TYR Tactical

The Baldwin Articles – The Canteen Cover

This is second guest post by Terry Baldwin. It concerns the venerable canteen cover which has been used over the years to carry a wide variety of gear, including canteens. While the study isn’t exhaustive, it does include a wide survey of modern canteen covers.

  

As you can see from the attached picture I own a lot of different canteen covers. And I’ll admit that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I never intended to acquire so much gear but it just turned out that way. I have way too many tuff boxes full of it; as I am sure a good number of the other readers of SSD do as well. But I am not a collector of militaria either (although my wife has accused me of being a hoarder and wants very much for me to sell the gear I have accumulated). Almost everything I have was used by me during my professional career in the Army. A few other items I have acquired over time for personal ‘”experimentation” and future use.

I “grew up” in the Army in the late 70s and early 80s before there was much of a “tactical gear industry”. In those days soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, conventional forces or what we now call SOF all used what Uncle Sam issued (with perhaps some minor modifications) because there simply wasn’t anything else. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. You learned to work with and optimize what you had. There was nothing “perfect” available…just lots of OD green “good enough”. That actually worked for me. I enjoyed tinkering with what I had and seeking improvements to my kit throughout my service.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m claiming to be any kind of a gear “expert”. I definitely don’t know all there is to know or have all the answers about anything. But the American taxpayer did spend a lot of money giving me loads of gear and training and then sending me places all over the world where I could put it all to use. And I learned a few things about what works for me (or doesn’t) along the way. So I will attempt to use this forum as an opportunity to share my experience and perspective with others who might, hopefully, find it useful.

So let’s talk about canteen covers. Bottom line, whether general military issue, special issue or personal purchase, all of these covers will do what they are designed to do; i.e. securely carry the standard one or two quart canteen. But some just do it better. Starting from the bottom left of the photo we have the issue ALICE cover that should be familiar to everyone. To the right of it is one from Eagle Industries. For all practical purposes these two are identical. The only substantive difference is that Eagle dispensed with the much disliked pile lining of the issue cover. Still, they both attach to the pistol belt with metal “ALICE Clips”. They are sized to fit (rather snugly) the canteen and canteen cup. In fact, sometimes it was a real pain to unholster your cup from these carriers. But conversely having the cup inside did help hold the carrier open and made it much easier to reinsert the canteen itself. These canteen covers could be used as expedient utility or ammunition pouches as they were sometimes in Vietnam. But they were designed to be strictly single purpose.

Third from the left is the original SPEAR / ELCS version. Despite the cosmetic difference and the molle attachment system, this cover is really no different than the first two. It is sized exactly the same and is also a single purpose design. It even has a pile liner that most people chose to immediately strip out. The elasticized closure wasn’t well designed and tended to get snagged on the canteen neck and cap. This was, in my opinion, a disappointing swing and a miss for SPEAR out of the gate. I didn’t use this one long.

Fortunately something much better came alone about the same time. This is the multifunctional canteen / general purpose pouch that was originally part of the R.A.C.K. fielding and later became molle general issue. I really liked this pouch. It was sized to be a little looser than its predecessors. So the canteen, cup and even canteen stove could be inserted and extracted much more easily. But what really made it a game changer is that it came with two closure options including a full flap that supported carrying other items besides canteens securely. Pictured on the bottom, third from the right is one with a canteen in the normal carry configuration. Next is the padded sleeve that can be inserted to protect items like NODs. The sleeve is a handy piece of kit in and of itself and will work in numerous utility or ammunition pouches. And on the far right is the canteen pouch in general purpose mode with five Magpul magazines. On the top row center is one last example of this pouch with the flap over the canteen. I know full well that this isn’t considered the “right” way to stow the canteen in this pouch. But if you are in say a “moon dust” situation or in any area when the cap and neck of the canteen is subject to become contaminated with dirt or debris of any kind I suggest you keep the entire canteen covered as best you can.

That brings me to what has become my preferred style of canteen cover for about ten years now. The three on the top right. From left to right they were made by LBT, Paraclete and HSGI. All solidly built products as you would expect. But I like them specifically because they are all sized to fully enclose the canteen (including cup and stove). And therefore they are a little deeper than the issue pouch and can carry more items when used in the utility role. Not really a new or unproven idea here. The Brits and Aussies have been using pouches like this to carry their canteens for decades.

