Of the many unique skills service members learn, arguably the most applicable to everyday life is how to pack. Service members often have to carry packs with heavy equipment, making them experts in efficient packing and distributing weight in a way that will be most comfortable. And while they’re undoubtedly experts in putting stuff inside a bag, they also know a thing or two about carrying gear outside of their bag. The system used in the military for carrying gear outside a bag is known as MOLLE.
What Is MOLLE?
You might confuse MOLLE for a delicious sauce from Oaxaca, but it’s actually an acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment. MOLLE (pronounced like the name Molly) is a way to carry gear on the outside of your pack, using what are called PALS (the military loves an acronym). PALS stands for Pouch Attachment Ladder System, which refers to the nylon straps that are arranged in a striped pattern primarily found on backpacks. MOLLE refers to the general system of organization and all of the relevant equipment that comes along with it, and PALS refers specifically to the straps themselves. MOLLE isn’t the first system — it succeeded systems like ALICE, and you might still be able to find ALICE gear in Military surplus stores.
Besides backpacks, MOLLE will also be used on vests, belts and a variety of other clothing items. MOLLE is primarily used by American and British armed forces, but it’s used across different NATO forces and around the world.
These straps can be used to attach gear that might not fit in your bag or any equipment that you might want quick access to. In the case of the military, that would be things like magazines, holsters, medical packs and grenade pouches. Naturally, you’re not going to be carrying any of that if you decide to use MOLLE as a daypack or as a travel backpack. But it’s still a useful system for organizing practical equipment that you might want to keep within reach.
How To Use MOLLE For Everyday Travels
The best thing about MOLLE for everyday use is the “modular” part of the acronym. If you don’t need to carry too much gear, you can leave the attachments at home. Or, if you have a lot of gear to carry that day, you can attach a variety of pouches and carabiners to expand your backpack’s capabilities. Because the system is so versatile, it can be used in many different ways to suit a variety of needs. MOLLE is also a standardized system — you can mix and match gear from different brands.
MOLLE pouches are often designed with a specific tool in mind, and these tools are typically tactical in nature, whether that’s a flashlight, knife or magazine. But there’s nothing stopping you from using MOLLE accessories for whatever you need them for. Whether you’re packing snacks for a long flight or hauling photography gear, MOLLE’s infinite adaptability is what makes it so applicable for different needs. Some people even use MOLLE bags for carrying diapers — one dad recommended using magazine pouches for carrying bottles of milk. You can also use MOLLE for emergency kits and bug-out bags.
MOLLE bags do have their limitations, though. Many hiking enthusiasts suggest avoiding MOLLE, for example, because MOLLE packs are heavy and not designed to prioritize lumbar support. Since tactical bags are made to be relatively inexpensive (the US government orders thousands and thousands of these, so saving money is important) they may not have all of the comfortable features you look for. But many modern brands take inspiration from military designs and upgrade them for the everyday consumer.
We’ve rounded up some great MOLLE bags and accessories below.
1. GORUCK GR1 21L
GoRuck has combined a tactical design with features that suit the average urban commuter or frequent flier. It has three rows of PALS webbing on the sides and front of the bag, allowing you to enjoy the practical benefits of MOLLE without having to wear a bag that looks overly military-inspired. There’s a diagonal zippered compartment on the front of the bag and the main compartment has modern details like a laptop pocket. YKK zippers ensure smooth opening and the 1000 denier Cordura nylon is durable and water-resistant.
2. SOG Ninja Tactical Day Pack
For a more affordable option, consider this bag from SOG, one of the leading manufacturers of tactical knives. It has MOLLE webbing on the front and sides of the backpack, providing ample space to add pouches, carabiners and the like. The bag is made from polyester instead of nylon, so it won’t be as durable, but it’s a great option to use as a general-purpose bag.
3. 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 Military Backpack
5.11 conveniently names their tactical bags based on how many hours’ worth of gear they’re designed to carry — the 5.11 24 carries 24 hours worth of supplies. The bag has MOLLE webbing on the sides and front of the bag, giving you plenty of room to attach whatever gear you need. Unlike the GoRuck bag, the design of 5.11’s bags are explicitly military-inspired, so you have to be willing to rock that tactical look.
4. 5.11 Tactical Unisex MOLLE H2O Bottle Carrier
If you’re looking to take advantage of the MOLLE system, consider buying some compatible accessory pouches. One of the best additions is a water bottle carrier, especially if your bag doesn’t have one or the pouch is too small. It has a plastic clip that locks your water bottle, and it can be attached to different spots on your bag.
5. Condor Molle Gadget Pouch
This gadget pouch is designed for small electronics like a GPS or radio, but its versatile size makes it a great option for storing a wide variety of daily essentials or travel gear. For example, it’s a good size for storing a smartphone and snacks. It has a zippered outer compartment and a buckled main compartment, plus internal sleeves for easily organizing your gear.