The Chest Rig, in my opinion, is one of those indispensable pieces of field kit that every Rifleman should have. Deuce Gear, or Second Line Kit, is a must for any man of action- to haul ammo and other critical items, it’s evolved over time from the humble web belt and pouches to a chest rig in some armies to the vest-type that’s contemporary today. Over time as a young Survivalist, an Infantry Joe and NCO and now just some guy in the woods, I can say that my tastes have definitely changed and refined over time to what I think is optimum today. My friend Hawkeye over at UW Gear makes a great one, and I think his designs present several advantages to Bush-Dwelling Shooters versus the Breach/Bang/Clear fantasy some live in that over time will leave other rigs failing.
From the dawn of warfare itself man has been figuring out how to efficiently carry more ammo, be it a arrow quiver for bows or the possibles bag and powder horn for muskets, giving way to the ammo bandolier with the advent of the cartridge. Over time the magazine pouch became more practical with the very familiar web belt and harness becoming the standard until around twenty years ago, when ALICE gave way to MOLLE. But if necessity is the mother of invention, Joes issued Thompson SMGs in WWII definitely confirmed it. Taking the issued magazine bandoliers and making a chest pouch of them, reloads were now faster with the loads themselves easier to carry.
Others took notice- particularly the Chinese with an extremely simple cotton duck design for the various Combloc weapons used at the small unit level until the widely known Type 56, or Three Magazine Chest Rig. These are still widely available, bombproof (and in some cases become bombs, as it was/is a favorite way to carry a charge for an S-Vest), and like anything made out of Carhartt-style Cotton Duck, will last forever. The fact that they remain ubiquitous in the hands of many indigenous troops should be a testament to their incredibly inexpensive cost. Rhodesian Troops were well known for their Faraday & Son FAL rigs constructed much the same way and were very popular according to all accounts of the users.
Despite their ruggedness, these designs are definitely old compared to a lot of the newer and more flashy stuff on the market; for most magazine pouches, covers which used to protect magazine springs from moisture and mud have given way to the need for speed by having bungee cords in their place. Today much of the issued Field Load Carrier (FLC) Vest to the Infantry still has covered pouches, albeit fastened only with velcro. Troops buy a lot of their own stuff where allowed and a lot of the private label kit markets to door-kicker type mentality. Much of it is meant to be run exclusively with armor or tailored towards urban, supported warfare- a task that should come nearly last on the Survivalist’s small unit tactics list (that is, of course, unless you don’t like living). This leaves only a couple of options out there; old school gear or pouches secured by a bungee cord, allowing dirt and water to cause magazine malfunctions and possibly ripping apart if one has to low crawl.
Keeping magazines clean especially in wet, wooded environments is critical.
Nearly all AR-15 malfunctions come from dirty or bad magazines, no matter what cool-guy brand you think is above breaking, and I’ve even experienced a couple of AK malfunctions from an overly-fouled surplus magazine, so keeping them all clean, and more importantly accounted for, on a patrol is critical. Malfunctions and lost ammo cost lives. Field repairs of ripped bungee cords might seem simple, but having a solid flap is far superior in the first place.
Enter Hawkeye’s design. Realizing all of the points noted, he set out to make the most rugged, dependable and practical chest rig out there, bar none. Being a Survivalist with an Infantry background makes for a field-conscious mentality, with kit designed around addressing the needs of someone possibly working unsupported. His mentality is that his gear MUST work no matter what, and from the examples I own, I must say he’s definitely on point.
He offers two basic designs- a single piece rig and the split front, with preference being the latter from experience. There’s several drawbacks I’ve seen with a single-piece chest rig; it can get hot on the chest after a long movement, it doesn’t breathe as well, and it can put all of the weight on your shoulders for larger loads. A wraparound or split-front design is a remedy to these complaints, while placing the weight of the load a little more even around the torso and shoulders. It’s a little easier to get on over body armor and carries a little better. Above all else, having a split front allows me to completely prone out for the best possible shooting position; the Hawkins if I’m running a bolt gun. It gives the most comfortable position and doesn’t have me laying on top of steel magazines in a hide site for extended periods. Easy on, easy off, and functional while not over complicating my equipment.
Being a fairly minimalist type of guy, my rigs are for ammo first, other support gear second, such as a tied down PVS-14 (because we tie everything down), some extra batteries and having a couple of points for rigging ropes. Most of the other stuff you’ll normally see strapped to people’s kit (if it’s not just junk) is actually Line 1 items, like a fixed blade knife, compass, SOI card, map, or your last ditch signal kit (the “E” of your PACE plan) etc. which belong on one’s belt if running a chest rig setup. But again, this is my experience from a LOT of time patrolling and wearing kit when it matters. That’s the beauty of the UW rigs- they are a no frills, bomb-proof design with that same logic put into the kit.
Take the pouch flaps for example; like I pointed out, the traditional design covers the magazine to offer protection from dirt fouling the springs. The old ALICE pouches had a plastic buckle that made noise- the LBV that replaced it for a bit had brass snaps and velcro. Neither were optimum, but they were used in the days before all the high speed stuff. Today you see a lot of the velcro pouches or just a bungee cord, which work ok but both wear out with use as pointed out. Hawkeye and his associates came up with a solution- make a hardened tab that tucks under a piece of webbing on the front of the pouch, being both quiet, quick, and efficient, with a small strip of velcro on this model for faster closure under duress. This design in my opinion beats any other I’ve used as far as durability is concerned. As you can see from the stitching, it’s built to last indefinitely not taking more than a needle and thread to fix in the event it did fail.
After my great experience with the AK rig I approached Hawkeye with an idea- take the Swamp Fox AR rig and make it hold 8 mags instead of 4; doubling the ammo capacity to be carried and as I told him, I thought it would be the ideal Long Range Patrol rig. And in my opinion after use, it unquestionably is. He doesn’t offer these for sale (yet) but this is, hands down, my favorite design for long range unsupported or partisan patrols. UW Gear rigs are built to stand the test of time in my estimation- this rig got thrashed around in the field, from normal wear to reloads to being drug through a field to better naturalize the camo pattern (real Infantry Scouts will know what ‘naturalizing’ means…crawling through cold mud ) and it held up beautifully. My other ‘volunteers’ which ranged from simply handling the rig to wearing it a bit during some field work were each equally impressed, especially with the build quality. We took our time with it; and the AR-15 version is every bit as durable as it’s AK brother I’ve owned for two years.
If you’re in the market for gear or are looking to buy something not full of snakeoil, that will handle everything you throw at it, UW Gear is the one to get. For Light Infantry style patrolling using skills we used to value like cover, concealment, and effective camoflage; shooting from being covered and concealed positions, etc, this one will serve you better than any other I’ve used. Support your fellow Patriot and get the best out there. You’re gonna need it.