There has been a shift in the tactical industry towards lighter weight materials to lessen the load for soldiers in the field. Of course, this has been a focus of the civilian outdoor market for a while now as backpackers scrutinize every ounce of their load-out and manufacturers have responded by leveraging different lighter weight materials and innovative designs geared towards shaving weight in every way imaginable.
LIGHTER WEIGHT FABRICS
The first seismic shift was away from 1000D Cordura to 500D Cordura nylon. Back in 2011, Tactical Tailor released their Fight Light line, which made use of 500D and reinforced stress points to cut weight by approximately 30% without sacrificing durability.
I’ve mentioned this in the past but I still read a lot of comments on forums from people who claim that gear made from 500D isn’t durable enough and they prefer gear made from 1000D. My experience has been that most 500D gear is plenty durable. In the majority of cases, the stitching and zippers on a pack will fail long before the fabric if a manufacturer uses quality nylon. All things being equal, the weight savings with using 500D far outweighs any reduction in abrasion or tear resistance versus 1000D Cordura.
LASER CUT PALS/MOLLE
Another recent innovation is the use of laser cut molle and lighter weight attachment systems. The first I heard of laser cut PALS/MOLLE was when FirstSpear, LLC announced the release of their 6/12 ultra-lightweight system in 2012. The 6/12 platform replaced the array of horizontal webbing sewn to a vest with a grid of laser cut slots through both the face fabric and the fuzzy Velcro laminated to its back face.
First Spear claimed there were at least three benefits to this system:
- A weight reduction in the range of 20-40% over legacy LBE systems (depending on the application)
- Easier fabrication, which may ultimately contribute to a price reduction, or the adoption more features and higher quality in other parts of the system thanks to lower production costs
- The ability to run/hide comm wires for snag free movement
As you’ve seen in my recent post on new packs from 5.11 and Direct Action, the use of laser cut PALS/MOLLE has expanded now into bags. In my opinion, the weight reduction benefit is clear. I’ve observed how heavy packs can get when covered with traditional PALS webbing.
The weight of the pouches add up also. Newer pouches, like those available in Blue Force Gear’s Helium Whisper line, have done away with the webbing in favor of a laminate. That coupled with the use of 500D Cordura, reduces weight up to 60% over traditional 1000D pouches.
I’ve handled some of the Helium Whisper stuff and the weight difference is noticeable. They’ve since licensed the technology to other manufacturers.
In closing, I want to encourage everyone who reads this to try some of this new gear. Don’t let the traditionalists and the trolls dissuade you from embracing new tech. The benefits are real and it’s going to become more commonplace as manufacturers incorporate it into their new designs.