MOLLE (MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) is the current standard for the United States Army, and several NATO allied forces. The unique system of external webbing allows for stable, and reliable attachment of different pouches and accessory pieces to tactical backpacks, vests, and other load bearing equipment. With widespread military adoption, it was only natural that MOLLE gear for the civilian market would start appearing, and that is where we are starting.
Any prepper worth their salt knows you need a good tactical backpack. Or at least a decent MOLLE backpack. It depends on any number of situations, and not everyone wants or can rely on ready access to military surplus backpacks. Don’t get me wrong, army surplus backpacks are great, and living within close reach of a major joint Army and Air Force base, I’m blessed with ready access to tons of that stuff.
Main.jpg The author’s EDC pack – and little pocket friend.
But there are any number of reasons to buy civilian gear. Price point, styling, availability, configuration, or whatever other reason you might come up with. This is America, we are capitalists, buy what you want. So right now, you the American prepper are probably sitting here staring at all your great gear and realizing that you don’t want to bug out with a bunch of plastic shopping bags in your hands. What are you going to buy?
The MOLLE Assault Pack
Assault pack, tactical backpack, or whatever else you might want to call it, is a small to medium sized MOLLE backpack that can carry the essentials for a short term mission. Of course your average prepper isn’t fighting a war, they are carrying important gear. However, because these backpacks were born out of military design, the name assault pack has stuck and is quickly understood to mean a certain basic style of backpack.
I’ve got one I use for every day carry. A friend has a similar one he keeps in his car as a basic get home bag. I use another one as a hasty bugout bag. How you pack them is up to you, the important thing is that there are plenty of MOLLE backpacks on the market that will hold up to most of the uses a prepper might put them to.
As a general rule, a good tactical backpack will have a few features in common.
- A hydration bladder pocket. Being able to carry a couple liters of water and able to drink it without taking off your gear or breaking your stride is important.
- A large main compartment. This compartment will vary based on the size of the backpack, but it’s where all your bulky or large items go.
- A secondary compartment. Above the main compartment, this level adds more storage space – usually for flatter items or smaller pieces of gear.
- Several smaller outer compartments. My pack has two outer pockets. One rather neatly holds several standard capacity AR-15 magazines. The other is great for a first aid kit, and other small things I might want to quickly access.
- External MOLLE webbing. This is where you add extra pouches or accessories to increase the load bearing capacity of your pack. Some packs have bottom straps that you can attach a bedroll to.
By now, you should be able to see how useful these packs are. You really could fit a solid three day survival kit in most of these packs, and they are great daypacks, or to take while hunting. But how do they stack up to military issue?
Reebow Gear Assault Pack
This is the pack I have. Now I’ve owned real GI issue assault packs. They are great. Rugged, durable, easy carrying… They are the standard by which you should judge any MOLLE pack. However, as the old saying goes, “perfect is the enemy of good”, and I’m going to tell you right now that the Reebow Gear pack isn’t perfect, but it is good enough.
Starting out, the pack I chose has enough room for what I use it for. I debated between the small and medium sizes, and anticipating a review like this, went for the small size just because that is how the coin toss went. Your mileage may vary, and I can’t choose the best sized pack for you, but that’s fine. The basics still apply here.
Right off the bat, I noticed that the various buckles (and MOLLE packs have LOTS of buckles) were decent enough, but lacked the same “grip” you might find on a milspec pack. This is because they lack gripping serrations where the buckle slides over the webbing strap. That’s fine, it just makes working with them a bit more annoying in my book. You might not have that hangup. Just make sure they are firmly secured – I had one buckle work its way loose from webbing when not in use, because there is no firm friction fit, and the nylon straps were a softer material than I’d have preferred. A little duct tape solves this problem.
The zippers are great. I’ve tried and haven’t broken them. The zipper pulls on the other hand need help. Made of soft nylon cord, they will become unknotted over time just from being jostled around. I’m replacing all mine with paracord that I tied on myself after losing two of the ones that came with the pack.
The stitching is solid too. Now I’ve managed to pop a seam, but that’s because I tried to. And it still took me several times of seriously overloading and abusing the pack to do so. The smart prepper doesn’t abuse their gear to the point of failure. The smart prepper writer will, but that’s because he’s being paid to break stuff – it’s awesome.
Living in the Puget Sound region means it rains a lot, (hear that out of state liberals? The weather sucks here. It’s nature’s way of saying you aren’t welcome) and I was pleased to see that the Reebow Gear MOLLE pack is water resistant enough to mean that my groceries are dry when I get home from the half mile walk from the grocery store. You may want to use some waterproofing spray on it, and probably keep important gear inside of waterproof bags, but that’s just smart prepping.
The external MOLLE webbing works as it should. I can attach any sort of pouch or the like to the outside that I might want. Right now I have nothing on the outside, but am content that if I needed to add a couple MOLLE pouches to the outside, then I’ll be good to go. That’s a great way to add a first aid kit, or extra storage for food, or other important gear, without taking up all your pack’s internal space. Just remember to keep the weight realistic.
Is It Worth It?
Yeah, I think so. As you’ve seen, there are a ton of different MOLLE backpacks out there, from low cost to high end. You’ll also note that a lot of them are imported. For better or worse, global trade means finding strictly US made packs is hard unless you buy military surplus. You’ll also see a lot of identical packs sold under different brands. They may all come from the same source, but it’s possible the cheaper ones might be factory seconds, or sold by somebody who won’t be around to provide repair or warranty service. I chose to review the Reebow Gear MOLLE pack because the company looks to be around for the long haul.
Are most of these entry level civilian packs equal to military issue? Of course not. Are they on the same level as high end, well known brands? Naturally they aren’t. But will they do the job for the prepper who needs a backpack they aren’t carrying every day in rough conditions? Oh yes. These bags are for the prepper who needs something reliable to sit in the closet, or the trunk of their car, or to carry their laptop and a few pieces of survival gear to and from work. They aren’t go to war packs, but they are get you home or bug out packs.
If you can, by all means get a high end pack. If you need something that will certainly work, then get a Reebow Gear pack. You won’t break the bank, and as long as you do your part, the pack will do its part. Remember, when you are bugging out, or digging into your pack for emergency supplies, nobody is going to be judging you for buying the wrong brand of gear – as long as that gear is doing the job you need it to.
There are a ton of different MOLLE packs on the market. From tactical to practical, the market has you covered at almost any price point you might need. Many entry level packs are just that, entry level. But most of us will not be pushing these bags to their limits, and should remember that “good enough” will do the job in all but the most extreme conditions. If you think you reasonably will face a hardcore situation, get hardcore gear. But I’d feel good bugging out of a Hurricane Katrina situation with one of these cheaper MOLLE packs, and I’m hard pressed to think of something short of the literal end of civilization where it might be a long term liability to me. So there you have it. Try one out. You’ll probably like it.