You’re a firearms enthusiast and it doesn’t matter if you spend your weekends busting clay, in the woods hunting game, or at the range; there are many must-have items for the firearms owner. One is a range bag. And while there are a great number of options out there to serve this need, the question that’s often posited is, is there one that is versatile enough to work well in any situation, and can it be had without busting the bank? The answer, quite simply, is yes. And while there’s no shortage of new bags from everyone from Propper to Arc’Teryx to Blue Force Gear, one oft-forgotten solution is the surplus Improved Load Bearing Equipment (ILBE) individual load carriage system.
Introduced in 2003 and produced en masse in 2004, the ILBE system was designed by Canada’s very own Arc’teryx LEAF division to replace the outgoing MOLLE systems for the United States Marine Corp. Now nearly a decade later, the ILBE system is being phased out for the new MOLLE system, which means the surplus market is being saturated with these kits. Of course, being a military surplus item, the gross majority of those available for sale are used. But don’t let that scare you off. Despite their used status, the condition of many of these systems are ‘like new’ and show few signs of use with only minor imperfections. Complete systems can also be had, albeit at a higher price, in new condition and usually top out at around $375; which, considering they were sold to the Marines new for $600, is a pretty good deal compared to similar packs on the retail market.
What you get is a two bag system that consists of a main pack which is roughly 75L and, at heart, a modified Arc’teryx Bora 95 pack. The second is an assault/day pack which is roughly 25L in size. Ease of use was at the core of the design process and, to integrate the two seamlessly, a mounting system was placed on the rear of the main pack where the assault pack is attached via three side release buckles. When not in use, it folds up neatly into a small pocket. Additionally, both bags can be unzipped along their entire length so that items stored inside can be accessed without having to remove additional contents.
Both bags are made from Cordura 725 denier fabric with a MARPAT camouflage design which renders them not only extremely durable, but incredibly strong. Fully loaded, the system was designed to handle weights of up to 120lbs and all of this has been done with the intention of maximizing comfort and reducing fatigue by carefully distributing the weight to the weight bearing parts of your body. To make burdens as comfortable as possible, both bags come with shoulder, sternum, and waist straps which can be adjusted accordingly to each user. In addition to these, the main pack includes load adjuster straps to help centre the load and a quick release system which can be used with the waist and sternum straps unfastened. To test this, we decided to load up our ILBE main pack with roughly 60lbs of gear and then completed a 16 km hike. True to its purpose, the bag remained firmly in place, felt balanced, and despite the distances covered, our feet were the only things worse for wear after the excursion.
Not to be forgotten, their versatility is top notch as both bags come with external MOLLE PALS grid webbing which allows the user to easily and securely attach pouches to the external portions of the bag. This makes customizing the bag for any task easy to achieve. Both bags also include hydration system pockets on the inner compartment which can accommodate up to 3L water bladder reservoirs. Perhaps the most interesting feature to the firearms owner is the presence of adjustable straps with side release buckles, a sheath, and bottom end pocket on each side of the main bag. What they collectively create is an ideal mounting system for your shotgun or rifle.
Because most of these will be sold online on sites like eBay and Amazon for the Canadian buyer, there can be some hang ups with acquiring them. Use caution when buying online like with any item. Pay attention to seller’s ratings, ensure there are pictures (especially if items aren’t new), detailed descriptions of any imperfections, and pay attention to shipping costs. Your best bet is to seek out sellers who are well established with exceptional feedback to ensure you get your bags in the described condition and in a timely manner. Also, because these items are military surplus, sellers in the US have to abide by export laws governing them. It never hurts to send a message to the seller to ensure the process won’t cause a ruckus at the border. Furthermore, as these are surplus items, you obviously also forgo any post-purchase service or warranties that you’d otherwise enjoy with the purchase of a new bag.