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.
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 its 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 6 foot tall person — likely an attempt to make a one size fits all pack for the USMC. So, if you are over 6 feet, 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.
Jake is a correspondent with Gear Scout. A veteran of the Marine Corps, Jake is also an avid outdoorsman, military history buff and firearms enthusiast.