What Do Soldiers Carry in Their Backpacks? A Look Inside the Military Pack 

 September 30, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

When you hear the term "heavy-duty," what comes to mind? Herculean tasks, or perhaps loads as heavy as a bear? How about a soldier's backpack, loaded with everything you need to survive in the most inhospitable environments—pretty heavy, right? Let’s apply this to a lighter comparison. Imagine carrying your packed weekend camping backpack everywhere, even if it's almost twice as heavy. That's just an approximation of the colossal responsibility that every soldier has to carry—literally.

Soldiers carry a range of equipment in their backpacks including uniforms, load carriers, knee pads, ammunition, aiming lights, night vision goggles, bulletproof vests, canteens, MREs (meals ready to eat), compasses, bayonets, and first aid kits. The weight can vary depending on the situation, with soldiers able to carry up to 68.9 pounds for combat load and 96.8 pounds for march load.

Today, we get to the bottom of what soldiers really carry in their enigmatic military packs. 

Essential Items in a Soldier's Backpack

When soldiers go on a mission, they must take everything they need with them, including essential items for survival. These items vary depending on the soldier's branch of service and task, but there are some basic things that every soldier carries.

One of the most basic things is the uniform, which consists of a blouse, trousers, helmet, T-shirt, and footwear—all specially designed for combat. The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) features advanced fabrics and functionality and is tailored for different climates and environments. In desert areas, for example, the ACU has a lighter color pattern to match the environment.

In addition, field load carriers are usually attached to soldiers' vests or waist belts. These pockets can be used to carry small- to medium-sized equipment and magazines. Soldiers always carry at least seven 30-round magazines for an M4 rifle and other types of ammo depending on the mission.

Another important item is water. Proper hydration is crucial when entering a war zone. Whereas in the past canteens were used to ensure hydration during operations, today's troops use hydration systems that allow hands-free hydration through hoses while moving!

Finally, in case of injury or medical emergency , first aid kits are also indispensable components of every soldier’s backpack. The contents include bandages, antibacterial ointment, hydrocortisone cream, tweezers, and gauze.

When I was talking to a former marine who served on several overseas deployments years ago, he told me that they always strapped the basic gear, such as their ammunition supplies, together with their weapons. He said they used specially designed holders called "fast mags" instead of conventional pouches because they could reload faster that way.

Some people have criticized the military for making soldiers carry so much weight during their missions. They argue that carrying heavy backpacks can lead to injury and a drop in performance. However, as someone who has occasionally been on the battlefield myself, I can tell you that there is no alternative to carrying the necessary gear. Without the right equipment and supplies, soldiers can't do their jobs well and run the  risk of not completing a mission.

However, there are some lightweight combat kits that have revolutionized the way soldiers operate in combat.

Ammunition and Light Combat Equipment

Soldiers need ammunition and other light combat equipment when they go into the field. The specific weapons used depend on the branch of arms, but most active-duty soldiers are issued with either a primary or secondary weapon for their protection.

The Advanced Target Pointer Illuminator Aiming Light and AN/PAS-13(V)1(LWTS) are two popular devices attached to firearms to help soldiers aim during both day and night. Night vision goggles are another essential item to enable vision in the dark.

Apart from these high-tech devices, soldiers also carry other equipment such as load carriers, knee pads, aiming flashlights, cartridges, and much more to make their movements smoother and more efficient - even in risky situations like urban warfare!

During my stay in Afghanistan a few years ago, I noticed that MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) were becoming more popular because they provide better nutrition compared to the traditional rations given to soldiers before deployment. Nowadays, soldiers choose their MREs based on their personal preferences instead of being allocated some.

Soldier backpacks can be compared to a traveler's luggage as both are equipped with different compartments meant for specific purposes. Just as a traveler packs his things as needed for tourist activities or business trips, a soldier must also adapt his equipment to the requirements of the mission.

While it may be argued that carrying heavy rucksacks increases the risk of injury, it is important to remember that proper equipment and supplies are a prerequisite for soldiers to perform their duties in adverse conditions. Without these necessary items, soldiers’ success in their tasks could be jeopardized.

In the next section, we will look at how much weight each soldier needs to carry and the impact an overweight backpack could have on a soldier’s physical health.

