Submitted by Eric Daniel
Next to boots, the most important piece of kit you have on the fireline is your pack. Your line gear is literally your home away from home. Everything you need to survive the next 24-72 hours, not to mention save your life, needs to be in that pack. At the same time, your line gear needs to be durable (firefighting is a rough and dirty business after all) as well as bearable (you're going to be wearing it, after all, pretty much full time so it can't be a back breaker.)
Unfortunately, as a firefighter "draftee" (i.e. Guardsman turned firefighter) the line gear you get issued leaves a lot to be desired. Like the Alice packs of old, the FSS issued gear is functional, just not very ergonomical. When I was a professional firefighter, the best gear I ever used was from Eagle. In addition to being solidly built (all Eagle products carry a lifetime warranty) the Eagle packs also distribute weight well. In addition to large, and thick, shoulder straps, the Eagle packs have padded waist belts, which allow you to distribute the weight between your shoulders and your hips (this also makes for a more secure load; the last thing you want is a pack flopping about on your back as you move up and down the fire line.)
The pack I originally used was the Eagle Warrior. This is a front-loading pack (by front loading it has a large zippered flap on the "face" of the pack which exposes the whole pack when opened) that has room on the belt for four 1-liter canteens as well as "fusee" (road flare) loops for 8 flares (for doing burnouts.) The pack I have now is the Eagle Commissioner. The Commissioner is a top load pack, in that it lacks the large main zipper, and instead, is accessed from the top of the pack (the top is covered by a fold-over flap that is held in place with adjustable fastex clips.) The advantage I see in the top loading over the front-loading is your pack isn't deadlined if the zipper fails (not that eagle won't repair the zipper mind you, but you'd have to send the pack in to get that done.) The Commissioner also allows you to pack a "hydration system" (camelback bladder) which saves you from having to pack canteens, though I still carry two simply because they're easier to fill, stream-side, than the bladder is. The Commissioner also features a detachable main pack, which allows you to walk the line with just your fire shelter and canteens. Finally, as with the Warrior pack, the Commissioner is pretty indestructible and it too carries the Eagle lifetime warranty.