UPDATED: As we’ve had a few questions asked regarding our recommendations, we’ve reviewed and updated this post. Originally posted 19 April 2013 and then again this past April.
Just as the debate on the best rifle platform will go on as long as there’s people, so will the debate on the best set up for load bearing equipment as well as rucks.
DTG always will recommend ‘general purpose’ equipment over specialized (especially, ‘signature’ equipment which is usually out of balance with the ROI it provides for the price paid) for the simple fact that general purpose equipment (and weapons for that matter) always perform better over a larger range of circumstances than the ‘specialized’ pieces of equipment and/or weapons, which by definition, perform brilliantly in special circumstances.
Vest, Harness or Chest Rig?
DTG staff have used all three; each has its advantages. However, we always look to see if something meets our ‘general purpose’ requirement before selecting it for daily use. Chest rigs don’t get it. Vests as a general rule, do not. Full plate carriers (more about that later) don’t, either. They’re all great gear for their intended purpose (chest rigs for vehicular operations, full PC’s for static defense where fast movement is not critical), but for daily NPT type tasks, the plain, ‘un-sexy’ harness gets our nod.
We recommend old-school design (but modernized with MOLLE attachment points) “H” harnesses and battle belts from the various manufacturers (caveat emptor – US military surplus typically provides the more ‘bomb proof’ types) for use in most situations that would be faced in a grid down/SHTF NPT situation and they are typically much less expensive than the ‘celebrity endorsed’ that is available from time to time. There are many brands, most of which will work well. DTG also prefers multiple buckle/belt combinations to ensure the belt/harness stays hooked during high activity periods over Velcro (hook and loop) every day of the week. The type pictured immediately below has been in use for a couple years now with DTG staff. It fits the bill very well, and has a great advantage in that the ‘battle belt’ has pouches that can hold flotation pads, or, if you’re not ever going to worry about sinking, whatever you want, or nothing at all. These can be had at various surplus dealers or on auction sites like ‘ebay’ for as little as $40 and up. The ‘as new’ models are superb! They come in ‘forest green’ and ‘coyote brown’ that we’ve found. These harnesses fit the “GP” requirement well.
On the battle belt, we’ve found that we tend to keep coming back to the triple single magazine pouches such as those designed by SDS for the AR platform. We’ve found these as cheap as $5 per copy, in ACU, but they can be died brown, and will end up blending very well. We like the fact that we can stack mount other pouches on them to save battle belt real estate.
We mount them away from center help keep the abdomen and chest as clear as possible for low-level crawling (which is yet another reason we don’t recommend chest rigs or vests (unless the vest has the center area clear) as general purpose) as well as keeping the center clear if one chooses to wear a plate carrier (also kept clear) but not so far to the side as to make magazine extraction difficult.
On the harness front, we keep the shooting shoulder clear, but mount a single ‘grenade’ pouch on the non-shooting upper chest/shoulder area for those necessary items you need fast like a compass, a fire starter, or whatever. Other accessories can be put in an ‘admin’ pouch on the belt as necessary.
On the harness rear, mounted to both the back of the “H” and the battle belt, we recommend the Eagle Industries FILBE ILBE WXP Hydration System. The grimlocs it comes with allows for attachment to any H harness will MOLLE straps during warmer weather, and during colder weather, the shoulder strap system allows for the hydration carrier to be worn under the exterior coat/jacket to keep the water from freezing. If one is concerned about the grimlocs durability (a fair concern), make some ties with the 550 cord of your choice and learn some knots that are easy to undo.
We also recommend a MOLLE II type Waist Pack to be mounted under the hydration carrier on the battle belt. Even when not in use, or when carrying a ruck, the empty waist pack won’t cause discomfort due to the padded battle belt. It takes the place of an ‘assault’ or ‘3 day’ pack when you need just a bit more ‘stuff’ in on your harness, such as room for a poncho, poncho liner, and a ration or two, depending on how it’s packed. The assault packs are too big, in our opinion, for traveling light, and too small to function as a general purpose main ruck. Opinions will always vary, but the bottom line is one can only carry one ruck at a time, so choose well (unless you’ve got a FILBE that the assault pack can be attached to by design).
