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Gear articles are among the most popular on the site, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I get a lot of questions about what chest rig to buy, how to set up belts, or whether or not someone really needs a set of plates and night vision. When just starting out, an aspiring prepared citizen is easily overwhelmed by the myriad of choices out there, not to mention the cost of actually acquiring it all.
To many, the simple answer is defaulting to how the military does it. That means dividing up your equipment into first line, second line, third line, and so on. While that makes sense for a military unit who has a primary mission of seeking, fixing, and destroying enemy combatants- it might not actually work for the average citizen just trying to protect their neighborhood during difficult times.
In this post, I want to dig in to an alternate approach that makes a lot more sense for an everyday civilian who might get caught up in a Scenario-X situation. I also want to highlight what a training progression looks like for a civilian as they progress through this system.
How the Military Does It
To start, it’s important to grasp where this discussion is coming from. If you’ve poked around enough places where combat veterans hang out, you’ve likely come across the concept of First Line, Second Line, and Third Line equipment. There are subtle variations of this, so what I’m saying here might not be exactly what’s you’ve seen before, but it’s close enough.
First Line equipment is your core essentials to survive. This usually means the clothing you wear and the items in your pockets include basic first aid, “soap dish” survival kits, basic land navigation, and so on. This sometimes includes things that mount to a uniform belt like a fixed blade knife, canteen, or even a handgun. I’ve even seen this concept expand to a basic battle belt.
Second Line gear is your primary fighting equipment. Think load bearing harnesses, chest rigs, full combat loads of magazines, mounted first aid kits, smokes, and other “stuff” useful in a firefight.
Third Line equipment is what you live on in the field. It usually fits into a sizable ruck sack. The intent is that a fighting unit carries their sustainment gear into the field and then drop their rucks before a fight, keeping their first and second line equipment on throughout the engagement.
There are a lot of different ways of dividing this concept up or phrasing it in different ways. I’ve heard “survive out of your pockets, fight off your belt, live out of your ruck” as another way of putting things.
So what do I think this gets wrong?
The Problem with Military Thinking
For someone who doesn’t have any other resources, it makes complete sense to use the military as a model. The problem is difference in mission between a military combat unit and a neighborhood protection team during Scenario-X.
In our situation, the chances of needing six or more magazines to engage in a firefight is extremely slim. The priority should shift more towards day-to-day survival of the group rather than fighting, and there’s a lot of other “stuff” you’re more likely to need and do before “party favors” start flying.
The Everyday Marksman Gear Hierarchy
Not long ago, a community member in the Discord server shared the “gearamid” produced by the guys over in Reddit’s r/QualityTacticalGear. A little while later, an updated version came out and went up on YouTube as Gearamid 2.0.
I thought it was an interesting concept, but there were several things about it that didn’t quite sit right with me (though the 2.0 version came a lot closer). So I endeavored to make my own version of it tailored to the average civilian and aligning to our proposed LERTCON levels of readiness.
Before I go into detail of this hierarchy, keep in mind that it is not really all-inclusive. There are simply too many variations, desires, missions sets, and other considerations. The way to look at this is from the perspective of a brand new gun owner and how I think they should focus their purchasing over time. It’s not just about Scenario-X, but rather a progression of gear that grows with skill.
The basic equipment level is where everyone starts at some point. On the left is “WHAM,” or weapons, hydration, ammunition, and medical. I’m not particularly picky about the weapon systems in question here, as long as they are reliable.
I added a weapon retention device, such as a holster and sling, as well as illumination and a sighting device. For an AR-15 platform, these would bring it up to the level of a minimum capable carbine. As for illumination, I’m not specifying whether this is a mounted white light or a separate handheld, I trust that you can work out the most appropriate for you.
Also on the WHAM side of this level is weapon maintenance equipment, some way to hydrate, a few magazines, and a first aid kit for “just in case” moments. I did not include a battle belt or any load carrying gear here because spare magazines can be shoved into pockets if needed.
On the right side of the basic level is basic personal protective equipment, such as eye and ear protection, gloves, durable clothing, and inclement weather gear for rain or cold weather.
As a whole, the basic level is everything a new gun owner needs to start practicing regularly and even provide a basic level of personal protection through everyday carry (EDC) and home defense.
Suggested Training at the Basic Level
At the basic level, we’re talking marksmanship fundamentals, basic first aid, initial defensive training, and possibly concealed carry. If starting from zero, I have a few suggestions:
- Basic firearms safety from certified instructors
- Project Appleseed for marksmanship fundamentals
- Stop the Bleed medical training
- Defensive Handgun Level 1
- Concealed carry training course
- Defensive Carbine Level 1
At the patrol level, we’re more serious about how we carry and “feed” our weapon. We’re also looking at basic gear for working outside over extended periods. In Scenario-X, this would be the suggested basic kit for a small team of neighborhood defenders at LERTCON 4 and early LERTCON 3.
