter the ILBE Pack
After months of research, thousands of dollars spent on packs, field-testing and comparisons, our search lead to the United States Marine Corps Gen 2 ILBE Pack. (ILBE stands for “Improved Load Bearing Equipment” Pack.)
The US military discontinued the ILBE Pack simply because their soldiers couldn’t wear it with body armor. Now many of these amazing ILBE Packs can be purchased at surplus shops at massive discounts to civilians.
The ILBE Pack comes with 3 main components: the “Main Rucksack”, the “Assault Pack” and the “Lid” which we’ll cover next:
PURPOSE: The main body of the ILBE pack system is intended to house a military sleep system, as well as the bulk of your survival gear and clothing.
FEATURES: The main ILBE pack includes two “sleeves” – one on each side of the pack that utilize sections of ultra tough material called “Hypalon” under the compression straps. What follows each side sleeve is the “Irregular Shaped Equipment Pouches” at the bottom of each side.
Inside the main rucksack of the ILBE, near the top is a “radio pouch” with an adjustable divider to separate the pack into 2 main compartments, accessible via large zippers for side access into the ILBE.
All of these features are covered below in more detail and photos.
The main ILBE pack is also generously covered in rows of MOLLE webbing enabling extra pouch and gear customization.
MATERIAL: Primarily made of extremely robust 725 denier Cordura® fabric, colored in Tan & Digital MARPAT camouflage.
PURPOSE: A “day pack” sized backpack intended to add additional space to the ILBE system, or ready to detach and carry independently on the go.
FEATURES: Shoulder straps, sternum strap and light hip belt (tucked away in photo).
The outside is covered in generous MOLLE webbing rows for attachment of extra pouches or gear.
The inside features a compartment to house a hydration bladder, with a drink hose opening at the top.
PURPOSE: The removable top section of the pack acts as a cover to the main rucksack, while featuring a head-facing zippered pouch for easy access to storage of smaller items such as headlamp, hat, gloves, etc.
FEATURES: 3 rows of MOLLE webbing for additional attachment of pouches or gear.
With the combined storage space of the “Lid” + “Assault Pack” + “Main Rucksack” components, this ILBE pack holds an impressive total 106 L (6500 cubic inches) to store your survival gear.
The ILBE pack was designed to carry up to 120 Lbs.
The main rucksack also features the “Radio Pouch” compartment, which comes buckled inside the top of the pack for additional organization.
The pouch has holes for antenna so it won’t hold small gear but works well for things like socks and underwear or hats and gloves.
The ILBE pack features two outer elasticized “Irregular Shaped Equipment Pouches” at the bottom on both sides (pictured with a canteen for size reference – not included).
You can even place a tall item down one of the side “sleeves” and into the pouch, then tighten the compression straps to secure the item firmly and prevent movement.
On the front side is a hydration compartment flap that can be snapped closed or opened to house an additional water bladder.
As you can imagine carrying a lot of water is a necessity in a survival scenario.
The shoulder straps are equipped with Emergency Disconnect Buckles to immediately drop the pack from your person—a handy feature should you get hung up or stuck in water.
Warning: Make sure to disengage the sternum strap before releasing both the shoulder straps and waist belt straps. Failure to do so could damage your neck.
PURPOSE: The generously padded hip belt and lumbar support pad allows the ILBE Pack to seat comfortably on the hips.
NOTE: The stock hip belt comes in a size medium which is said to “accommodate about 95% of Marines/Sailors” but if you need to go a size down try a size small on eBay.
Hypalon is used in the military for it’s incredible durability and resistance to elements and chemicals.
Both lower sides of the ILBE pack feature panels of “Hypalon” (pictured under the buckles.)
The Hypalon panels provide extra support for a heavy loads where the weight could otherwise create bulging that would damage the pack.
This pack was designed by Arc’teryx and made by Propper for the Official US Marine Corps.
Arc’teryx started with their Bora 95 Pack as a basis and militarized it to create the ILBE.
If you don’t know, Arc’teryx produces premium apparel for both military and civilian use.
Arc’teryx gear is easily double the quality and cost of most other brands, but with used surplus ILBE Packs you get incredible cost savings.
If we had to fault the ILBE for one thing: it’s the top-loader style of access.
While the ILBE uses zippers for side access, we found the pack seems mostly designed for top loading due to the compression straps that get in the way.
It does feature a mid-level flap that allows you to segment your pack into 2 sections, but that makes accessing the areas in the bottom a bit more cumbersome than a front loading pack.
As well—not so much a design flaw but something to be aware of—as with all used surplus packs the ILBE may contain some unpleasant odours. Ours did, so we took the pack apart and let it sit in a tub of warm water with vinegar and soap. It’s now good as new.
Overall we feel the benefits far outweigh these small downsides, and for under $200 we really can’t complain. We’d much rather buy the ILBE Pack used and save hundreds of dollars, but we’ve also included links to buy it brand new if you prefer.
There are many great packs out there, but the ILBE Pack is by far the best bug out bag for your money.