Survival Essentials: Food and Water

When soldiers are deployed, they must have enough food and water to sustain themselves throughout the mission. Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) are an important part of a soldier’s backpack, providing essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, and calories for energy. These MREs can last for years and are durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Soldiers typically carry three MREs per day so they can feed themselves efficiently without having to cook or prepare meals.

Furthermore, canteens are an essential part of a soldier's backpack to stay hydrated. The Quart Canteen is the most commonly used canteen by soldiers as it holds up to one quart of water. Soldiers also carry purification tablets in case they need to fetch water from a contaminated source. Hydration is crucial for soldiers' physical performance as dehydration can lead to impaired vision, fatigue, and poor cognitive function.

Some soldiers also carry packets of hot sauce to spice up their food or trade with comrades who prefer other flavors. Some even take soda cans or gummy candy as a reward when they have completed a difficult task.

It's also important that soldiers have quick access to snacks throughout the day in case they don't have time to eat one of their MREs. Snacks like trail mix, beef jerky, and granola bars are light and easy to carry and ensure that soldiers have enough to eat on the go.

In addition to food and water supplies, soldiers also carry compact stoves for when they have time to prepare hot meals or beverages. It is important that they keep up their calorie intake as heavy infiltration missions through difficult terrain  can quickly reduce stamina.

Now that we’ve dealt with the essentials for survival that belong in a soldier's backpack, let's take a closer look at the clothing that is suitable for all conditions.

Clothing Prepared for All Conditions

The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) consists of a blouse, trousers, helmet, t-shirt, and shoes designed for combat. The ACU is specifically designed to increase the comfort of servicemen and women on extended missions by providing breathability and protection from adverse weather conditions. The uniform is made of lightweight materials that make it easier for soldiers to move quickly and efficiently.

Soldiers also wear gloves, knee pads, and helmets to protect themselves from injury during deployment. These items are important because they provide extra protection in case of falls or accidents. Knee pads make squatting more comfortable for longer periods of time and prevent knee injuries.

In hotter climates, soldiers also wear sunglasses with UV protection to reduce eye strain. In areas where the skin is exposed to the sun for long periods, soldiers must also apply sunscreen regularly to avoid severe sunburns.

Waterproof gear such as ponchos or rain jackets also belong in every soldier’s backpack because a change in the weather can happen unexpectedly. The newly invented poncho from Gore-Tex is not only waterproof but can also be used as a makeshift tent!

It's important to note that wearing clothing suitable for all weather conditions increases the weight of a soldier's rucksack, making it more difficult to maneuver and putting additional strain on the body. Wearing several layers of clothing depending on the weather conditions can reduce fatigue by adapting to the current temperature and environmental conditions.

Imagine you are walking through a forest and the weather changes extremely during your walk. If you carry different kinds of clothes, you can fight with any weather without complaining or suffering from dehydration.

The list of things soldiers carry in their backpacks goes on and on, from ammunition to specialized gear and personal items. Despite the heavy load they carry, soldiers need all these items to survive in the field.

Specialized Gear for Specific Operations

Soldiers don't have to carry the same equipment in their rucksacks on every deployment. Depending on the type of mission and the role of the soldier, special equipment is used. For example, a combat engineer has more modern tools and explosives in his rucksack than an infantryman. Likewise, a medic carries more medical supplies than other soldiers.

One of the most sophisticated pieces of specialized gear used by soldiers is the Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder (LLDR), which enables accurate target acquisition capabilities even in adverse weather conditions. It can locate targets up to 5 kilometers away and transmit this data to other aircraft or artillery to engage targets with precision.

In addition, snipers carry high-powered rifles with telescopic sights and laser rangefinders that help them fire accurate shots over great distances. Explosive ordnance disposal officers carry robots that can defuse bombs from a safe distance, while reconnaissance teams often use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with cameras and sensors to gather intelligence.

Special forces like the Navy SEALs and the U.S. Army Delta Force often have access to advanced technology, such as sophisticated night vision goggles, GPS systems, body armor designed for specific missions, and encrypted communication devices. They can also carry specialized weapons like silenced pistols, submachine guns, and shotguns suitable for close-quarters combat.

