Load Bearing Equipment: History, Personal Use, and Pro-Tips (2022)

Today we’re digging into the H-Harness style load-bearing equipment (LBE). This is the true evolution of classic military load carriage systems like ALICE gear and the webbing that came before it.

Elsewhere, we’ve covered a summary of load carriage options and the pros and cons between them. A lot of time went into discussingbattle belts as a lightweight minimalist option and one that everyone should probably consider at some point, and they also pair well with chest rigs.

If you recall, this whole thing started with a discussion of Scenario X, a natural disaster that has crushed your state’s resources and infrastructure. You and a small group of your neighbors are now responsible for providing security for your families and community in the absence of state authority.

When I first wrote about Scenario X, it seemed a bit like dystopian fiction. However, 2020 showed us that it might not have been too far off the mark.

Load Bearing Equipment: History, Personal Use, and Pro-Tips (1)

A Brief History of Load Bearing Equipment

For most of our military history, fighting loads rode on the hips. This location reduces fatigue over uneven terrain and takes advantage of naturally strong lower body bones and musculature. Up until 1957, this took the form of a cartridge belt (pictured above).

In the late 1950s, the Army Ordnance Board selected the M-14 as the new infantry rifle of choice. The legion of M1 Garand fans rejoiced at selecting the de-facto choice of wood and steel. However, the competing Infantry Board contested that decision for years, and ultimately lost- but not before the Air Force adopted the M-16.

Forgive me, I’m a history nerd. The important change for our purposes today was not the M-16, but the switch to rifles fed from detachable box magazines rather than clips. This meant we needed a new way to carry ammunition.

M1956 Load Carrying Equipment

Experience fighting in Korea as well as research done by Norman Hitchman during Project ALCLAD informed the decision to try and reduce the load on soldiers.

You’ll find that this is a recurring goal in military history. In reality, it always seems more aspirational than anything, but it’s a goal nonetheless.

The M1956 Load Carrying Equipment consisted of the following elements:

  1. Individual equipment belt (AKA pistol belt)
  2. Load bearing suspenders
  3. First aid case/compass pouch
  4. Ammunition cases
  5. Entrenching tool carrier
  6. Field pack (AKA the butt pack)
  7. Canteen carrier
  8. Sleeping bagcarrier straps

Everything was made of cotton canvas material while metal keepers attached each component to the equipment belt. In all, the system worked well, and the H-Harness design was quite comfortable.

However, the canvas material was heavier than needed and tended to absorb water. A few years later, the Army set about to improve the system by manufacturing components out of nylon.

The “Improved” M1956 AKA M1967

The Army performed two studies in the early 1960s. One focused on further lightening the load on the soldier, and the other searched for ways to conserve energy for the soldier. As you should expect, both suggested the path was towards lighter equipment. The Army dubbed this as project LINCLOE.

By 1967, LINCLOE produced a “modernized” M1956 made from nylon.

Natick Labs already had something in mind since they were experimenting with nylon materials in 1961. They succeeded in reducing the weight of rucksacks and load-bearing equipment by 50% or more.

The army procured 20,000 sets of this experimental lightened equipment. The new gear never had an official designation, but troops on the ground called it M1967 MLCE, for modernized load carrying equipment.

It’s notable that the LINCLOE program also produced a combat vest help carry equipment higher on the chest. However, the Army decided to abandon the design in favor of continued development on the belt.

It’s not the point of today’s post, but it’s easy to imagine that it continued evolving into other programs.

ALICE

The LINCLOE program finalized its results in 1973, giving birth to the official designation of ALICE. Standing for All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carry Equipment. Frag Out Magazine has a great article on the full history of ALICE and its components, but I’ll just focus on the load-bearing equipment.

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The equipment belt was very similar to the experimental designs already produced for the 1967 MLCE. One key change was switching from the 1957 H-Harness to Y-shaped suspenders. Most troops found this less comfortable, as it didn’t distribute the load nearly as well.

Locating an older H-Harness, or fashioning your own, became a top priority for those with the clout to do so.

ALICE officially saw service from 1973 until being replaced with MOLLE by the early 2000s. There were several iterations of each piece of gear, particularly the magazine carriers. I believe production is still ongoing, though.

One of my housemates in college was in Army ROTC and had his issued ALICE webbing with him for all field exercises. I borrowed it a few times back then.

Further Evolution

After ALICE, things start to branch a little bit.

In 1976, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) introduced the Ephod system. All pouches were sewn in and the system was not modular at all. Still, it was intelligently thought out.

