REVIEW – Custom Chest Rig

PRODUCT:           Custom Minimalist Chest Webbing.

 

MANUFACTURER:            Australian Field Equipment (or whatever the business used to be behind the Australian Camping Quartermasters outside the gate of Enoggera Barracks in Brisbane).

 

DESCRIPTION:

Three magazine pouch chest rig to give carrying capacity of six F88/AUG magazines. It was designed to be worn in conjunction with conventional belt webbing (TA-50 for you Gringo’s). 

 

MATERIALS:

1000D Auscam cordura

Fastex clips

Velcro

25mm webbing

 

LAYOUT:

A simple adaptation/version of the venerable chest webbing.

Harness was a simple affair of 25mm webbing crossed over behind the back like most chest webbing on the market, similar to most chest rigs on the market, or a good sports bra worn by women.

There is a Velcro sealed map pocket accessable by the left (non-master hand) behind the magazine pouches.

Three double AUG/F88 magazine pouches are on the front, allowing six 30rd magazines to be carried. The magazine pouch lids are slightly tapered to allow better access.

Magazine pouches are sealed with Velcro. The brass grommets and paracord pull handles were later installed by myself after some time out scrub determining that they were a necessary addition.

 

PERSONAL ASSESSMENT:

This item is kicking it old school. It was my very first foray into custom made bush gear when I was a young, dopey digger.

Since I’ve been recuperating from illness at my parents place, I had opportunity to rat through my trunks of kit and drag out some classics.

Back many moons ago, when I wore the big brass aiming mark of the RAInf on my black beret, serving as a recon scout in a Lighthorse Regt, I needed a slightly different load carrying solution to what I was used to as a grunter in a line Battalion.

Our Regt SOP’s dictated we were to carry a double first-line of ammunition (approximately 10 – 12 magazines). Our patrol commander at the time dictated that it had to be carried on the webbing, rather than use a go-bag at the top of our patrol packs. Most of us were also broke uni students at the time, using the Army Reserve as our major source of income whilst studying full time. Hence, we didn’t want (and often couldn’t) spend a great deal of money on custom webbing and load bearing equipment to make our job easier and more comfortable.

As such, our job as Bde Recon was an interesting mix of mounted and dismounted work. I found that the traditional infantry mantra of never taking off my belt webbing was not suitable in a mounted environment, when I was needed to be a little monkey climbing into, out of and all over armoured vehicles at times.

The first time I found this little piece of instant experience was whilst sitting in a Troop hide, and was asked to pass along orders for the Troop Commander to all the Troop’s vehicle crew commanders. Climbing in and out of the combat door of an M113 with big, bulky belt webbing on around my hips was an utter pain in the backside. Repeat the experience 6 times in a row, more than several times a day, and one can imagine how much of an embuggerance life became for me.

Since we had gotten into the habit of leaving our belt webbing in the middle of the Troop hide (where the back of the cars would only be a few metres apart from each other, especially in close country), we recon scouts were starting to wander around the hide without our belt webbing. This was good for noise discipline, since we were slimmer, but the paranoid little grunter in me was worried about the cars leaving in a hurry, or us having to repel boarders unexpectedly.

For this reason, I started experimenting with a small, minimalist chest rig that could be worn in conjunction with my belt webbing to carry some magazines and a small amount of basic survival items and personal kit. Such items included a milbank filter, small survival kit, my GPS, gloves when I wasn’t wearing them, lip balm, zippo lighter and Silva compass.

I looked at a lot of photo’s from around the world, like those of the NVA/VC and American Green Berets during that conflict, and the Rhodesian forces during their little set-to during the 70’s.

As such, I decided on a South African M83 chest rig at first. It only cost me 50 bucks, and I painted it up to blend in a bit more, and gave that a whirl for a couple of Exercises. I liked the concept, except found the Saffa rig just a bit too big and overkill for what I wanted.

