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[Loadout] Guns & Gear of a US Marine

Want to know what a US Marine carries? We'll cover the guns, gear, knives, and woobies of grunts and how to clone their loadout as a civilian.

After 5 years in the Marines, I know a few things. 

I can remember the acronym PICMDEEP by heart. 

I’m a pretty good shot. 

What I carried AR and Beretta and Sling
20″ barrels and rifle gas systems make for easy hits.

And I know that the United States military spends an awful lot of money on a lot of awful gear. There is some straight garbage adopted and dispersed through the ranks for what seems like no reason whatsoever. 

But it’s not all bad. 

Sometimes you get gear that’s worth a damn. Maybe it’s issued to you, maybe you bought it yourself. I have a number of pieces of gear I used in the Marine Corps that I continue to use to this day.

Table of Contents


The Gear

Alice Pack 

When I joined the USMC we were issued the terrible ILBE packs. These massively clumsy packs were hard to organize and lacked a good frame for long ruck marches. Through some magical force, our Battalion Commander was able to secure us metal-framed Alice packs prior to our deployment. 

What I Carried USMC Alice Pack (2)
It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a real workhorse.

These were so much better than the ILBE for long humps, and in Afghanistan, we were on foot 95% of the time. The metal frame Alice packs were perfect for day to day work in country. I typically carried a lot of extra everything in my pack. 

My squad leader required me to carry 1,000 5.56 rounds in drums for the SAW and 750 rounds of 7.62 when I took the M240 out. 

I also carried a huge thermal optic, sleeves of batteries, extra medical gear, toys and candy for kids, a HIIDE system, and any other mission-specific gear. While I was never a good runner I can haul a mule’s load and often did. 

What I Carried USMC Alice Pack 4
Lots of pockets!

On top of that several of our patrols or missions would often last overnight, or even several days so packing out extra water and chow was always a priority. Afghanistan is cold so my woobie came too, as well as a sweatshirt. Don’t forget extra socks and pants as we’d often went through canals to avoid IEDs. 

My point being, this medium Alice pack was often full and quite heavy. However, I still loved it and used it well beyond my first deployment. To be clear this is the medium pack with the metal frame.

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I still use my Alice pack for hiking, camping, and now that I work in emergency management I take it on incidents and deployments. The pack is crazy strong and very well made. The main compartment is roomy, and the three outer pockets give you plenty of room and organizational ability.

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While it’s old and lacks MOLLE or webbing of any kind this is still a rock-solid reliable pack for humping and carrying gear. The metal frame gives you awesome support and is a must-have as well. 

The Blue Force Gear Vicker’s Sling 

The Vickers sling is still my favorite. I was in one of the first groups to get a BFG sling in the Corps and they quickly became favored over the old Blackhawk 3 points and single points we were issued. The Vickers sling is designed by former Delta Force operator Larry Vickers and it shows the value of experience. 

The Vickers sling is a two-point sling and its main feature is its ability to be rapidly and easily tightened and loosened. A small tab sits near the barrel end of the weapon and allows you to pull rearward to tighten the sling and push forward to loosen it. 

Vickers Sling What I carried (2)
Quick-adjust sling is a must

This tab is designed to be used with one hand so the other can stay on your weapon. 

The Blue Force Gear Vicker’s Sling can be tightened down to make it easier to move and climb, or to commit to tasks that require two hands. It can also be loosened for more freedom of movement and to be easily removed. 

Vickers Sling What I carried (1)

It offers more support than a single point sling, and is less complicated than a 3 point with it’s half dozen straps. Remember that French dude trying to get his rifle off? That was not uncommon with 3 points when wearing loaded down vests and packs. 

The Vickers sling simplified everything but also increased our effectiveness and means to handle our weapons. I used one on my rifle and even had one of the very first Vickers M240 slings given to me to test and evaluate for the USMC. 

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I still not only own my first BFG sling, but own several more. This includes a Vickers AK sling, a Vickers One sling, and the Medic Sling. This is the only sling I use by and large. 

The Guns 

Aero Precision M16A4ish Rifle 

Back in the day, young PFC Pike was issued an M16A4 and immediately wanted an M4. The M16A4 was old, and it was huge! It was heavy, especially when carried with my M240. 

The M4 was smaller, sleeker, and for cool guys. 

SOPMOD 1.5 Clone (4)
SOPMOD 1.5 would come later, but it is a sexy beast.

Alas, the M16A4 and I would become good friends by force. At one point I was issued an M16A4, an M240B, an M9, and a Mossberg 590. After I got out of the Marine Corps, it became apparent that everyone else liked M4 style carbines as well. 

