Tactical Tailor

The Baldwin Articles – Buttpacks

Special Forces Veteran Terry Baldwin is continuing his series on the history of US Military equipment with the field pack, more commonly known as the buttpack.


I’m sure most everyone knows that the US Military once developed and issued load carrying accessories officially called Field Packs. “Buttpacks” is the more familiar nickname they immediately acquired. Here are some additional facts. Field Packs attach to the USGI web belt with slide keepers. There is no such thing as ALICE Clips. Slide Keepers were first fielded with the M1956 Load Carrying Equipment (LCE) which included the M1956 Field Pack. That was 18 years before ALICE. Buttpacks work best with H-harnesses and were never meant to interface with the ALICE Y-shaped Individual Equipment Belt Suspenders. No buttpack was ever a component of ALICE. The ALICE Medium and Large Rucksacks were intended to completely eliminate the need for buttpacks. And therefore USGI buttpacks were never designed or originally intended to be worn with a rucksack.

In the last months of WW II the US Military fielded the M1945 Field Pack. It replaced the general issue M1928 Haversack and the M1936 Musette Bag that was most widely associated with paratroopers. The M1945 gear delivered some needed improvements but was not well liked by soldiers during the conflict in Korea. Especially the pack. Which led to the development of the M1956 LCE. The H-harness that came with that system distributes and stabilizes the soldier’s load much better than its predecessors. The slide keepers kept items like canteens from bouncing the way they had with the earlier wire hanger attachment system. And moving the Field Pack to the rear of the soldier on the belt line better offset the weight of loaded ammunition pouches and frag grenades on the soldier’s front side. While not putting any additional strain on the shoulders as earlier packs had. For all those reasons, the M1956 system and the associated buttpack were very well received.

Some improvements were made in 1961 which included enlarging the Field Pack slightly, incorporating a waterproof collar and extending the pack cover. The grommets on both canvas versions were designed to be used to attach smaller items like the bayonet or wire cutters which still had the wire hanger system. However, since the same items could be attached directly to the belt, this feature was not often utilized. The M1961 version of the buttpack was the most widely produced and most common. There was a nylon version of the M1961 buttpack developed as part of the fielding of the M1967 Improved LCE. The M1967 gear was produced in limited quantities and only intended to replace the M1956 gear for troops being deployed to Vietnam. Some of the features of that system like new 30 round M16 magazine pouches were very popular. And experience with the M1967 gear clearly influenced the designers of the ALICE Load Carriage System some eight years later. So if you were ever issued or bought yourself an issue nylon buttpack it was legit. But it came from remaining stocks of the M1967 gear and not from ALICE.

Strictly speaking, the canvas buttpacks that we are all familiar with should not have been worn much past 1978-79 (four years after ALICE rucksacks were adopted). But it didn’t work out that way. First, the traditional military supply system had a standing Basis of Issue (BOI) of one buttpack per individual. Apparently that was never rescinded and many supply rooms and CIFs kept issuing buttpacks as long as they had serviceable inventory of the item. Second, there was an easy work around to make wearing the buttpack compatible with the ALICE Packs and it was even Army approved. TM 57-220, Technical Training of Parachutists, describes how to rig M1956 and later ALICE LCE to be worn under the parachute and parachute harness. It called for the soldier to unbuckle the pistol belt and adjust the rear of the LCE harness to droop down enough so that it rode comfortably below the body of the parachute. And the same procedure worked just as readily for packs of ALICE Large size or smaller. Note: this technique did not work nearly as well for more elongated packs with padded hip belts like the Lowe designed CFP 90 or the Gregory SPEAR pack. I think it is safe to say that is one of the reasons that those packs were not very popular with the troops at the time.

But clearly the most important reason the buttpack stayed in service so long was that “field soldiers” of all services liked them. A lot. So even after they were no longer being issued local surplus stores and manufacturers stepped up to supply the continuing demand. In the late 80s some components of ALICE like the suspenders and ammo pouches were replaced with the Load Bearing Vest (LBV). But since the LBV was basically an H-Harness design it mated even better with the buttpack than the ALICE Suspenders ever had. So buttpacks remained a fixture on LCEs / LBVs well into the 2000s. Even today, many modern versions of the buttpack are being produced. Although sometimes they are now referred to as waist packs or fanny packs and can be worn separate from LCE if desired.

