Web Gear Basics, by Jeff J.

I had been thinking for some time about what topic I should write about that may help others here on SurvivalBlog. I myself am fairly new to prepping and have tried to soak up all the information this site provides and that Mr. Rawles has graciously provided.

Last year I purchased and read the book “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It.” I enjoyed the book incredibly and learned so much more. For one, I realized that I am far from reaching my goals of being self sustaining and providing for the needs of my family if the Schumer hits the fan any time soon.

One part of the book I liked spoke about web gear and how it should be an integral part of your battle rifle and day to day equipment. I have thought about this topic and decided I would try to share some ideas and basics about web gear. I would never intentionally plan to take away from Mr. Rawles book but hope this adds to or supports his writings.

I must also state I am no expert in military equipment or believe my opinions expressed here are taken as such. I am a veteran of the USMC and currently a LEO. I have used several different types or styles of web gear during my two careers. I have personal pros and cons for each system I have used. Hopefully someone out there can benefit from this information.

To begin I want to state there are many styles, designs, colors, patterns, and even names for web gear. I personally have always generically called it a Load Bearing Vest (LBV). Web gear seems to be a fairly general term encompassing the many different types there are out there.

Some of the other names you may hear are: Web Gear, LBV, Chest rig, Tactical vest, MOLLE vest, MOLLE gear, and Enhanced load bearing vest. I am sure there are other names given to and to describe web gear. These are just some of the more prominent ones.

What is Web Gear? Generally it is a vest, suspension system, or similar system that is used primarily by military personnel to hold and organize weapons and gear on their body allowing them quicker access, if needed. According to “Militarydictionary.com.” it has the same meaning as “webbing” which says: “a set of equipment pouches attached to a belt or harness.”

Some reasons for using and having web gear are: to carry canteens and water bladders, magazines and ammunition, holsters, radios, survival kits, mess kits, food, first aid kits, e-tools and shovels, any many more.

Some of the earlier Web gear systems were the “M-1956 Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE)” and the “M-1967 Modernized Load-Carrying Equipment (MLCE).” These were later replaced by the “Alice” system or ALICE. (All-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment). These were used by the United States and other allied countries. Probably every modern military in the world has used or is currently using a form of web gear.

These earlier systems generally consisted of a set of suspenders that clipped or attached to a pistol belt. The belt would then hold or have attached various pouches and/or gear. The suspenders would help to reduce the weight and strain of the gear on the wearer, hence the term “load bearing.”

In our current military there are several load bearing set ups that are used. They all generally follow the MOLLE standard. These systems generally are a vest, carrier, or other system that is equipped with sewn on web straps across the exterior of the article. Modular pouches and other gear using interwoven straps can be attached to the webbing on them allowing the user to customize and accommodate their own set up and positions.

One benefit of the MOLLE system is exactly as stated above. The person can attach any of almost endless varieties of pouches and gear to their LBV. At this current time my preference is for the MOLLE system and my web gear is a MOLLE variant customized to my preferences.

Web gear can be found as military surplus from any number of resources. These are usually used in different states of wear. There are now many commercial companies who make copies and or original designs for web gear. Some of the online sources that sell these are: Sportsmansguide.com, Cheaperthandirt.com, Major Surplus and Survival, Ops gear, Mars gear, and many others.  I have no affiliation to these companies but have either purchased items for my web gear through them or searched for items on their sites. For those who do not want to buy on the internet, your local military surplus stores will probably provide similar results.

One big question to think about is what color or pattern do I want my web gear to be? You can find it in any of the standard military camouflages used from the past to present. Also solid colors that include black, olive drab, tan, foliage, and others. I even purchased an LBV that was made in the German Flectarn camouflage pattern.

The skies the limit on what you can find out there. I would suggest trying to find a color and pattern that matches or compliments the colors and patterns of your groups chosen BDU or other gear. The colors and patterns in no way affect the overall use and benefits of the web gear and contrasting colors and patterns are only that, contrasting. 

When I first planned out my web gear, I planned it to be a 72 hour kit for survival. I figured I would set it up so I could just grab my web gear and go and be self sustaining for 72 hours. Later, I decided I needed my web gear to be a part of a weapon system and include parts of my 72 hour kit. We each may have different reasons to build or buy a web gear system.

One thing I learned in Military was that web gear can be worn over your flak jacket and under a pack. We set up the web gear so it would not interfere greatly with the pack and when the pack was dropped we were ready to go into a fire fight. I have seen some web gear setups that I believe would hinder the wearer to use a pack, if needed.  I wouldn’t want to have to be fumbling around inside my pack for my web gear and magazines if I were being fired upon. When you prepare or buy your web gear, think how it would fit under your pack or BOB if you needed to carry both.

When I joined the military we carried an older LBV in boot camp. It was a one piece vest that had padded suspenders sewn onto netting. MOLLE style pouches were then sewn onto the netting at various locations. They included magazine pouches, grenade pouches, canteen pouches, and butt pack. They were adjusted for girth and size by lacing on either lateral side. They were kept secured by one or two adjustable clips in the abdomen area. Those LBVs were also patterned with woodland camouflage. Lastly, they had a “drag strap” across the upper back between the shoulder blades. The down side to these vests was aside from girth and size, they could not be adjusted.

Along with the above LBV we were also issued a pistol belt with 2 canteens and canteen holders. The canteen holders and other gear that was attached to the belt using the old “alligator clips” of the ALICE and similar type web gear. Personally, I hated these. The clips were either too tight or rusted shut or too loose and came open. Numerous times I would crawl through a course and realize that I was missing gear that fell off while I was on the course. Many of the older web gear systems used these alligator clips to attach the pouches, bags, and holsters to the belts.