Incorporate a battle belt with two pistol mags, two rifle mags, a first aid kit, and a holster. You could add space for a canteen pouch if you want, but it’s not required.
I’m not picky about whether this is a MOLLE belt or an inner/outer belt set up. Both will work fine. I do think it’s important to keep discretion in mind, so don’t make it too bulky. You might want to wear this belt under an outer layer of clothing for better concealment.
I’ve also included a fixed blade knife for outdoors tasks like cutting, carving, and starting fires. At this point, our average civilian should start looking at land navigation, signaling, and basic survival gear. Each of these items are small, so plan for redundancy.
- Land Nav: GPS unit, compass, map, protractor
- Signal: Whistle, signal mirror, VS-17 panel, maybe smoke
- Fire building tools: lighter, ferro rod, paraffin cubes, etc.
I left radios out to focus on communications within audio and visual range. This is less expensive to get involved with, and it starts teaching the right lessons about communication early on.
This level of gear, combined with the basic equipment, is everything you need to start doing training and competition. That doesn’t mean only firearms training, either, but medical, bushcraft, fieldcraft, and more.
In all, the average person with a complete set of patrol kit, and the preceding basic level gear, is in a pretty good position for most things.
Why Three Mags?
Remember that we’re not at war, and we’re not planning to advance to contact. The goal is remaining light, mobile, and in a defensive posture.
You’re not looking to engage in a pitched battle or big firefight here. If 90 rounds of rifle ammo per person isn’t enough to break contact or deter a threat, then you have a very different problem.
That said, if you’re actively out patrolling the community during a disaster, then adding on the sustainment layer helps with the amo question.
Suggested Training for the Patrol Level
At this level, there’s not many new things to learn compared to the basic level. Instead, you should spend time practicing what you already learned and engaging in competition. I’m including a team tactics training course for good measure, but it should be lower on your priority list than the land navigation and survival training, which you’re far more likely to need first.
- Basic land navigation training with topographic maps
- Basic survival training that covers fire building, emergency shelters, water purification, signaling, etc.
- MVT Level 1 Combat Team Tactics (optional, and may require extra gear)
- Action shooting matches with carbine, handgun, or both (i.e. two-gun matches, steel challenge, NRA America’s Rifle Challenge)
At this level, we’re not thinking specifically about more fighting gear, but instead focused on better and more comfortable survival.
Here, I’ve included a 15 to 20 liter assault pack to serve as lightweight general purpose storage. In the pack you’ll include an emergency shelter kit, 24 hours of nutritional needs, extra water and water purification kit, supplementary medical supplies, and additional ammunition stored in magazines or bandoliers.
Speaking of ammunition, by this point you (and every member of your group) should own at least six reliable magazines per primary weapon.
The goal here is to continue with your existing Patrol and Basic kits, and then add a backpack to keep you supplied for 24 hours. I expect a lot of questions about why not put the extra ammunition on a chest rig, and the answer is a matter of posture.
What I said about 90 rounds being enough to immediately respond to a threat still stands. You’re not trying to come off as the aggressor. The main difference now is that should things go bad, you have enough ammunition available to break contact and get to cover, then dig in for a fight while help responds.
If you want to buy that cool chest rig now, then go for it- but I don’t think it’s necessary. I did, however, add room for an additional 30 to 45-liter rucksack for extended capacity, but it shouldn’t be your priority.
Suggested Training for Sustainment
I don’t think there’s anything particularly new to cover regarding sustainment level. It’s about continuing to refine your abilities with what you’ve already learned. So for training, I would prioritize any of the suggested training I’ve mentioned so far that you haven’t already attended.
If you have gone to those, then this would be a good time to start putting things together with field training performed at places like One Shepherd Leadership Institute.
In particular, these courses from their catalog stand out, as they review concepts you might already have learned while also introducing you to the next levels of the hierarchy:
- One Shepherd Warrior Basic Course
- One Shepherd Land Navigation
- One Shepherd Warrior Advanced Course
I’ll note that some of these courses may require gear that I haven’t suggested just yet, and that’s fine. Deal with that bridge when you come to it.
The Scout Level
I’ve gone back and forth with what to call this layer of the pyramid. I called it the Scout layer to emphasize gathering intelligence and providing early warning. The goal here is still to avoid a fight, and the best way to do that is by knowing what’s coming.
