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Letter Re: Seeking Advice on Selecting and Assembling Web Gear

Mr. Rawles,
Thank you very much for your web site. I have been reading it every day for the last two months. It is a wealth of knowledge. Read your book as well. I have been researching food, water et cetera for quite a while and your site has helped a great deal. My family will be quite prepared for whatever in short order. The one thing that ha me confused is web gear/tac vest/ALICE [1] gear. In your book you refer to a certain type of web gear but I am having trouble putting all of the pieces together. I am ex-Coast Guard and not at all familiar with land gear. What web gear goes with what pack and belt, et cetera? Can you help me with a list of compatible gear or recommend a book or manual? Thanks, – Kurt in Washington

JWR Replies: There are umpteen opinions out there on web gear, so take the following as just one man’s view. Although they are currently all the rage, I am not a fan of load bearing vests. I still primarily use the old tried-and-true ALICE gear, although I have upgraded from the traditional “Y” suspender harness to the more heavily-padded Eagle Industries Ranger “H”-harness [2].

The new modular MOLLE [3] (spoken “Molly”) vests are more versatile than the older-generation Woodland camouflage vests that have stitched-in magazine pouches [4], but I prefer having nearly everything handy at belt level. I’ve found that it is slow and cumbersome to get magazines in an out of pouches that are any higher than my solar plexus. So that is why I’m still an ALICE LC-2 vintage dinosaur. But as they say, “Your mileage may vary” (YMMV [5]).

Adding body armor to the equation changes things considerably, since full Interceptor Body Armor (IBA [6]) with a MICH [7] helmet weighs anywhere from 19 to 25 pounds, depending on sizes and how many add-on pieces–such as upgraded SAPI [8] plates–are included. And keep in mind that those figures do not include the weight of ammo, magazines, a full hydration bladder, and various wunderkind gadgets. When wearing non-concealment body armor, a load bearing vest/carrier does make sense. Talk to the folks at BulletProofMe.com [9] (one of our advertisers) for details on getting set up with body armor, pouches, and hydration systems that are practical and comfortable. As I’ve mentioned before, fitting is crucial with body armor, so talk with an experienced dealer with a big inventory and responsive customer service policies that can fit you properly.

Here is a brief overview [10] on the older ALICE generation US military web gear. Greater detail can be found in FM 21-15, “Care And Use Of Individual Clothing And Equipment”, which can often be found at Amazon.com, Midway [11], GR8Gear.com [12], and LoadUp.com [13]

Here is a PDF of a Fact Sheet [14] on the latest MOLLE generation US military web gear. Since this is the era of the high tech Stryker soldier, most of the “documentation” for MOLLE gear is actually in the form of instructional DVDs. Oddly, I’ve never seen these DVDs for sale in the civilian world. (But no doubt the Airsoft Mall Ninjas [15] have a secret distribution system, via Bit Torrents or some such.)

The majority of ALICE and MOLLE items will interchange–meaning that in most instances you can clip an ALICE magazine pouch onto a MOLLE vest, or attach a MOLLE pouch onto a ALICE belt. Don’t be worried about mismatched colors or camouflage patterns. Practical civilian survival “ain’t a beauty contest.” In real world camouflage, randomness is a good thing. Anyone that tries to tell you that all your gear has to be “color coordinated” is a poseur.

Both ALICE and MOLLE gear is available from U.S. Cavalry Store [16]. (BTW, if you follow that link then we’ll get a little piece of the action when you order.)