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

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 discussing battle 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.

This archival US Government photo from 1942 shows an infantryman equipped with the classic cartridge belt

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.

To accommodate the new box magazines, the Army needed a new way to carry equipment. The M1956 Load Carrying Equipment (LCE) consisted of the following components:

  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 bag carrier 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 a new material 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.

M1967 Modernized Load Carrying Equipment

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 such as the LBV-88 Load Bearing Vest or the Fighting Load Carrier.


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 component.

Alice kit

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 replacement with MOLLE by the early 2000s. There were several iterations of each piece of gear, particularly the magazine carriers.

Further Evolution

After ALICE, things start to branch a little bit.

In 1976, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) introduced the Ephod system. They sewed the all of the pouches directly onto the harness. This removed modularity, but increased durability and lightened the weight. The Ephod distributed the weight all around the waist and had a sustainment pouch 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.

More recently, we saw some new H-Harness designs from Eagle Industries and a variation for the Air Force known as DF-LCA (Defensor Fortis Load Carrying Equipment).

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. As you’ll see in a minute, I have my own version of this harness produced by FirstSpear that has become one of my main ways of carrying equipment.

Quick Setup 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 low on your hips where your pants belt normally sits. That’s not an efficient location to place a load. 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.

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 of Load Bearing Belts

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

First, the pouches going all around your sides and back add horizontal bulk. During a CQB type of situation, you’re probably going to get snagged on doorways and furniture. This type of equipment wasn’t designed for that kind of situation. Similarly, if you use a lot of the space to your rear for large sustainment pouches, 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.

To counter that risk, though, if 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.

Setting Up Your Load Bearing Equipment

Now that we’ve gone over the history of the kit, let’s talk about how you might configure yours. I’m going to use three examples of my own to show some variations and considerations you might want to make.

Let’s get something out of the way first. For a long time, I’ve been an advocate of combining a battle belt (or tactical belt) with a chest rig and assault pack. The reason I suggested this system is that it provides you with layers of capability that you can scale up or down over time. This also lets you acquire equipment over time without making something you owned previously obsolete.

In the hierarchy, you’ll notice that the battle belt and chest rig are lower on the pyramid and represent higher priorities than load bearing gear, which is up near the top.

With that said, I think there’s a very solid argument for a prepared citizen to jump right to a basic load bearing equipmetn setup even at the lower levels. Done well, it represents a complete “all-in-one” fighting kit package that you can grab and go on a minute’s notice. The only caveat there is that I think the kit should be minimalist and not interfere with other common tasks.

So let’s start there, with my take on a “Minuteman” harness configuration.

The Minuteman Harness

This harness sprung from the idea of replacing a battle belt and chest rig combination with a single piece of fighting gear that could still integrate with an assault pack and not interfere with riding in vehicles or sitting in chairs.

The goal was to carry just enough equipment to be effective in a combat situation and perform basic light infantry tasks. Of the three harnesses I’m showing in this article, this is probably the most useful, and represents the starting template I suggest for all prepared marksmen to begin with.

The Minuteman Harness

I make adjustments here and there, moving things around or swapping pouches for different variations- but the core elements remain.

Quick Breakdown of the Template

Here are some quick general specs:

  • One rifle speed reload placed front support side
  • 4 – 6 additional magazines carried in 2-3 mag pouches
  • Flat IFAK placed middle of the back
  • 2x Canteen Pouches flanking the IFAK
  • Admin pouch for misc items on the strong side
  • TQ Pouch placed for easy access
  • Optional radio, dump pouch, or other utility pouch placed on the support side. If carried, it replaces a magazine pouch

This template requires 20-22 columns of MOLLE, keeps things away from the front of the hips, and covers most things a prepared civilian would need to do for a short to mid-term activity.

The back is relatively slick. The flat IFAK doesn’t cause issues with my spine and still allows sitting in chairs or a vehicle seat. The canteen pouches off to the sides do not get in the way too badly for sitting, either. But I can always remove the canteens from them and they collapse down when needed.

This kit also works well with an assault pack worn high and tight to the back for additional storage capacity.

My particular harness uses a now-discontinued Blue Force Gear Beltminus V1 as the base. The Beltminus is a very lightweight harness laser cut from Ultracomp laminate. Blue Force Gear made a few versions of this with the most recent being a V3 model that included additional padding and sewn in stiffeners to add rigidity.

