Let’s talk about the chest rig. There are a lot of ways we could take this, from classic nylons carrier to loaded down plate carriers and MOLLE vests. My main focus is on the standalone version, but the information applies just as readily to plate carriers and the other methods. It remains true any time you’re raising the load higher on your torso.
In our load-carriage series, we’ve primarily discussed carrying the fighting load around the waist where it distributes load to the hips. This is historically the placement of choice for militaries around the world going all the way back to the Romans. But it wasn’t the only option.
The so-called chest rig really gained notoriety during Vietnam. Chinese-made Type 56 canvas rigs dominated the NVA inventory for carrying AK-47 magazines throughout the war. Many US special operations forces stole or copied the design to better blend in or use enemy weapons.
But the truth is that carrying equipment on the chest has a long history.
A Brief History of the Chest Rig
I don’t have any solid evidence to show you, but there is a fairly long history of carrying ancillary equipment on the chest. While it might not have been fighting equipment the way we consider it today, things like bandoliers have always been around.
The famous pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, carried several pistols about his chest. Various depictions show them high, some show them lower, but the principle remains the same. Carrying them on the torso kept them accessible in an emergency.
During the World Wars, it was common to store extra ordnance like grenades or spare clips in bandoliers stretched across the chest. The Americans had a grenade vest that looks very similar to modern chest rigs during WWI. The Germans later did it as well with rifle clips.
Yes, clips…not magazines.
The British and Canadians developed the so-called battle jerkin that looks awfully like an early version of the 1970s Israeli Ephod.
These items never rose to the prominence of the Chinese Type 56, though.
Partly through American adoption during Vietnam, but also because of the iconic images during the Rhodesian Bush War. Fighters used copies of the Type 56 rig so much and so effectively that we colloquially dubbed it, “The Rhodesian Rig.”
Below are some photos of the battle jerkin and Rhodesian Rig.
Chest Rig Evolution
The primary benefit of the tactical chest rig is mobility. It stays higher on your center of gravity and stays out of the way of the hips. Even though chest rigs were never officially adopted into the US Military until much later than everyone else, they had enough of an influence that experimentation began with the ALICE system in 1988.
We called it the Integrated Individual Fighting System (IIFS).
This system used the same ALICE gun belt threaded through the bottom loops, but moved the load higher up the torso.
This video shows the 1986 experimental version as an example. Beneath everything, it was still basically an ALICE gun belt with upgraded straps.
The final version moved the magazine pouches further to the sides and angled them slightly.
A lot of guys have logged a ton of time wearing this system, known as LBV-88, to varying amounts of happiness. The most common complaints were that it was too hot, pouches too awkward, and the whole thing was just a lot of nylon. When given the choice, reverting back to the underlying LC-2 ALICE gear was the preference.
This system is still around in some storerooms but was mostly replaced by the next system: MOLLE.
With MOLLE, we arrive at the Fighting Load Carrier (FLC) and Tactical Assault Panel (TAP). These worked okay enough. They never really fit right, especially when loaded down. Furthermore, they didn’t solve the problem of heat buildup.
Some special units began making their own in-house versions of the old Rhodesian chest rig. Eventually, it spread to the regular Army Ranger units and earned the title Ranger Assault Carrying Kit (RACK). It utilized the same MOLLE modularity of the FLC and TAP, but in a more traditional chest rig format.
This was the first “modern” tactical chest rig, and what most people think of today.
During all of that early era, armor and fighting kit were two separate items. As we got deeper into the 2000s, it became common practice to mount equipment pouches directly to the armor system.
The combination armor and load bearing kit using lightweight plate carriers and directly attaching pouches to it is the “cool guy” way to do things today. But that doesn’t make the more classic RACK-style chest rig obsolete.
If looks and feels sloppy to wear a plate carrier without any plates in it. So, if you either don’t own armor, or don’t need to use it for any particular reason, a RACK-style chest rig is still very valuable.
Costs/Benefit of Chest Rigs and Plate Carriers
For practical reasons, I’m staying out of the pro-cons of wearing ballistic plates for protection. That’s another topic entirely. The primary benefit of chest rigs, and plate carriers, is mobility. It gets things off of the beltline and reduces interference with the back and legs.