Sadly, despite my enthusiasm for the design, I don’t believe any of these three pouches are being produced today. Many people now have gotten into the habit of carrying hydration bladders as their only water source. Old school canteens (and canteen cups) are an afterthought. So today’s consumers apparently favor more compact general purpose pouches that are just barely big enough to hold the issue canteen alone. And that is of course what the industry is producing. I’ll not argue against that. If you are still in the fight then you are certainly in a better position to judge what works for you than I am. But I’m convinced that canteens still have their place and provide a viable and valid alternative. For example, canteens are much easier and quicker to top off from a stream than a bladder when you are operating away from fixed bases and at the end of long supply lines. That is not to say that I think a canteen is the right tool in all situations. I myself didn’t carry a canteen after about 2004 in Afghanistan or Iraq. But after that timeframe I wasn’t doing extended dismounted patrolling either. If my mission set had evolved differently I would have reconsidered and reconfigured.

Lastly I’d like to mention the two quart canteen and carrier. I wore one or two of these on my ruck for years in the days before bladders. They did the job. But still I was pretty quick to put them away and slim down the lateral profile of my ALICE once I discovered Camelbaks. In fact I didn’t realize until I started putting this article together that I apparently had only one two quart canteen and two covers left in my gear menagerie. The one on the far left is the OD version you all know. It is also produced in tan and if you are still being issued a two quart canteen this is what you are getting. The SPEAR / ELCS woodland cover, like its one quart sibling missed the mark and was a copy but not an improvement on the venerable ALICE version. The cover aside, probably the best thing about the two quart canteen was that it could be collapsed as it emptied and therefore made minimal sloshing noise when moving.

Provided for your consideration and comments.

-LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.

25 Responses to “The Baldwin Articles – The Canteen Cover”

  1. Dev says:

    Not sure about other units / countries, but SOPs here dictate that 2 litres in a BOTTLE is always carried on man at all times. I’ve used Nalgenes, the USGI 2 quart and the SADF canteen replica throughout and find that the best for the job remains the wide mouth Nalgene bottles. Personal preference really.

    • Dev says:

      Sorry for the double-post, but with pouches and carrying methods for said bottles i’ve always preferred something that uses as little MOLLE / PALS real estate as possible (as i’m rather slim, hence not as much surface area for carrying gear in the first place) and those 1l Nalgene pouches out there that take up only 2 columns are my preferred go to option.

      As for the SADF canteen, a company called AusWebGear (not sure if they’re still around today) used to manufacture a brilliant pouch that carried the SADF canteen replica but took up only 3 columns width. So basically you had a 2l carrying capacity that took up only 3 columns unlike say 2x 2 Nalgene pouches (taking up a total of 4 columns).

      Lastly, with the carriage of the USGI 2 quarts, my preference is the HSGI 2 quart. HSGI makes a very good pouch that is 4 columns wide, takes MALICE clips (hence can be mounted on the traditional fat man gear), lined with PALS webbing on the outside so you can attach small pouches like tear away first aid kits or even an MBITR pouch if you’re so well inclined, and can double as an emergency ammunition pouch or admin pouch.

  2. miclo18d says:

    Nice walk down memory lane.

    My last tour before retirement, in A-Stan found me just jamming 3 water bottles in each cargo pocket as I jumped off the truck to do dismounted. It worked at the time but now that I do my drinking from my KCRF bottle, I wish there was something to hold that. (But alas, I’m no more in the shooting business) oh well, what should have been! — FOG

  3. Colin says:

    I like this post, I agree about space for canteen cups, when I see a pouch that says cant fit the cup I pass

  4. majrod says:

    Thanks SSD. I like these walks down memory lane. Sometimes we discover what was old is now new and some older approaches have some potential advantages.

    Informative for all.

    • Terry B. says:

      majrod,

      Spot on. That is exactly what I am trying to convey. I’m convinced that (at least) some of these “old ways” or half forgotten techniques still have utility. Thanks!

      TLB

  5. Chris says:

    I really like the current standard issues. Even though I rock the camelback for my main drinking source I still run 2 of the canteen pouches. One houses a canteen and a cup and one I use a gp pouch. The canteen and cup make too much sense especially eating chow/mre’s in the field and I haven’t found a better gp pouch that easy to put stuff in (NODs, safety glass case, gloves, etc) and easy to get out in a hurry.

