Depending on the situation, tactical operators often need to carry a lot of gear.
And in order to remain effective and unrestricted, that gear needs to be carried efficiently.
Two load-carrying solutions – are the PALS and MOLLE systems.
But what are they? What can they carry? Are they practical in multiple scenarios? And which one is right for you?
PALS vs MOLLE – what’s the difference?
Let’s find out.
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Load Carrying Systems – Too Long, Didn’t Read
In the interests of keeping things short and to the point, here’s the difference between PALS and MOLLE load carrying systems:
PALS is in reference to the horizontal ladder webbing system you see on load-bearing platforms – backpacks, bags, plate carriers, body armor, etcetera.
MOLLE refers to the modular pouches and bags that are used in tandem with the PALS system, enabling such items to attach onto the aforementioned platforms.
One can’t really exist without the other, and the two are frequently confused, but there is a distinct difference.
If you feel like you’re still in the dark, you can check out this interesting article on night vision goggles, or, you can read on to find out more.
Why Use a Load Carrying System?
The military and law enforcement use load carrying systems for a number of purposes (several of which are explored below), but why do we even need them in the first place?
Surely we’ve got plenty of room in our bags and/or on our tactical battle belts?
As an example, let’s say you’ve followed the advice of this article on range bag essentials, and you’ve packed everything beautifully, and your bag is as organized as a perfect game of Tetris.
You might encounter one or more of these three main problems:
- You actually need to carry even more gear – but your bag is full.
- You need to keep important gear and equipment close to hand – but it’s stuffed somewhere near the bottom of a bag.
- You need specific equipment when you’re on the move, and carrying a full bag isn’t that practical in this scenario.
That’s where a load-carrying system comes into its own. It allows you to carry more gear, to keep it in a location that’s easy to access in a heartbeat, and keeps you lightweight and mobile when required.
It’s arguably at its best when worn ON you, such as on tactical vest, plate carriers, and/or body armor.
Let’s take a look at MOLLE vs PALS, and explore how each system works.
And coming up, as promised, we take a look at how they might be used, and what military and law enforcement personnel might store in them.
What is PALS?
PALS stands for Pouch Attachment Ladder System and was developed by the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC).
It refers to the straps (or webbing – as it’s more commonly called) on the sides of load-carrying platforms.
Some of these tactical backpacks use the PALS design.
It’s also commonly found on the front and back of plate carriers – so check out that review for some of the best on the market.
Type III nylon webbing is used in a universal design of one-inch wide, horizontal straps, with 1.5-inch spaces between each sew point.
PALS and MOLLE use highly-durable, heavy-duty fabrics, including 500-1000 Denier Cordura nylon. You can even get pants that use ripstop fabrics and have a PALS side panel built-in.
In fact, you’ll find both systems in use in many of the products from the world’s top tactical clothing brands.
One of the best things about this system is that – along with the MOLLE pouches – you can customize until your heart’s content.
No two operators need to have the same setup/loadout, so you can be free to design a system that is tailor-made for you.
What is MOLLE?
MOLLE (pronounced MOLLY) stands for Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment.
And while PALS is the ladder webbing featured on load-bearing platforms, MOLLE refers to the pouches and equipment that are compatible with this system.
So, in essence, there isn’t such a thing as PALS webbing vs MOLLE, because they’re designed to work together.
The keyword here is “modular” and such gear is fully compatible with PALS, and available in a variety of pouches, bags, and other accessories.
MOLLE is the go-to load-carrying system with the US and British Armed Forces, as well as for the military in many other NATO countries.
It was first introduced in 1997 to improve upon and replace the ALICE system (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment).
MOLLE didn’t actually see widespread use until after the events of September 11th, 2001.
Initial reviews were poor, and the system had a tendency to tear or burst when loaded. The quality of the materials and stitching has since been dramatically improved.
All these acronyms can make your head spin, but it appears that MOLLE has become the overarching way to describe both the PALS and MOLLE systems, particularly when it comes to talking about tactical gear.
All good so far? Let’s just get to the good stuff.
For some tips and advice on what to carry in your PALS/MOLLE loadout – check out the next section of the article.
PALS/MOLLE Uses and Users
Tactical operators, military, law enforcement, security personnel, first responders, and combat sports enthusiasts all use PALS/MOLLE systems for carrying essential gear and equipment.
Hunters and campers will also be well-versed in the technology – particularly when heading deep into the wilderness.
And let’s not leave out the preppers, as PALS/MOLLE are perfect for bug-out bags that you can grab in a split second and be off to your bolt-hole. Try these highly-portable tactical sling bag for starters.
