Gear Review: USGI MOLLE Medium Ruck
Even in the military, the MOLLE medium rucksack (also known colloquially as the “half ruck” or “mini ruck”) isn’t that common. The first time I saw one in use was during a field exercise while I was at (LOCATION REDACTED) in (YEAR REDACTED). It was worn by a TAC officer attached to our group who always looked cheerful and unencumbered compared to the rest of us with full size rucks, feeling like abused beasts of burden. Our required packing list had us constantly carrying a 3 piece sleep system, sleeping mat, pup tent, wet weather top and bottom, poncho and liner, 4 sets of uniforms, spare boots, and 3 MREs. Not to mention all the other creature comforts we could cram down in what little space was left, all for a 2 week exercise in the woods of the Southeastern US in July.
Meanwhile our TAC had maybe 1 spare uniform (I don’t think I ever saw him sweat), a poncho (I also don’t think I ever saw him wet), a hammock with mosquito net, and what seemed like an endless supply of beef jerky and Copenhagen. I determined right then that if this guy could camp in the sweltering heat with the rest of us for 2 weeks and look comfy while doing it, then by golly I could too.
It’s been a few years since that experience. Finally I had the chance to get a ‘like new’ surplus medium ruck last fall and take it out camping with my brother, who had a commercial pack of comparable size. Unsurprisingly his similarly priced civilian pack was lighter and considerably more comfortable than my MOLLE, but I countered with more storage options and ruggedness. My main gripe with the medium ruck is the horribly uncomfortable waist strap.
Like a good boy, I followed the advice of countless NCOs who haunt my past and raised the main storage cell on my ruck frame as high as it would go while I was assembling the ruck body and straps to my frame when it arrived. Even still it felt like all the weight was resting right on my hips. As soon as I got home I ordered the full size ruck waist strap with more padding and much more surface area (the medium ruck waist strap essentially feels like a padded rifle sling around your waist). This addition was much improved. But aside from that one discomfort, in my short two day trip, I carried all I needed in my ruck with ample room for the trash generated from the trip as well.
Although this was just a short test. What this really deserved was a trip out to the field for a solid 2 week military field exercise beating. While the dreaded nonsense packing list reared its ugly head again, I now have the advantage of holding a rank that lets me ignore dumb shit of this type. All personnel in my unit were expected to bring a ruck, an A bag, and an assault pack for our field exercise. Me being the minimalist that I am, figured a medium ruck and a comfortably packed A bag would be sufficient for the mission we were headed towards.
With my A bag containing things like my IOTV, Kevlar, extra uniforms, etc, that left my ruck to carry only the stuff I would really need in the field:
-Zippered poncho liner for sleep bag
-4x spare undershirts and socks
-Bundeswehr sleeping mat (fold up style)
-Waffle top for pillow
-Side water bottle pouch
-Front pouches: duct tape, 550 cord, gloves, bug spray, pen/paper, pogie bait
The medium ruck has a 3000 cubic inch capacity compared to the 4000 cubic inch of the full size. But unlike the full size, this has integrated zippered pouches sewn in the front of it while also having MOLLE real estate on the sides for sustainment pouches if you need them (that said, if you have the 3000 CI ruck fully stuffed, as well as the front pouches, as well as two fully loaded 500 CI sustainment pouches on either side, perhaps just consider the full size ruck).
The interior of the bag also has organization pouches sewn in that work great for stashing socks or other small/easily packable items so they aren’t just sloshing around in the sea of space that is the main compartment. Another trick I learned is that the largest pocket in the ruck (similar to what the kids today might refer to as a “laptop pouch”) fits a foldable sleeping mat and it also adds an extra level of rigidity to the back of the pack that came in handy later.
After getting back from this trip, my main takeaway was that while I was glad I had only two bags to take care of instead of three like everyone else. The Medium Ruck, while excellent for use as a minimalists camp pack, was a little too big for everyday light duty uses that an assault pack excels at. Once our company tent city was established, we had the luxury of being able to secure all our excess non essentials in my tent during the work day, which made my ruck pretty floppy with only carrying my water bottle, pogie bait, a book, extra socks, and a poncho in case it ever rained (it didn’t). That said, having the sleeping mat in the large interior pocket to maintain some structure did help and prevent the bag from taking on the shape of a large piece of chewed up gum, but the ruck overall was still rather deflated in appearance.
Really, the best uses I got out of it were hiking into the campsite the first time and out of it after we broke camp. This was only a 1.5 mile hike from the campsite to the area where we off-load/on-loaded buses but with the pack fully loaded and with my past experience, I would say the medium ruck filled to capacity was easily more comfortable than the full size ruck and the overall package just feels more… right to my body type than the full size. It is undoubtedly the ruck I always wished I had.
Now if you aren’t a POG like me and actually live out of a ruck or travel dismounted often or have some sort of MOS that is typically defined by breaking things rather than fixing them, you may have different METT-TC dependent needs or actually enjoy the large rucksack for reasons understood only by trigger pullers. But if you have used the large ruck, disliked it as much as I did, and have lamented the amount of dumb shit you have to carry and have the rank/disobedient streak to do something about it, I think the medium ruck may be your ticket.
If you are on the civilian side and prefer milsurp for your camping gear needs as opposed to getting your wallet raped at REI, in my opinion the MOLLE medium ruck is about as nice as you can find for a general purpose multi day pack. They show up for pretty cheap used on Amazon or ebay, or tons of different Army Navy/Surplus stores. New examples can also be found closer to the $80-$90 mark online. If you are budget minded, I would recommend the ACU model like mine but there is a multicam version to match the current standard issue uniform camo. My only advice for anyone considering one would be to definitely change out the waist strap and to find something to stuff in the large inner pocket to keep the pack rigid if you aren’t going to load the pack up to absolute capacity.
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