Adventures in Sewing MOLLE Camera Gear... or: OEMs be darned! If they won't make it, I will.

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by faithblinded, Sep 23, 2016.

  1. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    Some of you might have seen @Phocal@Phocal 's ongoing progress with his "Frankenpack". Well, I too have purchased a frame myself, to eventually build out my own take on the Frankenpack. However, I have taken things a step further, purchasing a sewing machine, and the materials required to produce my own accessory pouches and gear. I will attempt to chronicle my adventures here. This isn't going to be a DIY, or instructions on how to do this, just a way to share my creations, and maybe get ideas from anyone following along.

    You'll notice I do my gear in coyote brown, olive drab green, and varying similar shades. The reason is simple: I am primarily a wildlife photographer, and these colors blend best with the full camo I tend to wear. The lack of earth toned or camo photo gear on the retail market is a part of the motivation for this journey. Alot of otherwise great gear doesn't work for me because it makes my camo less effective.

    What's MOLLE, you may ask? It's an acronym that stands for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. It is a system of packs, vests, pouches, etc, used by the US Army, and refined over many years of use in the field. It has established a standardized method of robust equipment attachment and securing, often referred to as PALS webbing. For civilian purposes, this PALS webbing is the most important aspect of the MOLLE system. It is the aspect that has brought some standardization and cross compatibility to the civilian tactical gear market. It is beginning to bleed into camping, hiking, and even photo gear. The reason is simple. It's durable, lightweight, and is proven to work in conditions much harder than most civilian uses will ever subject it. It allows great flexibility and modularity of gear, and it simply works. It's kind of a no brainer.

    Here's a front view of the MOLLE system in use, including pack and vest.
    Molle_official.JPG

    The basic configuration of PALS/MOLLE webbing is completely standardized. The one inch webbing is always sewn on horizontally, with vertical sew lines at one and a half inch spacing. The webbing can be spaced one inch apart, or stacked one next to the other. This gives a versatile vertical slot 1.5" wide,with regular one inch openings, through which you can weave a variety of different attachment straps or sticks, or even tie things up with paracord. This allows a surface to be configured to hold a vast variety of loadouts, according to the task.

    So using this easily duplicated universal atachment system, I will embark on a journey to build custom MOLLE pouches for all my gear, and for subsets of gear that are required for specific tasks(i.e. a time lapse pouch, macro lighting pouch, etc). I can then attach these pouches to my MOLLE waist belt, or to a backpack with PALS webbing, for the ultimate in photographer configurability. Here's my waistbelt with some pouches mounted:
    20160919_205133-1903x998.

    What do I need to do it? Cordura Nylon material in 500D and 1000D, Cordura 1" webbing, buckles and hardware for making webbing into straps, ripstop nylon for liners, closed cell foam for padding, thread, and more. Here's an example pile of stuff:
    20160913_201938-X2.

    Okay enough long winded ish, follow up posts will highlight the gear I have made, and will make in the future.
     
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  2. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    When I first got my machine, I decided to start with a simple project, and one that filled an immediate need. I use blackrapid straps to carry a camera at my side. I like them. I use them with an arca clamp, and clamp onto the L-grip on the body, or the arca dovetails on a big lens' foot. I left my strap on my Jeep seat recently and it was stolen, so I was in need of a new one. I didn't want to spend 70 dollars on another black black rapid strap. I decided to use their hardware, and make my own strap that wouldn't conflict with my camo. The cheapest way to get their hardware is to buy the wrist strap, for 20 bucks. I bought two, and cut off the carabiners to use on my own straps.
    20160909_082514-X2.
    I built them as seperate pad and strap. One end of the strap has a buckle, and the other weaves through the molle straps on the shoulder pad. There is a good reason for this. The buckle allows the strap length to be adjusted. The strap being completely removeable means I can use it on my MOLLE backpack, without the need for any duplicate hardware. I simply need to mount a female buckle on the bottom of the pack, and weave the strap end through one of my pack shoulder straps. I'm pretty proud of this notion. I'm fairly certain I can do dual cameras with a pack on, and it would be pretty comfortable.
     
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  3. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    Up next on my sewing agenda was a custom pouch for the Ground Skimmer I designed and 3D printed. It's an odd item to pack, especially with a head mounted to it, so this was going to make life alot easier, getting it into the bush where it will be used.
    20160914_115122-X2.
    20160914_115102-X2.
    And here it is with the skimmer mounted. I hadn't sealed up the edges in any of these photos. You'll see them finished in a later post.
    20160914_115051-X2.
     