What I Carried USMC Alice Pack (1)
Aero Precision M16A4 Clone

The most popular variant of the AR-15 is the carbine variant with a 16-inch barrel. They are absolutely everywhere and are seemingly the standard. As the years passed nostalgia set in and I started to appreciate the M16A4 and it’s full-length rifle design. 

I looked, explored my options and finally settled on the Aero Precision M16A4 clone. Of course, it’s not an exact replica of my issued rifle. 

There are a number of differences between my issued M16A4 and this rifle. These differences are both big and small. The USMC M16A4 rifles have a 3 round burst function and the civilian Aero Precision rifle most certainly does not. 

The M16A4 also has a KAC quad rail, and you’ll notice this M16A4 wannabe does not. It just has a plastic handguard. That was a purposeful decision since the KAC rail is heavy, hard to find, and expensive. I simply don’t have a need for it or any quad rail. 

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In form, this is remarkably similar to my M16A4. If the M16A4 is a Shelby Mustang this is a 2007 V6 Mustang. Sure it’s not full auto, but it does offer the same smooth shooting experience. 

Plus I get an FSB and excellent sight radius, a crazy accurate weapon, and a soft shooting rifle. 


This rifle’s 20-inch barrel and fixed stock give you a very long package, but also a capable one. The 5.56 and 223 caliber rounds are designed for a 20-inch barrel. The 20-inch barrel allows the 223 round to reach peak velocity and this gives you a little more range and a little more power downrange. 

It’s not a major difference, but it does exist. The fixed stock and 20-inch barrel give you such a pleasant firing experience. There is hardly any recoil or muzzle rise. 


The long and stiff fixed stock give an amazing cheek weld and rock solid point of contact for your shoulder. It is a flat-top upper, but I left the iron sights on because I’ve also been interested in shooting with iron sights once again and appreciating the challenge it creates. Of all my AR-15 rifles this one is my favorite. 

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It’s very pleasant to shoot, triggers memories of the good old days, and is a reliable and highly accurate rifle. 

Plus, bayonet. 

Magpul PMAGs

I fed my M16A4 with a combination of PMAGS and GI Magazines. I preferred PMAGS, but at the time they were like 22 bucks a pop at the 7 Day Store and a young Lance Corporal ain’t tossing out $150 bucks on mags.

What I Carried PMAGs (1)
Remember when these were $25+? Oof.

I bought one at a time until I had 7, which was a combat loadout. 

PMAGs were still somewhat new then, but had proven to be a more reliable option for us. GI Mags are typically great magazines, but it seemed like every other mag I had was passed it’s life cycle. We ran into bent feed lips, dented magazines, and crappy followers. 

Best Magazine
at Gun Mag Warehouse

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The PMAGs became a great key to success when it came to running our rifles. It’s a magazine  I still use today, with plenty of others as well. The AR mag market is massive, but it seems like Magpul dominates it now. 

The Beretta 

Like my M16A4ish clone my Beretta is not an M9. It’s a simple 92FS.

I liked the Beretta M9 and while Beretta does offer those for civilian sales I found the 92FS to be cheaper and the differences so subtle it didn’t much matter what sights and markings the gun had. 

What I Carried Beretta (2)
Beretta 92FS

These days it appears M9 marked Beretta’s are cheaper than 92FS models. In the Marine Corps, it wasn’t as simple as heading down to my local LGS and purchasing one. 

It took my machine gun section and I years of arguing that as a machine gunners we rated an M9 by Marine Corps doctrine. Prior to that, we were forced to carry both an M16A4 and an M240 medium machine gun.  

Finally, we got a shot at pistol qualification and if we passed we got an M9. It was made very clear that we had one shot to qual if we didn’t qual we weren’t getting a redo. I had plenty of experience with a handgun but many of the Marines had never fired one. 

Travis 92FS on a stump

Believe it or not, handgun training in the USMC is nonexistent for your basic grunt. You spend a couple of weeks practicing dry fire, then a full 4 days at the range before you qualify with your rifle every year. 

Prior to our M9 qualification, we had zero training with the weapon. We didn’t even hold them prior to arriving. I was lucky to be a gun guy and own handguns privately and shot relatively often. 

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Two of us passed and I carried my M9 for my second deployment and it went around the world with me as well. I fired it only in training, but it ran well in every environment. 

From the beautiful Mediterranean to the deserts of UAE and Djibouti the gun always ran. It was accurate, and the all-metal gun had barely any recoil. The M9 helped me develop a love of DA/SA guns. 

I always enjoyed range time with the gun and thought it to be an excellent combat pistol. My only dislike was the slide-mounted safety and decocker. I think a decocker only would’ve been a much better option. 

