There has been a theme brewing within the Everyday Marksman Discord server. The phrase has popped up enough now that it pretty much deserves it’s own hashtag: #tinkeringislife
The idea behind it is that we’re never really done messing with our equipment. There’s always a lingering idea of, “What if I tried this instead?”
A lot of my recent focus is an effort to revise my load bearing equipment. In the original article, I posted three different configurations, each with different philosophies behind them. I’ve gone through several iterations of each of them now, to the point that what I originally wrote no longer applies.
Today I want to touch on a particular one that’s become the focus of the project, something I’ve dubbed, “The Minuteman Harness.”
The Minuteman Harness
Like the Minuteman KISS Rifle before it, the idea here is actually about blending old thinking and new, like my old weapon system from the Air Force days. Connotations with Colonial Militiamen are a happy coincidence. I will admit that I was also inspired by Justin over at Swift Silent Deadly, who wrote up a great piece on recreating his old reconnaissance webbing from his military days. The harness I’m describing for you today is a scaled back version of what he wrote about.
My version is a bit of a mashup between the classic M1956 ILCE (pictured), mid-2000’s MOLLE, and modern materials.
But let’s get to the “Why” for a moment.
To date, my advice for the aspiring everyday marksman is to first put together a light to mid-weight battle belt, and then later supplement it with a minimalist chest rig. This combination provides you a with a huge amount of flexibility to tailor your gear to the task at hand.
I still think this is the way to go most of the time, especially if there are vehicles involved. Something that’s always stood out to me, though, is that the battle belt/chest rig combo represents two distinct pieces of gear. An assault pack, which you would need since it contains a lot of other important stuff like water, is a third piece of equipment to handle.
Some people just might prefer to go with an old school set of belt kit, and I wanted to explore the possibilities. Since #tinkeringislife, I started a thought experiment.
Grab-and-Go Fighting Gear
The thought exercise got me thinking about Scenario-X. If I only had time to grab one piece of gear with everything already on it- what would that look like?
Yes, I know you might be thinking, “I definitely want my plate carrier for that.” That’s great, and probably not wrong, but since I’m also thinking of everyday folks who haven’t spent $1k+ on a plate carrier and quality plates, bear with me here.
This question forced me to start asking questions about the right number of magazines to carry, water, medical, communications, or other miscellaneous items like maps, land navigation tools, pens, notebooks, and more. Since it all had to be in one piece of gear, that means there needed to be compromises.
The end result is this idea of the Minuteman Harness. The all-in-one piece of fighting gear to keep at the ready for bad times. Importantly, it’s a template I can start to share with new shooters who want more than a battle belt, but less than multiple pieces of gear.
I’ve been testing this idea out over several iterations now. Even though there are a one or two things I still think should be tweaked (#tinkeringislife), it’s time to start talking about it.
First I’ll go over the high level description, and then get down into my thinking and trade offs. Keep in mind that while I’m going to list specific items like pouches and harnesses, don’t think you need to go buy these same items. It’s the thinking and philosophy behind it that matters. There are many companies producing the rest of it.
The Big Picture
The foundation of my Minuteman Harness is a Blue Force Gear Beltminus. I have the first generation model in a Wolf Grey color. I bought it several years ago while it was on clearance for something like 60% off. Blue Force Gear is now up to the third generation, which improves on this design with better torsional stiffness and some padding around the hips.
The harness is almost entirely made of up a laser cut laminate material with adjustment webbing and mesh around the shoulders.
Working counter-clockwise from my front:
- Esstac Kywi AR-15 mid-height speed reload pouch
- BAE Systems ECLiPSE double magazine pouch
- Tactical Tailor radio pouch
- BAE Systems ECLiPSE canteen pouch
- SO Tech Viper A1 IFAK
- BAE Systems ECLiPSE canteen pouch
- BAE Systems ECLiPSE double magazine pouch
- T3 Tactical Platoon Sergeant Admin Pouch
- T3 Tactical tourniquet cover
BAE Systems ECLiPSE pouches appear for both my ammunition carriage and canteens. These pouches have been out of production for years at this point.
