It’s been a year since I published this, my first article, over on Military Times and I wanted to do a little follow up as I share it here on GS3. I’ve continued hiking with this bag since the original post and I really like it… for what it is. The FILBE’s availability on the surplus market is what makes it shine above other similarly priced options. You simply won’t find anything like it in quality, durability, and features for the price. However, once you start putting miles down, the shortcomings definitely become apparent.
I did go ahead and purchase the non-slip belt, and that alone was a massive improvement. But the torso length is still an unavoidable issue. The bag just isn’t made for tall (6ft+) people. The sensation that it’s hanging off of your back versus resting downward over your center of gravity is a major problem for your hiking posture; you can fight it by tightening the shoulder straps, but they inevitably come loose. This is what happens when the military adopts a one size fits all solution, and it’s a struggle you’ll deal with if you own this pack.
Despite that, I’m still a fan of the FILBE. It just can’t be beat at the price range. And once you upgrade (I did to the Mystery Ranch 6500 series), you’ll have a sturdy backup as a loaner or for storage. Its a good bag. Good, but not great.
This article was originally published February 11th, 2020 on the Military Times GearScout blog.
In 2012, the USMC began fielding a new suite of load bearing gear dubbed FILBE. This Family of Improved Load Bearing Equipment has accompanied Marine line units into combat operations ever since.
Now, new and used offerings are reaching the civilian market at increasingly competitive prices (sometimes as low as $130 for the main pack/frame/belt setup), making it a viable option for many civilian applications including hiking, hunting, and physical fitness.
Why the USMC FILBE? As I’ve been hinting, this pack is all about value (similar packs will cost in the vicinity of $600, and often more). It hits far above its weight class in terms of durability, modularity, reliability, and cross compatibility, and does so at an unrivaled price point.
It is important to note that there was a manufacturing defect in early production bags made by Eagle for which reinforcement parts, and instructions, were issued. No need to feel apprehensive though. Constructed out of 500 denier Cordura Nylon with 1000D reinforcement points, you can be sure that this heavy-duty pack will stand up to whatever you throw at it.
However, the USMC FILBE isn’t without any shortfalls. Let’s begin with the frame. Instructions from the manufacturer indicate this pack may be adjusted to either the normal or long-torso setting.
Unfortunately, the long-torso setting is only barely enough to accommodate a 6ft tall person- likely an attempt to make a one size fits all pack for the USMC. So, if you are over 6ft tall I suggest considering other options.
For a pack that was at least partially designed by Mystery Ranch, you’d think such an important component as the hip belt wouldn’t have been overlooked, but that’s not the case.
When worn properly, the majority of the weight of a ruck should rest on the hips. That’s a challenge for the FILBE as the belt constantly slips loose under load.
In my experience, this wasn’t such a phenomenon in the 60-70lbs range, but going up to 80lbs and higher resulted in the belt constantly loosening and thus transferring weight to your shoulders. That’s not an ideal situation for a pack allegedly designed to accommodate up to 120lbs.
Another issue with the hip belt is that it’s comically thin. Offering minimal padding for your hips means you’ll be reaching your destination with a lot of aches and soreness. There are, however, alternatives to the stock belt that offer a welcome improvement, but it shouldn’t be necessary to seek these items out to supplement a pack designed for front line service.
The external frame presents another major problem. When hiking, I prefer to have heavier weight situated higher up in the bag and close to my torso so that it’s more in line with my center of gravity.
The FILBE does exactly the opposite and, rather than resting on your hips, gives the sensation that the weight is hanging off your back. This forces you to fight and counterbalance awkwardly as you move – hardly suitable for long distance movements.
Finally, if you are thinking of using this bag in extreme cold, think twice.
It may sound like I’m giving this bag a hard time, but I still think that it offers an unbeatable amount of capabilities for its price range.
It performs very well doing primary rucking duty when the weight is kept under 60lbs. Upgrade the belt as mentioned and that capability increases even further.
It also makes a great go-bag for your car. You can fit loads of gear in it and use the compression straps to keep the size minimal. If the time ever comes, you’ll be very well equipped.
Even if you already have one of the more expensive bags available, a military surplus FILBE makes for a great loaner or backup to your main ruck too.
Despite its issues, the USMC FILBE is certainly one of the top tier value based packs available on the market today. Buy it, ruck with it, see how it behaves on long hikes, and upgrade it to fit your needs. At such a low price point, you definitely won’t regret picking one up while they last.
2 thoughts on “The USMC FILBE: One Year Later”
Have you ever thought of putting an ALICE frame on it? Been eyeing one for myself (I have three ALICE packs) and from what I can tell, it will attach to one. ALICE frames are pretty darned good. I’d give that a shot.
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That’s not a bad idea. Lately though I’ve been running the Molle II system out of necessity. I think the upgrade I’d most be interested in is a more robust waist belt, something with extra padding that can be cinched *really* tight.