Other than that I had much love for my M9 and now for my 92FS. 

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In the military, the little guy rarely has a voice or means to improve their situation. Fighting for the M9 and qualifying with it against the odds was a satisfying feeling. An even better feeling was not being forced to hump an M240B and an M16A4 on every field op. 

You know, a compact Beretta 92FS might be in my future. 

The Knives 


I’m flubbing this one just a bit. I carried a CQC 7BW when I was a Marine but gave it to another Marine as a parting gift when I left. I regretted that and purchased a newer model and keep it to this day. The CQC 7BW is a direct descendant of the original folding tactical knife the CQC 6. 

What I Carried Emerson CQC 7BW (2)
Emerson CQC 7BW

The CQC 7 isn’t a standard EDC style knife. It’s built to be a weapon, a compact, pocket-friendly weapon. The CQC 7 from Emerson is designed to stab people who need stabbing. The Emerson CQC 7 features a rigid tanto point made from 154 CM steel. 

That tanto tip allows you to stab through heavy military uniforms and web gear, and the 154 CM steel is strong and rigid. It can also be sharpened up quite nicely with a little effort. The CQC 7BW model does have the wave feature. 

This allows you to open the knife as you draw it from your pocket. It’s as fast as an auto knife, but it does take significantly more practice to master.

What I Carried Emerson CQC 7BW (1)
Not your average EDC

My use of the CQC 7 as a Marine was basically putting in the role of a pocket knife. In that role is still works, but the design lacks a good belly for deep cuts and the tanto design is more complicated when it comes to sharpening the knife. 

One of my favorite features is the chisel grind Emerson uses. If you are a knife snob you may not like it because you may not understand the choice. A chisel grind does give you a very rough cut compared to a more standard V grind. 

However, these knives are made for Marines, Soldiers, and other guys and gals who spend lots of time in the field with little resources and often even less time. A chisel grind is easy to sharpen and can be done with minimal time and equipment. 

There is no need to apply swipes of a wet stone to both sides of the blade, the chisel grind only requires a single side to be sharpened. This is a constant with Emerson CQC knives. 

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The grip is also roughly textured G10 and in the Marines, you have to wear gloves when outside the wire or when training. This roughly textured G10 clings to a gloved hand well. This made the knife secure when using it to cut and slice through whatever was in my way. 

As a Marine, I subjected this knife to hell and back. It was submerged in the Helmand river, in the seas off the coast of Spain, Romania, Djibouti, and of course Camp Lejeune. It went everywhere with me, and it held up to five years of service. 

The Emerson CQC 7BW is one of the toughest folding knives I’ve ever used. 


I was gifted a Ka-Bar fighting knife as a teenager after choosing to join the United States Marines.

I’ve now had this very knife for 13 years and in that time it saw the sunrise and set across four different continents. Sometimes it clung to my belt, and other times it stayed under my rack or in my pack. 

What I Carried KA-BAR (1)

Mission dictates the gear needed and admittedly a fighting knife was a bit much to carry every single day for every single op, and every single training event. However, when needed, there was no replacement for a good fixed blade knife. 

Mine is the classic USMC Ka-Bar, the leather sheath long gone and recently replaced with a polymer option. It’s 7-inch blade is outfitted with just a bit of serration. The handle is wrapped leather and is very comfortable. 

That leather handle gives the Ka-Bar a unique smell when new. It’s wrapped with circular gaps that gives it an improved grip texture. This hand filling grip is excellent for hard and heavy work. 

7-inch blade KA-BAR

Hot spots are non-existent and the grip gives you plenty of leverage to get things done. 

The blade is made from 1095 Cro Van steel. This is a very strong steel for survival style knives. It’s rigid and won’t chip easily. 

It’s easy to sharpen too, which is another nice factor in the field. As a high carbon steel, the blade will rust easily if not cared for. The finish is strong and a blast of Rustoleum can fix it up. Better yet a little knife oil here and there helps too. 

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Rust was never a problem with my knife. My Ka-Bar was used in all manner of tasks. The Serrations were a Godsend in Fort Pickett, Virginia as I dug through the frozen ground with nothing more than my E-Tool and Ka-Bar. 

The Ka-Bar’s serrated edge chewed through roots and helped my team and I install our machine gun into a defensive fighting hole. More than once I used the round Ka-Bar butt to drive in tent stakes for our bivouac site.

Official Knife of the USMC
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When combined with a nice heavy stick or branch you could baton it through wood to split logs to make a fire. You can even dig with it, or break the ice with it. The Ka-Bar may be known as a fighting knife, but ultimately it’s a great tool for fieldwork. 