We don’t wear them all the time, but we do have plate carriers available for specialized circumstances We’ve replaced what we had with the Shellback Tactical Banshee Rifle Plate Carrier, with the 1 inch 4.1 pound Hardwire plates from Botach Tactical. Total weight for carrier and plates is just about 10 pounds. Again, we like the option, but we don’t use them every time we ruck up. This is the one semi-special purpose item we put into the ‘GP’ category as one might be more likely to need this in many NPT type situations more than any other ‘SP’ item. If we’re using the PC, it’s donned first, then the harness/belt, and then, if we’re going a good, long ways, the ruck. Here’s an example:
It all works together and doesn’t kill the wearer. These start used at $100 plus, so shop with care. They are very good, though.
***IMPORTANT INFORMATION RE: HARDWIRE LLC PLATES:
There are 3 grades of Rifle Plates @ Botach Tactical offered by Hardwire LLC.
-Ultra Light Weight $449 ea after discount- Level III NIJ – 2.8 lbs ea. (stand alone – meaning you don’t need a level IIIA backer)
-Standard Plate $224 ea after discount – Level III NIJ – 4.25 lbs ea (stand alone – meaning you don’t need a level IIIA backer) – BEST RETURN ON INVESTMENT –
-Trauma Plate $120 ea after discount – *Needs a Level IIIA backer to achieve the Level III NIJ rating 4.25 plus whatever your backer weighs. You might as well go to AR500 steel at that point.
**Beware of some of the “dyneema” plates on ebay that are from out of this country or those that do not subscribe to the NIJ testing standards. They claim to be made of ceramic and dyneema, and very well may . . . but without that NIJ stamp of approval . . . who knows. This information is subject to change, however, buyer beware.
With my hardwire plates I can go right to the website and download the certs. CATI Armor is another reputable manufacturer of armory – AR500 armor (little bit heavier) and you get those wonderful certs from them – so you know what your getting is good stuff.
For the existence load, or GOOD pack, or LOGPAK, DTG staff has long experience with the Large ALICE, the CFP-90, the USMC ILBE, and the newest version, the USMC MARSOC made by both Eagle Industries and Propper.
We have decided, at least for our recommendation, that the newest offering by Eagle and Propper, the MARSOC, is by far, the most balanced and best designed rucksack yet found. It takes the best features of the ALICE (the external frame) and the CFP-90 (bottom zippered compartment) and MARPAT camouflaged ILBE (side openings and internal material shelf, side cargo holders on the bottom of the pack, and many straps for lashing down equipment and rolls it all into one good pack. The “lid” is improved and actually a tad larger than the ILBE. Staff are doing their ruck walks with weights from 55 to 85 pounds over distances of 2 to 10 miles, and it carries very well. YMMV due to fitness level (more PT maybe?)
Don’t let the picture fool you: this is a large pack. You can find the specs if you’d like on a web search. If you get one, the only temptation you might have is to over pack. Don’t. Besides the way we pound on the subject, there are a lot of good resources out there such as MDT that will help you learn as well (and if you’re reading this blog we’re certain that you know where to find them….) that will school you very well on culling your pack.
DTG staff ‘real world’ packs weigh about 55 to 70 pounds loaded. Add the 10 pounds for a PC and about 25 pounds for a harness with 100 ounces of water and 6 magazines, and you’ve got a load of about 105 pounds all told. Carrying that kind of weight for any distance means your body has to be in the shape to accomplish that and then do whatever needs doing at the end of the walk. PT anyone? That is traveling as light as possible with everything you’ll need for the rest of your life (SHTF situation dependent, of course).
The nice thing about the MARSOC and harness set up is that it is extremely well balanced and therefore the 105 pound max weight is spread out over the frame of the wearer which slows fatigue. The weight can be lightened by dividing up various items among your NPT, such as things not everyone needs to carry.
Make no mistake…..(yes, hammering on PT again) you need to get into good shape. You need upper body strength, core strength, and road strength (walking long distances with increasing weight on your back). Otherwise, plan to SIP in a SHTF scenario for better or worse. Either suffer now through sore muscles, restricted diet (very little crap, ie, ‘empty calories’) or suffer later when you go to put your harness, plate carrier and ruck on, and find you are out of steam in less than a few hundred yards, or can’t even get the pack mounted.
Lastly don’t fall into the trap of having a set up for each and every scenario you may train for or be concerned with; remember, there’s no guarantee that you will have the time to pick set up ‘A’ over set up ‘B’ or ‘C’. Bottom line is that you need to choose and train with a primary that will be your ‘go to’ should a SHTF scenario occur. Same with weapons, same with any equipment. Using a particular set up day in/day out will provide you with second nature familiarity after a time, and that will count in high stress situations.
But, be that as it may, these are DTG’s current recommendations. Until we find something better.