I could also called this the specialization layer, because it’s the first place where I don’t think everyone should invest in the same things. If you want to be a completely well-rounded citizen, then this a good target, but you could also easily start dividing up who owns what gear and goes to what training amongst the group.
Because this layer is about gathering and sending information, the first two items I listed are observation gear and line of sight radio capability. For observation, this means binoculars, spotting scopes, telescopes, or anything that lets you get a better look at what is going on.
For radios, I’m suggested relatively low power (i.e. 5 watt) handy talkies in the VHF and UHF bands. In a Scenario-X situation, these would be used in accordance with Signal Operating Instructions (SOI), which is a topic for another day.
I also suggest additional gear for cutting and digging in the wilderness. This might mean axes, shovels, saws, or any numebr of tools that better help you construct defensive positions, hides, shelters, or other items.
Remember, you’re still trying to keep a low (but professional) profile, and these tools give you an edge over an adversary withour your knowledge and skill.
Lastly, I also think that you should have worked up to 10+ magazines per primary weapon by this point. It’s not that you’re going to carry them with you all the time, but that you want redundancy.
Suggested Training for the Scout Level
This layer is interesting because we’re going to add a few new skills, like radio, and build on existing skills you already learned earlier on.
- Amateur radio technician license
- Brushbeater RTO Basic Course
- Brushbeater Scout and Recce Course
- Wilderness Medical Association Advanced Course
- Pathfinder School Bushcraft 101 Course
- Max Velocity Tactical Recce Course
- Advanced Land Navigation
Obviously, this is a lot of training and these courses have overlap between them. It would be very expensive to try and do all of these, so I say pick the ones that look good to you. I’ve also not been mentioning competitions, but these should still play a role in your training regime to keep skills sharp.
The Fight Level
So far we’ve been trying to avoid a fight. Everything I’ve talked about so far is good for nearly any situation up to LERTCON 3 in our posture system, but now we’re going into LERTCON 2- conflict is likely, and we need to be a bit more aggressive in posture and capability.
Now we bring in supplementary load carrying gear. That could be a chest rig, which you wear in conjunction with your battle belt from the Patrol level. That combination, along with your light assault pack from the sustainment level, provides you a huge amount of flexibility.
Alternatively, you might switch to something like a load bearing harness that replaces both the battle belt and chest rig (and maybe the small assault pack). This option is a great “all in one” solution that allows carrying of just about everything you might need for 24 hours.
If you haven’t done it, then it’s time to start acquiring spare parts like bolts, bolt carriers, springs, and other things that can fail in the field. As a pro-tip, it’s better to carry a complete spare bolt carrier group in the field, as it’s way easier to pop the pins and swap out the whole unit than to try and field strip a bolt carrier just to replace the one part.
Notably lacking from my discussion about “fight” is plates and plate carriers. To be honest, I probably could have put it here rather than the next layer of “special” items. I did not, though, because assuming an “average” level of fitness for people, I think it’s more important to remain highly mobile and lighter. Get the heavier load carriage gear first and train in it, then decide if you think plates are right for you.
Suggested Training at the Fight Level
This stage primarily focuses on winning the firefight with your group. I’m including both the next level of team tactics as well as leadership training. We’re past the basics of team firefights, and on to advanced concepts like raid, ambush, planning, and more.
- Max Velocity Tactical Combat Patrol
- MVT Squad Tactics (Force on Force)
- One Shepherd Light Leader’s Course
- One Shepherd STX Seminar and FTX Simulation
The Specialty Level
At the apex of the pyramid, we find the things that require a larger investment of time and resources to learn. The best way to think about the Speciality level is that it supplements the lower levels of the hierarchy as needed. That said, you should not consider spending money here until you’ve covered the rest of your bases.
Ballistic plates appear here, and they supplement the fight level. Good plates are expensive, and absolutely reduce your mobility through both weight and heat retention. They can be invaluable to saving your life in a serious fight, though. I would argue that they are certainly a requirement for any close quarters situation.
Night vision is expensive and not as “plug and play” as most people think. Moving around at night under NODs is a learning experience for sure, and one that can be quite costly in medical bills or broken equipment if you make a mistake.
I also mention high end communications, so what do I mean by that? We’re talking about the HF frequency bands, mesh networking, SIGINT, brevity matrices, and the other stuff that is takes time and skill to become proficient at.
Advanced medical equipment and training also makes an appearance here. This is where you’re looking at people who seek to become EMT qualified and beyond.
What didn’t make it here? Well, I didn’t really touch on it anywhere else- but this is also where I would start looking at more specialized weapon systems like designated marksmen rifles, long range precision, automatic rifleman configurations (i.e. drum mags, heavy barrels, binary triggers), and the accompanying training to use them all.
