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Tips for Adding an Assault Pack to Your Loadout

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During our series on load carriage, we’ve gone over all of the most common methods available. We hit the battle belt, the chest rig, and even the classic load bearing equipment (LBE) configuration. In all of the other articles I’ve written, which I’ll link down below, I’ve made it pretty clear that I like to keep things minimal.

With the exception of the LBE, I really only keep a few bare essentials on the gear. The rest goes into the assault pack.

So let’s talk about what that pack should look like.

The Light Assault Pack

Let me be clear up front on this one: I’m not talking about your standard three-day assault pack. I’m not even talking about the relatively rare medium ALICE pack.

No, I’m talking even smaller.

Full-size rucks like ALICE, or really anything with a capacity in the 45+ liter range, are for existence loads. If you’re not familiar with the term, that’s ok. I mentioned it briefly while discussing load bearing concepts. In short, the existence load, sometimes called the sustainment load, is for surviving in the field for long periods of time. The intent is to road march to a position, drop the ruck for a few days, and live out of it in the field.

Assault pack paired with load bearing gear
A small assault pack paired with load bearing gear

The assault pack is much smaller. Think about a 24-hour operation or so. It carries other items that weren’t directly supporting “making holes and plugging holes” but are still important for whatever reason.

Common items you might load in the assault pack for our “Scenario X” include:

  • Extra ammunition
  • Batteries
  • Communication gear
  • Emergency shelter (poncho, cordage, etc)
  • Tools
  • Cordage
  • Extra water
  • Cleaning kit & lube
  • Storage bags
  • Calorie-dense food
  • “Boo-Boo kit” for small first aid supplies
  • Extra clothing, particularly socks
  • Toilet paper, because hygiene

Related Content
If you haven’t read them yet, I covered thoughts on other main load carriage methods in separate articles, linked below.

Battle Belts
Load Bearing Equipment
Chest Rigs

The intent here is that you get to keep some extra items to make your life easier, but don’t want so much that it becomes a hindrance to mobility. You do not want to drop this pack at the first sign of conflict and have to come back and find it. Instead, consider an integral portion of your gear.

This isn’t really new information. There’s a been a rather distinct trend towards small-ish lightweight assault packs lately.

A Brief History

This jaunt down gear history won’t take very long. Carrying supplemental equipment in a small pack was very common throughout history.

I’ll start in WWI with the M1910 Pack and Haversack. This system used clips to hook into the cartridge belt at the rear and in the front. It was unpopular with the troops because it was awkward and complicated to pack. Despite that, it carried on into WWII as a slightly modified version known as the M1928.

The contents of this kit wasn’t too far off from what I listed above. Basic rations, entrenching tool, shelter kit, cordage, and toiletries were all part of the gear.

The M1928 was still around for the start of WWII, but troops had taken to using the M1936 Musette bag as a backpack instead. That is if they could get a hold of one, of course.

The M1944 and M1945 replaced the musette bag near the end of the war and continued to serve up through the Korean Conflict. The picture below shows an M1945 kit along with the cargo pack that rode below the field pack.

This gear worked up until 1956, with the introduction of the M1956 Load Carrying Equipment I detailed in the LBE article. The smaller field pack migrated down to the belt line where you see the cargo back in the above photo. If needed, troops carried a larger rucksack in addition to the belt gear.

Modern Era Assault Packs

That style of carrying lived on from M1956 through the 1990s. As we hit the late 90s and early 2000s, we saw the rise of MOLLE rucks and smaller 3-day “assault” packs like the London Bridge Trading (LBT) 1476 or the USMC FILBE Assault Pack.

The thing is, though, these packs were smaller only in relation to the large sustainment packs. Think 30L versus 65L+ in capacity. This roughly reflected the relationship between the old medium-sized ALICE (34L) and large ALICE (40L). In both circumstances, you dropped the pack before a fight and retrieved it after.

US SOF troops with modern ALICE ruck
US SOF Troop carrying a modernized large ALICE ruck in Afghanistan

At some point towards the later part of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops scaled down the pack even further, returning to the old roots of M1936 and M1944. Special Operations Forces began using small day packs attached to the back of their plate carriers. These carried essential gear without being too bulky or heavy.

