Chest Rigs: Part 2 – The Rigs of Today

Chest rigs of today are a more simplistic design than when first introduced. In this, the second part of our chest rig series, we continue from the (unoffical) history of the gear and continue looking forward on its design. The purpose of chest rigs today remains the same however, as a highly adaptable piece of equipment worn over a plate carrier, webbing, clothing, or other gear. It provides the flexibility and mobility that plate carriers do not, and weigh considerably less. The downside is chest rigs lack the protective value of a dedicated plate carrier, and since its design still constitutes a wrap around the upper torso, heat and moisture ventilation issues still persist.

Generally, chest rigs distill down into three basic categories; minimalist, standard, and heavy. The mission (or purpose) an end-user has often will determine the proper type of chest rig needed.


The role of a minimalist (or micro) chest rig is one that maintains the lowest visibility and/or bulk possible, while still affording the wearer some measure of resources needed. The minimalist chest rig is often concealed under an overgarment, simplistic in design and material, and favored by undercover or reconnaissance personnel and in insurgencies. The downside to a minimalist chest rig is often a sacrifice to comfort, with little-to-no padding in the shoulders or chest platform. Additionally, there is often no ability to adapt or scale a minimalist chest rig beyond its current design.


This category of chest rig is the mainstay of current chest rigs for civilians, law enforcement, and military alike. Worn independently or over a protective vest, carrier, or other equipment/clothing the standard chest rig allots for 2-4 rifle magazines, but has ample material or design to substitute/add other pouches or accessories as needed. More recently, the intent of some chest rig placards is to quickly detach from the shoulder straps (via slide-release buckles) and applied to plate carriers via hook-and-loop material between platforms. In most cases, this category of chest rig also includes those built around the renewed recce concept (thus being modular (i.e. a removable placard), and accommodating to a variety of platforms (AR and/or AK, 5.56 and/or 308 and/or 7.62×39)). The line between standard chest rigs and recce chest rigs is often subjective and one based more on its design to support a specific platform, or variances in more than one type.


A chest rig for heavy use is typically attributed to assault or expeditionary operations and are more reminiscent of the older RACK setup with extensive pouches around the torso for rifle, demo, or support items that support the wearer for extended periods of time. Heavy chest rigs can attach to supportive load bearing equipment quickly in addition to being stand-alone. But the downside to heavy chest rigs is its sheer bulk and weight has a direct and negative correlation to the performance of the wearer.

Chest Rig Features

Commonly, chest rigs today adhere to several major elements that are consistent in its overall design:

Placards are the central workspace for chest rigs. These elements were initially a fixed part of the shoulder straps, but more recently the placard can be removed from the straps and integrated onto a plate carrier. The size of the central placard (and how many magazines it will support) is directly related to which category of chest rig it would fall under.

Pouches on a chest rig can vary in number, size, and configuration. Generally, these are pouches that will support mission needs, be it ammunition, signal/comms, hydration, more weapons, etc. A variety of methods secure these items, and vary between hook-and-loop enclosures, shock cord retention, snap button, kydex, or nothing at all.

The shoulder harness of chest rigs can be either padded or unpadded depending on the design and function. However, the biggest variance in shoulder harnesses is between a X-pattern harness (whereby the harness crosses over the other, between the shoulder blades in the shape of an “X”), a H-pattern harness (where a connective fabric adjoins the two back shoulder straps in the shape of an “H”), or a hybrid (a loose combination between the X and H pattern—often with less connective material).

An adjustable waist strap secures the bottom portion of the chest rig (often the placard) around and to the waist, thus preventing the entire chest rig from flopping around unnecessarily.

Chest Rigs of Tomorrow

With the trajectory of tactical gear, and the re-emergence of recce, chest rigs are only gaining in popularity as a short-term alternative to plate carriers when on prolonged missions or for in training situations. But as conflicts have often proven the impetus to change—without that to drive the military into new waters, then the next level of innovation will likely come from civilian markets.

At SHOT Show the last few years a number of new chest rigs and elements have been introduced by Blue Force Gear, Spiritus Systems, Tactical Tailor, Direct Action, and more. Newer approaches include a “split” chest rig design, as well as newer materials in laminate nylon that are lighter and have a higher abrasion resistance than traditional materials. In all, the direction of chest rigs is almost an assured element to the overall kit, and one the individual will need to consider what purpose they want it to accomplish when selecting.

The “Chest Rigs” editorials are intended as an informative series and a continuation on other useful articles that include explanations to body armor, plate carriers, and common hardware to tactical gear. These editorials are not intended by High Ground Media to sway or convince the reader that one specific brand of gear is superior to all the others. In the end, the intent of this series is to provide the reader with a condensed and focused resource—nothing more.

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