According to Soldier Systems Daily, BAE, a well known defense contractor, originally developed the ECLiPSE line back in the mid-2000’s as a commercial load carriage line. It was the brain child of Matt Johnson, formerly of Eagle Industries.
They won a few contracts for releasable body armor, and produced a line of gear to go with it. BAE spun the brand off as ECLiPSE Performance, and won a contract to supply Guardian Angel for the Air Force Pararescue community.
In 2012, they lost the contract renewal bid and shut the whole thing down. Tactical Advantage Inc purchased the remaining inventory, and has been selling it as new old stock ever since.
The reason I originally purchased any of it was that it was nicely made gear for cheap. I started with the canteen pouches back in the 2015/2016 time frame. At prices less than half of what they originally cost ($12 for a mag or canteen pouch, $20 for a SAW pouch, etc.), it gave me a lot of leeway to buy a bunch of stuff and experiment.
There is some really innovative thinking in the magazine pouches. The double mag pouch, for example, is a pretty common design I’ve seen across Eagle, First Spear, ATS, but I haven’t seen anyone else offer a combination of both Velcro closure and a bungee toggle system like this. It’s all well made, and my only drawback against it is the old school snap closure system for the MOLLE.
So, if you’re looking for some pouches and don’t mind limited color selection, give this stuff a look.
Now, let’s talk magazines.
What’s The Right Number of Magazines?
In my original load bearing harness article, the configuration with the Beltminus carried six magazines in two triple mag pouches a la ALICE. I defaulted to six magazines plus one in the gun because that’s the standard US military combat load.
In a more recent iteration, I was using two First Spear quad mag pouches. Combined with the speed reload, this brought me to nine magazines on the harness and one in the gun for a fighting load of 300 rounds. I reasoned that this was acceptable because I wasn’t carrying a pistol along with it.
Honestly, this configuration worked well as a pure “gunfighting” rig. But I was struggling to work in some other pieces of equipment like a radio, TQ pouch, and other miscellaneous stuff. The small GP pouch I had on my front right was fine for a compass, bug cream, and chap stick, but not much else.
Inspired by Justin’s article and his discussion of using a SAW pouch for maps, notepads, signal gear, camo paint, and more, I wanted some expanded administrative capacity for an “all in one” rig. That meant further dropping magazines.
Replacing one of the quad mag pouches with a double brought me down to 7 + 1 magazines. That’s one speed reload and a quad pouch on my support side, and a double on the right. That was still plenty of ammunition for most things. In fact that got me started asking questions about the “right” amount of mags.
Thus far, I’d subscribed to the idea that “ammunition is time” and “you can never being too much.” But those messages were counter to the idea of being as light as possible for mobility. I started asking some members of the community with combat experience what they would think was “right.” I also went back and asked some of the guys I’ve interviewed in the past.
The answer kept coming back to somewhere between 3-5 on the belt and one in the gun. Their reasoning was that they were not planning raids or looking for trouble. 4-6 magazines was enough to break contact, maintain a disciplined rate of fire, and consolidate to a better defensive position. Should they need more, then the extras would be in a pack they could resupply from.
I took that to heart, and dropped the other quad mag pouch in favor of a double.
This provided the happy benefit of a convenient place to stick a radio. More on that later.
So that brings it down to 5 mags on the belt and 1 in the gun, or 180 rounds. If needed, I could always ditch the canteen in one of the canteen pouches and stuff another 4-5 magazines instead.
I’m also following the idea set up in my post about magazine pouches. One magazine is immediately available in an open-top Type I pouch, while the rest are in covered Type II pouches for better security.
Setting Up the Backside
Along the back side of the harness sits two canteen pouches and an IFAK at the center-back. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to get this set up. Let me provide some context.
My first “mentor” about gear set up was Max at MVT. Even though we had never met personally until years later, his articles about load carriage and the MVT Fight Lite concept were hugely influential. His original writings involved a complete load bearing harness configured a bit like he had it in the British military. Later, he changed his suggestions to be a light battle belt paired with a chest rig.
