|This article does not cite any references or sources. (June 2011)|
Webbing is used to make military belts, packs and pouches, and by extension also refers to the items themselves, which is referred to as webbing equipment. The British Army adopted cotton webbing to replace leather after the Second Boer War although leather belts are still worn in more formal dress. The term is still used for a soldier's combat equipment, although cotton webbing has since been replaced with more advanced materials. The webbing system used by the British Army today is known as Personal Load Carrying Equipment.
Webbing is designed to be light enough to carry the vital things needed in battle and for outdoor survival. Generally, a soldier is also provided a pack in order to carry survival items for anywhere between 24 hours and a week. The webbing is designed so that if the soldier's pack is lost or abandoned, the soldier can survive on emergency rations, water and clothing, carried in it for up to 24 hours, or longer if the supplies are rationed.
Typical contents of webbing include cooking equipment, 24 hours worth of rations, water, ammunition, first aid or survival supplies, cold weather/rain gear, anti-gas/CBRN gear and sheltering equipment (such as a tent quarter/half, poles, rope, etc.).
Items are generally stored in an ordered fashion in a combination of ammo and utility pouches. The ammo pouches are reserved for ammunition in the form of magazines, however if not all the pouches are full it is common for soldiers to store their weapon cleaning kit in the same pouch.
In the first utility pouch, soldiers generally store their mess tins, pellet stoves, a lighter or waterproof matches, and enough rations to last 24 hours.
In the second utility pouch is the army issue canteen and cup. The canteen can hold one liter of water. The mug has two folding metal handles which give the user a cool place to hold it while drinking a warm beverage.
The third utility pouch contains a minor first aid kit, for minor cuts and scrapes, but not the first field dressing. This pouch may also contain various other items such as a pair of binoculars, a red light torch, a utility knife, or a compass.
Other pouches can be attached which allow for more storage capabilities. For example the Bowman radio pouch for the PRC 349 or the PRR pouch for the personal role radio. These pouches are more expensive due to their limited manufacture.
Most webbing systems incorporate a degree of modular construction consisting of a yoke (shoulder harness), a belt and a variety of pouches specific to different loads, for example ammunition magazines may have dividers, special waterproofing, and/or tabs to help lift the magazines out. Different combinations of pouches can be used to customise webbing to better suit the mission it is needed for. In some better models the pouches are sewn directly onto a hip pad which prevents bouncing of the pouches and makes the webbing more comfortable.
Generally it is unusual for western armies to fight while wearing a pack and so prior to anticipated contact with the enemy the pack is usually stowed away from the forward edge of the battle area and webbing is used as the immediate load bearing equipment instead.
Webbing belts are also used frequently by modern cadet and scout groups, as well as police and security forces.