Overall, soldiers who wear special equipment must undergo intensive training before they can use it in the field as this equipment requires technical skill.

For instance, when I spoke with an ex-Delta Force member who served several tours of duty in Iraq, he recalled how his team carried specialized communications equipment on a daring rescue mission deep in enemy territory. He pointed out how important it was that their radios didn't emit noise that could betray their position as they approached their target under cover of darkness.

Let’s explore the weight of these backpacks and how it affects the soldiers' movements and health.

The Weight of a Soldier's Backpack

Soldiers need to have all the essentials at hand when on duty. But carrying heavy loads for a long period of time can lead to physical strain and exhaustion. Carrying a backpack that is too heavy can lead to back and knee pain as well as pulled muscles, and can affect overall performance. It's therefore important that the weight soldiers carry is evenly distributed over the body.

Although standard gear such as helmets, vests, weapons, ammunition, and other necessary equipment can weigh between 60-100 pounds on deployments, some soldiers report carrying 120-170 in certain situations or in the field.

The weight carried by the soldier depends on the mission. Troops patrolling in the mountains or desert, for example, may carry extra water bottles because they need more fluids due to the high temperatures. Soldiers patrolling on foot may reduce their equipment because it is exhausting to cover long distances on foot in full gear.

The army has taken various measures to reduce the load that soldiers have to carry while ensuring that they have all the specialized equipment they need. For example, new materials are used to make lightweight armor plates that offer better protection against certain types of weapons than earlier versions; newer ballistic helmets are lighter and stop bullets more effectively than older designs; laser rangefinders and optical scopes are now often integrated into weapon systems and are no longer worn separately by the soldier.

Another approach is modular design with extensive component reusability so that different modules can be quickly added or removed depending on operational requirements. In this way, troops can keep only what they need for a particular mission, reducing unnecessary weight while allowing for tailored approaches.

Critics argue that some items should always be standard because it may be needed in the field. For example, protective waistcoats and helmets cannot be customized every mission.

Carrying a heavy backpack is no different than carrying a heavy weight during a marathon. Excessive weight slows you down and uses up more energy, which ultimately affects performance, mental focus, and mood. Soldiers need to move quickly and effectively; their lives depend on it.

Key Takeaway

It is important to distribute weight evenly over a soldier's body to reduce physical strain and fatigue. The army has taken various measures to reduce the load carried by soldiers while still ensuring they have all the specialized equipment they need, such as using lightweight materials for armor and weapons systems with a modular design. Soldiers need to move quickly and effectively, and excessive weight can affect their performance, mental focus, and mood. It is important to ensure that soldiers have all the essential items at their disposal while reducing unnecessary weight.

Personal and Other Items Soldiers Carry

In addition to the equipment necessary for combat, soldiers also carry personal and other items that help them function better in their environment. These items are important to keep them physically, mentally, emotionally, and morally fit during long deployments.

Many soldiers carry photographs of their loved ones in their backpacks. It's a way for them to remind themselves of the reasons why they're fighting. When they are unwell or homesick, they can look at the pictures and remember the people who love and support them. Taking a short break to look at a photo is a simple form of self-care that boosts morale.

Another item that has recently become more common in a soldier's backpack is a portable music player such as an MP3 player or an iPod. In some cases, soldiers are not allowed to use their phones while on duty, so having music at hand can be very important for their morale. Soldiers have reported how music helps them relax, focus on tasks, or get a boost of energy when needed.

One item that has caused controversy among military leaders is books. Some higher-ups argue that books take away space that could be used for other essential gear in a soldier's backpack. However, many soldiers include books in their essentials because reading can be a much-needed escape from the harsh realities of war.

In a way, taking personal and miscellaneous items into a soldier's backpack is like taking a piece of home into the field. Soldiers carry these items with them as a physical reminder of something outside the war. The items convey familiarity and comfort, which can be helpful for soldiers who are away from home for long periods of time.

A prominent example of this is a diary or notebook in which you can write down thoughts, memories, fears, and feelings about what is happening around you. Venting o is a therapeutic coping strategy, and for soldiers, it can be satisfying to see how far they've come with their own words.