The hazards come from putting too much “stuff” in front of you and under your arms.
Chest Rig Benefits
- From an energy expenditure standpoint, weight carried higher on your torso is more efficient when traveling over level ground. The situation flips when you get on uneven terrain, however.
- When using a chest rig, your gear is usually easier to access because it’s all right in front of you. There’s no need to reach around behind you to retrieve anything.
- Since there’s nothing on your back or hips, sitting in chairs or vehicles is a lot more comfortable. I sincerely think this is one of the main reasons chest rigs grew in popularity during GWOT (Global War on Terrorism). Classic foot patrols gave way to vehicle patrols, and chest-mounted gear was just more convenient for hopping in and out of vehicles all day.
- Gear mounted high, even if it’s directly in front of you, doesn’t get in the way of crouching, kneeling, or walking uphill.
Chest Rig Hazards
- Chest rigs hinder heat management. Your torso, along with your head, is a high blood-flow region that your body uses to dispel heat. By covering it with a chest rig, you limit the usable surface area for cooling off.
- Mounting gear higher on your chest puts more strain on your core muscles. This isn’t all that different from rucking, really. Any tactical fitness program you pursue should include a healthy amount of core work. But from a load-carriage standpoint, chest rigs require more core strength than belt kits and will eventually tire you quicker with heavy loads. If the chest rig is heavy enough, you should counterbalance it with weight in a backpack. Yes, this is more overall weight but it produces less strain from imbalance on the back and core.
- Chest rigs increase your silhouette and make it harder to “get low.” With belts, we tend to move bulk out to the sides, which keeps our fronts flat and ready to press into the dirt. Putting all of your gear on your chest raises your profile off the ground and makes it much harder to fit behind low-lying cover.
- With excessive bulk in front of you, manipulating your weapon grows more difficult. If you add too much bulk to the sides, and under your armpits, then overall movement becomes awkward since it gets in the way of your arm’s natural swing.
- Due to roadside explosives, British troops in GWOT enforced operating procedures to remove all extraneous hard objects in open pouches from their chest rigs. If you were hit, unsecured objects in your chest rig tended to blow upwards towards your face. That’s certainly an issue if you’ve stuffed multitools, knives, pens, or other pointy objects in there. But that’s a rather unique circumstance to that conflict.
My Personal Chest Rig Setup
You’ve probably seen this one before in other photos. In the picture below, it’s more or less by itself along with my CCW belt setup.
This is what you might imagine for a situation where you were out and about concealed carrying, but happen to keep a chest rig and carbine in your vehicle. That’s probably a little “too much” for me, but this is something that law enforcement deals with regularly.
It’s best to think of the chest rig as part of a system that includes some other load carriage method. Maybe that’s your tactical or battle belt, or maybe it’s a small assault pack. Either way, you shouldn’t try and carry “all the things” on your chest.
My chest rig is a Max Velocity Tactical Special Operations Rig. I’m a big fan of it, but he gets them made in small batches so availability is sometimes difficult. I’ll provide some alternatives in a minute, but I highly suggest this one if they’re in stock.
You’ll notice immediately that I only have a single layer of magazines across my front. This reduces bulk. With this configuration, I can still get low to the ground and easily manipulate my weapon through loading or malfunctions.
I have a small enclosed utility pouches on each side. I can stuff my Vortex Solo monocular in one of these, admin items, or similar. To be honest, I go back and forth on keeping them there because I seldom use them. In fact, the one on my left sometimes gets in the way during drills.
The rig has two flattened “pockets” on each end under the armpits. I can stuff two magazines in each of these spaces or my PRC-152 radio clone.
On the backside of the center section, you’ll find two sewn-in pouches for a map and orienteering compass like my Suunto MC-2.
That’s it. You should only carry the minimum equipment needed on your chest in as low profile a way as you can. Everything else should go into your backpack, your belt, or in your pockets.
Keep it simple, keep it light.
Wearing the Chest Rig
One of the most common mistakes I see is people wearing chest rigs too low on the torso. Remember, it’s a chest rig and not a belly rig. You should treat it the same way you would a plate carrier by having it high and tight to your chest. This keeps it out of the way of anything on your belt or something like hip straps on a heavy ruck.
