MOLLES, PALS and ALICE Packs – What’s the difference?
Before we even start this article. We would like to clarify that ‘MOLLE’ isn’t spoken like the word ‘Mole’ it’s said like ‘Molly’ but putting a picture of a random ‘Molly’ up just wouldn’t have the same effect. However, you may know who ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is but no before you ask ALICE attachments were not named in her honour. Like MOLLES and PALS are military acronyms ALICE is too. One final thing to note is that PALS is a component of MOLLE, and both terms are often used interchangeably.
Now we can begin . . .
Whether you are an average Joe, a military man or an outdoor and survival enthusiast you will probably have noticed the resurgence of bags and packs that are covered in loops, straps and webbing. In this article we are going to look at these in more detail, by giving you a brief description of each will be given along with the benefits and disadvantages of each. Then a short summary of the differences between the styles and which may be best suited to you.
What is ALICE?
ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) is an equipment attachment system and accessory set officially adopted by the military in 1973. The ALICE pack has since been phased out of military service, but lots of people still prefer this method of carry. ALICE packs were designed as a two component system. Firstly, the belt system, with entrenching carrier, two small cases, canteen cover and suspenders. Secondly, the elements comprising the bag itself which include the cover, bag and frame.
Any positives about ALICE?
One of the main advantages of the ALICE system is its ruggedness. This pack is capable of carrying large loads and have the added benefit of being moisture resistant (not necessarily waterproof). There are no zippers to break, allowing for some serious gear stuffing. If you’re going on a big hike, these should definitely be considered! ALICE packs can be used with or without a frame but the external frame definitely helps balance the load – otherwise, these packs get pretty centre-fat. But, essentially lots of gear that’s able to be stuffed in one bag, is pretty handy.
Negatives about ALICE?
The pack can be uncomfortable especially with heavy loads and some of the straps for lashing gear to the bag get in the way. The old style of metal strap adjustments make closing the compartments a bit tedious. There are a lack of easy access pockets for things like water bottles although with the external frame, you can rig something up pretty easily. A good old carabineer or two could be handy here.
MOLLE and PALS Packs
There is a lot of confusion out there as to what exactly is the difference between MOLLE and PALS
PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) is a grid of webbing invented and patented by the United States Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. It is used to attach smaller equipment onto load-bearing platforms, such as vests and backpacks. It was first used on MOLLE rucksacks, but is now found on a variety of tactical equipment and tactical clothing. It is used to attach a huge array of different smaller pockets and pouches allowing you to easily carry and access your essentials. A wide variety of pouches are available from companies like Maxpedition and 5.11
MOLLE packs (modular lightweight load-carrying equipment) is the current rucksack for most military units. Implemented in 1997, the use on MOLLE has only grown! With the MOLLE system, gear attachment is made simple, fast and easy – in fact, this was one of the main driving ideas behind the design.
In summary essentially PALS is the webbing and MOLLE is the attachment. If you have PALS webbing you can use MOLLE attachments.
PALS consists of webbing sewn onto the load-bearing equipment and corresponding webbing and straps on the item or pouch to be attached. The attachment straps are interwoven between the webbing on each of two pieces and finally snapped into place. New versions of PALS are laser cut out of single piece fabric rather than webbing straps sewn onto fabric. The spacing on both the old and new versions is still the same standard, so new laser cut ladders are 100% backwards compatible with older pouches. Which is brilliant!
The military standard for PALS webbing is horizontal rows of 1″ webbing, spaced 1″ apart, sewn to the item at 1.5″ intervals.
One of the main benefits of this just mentioned new laser cut style is that a single piece is significantly weight saving as well as adding less bulk to your pack or gear. The below Direct Action bag is an example of this new Laser cut style.
What’s good about MOLLE attachments?
There are a good number of benefits to the MOLLE set-up. First, the interior of a MOLLE pack has several pouches for securely transporting small items. A hydration pouch is often included in most packs which makes water carrying a lot easier. The strap system also allows for individuals to customise the pack for carrying the gear they need, as well as ensuring that kit is readily accessible when needed. Put simply, there are a huge range of MOLLE backs that all offer you opportunity to carry all the gear you need in a way that suits you.
Any drawbacks of MOLLE attachments?
While there is little room to complain, nothing is full proof including the MOLLE system. That being said technology keeps moving MOLLE packs further and making them ever better. Early versions have plastic frames, which were prone to breaking (essentially avoid them). Another potential drawback is that the easy addition of components can lead to taking too much gear along for a trip; it’s not always a problem. It really depends on the individual and the activity. With that in mind, some people have also found that the external pockets may get in the way when hiking through thick brush. The final note in this section is that most of these packs are not waterproof. This isn’t a necessarily a deal breaker but for some of you it’s more important that others.
ALICE Vs MOLLE
The biggest difference between the two styles of packs is the manner of storing gear. In the ALICE pack, gear is carried in one large compartment, with smaller gear going into the side pockets. The MOLLE system uses a series of small pouches for most of the gear. For attachment of gear to both PALS webbing and ALICE you can use a number of methods. Many of you that we know use ‘tack-ties’ which can be fiddly but ultimately very strong. However, others seem to prefer using speed clips, these are less fiddly but also not as strong. There really is no right or wrong answer though! Another difference is access to the gear. The ALICE uses a strap system for enclosing the gear, while the MOLLE has zippers on the compartments. ALICE adds security and strength, MOLLE adds accessibility and customisation.
How do I choose which of these packs will be best for me?
Decisions, decisions – both the ALICE and MOLLE are great examples of military backpacks. However, breaking it down into who would likely use each system. We would say the ALICE pack is good for the adventurer, hiker, hunter and survivalist (generally people who will be outdoors for long periods). Built with rugged materials designed to withstand the rigors of extreme conditions means the ALICE pack is a no-brainer. The large storage compartment too is great for hauling bulky equipment or simply just lots of gear and clothing. On the other hand, MOLLE will be preferred by bushcrafters, preppers and people going out on shorter excursions. The streamlined design allows for good movement and ease of carry. In inclusion of a hydration pouch means the hiker may not have to carry an extra water bottle and the straps allow the user to add small items without adding much to the bulk. One of our favourite hiking packs is the 5.11 Rush 24. This is a MOLLE/PALS bag, perfect for everyday use.