This is a combination of two other articles I have previously written, I combined them to add additional thoughts and for clarity.
About three years ago one of my first articles was about what I liked to carry in my buttpack on my suspenders and belt mounted load bearing equipment (referred to as LBE from here on out). Since then I’ve switched over to using a chest rig, but the idea of having a small amount of sustainment equipment along at all times has always stuck with me. For much more detail on what line 3A means, as well as the other lines in my system, please see this article.
I’ve described this equipment previously as my line 3A gear, which is a basic loadout to sustain me up to 24 hours in my environment. I have emphasized that last part because you really need to understand the environmental and working conditions in your own area, and if you live in a different region than me your requirements could be different. I feel that with proper skills and preparation of the AO this equipment could sustain someone much longer as well. Line 3B is the sustainment equipment needed for living out in the bush for multiple days and ideally I try to incorporate my 3A gear with my 3B gear. In a perfect world I would be able to attach my 3A kit straight to my 3B ruck (I feel this nut has been cracked and I’ll be writing about it soon.) so it’s always packed and ready in the field should I need to grab it and go fast and light.
Life can be a harsh mentor at times and “pain retains” – every item in my 3A is there for a reason, which is derived from personal experience needing said item. Sometimes this experience has come from being lazy and leaving the equipment behind because “we’ll be back before dark” and “it’s sunny out” then our short duration patrol got side tracked and we were out over night with just the gear we had brought with. Other times this experience has come from spending a couple years (combined) on a quick reaction force, or QRF. This is a team that is on standby to react quickly to developing tactical situations. Similar to a fire crew, we had to be out of the gate within minutes of receiving a call and ready to handle any situation that could pop up. This meant our gear had to be packed and ready to go at all times and once a call came in there wasn’t time for issuing patrol orders or doing inspections and rehearsals. Of course this meant we did many rehearsals and inspections beforehand to make sure our gear was ready, and I have brought this mentality to how I set up my gear now.
While it is my military experience that has taught me to have a minimum of 24 hours worth of equipment ready to go, we can definitely scale (see this article for details on my thoughts on scalability) this idea to whatever situation we are in. At a minimum, say in the example of a day hike, it is the basic layers to protect your core body temperature, the equipment to keep you hydrated, and the tools to help you get rescued should you get lost or hurt. At this level you aren’t planning on staying the night out, but should the impossible happen you should be able to make it to see the sun rise again. As the level of potential threats increases and we move towards the other end of the threat spectrum we start adding the tools and enablers to help us fight other people. These are things like signaling gear, night vision devices, and shooting aids.
As I said I’ve pretty well settled on using a chest rig for my fighting load. I like a minimally loaded chest rig though, I don’t try to put all my equipment on there. I really only want equipment dedicated to fighting on there and I refer to this as my line 2 gear. As a rule of thumb I keep my chest rig no thicker than about two AR magazines thick. This ensures that I can move easily with it on and I’m not adding a bunch of extra gear to snag on branches or create a Michelin Man silhouette.
While this approach has many advantages, the biggest drawback is that I can’t carry water or other bulky items on it like I could on my LBE. This means I need another piece of gear, either an LBE or a daypack. Even though I use chest rigs for my line 2 gear, I think a minimally loaded LBE is still an option as long as it doesn’t add much to your silhouette. This means using a buttpack and canteen or bottle pouches on the back side, and only very thin pouches on the sides, if any at all.
I generally like a day pack for this role though, something in the 15L-20L size seems to be a good capacity without being too big. This is mainly because a daypack, especially the one I prefer, is much lighter than an LBE with it’s suspenders, belt, pouches, etc. I’ve played around with quite a few different day packs, and while they were all usable, my favorite thus far is the Savotta LJK Daypack. It’s a basic but very durable daypack designed for the Finnish paratroopers to carry a patrol load. From what I understand they would leave it empty and roll it up in their larger ruck, then set it up once they got to their patrol base. If you are just getting started I honestly cannot think of a better daypack for you. I recently had mine modified to help me be better organized and I might start offering a few of these modified daypacks for sale. Paired with a medium sized pack like the Bongo Gear Becker Patrol Pack Mk. II I think most people would have their load carrying needs taken care of for under $350 and they weigh about 6.5 pounds combined. Once again, I have no affiliation with either company, I just think they both offer an exceptional value and I like to share such things with my readers and students.
