How to Find the Best Chest Rig for You: A 2022 Buyer’s Guide

WHAT ARE THE MAIN FEATURES OF A CHEST RIG?

While there are scores of brands and models of tactical chest rig, they all share the same key components:

PLACARD

Oriented horizontally, the placard is the main panel of a chest rig. It may be just a small front panel or else wrap around the front and sides of the body.

The placard is the main place on a rig where gear is kept/attached.

Chest Rig placard

CARRIER SYSTEM

Some rigs have a back panel, either built in or available to buy separately. Most chest rigs, though, feature a harness which hooks up to the placard via waist and shoulder straps. There are 2 major types of harness:

X-HARNESS

More old school with the shoulder straps crossing at the back.

H-HARNESS

Each of the shoulder straps is separated at the back by a cross strip – – and which is usually strengthened, it serves as a drag/grab handle to pull a downed wearer to safety or else as a means to carry the rig.

X-harness and H-harness

POUCHES & POCKETS

Not surprisingly, pockets and pouches are used to store things in. They may be supplied with the rig or not. If present, the compartments will either be permanently sewn in or detachable.

To stop the contents from falling out while on the move, it’s customary for them to have some sort of closure (like a sealable flap or a zip) or retention (like a bungee cord or a non-slip lining).

ATTACHMENT POINTS

Whether just dotted about or found all over, such fixtures are there for accessorizing the rig. Extra gear or additional pouches can be tacked on in a couple of different ways:

What’s more, rigs typically come with a number of Velcro platforms. Onto which can be attached the likes of an ID/Identification Friend or Foe [IFF] badge, insignia, flag, or morale patches/tags.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A CHEST RIG?

More specifically, the rewards of bearing tactical equipment on your chest:

VERSATILITY

Whilst hitching gear to a plate carrier or tactical vest has its merits, they’re also more time consuming to put on and take off. Neither is there a choice to wear the carrier/vest and the gear independently.

By segregating the carrier/vest and the gear, there’s the opportunity to use either one alone or both at the same time.

SCALABILITY

Despite the fact that only a precious few models can carry protective plates, most chest rigs are easily worn over body armor.

STORABILITY

Without built-in armor, chest rigs can be rolled up or folded so take up minimal space when being put away.

PORTABILITY

No other load bearing solution is as plentiful or as open-ended for carrying tactical gear on the body as a chest rig.

ACCESSIBILITY

The gear in a rig is right at your fingertips so available in a flash. As long as it’s organized, there’s no need to dig around behind or beside you for items.

And because the load-out is raised on the body, you’ll still have easy access to your gear when crouching, squatting, or kneeling.

MOBILITY

Chest rigs stay higher in your center of gravity so out of the way of the hips as well as freeing up your hands.

The majority of the weight is taken on your shoulders and off of your waist so you’ll be lighter on your feet.

And since the weight’s carried higher on the torso, chest rigs help to conserve energy when moving over level ground (though not when traveling uphill or over bumpy terrain).

Without any other tactical gear on your back, hopping into and out of a vehicle wearing a rig is far less troublesome. And perching on a chair or against a tree more comfortable.

WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING A CHEST RIG?

With so many on offer these days, selecting a worthy chest rig can be tricky.

Yet getsome guns layton can be paramount for those who engage in combat scenarios where the right rig could mean the difference between life and death.

Equally, needing a tactical chest rig to wear for days at a time won’t be the same as one that’s dumped in your car trunk in case of a local or national crisis.

With that in mind, here’s some pointers on what to consider when in the market for a chest rig:

FIT

No matter how epic the features and specs of a chest rig, they’ll pretty much pale into insignificance if it doesn’t fit properly.

Other than less mainstream chest rigs with a back panel, first figure out which type of harness would best suit your build:

H HARNESS

  • Greater carrying capacity and more efficient weight distribution.
  • Easier to don/doff.
  • Better adapted to work with body armor.
  • Might be too big for those with smaller bodies.

X HARNESS

  • Tends to hug the body better on those with smaller frames, and gives better back and chest support for ladies.
  • Comfier to wear.
  • Goes well with low-profile chest rigs in keeping bulky articles out of the way.
  • More prone to riding up when running.

In any case, the harness straps should be fully adjustable and secure. Pay particular attention to those on the shoulders – – too chunky and they won’t function well when low visibility is called for; too thin and they won’t be able to cope with much load.

Unless you’re planning to run the rig over armor, plump for padded straps to help reduce back strain when lugging your load-out.