Along with the fielding of the LBV, something called the Field Pack, Training was also introduced. It was noticeably larger than the earlier buttpacks. Too large in my opinion. Unfortunately that “super sizing” of buttpacks subsequently became something of a trend. With plus sized “Recon Packs” and “Optimized Buttpacks” being produced by various manufacturers. These usually consisted of a main pack that was about the volume of the Training Pack plus two, three or even four extra external pouches. What resulted was a near backpack sized load being mounted low on the soldier’s back. This tends to make the soldier’s LCE or vest uncomfortably unbalanced and rear heavy. It is simply not a good way to carry any substantial weight. Buttpacks were just never meant to be backpacks. In short, if you intend to carry something bulky or heavy then an Assault Pack or 3-Day Pack or even a full sized rucksack would be the better choice than an overloaded buttpack.

The reverse is also true. Some pouches can be too small to be legitimately called buttpacks at all. Or in other words, if it is too tiny the “pack” mounted on your lower back is really just a mid-sized utility pouch. I have two examples of pouches that I have tried that I consider on the borderline. One is LBT’s Mini-Buttpack, and the other was made by HSGI (and to be fair was not intended to be a buttpack). They are just barely big enough to carry what I would consider an appropriate minimum buttpack load of gear: i.e. poncho (emergency shelter), change of socks and some emergency rations. I prefer a little more room so these would not be my first choice but would be better than doing without. I would say that a modern pack with approximately the same volume as the M1961 buttpack would be the Goldilocks solution, not too big and not too small (TAG used to make one that was just about right). But you might decide otherwise.

Of course MOLLE / PALS, body armor and GWOT each added different functional factors to the equation. Buttpacks of any kind, even the smallest that I mentioned, can be a real pain if you are predominately involved in mounted (vehicle based) operations. There isn’t much room inside fighting vehicles and doors and hatches are narrow snag monsters. Achieving the slimmest profile you can manage: front, back and sides is highly desirable if you are working out of vehicles. Buttpacks are just not helpful in that scenario. That is why buttpacks were never, ever popular with tankers. However, if you are primarily doing dismounted operations than a buttpack might be well worth considering for your mission. Not attached directly onto body armor with PALS. That would definitely interfere with any backpack you might be using for extended operations. But if you are utilizing one of the modern H-Harness systems over slick armor than you can adjust the harness as I described above to make it work*. Bottom line: buttpacks will never again be as ubiquitous as they once were but in some cases they are still just right.

*It doesn’t look to me like the issue FLC vest can do that very effectively because of its design but someone can tell me if I am wrong.

Next: Ponchos and shelters.

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


56 Responses to “The Baldwin Articles – Buttpacks”

  1. MRC says:

    Excellent bit of history, thanks!

  2. AbnMedOps says:

    @LT Terry Baldwin: Did I understand you correctly that there is a legit technique to essentially hang a full-size ALICE Large rucksack through the harness and under the parachute? Or did I misread? I’ve certainly jumped with an unbuckled LBE / LBV routed through the harness and under the chute, but never seen it done with a rucksack. I don’t recall reading TM 57-220. Offhand, I’d hate to think of the possible tail-bone / spinal injuries from a rucksack frame in a poor PLF…

    • Adam says:

      He was referring to the field pack/butt pack hanging below the chute. As we all should know, the rucks hang on the front of our thighs when we jump.

    • Bruce says:

      No, he was pointing out the same technique for wearing the chute also worked for wearing a ruck.

      • Terry B. says:


        Adam and Bruce are both correct.

        And no, there is no technique for static line parachuting that puts the rucksack behind the jumper.


        • Stefan S. says:

          As a Master Jumpmaster there is no provision to have the ruck under your ass.

          • SSD says:

            Well, there is a spider harness for free fall but that’s not what he means. He’s talking about extending your LCE straps so that the butt pack rides below the rucksack.

  3. majrod says:

    Terry, your series is just some really great stuff. You should consider putting them together into some sort of book. It reads as well of not beter than alot of the commercial stuff out there.

  4. Brian says:

    Yes I have been really enjoying your posts on ALICE and other 80’s to 90s gear. KEEP IT COMMING! Brings back memories…..

