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.

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 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 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.

US Army Staff Sergeant 9th Cavalry Vietnam

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. 


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.

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 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.

In the mid-2000s the US Air Force put out a contract for what amounted to a modernized M1956 for the new century. The kid, dubbed Defensor Fortis Load Carrying System (DF-LCS) consisted of a wide load bearing belt and harness. The whole thing was padded for comfort and covered in MOLLE webbing. Eagle and LBT were among the original contractors. Soldier Systems did a brief overview of it.

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.

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.


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

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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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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 »

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