While this article may seem long considering it’s just for a daypack load, this load is very critical. It needs to be well thought out and has to strike the balance between too heavy and not the right equipment. A lot of people talk a big game about not needing warming layers, food, etc. While I know that the human body can be pushed to limits that most people never personally realize, this once again shouldn’t be the model we adopt for our normal operating mode, but rather kept in reserve for when all our planning fails and the universe wants to really see what we are made of. The development of your line 1, 2 and 3A kits and the associated skills to use them should be the primary focus of your training efforts because if you can’t survive contact with the enemy or survive 24 hours against the elements in your AO you don’t really need to be worried about anything after that.
The 3A packing categories
So more importantly let’s discuss the why behind these items. All the gear in the list is there for a reason – to satisfy a need, or multiple needs. The following is a list, in general order from most important to least important (this is of course subjective to your objective in your own Area of Operation) of the needs that our 3A gear needs to be able to satisfy for at least 24 hours:
- Shelter and core temperature control
- Hydration and Energy
- Rifle support – items that help us maintain and utilize our primary weapon
- Night fighting
- Camouflage and concealment
- Emergency Kit- used in conjunction with a recovery plan
- Team Leader Kit – used to organize and plan when in the field
- Tools for simple repairs in the field
- Hygiene and Pooping
Some may be asking “what about mission specific gear?” For those unfamiliar with the term, “mission specific gear” is that gear necessary to the successful completion of a clearly defined mission. It may be additional optics like a spotting scope and tripod, a precision rifle, breaching tools, digging tools, etc. It’s not gear I’m normally going to carry or need except for when it’s been identified as necessary after very thorough planning. My 3A equipment, combined with my properly prepared and stored Line 1 and Line 2 equipment, represents a baseline of equipment that gives me an “out the door in five minutes” capability for 24 hours to satisfy my QRF mentality. If I have more time than that to plan a mission and determine I need special equipment, I would of course add it to this pack or if necessary utilize other forms of load carriage depending on the mission specific equipment I need to carry. While the probability of stepping outside to the sight of communist paratroopers falling from the sky is pretty remote, I think this is a good standard to train ourselves to and is far and above better than someone who has their gear scattered across the house trying to find it in a hurry. At a minimum I can grab my Line 1, 2 and 3A gear and toss them outside along with my other important valuables in the event of a flood or fire.
Shelter and Core Temperature Control Kit
I’ve packed this bag in the same manner I would if I was expecting rain, wind and cold weather, in other words what I call “hypothermia weather”. This pack list is good for about half the year in my area, mainly spring and fall. In the summer it is a bit overkill and the Wolfhound jacket could be left out. In the winter it forms the core of my cold weather kit. For starters I have a large outer shell to block the wind and the rain in the form of my USGI poncho. This protects my core and most of my body, but I still need to protect my legs and hands, and that’s what the gaiters and goretex glove shells do. The poncho is a multipurpose item, and is useful also as overhead cover for shelter or concealment if needed. I’m also bringing a pair of spare socks, thermal glove liners and a Kuiu lightweight merino beanie. The Wolfhound Jacket is a great insulator for my core, being made from the same weight of Climashield Apex that my Swagman roll is. The combination of all these items does a good job at keeping me dry and warm. Should I end up being out later though I can use my Sniper veil, back pad and Mylar blanket to help insulate me further, and if I am getting very cold I can sit down cross legged, light the 4 hour candle and set it between my legs while trapping heat with my poncho to add additional warmth.
Hydration and Energy kit
For the Hydration and Energy kit I want to carry at least a minimum of 2 liters of water, 3 if it’s hot. Since this packlist is focused on colder weather I’m only carrying two to save room for my Wolfhound jacket. As I said earlier, I can ditch the jacket in the summer and that will open up room for an additional 1 liter bottle or my Source hydration 1L Kangaroo. I chose to carry a stainless Pathfinder bottle so I can boil water, either to drink later or to help keep myself warm. For the other bottle I’m using a polymer Hunersdorf bottle. These are popular with mountaineers because they are easy to open with gloves on and the coarse threads don’t freeze up as easily. This presents a balanced approach to “weight versus rate”. In the winter I may swap the Hunersdorf bottle for another stainless bottle if I am planning on melting a lot of snow for hydration. I’ve paired these up with a 650mL titanium cup. Besides using the cup for drinking I can also boil additional water in it and use it to scoop water into my bottles from small streams or ponds. I prefilter my water through a cotton bandana that I keep with my hydration kit.
