I’ve been on a historical research path for a while now, trying to find the time when styling from the military backpack and the civilian book bag merged into the sort of “urban carry” offerings today.

We know MOLLE was patented in 1996, but when did a PALS array make its way onto a civilian-oriented pack?

A few have referenced the Nike SRB RPM backpack, circa 2002 possibly.

Anyone else able to pinpoint a year and model that might have come earlier?

It is better that they do it imperfectly than that you do it perfectly. For it is their war and their country and your time here is limited.


                                                                                                                        —T. E. Lawrence




Original Post

This should be coming out as an article at Carryology.com in the near future:

Trailblazer: The Nike SB backpack         

When the United States Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center patented a grid of one inch webbing, attached to a base fabric at one inch intervals, it forever changed the way soldiers carry their equipment, ammunition, and provisions to war.

This grid, labeled the Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS), became the cornerstone of the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment system (MOLLE) introduced in 1997.  PALS allows the user to attach a variety of pouches to base items such as a pack, body armor, or an ammunition vest, via a strap system laced into the PALS grid.  Over time, the term PALS has fallen out of favor and most folks simply refer to the webbing as MOLLE.

Post 9-11, the Army and Marine Corps began to field suites of MOLLE equipment to servicemembers headed to combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.  A burgeoning Industry of MOLLE-compatible products exploded literally overnight as these troops sought out tactical load–carrying equipment that performed better than the standard issue article.  The options are literally endless at the moment, and MOLLE compatibility has seeped into a range of military-inspired, everyday carry products like messenger satchels and sling packs.

Based on six months of research, I’ve concluded that the Nike SB (Skateboarding) backpack was the first of these new, civilian-oriented items.  My search began at the Lightfighter tactical forum and gathered bits and pieces of the pack’s story from a member who had a friend on the Nike design crew.  It eventually shifted to Facebook, where I met a Nike designer who worked on a different design team from 2003-2016, but knew the people involved in the SB’s release in 2007.   He in turn referred me to the SB’s designer Thomas Bell, as well as the director of the company`s archives, Nike DNA.

When I communicated with Bell, he spoke about his design philosophy and details of the shoe, hat, and camera cases which were initially offered at product launch.  He stated that he draws inspiration from “the form-follows-function design principles of military products”.  The original SB pack certainly raised eyebrows in the tactical arena when it first arrived, but it never really left the hip, urban realm to became a true crossover pack, used as an  everyday carry pack for tactical or adventure-related activities.

Photographs published at Hypebeast.com in 2008 show an accessory attachment system which seems to pre-date the Kifaru K-Clip, and allowed for the cases to clip into place vertically.  MOLLE attachment straps are not visible in those pics, however, and it can be reasoned that the grid does not need to be up to spec for the pouches to be attached.  That is fine, because the webbing on the face of the version I peeped does not conform to the original Natick specification of horizontal rows of one inch (2.5 cm) nylon webbing, spaced one inch apart and reattached to the backing at 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) intervals.  It is close, but the deviation is noticeable.

These cases never really caught on with skateboarding consumers, and the pack has morphed from a SB version 1 (seen in the photos here), to a version 2 with an additional external pocket, and on to the current “SB RPM” listing on the Nike website, which makes no mention of the original accessories.  

It is amusing to watch video reviews of the pack, because across 30 minutes of multiple reviews, none of the vloggers even mention the PALS grid, nor the possibility of expanding the pack’s carry capacity with a MOLLE pouch or two.  That capability is something most users find critical when selecting a pack for tactical operations.

The PALS webbing seems to have become nothing more than a decorative element on this 26-liter backpack, outfitted with a standard laptop compartment, basic internal organization area, horizontal Velcro straps to secure a skateboard, bottle pockets, and bottom straps to hold a jacket.  

The current version of this trailblazer is built from 600D polyester fabric with a water-resistant coating, and is currently offered in Thunderstorm/Black and Golden Beige/Black.   Additional models offer a wide variety of colorways ranging from black camo, pastels, and even a floral pattern, and can be found deeper in the backpack section of the website.

You may never employ a Nike SB backpack on a mission, but if you purchase one for your urban trekking collection, you will undoubtedly own a piece of gear with historical lineage to a revolutionary patent.


Thanks to Battlemonkey for narrowing the aperture of my search:




It is better that they do it imperfectly than that you do it perfectly. For it is their war and their country and your time here is limited.


                                                                                                                        —T. E. Lawrence




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