Back in 2011 Rod Teague of the Liberty Tree blog posted his tutorial on how to build what he calls the “Hellcat” ALICE pack. The Hellcat ALICE combines parts from recent MOLLE II rucksacks with the old standby ALICE pack. It’s an excellent blend of modern and older technology and has proven to be popular among bushcrafters and survivalists.
One of my goals for 2015 is to do a bushcrafty camping trip where I hike into a campsite and carry all I need on my back. To do so I need rucksack larger than what I had, so last weekend I picked up a large ALICE in very nice shape, and then ordered parts to build my own Hellcat.
The parts all arrived this week and I put it together today. Here is it shown with my USGI Military Sleep System inside to provide some shape to it.
The MOLLE II waist belt and shoulder straps came from eBay vendors. I also wanted to replace the antiquated metal sliders on the compression and pocket straps with Fastex buckles. For these, I ordered a repair kit from Amazon.
The buckles arrived first so that was the first mod that I tackled. The original metal sliders need to be removed from the ruck first, without damaging the existing straps. I used a set of Wiss aviation snips to clip them off. You can also use a Dremel with a cutoff wheel. With the old sliders removed you can install the repair buckles. You’ll need five of the 1” wide on a large ALICE; the kit comes with four. For the last one I used a buckle that I had in my junk pile and used the snips to cut a slot like the one found on the repair buckles. It’s the black one on the middle pouch, below.
For additional security I put a cable tie around each short strap where it snaps to the pocket.
The Fastex buckles make opening and closing the pockets a lot easier, and allows you to move the lid out of the way much better than the original sliders. Even if you don’t do the full Hellcat mod the Fastex buckle mod is very worthwhile.
The MOLLE II shoulder strap kit that I got is a bit different from the one shown in the original tutorial. The design probably evolved over time. The frame attachment straps are different so I had to come up with a slightly different way to attach the shoulder strap yoke to the frame. The load lifter straps are just threaded under the top frame bar, through the loops on the frame, then secured in place with the Fastex buckles.
The web straps had a couple areas that were folded over and stitched so that the webbing was three times the thickness of the unfolded webbing. I carefully removed this stitching so I could thread it through the buckles and give me a little more length. To make threading the webbing easier, I cut each end on an angle then fused the ends with a lighter. The short connector straps that come with the shoulder strap assembly were discarded after removing the buckles, which were used as shown above.
The shoulder strap assembly that I got has a different long middle strap from the one described by Teague. Instead of a Fastex buckle it has an ALICE-type metal slider, and I believe the webbing is shorter. After removing the slider I had to come up with a way to attach it to the middle of the frame. I settled on using a couple cable ties:
I may replace these cable ties with some 550 cord or beefier ties.
The bottom of each shoulder strap is threaded through the round hole on either side of the ALICE frame at its base. This also shows a side view of how the waist belt is attached to the frame.
And here’s a top view of the waist belt attachment. You thread the attachment straps through the same loops on the frame that the ALICE kidney pad uses, and then secure them with the buckles on the pad.
The waistbelt is the most important part of the conversion for making the ALICE carry like a modern pack. Properly adjusted it allows you to transfer most of the weight you’re carrying from your shoulders to your hips. There’s a little movement in the attachment but we’ll have to see if it’s a problem under load.
The final component of the Hellcat conversion is the MOLLE Sleep System Carrier. This is a bag that straps onto the bottom and which holds your sleeping bag. I haven’t yet obtained one but will be ordering one shortly. At first I thought I might be able to compress my MSS down and just carry it in the main compartment, but doing takes up pretty much the whole thing. So, I’ll get the carrier bag and strap it onto the bottom.
Were I to starting out all over with this project, I’d order a Hellcat conversion kit including the straps, waistbelt, and sleeping bag carrier. One place to get such a kit, an ALICE with conversion kit, or a complete Hellcat is The Old Grouch’s Military Surplus.
The Hellcat and Fastex buckle mods greatly improve the performance of the ALICE pack, making for a low cost alternative for recreational backpacking or your bugout bag.