Guide to MOLLE/PALS: The Origin, Design and Usages for this Tactical Gear Mainstay

 

If you are new to tactical gear, you may have already picked up a tactical vest. In all likelihood, you picked up what is known as a pre-made vest with pouches and pockets that are already pre-installed. Now, there is nothing necessarily wrong with these vests, but if you are serious about tactical, strongly consider upgrading to a far more customizable, tactical solution.

That solution, namely, is MOLLE (pronounced like the name Molly). What is MOLLE? The term MOLLE is simply an acronym for “modular, lightweight load-carrying equipment”, and as the name implies, embracing MOLLE provides you with a greatly enhanced degree of customization for tactical purposes.

Pre-made vests may look cool or be designed in an interesting way, but are they ideally functional? In most cases, no. Why carry around a pre-made with a number of useless pouches for a given tactical purpose or loadout? By contrast, it empowers you to customize your vest and loadout so that you carry only what you need and can place your gear in any position you desire.

If these ideas sound especially complex, don’t worry. Understanding MOLLE is far simpler than it sounds at first glance. Here is a closer look at the origin, design and usage scenarios for MOLLE/PALS that will help you make the most of this tactical gear mainstay.

A Closer Look at the Origin of MOLLE for Tactical Use

It probably comes to an as little surprise that MOLLE, like other tactical gear mainstays, is often used by members of the U.S. military. MOLLE was first introduced as a load bearing tactical system in 1997, but the use of MOLLE attained widespread usage post-9/11 by U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, the modern era of tactical carry and load-carrying equipment is still largely defined by MOLLE, and it is still used by U.S. troops and NATO forces.

The entire premise of MOLLE is founded on the importance of the capital M in MOLLE: Modularity. The vest, pouches you choose and backpack all attach to each other to form an integrated MOLLE system.

MOLLE, therefore, is predicated on the importance of attaching external gear and pouches to your pack. For the military, this proved essential since the military service member could build a customized pack based on the mission or the specific task at hand. Put another way, a 10-day special forces operation versus a planned three-day mission will have wildly different loadout needs, but the customization of MOLLE ensures streamlined preparedness for either mission.

MOLLE system lets you attach the following type of tactical gear, as needed for tactical carry:

  • Magazine pouches
  • Canteens and water bladders
  • First-aid kits
  • Pouches for food and sustenance
  • D-rings for your slings and similar tactical gear

What Is the Difference Between MOLLE and PALS?

In researching the best modular gear, you may have also come across the PALS acronym. These acronyms don’t need to be a source of confusion when choosing the right tactical gear mainstays. Understand that PALS is an acronym that quite simply refers to a “Pouch Attachment Ladder System”. Have you noticed the horizontal grids of webbing strips spaced about an inch apart on tactical backpacks and other gear in screenshots online? If so, the fabric webbing you have noticed in these screenshots are PALS webbing.

Why Does MOLLE/PALS Rely on the Horizontal Grid of Webbing Strips?

Grid of Webbing Strips of MOLLE

 

The modular MOLLE gear you include on a MOLLE pack simply attaches to this PALS webbing. This means that some marketing materials that mention “MOLLE webbing” are technically incorrect. Rather, MOLLE gear will include PALS webbing that ensures modular gear is attachable in a customized and streamlined manner.

But, instead of technical jargon, let’s look at what MOLLE and the PALS webbing grid can do for your tactical carry in practical terms. Right off the bat, choosing a MOLLE pack as your everyday carry means that any future pouches or additional gear you pick up that is MOLLE-compatible will also be compatible with your tactical carry mainstay. No less important, MOLLE frees you from having to carry excess weight for the tactical task at hand. Any excess modules that are unneeded for your tactical task can simply be left off and left behind. For tactical purposes, reduced weight means enhanced operational and tactical efficiency.

How to Attach Your Gear

Grid of Webbing Strips

Regarding the strips of webbing, attaching your gear to the grid properly will result in an exceptionally secure and lightweight carry. If you are unsure how to attach your gear, it is not as complex as it looks at first glance. That said, there is a correct way to do it, so here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  1. First, you are going to want to choose a location for the attachment of your gear to the webbed platform in question. Feel free to choose commonly recommended attachment areas or experiment to see what the ideal placement might look like for you. Whichever you decide, however, do experiment with your configuration before attaching since attaching to the webbing correctly does take some time.
  2. DO NOT just drop the straps straight through and button with the snaps. This will not securely attach your gear.
  3. Instead, once you have decided on the position of what you are attaching, start by running the straps through the top piece of webbing on your MOLLE gear first. Then, rather than bringing it through to the next set of webbing, bring the straps back up to weave it through the webbing on the pouch or item you are attaching to the vest or backpack.
  4. Once you have woven it back through, give both straps a firm tug to bring the straps down.
  5. Proceed to the next set of webbing, repeating the process for every piece of webbing on the vest or backpack.
  6. If you have a snap on your gear (most gear pieces do), once you have run the straps through every piece of webbing or run out of the strap, simply run the strap through the piece of webbing closest to the snap to secure your pouch or piece of gear.
  7. If you are attaching a gear with tethers on the end (without a snap), the weaving process itself will be the exact same. Once the weave steps are completed, however, you will simply tuck the tethered tabs back into the pouch for a tight and secure fit instead of relying on the snap.

If you are having a difficult time visualizing these steps, check out some helpful YouTube videos on how to weave MOLLE attachments, but there is a simple way to remember how to weave the attachments as a beginner to tactical. Suppose you are weaving a pouch in order to attach the pouch to a tactical vest. Decide on the position for the pouch, and then simply weave through the vest first and back to the pouch in a “vest-pouch” manner, securely pulling the straps through and repeating this process all the way down the vest until running out of available webbing or strap and completing a secure attachment.

It may seem difficult at first, but in time, safely securing your tactical gear will become time-efficient and second nature.

What Is the Best MOLLE Gear for Beginners?

If you are so sold on tactical that you are ready to get “tacticool” and grab some tactical MOLLE gear, here are a few tips on where to start. Ideally, you will start with an everyday carry tactical backpack and add to it as needed.

After all, the backpack or rucksack is going to be the staple of your everyday carry, so don’t go overboard on buying pouches and add-ons that you are not yet sure will be needed or used regularly. If you want a truly budget tactical backpack for everyday carry purchases, you can’t go wrong by starting out with the 5.11 RUSH12 Tactical Backpack, which has a hydration pocket, nearly 1,500 cu. in. of storage and comfortable backpack straps. Most importantly, it contains 16 individual compartments and is MOLLE-compatible with PALS webbing, making it a great entry point into the world of MOLLE.

You can always upgrade to a more robust or premium pack as your tactical carry prowess and/or gear expands and feel free to jump right into a more premium pack if you are ready to make MOLLE a mainstay of your EDC tactical gear as well.

MOLLE is a worthy upgrade for all things tactical, and remember that it was designed for military use and the toughest conditions imaginable. As such, a quality modular pack is more than capable of ably serving as your tactical gear for a weekend road trip or a week-long getaway in equal measure. Once you are familiar with MOLLE and get the right gear, you’ll always be ready to carry your gear how you want, without the limitations of a non-modular pack.

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