If you’re looking for an alternative to the standard ALICE Medium backpack, you might want to consider European military surplus packs. They range in price from moderate to extremely cheap. Let’s look at three of the most commonly available, the German Kampfrucksack, the large Austrian ALICE-type bag, and the Polish Leopard-pattern rucksack.
1. German Kamprucksack – Great 3-day Pack
If you’re looking for a great 3-day bag in an incredibly effective camouflage pattern, you need to check out the German Kampfrucksack. Keepshooting.com offers the kampfrucksack for a very reasonable $59.99 and has them in stock now. Though it’s quite large for a day pack, this bag isn’t big enough to be a true rucksack. This isn’t such a big deal if you’re doing light hiking, but if you’re looking to do an extended field op, you need something larger. We may end up sewing on a German Haversack, as a sort of makeshift large sustainment pouch.
If you have a lot of weight in the Kampfruck, you’re going to feel it. The shoulder strap padding is minimal and the waist belt is almost non-existent. That said, neither of us really minds. TJ wares it easily and Allen lets it rest on his HSGI SureGrip battle belt.
The ruck is designed to allow the user to hang a G36 (with its stock folded ) from the rear, via its straps. Both horizontal straps can be adjusted via a triglide. It will indeed work with other rifles. I have attached my folding-stock Polish Tantal AK, and it actually sits quite snugly. If you are stowing a rifle tight enough to have it secure, it will not be something you can withdraw in a hearbeat. This is especially true of an AK, with its sharp edges and front sight post that tends to snag on straps.
Teddy’s Note: Though it may not be as tactical and cool as a rifle, these straps will hold a fixed-handle E-tool or a camp axe as well.
The Flecktarn pattern is great for temperate woodlands. The construction of the pack is solid, typical German engineering which will stand up to abuse. The side pouches are big enough for rations or magazines. They are the perfect size for a 1-quart canteen. However, they’re not nearly as big as the pockets on an ALICE pack. Furthermore, the closures on the pockets do not allow you to fully open the storm flaps. The webbing that keeps it closed does not come completely out. This is a rather annoying feature and needs to be corrected. I will be replacing these with Fastex buckles in the near future.
The Kamprucksack does not have much shape or support to it, especially back support. This is actually by design. With typical German genius, the Bundeswehr designed their sleeping mat to be flat-folding, as opposed to our rolled sleeping pads, which rest on top. The sleeping pad itself fits into a small compartment in the back and gives the pack more shape. TJ took the backing pad out of an old assault pack and put it in the Kampfruck. It works.
2. Austrian Army Backpack – Integrated Carrying
If you’re looking for a unique and interesting alternative to the traditional ALICE pack, look no further than the Austrian Army backpack. The padded shoulder harness is supposed to go on your shoulders, not dangling around your belly (the way it’s pictured here). This pack is part of a 4-piece system, which includes the butt pack (also available here at Keepshooting.com) and an Austrian web belt. The harness connects to the web belt and the backpack connects to the harness. The whole ensemble is very similar to the ALICE system, especially in terms of how things attach.
The Austrian system makes extensive use of metal hooks (which I call “meat hooks.”) and eyelets. There are eight pairs of meat hooks on the harness. The two at the bottom of the rear of the harness attach to eyelets in your Austrian Web Belt. Alternately, you could use an ALICE belt. The second set of hooks are located on top of the harness, where it crests your shoulders. These hooks attach to the two eyelets at the top of the Austrian backpack. This allows the backpack to use the same shoulder harness that you have on as part of your LBE.
While this is rather ingenious, it has the distinct disadvantage of making it impossible to shed your ruck quickly. The bottom two sets of hooks on the front of the harness hook into the eyelets at the bottom of your rucksack, and also, to be able to hang a butt pack from (as seen in the SwissLink video. However, I find that arrangement to be quite uncomfortable, as the front bag keeps flopping about while I’m walking. The backpack itself is quite large, comparable to a large ALICE ruck. It has three exterior pockets, useful for storing your gear. The pockets are a bit bigger than those on a Medium ALICE pack and not nearly as large as the sustainment pouches on a MOLLE rucksack. All three exterior pockets have drainage holes at the bottom, All the pocket flaps, including the main compartment top flap, secure via a small clamp that uses spring-loaded teeth to hold the flap’s webbing.
