MOLLE vs PALS: What Are They and How Do They Work?

You hear the phrase MOLLE a lot when tactical gear like vests, backpacks, attachments, and other gear comes up. You may have heard the term PALS as well and wondered what the difference is. A lot of the time, people use both terms interchangeably.

The term MOLLE is used most often with people marketing an item as being “MOLLE compatible” or having MOLLE attachments. It’s hard to find any type of tactical gear in today’s world that isn’t MOLLE compatible. Plate carriers and vests were the most common place to see MOLLE and PALS compatible gear. But now backpacks, duffle bags, gun bags, and other items are all MOLLE/PALS compatible.

Setting up tactical gear
A lot of tactical gear available on the civilian market works with the MOLLE/PALS system. [Photo Lauralynn Mosher]
Putting this system inside bags is another common trend that allows holsters, mag pouches, and other items to be secured inside certain areas of the bag. We give it little thought because of this system, but just think about how hard it would be to attach everything you need to your gear without the MOLLE system! Leather straps, buckles, and buttons were several methods of attaching gear in the past.

Sending a soldier out to battle in remote areas or behind enemy lines requires taking a lot of gear. And this was an issue before the MOLLE system came along. While PALS is a specific system, it’s also part of the MOLLE system which we will talk more about below. They originated as military systems and have now become the preferred method of attaching items to vests and bags. So, what are they and how do they work?

What is the PALS system?

The PALS or “Pouch Attachment Ladder System” is the webbing or horizontal straps that you see on the vest or bag. PALS was introduced to the world in 1997 by the Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center (NSRDEC).

It is part of the MOLLE system that was designed to attach items to vests bags and other applications. As time went on, the military searched for a way to attach gear to load-bearing equipment. One popular method was the M-1945 Combat Pack. Before that, there were several other types of belts that were made to help carry equipment. Eventually, the ALICE system was created, and finally the PALS system.

PALS system on a tactical vest.
The PALS system is the webbing on the vest or pack that attaches the MOLLE items to the vest. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
PALS is a patented attachment system for MOLLE. PALS contains strips that are 40mm apart (in a row) with 25mm of space between each row. The webbing strips are typically sewn onto the larger items that are load-bearing. With seams around each individual strip, this makes the system extremely durable and strong.

When something is woven between the strips, it becomes interlocked and distributes the weight and pressure of the attachment points. When items are attached to this system, they often have the same system on the outside of them to attach additional items. While PALS is a specific part of the MOLLE system, many people refer to it all as MOLLE.

What is the MOLLE system?

MOLLE refers to the items that attach to the PALS webbing on the vest, backpack, or other bag. MOLLE stands for Modular Light-Weight Load-Carrying Equipment. Originally, the MOLLE system consisted of six specific items: Tactical Assault Panel, Assault Pack, Medium Rucksack, Large Rucksack, Hydration Bladder, and Modular Pouches. Since those early days of MOLLE equipment, there has been a ton of development and more items are now available as MOLLE attachments.

A double mag pouch is a MOLLE attachment that connects to the PALS system on a vest. The overall system is often referred to as MOLLE. In the US Army’s Technical and Operators Manual for setting up vests and gear, it is referred to as the MOLLE system. But MOLLE is the item that attaches to something, and PALS is the connection system that attaches the MOLLE gear to the load-bearing item.

MOLLE compatible mag pouches.
MOLLE-compatible pouches are items made to attach to a vest or other gear using the PALS system. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
If you start looking at MOLLE gear today, you will find dump pouches, holsters, mag pouches, medical kits, and a ton of other items made to work with this system. The universal system for attaching tactical gear to each other is one of the best inventions in the tactical world. Before, a pack would have limited room for gear. With the MOLLE and PALS system, you can keep attaching gear to other gear and make as much room as you need. If the mission changes and you need your gear to change, items can be taken off or moved around easily.

How To Attach MOLLE Gear to the PALS System

There are some people who prefer to have permanently attached gear to their vest or packs. I’ve had vests before that had pockets and pouches sewn onto them. There are probably some benefits to this for some people or organizations, but I prefer to start with a black canvas (PALS system) and attach whatever I want to the vest, bag, or pack using MOLLE gear.

To attach a MOLLE pouch or another item to the PALS on a vest, the strip on the back feeds through the webbing on the vest. Once it’s pulled through, run it through the next loop on the back of the MOLLE, then the PALS, and so on. At the end of the strap, it will tuck under the last loop on the PALS system. Some systems will have a snap to secure it at the end.

Attaching a mag pouch to a vest with the MOLLE/PALS system.
Attaching a MOLLE-compatible mag pouch to a vest. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
If the items are attached correctly, they won’t come off without pulling the straps back out of the webbing. The number of straps on the back of the MOLLE items will depend on how wide it is. A single AR-mag pouch will have two, while a triple mag pouch will have six. When installing one with several strips, I would work them all through the webbing at the same time. If you do only one strip and then try to do the next, it will be hard to get it woven through the PALS webbing.

Summary

Even if you had not heard of PALS, you have probably used it before. I like systems that give you flexibility with your gear. This allows you the ability to set up a vest or gear exactly how you want. When you find something you like better, you can take it all off and start over.

It’s like Legos for tactical gear. Build, change, tear down, and start over. Everyone I know of has their vest set up a little differently. This is possible because of PALS. So, if you don’t have gear with PALS and MOLLE equipment to attach to it, start shopping today. It’s fun setting up, and more importantly, it works.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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