I had to write about something gun oriented and thought “tactical vests” would be a great subject on this overcast slightly rainy morning. Picks up my mood a lot. This is going to be a multi-part series covering a lot of ground. Hang in there and enjoy a whole bunch of information and some cool pictures.
Let’s cover the reason for talking about tactical vests first. I am talking in regards to a scenario where there complete grid has gone down, anarchy reigns, law enforcement personnel are non-existent, and we are just short of the Zombies attacking. In other words, I am talking about something way out there like what I wrote about in my book series “My Journal.”
That being the case, let me share a few thoughts with you about tactical vests. Many of you that will read this article will have seen military service, maybe even combat. There are also some current and retired law enforcement folks that will read this article as well. I probably can’t “teach” you anything new but let me share some thoughts and ideas that you might find helpful or useful in the civilian implementation of a tactical vest.
Let’s talk about the reason for a tactical vest, then I will go into defining its mission.
Reasoning behind a tactical vest can be a little daunting to some folks, especially wives. Most wives will look at a tactical vest and probably snicker. If not an outright snicker, they will be thinking, “boys and their toys” and then smirk. So I will sidestep all of that discussion and talk about the harsh realities of the basis of this scenario.
The number one threat you will face in this scenario is “violence against you and your family or group.” That means you must be able to defend yourself, your family and your group against that threat of violence. No, you don’t have to do it all, but you have to do your part. And that most likely will mean you have a weapon, more specifically a carbine. < click to read about picking the right carbine >
That being assumed, you have to have the support gear and equipment for that AR or it becomes nothing more than a club. And you have to have certain other pieces of equipment to mitigate the other situations, needs and threats you will face it this scenario.
- Lack of communications
Your tactical vest must have the right “stuff” to help mitigate those threats. Not the only mitigation, but the vest plays a role in this effort. Everything must be geared towards that overall goal.
So the mission is defined as:
A carrying system capable of containing and transporting sufficient and appropriate gear and equipment to support a tactical engagement by a single individual.
Requirements & Restrictions –
- The very first thing…comfort! The vest has to be comfortable when you wear it. That means the weight is distributed across the torso, especially the shoulders, in such a way that it is comfortable to wear for hours at a time, walking long distances, and during shoot and scoots.
- All buckles, latches, etc. must be able to operate with gloved hands with minimal manipulation.
- The vest must be able to work in conjunction with soft body armor as well as ballistic plates.
- The material must be heavy-duty and able to withstand constant use in harsh environments.
- The design/pattern of the material must not make the individual unduly noticeable. And, as much as possible, allow the individual as much concealment capability as possible.
- Each pouch must be minimalist and gear specific.
Let me explain the body armor thing first, might help make some of this a bit more clear. I like the idea of body armor, it just makes sense. If someone shoots me and I live, that is a good thing. Body armor help accomplish that. I see three levels of tactical engagement in regards to body armor:
- No armor is worn. For a variety of reason a person doesn’t wear their body armor. Their tactical vest still needs to be fully capable of meeting the mission as defined. So the tactical vest must be independent of any body armor.
- Soft body armor is worn. For a variety of reason a person may choose to only wear their soft body armor. The tactical vest must still be able to by fully functional in compliance with the defined mission. So the tactical vest must be independent of any body armor but completely compatible with soft body armor.
- Ballistic plate body armor is worn with soft body armor. For a variety of reasons a person may choose to wear their soft body armor under their ballistic plate body armor for maximum protection. The tactical vest must be compatible with this option. While not interfering with either layer of the body armor.
- Only the ballistic plate body armor is worn. For a variety of reasons a person may choose to wear only their ballistic plate body armor. The tactical vest must be compatible with this option.
OK, now that I laid that out, you get the idea of what I think is an ideal body armor concept for “grid-down” situation; 1) you may not wear any, 2) you might only wear soft armor, 3) you wear soft armor under the ballistic plate(s), or 4) you wear ballistic plate(s) only. The only way that all works is a vest that is independent of any body armor and has the capability to be worn over all of it.
Did I explain that well enough? I am sure there are some combat veterans out there that believe that hard armor should be worn all of the time. Some may not have worn, or not believe in, body armor for any number of reasons. I think there are so many different situations where different levels of protection are appropriate and/or needed. My point is – The tactical vest needs to be compatible with all the scenarios.
There are a whole lot of options to choose from on the market today when it comes to tactical vest. Everything from dedicated SWAT rigs to Special Forces integrated body armor rigs. And the price can run from a few dollars for old Vietnam era vests to hundreds of dollars for “operator” gear. I am not blessed with an unlimited budget so I had to get something fully functional meeting the mission definition as well all of the requirements and restrictions. So why not check out the experts first…the military.