My personal preference is to have the top of the main panel about even with the “notch” at the top of my ribs. Another way to position it imagining a line passing lengthwise through the center of the rig. Align that to your nipples.
On the rear, if there’s an “H-Harness” style, then I want it running just over the top of my shoulder blades.
Yes, it might feel a little awkward at first, but that’s how high it should be. If you want to wear it down by your waist, then get a belt rig instead since it will be far more supportive.
Don’t be afraid to cut the adjustment straps shorter and secure them. I think reluctance to cut straps like that is one of the. main reasons chest rigs end up too low. The other is simply inexperience.
Recommended Tactical Chest Rigs
In no particular order:
- Mayflower 5.56 Hybrid
- Esstac Trim Bush – Get it with the additional padded harness
- Tactical Tailor MAV (single or split front) – Get the X-Harness to go with it
- SKD Tactical All Molle UCR – Get the additional H-Harness kit
- Mayflower UW All Molle Chest Rig
- ATS Slimline Chest Harness or the Slimline II for all MOLLE
I know that’s quite a few suggestions, and I might have caused you some more confusion over which one is “best.” Don’t do that to yourself.
All of the chest rigs I’ve listed, starting with the MVT one, are high quality and will serve you well. Pick one that’s in stock in the color you want, and just do it.
The Bottom Line
Chest rigs are a great option for carrying gear as long as you don’t try and load them down too much. I prefer to think of them as a “plus up” to other equipment like a battle belt.
You probably wouldn’t see me mix it with one of the heavy belt rigs I discussed in the load bearing equipment article, though, since that would be a lot of straps to deal with. That doesn’t include any backpacks, either.
Over to You
We’ve gone through each of the three major carrying techniques: battle belts, load bearing equipment, and chest rigs. Each of them have their own benefits and risks associated with them. Sometimes you can combine them, as with battle belts and chest rigs, to minimize the drawbacks with each component individually. Other times, you just need to commit because it’s the best answer for the situation you’re in.
Looking back at these options, what is your favorite so far?
Noice. These articles concluded a realization I had made and the decision process was made infinitely easier by this series. Urban needs differ from rural needs and I am urban/suburban but frequent a lot of rural areas…speaking of rural areas, nice to see brushbeaters resistor patch, but do you have a shirt?!…. Anyhoo, great stuff. It has put to bed some thoughts and issues I had and made the decision making process easier along the way by taking the legwork of finding the best practices and summarizing. I think that’s why your blog is so great. You get to need… Read more »
I can’t say I have Bushbeater’s shirt. Maybe someday after I do a class with him, though. I certainly appreciate the kind words and referrals!
I’m glad you found the series helpful. I’m planning two more entries. I’ve gotten a lot of messages that it’s challenged people to rethink some of what they are doing, which is nice to hear.
I’m going to share with you why I like the Condor MCR4, besides the price: It’s exceptionally well thought out even if the execution falls a bit short. I’m eyeballin’, BECAUSE OF YOU, the Mayflower UW Chest Rig QD and I have no doubt the build quality is awesome. I like everything about it, including the H harness, but it lacks the two Velcro pockets (like the middle map pocket) that fit a radio on both sides (on the outsides, past the harness attachments). Do you know of anything that is like this? It’s all essentially a ranger rack, with… Read more »
I’ll dig around, but the MVT rig actually has most of what it seems like you’re looking for. Map and compass pouches on the back, side pouches for radios, and an h harness. It’s not padded, though.
I need a few more, but MVT no longer selling chest rigs.
Came here looking for alternatives… help
Also, I didn’t list it but the Mayflower UW Gen IV might work too
I always love how you start the article with the history of the subject in this case, Blackbeard and his old school rig full of pistols. Top class information as always.
The is for reading and commenting! I can’t help that I’m a bit of a history nerd. I always feel like there was a reason that something came around, be it a piece of gear or a method of doing something. If we can get to that reason, we can make better determination of our needs against it.
Any experience using a bandolier style carrier? It seems like it would give some of the advantages of a chest rig but since it’s lower profile, probably allows you to stay cooler.