It's important to carry essential equipment in rucksacks but equally important are the personal and other items contained within. These items provide comfort, inspiration, and emotional support to soldiers who are separated from their homes, friends, and family during their service. It's important to recognize that these items are more than mere luxuries; they fulfill basic human emotional needs, especially in times of conflict.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do the weight and contents of a soldier's backpack differ depending on the mission or location?

The weight and contents of a soldier's backpack can vary greatly depending on the mission and place of deployment. For example, soldiers patrolling on foot in Afghanistan may carry up to 100 pounds of gear, while soldiers operating in an urban environment are more likely to carry 50 pounds.

In addition to mission-specific items like weapons, ammo, and communication devices, soldiers also carry essentials such as food, water, first aid kits, and protective gear. The type of equipment carried can vary depending on the location and climate.

Troops deployed in Iraq during the summer months need extra water supplies and cooling equipment due to the extreme heat. In contrast, soldiers deployed in cold areas such as Alaska or Scandinavia need extra layers of clothing and sleeping gear to keep warm.

Therefore, military planners must carefully balance the amount and type of gear each soldier carries to ensure they remain effective on the battlefield without putting themselves at risk.

How has technology affected the contents of soldiers’ backpacks over time?

 In the past, soldiers' backpacks mainly contained the bare essentials such as food, water, clothing and ammunition. However, with technological advances, backpacks today contain more innovative tools.

One significant advancement is the inclusion of communication devices in basic equipment. Soldiers now carry high-tech radios, satellite phones, and other modern communication devices to communicate with their command centers. With the help of GPS tracking systems, they can easily navigate through unfamiliar terrain with greater ease.

Night vision goggles and thermal imaging cameras are also common on helmets so that soldiers can detect enemy movements in low light conditions. Another innovation that saves lives is protective waistcoats made of special materials that can stop bullets and reduce impact injuries.

Thus, it’s clear that technological advancements have indeed impacted what soldiers carry in their backpacks and have greatly improved their safety and efficiency in combat.

How do soldiers prioritize what items to pack in their backpacks in order to maximize effectiveness and safety?

When it comes to packing a military backpack, every item has a specific purpose, and soldiers select their gear according to priorities to maximize effectiveness and safety on the battlefield.

  1. Soldiers prioritize essential items like food, water, and ammunition, which are vital for survival in combat situations. Water alone accounts for an average of 60% of the weight carried in a soldier's backpack.
  2.  Another important aspect is specialized equipment for specific tasks or missions. For example, a medic will carry medical supplies such as tourniquets and bandages, while a radio operator will prefer his communications equipment.
  3.  Soldiers also need to consider their personal carrying capacity and ensure that they don't exceed the recommended weight limits, which can slow them down on the battlefield..

Do different branches of the military have different requirements for what soldiers must carry in their backpacks?

Yes, the different branches of the military have different requirements for the equipment soldiers must carry in their backpacks. Each branch has its own needs and tasks that determine what equipment and supplies are necessary.

The army, for example, equips its soldiers with a MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) system that allows them to adapt their equipment to their individual needs and mission requirements. The soldiers of the Marines, on the other hand, carry a backpack called FILBE (Family of Improved Load Bearing Equipment), which is adapted to the special combat equipment and requirements of the Marine Corps.

In addition, the special units of the individual troop types may have even more specific equipment requirements due to their unique missions and capabilities.

What kind of specialized equipment or gear might be included in a soldier's backpack?

A special piece of equipment often found in a soldier's rucksack is a combat radio. A reliable communication system is essential to any military operation, and combat radios play a crucial role in helping soldiers stay in touch with their teams and commanders.

Other essential items that soldiers may carry in their backpacks include protective gear like helmets, and body armor, navigation tools like maps and compasses, personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes and soap, as well as essential medical supplies.

What makes these items unique, however, is the level of technology and innovation that goes into their development. Modern body armor, for example, is made from advanced fabrics such as Kevlar and Dyneema, which are much lighter and more flexible than older models but still provide excellent protection against bullets.

So, if you ever wondered what kind of specialized gear soldiers carry with them on their missions, consider the importance of each item they carry. From communication systems to protective gear to medical supplies, each item plays an important role in ensuring that our soldiers are well equipped for success on the battlefield.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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