By the time you have started thinking about these items, you should have enough training and experience under your belt to best employ those systems.
Don’t take that to mean you shouldn’t get involved in those kinds of things before you hit the apex of the hierarchy. You can do what interests you and pursue those kinds of specialties way earlier on if you like. I’m just presenting them as specialty roles in the grand scheme of becoming proficient.
Suggested Training for the Special Level
You’ve made it to the top of the pyramid. With the courses and gear getting more expensive, you really have to pick and choose what you want to get involved in. Here are some suggestions:
- Amateur Radio General License
- Brushbeater RTO Advanced Course
- Brushbeater Signals Intelligence / Radio Reconnaissance
- MVT Night Operations
- Designated Marksman Rifle Training
- Precision Rifle Training
- Polaris Imjin Scout Series
- Tactical Driving Course
That gets us to the end of the gear-buying hierarchy. I encourage you to use this as a reference for yourself and your friends. The big takeaway is that we often don’t need as much “stuff” as we think we do, but buying it anyway feels good. We see pictures of cool dudes wearing their gear and think, “man…I need that.”
But we have to ask the question, and be honest withourselves…have we actually covered our bases first? What’s the most likely thing to happen that I’m not already prepared for, will that piece of kit help me there?
I especially think it’s a bad idea to buy equipment that requires a high level of training or fitness that we don’t possess. Solve those things first before moving on to the next shiny object.
Excellent post and schematic. I’ll be that guy and add in another piece of gear: Under Patrol, I would add a 3A vest or 3A panels in a minimalist PC w/no load bearing capability (think Beez Extreme Concealment), for an excellent weight/protection tradeoff to go along with your discreet warbelt during those sketchy times when you have to fill up gas, go into town to check out a farmer’s market etc. If this post reaches more people it will save them all a ton of money, time spent thinking/evaluating, misdirected training. This frames equipment to match existing capabilities and skills… Read more »
Hey JD, I do see the value in the 3A vest or panels for a PC. I suppose the question I’m trying to wrestle is becomes when it’s time to buy that kind of equipment. I’m not trying to sway anyone against it, only putting few other things at a higher priority.
And thanks for sharing!
Great post Matt! I knew the ‘Scenario X’ concept format was going to open doors and freshly revisit popular topics. Bet there’s lots of discussion on the Discord! The pyramid’s level of skill and gear ascension is an easily understood format. I’ve been caught many times on the seesaw between the ‘fight’ and ‘scout’ levels (not that I’ve mastered the lower levels) – making gear decisions to go ‘heavy and ready’ or lean towards ‘light and fast’. As I age – I’m learning ‘lighter and stealthier’ is in my best interest! Ultimately it depends on the realistic scenarios one expects… Read more »
Matt – Hope you don’t mind – I see your logo in the corner but I printed myself off a copy of your chart – just for personal reference. It’s good and I’ll like it handy when I ‘see something shiny’!
I don’t mind at all, that’s why I put it out there. The logo watermark is just in the event this graphic finds it’s way into the wider internet through copy/paste
Cool – thanks! Really good article and sorely needed! I think it will make its way around with interest on follow up related content. I had to stop buying gear for a while – way too much I’m not sure I’ll use and credit cards need some attention – yikes! BTW – I have a slew of magazine/ammo shoulder/sling bags I thought would be a fast quick response solution versus a battle belt or chest rig in the event I need to go ‘heeled’ quickly. Running out the door kind of thing – not a planned patrol or engagement. I’ve… Read more »
Thanks, Paul! This one was fun to think through, though I do suspect it will open up more questions than answers for a lot of people, lol.
To your point, someone who has the gear and training to competently exist at the “patrol” level is very well of for most situations- far more than the average citizen.
‘…competently exist…’ – I like that!
Something worth mentioning that really shines within this ‘hierarchy’ outline Matt reworked isn’t just the gear but the training levels. If one just isn’t a ‘tactical’ kind of citizen and you feel comfortable say at the ‘basic’ or ‘patrol’ level of capability and work within that – you could still seek advanced training in medical treatment, communications or logistics coordination for emergencies of the more natural kind. This format is flexible enough to allow you to be a capable participant at any level and contribute to the community survival – if you so choose.
I just got my first rifle and I have a question, do you recommend the magazines first or making the rifle left handed friendly?
I shoot left handed because that is my good eye and I can run the gun without ambi I was Just curious on your thoughts
Hey Ben, this is really more of a personal preference. For what it’s worth, I would invest in magazines first. If you’re able to run the rifle just fine in the “standard” configuration, then go ahead and run it that way to build proficiency (it also helps you in the event you ever have to shoot someone else’s rifle that isn’t left-hand configured).