Hey Brad, thanks for coming by! To be up front, no. I don’t have any experience with bandoliers. That said, a lot of long-term infantry type guys I follow advocate for them in one form or another. The two most common I see are Blue Force Gear’s Ten-Speed 6 Pack and FirstSpear’s Fight Strap. What these guys usually talk about is keeping a bandolier like that handy in a vehicle or pack, and using it to quickly “plus up” their normal gear if they expect problems. I can’t speak to how comfortable they are, though. It might make a pretty… Read more »
I use the same MVT rig, good stuff. I like my chest rig “high and tight” as I can run and maneuver better vs the rig set lower, which ultimately means I look cooler whilst performing said activities. Plus it doesn’t interfere with my battle belt setup when wearing both. Random internet guy tip: Before much field use, I shake down my gear by kitting up and running on a treadmill at home. One can figure out pretty quickly how it feels, how much noise it makes, etc. and make adjustments accordingly. The process also makes for interesting comments from… Read more »
I’m similar with the gear shakedown. Exercising with your stuff on is a great way to see how it actually moves with you. I’ve also been known to do chores and yard work.
I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who runs around in pieces of kit! Part of it is to shake out any issues and the second is to condition my body to being use to working in it! You realize pretty quick how much noise things may make (mags clinking together or water sloshing around) and where straps may create hotspots.
I get the odd look when out on ruck runs or running in my PC. But I think folks have gotten use to it by now.
It would seem to me that if you had to do much bending down/ducking and then back to upright, a high rig would be a lot harder on your lower back than a lower one. Anyone have any experience with that?
It does add some strain to the back, which is one of the hazards of a chest rig over a belt kit. There are really only two days to deal with it. First, keep the chest rig as light as possible so the strain isn’t much. Second, incorporate solid core and lower back training into a good fitness regime.
Together, those help avoid most issues with carrying weight higher in the torso.
You see a lot of guys wearing their chest rig around their belly which goes against some of the advantages of chest rigs. First and foremost sitting, bending over, and negotisteep/difficult terrain is made easier with a properly worn chest rig at mid to chest high (usually the bottom of the rig should be at about the bottom of your diaphragm). You don’t want that rig getting push up every time you take an uphill step or sit down (especially in a vehicle). I have a Chicom type 56 rig and a Haley Mini rig and I like the tops… Read more »
You see the same issue with plate carriers, really. I think it’s one of those circumstances where you see people buy gear but never actually learn how to properly use it. Totally agree with you that wearing a chest rig as more of a belly rig gets rid of a lot of the benefits, and you’d be better off with a belt kit at that point.
Matt Superbly done short form article. You’ve covered the evolution fairly well and provided great context. I’ve been issued and used all of the US kit you covered, and most variants of body armor form the simple flak to RBA to IBV. The load out you describe is quite good for a second line kit of a first responder LE type. Good stuff, if you add some hydration. Lots of folks forget how important water is during and after a fight. A few comments offered as good for thought in mission-drives-gear analysis. 1. Vests are awesome for vehicle mounted patrols.… Read more »
Water is huge! It’s definitely something that must be accounted for with done kind of hydration bladder or bottles on the belt.
And I’m glad you enjoyed the post!
In my time working with the Army, I saw a bunch of FLC-type rigs in use, and thought they were awkward and just plan foolish. They have the versatility of being a layer up for ammunition, sort of like an improvement on a bandolier, but depending on the PC, they just always struck me as inefficient. I was absolutely baffled watching one of the Army guys put an FLC on over his IOTV (the really big body armor system). It just looked so difficult and awkward. On another instance, I watched an infantry officer put on a FLC that I… Read more »
Agreed. The FLC just seems like such a niche item and I don’t think it did anything particularly well. Layering like that just seems awkward and unnecessary.
Side note, 12 mags on the torso just seems like a bad idea from the get go.
