When I first put on a uniform, the standard field gear was 1958 pattern webbing. This was made from an amazing fabric that, as soon as it was exposed to water, halved in size and tripled in weight. To be fair it was really tough, and also pretty comfortable if you got it set up right – you could strap and bungee all the pouches into a compact mass that wouldn’t bounce or rattle, and was probably as pleasant a way of carrying your ammo, water and rations as any. A few years later, ’58 pattern got replaced with PLCE, which was a bit less comfortable but even tougher and a lot more waterproof. The waterproofing bit was definitely a relief. Ambling through the last drunken years of the Cold War as an OTC cadet, I got all the usual terrifying lectures on Soviet chemical weapons, and I’d pretty much decided that if it all got noisy I was going to throw my ’58 gear away immediately and carry my ammo in a shopping bag. After all the webbing sucked up rain with an audible slurping sound; how was I ever going to get all those nerve agents out of it? PLCE was made of nice coated nylon you could scrub, which seemed much more sensible.
Anyway, time passed and we all stopped worrying about being drenched in blister agent; the new threat is IEDs, and instead of carrying sweaty NBC gear everywhere, we wear sweaty body armor instead. In Bosnia and Kosovo we tried wearing PLCE over the armor, but that didn’t work. It especially didn’t work for vehicle drivers because you could barely fit in your seat. We all bought high-tech versions of Viet Cong chest rigs that held a few mags and a water bottle, and that worked for a while. Then finally someone came up with the great idea of putting MOLLE loops all over the armor and fitting the pouches directly to that.
Not everyone wears heavy armor though, and if you can get away with a plate carrier – or even no armor at all – you’re a bit stuck for somewhere to stick your pouches. The solution is a tactical vest. These are a lot lighter and less restrictive than traditional webbing, and have lots of useful pockets that you won’t find on a chest rig, so they’re a great solution. They work for drivers too, because they distribute most of the load around your chest and to the front of your hips – it won’t keep banging the gearstick and you can get into it while sitting down.
Standard issue vests tend to be a nylon mesh carrier with standard pouches stitched or riveted to it; these are sturdy, give plenty of ventilation and can be adjusted easily. They’re still pretty bulky though, and they also tend to have lots of adjustment straps that can snag on stuff. If you’re working out of vehicles and don’t need to wear standard camouflage gear, a fabric vest like the 5.11 TacLite Pro is probably a better solution. These are ultra-light, low profile and comfortable to wear. They also let you carry a useful ammo load and plenty of other gear, including comms, first aid kits and pretty much anything else that will fit in a pouch. They also have a less overtly aggressive appearance, which can be handy if you’re in a security role.
Lots of people have very strong preferences about load carrying gear, so no one solution is right for everyone. However if you want something you can wear all day without compromising on space, a vest could be just what you’re looking for.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.