During the Viet Nam War the U.S. Army struggled to define what sort of pack the soldiers should have and what they should put in the pack. The amount of equipment a soldier carried just kept increasing throughout World War II, the Korean War and the early Vietnam War. The need to decrease the amount of weight carried by a soldier became critical as the Vietnam War progressed. That war, in the jungles of Southeast Asia, was a different war then the U.S. had been involved in before. And the equipment carrying systems they were using didn’t work well. The soldiers were just carrying to much stuff in the wrong type of pack. What developed out of that problem was the A.L.I.C.E. military backpack.
The ALICE military backpack became the standard issue backpack for the US Army on January 17, 1973 and was used all the way into the late 90s. It was developed by Natick Laboratories, a military research facility. The Army had long discussed the need for a lighter backpack, and with the onset of the Vietnam War this became a more urgent matter. Soldiers were sent on long missions through the jungles of Vietnam; a lighter, more waterproof backpack would serve them well.
The Development of the ALICE Backpack
Natick Labs began the redesign process in 1965 by producing the LINCLOE, which was made of nylon. Soldiers were very pleased with its waterproof quality. By early 1972, however, there were so many problems reported with LINCLOE that the Army directed Natick to make design changes in anticipation of major testing in June of that year. Natick addressed all problems in their redesign, including the most troublesome, that soldiers were unable to quickly remove small arms cartridges from the pack.
The redesign and testing resulted in the ALICE, or All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment, which was issued to soldiers in January of 1973. This pack included some major upgrades, such as two larger, more accessible small arms ammunition cases that fastened to the equipment belt. There were two configurations to the ALICE, the fighting load and the existence load. The fighting load consisted of an equipment belt, suspenders, entrenching tool carrier, canteen cover, first aid case, and small arms ammunition cases. The existence load included the medium and large packs, field pack cover, aluminum frame, aluminum cargo shelf, two cargo straps and four support straps.
The fighting load included only bare necessities. It was intended only for the combat soldier who needed to move quickly. The existence load carried all equipment, food and essentials to maintain a soldier in the field while awaiting resupply. The existence load may be used with the medium ALICE pack for a short mission. For longer missions or a winter deployment, the large ALICE pack with the frame may be used.
The medium ALICE backpack system can carry about twenty to thirty pounds. It measures 18″ long x 14″ wide (Over all 19″ x 20″ x 11″). The large ALICE can carry 75 pounds or more. It measures 20″ long x 19″ wide.