We bet you’ve heard of MOLLE before or even used it in your job. But what you may not know is how it got so widespread or what exactly it is.
You might think that MOLLE is the grid of straps that you attach your gear to and nobody would blame you. But these straps in a specific grid design are actually PALS, the “connector” of the system. We’ll go into more detail on that later.
As with many other things, we tend to use language very loosely because it is just the tool of a larger aspect: communication. Some parts are lost as knowledge is passed down through the generations. But the purpose of language is to get your point across.
Everyone understands what you mean, even if you say MOLLE webbing, MOLLE system, MOLLE channels, or any obscure combination of MOLLE and another word. Even if we use it wrong, everyone understands it.
A look at the history of the term can clear up the “misunderstandings” and help you better understand what the word actually stands for.
A Brief Overview Of The History Of Molle
The carrying of equipment and especially its efficient handling has been a big issue since the First and Second World Wars. The soldiers were deployed for several days or weeks and could not rely on constant deliveries of supplies. They had to carry the bare essentials of equipment, water, and food to survive.
At the beginning of the 20th century, this type of problem was not new. We can see how this problem has manifested itself over the centuries. Already 107 BC In 300 BC, a Roman general reworked the soldiers’ gear and what they carried because they were hampered by sluggish logistics. Gaius Marius, a general of the Roman Empire, ordered the soldiers to take their own provisions, blankets and extra clothing.
Luckily, logistics have evolved dramatically since then, so one would expect today’s responders to carry less. Unfortunately, the weight of the equipment has not changed, in fact it has increased.
As warfare has progressed, equipment requirements have also changed. Gas masks, maps, navigation and radios are just a few of the innovations introduced in the 20th century. More gear inevitably means more weight and more volume, so developing a logical, heavy-duty carrying system is crucial.
Development really took off during World War II. With the M-1945 Combat Pack, M-1923 Cartridge Belt, M-1936 Pistol Belt and M-1937 BAR Magazine Belt, a load carrying system was developed to build on. This was arguably the first rounded system, for which there were some patents as early as the early 1900s.
After the war of the peoples, development stagnated for a long time, mainly because of the economic collapse that came with it. We have to wait another 20 years before the now outdated load carrier system is picked up again.
Ilce (individual Load Carrying Equipment)
Unlike the previous iterations, ILCE was offered as a package. More specifically, it comprised the previously separate elements as one system:
- M-1945 Combat Pack
- M-1923 cartridge belt
- M-1936 pistol belt
- M-1937 BAR Magazine Belt
An interesting and unique slide keeper system used to connect multiple bags to the Battle Belt. Due to its strength and ease of connection, this system was used in further iterations of the charging system, up to and including ALICE.
Mlce (modernized Load Carrying Equipment)
While not a direct replacement for ILCE, it was designed for tropical environments, particularly areas in South Asia. The biggest difference between MLCE and ILCE is the material used. The new nylon material proved extremely valuable for outdoor gear. It absorbed little moisture from the damp jungle, making it a lighter option than soggy cotton.
Alice (all-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment)
In addition to MOLLE, ALICE is certainly the best-known system, as it is the direct predecessor of MOLLE and has existed for a long time. It was used from 1973 to 1997 and is still used by some US Army departments.
The idea behind it is not to reinvent the wheel. But to refine it and make it better. Therefore, some concepts of the early load carrier systems are still intact. Combat gear and existential gear are still separate and follow guidelines dating back to the 1950s. Only take what you need with you. What can be transported in other ways should also be transported in this way.
Pals – Pouch Ladder Attachment System
Without a spine, we’d just be a sack of meat falling to the ground. PALS is to MOLLE what a spine is to a body. The idea of the Natick R&D Center was developed to address what previous systems lacked most: a standardized connector.
Reading the patent may give you a slight headache, but the rationale is simple. Rows of horizontal rows 25 mm high, spaced 25 mm apart and 38 mm apart (although with deviations of 35 mm to 40 mm).
It is mostly made from nylon webbing because the fibers are particularly strong and durable. The latest developments further reduce weight by integrating the PALS system directly into the outer layer of a backpack, plate carrier or other carrier to which you wish to attach this connector.
The advantages of switching to a standardized connection are obvious. You can attach PALS to just about anything that’s compatible with it, and most systems are. With the Natick Snap, MALICE Clip or Weave & Tuck connectors you can attach practically anything to your system.
The other aspect is the high strength and the ease with which you can attach different pieces of equipment.
It’s not the fastest connection method out there, like Velcro for example, but it’s very reliable. It works even when wet, won’t break if dirt gets caught in it and is very difficult to tear thanks to the criss-cross strap system.
Molle (modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment)
Based on the experience with the load carrier systems, the development of MOLLE could begin. It consists of 6 components that work together to balance the load and easily expand/change when needed.
- Tactical Assault Panel
- assault pack
- Medium backpack
- Big backpack
- Medium backpack
- hydration bladder
- Modular bags
Contrary to how we use the word MOLLE today, it’s actually the name for this list of components. It was already developed in 1997 as a replacement for ALICE, but only came into use in the early 1920s and in OEF use.
A step forward was the adaptability of the system. At its heart was the new PALS system, but that wasn’t the only significant change.
ALICE came in two standardized sizes, while MOLLE featured an adjustable torso length and additional padding on the hips and shoulders. Along with the new and improved Fighting Load Carrier (replacing the old braces and web belt) and the absence of the earlier clips, the new system dramatically improved comfort.
The weight you can carry has been improved thanks to better exploitation of the symmetry and location of the gear carried. In the first test, a “comfortable” line of 55 kg or 120 lbs could be carried on a mission.
The last part of the MOLLE system is due to its modularity. By swapping out pouches, backpacks and other gear, you can create very specialized gear ranging from the Rifleman to the Grenadier and Pistol to the Medic of a unit.
MOLLE has come a long way from the first systems designed for soldier load management and carrying essential equipment. They have been on the market since the beginning of this century and have also conquered the civilian market due to their reliability, ease of use and versatility. Currently in active use by NATO allies and the US government, it appears to be the future of tactical cargo management.
None of this would have been possible without the development of the iconic PALS system. If there’s one thing you can take away from this blog, it’s that MOLLE is not the same as PALS. MOLLE is an equipment system designed for carrying heavy loads, while PALS is the connection method that makes it all possible.