When I arrived at my unit I was issued a different LBV with my 782 gear. This LBV was also in woodland camouflage but was designed with the MOLLE system. Instead of having lacings on the sides for adjustment it used compression straps. They had the same pouches as the older LBVs but these could be removed and adjusted to different locations on the vest as the user desired or needed. This especially helped in setting up the rifle magazine pouches for left and right handed shooters. I really enjoyed this set up and used it for the majority of the time of my enlistment.

When I received my 782 gear, I was also issued a flak jacket. It was in woodland camouflage as well and also had MOLLE webbing sewn onto the front and back of the vest. Our platoon commanders allowed us to skip or leave our LBVs behind as long as we attached all of our MOLLE pouches onto the flak jacket. In the end this was my favorite set up and I only brought my LBV out for gear inspections.

When I decided to buy my own web gear I searched for some time on the web looking for what I felt would fit my uses. I built my web gear from MOLLE system components and purchased them from different vendors. The following is my current web gear set up:

  • ModGear Tactical Magazine Chest Rig

This suspension system has two padded suspenders that attach to a bladder pouch on the back. The outside of the vest is covered with MOLLE webbing front and back. There are six M16/AK-47 magazine pouches built into the front of the vest. It has compression straps on either side for size and girth adjustments. The front is secured with Velcro, snaps, and a plastic snap clip.

  • Butt Pack

This butt pack is different than the military rectangular style. This bag has a main compartment with three smaller pouches attached to the sides and front. The lid to the main pouch has compression snap straps to hold it tight and secure. This bag has multiple MOLLE straps on the back that attach to the bottom end of the bladder pouch. This puts the bag on the lower back below the area where my pack would rest.

  • Deployment Bag

This bag is only a part time item. I place it above the butt pack on the upper portion of the bladder pouch. When I don’t want to carry a pack or back pack but need extra room I attach this for space. It comes with its own shoulder strap so it can be used as a stand alone piece of gear or additional bag. The back of this bag also has multiple MOLLE straps for attaching to the chest rig.

  • EMT Pouch

Although I don’t use this as a first aid kit, its design is known as such. This pouch is 7x5x2.5” with a zipper around the three sides. This pouch houses my survival kit. The back again has multiple MOLLE straps and I attach it to the left forward side of the chest rig. I also take this pouch off and carry it when I am not using my web gear.

  • Gadget Bags

These bags are similar to the EMT pouch but smaller. They also have smaller pockets and enclosures inside. In a pair of these, I store my various items in these such as my lighter, compass, chap stick, and flashlight. I have one pouch on either side of the front of the closure of the rig.

  • Pistol Magazine Pouch

This pouch is a double pouch that holds two full capacity pistol magazines. It is adjustable for different magazine sizes. I have it attached to the front of the chest rig. I may change this and place a triple pouch there instead to carry three magazines.

The chest rig I chose already has the rifle magazine pouches built in so I did not need to buy any exterior attaching pouches. I also like to use a water bladder and this particular chest rig has the bladder pouch built in. This increased my locations for attaching other MOLLE pouches and gear. I may add several other pouches later but for now this setup suites me. All the above MOLLE pieces and the chest rig are in Olive Drab.  I chose this because it will not contrast with the several different BDUs I have. Therefore I don’t need different rigs for each BDU set I have.

This web gear set up is my main LBV. I have three other LBVs that I have set aside as extras or for different terrain. One of them is exactly the same as the above set up but in Coyote Tan. Living in Arizona this one has obvious advantages. The other two are commercial rigs and are in different patterns and colors. I plan on setting them aside with spare magazines for my additional weapons platforms. (That is another of JWR‘s suggestions).

Several other designs I would like to talk about are some what different from the standard web gear or LBV. These are actual vests that cover the torso like body armor or plate carriers do. They are commonly called “Tac vests” or “tactical vests.” There are many vests that are made by commercial companies that have prearranged pockets, holsters, etc. added to the exterior of the vest. They also come in numerous colors and patterns. They also come set up for MOLLE systems so you can add your own pouches as you desire.

Except for carrying body armor and plates, I don’t like this style as much as it encloses your torso more and increases body heat (sweating) while performing physical activities. The more traditional web gear to me feels more open and less restrictive. You should try both before you decide which one you want to buy or build.

Similar to the flak jacket setup above, if you are going to carry body armor or plates these vests may be more acceptable. Instead of having your carrier and LBV over it, you can incorporate both into one. Just remember that some states and locals have laws and restrictions on body armor. Make sure what you are doing is legal before you buy anything.

Remember that your web gear is yours. You have to be comfortable in it and using it. Set it up how you will use it and practice using it. In other words, practice how you play.
If you have spent time wearing it while you are shooting and reload from the magazine pouches your muscle memory will kick in later when you need it and your training will take over. I know this is true, I have seen it day in and day out throughout my career.

I hope this can assist you in choosing and building or purchasing your web gear. God bless and Semper Fi!

One Comment

  1. If you want a substitute for ALICE clips…use plastic zip ties. Two zip ties can be used end-to-end as a substitue for a clip. They are cheap enough and light enough to carry in bulk, will not rust, and are adjustable to mix and match different types of LBE.

    Also, many old nylon and/or cordura camera bags (for small cameras) have belt loops, and can be used as a substitute for pouches on LBEs. These small pouches can be had for a pittance at almost any thrift shop.

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