When searching for backpacks or pouches, you probably come across the acronym MOLLE many many times. It’s touted as a must-have feature, and many of the top survival and tactical backpacks have it.
But just what is MOLLE and what’s it good for?
MOLLE (pronounced Molly) stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. It’s a durable standardized system of webbing sewn into certain tactical accessories that allows you to carry a heavier load.
Since MOLLE accessories are considered a standard, the various products that feature it are compatible with each-other, which basically means you can attach them to one-another.
NATO troops, especially the United States armed forces and British armies, utilize the MOLLE system. MOLLE’s usefulness is often employed by law enforcement agencies as well.
The system’s modularity comes from its utilization of the PALS (pouch attachment ladder system) system.
The PALS system is a ladder pattern with rows of heavy-duty nylon strips sewn onto the equipment in order to allow other gear and MOLLE-compatible gear to be attached through the webbing loop.
What Does It Stand For?
MOLLE simply stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment.
Who can use the MOLLE system?
The MOLLE gear-carrying system is not only suitable for the military and law enforcement agencies. The civilian as well will also find it useful for activities such as camping, hunting, and even for a range bag.
The MOLLE system is also a superior system for general backpacking and hiking as well as for your BOB and other survival gear. This is because it is the current state-of-the-art technology developed after decades of military field pack gear use.
Why Use the MOLLE System
By utilizing the MOLLE systems PALS ladder system for attaching gear, the weight can be more evenly distributed around the carrier’s body (see pic below). This enables you to carry more gear with greater ease.
Not only does the backpack utilize the PALS ladder system to attach gear, but there are chest rigs, vests, and belts as well that all utilize this same modular component style system of attaching and carrying gear.
The Army replaced the old ALICE system that had been in use in some form since the mid-1950s with the MOLLE I system. The MOLLE I system was fairly quickly replaced by the MOLLE II system which is exclusive for the army’s ACU (Army Combat Uniform).
Some other branches of the military still utilize the older ALICE system, but are starting to phase them out in favor of the MOLLE system. This change only helps to verify the MOLLE and PALS system’s superiority over other gear-carrying systems.
Other MOLLE Gear Components
Chest Rig / Magazine Carrier
If you really want to get all decked out in MOLLE gear for your “survival outfit”, the best thing for you to start out with would be the chest rig. The chest rig comes in several different forms, depending on the manufacturer and style.
This is a really nice setup with adjustable pouches for your rifle magazines as well as your pistol magazines.
You can also adjust the pistol magazine pouches to hold a knife or any of a number of various multi-tools. Or you can put pretty much anything you want or need to carry that will fit in the pouch really.
Features of the chest rig are criss-cross style back straps with padded shoulder straps. These help to provide for the wearer comfort while he or she packs a half dozen rifle magazines, and another half dozen pistol magazines (or whatever else they want to put in there).
The rig has an interior mesh pouch for stashing away other items, as well as grommeted drainage holes for those pesky rainy days. Of course the rig is waterproof as well.
Some chest rigs also accept front and rear trauma plates (AKA bulletproof plates), and others are set up to hold a 100-ounce (3 Liter) water bladder equipped with a hose and bite-down mouthpiece for easy hydration on the run.
Backpack ak.a. Rucksack a.k.a. Assault Pack
Of course you need a good pack on your back for carrying the majority of your gear. There are smaller assault pack-style bags that carry enough gear for an assault on a post or going out on patrol.
You can carry food, medical supplies, more ammo, and maybe a claymore or two, why not? These smaller packs are also excellent for the civilian for day hikes, get-home bags, and overnight or even weekend getaways.
The rucksack of course, is a larger version of the assault pack, although still a medium-sized bag so you won’t have to be too concerned with overburdening yourself by inadvertently stuffing it full.
It will hold a good amount of gear yet still be small enough to carry comfortably (if you can carry eighty pounds comfortably).
Here is a video that compares the old ALICE pack with the modern MOLLE gear pack.
