To Chest Rig or Not? ..for the Armed Citizen

So I’m going to try really hard to stay in my lane in this article, as the saying goes. The question at hand: to chest rig or not as an armed citizen. Before anyone freaks out too badly, because I can already sense blood pressures rising from an army of keyboard commandos ready to deal out a tirade of punishing remarks, let me advise you to just chill for a second. Let’s apply some logic and work our way through this, mmmk?

We all can probably agree on the truism that “the mission drives the gear.” For the armed citizen, the grand majority of all defensive actions will require few shots fired, if any. Extra magazines, if carried, are more likely to be needed to replace a fouled magazine than an empty one. The homeowner seeking to defend his or her family with a full magazine in the rifle and one extra shoved in a pocket is more than adequately equipped to meet the needs of every reasonably foreseeable domestic defensive carbine use. Sure, we can all think up extenuating circumstances, but such scenarios are getting pretty far off the edges of the statistical map.

We all can probably agree on the truism to “train like you fight.” The individual with a rifle and one spare magazine defending their household will not likely have time to don a bunch of battle-rattle like plate carriers, drop-leg holsters and chest rigs when responding to a home invasion or armed robbery. So knowing that our fight might happen when we are suddenly awakened all messy haired and scantily clad, doesn’t mean we want to go to a carbine class or the training range wearing only our skivvies, does it? Heaven forbid. On the other hand, does that mean we want to go to train or practice with a bunch of gear we likely won’t have on hand when fate pulls that short straw for us some day? Of course not. So we have to find that balance point.

Where do chest rigs fit in this mess? All I’m referring to is a wearable harness that conveniently carries extra ammunition feeding devices. For this, I’m going to have to talk about my own personal experiences with them, both as a student and an instructor.

I took my first carbine class (Thunder Ranch Urban Rifle – awesome class by the way) using a 5-11 Tactical “shoot me first” vest with 2 magazine pockets. What I learned quickly was that carrying less magazines on my person meant more trips back to my pile of gear, which meant less time shooting and learning and more time dealing with an administrative activity. After the first day, I started stuffing extra mags in all my pockets so I didn’t have to leave my spot on the range as often. After all, I flew from Ohio to Oregon to learn and shoot, not play a magazine relay race. I also dumped a handful of loose rounds in my pocket to top off mags when I had time available. Does that mean I walk around with magazines and loose rounds in my pocket normally? Well, I try not to, but the rattling sound in my washing machine is telling me I forgot to check my pockets when I came back from the last range trip. Is it a practical thing to do during a class? I think yes – the mission drives the gear. If the mission is training to use the carbine effectively, having a pocket full of magazines and loose rounds is acceptable.

The advantages of this particular configuration were not many. On one side, I wasn’t using a specialized piece of gear. It isn’t unusual for me to wear a vest of some sort over a fleece for extra insulation and spare pockets in cooler weather. I also usually wear cargo pants of some variety, so I was training like I would fight, so to speak. What I learned was that my physical manipulations of the firearm were hindered by having to search for mags in various pockets, releasing my grip on the rifle to pat down pockets, and sticking the occasional low partial or empty in the rifle. In Clint’s words, it was “quite a rodeo.” I had a Déjà vu recently watching one of my students running magazines out of his pocket in our last carbine class. Now the rifle was in his right hand, now in his left hand, now he’s looking for mags in his right pocket, all those are empty, now the rifle’s back in his right hand and he’s patting for mags in his left pocket… Clint was right, quite a rodeo. You can’t build solid weapons manipulation skills when you are too busy building training scars because you can’t find your magazines.

My next carbine training experience was Blackwater’s 5-day Carbine Operator Class. 2500 rounds in 5 days would mean at least 90 mag changes, 18 per day at minimum, just to keep the rifle loaded. That didn’t even include all of the various tactical and emergency mag change drills. The weather would be warm, so I knew I didn’t want some huge, gaudy, tactical turtle shell, but I also didn’t want to have to fight with magazines in pockets again either. I opted for a Bravo Company minimalist chest rig (no longer made) that held 4 mags in front and a hydration pouch in back. While it’s not perfect, it was a huge improvement and my carbine handling skills improved considerably in that class. The main drawback I experienced was that I found reloads to be somewhat slower having to reach up to get the mags out of the pouches, as opposed to stripping them out of a cargo pocket.