One of the key reasons he gave for this shift was the possibility of vehicles. Load bearing kits with butt packs and utility pouches along the back are impractical when sitting in a seat.
That stuck with me.
Putting it to Work
For the Minuteman Harness, I wanted to keep the versatility to sit in a chair or vehicle, which meant large butt packs were out. Instead, riding at the middle of my back is a flat IFAK pouch from SO Tech. The one in the photo here is their mini version, which now rides on my competition/range belt since I liked it so much.
The minuteman harness now sports the larger Viper A1. Frankly, it feels significantly larger, and I prefer the mini one- but the money was already spent so I’m keeping it. . The flat IFAK is comfortable and doesn’t interfere with sitting.
The “killer feature” of this configuration is that it’s ambidextrous, and allows me to reach behind with either hand to yank the medical module out of it’s sleeve and start working with it.
Flanking the IFAK on each side is a canteen pouch. I always like to have at least one way to carry a hard-sided water container with me. For vehicles, these canteens can always be removed.
Put together, this configuration lets me use the full Minuteman Harness from a seated position just fine. I also ran the physical portion of the gear check a few times to make sure nothing pressed into my spine, and it worked great.
I also tested this with an assault pack. The pack rests a bit on top of the two canteen pouches and helps distribute the load a little. One downside is that the pack might ride a little higher on my back than it should. It’s fine with just a hat, but if I was wearing a helmet, the pack might push it forward and stop me from aiming effectively. There is plenty of adjustment in the harness straps to lower it down a bit if I needed to, though.
By the way, I don’t have to carry canteens in these pouches. They also work well as general purpose pouches and put a lot of common “tactical” objects in them.
While Justin’s use of a SAW pouch is a great idea, there were a few things that held me back. First, the position of the pouch on this harness would put it almost in front of my right hip. A SAW pouch is tall and would hinder freedom of movement with my leg.
So I set out to find an alternative that gave me plenty of storage for practical objects like land nav gear, signal tools, notepads, bug spray, and more- but didn’t hinder my mobility. I got a random tip from Mr. Sam Culpepper about T3 Gear. While the tip was about their TQ pouch, which I’ll get to in a second, I poked around their site and found something that seemed like it would be about perfect.
T3 Gear is located in Coronado, California. The founder is a Navy SEAL, and I appreciate that they’re putting out some good quality gear for a fair price. This isn’t sponsored or anything, I just want to highlight a good company.
The pouch I found is the Platoon Sergeant. They’ve taken it down from the website for the time being, but hopefully it comes back up soon. The pouch is a large inner compartment that fits a Rite in the Rain spiral notebook, Vortex Monocular, and other bulky items. There is also internal organization for smaller items like a compass, lighter, and other “stuff.” It fits perfectly for me.
The TQ Pouch
Something else I picked up from T3 was a TQ pouch. Actually, I grabbed several, but I’m only using one on the Minuteman Harness. The pouch fully encloses the TQ and protects it from the elements. This was important since the TQ sits directly on my front and is exposed to dirt, mud, or anything else I roll or crawl through. I was out of actual MOLLE space to put it, so I zip tied it in place along the top of the admin pouch.
The last thing to cover here is the radio pouch. Strictly speaking, this probably isn’t necessary. In fact, it would be pretty easy to slap a quad mag pouch back on here and fill the radio spot with two more mags. But since this is supposed to be an “all-in-one” deal, I figured that I might as well have a spot for it.
I had tinkered with putting it up on the shoulder, but it just felt too exposed. I contacted my friend NC Scout over at Brushbeater, and he had a few thoughts on the matter. His advice was to place it down on the belt line where it was out of the way but I could still access it with my support hand.
It’s not pictured, but my plan for the radio is using a remote speaker-mic routed up the harness and attached to my front. I can then run a aux line from the speaker mic to my ear pro. It’s a poor-man’s COMTAC setup, but it’s certainly more budget friendly.
So what Could be Modified?
Now that you’ve seen my thinking, what could I change?