I carry enough Chlorine Dioxide to disinfect plenty of water in a 24 hour period and also a couple servings of electrolytes. I don’t carry or mess with dedicated filters. Many of my water sources are what are considered “very turbid” and will take out most filters very quickly. While some are capable of being back flushed, experience in class has proven this to be a very time consuming and unrealistic process. If you are in a tactical or survival situation you don’t have time to be chilling by a water source cleaning your filter. There’s also the issue of weight, ounce for ounce I can carry a lot more Chlorine Dioxide tablets compared to the amount of actual use I will get from a filter. In class, most Sawyers jam up within 1 liter and need back flushed, most Grayls last 5-6 full presses, all the other filters are worse and become dead weight. Also, many filters are ruined if they are frozen once, and with temps in my area regularly below freezing in the spring and fall I don’t want to rely on something that might break that easily. Of course I can store it in my clothing, but I just don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze. Once again, do your homework in your AO and determine what kind of water sources you have. If you have nice mountain streams like they do in a Sawyer commercial then a filter might be a good option for you, but you should definitely carry a back up (PACE planning anyone?) like Chlorine Dioxide.
For energy I keep it simple with emergency or lifeboat rations. They are ready to eat, requiring no prep and are loaded with fat and carbohydrates which is what you will be needing if you are sleeping out with minimal gear and trying to cover miles to get to your Emergency Rendezvous point.
Rifle Support Kit
My rifle support kit is to help maintain and employ my primary means of defending myself, my rifle. This includes items to keep the weapon functional as well as items to help me fully exploit it’s capabilities. This like cleaning gear, spare batteries for optics, lights and lasers, tools to help maintain the rifle and it’s optics, bipods and tripods or any other supports would all be part of this kit. It would also include things like laser range finders, Kestrels, and any hard copy ballistic data.
My rifle cleaning kit is a bare bones kit for keeping a rifle operable in the field. I use standard steel GI cleaning rods, this is as much to have something to remove bore obstructions (mud, snow) as it is anything else. I removed the T handle to save space and weight. I have a lens pen to help keep my optics clean, and a small bottle of CLP. I also have a small bag of patches and an eyelet as well as a BCM bolt kit. Combined these all help me to keep my rifle functional, as opposed to clean. I store a 5.56 bore brush and chamber brush with the rods, but if I’m carrying any other rifles I store their caliber specific bore brushes (as well as their ballistic data) in the Triad Tactical stock pack that I put on all of them.
My bipod is still the UTG recon. I know that probably is wrinkling a few noses but I’ll be damned if I can find a better QD bipod for any price. I wouldn’t normally ever recommend UTG for anything but this bipod is really a great value, and I’ve had mine for over ten years. I bought it at a point in my life when my budget was pretty tight and I didn’t have the money for a $300 bipod. As conditions have changed I honestly have looked into replacing it but I have yet to find anything that fits the ticket. All my rifles have a section of Picatinny rail (except my .30-.30 lever gun) so that I can utilize the same bipod no matter what rifle I am carrying. The bipod just rides in my daypack waiting to be needed. I don’t like the additional weight and awkwardness that a permanently mounted bipod adds to a rifle when trying to creep through brush, so instead I like to use it only when needed. For those wondering “What if I need to quickly employ my rifle???” Once again, context is important. If I am suddenly ambushed while patrolling my only concern is getting off the X by assaulting through in the case of near ambush or breaking contact in the event of a far ambush. At no point is stopping and putting a bipod on part of that equation, just rapid fire at suspected enemy positions. I can drop to prone or kneeling and typically have rounds on a 2/3 IPSC sized target out to 300 meters within a couple seconds, which should be plenty accurate enough to start suppressing any would be ambushers. There’s going to be far more fire and movement involved in that situation since rapid decision making, suppression and violence of action will be what keeps me alive, and a bipod on a light weight carbine isn’t necessary to effectively employ it to accomplish those things. If I am lucky enough to be carrying a belt fed weapon that is a different story.