The Ephod distributed the weight all around the waist and had a sustainment pack built into the back. By all accounts, it was a very comfortable system.

The British have long used belt kits, calling it PLCE (Personal Load Carrying Equipment). Many of their units have only recently followed the US military in the use of plate carriers and chest-mounted loads.

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The system wasn’t all that popular, but my reading of comments from forums was that the people using weren’t setting it up correctly and just wanted something else. By the time I was leaving active duty, most Security Forces were wearing plate carriers but had some of this gear nearby.

Quick Tips

Before I get into my personal setups, I want to share a few universal lessons I’ve learned.


Load Carriage Height

If you choose to develop your own version of load-bearing equipment like this, be aware of carriage height.

This style of load carriage is not a battle belt. Don’t wear it where your pants belt normally sits, as that would be too low and you’ll run into problems.

Instead, wear load-bearing equipment along your actual waistline. Imagine it passing directly over your belly button, give or take a few inches depending on your personal anatomy.

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This higher position aligns the bottom of the harness with the top of your hip bones. This is the most efficient way to transfer loads down through the legs.

Also, by raising the harness to a “belly rig,” you reduce interference with shooting positions and uneven terrain.

Hazards

Two big hazards come to mind with load-bearing equipment like this.

First, the pouches going all around your sides and back are going to add horizontal bulk. During a CQB type of situation, you’re probably going to get snagged on doorways and furniture. This type of equipment just wasn’t designed for that kind of situation. Similarly, it pretty much precludes comfortably riding in a vehicle seat while wearing it.

Secondly, loading down this kit means that you’re carrying everything and it’s not easy to ditch. With a more minimal battle belt and backpack combination, you can drop the backpack and just fight off the belt. It’s a much more lightweight way to go.

The problem happens when you lose the pack and everything that was in it. With a belt kit like this, you can carry 24 hours of supplies on you, no pack needed. It’s just a matter of weight.

My Personal Load Bearing Harnesses Setups

Now that we’ve gone over the history of load-bearing equipment, let’s look at the three examples I’ve developed for myself. One of these was more accidental than anything, as I just happened to have enough spare gear on hand to assemble it.


The “Hot and Muggy” Load Carrier

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Of my kits, this is my current favorite due to its combination of light weight, water resistance, and capacity. One of the primary benefits of load-bearing equipment like this is ventilation. For years, I’ve followed a discussion over on Lightfighter about an appropriate fighting kit for jungle environments. Every time someone rotated through jungle schools in Belize, Guam, or Africa, they reported back with things they learned and observed.

I assembled this rig over the course of 2018, with most of that waiting for the back ordered pouches due to a ranger green color shortage.

It’s built to be extremely lightweight with minimal fuss. There is zero padding and niceties here. The benefit to the low-profile straps is that they do not interfere with any straps should I throw a backpack on, especially one with padding in the straps.

Considerations

One of the recurring themes in those jungle training reports was that gear on the chest was awful. A front and back plate carrier, combined with a rucksack, was simply a miserable experience. Several of the British troops rotating through the schools with their PLCE gear seemed much more comfortable.

I have no plans of going off to some far off jungle, so this might be more academic than anything. But I do live in what should be swampland and the summers are definitely humid and sticky. My goal from the outset was assembling a system that carried a standard fighting load and up to 24 hours of supplies without the need for a ruck or backpack.

Another issue of concern was water absorption. Like the early 1960s, water intrusion is a real issue to contend with. In the 60s, the answer was moving away from canvas materials and towards nylon. Now, just like then, we’ve made advancements in materials science that can help us.

That gets me to the issue of access. Since the early 2000s, the trend towards open-top magazine pouches worked great for fast-paced combat in the relatively close confines of an urban environment. The guys rotating through jungle school were learning all of the same lessons that we learned back in the 60s, though.

Vegetation pulls at everything and “removes” items off you that aren’t physically tied down or enclosed. Rain and mud intrusion will play hell with magazines.

If you’re working with a team, and you should be, then you have more time to work your reloads from closed pouches. Sub 1-second reloads aren’t the important thing here.

Configuration

This rig is based on a Blue Force Gear Beltminus harness. BFG actually discontinued this product, so I got it for a screaming deal on clearance. All of the pouches, except the IFAK, are from Velocity Systems/Mayflower’s Jungle line.

From left to right, the pouches are:

  • 5.56 Jungle Pouch
  • Chinook Med TMK IFAK Pouch
  • Canteen Pouch
  • General Purpose Pouch
  • General Purpose Pouch
  • Canteen Pouch
  • 5.56 Jungle Pouch

The entire harness and all the pouches, except the IFAK, are made from ULTRAcomp material. This stuff is a super-lightweight laminate that doesn’t absorb any water whatsoever and remains stronger than 1000D Cordura.

