MOLLE webbing debuted as part of the much-maligned US Army issued MOLLE Rucksack in 1997. Almost universally hated for its poor design, causing discomfort and even injury and being ridiculously complicated (the MOLLE II pack system came with a 136 page technical manual). The pack in particular is largely forgotten or exists as a punchline. The true legacy is the 1”x1.5” spaced webbing design that allowed the mounting of pouches in almost any configuration which has become so ubiquitous that is has even creeped outside of the boundaries of our industry.
It’s easy to see why. The webbing set up is ingenious and simple, once you understand the principle of how it works when it’s set up properly. It is secure, modular and can be built to suit a wide number of applications.
But as the industry starts to focus on reducing weight, where does this take us?
Today and tomorrow.
Negative space: It’s not where Spock is evil and has a goatee, but it’s the space left when you cut material away. By removing material in a MOLLE compatible pattern, rather than adding webbing to a surface, you can mount pouches while decreasing weight.
Examples of this include Blue Force Gear and Maxpedition’s use of laser cut Hypalon-like composite fabric, Eberlestock’s laser-cut MOLLE and in 5.11 Tactical’s announced Hex Grid system.
Behind the webbing: Circa the turn of the century, it seemed that everything was overbuilt from 1000D nylon, sewn to more 1000D nylon, and then some more added just to be safe. Stuff can never be too durable, right? Extra material is great until you have to carry it or wear it all day, every day.
Many manufacturers over the past few years have started building equipment from lighter weights of nylon, going all the way down to 500D with patterns similar to ripstop without adding weight while still maintaining battlefield-level durability. Examples of this can be seen in the Grey Ghost Gear’s use of LiteLok fabric, and Velocity System’s use of 500D denier nylon and stretch Tweave across their entire product line. Even Maxpedition, once the kings of thick, crunchy, heavily-laminated 1000D nylon has stated incorporating lighter 500D nylon into their newer designs in conjunction with 1000D where it makes sense.
Sometimes the best MOLLE is no MOLLE: MOLLE solves every problem, right? Well, just when you think you have it all figured out… When a certain special operations unit was consulted by Arc’teryx on features wanted in a backpack, the answer they got was not what they expected: No MOLLE. Their rationale? ‘If we’re carrying something it’s in the pack, not on the pack’, flying in the face of the conventional wisdom.