Adding weight to the back also counterbalanced heavy gear chest rigs. Even though the total load might be higher, it was more comfortable on the back and core muscles.

Common examples of this style include the Haley Strategic Flatpack, FirstSpear Exigent Circumstances Pack (ECP), and the American Weapons Components Combat VII Pack.

For these models, you kept the pack with you at all times. It was small and light enough to not slow you down in a fight and kept you better supplied for short duration missions.

The Light Assault Pack and Scenario X

So how does this all relate back to our fictional natural disaster?

We’re not talking about protracted ground warfare here. Like I mentioned in that first post on load carriage, us normal citizens defending our neighborhoods are a lot more like the dudes wearing pajamas running around the Hindu Kush. We live on top of our logistics train and have no need to project power over distance.

Simply put, we don’t need to carry a lot of stuff.

Sure, you might venture out a little further to gather information about what’s going on beyond your community, but you’ll have enough supplies for that in a small pack. If you’re planning something longer duration, then you can change your packing plan accordingly. But for most people on most days, keep it light and minimal.

The goal here is to stay mobile. I can already hear some people out there saying they can just put less stuff in a larger pack. Anyone who has spent time hiking or patrolling knows that it never works out that way. People tend to fill all of the available space with “nice to haves.”

Forcing yourself to stick to a smaller pack means you really have to think about what’s important.

The Ideal Assault Pack

So if the standard assault pack is too large, what should you really be looking for?

To be honest, this involves a lot of personal preferences. Guys like Max at MVT advocate for a small 15L maximum pack. Basically an oversized hydration pouch. The desire for a 15L to 20L hydration pack that can carry extras seems to be popular across military-oriented forums like Light Fighter as well.

I tend to like just a bit more volume, in the 20L to 25L range. A full 3L water bladder takes up a lot of space, and I’d like a little more room to be flexible.

I’d also like a way to control rattling with cinching straps. That way, if I pack less than capacity, I can tighten things down.

I prefer a bit of MOLLE on the outside for attaching small pouches. That makes adding a few extra magazines or a radio pouch much simpler. Additionally, I want the MOLLE to run all the way up the sides.

The pack should carry high on the shoulders, as this helps distribute the load and also enables me to rest it on the pouches of an LBE if I happen to wear one.

Some people make a big deal out of the closure style, but I don’t have a preference. Whether it’s a clamshell style like a regular backpack, top loading with a flap, or something else, each one has its benefits and risks.

My Personal Options

I flowed through a bit of an evolution here. My very first proper “Assault Pack” was one I picked up at the base exchange for relatively cheap, It’s a Sandpiper of California (SOC) Three Day Pass model. It’s modeled after the other common three0-day pack styles with multiple compartments, pockets, and sleeves.

gear photo with SOC assault pack
An older photo, with the SOC pack at the top

It has the cinching straps, but not really anything else. The pack doesn’t carry the weight particularly high, nor does it have a frame sheet to distribute the load.

It’s just very “busy” and I never actually found it all that useful beyond a range bag.

The next one is my trusty 26L GoRuck GR1. I really wanted to like this as an assault pack, but I don’t think it ticks off the right boxes for me. It’s a fantastically tough pack great for travel and rucking sessions. I find the open compartment to be very useful for configuring lots of ways. I would definitely have no issue taking it to a fight, but it’s rather large and heavy.

GoRuck GR1 assault pack
The 26L GoRuck GR1

There are no cinching straps to collapse it down a bit, and the exterior MOLLE is only three rows tall. I would probably be tempted to overfill it.

The next pack I picked up was a 16L Hill People Gear Tarahumara. This definitely falls into the small daypack category. It’s super light and intelligently thought out, but I just really need some more capacity.

My most recent acquisition is a Savotta Jaakari-S. This is a 20L pack with flap top. The whole thing has MOLLE up the sides, front, and along the lid. That makes it very easy to attach pouches or lash things like shelter components. I inserted a frame pad within an interior sleeve that also holds a water bladder. A zippered pouch at the inside top holds small essentials.

Expect reviews of these packs in separate posts.

There’s a heavy bushcraft influence here that I appreciate. It’s rugged and minimal at the same time.