After reading this article I have been thinking on the topic of a chest rig on the everyday civilian side and how it would realistically fit into prepared individual’s system. The issue I can’t seem to wrap my mind around is why not just go straight to a plate carrier setup and skip the chest rig? As I try to think about how this fits into my world, I sort of see two options for kiting up (oversimplified for ease of discussion). One is where the chance of getting into a fight is extremely low or low , but I… Read more »
IMO, it really comes down to one of two scenarios. In the first, the user isn’t wearing armor at all. Most people don’t own plates, nor are they high on the priority list. We have to remember that the kind of person who gets tactical training and invests in PPE like that is an extreme outlier in the broader gun culture. For this group, a simple chest rig offers some flexibility on how they go about their day to day. The second scenario that comes to mind is wearing armor, but wanting to keep things lower profile by wearing it… Read more »
Matt, Thanks for the article, I had come down the comments section to ask something similar to this. Assuming the necessary budget and willingness to train, would you recommend going with a standalone plate carrier and chest rig, in order to capitalize on the “layering” that you’re already doing with the battle belt and chest rig, over a PC with an integrated chest rig? Relatedly, do you have any opinions on the Spiritus and Crye Precision plate/chest rig setups? I ask because I notice that neither is on your list of recommendations, but all of the Tactical Timmies I know… Read more »
Anri, Thanks for asking! To be honest, I see value in both. Personally, I don’t own plates and therefore I also don’t own a plate carrier. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value there, I honestly just haven’t committed the funds to it. If you have the budget for the proper equipment, then I see no reason not to jump for a simple plate carrier setup first and pair it with a battle belt. Regarding Spiritus Systems and Crye’s gear, it’s all really good quality as far as I know. But, I don’t have personal experience with it. As you… Read more »
I definitely will take a look at those. I’m not in the market for plate carriers at the moment, either–I have other things I need to buy first, but I would like whatever chest rig I get to be compatible with a PC down the line. Are Mayflower and Velocity just different brandings of the same company?
It’s kind of an intertwined history. Mayflower started earlier as a design house, but contracted out the actual manufacturing. Velocity Systems (Velsyst) was a manufacturing center. Velsyst was the manufacturer for Mayflower designs for years before they bought the brand and incorporated it.
So another way to look at it is “Designed by Mayflower Research” and “Built by Velocity Systems”
Oddly enough, their offices are just a few miles down the road from me. I should probably drop by some time for an article 😉
Matt – nice job on this! Historic review always interesting IMO. Pics add clarity and are worth many words. On the subject – I find the ‘lightly loaded’ FLC to be my favorite for routine civilian work (armed security) as well as great for hunting. I hunt with a pistol sometimes and find a LB ‘H’- harness and ALICE Belt rig work best with the huge shoulder holster worn for scoped pistol. At one time, I got caught up in the ‘can’t have enough tactical gear’ trend and ended up filling a spare room with rigs, backpacks and pouches I’ve… Read more »
Thanks, Paul! The FLC is definitely still a workable solution, especially if you keep it lightly loaded (as you said). I think most of us go through a period of gear hoarding and experimentation before we settle down on something that works “good enough.” I don’t think perfection is really ever obtained.
Additionally – the ‘lightly loaded’ FLC conceals fairly well under a loose jacket (smock) even over a flat skinned soft armor vest if needed. I would guess more useful that way for civilian work. Like you stated previously – find what ‘works’ and train! Matt I recently spent some time browsing articles on your site and I am VERY impressed! Over the years I have combed the internet and found only a few to be really professionally informative AND ‘non-exclusive’. Everyday Marksman really shines doing that! Excellent content and written so non ‘Tier 1’ professionals can relate – we shoot… Read more »
Thank you, Paul, I sincerely appreciate that
I LOVE the Blackhawk Enhanced Commando Recon Chest Harness. The “enhanced” version specifically, has 8 internal mag pouches that lie flat along the entire length of the chest rig, as well as an optional top portion that can remain folded up (and have it in front plate carrier mode), or gold out of the way and make it more like a Rhodesian Rig style. It’s my absolute favorite rig. Oh, and there’s an optional back panel as well if you wanna make the whole system a plate carrier or add a hydration carrier to your back. Definitely check it out… Read more »
I like my TAPS setup. The only extra pouches I attach are for my IFAK and radio. So needless to say, I prefer to keep it light. And as a family man it was quite affordable
I have to argue for a lower set chest rig havining it’s place in certain senerios. In the Canadian forces we still use the gulf war looking frag vests and a poorly designed tac vest over it but if your lucky enough to be in a western unit your allowed to buy your own LBE kit with the tactical tailor MAV or similar setup being the most common choice “Quick shout out To a little known company, LOF Defense Core chest rig is a very good substitute to the MAV”. The way you usually see them set up is very… Read more »
Hey Curtis, that’s a fair point. I think there’s a distinction here that I configure my chest rig so that it works seamlessly with a belt. I wear it high so to avoid any issues of grabbing mags or drawing a pistol. To your point, I think that there’s a good argument for wearing them lower if you plan on loading it up with more weight and using it exclusively for your load carriage.