In 2012, I got a call from Heidi at Thunder Ranch inviting me to come out there for 4 days of training with James Yeager. For that class, I dug out my BCM Minimalist rig again and pretty much experienced many of the same benefits and drawbacks I had experienced at Blackwater, though it was late November in Oregon, which meant cold and wet. In Yeager’s Fighting Rifle class, we were doing many more tactical magazine changes and I was stuffing the partials in the pockets of my rain pants. At a certain point during one drill, the weight of the magazines in my pockets overcame the elastic waistband’s grip on my beltline and starting pulling everything south. By the time I finished, Yeager was asking me if I was trying to pull a Marky Mark impersonation or something. After that, I knew that a dump pouch was in order.

My last carbine class was taken about a year ago with Paragon 6 (Stoney Smith). In that class, I added 2 more items to my gear: a tek-lock equipped HSGI Taco on my belt, and a reasonable dump pouch made for me by Dr. Rivero. My technique was to run all reloads from the belt, all partials went into the dump pouch, all empties on the ground, and when I had time and opportunity, I could administratively manage my ammo by refilling the Taco on my belt with mags from my chest rig. This system seems to work well for me and I can walk to the line with 6 full mags – 168 rounds, which means more time learning and less time walking back to the ammo can.

Will I ever find myself in some kind of armed confrontation with such a loadout? Thankfully there is almost zero likelyhood of this under current societal conditions, and at this stage in my life, that suits me right down to the ground. But we all know things change. In 1984, Sarajevo was a modern city that hosted the Winter Olympics. It had high-rise buildings, universities, and art museums. By 1992, it was “Sniper Alley.” We live in a world where barbarism is out of control, and while we haven’t seen open warfare involving citizen combatants on the streets of America yet, it isn’t paranoia to be a little skeptical and prepared. That said, I admit it isn’t terribly likely that I will ever need a chest rig for a defensive firearms use. So why bring such gear to training? Because the mission drives the gear, because it’s polite to the instructors and to my fellow students to not be “that guy” who is always out of magazines and causing delays in class. Now when someone starts piling on a bunch of other stuff that they don’t need or typically use; communications gear and plates and big knives and other stuff that gets in the way of training, then things get a little silly and unproductive. Take that extra junk out though, and there is nothing wrong with anyone using a simple chest rig to carry their extra magazines so they can spend more time learning and less time interrupting class. If you’re worried about creating a “training scar” then just feed mags from your chest rig to a pocket or belt pouch, and feed your rifle from there. This will simulate your “real world application” as practically as possible for the purposes of training.

Now I’d like to take just a moment to address those who are so opposed to anyone who isn’t currently serving in a military capacity in a combat zone wearing gear like chest rigs:

Why does it bother you so badly if someone wants to wear a load bearing vest to the range, or a plate carrier, or cargo pants? Sure… it may be silly sometimes, it may not serve any practical purpose at all, but they’re out there at the range shooting. They may be shooting poorly today, but with time and help they will get better. Eventually they will mature in a shooting discipline and learn what they need or don’t need at the range. It is hoped that eventually they will figure out that they could benefit from some professional quality training. In the meantime, they are spending time and money that helps us preserve a right and heritage in this country that is constantly under attack. But rather than gently extend them the helping hand of your experience, you offer only insults and scorn. You call them “tac-tards” and other names. Why are you trying so hard to alienate people from shooting activities? When did you become a bunch of Lee Paiges loudly proclaiming that only they are “professional enough?”

We all know how that ended for agent Paige, and in similar fashion, you are shooting yourselves, all of us really, in the collective foot.

Are you really that insecure? Or is it ego? You say you support the Second Amendment, but your words fly in the face of the words and intent of our Founding Fathers.

“The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious, if it were capable of being carried into execution… To attempt a thing which would abridge the mass of labor and industry to so considerable an extent, would be unwise: and the experiment, if made, could not succeed, because it would not long be endured. Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped” ~ Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No.2

Hamilton knew that any attempt by the state to drill the civilian population would be futile and contrary to the tenets of liberty. Yet 200 years later, here we are with a population that is spending their own time and money to equip, arm, and train themselves. That is American. That is liberty.

So let me ask you a question: do you ever use a tool belt? No way man, those are for professional carpenters only, you weekend handymen are a bunch of “carpentards.” Better never wear an apron, if you don’t cook for a living that apron makes you a “chef-tard” I guess. I know tons of people who wear hikers who never set foot in the woods, is that supposed to bother me? This is a country full of people with 4-wheel drive vehicles that never leave the paved roadway, so…? Look, if someone can afford it, why shouldn’t they have it? …and if someone can lawfully own it, why shouldn’t they be able to get top notch training in how to use it? You sound like a “libtard” going on about how “no civilian needs a….”

So give it a rest, not everyone has a uniform fetish.

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