Other Options to Consider

For my uses, the Savotta Jaakari-S is a real winner. But they are somewhat hard to find. I actually had to order mine from Finland.

Here is a list of other options I’ve seen work well for this type of smaller assault pack:

Remember, the point of this small pack is so that you don’t get tempted to bring too much stuff. It’s for the essentials and a few “important to haves.” And trust me, a change of socks and calories are important to have.

Wrapping Up

This was a pretty broad overview. The real takeaway I want you to have is that a light assault pack is a great addition to your regular gear. The key thing is to remember that you want something on the smaller side that won’t get in the way. You want to stay nimble and be comfortable for the duration of whatever it is you’re doing.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Oldest First
Newest First

One thing I learned from running 5ks with guns is that backpacks loaded with stuff flop around a lot. How do you mitigate that? Do these packs come with a waist belt, or are they high enough that it isn’t an issue?

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete

This tracks well with my own idea of a small pack. 2 MRE’s, half-a-dozen 400+ calorie Meal-in-a-Bars, 3-4 2-3 ounce summer sausages, an extra water bottle, a Sawyer Squeeze Mini filter, extra first aid stuff, extra fire-starting stuff, an OD/silver casualty blanket tarp, a woobie, some skewer tent stakes, 50′ cord, a 1/4 roll of TP, and maybe a rifle cleaning kit or small knife sharpener. Plus a bit of ammo. 15 lbs.

The "Modern Minuteman"
The "Modern Minuteman"

Plus 1 on the Savotta Jaakari ‘S’… I ordered one (from Finland as well) after a pretty in depth search for a new assault pack and the Jaakari met all my criteria. Like you, my pack for this purpose has evolved to reaching this choice!

Replying to  Matt

I can’t even begin to tell you how much stuff from Varusteleka I’ve bought over the years…got a Jaakari Large just the other day.

Replying to  Berglander

Varu is a loooovely store. Their products are top notch and so is their sense of humor 🙂


Love this article! You mentioned the Ares Armor Combat XII Pack – Have you heard of the Arbor Arms tradesman? Same designer, but basically the updated version.

Andrew Payne
Andrew Payne


You have written some truly amazing articles. I feel like your opinions and approach to everything from packs to barrel profiles matches my outlook. I relate with your point of view a lot and it’s always so well delivered. I’ll read an article, think to myself “this Idea is exactly what I’m talking about!” And not know who wrote it until the bottom of the page and then I see it’s yours! Keep up the good work, you’re a great writer!


I know im late to the party, just wanted to throw out another option. The tactical assault gear mini combat sustainment pack. Has 3 mag pouches built in, molle, and comes with a nice 3l bladder. Made in USA too

LeRoss A Sawin-Porter
LeRoss A Sawin-Porter

So what is your official opinion on buttpacks like they had in the old ALICE system? I had an ALICE loadout with the LBE for an airsoft event. It wasnt too bad except I made the mistake of putting a jug of bbs in it and it was flopping everywhere because of that. Do you think a buttpack would be viable in a modern scenario? or is it something better left for reenactments?


What about a jansport? Small, light weight, compartmentalized. Not to mention 50 bucks. It sits high ot the shoulders if you don’t wear it like a hs kid in the 90s. And they will fix it if it breaks.

Anri Sorel
Anri Sorel

If one doesn’t have the pack on-hand (i.e. looking at pictures and videos online), what’s the best way to estimate whether or not the pack rides high? I’m looking at some options like the Grey Ghost Lightweight Assault Pack, and this surplus Dutch Landmacht ( (a bit on the bigger side and no hydration pouch but the price is right) and I’d like to at least partially evaluate them without buying and possibly returning samples.


how did you make the hip belt for savotta (first picture)?


I really enjoyed this article. In 2023, I’ve come to love and appreciate the USMC ILBE System that was issued around 2004-2012. In hindsight, it’s shocking that people have overlooked an Arcteryx system that features a comfortable/durable 70L ruck. The 24L assault pack is almost perfect for what you describe in this article. I hear that users didn’t like how the ILBE paired with body armor, but that sounds like an issue with their robust armor/flak systems more than civilian plate carriers. For the average minuteman, this is a great under appreciated gem that I’d be interested in hearing more… Read more »

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