  5. BS says:

    Terry, great article but

    “ALICE Load Carriage System some eight years later. So if you were ever issued or bought yourself an issue nylon buttpack it was legit. But it came from remaining stocks of the M1967 gear and not from ALICE.”

    There were ALICE buttpacks – they were different than M1967/MLCE. Will find pictures later and paste them here.

    • Terry B. says:


      If you have proof of an ALICE buttpack I would certainly love to see it.


      • Strike-Hold says:

        Only ones I ever saw were commercially-made items, not issued.

        • SSD says:

          I got mine at Ft Ord in 86 so it’s possible it was an M1967 model.

          • Terry B. says:


            …or perhaps commercially produced copies bought with unit funds?

            The 82nd bought a quantity of nylon buttpacks on at least one occasion from a commercial vender in the mid 80s and issued them.

            But that still is not a component of ALICE. If BS or someone else can find something that proves otherwise I prefer my crow with barbecue sauce.

            But I don’t think I will have to eat it.


        • d says:

          We had to have one in the 82nd, but you had to buy your own from Gen. Jackson’s or US Cav.

          That was one of the few areas where you could be an individual in the ‘Duece. Mine was one of the woodland camo nylon ones (like the one in the lower right in the picture).

          Socks, brown T, wet WX top, MRE. Plus it up when you leave your ruck behind.

          • andrew says:

            I think the lower right one is the issue (“training”) buttpack mentioned in the article. I remember those has side release buckles which made opening them a bit easier than the metal slides on previous OD nylon ones. And they were larger with a drawstring liner/closure so more and more shit was stuffed into them until they looked like balloons hanging on the rear. So you still needed a buddy to find something in it for you.

        • octactical says:


          If you check the NSN on the buttpack you’re talking about I don’t think it’s going to come back to one of the ALICE components. It’s going to be a NSN associated with MLCE.

          • BS says:

            The original M1967 has different one, 8465-860-0314.

            Later, there were buttpacks in the 8465-xxx-xxxx format. ALICE one had 8465-00-935-6825. Maybe, since the item was already in the system they decided to keep the old NSN (with the update) but later they changed the design too.


            • octactical says:

              Yep, the seem to have kept the same 8465-00-935-6825 NSN even with the last Woodland camo cordura version that was issued. Found this online

              “In the mid-1990s the M-1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment or MLCE Field Pack is resurrected for use with IIFS system. A modified olive green version of the M-1967 MLCE Field Pack [sometimes referred to as a “butt pack”] has been utilized for sometime as a “three-day training pack” in conjunction with the ALICE system, but is not a component of it. The IIFS version is manufactured in the woodland camouflage pattern and retains the same National Stock Number as the M-1967 MLCE version [the “three-day training pack” also retains the same National Stock Number]”.

      • BS says:


        Those guys did goog break down about the differences in M1967 and ALICE. In general – orginal MLCE has grommets on flap and ALICE does not.

        I will try to dig trought my hard drives as long in the past I had the ALICE buttpack.

  6. Kaos-1 says:

    Ahhhhh, my first man-purse.

  7. Textanker says:

    You guys are forgetting the Spec Ops Brand Soldier Optimized Buttpack (SOB). I loved mine.

  8. zig zag says:

    It would be helpful to include a caption with the photo listing what butt packs those are… great series I enjoy reading these…

    • Chris says:

      Yes please!

      • Terry B. says:

        zigzag, Chris,

        Sorry about that. I do keep them generally grouped in the sequence that I talk about them.

        I selected the examples in the display just to help illustrate the various characteristics of the buttpacks being discussed.

        Just a visual aid and not the focus. But I’ll try to do better with that in the future.


  9. Well done – please keep up the good work. History like this needs to preserved.

    • Terry B. says:


      Thanks! I am attempting to do more than just capture the history in these short pieces.

      I hope some of the younger readers and especially those still serving will also see value and relevance in these gear related lessons learned.


  10. balais says:

    I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the buttpack. They’re excellent for patrolling, although anything related to vehicles or being seated, they are horrible. You can wear them with a ALICE, although if you run a civie bag that is longer, rather than short and wide like the ALICE, its an impossibility.

    I also dont like having to search for items inside (batteries, jerky, or gloves, etc), which is why I like Tactical tailor’s MAV large pouches. Easily accessible, etc. Of course i’ve seen people with a large or medium SAW pouch used as improvised “buttpacks” kind of like how the brits run their belts.

