If you’re looking to build an airsoft loadout, you may be seeing a lot of unexplained acronyms like PALS, MOLLE, and ALICE. It’s easy to see how the subject could be pretty confusing, especially if this is your first exposure to load-carrying gear! With any luck, this article should clear up any confusion about the different systems, and point you in the right direction for picking the best equipment for your needs.
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What is MOLLE?
MOLLE, or Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, is a system comprised of chest rig (AKA “Tactical Assault Panel”, or “TAP”), rucksack, belt, and assorted pouches, all designed to be relatively lightweight and durable. Introduced in 1997 by the US Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center, the MOLLE system was manufactured by the company Specialty Defense Systems. It was cutting-edge at the time for many reasons, but it didn’t include a native set of body armor. Instead, troops needing ballistic or flak protection would have to layer the system over another body armor vest, possibly the PASGT vest common at the time.
While you’ve probably heard the phrase “MOLLE” (pronounced like the name Molly) innumerable times, chances are you’ve never seen the original MOLLE system. Instead, when most people refer to MOLLE gear, they’re not referring to the original set of gear, they’re talking about the innovative method of modular pouch attachment that the MOLLE system introduced. This system is called the Pouch Attachment Ladder System, or PALS; it’s not a stretch to say that it’s the most revolutionary concept in combat load carriage since the invention of web gear.Since the introduction of the original MOLLE system, the PALS interface has been used in every fighting load carrier and body armor vest fielded on a large scale by the US military. Notably, this includes the Interceptor Body Armor and the Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV), both of which were prominent during the Global War on Terror era.
What is PALS?
PALS is the modular attachment concept introduced along with the original MOLLE system. It’s revolutionary in its simplicity- instead of just clipping pouches and bags to a belt or strap, why not use some form of woven connection to ensure they’d stay put rigidly in all directions and not flop around? That was the idea behind PALS.
How do PALS Work?
PALS attachment surfaces are formed out of regularly-spaced horizontal rows of nylon webbing, tacked into the article of gear at regular intervals. The pouches to be attached have similar rows of webbing, but also have an integrated strap that can be woven between the rows of webbing. To properly join the two parts together, the strap must alternate between surface rows and pouch rows, much like one would weave a basket. To finish the joint, the strap has a brass snap on the end that attaches back onto the pouch, holding the pouch tightly to the attachment surface.
Due to its operational advantages and relative ease of manufacture, PALS has effectively displaced indigenous load-carrying systems. In the last twenty years, PALS clones or PALS-like systems have been adopted by every major military power, including the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Russian Federation forces.
What is ALICE?
Origins of US Web Gear
Long before all this MOLLE and PALS nonsense, the state of the art in modular load-bearing equipment was “web gear”. This concept generally took the form of a belt with an attached magazine and gear pouches, along with a set of suspenders to keep it up under a heavy load. The US Army first fielded a set of web gear in 1910, with a relatively simple cartridge belt, haversack, and some optional pouches. Over time, the 1910 system grew, encompassing three different types of cartridge belt.
From Korea to the New Millennium
The first major changes to this gear came with the M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE) system, which standardized the three belts from the 1910 system into one and introduced spring steel “keeper clips”( designed to allow easy removal and attachment of pouches). Another update took the form of the M-1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment (MLCE) system, developed to fix some deficiencies in the LCE. It took only six years, and a lot of hard-won lessons from Vietnam, to prepare the next update: the ALICE system.
The original ALICE fighting load was introduced in 1973 to replace MLCE, and included a belt and “Y-type” harness, along with a rucksack and four types of pouches: M16 magazine, first aid, canteen, and entrenchment tool. The ALICE kit was standard equipment for quite some time, and even once the next generation of gear (the Integrated Individual Fighting System) was introduced, many components of ALICE were still retained. Even today, many reserve units use some parts of the ALICE system. In particular, the standard ALICE rucksack is still very popular; some tactical gear manufacturers are still producing modernized versions today in higher-quality ballistic nylon.
ALICE Gear Today
In general, today when someone refers to “ALICE gear”, they’re talking about pouches that attach to a heavy nylon belt using the spring-loaded “keeper clips” integral to the original ALICE system. While there’s certainly plenty of surplus from the original days of ALICE, there are also manufacturers making new gear. This new-manufactured gear includes everything from replicas of the original M16 magazine pouches to modern elastic-loop shotgun shell carriers. While there have definitely been some significant advances in combat load carriage since ALICE’s debut, ALICE surplus gear is still a highly inexpensive and durable option for airsofters. I still use mine on a regular basis! It’s not quite as high-speed, low-drag as modern MOLLE loadouts, but it does the job.
What are Some Other Load-carrying Systems?
While (like I mentioned above) MOLLE/PALS has become the single most dominant system in the modern era, there are quite a few load-bearing systems from various militaries that preceded it. Many of them, like Dutch M93 pattern equipment or British PLCE webbing, are pretty similar to ALICE in concept; some may even be compatible with ALICE equipment. One particularly popular system is South Africa’s Pattern 83 gear. Not only was demand boosted by its appearance in 2015’s Mad Max, it also represents a relatively ahead-of-its-time solution for munitions carriage and short-term sustainment, making it an excellent choice for the typical airsoft game. There’s also more than a few interesting ideas that came out of Cold War-era Soviet republics, but that’s a topic for a different day.
PALS vs MOLLE vs ALICE Final Thoughts
Getting a good loadout together is a vital step towards being prepared for your next game. While there’s a massive amount of options out there, hopefully, this helped break down the key differences between a web gear system and a MOLLE/PALS system! Building a loadout is a journey, and the “best” setup is the one that works well for you; don’t be afraid to experiment a little, especially when you can find surplus or used gear for a price you’re happy with! Thank you for visiting iamairsoft.com! For great products and more information about the game, check out our Airsoft Buyers Guides and Airsoft U!
Noah Mains is a writer, an airsofter, and most importantly, he’s stuck in the 80s. From Colt SMGs to David Bowie to brick phones, he has an acute appreciation for the greatest decade, and is more than happy to share his enthusiasm for the ALICE gear system (the superior loadout, of course) with anyone who’ll listen.