I bought a basic tactical vest (Fighting Load Carrier – FLC) as seen in the picture to the right. I then purchased a whole host of other tactical vests. I figured those that didn’t meet my needs I would sell later on eBay for just about the same, maybe more, than I paid for them.
Let me start out by saying that there are whole lot of quality comfortable tactical vest out on the market. And, there is a bunch of cheaply made vests trying to hook in folks on the budget end of the buying spectrum. Don’t get fooled, take your time, buy the quality stuff. Quality doesn’t necessarily mean expensive.
I could spend a whole lot of time going into each vest and what I liked and didn’t like about each. But I would rather just tell you which one I decided on, why and how I rig it up. I think our time would be better spent doing that.
1 – The vest. I decided on a military surplus FLC (fighting load carrier) vest option . They were a combination of economical, high-quality, durable, and flexible in design. This style of vest also works well with body armor, hard & soft. There are plenty of MOLLE loops for arranging pouches. The buckles are large and can be operated with gloved hands. Same is true for the Zipper. I tried a non-zippered version and found that it didn’t keep the vest as stable on my torso as I liked. The zipper version gives you that extra stability. But, in a hurry you can just use the buckle to keep it place if you just threw in on and are running for your position.
I also liked the “mesh” of the material. Here is the desert southwest it gets hot as you might guess. Allowing some air movement around your torso is critical to avoid overheating. Even if I lived in snow country I would still use the mesh material. Clothes are design and intended for warmth, not your tactical vest.
While many vests have a back panel built into their vest, I like the military version that doesn’t. The vests with the back panel normally use the panel to support a CamelBak bladder. I understand that, and at first glance it makes sense. But then the more I looked at it, there was so much wasted material on the panel and that added up to heat retention. So I like the idea of no back to the vest but then using a CamalBak carrier for the bladder. See the picture. The additional value is the stand-alone CamelBak can be used independently from the vest which is a nice option to have for all those non-grid-down times.
But not to worry, I am going to show a variety of vests so you can get a solid basis of comparison of the different styles.
Most of you know about the “drag handle” on the back of the vest, if not…well, there is a drag handle on the upper back part of the FLC vest. It can be used to drag your fallen buddy to cover. Or it can be used to hang up the vest next to your bed, or action station when you are not wearing it.
A completely different style than the FLC is the 5.11 VTAC LBE Tactical Vest. This vest is an awesome option and well worth considering if you like this style of vest. The VTAC load bearing vest is built from stiffened mesh nylon that provides outstanding structure and resilience while remaining lightweight and breathable. Hidden document pockets at the chest offer additional covert storage, girth and length adjustments ensure a perfect fit, and a hidden grab handle facilitates emergency exfiltration. The vest also has hidden document pockets, a hydration pocket at rear and is adjustable in girth and length. The vest is made with high impact fastening clips and quality zippers.
Can we talk colors for a minute? I am referring to the color of the tactical vest you are going to buy and use. There are some basic colors of vest on the market today. Generally, they are green, flat dark earth, and black. Flat dark earth is generally best for more arid areas such as the sandbox or the desert southwest and grass lands. Green is generally the better color for timber and jungle country. Black is never good! Well, if you are some SWAT god (at least in your own mind) you want to try and look cool and look intimidating so you wear all black. Yeah, go ahead…sounds good to me.
However, if you are anybody with an ounce of brains in your head you never want to wear black. Black stands out in EVERY environment like a beacon asking everyone to please look at me. Even at night the black vest presents a “blob” of black to the naked eye. But look around you, the night, although dark, isn’t all pitch black. And if someone has even the most basic of night vision device your black vest will look like a bright spot light begging to be shot at. And FLIR also does a great job of showing black as a distinctly identifiable image.
Find the best “background” color for your area (flat dark earth or green) and then use pouches to bring the concealment (camouflage) effect to your vest. Some tactical vest come in a camouflage pattern as well and may well be worth a look if that will fit your needs better.
Here are a couple more examples of vests…
I hope you’ve found some solid information on different styles of tactical vests. There are a lot of options out there, some far better than others. Vest, like most tactical gear, is a matter of personal preference. Find the one that works best for you.
TIP: Once you find your vest…wear it, training in it, and get really used to it. You don’t want to be on the weak side of the training curve when times are already tough.
In my next post I will give you all the information on different pouches, the good & bad, and some options on placement. There will be plenty of pictures showing you some ideas that might just work out for you. It is scheduled to be posted on Aug 5th.
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