    • Riceball says:

      Even though I always packed my canteen cup on my 782 gear I can’t recall ever using it. The problem that I had with the canteen cup was that it always collected dirt and sand so I never wanted to use it, although I probably could have rinsed out it real quick and it would have been fine. I will admit that it does help a lot to keep the canteen pouch open, making it easier to put the canteen back in, esp. when you don’t have time to really look down at it to see what you’re doing.

      • Chris says:

        I don’t why but the canteen cup seems to be dust and dirt magnet… I pretty much use the canteen to wash it out! But it does make reinserting the canteen much easier.

        • Terry B. says:

          Riceball / Chris,

          Using a fully enclosed canteen pouch like the ones I mentioned should minimize dirt and debris getting into your cup. Unless you make the mistake of inserting your canteen into the pouch with dirt already on its bottom.

          TLB

          • Riceball says:

            That’s probably what happened to me, I’d sit down to eat chow and set my canteen down on the ground and I probably didn’t bother really brushing it off before putting it back in its pouch. But then again, much of my time in the field was spent on CAXs in the Stumps and sand gets everywhere and into everything when you’re out in the Stumps.

  6. CavBoy says:

    How many type of butt-pack , do you have ???

    • Terry B. says:

      Cav,

      Probably more butt packs than canteen covers.

      I intend to do something next to explain in more detail why I am still a fan of “canteen cups” next. Since I recognize that many (mostly more modern) folks apparently don’t see much if any need for them.

      After that I am thinking of a three part piece on the ALICE pack.

      But since I am retired and have the time, there is no reason I can’t take requests. So we can have a discussion on butt packs as well.

      And many thanks to SSD for so graciously accommodating my ramblings.

      VR TLB

  7. SB_Pete says:

    Personally, I’m not a fan of camelbaks (and I am not an old-timer – I grew up with camelbaks). I love the USGI two quart canteen bladder, however, I spend $ to make the system work. First, I update it with modified canteen straws. I still have yet to see any good canteen straw systems (The Source Convertube would be perfect if they would make a Canteen adapter for it – they make 4 other adapters but nothing for canteens), so I buy the TABS canteen straw kits available at the typical outside the gate military stores. Then I remove the crappy mouthpiece and install a Camelbak “Hydrolink Conversion Kit” mouthpiece. Then I cut the straw ~2-3″ from the canteen cap and insert a quick connect. Camelbak makes a bright blue and yellow one that works, or you can buy a Source replacement tube and cut the quick connects out of that. You end up spending $30-40, but I find the system better all around. I generally run two on my ruck, and I use a modified ALICE with local sew shop Canteen Straps (same as Tactical Tailor “2 Quart Cinch Straps”) to secure standard USGI 2qt carriers to my ALICE pack (The MOLLE is a giant steaming turd IMO).
    I find this system to integrate better with the ruck than throwing a bladder in there or strapping one on the outside. They disconnect faster for refilling or for weighing in on timed ruck marches than digging a camelbak out of the main pouch. They are FAR better to refill from streams and for using Iodine tablets with. You can also easily toss one in an assault pack and I find that fits better than trying to fit a camelbak inside one (or, worse, wearing a assault pack or ruck over a camelbak.

    TLB, if you’re interested, I could send you pics of this sort of setup for your collection. Just let me know!

    I still use camelbaks when I’m wearing a plate carrier (I also use a Nalgene rather than a canteen with a plate carrier when I have space to use one), but for a patrolling / long stay in the woods set up, I prefer two 2qt’s on the ruck, a 1qt USGI in canteen cup and a Nalgene (with “cap cap” top) in a Molle Nalgene carrier. I can also augment that by throwing my 3L camelbak into the top of the main pouch when necessary (eg. 100+lb, 100+ degrees for 10+k)

    The Nalgene is easy to put ice cubes into and is clear with graduated markings to make powder mix drinks with. It is also easy to clean – making it ok to put things other than water in it unlike canteens. Also, A Nalgene carrier also works great for travel coffee mugs.
    The 1 qt is CBRN compatible and, more importantly, makes a great pillow!
    It also allows the Canteen Cup which is great for eating non-MRE meals, heating coffee, shaving, and can be used to boil water for purification if necessary.