The main pack compartment has two drawstrings at the top, one at the very rim and another slightly further down, where the top of the main pack body is. This allows you to overstuff the pack and still cinch the top down, or to have a lighter load and retain some protection from the elements. Disappointingly, the top flap does not have an interior map compartment. While this is a small detail, it’s still something I was expecting in a surplus pack. In the interior, there is a large radio pouch, which could be used to place your folded foam sleep pad to give the ruck more of a defined shape and a very soft internal frame.
The entire system goes well together, giving the user a web belt to attach magazine pouches to, a butt pack and a rucksack. The downfall of the system is that it isn’t really modular. If worn all together, time must be taken to remove the rucksack. If you make contact with the enemy, you’re not going to have time to stop, take off your entire system, and unhook the rucksack before reacting. Also, the suspender yoke/harness only attaches to your belt at two points in the back, making it less than ideal for having much gear on your belt. Therefore, certain modifications must be made.
Firstly, I see no reason to retain the ability to carry a buttpack on the front of your chest and belly. It flaps against you and is generally uncomfortable, even if you clip it onto the front of the web belt. I got rid of the meat hooks and cut the metal off the end of the straps. I’ve kept the straps themselves, just in case I want to put Fastex buckles on them and be able to hang a chest/belly rig magazine rack on the whole ensemble.
Second, I am a fan of newer MOLLE belt systems, such as the HSGI SureGrip belt I run. Such padded belt systems allow the wearer to comfortably carry a large amount of gear around the hips, reducing lower back fatigue and allowing for quick access to magazines, water bottles/canteens, sidearm and other essential pieces of equipment. In order to integrate the Austrian harness with my SureGrip belt,
I found it necessary to remove the meat hooks with bolt cutters. I then ended up cutting the metal tabs at the end of the straps completely off. The straps in the very front were not long enough to reach down to a properly low-riding battle belt, so I tucked them up onto the shoulder pads and used the other, longer set of straps to attach to the front D-rings. The rear straps are certainly long enough and needed no further modification.
At this point, the Austrian harness became a padded H-harness for my battle belt. The pack itself is actually being re-purposed with a pair of ALICE pack straps.
The camouflage pattern of the Polish Camo Rucksack is… strange. It looks almost like lizard skin, but works rather well in deep, dark woods. The simple (really, just strap webbing), the shoulder straps are adjustable in length. The fact that there is no padding on these straps means that if you load up on weight, it’s going to cut into your shoulders and hurt. Be forewarned. There are three D-rings at the bottom of the pack. The outer two are for attaching the two shoulder straps to. I’m not sure what the middle one is for, to be honest.
There are metal hooks on the shoulder straps that can be quite painful to the wearer. They dig into your back unless the shoulder straps are placed on the outside of your shoulders. This is definitely not ideal. I’m going to chop the metal off and replace it with some sort of 550 paracord system.
Though basic, the pack is well-designed. The top closure incorporates two drawstrings, one on the very top and one a bit lower down the body. The lower drawstring allows for loading to regular capacity and the top drawstring allows you to overload the pack. The pack The top flap secures via two permanently-fixed trigliedes, of which there are four (two on each side. Again, these triglides (with teeth) are placed strategically to allow you to either fill the pack to normal capacity or to overload it.
A rubberized bottom prevents moisture from seeping in if you set this pack on the damp ground. While the cotton fabric doesn’t seem to be treated with water-repellent chemicals, it’s easy enough to spray the whole thing down with some Scotchguard Outdoor Water Shield. The entire pack design is incredibly simple. Also, it’s very light and easily crushable. This pack is so easy to empty out, roll up and stuff into a large pocket (or into your external-framed rucksack). Unfortunately, there are no exterior pockets or interior divider for the main (and only) compartment. All your gear is going into one sack and you’d better like it that way.
However, for $7.95, you really can’t complain.
Each of these bags has its place. The Polish backpack is great for a backup or rolled-up emergency sack. It can hold a surpising amount and only needs a bit of modification to be a good day-pack. The German Kampruck is a superior 3-day bag and actually can be used with webbing or a battle belt (as long as you’re not a tiny guy). In fact, the Kampfruck was our favorite out of the three, being highly versatile, though still needing some modifications to be up to our standards.
Though the Austrian army backpack is interesting, we found it to be the least useful of the three. It has the size of a large ALICE, but no discernible way to add a frame, which would be needed in order to take full advantage of its capacity. Also, the layout of the included suspenders means that you cannot attach them to the front of the web belt while the pack is attached. To remove the pack from the suspenders and web belt would require doffing the while ensemble. We don’t see any real advantage it has over an ALICE pack.
-By Allen Cosby and TJ