MATERIALS

Originally, chest rigs were made from cotton. Though canvas can be supremely hard-wearing, nylon is the go-to material for tactical chest rigs nowadays.

Cordura in particular is reputed for being exceptionally rugged and long lasting. To say nothing of it’s superior abrasion/tear resistance and water repellency.

Cordura fabric

Still, you don’t want your rig busting a seam or, worse, the straps ripping at an inopportune moment. So make sure the stitching is tight, and preferably cross-stitched. And look for reinforced stitching in those parts of the rig which will be subject to the most abuse.

Aside from the threads, see to it the zippers are heavy-duty and go with a reliable brand such as YKK. Same goes for the buckles, like the quick-release clips from ITW.

Finally, for peace of mind, check that the rig comes with a manufacturer’s guarantee.

COLOR/PATTERN

Deciding which color/pattern of rig to go for will depend on which environment(s) you’ll be using it in.

Adequate for most situations are the likes of coyote brown/tan or olive drab. To best blend in with your surroundings, opt for multicam. If you’d rather stand out a mile, have the rig black.

MODULARITY

Chest rigs vary hugely in just how customizable they are.

Although rare, some types of chest rigs consist of nothing but pouches/pockets with no PALS rows/columns whatsoever. Hence, you’re stuck with the size and number of pockets/pouches included and no opportunity to tweak the rig.

The positives are that at least there’s no hassle or expense of having to add MOLLE pouches and extra gear. With the added advantage of being ready to go out of the box so ideal as a starter rig.

By far the most common chest rigs are those that come with a mix of modular pouches/pockets and some PALS attachment loops already installed.

These purpose-built rigs too are good for immediate use, but also offer a degree of flexibility for expansion.

Lastly, there are the chest rigs which comprise zero pouches/pockets and only PALS fields. Granted, there’s no choice except to buy modular attachments to deck out the bare rig – – and that requires time, effort, cost, and some expertise.

But a full MOLLE chest rig is the most adaptable option of the lot – – with the freedom to choose both the type and position of extra gear to add on, the rigs can be tailored to your heart’s content. They’re the best bet for veteran rig users or those planning to use the rig for multiple applications.

STORAGE CAPACITY

Given the foremost reason for having a chest rig is to carry gear, it’s only logical to invest in one with enough room to accommodate such.

Think about the type, size and amount of tactical necessities you’ll be taking on-person into the field.

Specially so if you’ll be cramming the rig with ammo – – what type(s) and how many mags will the rig need to hold?

Perhaps with a little extra space for redundancy; or if the circumstances under which you’ll be using the rig changes and calls for adding other gear.

But not so much you can’t lay your hands on the item you need at a moment’s notice.

HOW MUCH DO CHEST RIGS COST?

It’s seldom possible to shop for the best tactical chest rig without also factoring in the price.

At one end of the spectrum, you could snag a second-hand military surplus oldie for under 30 bucks. At the other, splash out 350 big ones and upwards on a shiny new modern rig with all the bells and whistles.

As a guide:

  • Budget chest rigs go for less than $75, but normally trade features and standards for affordable prices.
  • Mid-range chest rigs run to $150, but generally offer more features and improved quality.
  • Any more north a price and we’re talking top-of-the-line chest rigs.

Besides the spend on the rig itself, you may have to fork out for extra pouches or other extra gear. Perhaps even to do your own mods.

Then there’s the expense of the gear going into the rig – – and on that subject…

WHAT CAN YOU KEEP IN A CHEST RIG?

Precisely what bare essentials to stash in your rig will depend on the activity you’re using it for.

A Law Enforcement Officer [LEO] on patrol, for example, will load up with radically different tackle to someone on a tenting trip.

Beyond the obvious firearms ammo (like pistol mags), to give you an idea of what other gear can potentially be put in a chest rig:

HARDWARE

  • Comms – radio and cell phone.
  • Navigational aids – GPS tracking device, compass, and paper map.
  • Flashlight or glow sticks.
  • Multi-tool.
  • Handcuffs (for LEOs).
  • Field knife.
  • Spare batteries.
  • Duct tape.

SELF-PROTECTION

  • Pepper spray (for LEOs).
  • Smoke canisters and stun grenades (for LEOs and military personnel).
  • Handgun holster.

HEALTH & SAFETY SUPPLIES

  • Antiseptic wipes.
  • Bug spray.
  • First-aid kit (IFAK or AFAK).

PERSONAL EFFECTS

  • Important documents.
  • Notebook and pen.
  • Wallet/purse or other valuables.

EATS

  • Energy-rich snacks.

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