    I would love to see a piece on the canteen cup, esp if it includes info on the canteen cup stove which seems to have all but disappeared from the army but is still stocked in the USMC. Ditto for a piece on the ALICE pack – I certainly love mine – all three of them lol. It looks to me like they are coming back again and will come back to stay. The Molle, Molle II, and ILBE (not to mention the CPF-90) were/are all turds. The 1606 frame used in the FILBE and the forthcoming Airborne ruck is ALICE compatible. The Mystery Ranch NICE, Tactical Tailor MALICE frame, and TAG AGAF frame are all ALICE frames designed with SAPI plates in mind – a major issue with the ILBE frame in particular. The sheer quantity of packs for the ALICE frame these days suggests the same. In any case, the history of the ALICE pack could really use a good treatment – to include why they’re so popular with the Aussies and why the Canucks stuck with the old 64 frame… oh, and the awesome pack shelves!

    • Terry B. says:

      SB,

      Great comments. I do have to try to keep these relatively short so there is only so much I can squeeze in on any given subject. Besides, I only know what I know about each piece of kit. So I’ll definitely have to leave the Canadian and Aussie part for someone from those countries to weight in on if they feel like it.

      Back in the 90s we used IV tubing to do what you are describing with our two quarts. We punched out the center of the NBC cap and it worked pretty well. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures or examples of that set up.

      I like your attitude regarding your gear. If it doesn’t work for you or the way you would like it to…then find a way to adjust it and make it better!

      TLB

      • SB_Pete says:

        Thanks! And fair enough – do include something about the pack trays (Shelf, Cargo Support Rucksack). Nobody seems to know they exist anymore.

        As far as the IV tubing, that is essentially what these are. They are non-NBC caps with a hole punched out. Really the thing that makes them worth the $10 is the custom O-ring that keeps the whole thing sealed up nicely – well enough that the bladder shrinks as it is drunk from – no sloshing. The cap and tubing are nothing special and the mouthpiece is a leaky POS. After fitting them with a QD snap, nice bite valve, and fitting cinch straps to the ruck, the whole thing becomes a great system.

        And yeah, lol, I definitely tend to just make kit my own – my wife is forever asking me “Do other guys do that to their ________?”

  8. Kevin G. says:

    Ah the good ol 1qt and 2qt. I cant find myself going back to using those but I do like using a Nalgene bottle. You can get the circular canteen cup to fit a nalgene; then you are using a similar set up. I just dont miss hearing the slush slush of the water inside the canteens. I too own an abundance of kit that seems to continue to pile up. I look forward to reading more of your posts on the old kit. Ive been in since 2001 and I have used a myriad of equipment to hoof through the mountains of A’stan and the mean streets of Baghdad. Ive used ALICE and MOLLE; MOLLE is a bitch. Since you are already thinking about writing about butt packs and MOLLE/ALICE packs you should go ahead and add the old LBE vs FLC piece to the plans.

  9. Terry B. says:

    Kevin,

    I have a lot of molle compatible stuff (SF issue and personal purchase). But I was never issued standard Army molle loadbearing gear (woodland or UCP).

    I’ve not had any opportunity to use an FLC. So I have no insight to make a comparison. I have recently been experimenting with a large molle rucksack I bought online and may have something worthy of sharing a little later on.

    TLB

    • Kevin G. says:

      Ah ok. The FLC was top of the line shit back in the early days of the war. When I was young 82nd dude we reversed our FLCs to wear like a rack and it was awesome. Then came the industry boom with all the options. I haven’t looked back since. Ive bought alot of kit in the pursuit of making life as easy as possible doing all the patrols.

      • Terry B. says:

        Kevin,

        That’s interesting. I know what the FLC looks like and I have seen lots of guys wearing it…but I have never seen it worn “reversed”. Could you describe how you reconfigured it in more detail? Thanks.

        TLB

        • Kevin G. says:

          We took the waist belt and rerouted it through the main portion of the FLC so that the buckles were on the back instead of upfront. It prevented us from having buttpacks but we could throw the FLC on over our heads, buckle up the back, and go on our Airborne way.

  10. Lasse says:

    More articles like this! These are a good blend between personal preference and history all at once.

  11. Jon, OPT says:

    Good “write up” about pouches. You can never “over-use” quotes, just my “opinion”.

    Just messing with you, good stuff, many valid points.

    Jon, OPT

    • Terry B. says:

      Jon,

      I know. I should have probably taken more creative writing classes and less history in my youth. Thanks!

      TLB