This brings up another important point, if your rifle is too heavy to perform that way, it’s probably too heavy. Just because Uncle Sam issues heavy for caliber weapons doesn’t mean we should be carrying them dogmatically. (In fact you would do yourself a big favor and quit referencing whatever US big military does as your standard until you’ve verified it will work for you) None of my rifles, whether 5.56, .308, or any other short action caliber weigh more than 10 pounds loaded, and they all have magnified optics. If it is under 10 pounds and still too heavy then you need to build some upper body strength.
Night Fighting Kit
If my objective involves defending myself against other humans I want the ability to operate at night. While it isn’t necessary to have night vision and thermals to operate at night, they are major force multipliers that can’t be ignored, and we explore this in detail in the Bush Tactics class. I’ve written about my night vision kit here. Night vision isn’t just for shooting at bad guys though, and just having the ability to see well at night opens up many more options for movement through an area under the dark and cool of the night. I like a small QD weaponlight because I primarily keep the light stored, only to be attached when needed in or around buildings.
Camouflage and Concealment
Whether fighting or hunting being camouflaged to your environment and being able to conceal yourself is important. A lot can be done with just a simple sniper veil and some camo face paint, assuming you are applying it over earth toned clothing and using vegetation with proper site selection. I like to carry either a coyote veil with one side painted OD green so it is more versatile, or one like pictured so that it can be flipped to whichever side I am needing. We cover camouflage and concealment in depth in both the Fieldcraft and Bush Tactics courses.
My emergency kit consists of items that will help me get rescued or prevent hypothermia. These should be coordinated with a pre-planned recovery plan so that others know what to look for.
Team Leader Kit
These are items to help me stay organized and effectively lead in the field. These items aid in Land Navigation, Planning, and sometimes employing my rifle as well.
My tool kit consists of items that are useful in repairing gear and keeping my electronics running. It’s also additional items that I may need to use from time to time like my headlamp, cordage, or my folding saw. While some may question the folding saw, it is an almost indispensable tool should you need to gather natural vegetation for concealment or insulation, and of course to quickly prepare material for a fire if need be. I can prepare more wood faster with a small folding saw than I can with a hatchet at a much lower weight as well. This one is a Bahco Laplander with a 396-JT pull cut blade. It cuts like a Silky without the fragile tipped blade.
Hygiene and pooping
While not exactly an exciting topic, being able to maintain a basic level of hygiene in the field is important. Mainly I am trying to avoid external or internal infections caused by the extremely dirty environment that nature usually is. I want enough stuff to keep any small wounds clean and I want to avoid infecting myself from my own feces. Another good addition to this would be a small titanium shovel to bury poop with. I also want to be able to care for my feet, and a change of socks and foot powder is very important. For more details please check out this article on Personal First Aid Kits and Hygiene Kits.
How I pack it
Just like when we pack any other pack we want to pack items in the order that we will most likely need them. We pack items that we are least likely to need towards the bottom and then start adding items as they become more likely to be needed, finally finishing with items that get used often. One of the major reasons I wanted to modify the LJK was to add storage on the outside for items I use a lot like my water bottles.
This list represents years of practice and experience and is a good representation of what I feel is adequate for the region I live in during the spring, summer and fall. Obviously as temperatures drop additional warming gear will be needed, but even then this kit still forms the core of my 3A kit. I think the most important thing is to take the categories I’ve used and apply them to your own region to come up with something that works for you.
8 thoughts on “Junk on the Bunk: Line 3A Gear and how I pack it”
To others: don’t overlook the warming layers, even in the summer. You can become a hypothermia casualty in 55-65° F in driving rain.
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You’re 100% correct. I wrote an article awhile back detailing layering https://badlandsfieldcraft.wordpress.com/2022/12/04/junk-on-the-bunk-clothing-layers-for-cold-weather/
Take care buddy!
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Very well written and to the point, Love the fact there is no ” In case I might need ” gear listed , packed or taken .
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Thank you sir, I appreciate it. You’re correct, we’re shouldn’t be packing around “what if” contingency gear unless it’s there too support a plan
I hadn’t thought about using a candle in that manner. For a, “I’ve got to stay out overnight” unexpected scenario and a fire is out of the question, it seems like a way to keep yourself from going hypothermic. Good article!
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Thank you sir, my buddy James at On Point Tactical (highly recommended classes) taught it to me, he calls it a scout fire.
“If you can’t survive contact with the enemy or survive 24 hours against the elements in your AO you don’t really need to be worried about anything after that.”
This statements needs underlined!
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Definitely, too many guys put the cart before the horse!