It used to be that when you drew your equipment from the store you’d be issued a set of web gear with a standard set of pouches. In a lot of units there was a standard way to set up those pouches and you weren’t allowed to deviate from that, even down to what was kept in each one. That’s all changed now. Modern load carrying gear is usually built around armor or a tactical vest of some kind, with MOLLE loops all over it for attaching pouches. Most military personnel still get issued a standard set, but there’s a lot more potential for customizing your setup to suit your own preferences. Packs now have MOLLE points too, so you can add even more carrying space there.
Let’s consider what you’re looking for in pouches. The obvious answer is storage space, but don’t make the mistake of thinking “the more the better.” If you have the space, sooner or later you’ll fill it, and we all know how heavy basic loads have become in recent years. Instead, work out what you need to carry to achieve your mission, and set up the space you need to fit it all in.
The most common items that get carried in pouches are ammo, canteens and radio gear. Most military comms kits come with their own MOLLE-compatible pouch, but there are aftermarket pouches designed for many systems that offer a more compact profile or better access to controls. Canteen pouches are becoming less common as hydration systems corner that market, but they still have their uses. Issue canteen pouches are fine, or use something like a 5.11 Tactical 6×10 pouch to hold a canteen with cup, a compact stove and a small stash of rations.
Then there’s ammo pouches. Ammunition is always the #1 priority and you need to make sure it’s secure, protected and easily accessible. Many operators prefer single-magazine compartments, because it’s easier to replace empties when you don’t have to jam them into a pouch stuffed with fresh mags. Views on closures vary. Some people prefer open-top pouches for ultra-quick access. Condor has a very good range for both M4/M16 and M14 magazines, with elastic retainers to keep your mags secure. In action, the retainers can be whipped out of the way in a split second as you reach for a reload. Alternatively Condor, 5.11 and many others make pouches with velcro flaps, which are noisy to open but more secure and faster to close. The noise they make shouldn’t matter anyway, because if you’re pulling that flap up, you’ve just emptied a magazine and that was probably a lot louder.
Old-style rucksacks usually came with a few external pockets to hold gear you needed often, but now you can customize endlessly with MOLLE pouches. Just don’t go crazy and double the size of your pack – you still have to carry it. However, add-on pouches are great for first aid kits, spare batteries and other small items you don’t want to rummage for. Extra canteens? Yes, get them on there.
Finally there are a wide range of specialist pouches on the market. As well as lay-flat packs for medical kit, drop pouches are becoming very popular for CQB. They make great high-capacity carriers for bulky items or you can wear them on your gear, closed up flat, and then use it as an ultra-fast dump for spent mags or a depository for captured documents, cell phones or other high-value items. Load carrying gear has never been more flexible, so take advantage of it to make your job easier.