The empty weights of U.S. Army packs carried in past tropical wars were much lighter than the weights of packs issued to our jungle infantrymen and many other American soldiers during the years of increasing emphasis on mechanized warfare following the Vietnam War. In 1996 this trend was continuing, as shown by the following list of packs and their weights:

The World War II Jungle Pack, including its Waterproof Packliner Bag . . . . . . . . 2.8 pounds

The Vietnam War’s Lightweight Rucksack, with external frame, but without any waterproof bags . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.0 pounds

The ALICE (All-purpose Lightweight Individual Combat Equipment) pack with external frame . . . . . 5.8 pounds

The Large Field Pack (LCS-88) with external frame . . . . . . . . 7.7 pounds

The Combat Field Pack-90 (CFP-90), with internal frame . . . . . 8.5 pounds

Why are many American infantrymen who may have to fight in jungles burdened with packs over 3 times as heavy as those our jungle fighters carried half a century ago while they were winning a jungle war? And why does the Army learn only temporarily about what kinds of load carrying equipment are needed by foot soldiers in tropical wars? This chapter provides explanations, based in good part on the author’s personal involvement with the development, rigorous field testing, and advocacy of packs and other load carrying items for jungle infantrymen.

Some satisfactory American and foreign load carrying items are described, to enable readers to better appreciate our continuing snafus. Recommendations are given for improvements in load carrying equipment. Those improvements will be frustratingly difficult to attain except during a prolonged major war, or after the worldwide proliferation and use of increasingly effective shoulder-fired antiaircraft weapons will have convinced the Army’s top decision makers that our forces’ dependency on helicopters for transport and supply has become too hazardous.


A few days after my temporary return from Vietnam in February of 1968, on March 2nd I gave a demonstration of jungle combat equipment for Secretary of the Army Stanley R. Resor and Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson. That demonstration was one of my most useful and memorable. John N. Irvin II, a friend from our Princeton and Oxford days who in 1968 was The Under Secretary of State, had suggested to Resor that I be given an opportunity to brief him. To my pleased surprise, on bringing my collection of good and bad jungle combat items to Resor’s spacious Pentagon office I was told that I would be talking that day only with him and General Johnson.

My primary objective was to convince those two leaders that our jungle soldiers should have nylon load carrying equipment that was lighter, better designed, and more durable than the cotton items they were being issued. I first showed a standard-issue cotton item, and then its nylon counterpart. The cotton items were ammunition pouches (see Fig. 16-1), an individual equipment belt with suspenders, a rucksack, a gas mask bag, a Claymore mine bag, and several flimsy cotton bandoleers (see Fig. 16-2). Most of the cotton pouches, bags, and bandoleers had been used to carry ammunition by soldiers fighting in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive earlier that year.

Many of those items were ones which I had collected from combat infantrymen. Most had holes or were rotted. I stressed the fact that by changing from cotton to nylon a soldier’s load could be reduced by about five pounds when his equipment was dry, and by considerably more when wet. Furthermore, because nylon equipment lasts much longer in the humid tropics and needs to be replaced less often than cotton, money could be saved by changing to nylon.

With foresight, prior to 1968 the Army’s Natick Laboratories had produced small quantities of nylon rucksacks, ammunition pouches, and web gear. Field tests in Vietnam had proved those nylon items superior to their standard issue cotton counterparts, but mass production of the cotton ones had continued.

Fig. 16-1. Nylon Ammunition Pouch with quick-release closure, 6 ounces. Cotton ammunition pouch collected in Vietnam, badly rotted and torn, 10 ounces. Many of our men in Vietnam used cotton bandoleers to carry their M-16 magazines, preferring them to bulky ammo pouches on their equipment belts. Bandoleers enabled them to reload quicker and to hit the ground and crawl better, and carry less weight. One bandoleer weighed 2 ounces and carried 140 rounds in seven 20-round magazines; two ammunition pouches weighed 20 ounces and carried 120 rounds in six 20-round magazines.

Fig. 16-2. Tattered cotton bandoleer marked “Sgt. SHIELDS A3/47 9TH INF DIV”. It weighs 2 ounces. Sergeant Shields carried seven of his 20-round M-16 magazines in this bandoleer. Note how he had used a piece of cord to lengthen the too short and narrow shoulder strap. (To show the holes and tears, before taking the photo white cloth had been placed inside this flimsy bandoleer.)

A nylon bandoleer weighs 2 ounces.

Army Ordnance’s cheap cotton bandoleers were designed for the distribution of ammunition along a firing line, not for carrying loaded magazines for days, weeks, or months.