But just because you have the larger version doesn’t mean you have to fill it with brass and lead. You can load other gear that you might need on top of what you could fit in an assault pack.
My personal bag is more of an assault pack style bag. But when I get it loaded down it can still weigh in at forty or fifty pounds sometimes, depending on what I put in it.
What I put in my bag depends on where I am going and what I am doing. I also use mine for a range bag when I go shooting. It gets really heavy when I use it for that as it is pretty much completely loaded down with magazines full of ammo.
I can also utilize the PALS ladder system to attach a MOLLE-compatible, three mag capacity thirty-round 9mm magazine pouch to the outside of the bag (as you can see in the picture below).
How To Use The MOLLE System
The usefulness of this system is primarily through the various MOLLE attachment upgrades. MOLLE pouches attach to the MOLLE webbing on your pack to make a secure connection.
Unfortunately, while you can clip many things onto the webbing, the attachments should be MOLLE compatible for them to work properly. It makes for a very efficient tactical gear system that is great for everyday carry.
Here are the steps to properly attach your MOLLE-compatible pouches:
- Make sure you pick a good attachment point on the MOLLE attachment system. You do need to plan where you place them as they should still be easily accessible
- Insert the MOLLE components through the nylon webbing attachment straps
- After you’ve put the attachment straps through you will need to weave them back through the MOLLE webbing, making sure it stays tight as you do.
- Keep up the weaving until you use up the entire accessory strap. Then secure the snaps and you’re ready to go.
The MOLLE system and its PALS
Since the PALS system allows me to clip other gear that I need to be more readily available to the outside of the bag, it keeps that equipment more accessible (in this example, 9mm ammunition).
There’s nothing like trying to dig down to the bottom of your gear bag to get to something that you just realized you need. This would especially be the case if someone is throwing lead at you. That’s why having MOLLE gear with the PALS strap system on it can come in so handy.
I wouldn’t trust them to hold a loose grenade by the spoon like you see in some movies though, that’s just Hollywood movie practice.
However, in real life, you can clip a grenade pouch onto the PALS system on the harness or chest rig and they are right there when you need them.
This video explains how to utilize the PALS system to attach gear.
This can be a hand grenade pouch or your M203 or M320 40 mm grenade launcher grenades or smoke poppers, or even flares. The PALS system is compatible for any pouch that utilizes the MOLLE/PALS attachment system.
For the civilian you can use this same system to carry your 37mm “flares”, bird bombs, and powder markers for your various civilian 37mm “flare launchers”. Or you can even carry your can of “dip” or a pack of smokes in there, it’s totally up to you.
Other MOLLE Gear
Other MOLLE gear that is currently available on the market is an innumerable array of bags and pouches. A quick search for MOLLE bags turned up sixty-one variations of bags. There is literally a bag for pretty much anything you can think of to attach to a backpack.
There are pouches for flashlights, sheaths for knives, holsters for pistols, magazine pouches for carrying additional magazines, medical kits, shotshell ammo pouches, and just anything you can think of.
The MOLLE system is an extremely versatile gear-carrying system that can be tuned to just about any need you can think of.
Even if you aren’t into survival or the military or law enforcement, the MOLLE system is so versatile you could even use it for storing your arts and crafts supplies if that’s what you are into.
No one setup is right for everyone or everything, but there is a way to set up a MOLLE system for anyone and anything.
No matter your size, and no matter how much gear you can manage, twenty pounds or a hundred and twenty pounds, there is a MOLLE setup that will carry that load.
Not only will it carry the load but it will distribute it around you to minimize the effort required by you to move it. In the past all of the weight was on the back, pulling you back, and pulling you down. Now, with the MOLLE system, you can ease your burden.
If you are unsure of where to start in this array of gear but you want to set yourself up, hopefully this article can get you started. Just think about what applications you will be using the gear for and go from there.
After all, the system is designed to be easily expandable and then if you need to go small, you simply strip the outer bags and pouches off of the bag or chest rig and lighten your load.
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms.
A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method.
The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.