Gear System: Philosophy, Set Up, Use, Fitness & Mindset.

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This article is a follow-up to the recent ‘The Practical Application of Tactical Gear, Load & Weight Considerations.

Questions

I get many questions about gear setup. It is also a perennial topic on the MVT Forum, and of course across the internet. It’s an important subject. Many people ask me specific questions about my gear setup and make/brand of equipment items, and so here I will attempt to give some guidance not in terms of specific brands of gear, but what I am trying to do when I set up my equipment. It is also important to note that gear is no use without training, and the focus by so many on gear is often either 1) part of the process of getting ready for training, or 2) a dead end pursuit that has limited purpose. Be in the first group. You must actually use your gear, and see what works for you, and not fall for that common mindset that gear can be bought, tried on, and then left on the shelf for a rainy day. I will therefore talk a little about physical readiness, and actual use of gear, as part of this article.

For questions on gear brands and specific examples, there are plenty of experts on the MVT Forum and I urge you to start discussions there. Why this post? Because I want to help those who are genuinely attempting to set up a gear system as part of a training and readiness program. And on the flip side, I will attempt to wake up those who are simply bluffing themselves in terms of their physical and training readiness, and their ability to even function in their chosen gear when necessary.

I must also add that my gear setup changes, as I evolve, find new products, adjust. I was asked recently about suspenders on my Lite Battle Belt. More about that in detail later. But yes, I had added pouches and suspenders to my Lite BB, and now I have removed them. Just like in tactical training, don’t look for absolutes, but principles and ideas – take what you see others do, and what works for you, and evolve it into a system that is best for you. This article is merely guidance, and the passing on of experience that I have learned through many years deployed on operations, and subsequently my thoughts as to how I should adapt that to a role as an armed citizen. There are no absolutes in this article, and the gear system itself is designed to be modular and adaptable to varying situations.

So let’s look at a basic summary of the system:

Below, for reference, gear examples showing:

Plate carrier, Lite Battle Belt, Lite Hydration Pack

BLUF:

MY recommended system is made up of the following components:

  • Lite Battle Belt
  • Chest Rig or Chest Rig / Plate Carrier Combo
  • Lite Hydration Pack / Daypack
  • Emergency now: concealed carry handgun on belt, throw on Chest Rig to run the rifle.

Basics:

What is the framework for employing the gear items listed above?

  • Day to day you are probably / should be carrying a handgun. Thus you have options to run a handgun set up, either concealed or overt, on your pants belt. If you have an immediate emergency situation your go-to in this situation is your handgun.
  • If you have time / access (due to location / planning) you then have the option of grabbing your rifle. When you grab your rifle, you need the ability to feed it rifle ammo, which is not contained on your everyday carry belt.
  • Your option to carry rifle magazines should be some combination of chest rig (CR)  / plate carrier (PC).
  • Note that the Lite Battle Belt (BB) concept does not work well in a short notice emergency scenario, simply due to the logistical factor of getting a Lite BB on over an already existing pants-belt EDC handgun load. Thus you skip the Lite BB in this situation, and go straight to the CR/PC rifle option.
  • Don’t try and carry too much on your CR/PC / Lite BB combination: this is where the Lite daypack concept comes in. More later.
  • You want to avoid a situation where your gear concept involves a full Battle Belt, a full Chest Rig, and a Plate Carrier, all with big chunky straps, and with too much gear all up. The Lite Battle Belt is deliberately a fairly light piece of equipment, with the CR/PC being the main support item for your rifle. Sustainment and admin items then go in some kind of patrol pack, sized for the situation.

So what does this mean?

1) You are carrying concealed day to day, in current times. You cannot fit a Lite Battle Belt on over top of this, at least without unrigging your carry belt. So If something comes up which needs gearing up for a rifle at short notice, you are going to throw on your Chest Rig or Plate Carrier.

2) If you are in a situation where you want to have rifle magazines on you at all times, at least a basic load (i.e. post-collapse, or even around and about in the back country), then go to a Lite Battle Belt. This carries your handgun, some basic items, and probably a couple of rifle magazines. Keep it light and so that it does not interfere with sitting and day to day activities. Best to keep no pouches forward of the hips, and keep the back of the belt low profile for the same reasons. Personal preference applies.

