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.

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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.

Blackbeard, as pictured by Benjamin Cole in the second edition of Charles Johnson's General Historie, 1724

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

  • 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.

You should approach the chest rig about the same way you would think of a battle belt: make holes and plug holes. Your primary goal is carrying what you need while minimizing bulk. 

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:

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.

The full kit, including battle belt (with primary fighting gear) and the supplemental chest rig. This configuration provides a huge amount of flexibility while not creating a lot of bulk or awkwardness.

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?

Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.
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31 Comments
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Mark C
Mark C
Guest

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 »

Mark C.
Mark C.
Guest
Replying to  The Marksman

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 »

Kickstart
Kickstart
Guest

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.

Brad
Brad
Guest

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.

Jttk
Jttk
Guest

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 »

Jayclimber
Jayclimber
Guest
Replying to  Jttk

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.

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete
Guest

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?

Jayclimber
Jayclimber
Guest

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 »

Jon
Member

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 »

Diceman624
Member

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 »

Akm295
Member

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 »

Anri
Anri
Guest
Replying to  Matt

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
Anri
Guest
Replying to  Matt

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?

Paulk
Paulk
Guest

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 »

Paulk
Paulk
Guest
Replying to  Matt

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 »

Rahim Abdur-Rahman
Rahim Abdur-Rahman
Guest

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 »

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