Much like Wifi did for the internet, the MOLLE standard really opened up a lot of options for the Military Gear market. MOLLE is a whole new generation of gear sets, and with such, we pack differently than we did in days past. Back when I was in our beloved Corps, we had what was called “782 Gear” which consisted of a few different pieces of equipment, all tied together through the Load Bearing Vest or LBV. As the centerpiece, the MOLLE vest functions as the heart of our personal gear, and I think it’s important to discuss a topic that comes to me in email all the time: MOLLE vest setup. If you’re not here to find different setups for your gear, and instead, you’re shopping MOLLE vests, take a look here. It’s a fantastic list of proven gear with personal reviews and opinions.

A brief history of the MOLLE vest

When MOLLE replaced ALICE military-wide, many changes came. MOLLE offered incredible improvements in the modular sense due to the PALS webbing which it was based on. ALICE had been more like a normal piece of gear you would wear with built in pockets. For example, if you purchased a camo vest, and it had a certain number of pockets built in, you could put whatever fit in those pockets in them, and organize yourself in that manner. However, due to the adoption of PALS webbing in the MOLLE standard, a whole new level of organization was born. Because the PALS webbing makes up most of the MOLLE gear’s surface area, you can attach whatever MOLLE pouch you want, to wherever you want on a piece of MOLLE gear. So, instead of having a vest with pouches, we’ve got a vest with PALS webbing, and you can attach whatever gear you like, wherever it best suits you, be it from a logical standpoint, or ergonomic argument. The MOLLE setup is truly modular, and in my opinion, very superior.

How to set up a MOLLE vest

Oh my… Setting up a MOLLE vest(or plate carrier as it is often referred to) is such a personal preference, and to ask how to do it, is almost like asking “how should you cook eggs?”. I for one, am a minimalist. I like to take as little gear as possible every time I go out. Before I go any further, I want to point out my favorite MOLLE vest on the market – the Condor Quick Release Plate Carrier. I think that MOLLE vest setup needs to start with a question: What are you doing? When I was deployed to the Middle East(almost 20 years ago), we took bullets and grenades. Although, to be fair, we had ALICE gear, and not MOLLE stuff. But the point is still made that we were going out in the field for a purpose. Now, that said, I would love to have been able to put all of my M16A2 magazines in one spot, my chewing tobacco in another, and a multi tool somewhere else. ALICE didn’t afford me that convenience but MOLLE does. When I’m asked “What’s the best way to set up a MOLLE vest?”, I always answer the same way – “What makes the most sense to you”. Enough overview though, let me give you some examples of what I mean.

Most important carry

This is a concept which I think is most overlooked when rigging any type of gear. In this example, we divide your vest load into three parts – (1) frequently needed – (2) sometimes needed – (3) might need. If you’re anything like me – ADD like mad – then you’ll appreciate the compartmentalization I suggest here. I’m the type of guy that can’t focus on everything at once, or I get overwhelmed. On a road trip, I break it down in 50 mile increments. When I vacuum a floor, I quarter it, and when I drink beer, it’s one at a time. That said, you need to declare what type of a situation you are rigging for, and then you can categorize your gear into the three sections I mentioned. To give you a point of reference, I consider “frequently needed” something that you need many times during an excursion, such as a flashlight. “Sometimes needed” comes in with something like a multi-tool or knife, and “might need” would be something like first aid gear. Because the setup of your vest is such a preferential process, I think it’s extremely important to understand that every situation is different, and you must pack for the occasion. Would you take a sleeping bag on a day hike? OK, I do realize that things could go horribly wrong, and you might need the sleeping bag, but for arguments’ sake, let’s keep it basic. Here’s a few scenarios and general, very basic suggestions.

Natural Disaster

first-aid-molle-pouchI suggest a first aid set up here. You’re going to want mostly first aid MOLLE attachments, and to boot, I cannot recommend highly enough, Condor’s Breakaway pouch (although I think it has a different name). Please know this is only a pouch, and it does not come with any contents. You’ll have to build your own first aid kit, but to be lazy, you can just buy a ready-made kit like this one, and put it into the Condor bag. You’ll undoubtedly want your vest to have a water feature. Actually, that’s good advice no matter the scenario. Condor makes an amazing MOLLE water pouch – check it out here. Keep in mind that you still have to have a bladder to put into it. So, in a nutshell, the emergency/disaster MOLLE vest setup will involve water and first aid gear for the most part.