3) When wearing the Lite Battle Belt, you have the option of adding your Chest Rig or Plate Carrier (or combination) to fully feed your rifle. This is a versatile system that does not interfere with sitting, such as in a vehicle or waiting on standby as a quick reaction force, or sentry etc. It also allows you to easily carry any kind of ruck or backpack. If you don’t want the Lite Battle Belt, and just want to carry a basic pants-belt handgun load along with the CR/PC, it is up to you.

4) Gear that would have perhaps gone into the large rear pouches on a classic War Belt (think old-school ALICE web gear) will now go into a Lite Hydration Pack / Day Pack. This is NOT a ruck and should be kept as light as practical. If you go out of sight of your home base, you throw this on. It contains water, basics, lunch, night vision etc.

5) There is a persistent piece of tomfoolery that a Chest Rig will keep you too high off the ground in the prone and also prevent you from reloading. Nope. In fact, it is easier to reload from the prone with a chest rig (not belly rig), especially from kydex mag inserts, than it is from hip mounted pouches. With a chest rig, the mags are right there. With hip mounted, you have to roll onto your side a bit and reach right back. BTDT. Of course, your Chest Rig should not be too deep, and should be of a fairly low profile, probably a single row of mags across your chest, to facilitate this.

6) If you like to run a PC, or have the option of doing so, then you should consider the versatility of a Chest Rig rather than attaching your pouches directly to the PC. The Chest Rig allows you flexibility. You can wear it over the PC with the harness, or wear it without the PC in ‘recce mode.’ You can use PC attachment kit straps to directly attach the Chest Rig to the PC. This would allow you to unclip and remove it while retaining the ballistic protection of your plates. Thus on more low key missions you may decide to forego the plates and just run the rig. Or you may do an Infil with the plates in your ruck, wearing your Rig, and put the plates on in the ORP. The possibilities are endless with such flexibility.

7) You need to avoid having everything and the kitchen sink on your gear. This is with the exception of the basics, which is ammunition, water, basic medical and energy. I would rather do without, and be lighter and faster, than be loaded down for every possible contingency.

8) Understand that ‘lighter and faster’ isn’t when you have the right amount of ammo on your person. The solution there is PT. The bottom line is that if you can’t be bothered to do the required PT, you are kidding yourself, and shouldn’t even be bothering to look into tactical gear. Related to this is the fact that you need to get out and move and train in this gear, and then you will soon find out what works and what does not.

THE DETAIL

Lite Battle Belt (BB):

This is really any set up you want. Unlike a basic pants belt / concealed carry load, the Lite BB also contains rifle ammo. You can therefore decide to skip the Lite BB concept all together and simply carry a handgun and mag load concealed / overt on your pants belt, and rifle mags / gear only on your CR/PC. This is default the situation you are probably running now for day to day emergencies, and works well for gray collapse and emergency attack scenarios.

Although the original MVT Battle Belt concept that I put out four or five years ago has a lot of validity to dismounted operations, I try and steer people away from the full Battle Belt concept (i.e. a full belt with large admin pouches all the way round and yoke/suspenders). It is not very flexible and hard to operate in conjunction with vehicles and everyday life. It is also not ideal with ballistic plates, and as per above, does not translate well from an everyday to an emergency situation, whereas a CR/PC can go straight on and not interfere with what you already carry around your waist.

The Lite BB functions as an overt item that allows for easy everyday carry of handgun, plus handgun and rifle mags, plus miscellaneous items. In a ‘tactical scenario’ where you have no worry about overt carry, then this provides a great solution for everyday (i.e. all the time) carry of handgun and also a couple of reloads for rifle and handgun. It is not designed for patrolling out of sight of home base, where you will add the CR/PC plus the Daypack / Hydration Pack. Tending the tomatoes? Yes. Lounging on the porch? Yes. Walking round the backyard? Yes. I also wear mine all the time at training, and have the option of adding the CR/PC as necessary.

Suggested Lite BB configuration: (see photo above)

Run the pouches on the belt mainly at 3 and 9 o’clock, on your hips. Nothing on the front forward of your hip bones, unless they are just small pouches, because this will interfere with prone and crawling. .

Left or Right side:

  • Multitool pouch
  • TQ Pouch.
  • Handgun: in a decent kydex holster (Safariland in the photo).
  • Knife

Left or Right side:

  • 2 x kydex handgun mag pouches (open top)
  • 2 x kydex rifle / carbine mag pouches (open top)

Back options:

  • Small IFAK pouch
  • Rolled dump pouch
  • Hydration Pouch or
  • Admin pouch
  • Ensure that what you put on the back is low profile and does not interfere with sitting in a chair or vehicle.

