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What the Heck is a Chest Rig?
In the simplest way I can think of, chest rigs are a form of tactical gear storage that is mounted on the chest.
Many will agree that chest rigs are likely to be one of the most important parts of your tactical gear, as they provide a critical role by giving you instant access to the equipment which you may need during an emergency.
Got to tell you though, even for the more adept among us in the world of tactical gear, chest rigs are, you may say, a world within a world – that’s how intricate and complex chest rigs are.
As such, I thought it would be practical and useful to share with you some basic information which I feel is somewhat essential to anyone that is considering buying a chest rig.
About Chest Rigs
A Quick-Look at History
While I cannot be too precise as to when and where chest rigs first came into being, I can say that there is a long history where ancillary equipment, not necessarily the military equipment as we know it today, but things like bandoliers that stretched across the chest which were used in our World Wars to carry extra weapons such as grenades and spare clips.
I personally think that chest rigs became ever so popular with their use by regular Army Ranger units which gained them the title of Ranger Assault Carrying Kit [RACK], which utilized the MOLLE type modularity in a more traditional chest format.
I think it is fair to say this was the first so-called modern version of the tactical chest rigs as we know them today.
Chest Rigs - Related Terms
So, like I said before, “chest rigs” are in a world of their own, and I was not kidding.
There are many terms, expressions, words, all of which are unique to and/or associated exclusively to these rigs and, consequently, you should become somewhat familiar with them.
For instance, I made mention of the term “MOLLE” in the “Quick Look at History” above – an acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, used to define webbing and pockets in the current generation of load-bearing equipment and backpacks of choice for most NATO armed forces, including but not limited to the United States.
I also made mention of the word ‘bandolier’, or a ‘bandoleer’ - a term which refers to a pocketed slung-sash style belt used over the shoulder to hold and carry ammunition across the midriff and chest.
So, as you enter the unique chest rig universe, you will also come across the word ALICE.
Do not be misled relating it to the children’s tale “Alice in Wonderland” – nothing to do.
Instead, ALICE is the name given to a system in 1988, which, like the “Integrated Individual Fighting System [IIFS] used a gun belt threaded through the bottom loops but moved the load higher up the torso.
What to Look for in a Chest Rig
If you want to know what to look for in a chest rig, you must first understand the primary benefit of chest rigs and that can be summarized in one word: “mobility.”
Yes, the primary benefit of chest rigs and plate carriers in general is, without question, the ability to get things off the beltline reducing interference with other body parts such as the back and legs.
Vis-à-vis, the hazards come from “overloads” are, for the most part, related to putting too much stuff in your torso, to where you will be hindering heat management.
With mobility being a primary criterion to consider when purchasing a chest rig, you must give the chest rig’s wearing style and construction a priority consideration on your purchasing decision.
One common mistake made by many newcomers is buying chest rigs that are worn too low.
You must remember chest rigs are meant to be worn high and tight on your chest to keep it from being in the way of other things strapped to your body.
Make sure your chest rig is one that you can use easily.
A common mistake of first-time chest rig buyers is their misguided appeal to buy rigs with too many pockets, which will inevitably result in overloading and/or over stresses that hinder the mobility that you are looking for as your primary objective.
Other Important Considerations
To keep it as simple as I possibly can, chest rigs come basically with two types of harnesses, known as “X” harnesses, and “H” harnesses.
Both can be worn by just about anyone.
It is all a matter of personal preference, strictly based on comfort – all relative to your build.
Historically, people, especially women, with smaller body frames find that “X” harnesses are more suitable or more comfortable to wear.
On the other hand, folks with bigger body frames may feel more comfortable with the “H” harnesses.
As a rule-of-thumb though, “H” harnesses tend to distribute the weight more evenly across the body.
Making the Final Decision
I think it is fair to say that the ultimate decision on which chest rig to buy, will be intimately if not entirely related to the proposed or final objective, the purpose, or intention of your rig.
If you are in the military, in the law-enforcement community or equivalent, your line of duty will demand for you to carry certain gear or ammo which you would not necessarily carry if you were just into, say, hunting and/or are just a tactical gear fan as I am.
As it is virtually impossible for me to give you advice and try to cover all the varied objectives, I have opted, instead, to approach this diversity dilemma by adopting a generic criterion in my review which intends to cover as wide a range of options as possible.
That said, below please find my preference list of chest rigs, which I hope will prove to be a valuable contribution to your final decision-making process.
What Are The Best Chest Rigs?
1. SKD Tactical PIG All-MOLLE UCR
So, I have owned the SKD Tactical PIG for a year now.
And like I was telling you before, my priority in determining which chest rig was best for me, had most to do with how much or how little I could carry.
This PIG rig gave me the ability to carry as many as 8 M-4 mags.
The outer mag pouches have fully adjustable and removable Velcro shoulder and waist straps which helped me secure them tight.
The other two inner pouches have only one elastic.
In addition, you also have 4 pistol mag pouches in the front that are rather useful for carrying other ancillary equipment such as knives, lights, or other similar items as well.
I must say though, I am a medium body frame so the “X” style harness on the PIG offered me the comfort that I was looking for in a chest rig.
That said, however, this manufacturer also offers an “H” harness adapter, which I personally found a bit uncomfortable as it tended to rub on my neck.
This system has MOLLE webbing on both sides, which allows you to mount-up your GP pouch, your IFAK or similar gear.
The Velcro pockets on it allow you to carry maps or equivalent inside the rig.
In addition, there is a mesh pocket for additional storage of a variety of items.
While you cannot attach directly to plate carriers, the clips, however, can be attached to plate carriers using MOLLE adapters.
All in all, in this SKD Tactical PIG All-MOLLE UCR, I found that balance that I was telling you about before, which is, my ability to do a lot carrying in a relatively compact system.