shtf(shit hits the fan)

I admit, “shtf” is a generously ambiguous term, but surprisingly, I think the vest setup would be similar regardless of the details. Here, you’re going to want a first aid pouch, knife sheath shtfand ammo pouches as well. Honestly, if it were me, and the proverbial shit really did enter a fan of any sort, I can tell you right now, I’m running lightweight, and fully armed. I’d suggest some “put anything in there” molle pouches like this guy from VISM. My thought train on this is that if it were me, I would want my full armament for personal protection, and then lots of empty space for anything I might pick up along the way. Survival technique is a very personal preference. We are all programmed to live, but how easily we make it on ourselves has everything to do with preparedness and good information.

My take on MOLLE vest setup

You know, I was once told that opinions are just like… Oh wait, you’ve heard that one? Well, when it comes to gear setups, I take myself very seriously. Having been a US Marine, I know that how you pack will directly affect how well you live in the field. Setting up gear is such a personal thing, and some folks are wicked-organized, while others just can’t seem to grasp the concept. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to categorize your gear like I did in the section titled “most important carry”. As it has been said. “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and that goes for gear staging just as much as anything else. Take your time, rig properly for the event, and you’ll be happy when the time comes. If you’re just looking to rig for a one-size-fits-all event, go with the “shtf” setup. It’s more of a general bug out recipe and won’t let you down.


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Meet the Author

I'm a former US Marine, full-time father and husband, and part-time survivalist. I like old things, like music, furniture and time-tested survival technique, but there's always a place in my heart for new technology such as weapons and sleeping bag fill. I'm here to share my knowledge and experience, and I hope you'll share yours as well.

10 comments… add one
  • Sscott Jan 27, 2016, 1:03 am

    Hello I’m moving to Alaska about 40 to 50 miles in the back country. I’m walking in with gear food and clothing. I need a huge pack to hold gear and weight but not 10 lbs in a backpack like IBLE witch is awesome just to heavy.any other packs as good my friend.

    • Mike Jan 27, 2016, 8:18 pm

      Scott – any 72 hour bag would do just fine. My favorites are the Rush 72 and Ghost.

  • Kevin Collins Feb 4, 2016, 10:49 pm

    I’m setting up a MOLLIE vest and combing Alice belt. I’m having a hard time tracking down mag pouches for 7.62X51 ( PTR-91) im using old m15 mag pouches but only 2 mags in each. I would like to have the mag pouches on the vest.
    Ok i do have another question ? My vest ia a 511 , I would like to get a plate carrier with a front& rear plates. Would you wear the plate carrer under the vest ?

    • Mike Feb 5, 2016, 8:26 pm

      That’s an off-kilter combo. You may end up needing to roll with a molle belt like this one. Then, your options for mag pouches will be a plenty. Like these.

      Most plate carriers are meant to be in place of a vest. Take a look at the 511 carriers, they are set up really nice with PALS webbing throughout. I mean, don’t get me wrong, back in the days of the Corps(for me), I wore a vest over my flak, but that was when we had all ALICE. So, my LBV went over top of the flak. God, that was a ridiculously bulky setup now that I’m revisiting it in my mind.

  • Kris Feb 17, 2016, 3:20 am

    I’m currently an 11B (Army Infantry), and I’m looking at my IOTV, wondering if I could (or should) put anything on the back of my MOLLE besides my hydration pack

    • Mike Feb 23, 2016, 6:42 pm

      If you do, make sure they are “rarely needed” items, since they won’t be accessed rapidly.

  • MikeTango Oct 24, 2016, 8:31 pm

    What is the recommendation for carrier with 7.62 rated plates?
    As far as the packs are concerned what is a decent size molle pack that would allow me to fit a larger laptop to work?? Consider “business tactical “

    • Mike Nov 2, 2016, 2:01 pm

      How big of a laptop? Like a 17″?

  • Randahl Dec 12, 2016, 9:41 pm

    Mike, good to see that other Marines pack the same way I do, hum must be sometime instilled in us during training. I too grow up with the Alice pack and still have one, but I do like and use the molle system I find it easier to pack and control what I pack and the advice you’ve given is good, keep it up.

    MSgt Weeks

    • Mike Dec 13, 2016, 4:12 pm

      Thank you for both your comments, and your service Master Sergeant.

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