Suspenders? If the belt is truly light, you won’t need them. If you have rear pouches on the belt and wear a ruck, then you need the suspenders so that you can hang the belt on them without having to do it up too tight. Also, consider a patrol base: suspenders on the BB usually run under your CR/PC. Thus, you have to take off your CR/PC to take off your belt, which you may have to do to be able to sleep i.e. get into your sleeping bag. You may want to keep your PC on while in the patrol base if you consider you need that level of readiness, and thus being able to easily take off the BB to sleep is a bonus (note: sleeping on your back due to a Lite BB on your hips makes it more likely you will snore, and thus be woken up). You may also not want to take off your PC if it is held together by velcro, because if it is, it may be too noisy! Not having suspenders also reduces the strap junk running over your shoulders.

Chest Rig / Plate Carrier:

You must avoid the temptation to ‘go large’ with this item, with huge admin pouches and the like, particularly below your armpits or right on the front. However, you will need sufficient ammunition, which is why light and fast is never really light and fast unless you can balance it with light enough, and sufficient PT ability to be fast.

In the photo at top, there are three mags on the PC (it has room to go up to five or seven, if you feel so inclined). Two in the Lite Belt, one on the rifle, and two on the back of the Lite Hydration carrier.  I use the figure of six to eight mags as a good basic rifle load-out, with a possible resupply for a potential contact situation on your back / vehicle. See the recent article ‘The Practical Application of Tactical Gear, Load & Weight Considerations’ for more on that.

Other than the magazines, keep the amount of admin gear and huge pouches that you put on your CR/PC to the minimum. The rest goes in a Lite Hydration Pack / Daypack. You want the CR/PC to be relatively close to the body and comfortable. You also want to be able to wear it in any number of profile / posture relevant situations.

You need to be able to move and fight in your Lite BB / CR/PC combination. It will weigh due to the plates and the ammo load, but you can limit it as required, and train in the gear, and do PT, to ensure that the load is something you can handle and that it is comfortable, with no hidden chaffing or surprises. If you can’t wear the plates and move, then you either need to do more PT or ditch the plates. Ditch ammo if you have to, because it is not good to be unable to move.

Assault/Day/3-Day Packs:

This is really very much overlooked. It is, again, a balance. Stop throwing stuff in there because ‘two is one and one is none.’ How about instead: my gear weighs so much I am too exhausted to patrol professionally and effectively?

You need a light Daypack or Hydration Pack that will be worn in conjunction with your Lite BB and CR/PC combination. A Daypack is comfortable and versatile; thus this is where excess gear should go. It will also work as your vehicle grab-bag. You must still work very hard not to put excess gear in this. This is what is worn for any type of patrol away from your base or vehicles. It still has to be, overall, a combination that you can move and fight in.

The Patrol Pack is what is worn if you are ever planning on going out overnight, or for any extended (short) period of time where you may have to sleep out in the bush. Avoid this unless mission essential. Stay light. Avoid the massive ruck scenario like the plague! You may plan to do it, but you probably don’t have the fitness in reality to remain alert and agile enough and not give in to the temptations of complacency, and even if you do have the fitness level, if you come under contact you will have to dump the whole load, never to be seen again.

What goes in the Daypack (or light Patrol Pack, if you will)? Just some suggestions, but keep it light:

  • Spare mags – maybe x 4
  • Hydration bladder 3L – this is why we don’t attach a bladder to the back of our CR/PC.
  • Energy: in terms of ‘packed lunch’ plus emergency energy rations.
  • Night vision gear/batteries.
  • Means to purify water – puri-tabs or a straw/pump.
  • Small IFAK.
  • Wet/cold weather clothing – limited.
  • Misc items such as basic rifle kit/rod.
  • Kitchen sink x 2 because one is none and two is….STOP! Be ruthless.

As you can see you have to carefully balance an effective load with what can be carried by you ‘light and fast.’ You have to be ruthless, and stop putting things in ‘just in case’ – everything is a calculated risk and the most important thing is your effectiveness on the ground. If you can only carry 4 mags and remain effective, then that is your solution.

PRACTICAL GEAR USE & PHYSICAL CONDITIONING:

Your gear is designed to support your tactical operations, and thus should support you defeating the enemy and staying alive. If your gear is a hindrance, then it will not support your effective conduct of operations. Something needs to be adjusted.