Plus it makes short work of MRE packaging. 

The Woobie 

My Absolute Favorite Piece of Gear – The Woobie 

The Woobie, aka the poncho liner, is a military issued blanket. That’s not all. This legendary blanket is designed for field use and is universally beloved.

What I Carried USMC Woobie (3)

The Poncho Liner is made for mild environments, but I used it everywhere. It punches well above its weight when you look at how light and compact it is. 

You can fold it up small enough to fit in a cargo pocket. There is never a reason to leave your woobie behind. I still use mine to this day in the more temperate Florida months and all the way out to a deployment in Northern California in the fall. This little blanket just works. 

What I Carried USMC Woobie (2)
Very compact when it wants to be

It’s superbly soft and comfortable and can work in coordination with a sleeping bag for a little extra comfort. It can be wrapped around the body and worn as a cloak, and there are even companies producing Woobie hoodies and jackets. 

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

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The Poncho liner is often imitated and when purchasing one look for an authentic model.

Mine was made by the Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, Inc and there are lots claiming to be authentic. Do your research and read reviews. 

What I Carried USMC Woobie (1)
Naptime after a long day of writing about guns and stuff

Also, thank me once you discover the magic this blanket creates. 

Getting Carried Away 

It’s amazing what sticks with you after your time in the suck. Sure you learn the lessons, some discipline, and you have experiences you’ll never forget.

You’ll also learn to trust your gear, and you’ll certainly put it to the test. 

What passes the test of military service is almost always worthy of further use. Some you have to turn in, and some you get the opportunity to keep and hold onto.

This was the gear I took with me, or retrieved shortly after leaving the service. 

Do any of other veterans have their favorite gear? Or do you have gear you’ve adopted that got its start in the military? Let us know below! For one more piece of kit that I used, abused, and loved — take a look at the Best ACOG Rifle Scopes!

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10 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    I served with M-14/M-16A1, both were OK, and M 1911. Still have my uncle's K-bar. He carried it through out the South Pacific, '43-'46. I carried it from '67-'71 (1-year in Nam). Showing it's age, but still working. Had to replace the original sheath in late '90's. Never heard a poncho liner called a "woobie". Still have mine. It's been retired, honorability, after serving 3 of my own kids, 2 nephews, 3 nieces and 5 grandkids. (The stories it could tell.) Son and nephew have each give me theirs

    November 5, 2020 7:59 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Douglas Andrew Gracey

    Ahh the best ta 50 the poncho liner! Back in the day 86' you would take poncho and tye the liner strings through the grommets in the poncho and wah la blanket! Wait privates theres more!! Snap the sides of the poncho and you have an escapable fart sack!

    January 23, 2020 5:51 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Doug Brown

    The handle on the Ka-Bar is stacked leather washers. They are compressed, ground to shape and then sealed. They are not wrapped. Very good article.

    January 23, 2020 4:41 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    William King

    Lol, I'm reading this laying under my woobie. I'm gonna pick up another one soon. One of my best purchases ever.

    January 15, 2020 9:02 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mike Lloyd

    No review of Marine Corps gear is complete without the poncho liner. Thank you I'm gonna go get mine and take a nap now.

    January 11, 2020 8:53 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Joe Appleby

    Great article.

    Little nitpicking: the French police doesn't use the German word "Polizei" on their uniforms. Judging by the use of a Steyr AUG and the colors of the uniform, I would assume it's the Austrian police.

    The video is from the response to the Munich shooting in 2016. The shooting triggered response by police tactical units from Germany and Austria due to how close Munich is to the Austrian border. The Austrian Cobra unit was deployed to Munich quite quickly.

    January 9, 2020 1:16 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      Very interesting! Thanks for letting us know.

      January 9, 2020 1:21 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Kenneth Matthews

    Great article. Another woobie fan here. I was pretty sad when I had to return mine with my TA-50 gear when I left the Army. So I went to the nearest surplus store and bought one, Marine pattern which is better than the Army ACU pattern. Another piece that I loved (and still do) is the waffle shirt. Living in Texas, I do not get enough chances to wear it but I will always keep one handy.
    I also like your choice in knives. An Emerson has been in my pocket since 2011. If you want something with more "belly", check out the Commander.

    January 9, 2020 11:29 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    +1 on Woobie. Met a homeless Vet at a blanket giveaway before Winter, we got to talking and Woobie came up. Pulled mine out of my jeeps edc pack and the look in his eyes was worth everything and more. Gonna carry two from now on.

    January 9, 2020 4:06 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Scott C.

    The mighty woobie, best piece of kit on this whole list.

    January 8, 2020 8:52 pm
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