I recently found your site and I am loving it! This series has been great in helping me decide between battle belt and chest rig (spoiler, I still haven’t decided!). You have a great writing style and I can tell you put a lot of work into your content. I subscribed to the email list and have started listening to your podcast. Just for kicks, maybe you can help me decide between a chest rig and battle belt once and for all. I will need to carry a minimum/average of 2 extra rifle mags and 2 extra pistol mags as… Read more »
Hey Luke, thanks for reading and commenting! The load you’re talking about carrying seems more suited to a battle belt, or even a more minimalist duty belt. There are a few other questions you’d want to answer that might help. For example, are you planning to wear the gear while in a vehicle? If so, then chest rig for the win. On the other hand, if you need a very quick “grab and go” setup where you can very quickly grab it and wear it, then a belt is quite a bit less fiddly. Either way would work, honestly, and… Read more »
Hey Matt, Thank you for the speedy reply! Those are great considerations you brought up. As far as vehicles go, I don’t plan to be doing any VBOs, but it would be nice to be able to sit comfortably if I had to. The extent of my vehicle fighting would probably be a case/bag in the trunk that I can quickly get into and strap on a chest rig/battle belt from there. I do want whatever setup I have to be quick and contained, I.e., I can strap it on and have everything I need to “go to work.” Also,… Read more »
Hey Luke, I tend to bias towards belt-mounted things to begin with, so keep that in mind with my answers. That said, thinking this through a bit more, I think you would do well with something like the Mayflower UW Gen IV. Since you mentioned carrying additional pistol mags, make sure you consider how you carry your pistol as well. With a battle belt, the holster fits nicely on it and it’s all one package with a pistol, pistol mags, rifle mags, and first aid. With a chest rig, the pistol holster ends up being a separate thing to have… Read more »
Why don’t you cover plate carriers in this? What do you think of wearing a chest rig over a covert/concealable plate carrier
Hey Josh, I didn’t cover plate carriers in this article for two reasons. Firstly, even though the modern plate carrier has evolved so that we can mount pouches and things to it, I still consider it a fundamentally different task than a chest rig (that task being protection). Secondly, I’ll admit that I honestly don’t have that much experience with plate carriers compared to the other methods. In my opinion, though, similar rules apply to a PC as they would a chest rig. As to the thought of wearing a chest rig over a concealable plate carrier, that’s actually my… Read more »
The ATS low profile rig looks similar and might be a good swap if the MVT is no longer made.
just read it, love this article.
I´m a fan of the chest rigs.
something I felt missing was a picture showing the how of the way you explain to fit the chest rig.
Bought a chest rig for a non-armored opposition withinside the nice and cozy Arizona Desert. Did some dry run ahead of the event, certain enough, while the opposition came, the rig did now not allow me down. Whether prone, crawling, or moving, the rig stayed in a tremendous position, suitable retention on magazines, zilch moved round as soon as the entirety become adjusted correctly.
What do you think of the recent trend of companies revisiting the USGI/USMC TAP rig and upgrading it for 2022 standards? Just this week, Venture Surplus posted a fully loaded kit on their IG. A month or two ago, Spiritus Systems released a (overpriced) upgrade kit as well addressing the main issues which were the Y harness and Velcro magazine retention system. It looks like Tracer Tactical (new IG hotness) was heavily inspired by the TAPs design in their Scout Rig as well. I think there is real value in the surplus TAPs that are all over the surplus market… Read more »
Hey Chris, I’m catching up on comments. I think there’s a lot to be said for the basics, and something like the TAP is a lot like ALICE in that it’s perfectly functional. Much like ALICE, too, there has been a trend towards revisiting h-harness style LBE systems. The stuff just works. I suspect that as we get away from GWOT, and the glorifying of SOF units doing CQB missions, we’ll see a bit of a trend back towards classic light fighting equipment for dismounted patrolling.