But what can you actually carry? What should you be carrying?
We’ve listed some examples, below:
For running firearms, load-carrying platforms are essential as a place to store extra magazines. This is where plate carriers can be better than chest rigs, for example. Follow that link to see them face off.
If you’re not happy wearing a drop-leg holster, perhaps you’d prefer to have one closer to your body that offers MOLLE capabilities?
PALS/MOLLE systems excel for carrying first-aid-kits, particularly if you need fast access to potentially life-saving medical supplies. Follow that link for advice on how to put together a tactical IFAK (Individual First-Aid-Kit).
A MOLLE pouch can be useful for carrying a tactical folding knife, or a practical multitool you might need when you’re in the field, camping, hunting, hiking, or even fishing.
Some operators – notably law enforcement personnel – might use a compact MOLLE pouch to hold a non-lethal assailant, such as pepper spray or CS gas. Follow that link to find out the differences between the two.
For communications, a MOLLE pouch is perfect for keeping a walkie-talkie secured to your person. Take a look at this article to discover the differences between walkie-talkies and CB radios.
Hydration pouches are also popular and can keep essential liquids within reach of a thirsty soldier, hiker, or otherwise – which is particularly useful when touring hot countries.
One of the most popular uses for a MOLLE pouch is for a good tactical flashlight, which ensures you know exactly where it is and can locate it easily in the dark.
Alternatively, you can take a look at this article on handheld vs mounted flashlights to see which is right for you.
PALS/MOLLE can also be used to show off who you are, and you can attach flags, patches, and insignia to your packs and gear in this manner if you so choose. Take a look at this article on wearing the US flag for more information.
But this list isn’t exhaustive, and if you can carry it, there’s probably a way to attach it via PALS and/or MOLLE.
Let me know in the comments if you carry anything I’ve not included here – the more unusual the better.
The PALS and MOLLE systems are not without their downsides, and there are a couple of drawbacks to carrying gear in this manner.
The first is that they can seriously raise an operator’s profile or the size of the load-carrying platform.
Furthermore, this can then make negotiating narrow or tight spaces something of a challenge, as the systems can add considerable bulk to the wearer’s overall size.
You certainly don’t want to be walking into a glassware store wearing all this gear.
Aside from the size, PALS and MOLLE is going to add more weight, which kinda comes with the territory. If you need to carry additional equipment, it’s all going to add up.
Finally, load-carrying systems can be quite complex to use – particularly for beginners. Even professionals get confused sometimes, and it can be a steep learning curve to use it effectively.
Understanding how to use the straps, choosing where and how to balance your gear, remembering where you put each item, correctly securing MOLLE packs so they don’t shift when you’re on the go…
There’s a lot to learn and get right, which can be intimidating for newcomers to the system. And as I say, I will bet my bottom dollar there are some experienced operators out there who are still doing it wrong.
To get you started/to brush up on the techniques, check out the video below from 5.11 Tactical, which clearly explains the proper method for attaching MOLLE pouches to PALS platforms.
When it comes to choosing MOLLE systems or PALS webbing, considering they’re actually two different things that each need the other to be of use, it’s highly likely you’ll be using both.
The two terms are often used interchangeably – hence the confusion.
Having said that, you can attach all sorts of things to PALS webbing – items that don’t necessarily have to be part of the MOLLE system.
Regardless, the two go hand in hand and are designed to function together, so there’s no clear “winner,” here.
Can civilians use MOLLE?
Yes, of course. While both load-carrying systems are synonymous with the military and armed forces, that doesn’t mean civilians can’t make use of the technology, too.
They’re particularly useful for hunting and camping, and combat sports enthusiasts will be very familiar with both when deciding what to wear for airsoft, for example.
Are you supposed to weave MOLLE?
Yes. There is a definite technique to attaching MOLLE gear to PALS, and many operators (particularly noobs) get it wrong.
You are meant to weave the straps through the ladders, rather than simply threading them straight through.
It can be a little tricky, and you should make sure that your packs and pouches are empty first. Take a look at the video above, which shows you how it’s done.
Having said that, there are other methods for attaching gear to PALS, and it depends on the item you wish to carry.
New belts, buckles, straps, fasteners, clips, sticks, and more are coming out all the time – many of them fully compatible with PALS/MOLLE.
When it comes to PALS vs MOLLE load-carrying systems, they are really not in competition with each other.
Yet, admittedly, it can be confusing – particularly for anyone new to organizing and designing tactical loadouts.
I hope this article has helped to bust some of the jargon. Let me know if you have any further comments or questions, below.
Stay safe out there!