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  4. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    With the first two projects done, I started planning a small case for my e-m5ii with a small lens mounted(i.e. 17/1.8). This was going to be my most complicated project by far, and took alot of thought. It was to be padded and lined, so vastly more complicated than the other two things. I made two of all these projects, as @Phocal@Phocal will be field testing designs along with me.
    This pile of cut cordura,ripstop, and closed cell foam, is ready:
    20160915_224406-X3.

    Well into the sewing, they are starting to look like proper pouches:
    20160916_033114-X2.
    And here they are almost completely finished:
    20160917_202712-X3.
    There is some velcro in the bottom in case I want to make a little padded shelf to install at lens height to keep a short rig standing in the case:
    20160917_202744-X3.
    with e-m1 + 17/1.8
    20160917_203227-X2.
    20160917_203231-XL.
    If a lens is too long to fit with the camera standing, you can push out the sides a little and use it like this. This is the em5ii + 8/1.8:
    20160920_145102-X2.
     
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  5. Brian Beezley

    Brian Beezley Mu-43 All-Pro

    Could you please explain in simple terms what holds the gear to the vest? I have read the Wikipedia MOLLE and PALS entries and I still don't get it. And what exactly is webbing? It's not Velcro, is it?

    Brian
     
  6. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    I recently added a new tablet to my kit. I have a nice padded pouch for it, but it has no space for the power brick, should I want it. It also has no way to secure it in place, if I slide it in a larger bag. I decided to build a messenger style bag/sleeve for it, with PALS webbing, so I can make a pouch for the power brick and and one for my external hdd, which I don't always want to take with me. I didn't take any photos during the build, but here it is:
    20160922_131047-X2.
    back side, where pouches can be mounted, or it could be tied off into a larger pack to act as a modular tablet slot:
    20160922_131107-X2.
    Here it is open, with the tablet slid partially out. I messed up my measuring, and used figures for a loose bag. I intend to build another version of this bag that hugs the tablet sleeve snugly. I can certainly find another use for a small messenger bag.
    20160922_131123-X2.
     
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  7. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    webbing is the nylon straps that are sewn to the face of the bags.
    The molle objects can be secured to each other a number of ways. Some pouches have built in straps, perpendicular to the PALS webbing, that can be woven through the gaps in the straps. Other pouches like mine, dont provide the mounting straps. They are meant to be used with items like speed sticks, loose straps, and other methods. There are a ton of options on the market.
    Check this out, to see what alot of gear is like, and how it weaves:
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2016
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  8. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    Last night I decided to make coyote tan and olive drab sheaths for my multi tools. I hate the cheap sheaths that came with them, so this is a nice upgrade. I also made one a bit small that ended up being a perfect fit for one of my utility folders, so thats awesome. The neoprene case is an attempt at a super snug phone case, but it's too darn snug. Back to the drawing board on that one. We'll see if I can come up with a use for it.
    20160923_141102-X2.
    20160923_141115-X2.
    20160923_141135-XL.
    20160923_141223-XL.
     
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  9. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    And lastly, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I can sew a single layer of neoprene, so stuff like this is possible. This is the 40-150/2.8, for which lenscoat offers no solution.
    20160921_140649-XL.
     
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  10. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    That's all I've made at present. I have a list of planned projects to eventually craft. I'm quite happy with my progress, considering I've never thrown a single stitch in my life before a couple weeks ago. I will eventually be building a frankenpack like @Phocal@Phocal , but for now I'm going to get my Utility Belt built out. I use it alot more than I do a full pack.
     
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  11. Clicka

    Clicka Mu-43 Regular

    143
    Jan 28, 2014
    Vancouver
    Peter Campbell
    awesome.
     
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  12. Harvey Melvin Richards

    Harvey Melvin Richards Photo Posting Junkie

    Feb 15, 2014
    Southwest Utah
    What sewing machine are you using?
     
  13. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    I'm using a Janome HD-3000. It's a basic mechanical machine, with a metal frame, wide feed dogs, and just enough umph to manage these materials. I'm already lusting after upgrades. It's as bad as photography, the sewing gear.
     