You will not be able to move around effectively, alert and without falling into complacency and exhaustion, unless you have the basic PT level to do so. You will not be able to fight if your gear is too heavy for your PT level. Factors:

  • Your gear is too heavy.
  • Your gear is badly rigged / put together / organized.
  • Your fitness is lacking.

This is what you need to do with your gear:

Once you have put it together, you need to train in it. This is everything from shooting on the range in various positions, to moving in it.

This is what I do with my gear, which is separate from any specific rucking or other PT training. I have some backwoods behind my house that I have a number of hilly trails on. I put on my:

  • Lite BB.
  • Plate Carrier with full magazine load.
  • (No rifle required at this point)

Go out there at a fast walk for 30-45 minutes. Drive hard up the hills and walk down, at a fast walk, but no need to run. As you do this more and improve, you can add shuffle running if you wish on the downhill. If this is too much for you, then you know your gear plan was not right for you at that point. So you can work up to it. Consider re-rigging or purchasing better gear if the issue is one of comfort and how the gear works with you on the move. Mags bumping into the plate carrier/rig are all things you will discover. Consider temporarily or permanently reducing the weight of the gear. If temporary you can drop items like the number of magazines you carry, and add them back in as your fitness increases. If you realize this is all a step too far, you may take decisions such as deciding not to wear plates.

I realize that some may have difficulty finding a suitable area for this. A hilly area is best, because you can use the hills to get the heart rate up without having to run. If you have to do this in public, you may have an issue with what you look like. This is partially why rucking with just a pack is a useful activity. However, if you replace the PC with a weight vest, that may be viable, but it does not give you the opportunity to actually test the PC itself.

I suggest the above because it is an easy activity that can be progressed as hard and far as you want. It is not a PT program, and is designed to both test your gear, and your ability to move in that specific gear. It will also inoculate you to the sweatiness of working out in gear such as a PC. At the most simple, I am saying that you have to get out and move about in whatever gear you plan on wearing. You have to use it, test it, see what works and does not work. You also need to improve your fitness.

A note on ballistic plates: I am referring to investing in ceramic / dyneema hybrid standalone plates that are usually designated ‘Level 3+’ and will stop M855 Green Tip. These plates can weigh as little as 4.6 lbs and are an investment in mobility and protection. I do not advocate the use of steel plates for a number of reasons.

I post the following on my website as a gauge for people to use to see if they are physically prepared for tactical training. You can use it also to give you some idea if you are ready for maneuver while in contact with the enemy:

In order to be ready for class, you need to be able to do a minimum level of fitness. Part of this is a basic cardio level, and then there is the ability to get up and down from both kneeling and prone positions. That is, while holding your rifle safely muzzle down to the front, and without using excessive force or leverage to push yourself up from kneeling, perhaps by pushing on a knee while unsafely waving your muzzle around. You also need to be mentally alert. This is not an age thing, because we have had spry 67 year olds run the classes, better than not-so-spry 30-somethings. It’s about the individual, not the age. The better your physical and mental fitness and alertness, the better able you will be to maintain the rigorous safety standards we set on the ranges, and learn more from the training experience. 

So here is a simple standard. Not a training plan to get you to it, but a simple standard to gauge if you are ready for a class:

– Find a 100 yard stretch of ground. ‘Enemy’ is beyond the 100 yard line.

– Carry a rifle, or something to simulate one.

– Carry the rifle in  the ‘patrol ready’ position to your front, butt stock between mid-chest and the pocket of your shoulder, muzzle straight down to your front.

– Begin:

Dash 5-7 yards, kneel, bring the ‘weapon’ up to the firing position, wait 5 seconds.

Dash 5-7 yards, go prone, wait 5 seconds.

Repeat, alternating kneeling and prone, to 100 yards.

Come back from 100 yards to the start, same deal as going forwards, but running to the rear (not running backwards) and each time you kneel or go prone, face back to the original enemy direction.

Wait 30 seconds.

Repeat.

Note: The ‘dash’ needs to be a rush, perhaps adding a zig-zag.

Can you do that without excessive fatigue? Then you are ready for class. Can’t? Do some PT.

You want to consider the need to get up from prone to kneeling, and from kneeling to standing. This incorporates upper body strength (push-ups) with thigh strength (squats/lunges). This is not an exhaustive list, but simply a guide to help you determine your practical fitness level. It is a bare minimum.

For specific gear questions, I recommend the MVT Forum. Also, number of potential questions may have been addressed in the previous article: ‘The Practical Application of Tactical Gear, Load & Weight Considerations.


This article appeared on Survivalblog today.


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