Well, the first thing I know I’ll get asked is, “Where’s your pistol?” My answer is: there isn’t one. I’m not sure where we got the idea that everyone always needed to have both a primary and secondary weapon, but here we are. As Doc Larsen pointed out in a recent stream, handguns are a “nice to have” but not terribly useful in a fight. Aside from the fact that the Beltminus V1 doesn’t have enough torsional rigidity to really support a handgun, I decided that I was just going to go without it.
If I felt like I really needed one, then I can wear a drop leg holster attached to my pants riggers belt. Doing that would mean removing the strong side mag pouch to make room for the draw. So, naturally, that requires losing the radio pouch on the support side in order to put two more mags in that spot. In the end, I just didn’t think it was worth trying to make it work.
On that note…the other thing I could modify is dropping the radio pouch in favor of two more magazines. That would bring me back up to 8 magazines. I could figure something else out with the radio, like putting it on a pack, but that’s not ideal since it’s less accessible.
Wrapping Up – Where Will I Use This?
So what is the end result of this little thought experiment?
I really like this harness. I have two more aside from this one, including a complete Velocity Systems Jungle Harness that costs significantly more money- and yet the Minuteman Harness might be my favorite due to it’s combination of light weight, lower physical profile, and “everything you need, nothing you don’t” approach.
Going forward, I expect the Minuteman Harness to be my go-to piece of gear for any carbine-only training or competition events. If I need a handgun, then I’ll use a different system.
Moreover, I think this configuration serves as a really practical template for other Everyday Marksmen to work from.
Civil Defense SOP?
The military puts a lot of weight on the idea of standardization. There’s a lot of good reasons for this, including learning attention to details. The biggest one, though, is the idea that any individual knows exactly where to find important items on their teammates as well.
Consider first aid kits as an example. It’s common to establish standard operating procedures (SOP) that define where to place the IFAK on an individual, what contents are in it, and where those contents are located within the kit. That way, when any individual becomes a casualty, all of their teammates know exactly where to find the IFAK and begin treatment.
Remember that your IFAK is supposed to be for other people to take care of you should you become a casualty. It’s not supposed to be for you to treat others.
In the civilian world, we really don’t have such stringent standardization. Go to any training course or competition event, and you’ll see that nearly everyone has their equipment configured a different way.
Perhaps the Minuteman Harness can serve as a bit of an inspiration for a civilian SOP. What do you think?
Here are some quick general specs:
- Flat IFAK placed middle of the back
- 2x Canteen Pouches flanking the IFAK
- One rifle speed reload placed front support side
- 4 – 6 magazines carried in 2-3 mag pouches
- Admin pouch for misc items on front strong side
- Optional radio, dump pouch, or other utility pouch placed on the support side. If carried, it replaces a magazine pouch
This template requires 20-22 columns of MOLLE, keeps things away from the front of the hips, and covers most things a prepared civilian would need to do for a short to mid-length event.
#TinkeringIsLife: [Nearly] A Year Later
It’s been a bit under a year since I originally published this, and the harness has seen further revisions. I wanted to show you what they look like and talk about some of the lessons learned.
The bottom line, though, is that the Minuteman Harness has solidified its position as my favorite rig for “Everyday Marksman” things. It’s lightweight, comfortable, carries just enough stuff without being too bulky, and integrates well with a pack.
For the most part the harness is the same, with one notable exception. I acquired a Spiritus Systems Small GP Pouch that takes only three columns of MOLLE rather than the four columns that the T3 Platoon Sergent used. That allows me to mount the TQ pouch vertically on the harness itself rather than my improvised solution before.
I also shifted the order of pouches to put the leader pouch further on the strong side. This puts it in the “utility space” on the right side. I had two intentions here. First is that the two BAE double magazine pouches are roughly in the same place on both sides.
Secondly, if I wanted to bring a pistol, I could drop the leader pouch from the harness and run the holster off of my pants belt in that same area.
I went back to the Viper Mini IFAK on the back only because the larger one was a better fit on a different harness.
In all, I’m leaning towards using this as the model to suggest to everyone as an Everyday Marksman standard.