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MOLLE and PALS: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the Correct Terminology Behind Standard Webbing Used on Backpacks and Other Gear

Survival gear is often a bit of a word salad filled with acronyms and slang. So, we like to take every opportunity we can to demystify the terminology, and clear up any misconceptions that may exist. Learning about survival skills and gear should be accessible to anyone, rather than some exclusive club where you're left out if you're unfamiliar with the lingo.

Two terms we hear used frequently in the survival and prepping world are MOLLE and PALS. Usually, you'll hear that a backpack has “PALS webbing” or that a pouch is “MOLLE compatible”. Confusingly, sometimes you'll hear just the opposite—”MOLLE” and “PALS” are often used interchangeably.

So, what the heck is the difference between “MOLLE webbing” and “PALS webbing”? Are they really the same thing with two different names? Not necessarily, but read on to understand where the confusion arises.

A soldier wearing U.S. Army-issue MOLLE gear, including a rucksack. Photo: U.S. Army / Wikipedia

First, let's define these terms. MOLLE (pronounced like the name Molly) is an acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. It is a proprietary form of military gear designed by Natick Labs, produced under contract by various manufacturers, and used by the U.S. Military and other NATO forces. MOLLE gear is typically based around a Tactical Assault Panel (or TAP), which is a load-carrying chest rig or vest.

Remember the M in MOLLE stands for modular, and you'll understand what it is: a system of modular gear components (vests, backpacks, pouches, etc.) that attach to each other.

This backpack illustration features PALS webbing highlighted in red.

Now, this is important: the MOLLE system includes PALS webbing. PALS stands for Pouch Attachment Ladder System, and it's the horizontal grid of repeating fabric webbing strips often found on backpacks and bags. According to the PALS standard, these strips are spaced 1 inch apart, and sewn to the backing at 1.5-inch intervals.

So, in a nutshell, PALS is a type of webbing, and MOLLE is a type of modular gear that attaches via this webbing. Given this info, it's technically incorrect to say gear has MOLLE webbing, because it would actually have PALS webbing and would thus be MOLLE-compatible. There's no such thing as “MOLLE webbing”, but most people will know what you mean if you say this—the type of webbing found on MOLLE gear.

It's likely that MOLLE and PALS terms will continue to be used interchangeably, but now you know that there's a difference between the two.


U.S. Army / Wikipedia

Patrick McCarthy - Writer


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