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Magazine Carriage

Each magazine pouch carries three standard 30-round magazines. I’ve also discovered that they hold two 7.62 PMAGs or M-14 mags as well.

The pouches fully enclose the magazines and protect them from the elements. Fastex buckles secure the flaps, but there is also a hook and pile lining inside the lid to help keep them closed when the buckle isn’t fastened.

I’m often asked about the shock cord you see wrapped around the pouches. This is something I added later on, and it helps the pouch collapse inwards as I remove magazines. I also have it running across the rear pouches as it helps minimize rattling.

Using two of these pouches allows me to carry 6+1 magazines, or 210 rounds. How did I come to this number? The short answer is that 7 magazines is the standard combat load, and has been for years. It just made sense to use it.

The Rear Pouch Shelf

One of the downsides of belt kit like this is that you cannot use a waist belt on a backpack. One of the great takeaways I learned from watching British troops is how their load-bearing equipment works with their rucks. They wear the ruck slightly high and then rest it on top of the rear pouches, which helps transfer the weight to the load-bearing equipment.

Velocity Systems accounted for that, and the four rear pouches are all level with one another. This presents a nice usable shelf, provided you have sturdy items inside of them.

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As with the magazine pouches, I added the shock cord later on, which helps minimize rattling and provides a place to hang foliage. I’ll do a review of the actual pouches in another post, but I’m very happy with these.

What about a pistol?

Conspicuously absent from this rig is a pistol holster. The truth is that as much as I like the lightweight ULTRAcomp material, it’s a little too flimsy for mounting a holster. So, instead, I mount the holster on my pants belt.

In the photo is an old HSGI drop leg I had laying around. I like this one because it rides very high, stays put, and includes magazine carriers. A Safariland UBL would work just as well.

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I left a gap on the right side of the harness between the magazine pouch and canteen pouch, this is to facilitate a cleaner draw stroke.


The “Rolling Heavy” Rig

Believe it or not, this next configuration took the better part of three years to get together even though it may not look like much.

Load Bearing Equipment: History, Personal Use, and Pro-Tips (8)

If we’re tracing lineage, the “Hot and Muggy” rig is closer to the classic M1956 equipment, and this one is closer to the Israeli Ephod or the USAF DF-LCS system.

This rig is padded on every surface that touchest the body and it uses heavy-duty shock cord between the panels to stretch and move with me. It’s very comfortable to wear, even when loaded up.

I took advantage of the padding by making this my “heavy” rig. What makes it heavy? I added a pistol, pistol magazines, and more rifle mags. I still built it for mostly going without a pack for 24 hours, but there’s room for extras.

Configuration

The whole rig is a FirstSpear 6/12 Patrolling Harness (now discontinued). Like the Beltminus, I got it for a screaming deal because it was on the way out. It sat around in my gear bin for a long time before I actually got around to setting it up.

Pouches, left to right:

  • Tactical Tailor Magna pistol magazine pouch
  • FirstSpear 6/9 M4 Double pouch (4 magazines)
  • ATS SOF first aid pouch
  • SOTech Canteen pouch
  • Velocity Systems / Mayflower Jungle Buttpack
  • HSGI hydration pouch
  • Tactical Tailor modular holster
  • FirstSpear 6/9 M4 Double pouch (4 magazines)
  • MVT small utility pouch

Magazine Carriage

All of the rifle magazines are stacked two deep rather than three, which keeps the horizontal bulk to a minimum. The pouch flaps only attach with hook and loop, so they are relatively fast to get into. This rig gives me 8+1 magazines, or 270 rounds. Unlike the Velocity Systems ones, these pouches only hold 5.56 magazines.

Obviously, the extra ammunition makes this one a little heavier. I envision this more as a support-by-fire role or designated marksman role with a 5.56 rifle. The wearer might be a bit more stationary and use a magnified optic from mid-range.


The Pack Shelf

Unlike the “Hot and Muggy” rig, this one doesn’t really have a solid shelf to work from. The two canteen pouches attach to the sides of the buttpack, not the harness itself, so they aren’t really transferring anything to the hips. The buttpack is still wide enough to take the load and transfer it, but it doesn’t work quite as well.

In any case, I probably wouldn’t be using this with a heavy ruck anyway because of the shoulder straps.

Combining the thickly padded straps of the FirstSpear harness with thick straps on something like the GR1 is a bit of a mess. I much prefer the thinner profiled straps of my Savotta Jaakari-S or Hill People Gear Tarahumara as a combination piece.