With a bit of research, I came up with the design you see, took it to what was then the only custom sewer in Brisbane at the time and tried this concept.

It worked pretty well for what I wanted to do. I could carry 5 magazines and my old Magellan 310 GPS, and worked damn well when worn in conjunction with belt webbing.

 

PROS –

Minimalist footprint on my chest. I could still access my chest pockets.

Excellent construction. Soon after, the vendor suffered a massive nose-dive in sewing quality and customer service, as others can attest to.

Kept the gear-nazi’s off my back when they started their little time-wasting witch hunts about non-issue gear. I actually got away with this quite a few times because it supplemented issue gear, rather than completely replace it. As such, when that old chestnut of “non-issue gear will fail and leave you without a replacement” was trotted out, I was pretty safe.

Most important of all, it actually allowed me to keep a fighting load of magazines on my person no matter what we had to do. When sitting in a Troop Hide, I still had basic items on me at all times. For such drills as mine incident, where we had to monkey our way to the struck veh and recover the crew, it was excellent to know that if I fell off, or became separated from the Troop or my patrol, I still had enough kit to fight with.

The benefits of this rig was shown on one Exercise we were on, where my personal admin was rudely interrupted when the exercise enemy rocked up to harass us and try to throw *simulated* frag grenades to and *simulated* RPG fire to kill our cars as we sat in a Troop hide. Due to my own stupidity, I was miles away from my belt webbing, and didn’t have the time to fetch it.

Issuing hasty attack orders, I formed my ugly boys up in extended line, and then started to clear the enemy off our position with *simulated* .50 and .30 cal fire from the cars in support.

With the ammunition I was carrying, we were able to successfully push our *simulated* uninvited guests off the perimeter and execute the follow-up attack and pursuit.

Since most of our fighting dismounted was intended to be break contact drills away from superior forces, the chest mounted magazines were much easier to extract for IA drills whilst conducting the tunnel of love away from a contact as we drilled to fight on our knees or standing anyway.

It also worked out nicely, since during a *simulated* break contact, I could keep a constant awareness of my ammunition state and consumption rate with the mags on my chest. If I blew all five mags from the chest rig, and started scrabbling for mags from my belt webbing, I knew I’d have to watch I was doing and slow down.

It was also pretty cheap to have made up at the time. It only cost me a hundred bucks, which in those days was roughly a day’s pay with field allowance.

 

CONS –

The biggest one for me, was heat retention. That load of magazines on my chest, allied with the 50% NYCO uniform we were issued then was a major sore point for me at the time. But that was the sacrifice I had to make for that situation.

With hindsight providing 20/20 vision, the back of the rig could have been covered with some sort of wicking mesh, instead of the cordura back it has currently has.

Also, in order to ensure the chest rig harness didn’t interfere too much with my belt webbing harness, pack harness as well as shouldering and firing a weapon, it had to have no to little padding.

If I had to do it over again, I’d have the straps using a broader webbing, maybe 40-50mm wide, rather than the current 25mm. The narrow webbing tended to cut in after wearing awhile with full magazines. It should be said though, I was [allegedly] a lot tougher then…

The other problem experienced with this rig, was the slight interference when going to ground. Being mounted on my chest, the magazines would raise my profile slightly more than I was comfortable with at times. This wasn’t so much of a problem during our dismounted recon taskings, as I would be very careful how I moved in an OP anyway. But it was a problem if we were conducting assaults as part of the Troop or Sqn, when we’d dismount from the cars and start a combined arms attack using conventional fire and movement, or start the fight-through and be on our guts crawling through the enemy position during the break-in and fight-through.

It only took me a couple of times being winded by a bunch of magazines into my solar plexus to get the height of the chest rig adjusted to the correct height above my sternum.

 

SUMMARY:

For the constraints and circumstances placed on me at the time, this was a decent solution to the problem of carrying the mandated fighting load in the proscribed manner, that could meet my requirements.


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