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  14. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Unfortunately you will never really see a lot of molle in the backpacking (talking true multi-day packs) or photography. The reason backpacking has not really taken to it is the extra weight. In an industry where people often decide between packs based on weight, the extra weight of the webbing will make a difference. That industry has realized they can build an external pocket into a pack at a fraction of the weight it would take to add on a pocket via molle. Where the military and tactical gear market needs things that are very mission driven and the weight they carry can be so much that a few extra pounds of pack weight is insignificant.

    The camera bag industry has only partially embraced it. Some of them have added molle to their bags in a limited way (like the waist belt or maybe a row here and there) but make no camera gear specific pouches. What they have done is designed their own propriety system, don't want someone adding a ThinkTank or Lowpro pouch their bag. I only know of two companies making molle specific pouches. The first is Hazard 4, which is a tactical gear company that for some reason started making photography gear. I am really thankful to them for this as it is really what pushed me into building the FrankinPack, well that and @faithblinded@faithblinded talking about it to me for a year now. The second is Fstop, which I am sad to see the state of the company because I really do like their designs and they have made some pouches that are fully molle compatible. Something you may think about doing is what Fstop has done on their packs. They put molle on the waist belt (for example) then put an additional piece of webbing across the molle. This additional piece leaves a much bigger gap between stitches (they stitch it every 3rd molle loop) so you can attach the ThinkTank and Lowpro pouches to it. Was really happy to see the way they have gone about designing things and seem perfectly happy to allow you to use other companies products alongside theirs.

    I am guessing that the market for selling stuff to wildlife photographers is much smaller then other areas of photography and is why you don't see more camo type photography bags. I am guessing that most true wildlife photographers are using other bags for field work, probably getting bags designed for hunting or from the tactical gear makers and they modifying them. Not only are there virtually no camo photography packs there are few that are designed to properly carry a load and allow for other types of gear to be carried as well. I love the Fstop packs but they are not really that adjustable as far as fit goes. The only pack I have ever owned that was as adjustable as a true backpacking pack is my Lowpro Pro Trekker 400 AW. That pack is actually really amazing but is not laid out for anything but photography gear and unfortunately the new models (I have the original model) are not as well made (which sucks because I would love to have the smaller size one). It is also a bit on the heavy side and actually weighs about as much as my FrankinPack and is not nearly as versatile.

    I love the route I have started on for a wildlife photography backpack. I had considered going the traditional backpack route but fast access to anything would be problematic and I was concerned about durability. I also looked at the hunting packs, their gun/bow holders actually make for very nice tripod holders and they also come in camo of every type. But.....they also have the fast access problem that a regular pack would have. So, my molle frame and cobbled together pouches is turning out to be the best solution for me. Some photography specific pouches would be of great benefit, especially if it is designed specifically for my gear. There are also 1000's of pouches and bags already out there that can be easily adapted. I love the grenade pouches, they fit TC's or batteries perfectly and are available in a variety of colors and camo patterns. When I need a pouch for something I just take it to the nearest military surplus store and start test fitting and I can normally find something that will work, like the pouch that fits my little bottle of vanilla (to keep gnats away) and can of bug spray.

    @faithblinded@faithblinded found an interesting tactical pack maker who I sent an email to after watching an interview with the owner. We have been playing phone tag but I hope to get with him this week to discuss some ideas. Hoping that it can turn into a working relationship between us (me and @faithblinded@faithblinded) and a pack maker to design some photo specific packs and pouches.

    @faithblinded@faithblinded, I look forward to testing your latest designs.....especially the skimmer pod pouch, which will make my life a lot easier.
     
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  15. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    I'll have to disagree here. The great thing about the civilian marketplace is that it can adhere to the physical specs of MOLLE, without needing to use milspec materials. This means 1000D Cordura and heavy duty webbing aren't a requirement. I'm building with 500D and lightweight webbing, and it's significantly lighter than the same thing with milspec materials. Some companies are laser cutting a grid of holes into flat panels of cordura, instead of sewing straps across them, to create the molle attachment grid. The weight savings there is significant, and I believe it could be pulled off with 500D, though I've only seen it done with 1000D to date. A 500D base pack with laser cut molle grid, and silnylon or ripstop pouches, could make for a very lightweight outfit. I know hardcore packers count every ounce, and it would always be at least a little heavier as part of the natural tradeoff of modularity, but I think the gap could be closed significantly by abandoning military standards for materials, and embracing the cutting edge of ultralight materials, while maintaining the attachment system of molle.