Hydration

Aside from the dedicated hydration pouches, the MOLLE panel across the back of this rig means I can attach things directly to it. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t do more than a hydration carrier.

It became trendy to attach small backpacks or radios on the back of gear for a while, but those configurations make it getting into or adjusting your gear a complicated arrangement.

The Minimalist Kit

To be honest, this final rig probably shouldn’t even be here. It’s made entirely of spare parts I had lying around. But, you know what? It still does its job.

Load Bearing Equipment: History, Personal Use, and Pro-Tips (9)

If I had to trace lineage, it’s a bit closer to ALICE The main belt is a Velocity Systems / Mayflower Jungle belt. There’s not much fancy about it other than it has stitched loops along the length so the items you mount don’t slide around. It’s actually intended to be used inside of a padded MOLLE belt, but Velocity Systems gave you the option to use the belt by itself.

The suspenders are the Tactical Tailor Fight Light harness I originally used in Version 2 of my battle belt. They are low profile and actually pretty nice.

Pouches, left to right:

  • Tactical Tailor Universal Magazine Pouch
  • BAE Systems Eclipse canteen carrier
  • ATS medium upright pouch
  • BAE Systems Eclipse canteen carrier
  • Tactical Tailor Universal Magazine Pouch

The two magazine pouches are Tactical Tailor Universal models, also originally used on Version 2 and 3 of my battle belt. They each hold three 30-round 5.56 magazines or two 7.62 mags. In fact, in the photo, the one on the right has 5.56 mags and the one on the left has two 7.62 PMAGs.

I’ve found this setup to be very quick to get on and off, but I definitely feel more of the “pokey bits” as the MALICE clips I used to attach them lay directly against me. I may go back and replace all of that with gutted 550 cord or something else.

Summing Up Load Bearing Equipment

In this post, we’ve gone over a short history of military load carrying equipment. While most modern conflict sees more chest rigs and plate carriers than belt-mounted kit like this, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its merits.

Loads carried on the waist are easier on the back, are more energy efficient on uneven terrain, and honestly just feel more “natural.”

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I showed you my three personal examples. Unlike my battle belts, I don’t really have an evolution here, as I built up each of these rigs separately over time. They all have their pros and cons, but I find I’m happiest with the lightweight Beltminus harness equipped with Velocity Systems Jungle pouches.

So over to you, do you think you’d find this style of equipment helpful? How would you rank it against battle belts and chest rigs?

FAQs

Is Alice gear still used? ›

Although since superseded by MOLLE, ALICE gear is still in some limited use in the U.S. Army in National Guard and training units, as well as by Navy and Air Force ground units.

What does Ilbe stand for? ›

The Improved Load Bearing Equipment (ILBE) is a load carrying system designed to provide a durable and lightweight means for the deployed Marine to transport individual combat clothing and equipment.

What is Alice webbing? ›

What is ALICE? ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) is an equipment attachment system and accessory set officially adopted by the military in 1973. The ALICE pack has since been phased out of military service, but lots of people still prefer this method of carry.

What is PLCE webbing? ›

Personal Load Carrying Equipment (PLCE) is one of several tactical webbing systems of the British Armed Forces. Dependent upon the year of design, and the decade of introduction, the webbing system was named and is commonly referred to as the 85 Pattern, the 90 Pattern or the 95 Pattern webbing.

What is Alice pack made of? ›

Materials. The pack is made of water repellent treated nylon duck and webbing, spacer fabric, and metal hardware.

What replaced the LBE? ›

The Local Business Preference Program (LBPP), pursuant to Los Angeles Administrative Code Section 10.25-10.25. 10, and City Ordinance 187121, became effective on August 7, 2021. This replaces the previous Local Business Enterprise (LBE), Small Local (SLB) and Transitional Job Opportunity Program (TJOP) certifications.

What is an assault pack? ›

An assault pack is a pack which helps you to sustain you and your unit with the very essentials during combat and immediate approach to combat. An assault pack is sized between 10 and a max of 30 liters. Intention of an assault pack is best described by “securing victory while preparing for failure”.

What is Marine backpack called? ›

A military backpack, also called a MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment, pronounced like the name "Molly"), is designed to adjust the amount of equipment a soldier carries.

What is ILBE user? ›

Ilbe's userbase is often described as having an alt-right, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT stance. Due to its vocal users and strong political and cultural influence, Ilbe has gained widespread attention by social critics, with some labeling the website a social phenomenon.