The specific pouches pictured are as follows:

  •  Esstac mid-height kywi speed reload
  • 2 x BAE Systems ECLiPSE two-magazine flapped pouches with bungee lock
  • 2 x BAE Systems ECLiPSE canteen pouch
  • SO Tech Viper A1 Mini IFAK
  • Spiritus Systems Small GP pouch for administrative items
  • T3 Gear TQ Pouch

The actual pouch selection here is less important. The BAE pouches, for example, were on a screaming sale due to being new-old-stock from an expired government contract, for example. The main point is using the template.

Ammunition Considerations

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. However, as I reviewed training reports from guys rotating through jungle schools and other light infantry work, it seemed that they were relearning lessons documented back in the 60s.

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 when you’re down in the dirt. If you’re working with a team, and you should be, then you have more time to work your reloads from closed pouches. Sub one-second reloads aren’t the important thing here. My preference is a single speed reload available for reloading right now, and then flapped or enclosed pouches to hold and protect the rest.

My planned load here is 5+1, meaning five magazines on the harness and one in the gun. That’s 180 rounds of 5.56 ammunition. Why that amount? Frankly, it’s arbitrary.

I tried dig back into the research, and asked several SMEs about why a modern “standard” combat load was 6+1 magazines. The general agreement is that it was arbitrary as well, an artifact of M1956, M1967, and ALICE all using two magazine cases on the belt. Since those cases held three M-16 magazines each, the default load became 6+1.

As a default, 5+1 is light and provides enough capability to do just about anything. I could further increase it by adding another mag pouch in the support-side “utility” spot, or going up to triple magazine pouches if I don’t mind the bulk.

What About a Pistol?

It seems blasphemous thee days that any kind of fighting kit doesn’t include a pistol. I didn’t include one here for two reasons.

First, the harness itself isn’t rigid enough to effectively support the weight of one. If I really wanted to carry a sidearm, then it would have to hang off of my pants belt. This would also mean relocating, or removing, some of the pouches on the strong side to make room for the draw.

Secondly, in the grand scheme of combat a handgun is strictly a “nice to have” when you have a rifle available. A pistol is most appropriate for personal defense within confined spaces. Many combat veterans have told me that they would rather just take some more rifle magazines.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.”

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?



Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Oldest First
Newest First
Mark C.
Mark C.

Very nice. You must be part of the Rubbermaid Brigade (my nice way of saying gear queer) and it takes one to know one. I just started paring down all of this stuff as I figured out my evolutions and boy did it take up some space. I must admit that your three articles caused me to peruse the ebay for some quality pouches that some other sucker was going to exodus from their basement. The rationale behind your rigs is great. As always, the resources and additional reading is wonderful. In short, great article as always. I feel like… Read more »

Mark C.
Mark C.
Replying to  The Marksman

Once again, same here. Two rigs for different environs with a spare for someone. Might I suggest a cache, smartly put aside for the rainiest of days?

Just as expensive though is the ancillary gear. Multi tools, compasses, blades and quality knick knacks here and there…man, it’s a lot of money. Comms!

But when you look at the force multiplier, just during small emergencies alone, the value is tremendous.


I like this series too much. I’m still more of a belt-and-backpack guy but while I was reading this I starting trying to justify putting some sort of LBE system together…

Also, I’d never heard of “EntryGear” before. I’m already looking at things I shouldn’t be considering.

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete

I’ve settled on a two-piece approach. A pistol belt with wide fanny pack, canteen w/cup & stove, IFAK, sheath knife, with extra water, a day’s simple rations, stove fuel, and a few other odds and ends in the fanny pack. Currently pistol-less. A J-frame 5-shot .38 lives in the pants pocket. If I thought it necessary, a 1911 holster & mag pouch can be added to the belt. Then, either original GI clip belt & suspenders w/extra canteen & bayonet for the M1, or, a current GI molle vest with AR mag pouches and extra canteen. I also have a… Read more »

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete
Replying to  The Marksman

Yeah well I have a severe emotional attachment to them….
I think I would replace “traipse” with “trudge” though.

I do have a “36 hour” light daypack too, for staying out overnight in warmer weather (space blanket tarp + woobie, MRE’s, water filter, etc.). At 60 with a bum knee, my days of (and need for) patrolling in the steep stuff are over. Can still move slow and steady if I have to though.