    You forgot Lowepro. The entire ProTactic line of packs is covered in PALS webbing, with the right spacing. They have pouches to match, and most of their pouches for their belt will mount right to molle webbing. That's a pretty big player embracing the standard, regardless of the risk of people mix and matching gear. I want to go to the local shop and check them out in person at some point, they seem like a pretty nice bag. All black though, so not that useful to me.

    I got the stuff in the mail to finish the pouches today, so I'll be dropping a box in the mail for you soon. You'll be good to go with your pouches.
     
  16. PacNWMike

    PacNWMike Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Dec 5, 2014
    Salish Sea
    guess?
    I really like the concept but the weight is a bit much.
     
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  17. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    @faithblinded@faithblinded, congratulations! I make a lot of my own stuff, too, and I have no idea why most people are so timid about it. It's pretty easy. I have a Singer slant-needle, less than $100 on CraigsList, and an import walking-foot heavier duty machine bought for $200 from a guy who used to make boat covers. The Singer does all but the toughest work.

    One thing learned that might be valuable to you: I made a flight bag that is covered in moly webbing. The walls are heavy "ballistic" nylon on the outside and lighter material on the inside, sandwiching 1/4" closed cell foam. Pretty much what you might want for a camera bag. To get the stitching on the webbing strips to come out at the standard 1" spacing I actually had to mark and sew them a little wider, like 1 1/8". The reason for this was the way the foam pulled things together when sewn. I actually made a shrink ruler (shrink-rule - definition and meaning) to lay it out. So, if you decide to try working with something like that I'd suggest sewing a test piece or two to see what's needed in order to hit the standard 1" spacing.

    If you have not found these guys: Plastic-Buckle.com they are worth a try. They are cheap, fast to ship, and have a wide range of hardware. Shipping from China ("E-Packet") is usually around a week or a couple of days more. So just a few days more than a USA supplier that is probably getting the hardware from China anyway.
     
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  18. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I don't really think so. Sure there are some backpacks coming out with molle but not the serious ones. Two areas I have been personally involved in where weight is a huge deal are backpacking and cycling. In both of those activities people will buy something for $100+ extra because it is a few grams lighter. It's why most of the top packs have few external pouches and the internal area is only divided into at most 2 compartments. Every external pouch and divider adds weight, much lighter to build a 5,000 cubic inch pack with one compartment then 2 or 3 or 7 pockets. Sure the molle system can be made lighter, but it will never catch on in the long expedition packs where they count every gram. There will be areas that it makes inroads and the hunting and tactical pack makers have really embraced it. I also see the more day trip type packs getting molle (there are several that have a row a two on them), but it's use for traditional backpacks will not extend far. I personally would (and have) pick the pack that is the lightest and large enough to carry my gear for backcountry expeditions. But...........photography is a different beast and my requirements are completely different.

    Actually you should go back and look at that line of packs carefully, that is not standard molle on them. If you look you can see that the vertical stitches are not evenly spaced. They are setup so you could put molle stuff on them but they have some spaces that are about 2x the length of molle. That extra wide space is for their slip lock system, which is not molle compatible. I have several of their lens pouches and a pouch for a DSLR body from their slip lock line. That is why I was impressed with the Fstop packs. They make molle pouches so put molle on their packs but they also put webbing over the top of the molle with larger spaces to accommodate both Lowepro's slip lock stuff and whatever ThinkTank calls their system. I did just discover that Tamrac makes pouches (all black tho) that are molle compatible. That makes three companies I know of that make molle compatible accessories (Hazard 4, Fstop, Tamrac).

    Look forward to getting them and testing them out.
     
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  19. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    929
    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Ken
    Well I'm not saying it's perfect for hardcore backpacking. But for short expeditions, kayak camping, photography, and many other reasons, the modularity of the molle system, with materials that strike a compromise between durability and weight, could be a killer way to go.
     
  20. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I agree and I hope more manufactures start using it because it is versatile. I wish more camera bag manufactures would start using it, but they all seem to want to use their proprietary systems. It is nice to see a tactical pack maker doing some photography stuff and I hope Hazard 4 comes out with some more stuff. They are our only hope for camo molle photo specific gear other then making it ourselves. Even if Lowepro or ThinkTank or any of the other companies did start making molle stuff it would probably be in all black anyways.

    Guess we should put together a Kickstarter to fund our bag company.................
     
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