Made of heavy-duty 1000 D Cordura construction it comes with a lifetime guarantee, which made the difference for me and helped me choose this system as my preferred chest rig.
2. Mayflower UW Chest Rig Gen IV
Coming in at a close 2nd in my list of best chest rigs, is the Mayflower UW Chest Rig Gen IV.
Unlike the previous Gen III version, this one features total detachability of the harness to allow the vest’s integration with Mayflower’s body armor.
The UW is a low-profile mission built for the ambidextrous among us, again, now featuring shoulder strap adjustment capabilities on the front where the chest rig connects to straps.
The Swift Clip style buckles can be removed and relocated to higher or lower levels positions for a better fit.
Whereas I have admittedly shown my bias for “X” style harnesses in the past, the UW’s “H” style on this one, featuring loops to route antennas, comms wires and hydration bladder tubing, made me a believer out of me on this style harness for this chest rig.
All materials and workmanship are 100% made in the USA, which just contributed to the preference position in choosing this system.
3. Viking Tactics VTAC Assault Chest Rig
At the 3rd spot on my preferred list of best chest rigs comes the Viking Tactics VTAC Assault Chest Rig.
Designed by the Special Ops Soldiers for military training purposes, the Viking Tactics is made with the highest quality standards and materials.
The straps are of superior quality and construction with sewn-in loops to attach your gear.
The belt has a low profile sitting closely to the body providing for freedom of movement without sacrificing comfort.
The VTAC features 4 M-4 mag pouches, 2 radio pouches, 2 mag slots and two auxiliary pouches.
Made from ballistic grade nylon the Viking was designed to hold significant weight.
This rig has it all.
4. ATS Slimline Chest Harness
Ranking 4th in my list of preferred chest rigs is the ATS Slimline Chest Harness.
I have owned this one for quite some time and could not be more satisfied with what it offers.
Made in Hopkinsville, KY by ATS, this Slimline is warranted against defects in workmanship and manufacturing.
This chest rig can be used as a stand-alone chest harness, or it can be clipped to the ATS Aegis Plate Carrier.
At 21 ¼ inches wide and 6 inches tall, the harness center section features four individual rifle magazine pockets with bungee pull tabs covered with SureGrip™ non-slip material.
There are three channels rows of PALS webbing on either wing for attaching MOLLE compatible pouches, i.e., first aid, radio, etc.
The harness on the SLMCH is quickly detachable.
This system also features a 4-inch wide and a 6-inch tall Velcro-closed flat pocket at the top of each wing, sufficiently large to accommodate a single magazine which means the harness will carry a basic load – that is, four magazines in the main pockets, one each in the flat pocket, left and right, and one in the primary weapon.
The center section features an 11 ½ inch wide and 6-inch map pocket.
Do yourself a favor and look into this chest rig before making your final decision – you’ll be glad you did.
5. Condor MCR6 Rapid Assault Chest Rig
At the number 5 spot on my list, I have the Condor MCR6 Rapid Assault Chest Rig and here is why.
As I told you before, good weight distribution of the gear is essential to any chest rig fitment and the ability to add on weight to the existing rig or vest.
What I personally found in the Condor MCR6 is that it is extremely light weight, comfortable and very affordable.
As compared to most of its counterparts, I have to say this one is a high-quality rig at a rather low price.
The Condor has 6 AR-15 single stack magazines with an additional mesh pocket for a variety of uses such as holding paper, maps, or other convenient gear.
The Condor also features quick detach clips located on the shoulder straps which are easy enough to release, this coupled with 3 rows on MOLLE loops [12 loops per row] on the front of the vest for additional pouches, make the Condor a great chest rig option to consider.
I find the Condor rides comfortably on your body with or without a full load.
After using the Condor for months now, I strongly recommend you include this one as one of your top and most affordable considerations.
Other Chest Rigs to Consider
While I have given you my five top picks of best chest rigs to purchase, they were mostly confined by the limited extent of this review.
I honestly have to say there are some other rigs available in the market today, all of which are deserving of my mentioning them.
If nothing else so as to give you a broader range of options which will only help you make the right decision on which system is best suited for you and your needs..
In addition to my five picks above, you may also want to look into the 10 additional chest rig alternatives which I also find very much worthy of your consideration.
Here is a list of the tactical chest rigs that I find worthy of an honorable mention:
Summary and Conclusions
So, I can best summarize my review on chest rigs by defining them as one of the principal items of your tactical gear inventories.
Like I said earlier, chest rigs are synonymous with practicality in terms of accessing all kinds of ancillary equipment, all of which could make the difference in situations where such access may in fact be detrimental to your safety and well-being – that simple.
As always, there are pros and there are cons to just about everything in life and chest rigs are no exception.
As to the benefits, chest rigs are just a more efficient way to carry and distribute weight loads as compared to other systems, moreover when travelling over level ground.
Chest rigs are just easier to access just because it is all right there in front of you with virtually no interference.
By having the gear mounted high it does not get in the way of ordinary body movements.
The downside or drawback of chest rigs has mostly to do with hindering heat management.
Covering your torso with a chest rig limits the natural heat dispersion from your body, and by default it limits your ability to cool off in warmer environments.
Chest rigs can make it harder for you to get low and, if excessively loaded, it will become more difficult to manipulate your weapon.
Whichever the case, as I have said repeatedly, one of the primary objectives when using a chest rig is to carry what you need while minimizing bulk.
It is best to think of chest rigs as a part of a broader carrying system such as your tactical belt or others.
Bottom line, whatever your final decision is on purchasing a chest rig, just be sure to understand that the whole objective is to be able to balance your mobility and weight distribution without compromising access to your gear.
This balancing act consideration will be detrimental to buying the best chest rig for your needs.