ALICE packs vs MOLLE packs


Alright, now right off the bat, the mole to your left is a joke.  That’s because “MOLLE” is pronounced like the name “Molly”, but it always just kind of looked like “Mole” to me – so I made a graphic in it’s honor!  Actually, “ALICE” doesn’t refer to a character in a fiction movie either.  “MOLLE” and “ALICE” are both acronyms – the military loves acronyms, and in this article, we’re going to look at the contrast of ALICE vs MOLLE.

Military style backpacks are experiencing a resurgence in popularity among civilians. The two popular bags are the ALICE and MOLLE rucksacks. In this article a brief description of each will be given along with the benefits and disadvantages of each. A short summary of the differences between the two styles with a few ideas on how to best use each pack.

What is an ALICE pack?

ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) is an equipment attachment system and accessory set officially adopted by the military in 1973. The ALICE pack has been standard-issue-alice-packphased out of military service, but some units still prefer to use this style today. ALICE packs were designed as a two component system.  First, the belt system, with entrenching carrier, two small cases, canteen cover and suspenders. Second, the elements comprising the bag itself which include the cover, bag and frame.

What’s good about ALICE?

One of the main advantages of the ALICE setup is its ruggedness. This pack is capable of carrying large loads and have the added benefit of being moisture resistant. There are no zippers to break, allowing for some serious gear stuffing.  I happen to know from experience that a US Marine can pack ALL necessary field gear into one of these puppies.  ALICE packs can be used with or without a frame but the external frame definitely helps balance the load – otherwise, these packs get pretty center-fat.

What’s bad about ALICE?

The pack can be uncomfortable especially with heavy loads and some of the straps for lashing gear to the bag get in the way. The old style of metal strap adjustments make closing the compartments a bit tedious. There is no easy access pockets for things like water bottles although with the external frame, you can rig something up pretty easily.

MOLLE packs

MOLLE (pronounced like the name “Molly”) packs (modular lightweight load-carrying basic-molle-packequipment) is the current rucksack for most military units.  Implemented in 1997, this is a totally fresh and rethought design and it’s kicking ass out there!  With the MOLLE system, gear attachment is made simple, fast and easy – in fact, this was one of the main driving ideas behind the design.  The main components of a MOLLE pack are: the tactical assault panel, the rucksack, a hydration bladder and numerous modular pouches.

What’s the best part of MOLLE?

Yes.  The benefits of the MOLLE setup are many in number. First, the interior of a MOLLE pack has several locking pouches for securely transporting small items. A hydration pouch(sort of like the CamelBak stuff) is included in most packs – thus eliminating the need for a canteen. The strap system allows for individuals to customize the pack for carrying the gear they need. Access to gear is simple and quick – because you can attach your gear in so many ways, nothing is out of reach.  On the large models, there is an internal sleep system carrier which has a zipper for easy access.

Is there anything bad about MOLLE?

While there is little room to complain, nothing is perfect and the MOLLE setup isn’t any different.  My main gripe is the Velcro on these packs tends to be a bit noisy – what Velcro isn’t?  The easy addition of components can lead to taking too much gear along in which case you almost become a pack-rat, which to be fair, is merely proof that you’re spoiled(in a military way). Also, external pockets may get in the way when hiking through thick brush. Early models of the MOLLE had plastic frames that were subject to breakage but luckily, that’s since been resolved. Most of these packs are not waterproof either which isn’t a deal breaker but hey, when you compare all the ups of MOLLE to the downs of ALICE, who’s complaining?

The main differences between the ALICE and MOLLE

The biggest difference between the two styles of packs is the manner of storing gear. In the ALICE pack, gear is carried in one large compartment, with smaller gear going into the side pockets. The MOLLE uses a series of small pouches for most of the gear. Another difference is access to the gear. The ALICE uses a strap system for enclosing the gear, while the MOLLE has zippers on the compartments.

How do I choose which of these packs will be best for me?

Decisions, decisions – both the ALICE and MOLLE are fine examples of military backpacks but  if I had to break it down a bit, I would say the ALICE pack is good for the adventurer, hunter and survivalist. Built with rugged materials designed to withstand the rigors of extreme conditions. The large storage compartment is great for hauling bulky equipment. People who demand the most from their equipment will appreciate the toughness of this bag.  The MOLLE on the other hand, will be loved by hikers and campers alike who will most enjoy the light weight of the pack. The streamlined design is good for most hikers, especially for short trips.  A hydration pouch means the hiker will not have to carry an extra water bottle and the straps allow the user to add small items without adding much to the bulk.  One of our favorite hiking packs is the 5.11 Rush 24.

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Meet the Author

I'm a former US Marine, full-time father and husband, and part-time survivalist. I like old things, like music, furniture and time-tested survival technique, but there's always a place in my heart for new technology such as weapons and sleeping bag fill. I'm here to share my knowledge and experience, and I hope you'll share yours as well.