Introduction: Project: MOLLE. Codename: LBE Vest. M1

About: I grew up in downtown Phoenix, moved to California in my youth and was kicked out of the house (Permanently....seriously) for smoking an illegal substance that people smoked in the 60's. I started Backpacking …

For this project I needed to revise my hiking/camping gear.

In a traditional vest, each pocket is sewn in place and will only accommodate gear that would fit into EACH pocket. Even with 1000 pockets, once would never be able to fit a folding shovel (A good one at least), or a full 2 liter water bladder, or a drybag full of extra clothes.

Instead of going out and buying different vests for different trips, I wanted 1 solid platform which could handle just about any situation.

In the military, the Modular Lightweight Load-bearing Equipment (MOLLE or LBE for Load-Bearing Equipment) fighter vests are light weight and breathable, while still allowing the person to attach many different pockets and pouches. This was the basis of a great platform, but I normally carry far less administrative equipment/tools and have no need for a magazine pouch or grenade pouch.

After much research, I also found that very few of these LBE vests were made for long-term use. If I were to be active duty and only need my plate carrier to last a few missions at a time, these hook & loop designs would be perfect. However, I am a civilian, I need something that will last a few years of constant use, and velcro just doesn't do it for me.

The militarized vests also have key features that are specifically used in the field of combat, I do not foresee much combat which would require me to fend off bullets or radio in for an air strike.

I need this vest to be in a whole new league of it's own.

Modular LBE (This is a must)
Breathable (I need to be able to use it in hot/humid conditions. I live in the desert but a large portion of the U.S. also gets very humid)
Load-Bearing (I don't need multiple map pouches or anything too light. The vest is meant to take the place of a 45L+ the math)
Tough (This thing needs to last a few years, I don't feel like having to make a new one every 6 months)
Water/Mold resistant (Yes I carry items which need to remain dry if it rains. Hopefully something that wont let my gear soak all the way through if I fall in a small puddle or if it rains for 4 days straight)
Easy Access (As I wont be carrying a 65L+ worth of gear, I'll need uber quick access to anything and everything)

Results so far:
Finished with the back piece

Need to complete:
Front of vest
Gear specific pouches/pockets/etc
The backpack portion (The last "backpack" portion I made was far too large for the vest, I am thinking something smaller is in order)

Step 1: Choose Your Template and Materials

For template I went with a front and back "Flap" which would be connected using plastic buckles.

For materials I used:
1.5 yards of Duck fabric (60D Nylon with PVC coating)
Roughly 300 inches of Nylon webbing/straps (About 25 feet)
1/3 of a cheapo camp mat (Any sealed foam should work. Open foam will absorb sweat and begin to mold/breed bacteria)
8x Male buckle (Three pronged end)

Step 2: Cut Your Template

Cut out your template using very sharp scissors or a razor blade.

Step 3: Mark Your Cuts and Stitches

A solid line grid works best for defining where MOLLE webbing will go and it helps dramatically when it comes to stitching in straight lines.

Start at the bottom of your grid and work side to side. With a sewing machine this will "Feel" like you are working the material "Backwards" as you work to the top.

I used a heavy linen/ light curtain material to back the duck fabric, thus reinforcing the embroidery stitch.

I Anchored the middle and ends of each strap with a thicker embroidery stitch and used a thinner embroidery stitch in between. This helps add strength to the garment the same way a "Double stitch" would.

I use the embroidery stitch as it will move with the fabric. Rule of thumb, a longer or thicker stitch will take more stress before breaking. I tested this with a piece of canvas and nylon webbing using a short stitch. It took over an hour to stitch a 12" x 12" grid of nylon webbing, it took less than 2 minutes to rip all of the webbing off of the canvas fabric using moderate "tugging".

Tip: Test the strength of your projects as you do them, the earlier you catch a weakness, the less time it will take to correct the problem.

Step 4: Stitch the Webbing

Start adding the webbing. I went with a 12 / 8 / 12 / 8 / 12 / 8 / 12 / 8 / 0 / 8 / 0 / 8 / 0 / 8 slot configuration to give versatility and openings on the vest to add the necessary attachments.

Step 5: Prepare Your Connection Attachments

These attachments will make it possible to secure the front and back "Flaps" to your body. They need to be strong enough to support all of your gear and then some.

Step 6: Add a Hydration Pocket

Adding a hydration pocket is easy. Just cut out a shape larger than your water bladder and add it to the other side of the "Flap"

Step 7: Finish Up

Stitch together the inside and outside pieces of the "Flap" or bind them with Nylon straps for a more finished appearance.

Next time I'll be putting together the back "Flap" and connecting the 2 "Flaps"  to create 1 final vest!

Great Outdoors Contest

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