RogerBW's Blog

Way of the Pouch 19 June 2022

I've changed the way I carry things around with me, to a flexible system for attaching pouches.

Or, How I Let Molly Into My Life (And You Can Too).

I've been using many-pocketed jackets (ranging from fishermen's and photographers' vests to ex-military webbing gear) for some years: they give me an assortment of pockets distributed over my torso. But the pockets tend to be quite small, and the vests tend to be over-warm if I'm engaging in any sort of physical activity.

So I've taken it a step further. The PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) is a standard for webbing, which allows multiple sorts of pouch as well as other items to be attached to a grid of strong fabric straps. Key elements: each horizontal strap is 25mm wide, there are 38mm intervals between attachment seams, and there's a 25mm gap between one strap and the next. (Why yes, it was designed by Americans.) A pouch has one or more vertical straps attached at the top, which are threaded between the carrier's horizontal strap and backplate, and then fastened to the bottom of the pouch usually with a pop fastener (which does not need to be significantly load-bearing). A key point: this is a very quick process, usually a few tens of seconds at most.

(source: Dlrohrer2003 on Wikipedia)

PALS was developed the United States Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center and gained a patent in the US in 1996 – which has now expired. (To the best of my knowledge, all other patents on it have either also expired or been withdrawn.) It was first used on MOLLE rucksacks (MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) made by Specialty Defense Systems, which is why it's often incorrectly known as MOLLE webbing, but it has since spread – obviously a single standard for this sort of thing offers many advantages – and is now widely used across NATO and allied forces.

(Note that this is not compatible with the older ALICE (US) or PLCE (UK) attachment standards. One can rig adaptors of course.)

So the first step was to find a way of hanging this stuff on me. There are quite a few options for this, various sorts of carriers for torso armour, hunting vests, and so on; but most of them either (a) look as though I'm going off to play at war, (b) had storage permanently attached, or (c) are too hot. Or all of these things.

(Or off to play at airsoft of course. I've enjoyed the occasional bout of airsoft myself, but it doesn't half attract the sort of nutter who wishes they were in the Army but the Army had more sense than to take them.)

In the end I found the Dutch had the right answer for me: the Modulair Gevechtsvest (Modular Fighting Vest), which is formed of loose nylon mesh with a PALS grid on the outside – and no built-in pockets at all. (That's the standard term for any fighting vest in Dutch, so you'll also find various irrelevant things if you search for it; "Dutch MOLLE vest" may work better.) Somewhat to my surprise, I am larger than a Large-size Dutch soldier, but an Extra-Large has plenty of room for me. (They aren't widely imported into the UK, particularly at this size; I ended up buying mine from a surplus company in the Netherlands.)

Then I add pouches. I am cautioned by a friend who's done this professionally that it's very easy to overload oneself, so for the moment I'm only putting pouches near waist level (and of course all the weight of the thing goes through the shoulders). There are more PALS straps across the back panel of the vest, but I'm very unlikely to use them: if I wanted things on my back, I'd wear a backpack and put the weight directly to my waist. (Yes, of course backpacks can be had with PALS grids for attaching more pouches.)

The best source I've found for the things in the UK is eBay, and I've acquired a small selection. Since I'm not actually trying to be camouflaged, I mix them up both for convenience of colour-coding and to look less fake-soldiery. (Though I do feel that the market for bright colours is severely under-served; I haven't found any that aren't some sort of camo pattern, or in the best case a solid "military" colour like black or olive drab.)

Note if buying that "MOLLE" may just mean that the thing has webbing on the front for attaching smaller PALS-fixing pouches to it, not that it can itself be attached to a carrier by a PALS fixing.

So what do I end up with? As a standard rig, four zip-topped pouches, two large and two small. (They all have some degree of subdivision, usually elastic straps on the inside. They claim to be "waterproof", though a drain hole in the bottom suggests "splash proof" would be more accurate.) In normal travel, that's wallet and masks (phone is in my trousers), water bottle and hand sanitiser, and an electronics bag with folding keyboard, top-up charger, etc.; but I can swap these out at a moment's notice and add pouches with boardgame accessories, A5 disc-bound notebook, bottle opener and corkscrew, pipe tobacco and lighter, pens and ink, dice, or whatever else seems appropriate.

And in the recent hot weather, while wearing a robe (without pockets) at home rather than trousers or shorts, I borrowed one of the pouches to carry around phone, Leatherman, and other such accessories, so it serves the "small bag" need as well.

One does have to be careful; I like to think that if I needed a blood group indicator

my employer would provide one for me. And since I'm not airsofting I really have no use for a magazine pouch.

But this is the sort of item that comes up when one looks for the things. Also "dump pouches" which appears to mean ones with a drawstring round the opening, which may be jolly useful in the right situation but aren't good for getting at things quickly. (The theory is that they are held open, you drop your empty magazines into them, and they don't fall out.)

Having a fixing standard opens up many possibilities beyond running around in the woods shooting at people. Consider, for example, a hiking trip: wear the rig during the day, then at night hang the individual pouches in the tent for convenient access, then perhaps the next day with a different type of terrain or weather move some of them to the backpack and swap in others. One can get a sheet of PALS webbing to hang over the front seat of a car and hold pouches. I'm working on a design for a 3D-printed rigid PALS sheet to hang inside my games trolley, so that I can put things in there rather than carrying them, but still keep them from getting jumbled. This whole system has substantial non-military applications.

Tags: reviews toys

  1. Posted by Jon Hancock at 09:26am on 19 June 2022

    You can fit an awful lot of dice in a dump pouch, Roger.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 09:52am on 19 June 2022

    I can fit an awful lot of dice in the pouches I already have, too. The large ones have a volume of something over a litre.

  3. Posted by DaveD at 12:19pm on 19 June 2022

    If your employer issues you a blood tag it's probably time to check the wards around the machine room.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 12:34pm on 19 June 2022

    "It's so the medics know what to give you. And not at all so that upper management know what flavour you are when they fancy a snack."

  5. Posted by John P at 10:54pm on 19 June 2022

    To play any Games Workshop game you'll need three or four litres of D6's won't you? In fact, maybe that's what you need a backpack for.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 10:58pm on 19 June 2022

    Koplow Games (probably among others) do 5mm d6s, so I'd get 8,000 to the litre with perfect packing.

  7. Posted by John P at 11:44pm on 20 June 2022

    Did you see that TV documentary about RM Commandos on a mountain leader course in Norway? One of the guys put broken biscuits, nuts, chocolate and Haribo cola bottles into a plastic bag, bashed them altogether, melted the mix on a hot radiator and then stuck it outside in the snow to freeze back into a bar. He stored it in an ammo pouch and could then reach down and take a bite every so often as he needed calories while on the move.

  8. Posted by RogerBW at 09:10am on 21 June 2022

    I don't do TV much. Seems entirely reasonable to me. And that's how I became a perfect sphere, clearly the platonic idea of humanity.

  9. Posted by Chris Suslowicz at 07:09pm on 21 June 2022

    Any blood group patches will be (rightly) ignored by NHS personnel, and you'll get O neg in an emergency (unless they've actually had time to test your group or you are wearing a 'proper' Medicalert thingy) - I don't know how they check for religious objectors.

    There are all kinds of weird pouches/pocketses available for the PALS system, and apparently the Osprey manuals are available online.

    Some of it looks useful, but I'm no longer up to loading myself down with things. :-(


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