    Good stuff.

  11. Craig says:

    Love(d) the buttpack!

    Back in the day, you were “The Shit” if you were one of the guys with the old Canvas one,instead of the nylon.
    I used to have 3 or 4 of the canvas Vietnam types but have lost or given them away. I am still looking for a nice, un-ragged out version to replace them.

    Fast forward to the 2000’s,and the BALCS/SPEAR set. Personally,I liked the buttpacks that came with those,all you need to do is add a few additional pouches to the outside,& your good to go.
    I dont think I have either BDU or DCU of those anymore,either. Shit just disappears.

    What I have & am using now, is either the SOF issue SO -Tech go bag,or a EMDOM waistpack. While they both work, the SO Tech is too big,and the EMDOM is a bit small.

    These are great articles,& I look forward to reading them. Gives us older guys a good memory jog,& gives the new kids both, an idea of what was used (and the extent f its success),and what can be done with a little time and thought.

    Back to Epay,looking for a good canvas one still!

  12. Craig says:


    Do you remember the US made ALICE pack made for the CONTRA’s in the late 1980’s?
    I always wanted one, & meant to buy 1 or 2 (they had them in either Brigade QM,or US Cav) but got busy with other things.
    Now,it seems,they are one of,if not THE most rare piece of ALICE nylon gear ever made.
    Found one here at FT Bragg awhile back, in very used shape,but needed to make a ATM run. By the time I got back, it was gone. In all fairness,I dont remember if they refused to hold it, or if I just didnt ask.Either way,I have never seen another.

    Thanks again for these articles!

    • Terry B. says:


      I do remember the Contra packs. Technically they were not ALICE, although they constructed of similar materials.

      And I do seem to recall that Werbell(sp) of Brigade Quartermaster had a hand in their manufacture and then sold them for a time.


  13. Bill says:

    Was issued a canvas buttpack at Ft Benning from 78-80 while serving in a mechanized infantry unit. Never saw the nylon version.

    Did not see an Alice pack until arrival at the 25th Infantry Div. 80-82. Everyone was issued a medium except the RTO’s. They were issued the large size.

    The frames were kept at the company level. I had to wait for a guy to ETS in order to get his. Even then I had to find a turnbuckle to fix the waist pad.

  14. Kevin G. says:

    Great read! Once I arrived to Bragg and started using the Y harness with the buttpack I wasnt a fan. Once I purchased my H harness and did some adjusting on the kit it was basically a part of me (until those long movements back from Sicily as a SAW gunner. If you ever get around to it, you should write on Assault packs and Ruck Sacks. Anyone remember the issued assault pack that had horrible straps and would rip with any grunt amount of weight? I never knew the name. I just knew I hated it as an AG and because of that I currently have an affliction for Assault packs.

  15. Historia says:

    I never new why my H Harness worked better then my newer Y Straps.
    Sir, I would love a list of the sources you used, unless of course its all from personal memory?

    • Terry B. says:


      A great deal of this one did come from personal memory. I carried various buttpacks (issue, commercial and even custom made) all through my infantry and well into my SF career.

      I did reference TM 57-220 as mentioned in the article and the 1977 version of FM 21-15, Care and Use of Individual Clothing and Equipment.

      The Army renumbered their manuals some years ago so if you search by title you can find them and also find more current versions if you are interested.


  16. Riceball says:

    Ah, the good ol’ buttpack, I used to have one when I was in, 2 actually and both were private purchases. I had the nylon version and I don’t if they were commercial copies or actual surplus but they were pretty cheaply made, both of them ended up busting seams around the bottom, I think from the foil packs the individual parts of MREs came in. I always wanted one of the canvas ones, they always looked so much sturdier than the nylon ones.

    • Terry B. says:


      I would agree that the canvas versions were more durable than the early nylon packcloth versions.

      Not true today, modern cordura nylon buttpacks are better and tougher than the old stuff. Just stay away from the extra big ones.


      • SSD says:

        The canvas ones absorb water like a sponge.

        • Terry B. says:


          True and the nylon ones would dry faster when they did get wet. But the nylon ones did seem to be more prone to blow seams as Riceball mentioned.