Backpacks are well important in any war. They get progressively more important when the terrain of the battlefield does not allow to use wheeled or tracked means of transportation. Soviet war doctrine denied rucksacks, yet Soviet-Afghan war is one of the best examples of how important backpacks are.
Systematic backpack problems in the Soviet Army
The truth is, Soviet Army never had backpacks in it's history. Which is kind of ironic, as the pre-war Red Army did see some development in this piece of equipment. There were M36, M39 and M41 models, which generally followed the same fashion as other European armies of the time.
After the beginning of the Second World War, these rucksacks were declared too expensive and were not produced. Instead, just like before, everyone in the army was issued with a famous "veshmeshok", which has become iconic for the soviet soldier of any era. And this is where we will start our story from.
Veshmeshok literally translates as "sack of things" - and it is exactly this. The design is simple and elegant, at least for the XIX century, when it was originally designed. The idea is somewhat similar to duffle bags, which are common in the militaries across the world. The only difference is that the veshmeshok was pretty much the only type of backpack available to a russian or soviet soldier in the last 150 years.
By the book, soviet soldiers were supposed to treat this backpack as their individual cupboard which they had in the barracks. It was supposed to be used for shoes cleaning kit, hygiene kit and extra pair of foot wraps. In the field this would also be completed with the mess tin and eating kit, individual tent and a ration pack.
Of course, the real war would always dictate its own rules. In the case with veshmeshok it would mean that an individual soldier would not have any other backpacks, yet he would still need something to carry his stuff around the battlefield. This would include everything from ammunition to optical equipment for heavy weapons.
Veshmeshok was not a great backpack. It was very limited in size and it was not comfortable at all. Soldiers would try to avoid using it on operation whenever possible, trying to put all the loadout in the webbing or in the vehicle.
The famous RD-54, known to any soviet paratrooper, was not really a backpack. It was part of the webbing system, as it featured 2-cell magazine pouch and 2-cell grenade pouch. It also required a belt to be worn as you couldn't just put it on the back like a regular backpack without modifying the straps.
Unlike veshmeshok, RD-54 was, by design, a piece of field equipment. By the book, the paratrooper was supposed to carry both his individual comforting items as well as ammunition, explosives and anti-tank hand grenade RKG-3.
It was very easy to modify the RD-54. The simplest thing which was done by the majority of soldiers in Afghanistan, was the removal of the pouches and sewing the straps in such way that it could be used as a standalone, regular backpack. Some other modifications included attaching extra pockets, pouches or even sewing two backpacks together.
RD-54 is by far the most iconic backpack of the Soviet-Afghan war, as it was pretty much the only one availiable in big numbers. However, these backpacks were limited to airborne and spetsnaz units. As always, there are exceptions, but infantry regiments had almost no access to this piece of equipment.
All further backpacks discussed in this article are actually civilian bags, rather than military issued. The name of "Kolobok" comes from an old russian fairytale, featuring a round creature made from dough. Since this rucksack came to the similar shape when it was fully packed, it got this nickname.
The "Kolobok" was not actually some specific model, but more like a nickname for the rucksacks of a certain type. They originated from Abalakov brothers, who invented this type of rucksacks for the Soviet mountain touristic community. For a long time this was the only available rucksack in the Soviet Union.
There are no evidence, that the Soviet military ever had any contracts or bought any of these rucksacks officially. However, they were widespread among the troops stationed in Afghanistan, but most likely, all of these were private purchased ones.
The rucksack itself is huge in soviet standards - around 80l capacity. They are not great for the modern standards, but they did offer much better comfort than a regular veshmeshok and much bigger capacity than a regular RD-54. In the army they were limited to the numbers privately purchased by officers, so it would be unusual to see more than one in a section.
A rucksack which was rare both in the Afghanistan and on the civilian market. The rucksack consists of two parts - the bag and the frame. Light aluminum frame made it possible to make this rucksack very high capacity and still possible to carry around.
The name refers to Ermak Timofeevich, hero of russian folklore. He was familiar with the long walks, just like the potential users of the rucksack.
There is not much to say about this rucksack, as it was not very popular and was never produced in big numbers. It did see some service in Afghanistan, but it was limited not only because it was only purchased, just like the kolobok, but simply because it was not very wide spread in the shops in the USSR.
Overall, all the rucksacks models which were used during the Soviet-Afghan war are described in the paragraphs above. There is very limited information or evidence about the use of other rucksacks. It is still wise to say that soviet soldiers used some captured backpacks and there is a chance that they have used backpacks purchased in Afghanistan. But the evidence of this is very limited.