You Wanna Be PALS with MOLLE?

A company has made it when people start using their brand name as a stand-in for any item in the same realm. For example, tissues being called Kleenex, Jacuzzis and hot tubs, and lest we forget Ping Pong and table tennis. Sometimes it happens even when it’s not an accurate term. This is what has happened with the terms MOLLE and PALS. MOLLE became the nearly synonymous name with modern webbing used on plate carriers, belts, backpacks, and more.

Lookin’ Back

Load bearing equipment has come and gone, and prior to the modern systems that we have now, most of it was belt based. The cartridge belts for WW2 are an excellent example. In a Post WW2 and Korea world, we got the M1956 Load-Carrying Equipment, which made up the base of our load-bearing equipment for decades to come. This setup was a belt, pouches, and an H harness, and that core design remained the same.

Image of belt-based load-bearing equipment.
Image Courtesy National Archives.

It was improved in 1967 and became the M1967, and in 1973 we got that bitch ALICE. That’s rude, ALICE wasn’t bad. ALICE was still the same idea, a belt, suspenders, and pouches. However, how they attached was much more modern. The ALICE clip was a metal clip that was adaptable and allowed to make the kit more modular and allow you to move things around and from belt to pack and back again.

ALICE was used up until the early 2000s where we began seeing the rise of more modern systems using PALS and MOLLE. ALICE was still used for quite some time, but it was slowly phased out. MOLLE and PALS are not one name for the same product, but they are often used interchangeably or often just incorrectly.

Where PALS Comes In

PALS stands for Pouch Attachment Ladder System and was invented by the United States Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center. This is the grid system you see located on backs, belts, plate carriers, and much more. PALS is a standardized grid system that manufacturers can use to design gear around.

Pike and the boys sporting MOLLE.
Me and the Boys.

MOLLE (pronounced like the girl next door or the world’s most-okay party drug), stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. This is proprietary and designed by Natick Labs. MOLLE isn’t PALS. Instead, it’s the gear that attaches to PALS. MOLLE is the attachment method used to connect pouches to gear.

Girls with guns: Instagram model Camille Dougherty sporting PALS.
That’s PALS.

A plate carrier is covered in PALS, and a pouch is MOLLE-compatible and weaves into the PALS. PALS as a system is compatible with more than just MOLLE. In fact, to this day, you’ll see ALICE gear clipped to PALS webbing. With PALS, you can attach stuff with zip ties, carabiners, or pocket clips. It’s just a webbing system. MOLLE refers to the often fabric ends that weave and tuck or snap into PALS gear.

Instagram models: Camille Dougherty in a pic from Robcano Photo
Instagram models: Camille Dougherty in a pic from Robcano Photo, from a calendar shoot. (We’re pretty sure she doesn’t dress this way on the range for real.)

Alternatives to MOLLE include Tactical Tailor’s MALICE clips or even Blade-Tech’s MOLLE-Lok system. MOLLE might be in the name, but it’s a lot different than Natick’s design.

The Future? 

PALS is changing, well the concept of PALS is changing because for legal reasons, aftermarket designs are not PALS. The HEX Grid system is an excellent example of this. However, these designs are MOLLE compatible.

5.11's Hex Grid is Rather New.
5.11’s Hex Grid is rather new.

As of now, it seems like Load Bearing Equipment is going to be stuck with MOLLE and PALS for some time. There hasn’t been a better solution, and MOLLE and PALS are universal between belts, bags, and much, much more, and adopted by all 4 Branches of the United States Military. It’s got staying power, and honestly, I’ve never heard complaints about it. Why throw something away if it’s still working?

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