Ah, the ILBE pack set. A big mountain of webbing and clips, but an extremely durable (and pretty much versatile) one. In this post we will study the ILBE assault pack and brainstorm some mods for it, in order to make it more comfortable, more spacious, and more functional.
Issues with the ILBE assault pack
The ILBE assault pack is a great little backpack. It’s tough as nails (very important for extended use), it’s water-resistant and it has PALS webbing so that its capacity can be extended and arranged as desired.
Unfortunately, like everything else in this life, the ILBE assault pack has some negative points (according to my point of view at least), and that’s what we will focus on in this post:
- The shoulder straps are uncomfortable towards the bottom (they dig in my ribs).
- The back has no foam padding and is uncomfortable, especially in the summer when I sweat and I can feel it sticking to me.
- It only has two compartments, which do not allow for a lot of organization. I really do not like searching for stuff in my pack when I’m out. Everything should have its place, to be easily accessible when needed.
- It could use some shock cord for quick glove / hat / rain jacket / poncho attachment on the outside.
- If you want to carry a bulkier sleeping bag or sleep system with you, you’re out of space, as 25L is not enough.
- It’s not really easy to attach trekking poles on it. you can always make do with the compression straps, but you have to recompress everything and the poles tend to drop.
Also, the following are not actual issues with the ILBE pack, but more of a wish list.
- There should be a way to attach a phone / GPS unit / ranger (pace) beads / compass somewhere. I like to check my compass and map often and this is a must for me.
- I like to carry an entrenching tool for Dakota fire holes and cat-holes. It is a bit heavier than a trowel, but much more efficient for longer trips. I will be able to make an entrenching tool PALS pouch with an extra rucksack radio pouch.
- It would be really cool if I could add a lid, like the one the ILBE main pack (rucksack) has.
- Finally, some velcro for my blood group and maybe a patch would be nice.
Here’s a list of the modifications I’m thinking about doing, in no particular order:
- Remove the shoulder straps and attach the main pack’s shoulder straps instead (these are really comfortable).
- Do something similar with the back padding, or create my own. Note that if I make the back padding removable, I could use it as a sitting pad too.
- Sew some coyote brown webbing with buckles under the bottom, so that a compression sack, Kifaru pod or rolled up sleeping pad can get tied there.
- Find a way to modify an ILBE main pack lid to the ILBE assault pack.
- Sew some more PALS webbing on the sides and towards the top of the backpack.
- Make a beavertail out of a spare ILBE radio pouch. This can also be used to carry fire wood.
- Sew some velcro above the PALS webbing in the front side.
- Add PALS pouches and attachment points.
- An admin pouch and large pod on the front.
- A (probably custom) entrenching tool pouch on the right side.
- Two custom trekking pole attachment points and one webbing bottle holder on the left side (I’m right handed).
- Add ITW Nexus Grimloc buckles on the straps for attaching GPS / phone pouches.
Fitting an ILBE main pack lid
Therein problem with the ILBE main pack’s lid is that it is simply too big for the ILBE assault pack in both dimensions. Due to its shape, it feels awkward on the assault pack, even if the assault pack is fully loaded with stuff. Also although the webbing with the ITW Nexus buckles of the lid can get connected to the compression strap buckles on the pack, it is not in a very good position and looks even weirder. Some pics to see what I mean:
For this, I do not see a “light” way of modifying the lid in order to fit both the main pack and the assault pack; it has to get resized. And the only logical way is to cut it open at the seams, trace the pieces at the seam marks to paper, convert it into vectors and resize it in both dimensions, until it reaches the desired size, then cut the pieces and sew them back. This is a very long and hard process and the only positive I see from it is the sewing pattern that will remain, which will help a lot of people create lids for the ILBE assault pack from scratch.
Having a lid on the pack is cool and all, but I can easily add the same and even more space with pouches, pods or even a beavertail.
Note: I am thinking of doing some hardcore modifications, which unfortunately require materials. Now my problem is that technical materials like Cordura are impossible to find in Italy and shipping from the US costs more than the actual products, as eBay vendors are scamming Europeans on the shipping prices.
Now if you have any extra materials you don’t need, like webbing, cordura fabric velcro, ripstop fabric, bungee cord and so on, I will be grateful if you could send them to me. Just leave a comment and I will send you my shipping address. I will also need ILBE rucksack parts, like shoulder straps, hip belt, lid, and radio pouches, which I will modify to fit the ILBE assault pack and post my results and process.
At this point, I have not resolved any of these issues since I don’t have the materials and parts and I will not any time soon. I wrote this post in order to get some feedback and opinions from the community. If you are interested in the subject, join the discussion below and as soon as I start modding, I will start adding and email you one by one.