A chest rig is a versatile way to carry spare magazines and extra gear separately from a plate carrier, so here’s a rundown on the different styles and the usefulness of each.
Ever since guns became commonplace on the battlefield, their users have sought new ways to carry more ammunition. As firearms technology progressed, so too did the methods of carrying spare ammo, and over the years that meant everything from carrying extra revolver cylinders, wearing bandoliers packed with stripper clips and stuffing belt pouches full of magazines.
What Are Chest Rigs For?
Somewhere along the line, however, the concept of the chest rig began to take form. It was found that strapping one’s magazines across their torso was not only a more comfortable way to carry them than the belt pouches of yore but were faster to access as well. One of the earliest examples, and still one of the most iconic today, is the Chinese Type 56 rig, the classic “Viet Cong” AK rig that was little more than a cotton bib with three magazine pouches sewn onto it. There are far more advanced, versatile and ergonomic chest rigs than that available today, but even the old Type 56 rig can still tote your spare mags just fine.
Ultimately, with such a slew of chest rig options on the market today, it will be up to you to determine which style best suits your needs, your budget and the rest of your kit.
What Are A Chest Rig's Advantages?
The primary benefit of using a chest rig is versatility. When carrying spare mags is the goal, many people today achieve that by attaching gear directly to their plate carrier. While this method has advantages too, it is also much slower to put on and take off and one cannot choose to wear either the armor or the mags independently of one another. By separating the armor and the mag carrier into two distinct pieces of kit, however, one can choose to wear either piece separately or at the same time.
Different styles of chest rigs have different applications as well, and some will suit your needs better than others. Most individuals looking for a chest rig are likely just seeking a convenient way to carry a few spare mags for their rifle, but others are looking for ways to increase their on-person storage of other items as well. A chest rig designed to be worn for days at a time in the field is very different from one designed to sit in your trunk in case of an emergency, so think about how you plan on using a chest rig while browsing different models.
Chest Rig Considerations
Before delving into the major different styles of chest rig, there are a few more basic things that one should keep in mind.
Compatibility With Body Armor
The first consideration is body armor compatibility. Do you plan on wearing a chest rig on top of your plate carrier? If yes, as you browse for one you should think about how each model will interface with the body armor that you own. Gear designed to carry spare magazines can come in many different styles, and some of them play nicer than others with plate carriers. Besides the plethora of different kinds of loadbearing vests, battle jackets and combat harnesses out there, even traditional chest rigs come in different styles. For example, most chest rigs will either have “X” straps or “H” straps in the rear, and most people report that the “X” style is more comfortable when worn over armor. As you browse chest rig options, think about which style would best fit over your specific plate carrier.
The next thing to consider is the type of rifle magazines that you plan on carrying in your chest rig. The sky is the limit for those running something that uses 5.56 STANAG mags, but users of more obscure platforms will need to pay closer attention. If you need your chest rig to accommodate AK mags, .308 mags, PCC mags or anything else non-standard, it will either need to be specifically designed for that platform or be modular enough that one can attach the appropriate pouches to it using MOLLE. Some chest rigs are little more than blank slates of PALS webbing these days too, allowing one to configure them with any pouches that they wish.
Chest Rig Styles
With the previous considerations out of the way, we can begin to look at the different styles of chest rigs out there. A quick peek at chest rigs for sale online will reveal that there are far too many subtle variations in how they’re worn or configured to neatly place them all into separate categories, so instead we will break them down into three general styles based on their intended purposes. Since different models from different manufacturers will vary, this is not a comprehensive list of all chest rig styles, but it will hopefully give you a better idea of the general types and what they were designed to do.
Standard Chest Rigs
The amount of gear that a “standard” chest rig can carry will vary quite a lot depending on the exact model, but this categorization exists only to distinguish them from “micro” chest rigs. If it’s not a micro chest rig, it’s pretty safe to describe it as being either standard or traditional. Chest rigs of this size can be considered somewhat general-purpose, as they’re neither small enough to have the benefits of a micro rig nor large enough to serve as true loadbearing equipment in the field. Most civilians looking to add a chest rig to their kit will be best served by the more general-purpose models found in this category:
Blackhawk Commando Chest Harness
This model is both generic and somewhat iconic, having been used by many Western contractors in the early days of the Global War on Terror. While high-speed operators tend to carry their mags in different ways today, their previous use of chest rigs like this proves that not everything that’s functional needs to be complex or overly expensive. This model was likely inspired by the early Chinese AK rigs but has been updated with a new layout, materials and construction. The “X”-style harness system should make it decently comfortable to wear over body armor and it has enough space in its pouches to hold at least eight mags plus some other gear. MSRP: $148.45
Haley Strategic D3CRX
This model from Haley Strategic is a much more modern design. It can be worn either as a traditional chest rig when using its “X” harness or attached to the front of a plate carrier using a clip system. While it can hold fewer rifle mags than the model from Blackhawk, the mags are quicker to retrieve. It also has more provisions for carrying gear besides rifle mags, including pistol mags and medical supplies. Modern chest rig systems like this can also typically be expanded with the addition of more pouches, making them more suitable for longer periods spent in the field. MSRP: $199 at haleystrategic.com.