Interesting article as usual. Wow! Over my head …. again. LOL I should just send you my credit card information and let you set me up. LOL


I really enjoy your well thought out approach to setting up your gear and how it’s going to work for you! It would be interesting to hear what your anticipated mission parameters would be (reconnaissance, observation, long rang patrols, vehicle mounted ops, etc) and how your kit will help you fill those specific needs.. Your first rig, the “hot and muggy” seems to make the most sense for an all around setup that can integrate with an assault pack or a larger patrol pack all the while giving you some freedom to add a micro chest rig up front if… Read more »


Hey Matt, wonderful article! I just picked up the Beltminus myself for just about the same deal in the same color you did; I plan on furthering my kit as you did and I really do appreciate the addition and consideration of the assault pack to your gear. It helps with it’s versatility and seems like it could actually be used to move somewhere, someplace, with reasonable kit and reasonable chances. My main question is regarding that shock-cord that you’ve used on your kit. Where exactly did you get it from and what kind of techniques did you use to… Read more »


Well done sir! I run a small sewing shop making nylon gear. People like you who actually use the gear are gold mines for design and ideas!
Holler if you ever want to talk gear!
Kody from

josh tall
josh tall

Thank you for the most informative article. It is nice to see a thought out and logically written piece that isn’t an ad for specific equipment companies.

I now have ideas on moving forward with a well thought out rig setup. Thank you again!

Mac G.
Mac G.

I wish I didn’t find this article so late. I would have been able to find out about that First Spear harness sooner and get my hands on it before it was discontinued. Shame that it was, the straps look way more comfortable than their new Joker rig. Only place I could find it is on their site and nobody is hocking theirs on ebay.


Good article, been thinking of putting one together.

Anri Sorel
Anri Sorel

Great article as usual. I have two somewhat related questions: first, a few of the options you’ve listed here are discontinued, or have discontinued components. Are there any on-market substitutes that you’d recommend? Second, what criteria do you use to pick out “good” items in the market, that one might use to evaluate individual pieces of kit?

Anri Sorel
Anri Sorel
Replying to  Matt

Thanks for the info!

S.R. Crawford
S.R. Crawford

These kinds of rigs have been my go-to for years now, at least since I first started collecting surplus in high school. One of my first rigs was an M1956, although more durable materials are available now I think there’s something to be said for cotton canvas in terms of comfort. It seems to absorb bounce a bit better than nylon and isn’t as abrasive, but I’ll agree that it’s not a worthwhile tradeoff for durability. Seeing as it’s set up to be “period correct” I’ve never used it in the field as that would require changing things around in… Read more »


Just curious. What is your typical butt pack load?


Belt kits continue to intrigue me, enough to make me want to put one together someday. But, for now, I agree with you that the best general purpose kit is a battle belt/chest rig combo, depending on environment of course. My belt and chest rig are nearly the same weight, but the belt edges out as being just a little heavier. Both are around 16lbs a piece all said and done. The chest rig carries the meat and potatoes of the rig, rifle ammo, water, and comms. The belt takes care of the rest (handgun, extra rifle ammo, pistol ammo,… Read more »

JD Long

Best overview I have seen. MOLLE APM number 13, PEO Soldier. US Army

Michael Cain

I am a 60 year old vet. Went into Army in 1980 and got out in 1992. We used LBE entire time. I ruck 2x per week: 5 miles w/ 55lb dead load. I use a “Chinese” H-Harness with a pistol belt and a Blackhawk pad for the belt. I have a 2d kit that I use when I am on volunteer missions with local Search and Rescue. Different loadout. The basic premise of a “fighting load” and a “sustainment load” is still valid. I understand that in the past 20 years, the Army has moved away from a “field… Read more »


Can someone give me a diagram of how the sleeping bag straps is attached to either the US ARMY buttpack or the back of the H harness of 1956 LBE system ?


This answers many questions I had, but there is one question that I cant seem to get an answer on: 4-point or 6-point harness? It seems most harnesses sold today are 4 point, but historically, militaries around the world used 6 point harnesses. Surely they tested 4 point harnesses but everyone still chose 6 point. Thoughts as to why one would be chosen over the other? Is this a case of lost knowledge like the fully enclosed magazine pouches? Or is it a case of “we learned and refined over the years”?


Great article! I am currently trying to transform my battle belt into a LBE rig (hadn’t set up the belt with more than a mag pouch, dump pouch and pistol poches anyways) this will help me a lot on what to consider and how to set mine up. I will be going more towards your heavy rig with a heavy emphasis on carrying 762 magazines (there is only one 762 and its x51).

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