As a crime scene investigator, I was especially famous with the fire service for my fear of height. It would always be a great show, the firefighters throwing a ladder up the wall of a building where a roof-top burglary had to be worked. Up the fat detective would clamber, fingerprint supplies stuffed in pockets, camera and flash held in a death grip by one hand, the other trying to crush the side rails of the extension ladder. Coming down would be even more humorous, as I balanced my equipment and any collected evidence while trying to mount and descend the ladder.
For many years, a pilot's survival vest accompanied me on these runs. It was not perfect: The pockets were generally too small to properly fit the length of a brush or the diameter of a jar of powder, there were no pouches that could carry a camera, and nothing that would house any evidence. But it was an improvement over previous systems and served me well.
Since then, law enforcement has seen the advent of tactical vests. The original vests were job specific — a ballistic nylon vest with permanently attached pockets fit for pistol magazines, M-4 or MP-5 magazines, shotshells, and maybe grenades — a good tool for a tactical officer, but inadequate for the crime scene investigator.
The adoption of the MOLLE (MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) system by the U.S. military in the late 1990s ushered in a new generation of equipment carriage. The MOLLE system's versatile Pouch Attachment Ladder System, or PALS, is based on 1-inch-wide horizontal strapping, in rows 1-inch apart, secured every 1.5 inches to the backer. To secure an item to the PALS strapping, one weaves an attachment device alternately through the backing (vest, backpack, etc.) and the pouch or other PALS-based accessory. Generally, components are referred to as MOLLE rather than PALS, although MOLLE actually refers to a load bearing gear system, and PALS to the attachment system. What results is a solid and quiet attachment system that allows the user to adapt it to specific needs.
A variety of manufacturers produce products specifically for PALS use. In preparing this review, products from Camelbak, 5.11 Tactical, Tru-Spec and Maxpedition were examined, although there are other sources as well. These suppliers, however, have a number of pouches which are different from the usual magazine-pouch variety to make them of special interest to the crime scene investigator.
Camelbak. Camelbak is synonymous with hydration systems, but among other platforms the Petaluma, California-based company produces is the Delta-5 Tactical Vest. Available in black, olive drab and camouflage, it combines a sturdy tactical vest platform with a 102-ounce hydration bladder system.
The Delta-5 vest is cut from a heavy-duty nylon mesh material. It includes two inner pockets, closed via zippers, just inside the front closure of the vest. A side strap system permits a wide adjustment for the wearer's girth, while an elastic system permits shoulder comfort. The inside back of the vest features a nylon enclosed foam pad, which separates the wearer from the hydration reservoir. The back includes a grab handle for emergency extrication of a downed wearer, two rows of VELCRO strapping to permit adherence of identification placards, and seven more rows of standard PALS strapping.
There are VELCRO patches on the upper chest for identification tags, with the rest of the front also covered with PALS straps. Both right and left shoulders feature rubber-like friction pads, designed for long gun shooters, but of other value depending on instruments used in the field. Small straps and D-rings near the shoulders permit the attachment of small items, while a series of keepers on the bottom of the vest allows the wearer to add a pistol belt, whether for carrying one's firearms or to permit carrying of other tools.