Micro Chest Rigs
Micro chest rigs have been in vogue lately, but just like many other trends in the tactical gear community, this too shall pass. Micro chest rigs certainly have their place, and for some individuals, they may be the best option, but far too many have been convinced that a micro rig is all that they will ever need. If you’re in the market for a chest rig as a way to keep some spare mags alongside your truck gun, a micro chest rig is a very compact and portable way to achieve that. But if you’re putting together a loadout that you intend on breaking out during the zombie apocalypse, you’re probably going to want more than three or four mags on your person. Keeping these limitations in mind, micro chest rigs will be some of the most comfortable that you can wear and are worth considering for certain applications. Here are two popular models:
Spiritus Systems Bank Robber
This is about as “micro” as the micro rigs go. As the name of this model somewhat implies, it was designed to be small enough to be concealed under a jacket or hoodie if need be. While I seriously doubt that Spiritus Systems endorse using their rig for anything nefarious, concealability can be a concern for law-abiding citizens too. Space on this rig is very limited, but that’s the sacrifice for it to be as small and light as it is. MSRP: $96.85 (sum of the three pieces required to assemble) at spiritussystems.com.
Haley Strategic D3CRM Micro
This is very similar to the larger Haley Strategic model, just more compact and with less space for gear. It can accommodate inserts for different calibers of magazines and the placard can be attached independently to a plate carrier as well. The biggest advantage of this model over something more “micro” like the Spiritus is comfort, as the harness straps are much wider on the Haley Strategic model. On the flip side, however, even this micro chest rig is too bulky to be concealed when loaded with gear and it doesn’t roll up to be as compact as other models. MSRP: $175 at haleystrategic.com.
Surplus Chest Rig Options
Milsurp gear can always be a good option too, especially for those who use weirder rifles. 7.62 AK mags can be troublesome to find compatible chest rigs for, so Combloc military surplus bought online is a decent way to find gear that works. A lot of military surplus equipment like this is also more loadbearing in nature, typically featuring more pockets and provisions for carrying gear. Surplus rigs won’t be the fastest or most tactical of options, but they can still be excellent pieces of kit for the right application. Regardless of the rifle you use or the intended role of your chest rig, you should be able to find a compatible piece of surplus equipment. Here are two of the more popular pieces of surplus gear that people still use today:
A very solid yet still affordable piece of surplus kit is the American LBV-E rig. This was designed to be worn over body armor and can carry at least six AR mags plus some other gear. It can also have a webbing belt attached to it for carrying a holster, canteen or anything else one might desire. These are still common enough that you could probably find one at your local surplus store today for well under $50.
South African Pattern 83 Chest Rig
South African’s and Rhodesian’s affinity for full-power rifles has made their surplus gear popular with those who use the same in the U.S. The Pattern 83 rig has been praised as a very simple, rugged and comfortable way to carry spare mags and supplies. They can fit up to six AR mags and earlier models also had ejector straps for compatibility with shorter 20-round .308 magazines. These can still be found for sale online, but their collectability makes them a bit more expensive to acquire.
With the popularization of plate carriers and body armor amongst tactically minded American civilians, chest rigs aren’t the staple of kit that they once were. That doesn’t mean they can’t still be very useful, however. A rig that’s been properly chosen and configured for its role can be one of the most comfortable and convenient methods for toting around extra stuff, so they’re still worth considering for anyone putting a kit together. Just remember to train with it on before you’re forced to wear it when it counts.
More Tactical Gear
- Body Armor Buyer's Guide
- Picking A Plate Carrier Setup
- Configuring A Battle Belt Setup
- Choosing A Plate Carrier Backpack
- Find The Right Plate Carrier Accessories