The ILBE (Improved Load Bearing Equipment) backpack, is the current backpack of choice for the U. S. Marine Corp. It was developed to replace the ALICE (All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) backpack, which had been in use since World War 2, and the MOLLE system backpack (MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) When these systems were used in combat situations in Iraq they were found to be insufficient for the combat needs of the USMC.
The Marines needed a backpack that had a larger load bearing capability, yet had a smaller volume, and could carry 60mm and 81mm mortar rounds external to the pack. It also needed to be more durable, more comfortable to wear and a lot less complex than the MOLLE system. While MOLLE was great for survival situations, it could prove cumbersome in combat. For example, it could not carry external mortar rounds, slowing down access to ammunition. The ILBE places its emphasis on being better suited to combat situations, integrating with the Body Armor system better, and allowing for a greater range of weaponry to be carried with it.
Designed by Arc’teryx’s LEAF (Law Enforcement and Armed Forces) program and manufactured by Propper Inc., the USMC ILBE is made from Cordura 725 denier fabric, with pixilated MARPAT (MARine PATtern) printed onto it. The pack also bears a PALS grid (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) for smaller modular attachments.
The ILBE system is comprised of 3 main components:
Each of these can be swapped around depending on the needs of the mission and the load a soldier needs to carry.
Because the ILBE has been designed to be configurable for the requirements of each mission, it has three main load configurations.
Where food and supplies are not an issue, the Assault Configuration allows the ILBE to carry primarily ammunition and water, and other essential fighting gear. It is the lightest configuration allowing marines the greatest amount of mobility during combat. The Assault Configuration uses the ILBE Assault Pack and the hydration system.
The Approach March Load is a heavier configuration designed to give 90% combat effectiveness to marines who will be faced with extended periods of time without re-supply. This configuration makes a 20 mile hike in 8 hours a reasonable expectation. The Approach March Load uses the ILBE Main Pack and the hydration system for a medium sized load.
Finally, the full capacity Existence Load is the heaviest load, designed for longer periods of time where re-supply is not possible. Climate, season, and terrain determine what needs to be brought along for the mission. This is the full ILBE load that uses the Assault Pack, the Main Pack and the hydration system. It allows a Marine to carry a full 120 lbs of gear and equipment for extended missions.
Finding Surplus ILBE Gear
It should be noted: finding surplus ILBE packs and equipment is very difficult right now. There are some, but the military is still working on fully deploying the pack to the Marines. So finding an ILBE for sale can be rather tricky, as they are in short supply.