What does MOLLE stand for? ›

MOLLE stands for “modular light-weight load-carrying equipment” it has rows of heavy-duty nylon fabric called PALS “pouch attachment ladder system” which is stitched onto backpacks, vests and numerous other gear.

Are MOLLE and PALS the same? ›

Technically PALS is just the mounting system and MOLLE is the category of products using it, according to the classification of US armed forces. So when we say that a military backpack has a MOLLE system, the backpack actually has PALS system. PALS is the acronym for Pouch Attachment Ladder System.

What was before MOLLE? ›

ALICE (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) Besides MOLLE, ALICE is definitely the most known system, because of its recency, being the direct predecessor to MOLLE. It was used from 1973 to 1997 and still in use with some branches of the US Army.

What kit do soldiers carry? ›

Equipment including weapons, ammunition, head torch and spare battery, water, food, lighter, notebook and pen, multi-tools, emergency medical equipment, hearing protection, cylumes, a map and compass, will all be carried in webbing or on the person in case they are separated from their larger bags.

What should you have in your webbing? ›

Daysack. Belt-kit is bullets and water, mapping and Comms, with biscuits, a pouch meal and sweets to keep you on your feet for 24 hours. Depending on your environment you might stick a windshirt or waterproofs in if that's what's necessary to keep you alive.

What plate carrier does British Army use? ›

Virtus Scalable Tactical Vest (STV)

as a plate carrier with no soft armour.

How much weight can an Alice pack hold? ›

The large size of ALICE packs must be used with a frame and it can hold more than 100 pounds of gear. However, if you are carrying 100 pounds of gear while backpacking, you will probably become tired extremely quickly and may need to reevaluate your gear.

How heavy is an Alice pack? ›

The Alice backpack is all new and exclusively manufactured for Major's Mil-Spec Plus line of quality products, available in black and olive drab colors, measures a conveniently generous 20" x 19" x 11", and weighs under 5 pounds.

Are Alice packs comfortable? ›

Even still, the ALICE is not a very comfortable pack. At the price point they are hard to beat. They average around $30-$40 on ebay. If you order one, make sure it comes with straps too.

How wide is an Alice belt? ›

These are quality reproductions of the LC2 belts used as part of the ALICE system by the US military. Made from thick, 5.5cm wide webbing, these belts fasten using a tough quick release buckle.

Who made the original Alice pack? ›

Original M1956 Components

The All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) system was introduced in the early 70's by Natick Labs. The system included a load carrying setup not entirely different from the pictures above except for the ever important “Y” shaped suspenders.

Who makes the Alice pack? ›

Rothco G.I. Type Medium Alice Pack features shoulder 3 large vented outside pockets, padded kidney pad and shoulder straps, waterproof lining and accessory loops.

How big is a 3 day assault pack? ›

Typically, three day packs are marketed in the 30-50 liter (1830-3050 ci) size. You'll want something that can effectively hold all the equipment you'll be carrying. This will include your food, shelter, sleeping, and clothing equipment.

What are the straps on top of assault pack for? ›

Thankfully, the bag comes with a top and bottom compression straps to keep the size and load in check.

Why is it called 782 gear? ›

Etymology. So called because the Group section of the National Stock Number for personal field equipment is 782.

What is a ruck bag? ›

A rucksack is essentially a large, rugged backpack. The word “rucksack” is derived from the German, “der rücken,” meaning “the back.” A rucksack is a pack often used for camping or hiking, and a good one can be crafted of durable waxed canvas or technical material.

How many liters is a 3 day assault pack? ›

Coming in at a decent 32 Litres, the 3-Day Assault Pack also has plenty of room for all your items. While Mystery Ranch markets the 3DAP as a 72-hour bag, from my personal experience I don't think it's big enough to fit this role.

Who made the Alice pack? ›

The All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) system was introduced in the early 70's by Natick Labs. The system included a load carrying setup not entirely different from the pictures above except for the ever important “Y” shaped suspenders.

Who makes the Alice pack? ›

Rothco G.I. Type Medium Alice Pack features shoulder 3 large vented outside pockets, padded kidney pad and shoulder straps, waterproof lining and accessory loops.

How big is a large Alice pack? ›

ALICE stands for All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment system and was adopted by the United States Army in the 1960s to help soldiers carry large heavy packs. Measuring 22" x 20" x 19", the Large Alice Pack comes with a Heavy Duty Aluminum Frame.

How much does a medium Alice pack weight? ›

Weighed an as-issued ALICE medium pack with frame and straps I now own, and it came in at 6 lbs 2 oz.

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