"Modern Minuteman" Chest Rigs, Plate Carriers, and Battle Belts
In a Minuteman loadout, battle belts, plate carriers, and chest rigs provide a tiered approach to a combat load that offers flexibility and scalability. The idea of 1st tier, 2nd tier, 3rd tier resonates with me a lot. To me my 1st tier is always going to be a battle belt, a pistol, pistol/rifle reload(s), survival pouch or dump pouch, IFAK ("Individual First Aid Kit" - Ed.), small fixed blade knife, and pouch for a flashlight and multi-tool. 2nd tier means that I am donning either a chest rig or a plate carrier to support myself and a primary weapon. 3rd tier means that I am going to be out and about for a while and may need clothes, food, shelter, extra water and ammo, and whatever else is required for the mission or task at hand.
What's important is that you train with your system (all tiers) and understand the limitations of both your kit and yourself. It all depends on your gear needs and mission details. There are certainly the basics which require extra magazines for both rifle and pistol, IFAK, communications, H2O, and misc. Needs such as a gun cleaning kit, multi-tool, flashlight, small fixed blade knife, etc... The goal is to be self supported with your gear on but yet still be mobile and effective! Think of the battle belt and chest rig/plate carrier combo as your personal work space! Everything you require needs to be within reach!
Battle Belts: (1st Tier)
Lets start with your battle belt! Your battle belt you have your basic essential at hand level. It supports your sidearm and rifle with spare magazines, has your IFAK, dump pouch, pouch for a flashlight and multi-tool, and sometimes a small fixed blade knife!
Battle belts can be custom tailored to your individual needs! Maybe you only want it to support your pistol or just a low profile rig for the range... Maybe you live on a large piece of land and want a quick "grab and go" belt to keep by the back door to check out that "noise" in the middle of the night! Whatever it might be, get one! This is probably the most versatile piece of kit you will have and you can make it work for multiple needs! Make sure you train in whatever setup it is you decide you need or want! Things like running, crawling, and riding in a vehicle can make a big difference as to how you setup your belt up!
Chest Rigs: (2nd Tier)
The concept of a load carrying chest rig or carrier is that the weight of the equipment carried by the infantry rifleman is more evenly distributed over the body. Combining your chest rig with your battle belt and you get what the military considers your "fighting load". This system was originally designed to replace the individual equipment belt, suspenders, and small arms ammunition cases that were in use from Vietnam up through the Persian Gulf war.
The classic Chest Rig is your 2nd tier for your "Minuteman" loadout! This rig enables you to carry extra rifle/pistol magazines as well as additional space for communication equipment, extra 1st aid, TQ, water, smoke grenades, knife, etc... Helps to further distribute your load as well as still keeping everything within easy reach!
Chest rigs come in many styles and arrangements, from plain platforms loaded with MOLLE for you to customize, split-front chest harnesses like the popular Tactical Taylor MAV that are great with a pack and in a vehicle. The split front makes on and off easier as well as when you go prone, to high end, pre-rigged panels that can be switched from your chest rig to your plate carrier, and even some classic, surplus models that are still used by some of our troops today! It is just a matter of finding the one that works best for your needs!
The plain front chest rig allows a clean slate for full customization per mission or individual need! These are lightweight, small in size, and available in reg or split front models.
Easy to wear over concealed body armor, works with a lot of different hydration packs or backpacks, and usually inexpensive! These work great for a lot of guys for their first rig, this way you can train with different pouch and gear placements until you figure out what you like best!
Chest rigs-modular platforms:
The next level of chest rigs is the pre-rigged or modular setup up that already has predetermined pouch locations that are commonly used by US forces. There is an incredible huge variety out there from the high end rigs from companies like Haley Strategic Partners with their popular D3 chest rig, which can be worn by itself, over a plate carrier, or worn with a pack making it extremely versatile and well thought out! Most of these style rigs will be pre-set up so you will want to think about how you really want to use it and how it is going to work for your needs! Also consider what weapons system you are using with it. AR, AK, SKS, M14, etc...
Military Surplus Chest Rigs:
There is something to be said for the classic Chinese/Communist bloc (aka "Chicom" - Ed.) AK and SKS chest rig! Still heavily used today by every 3rd world country, Special Operations units, and just about everyone else in a worn torn area. Cheap to make, tons available due to being used for half a century, and tough as nails there is really no reason for every Minuteman to not have this $15 rig as part of their kit!
The Chicom type 56 AK rig is probably the most popular rig still in use today. The Chinese Chicom Chest Rig changed the way a soldiers would carry ammunition and accessories everywhere. Changing the way soldier's carried ammunition in pouches along belt's to having ammunition stored higher up and closer to their chests allowed for faster reloads and more maneuverability (A soldier can now roll on the ground without having to worry about pouches getting in the way).
The common configuration of the chest rig has three magazine pockets in front which hold single AK or AR Magazines, and two pockets on either side which hold grenades, oil bottles etc. The rig, while being made out of canvas, is extremely rugged and well built. It is also silent in operation, wooden toggles are put inside fabric loops to fully close the pouch flaps, however even with the flaps open, magazines are still kept tightly inside because of the rubber trim inside the pouches. Here are two great examples of configuring one of these chest rigs!
Plate Carriers: (2nd Tier)
When it comes to plate carriers, what you choose to wear and use will depend on your mission, terrain (AO), and climate. What may work for static defense or vehicle operations may not work in steep terrain or over long distances on foot! A full vest with full front and rear plates plus side plates fully loaded my be fine for static positions but for foot operations where the emphasis is on mobility and speed, then a more minimalist style plate carrier may be better suited for your needs! Whatever style you choose, be sure to train with it. Get use to running, crawling, and shooting with it.
Most people are going to go with a minimalist carrier able to hold up to level-IV plates and enough MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, pronounced like the name "Molly" - Ed.) to hold the pouches and gear that you need. The low profile cuts offer more freedom of movement while still offering protection! Many like the Eagle MMAC (Multi Mission Armor Carrier Ed.) fit ceramic, steel, and soft armor inserts on the front and back and removable side plate pockets! Also common amongst this class of carriers are connection points for hydration and assault packs as well as adjustable cummerbunds for fit and comfort!
Having a fully loaded plate carrier is going to limit your mobility. So a lot of folks are going to run a simple plate carrier with front and back plates and layer a chest rig over it depending on the situation that they are preparing for. Others are going to just run a triple mag shingle up front, hydration on the back, and distribute the rest of their loadout onto their battle belt! A lot of those decisions are going to be dictated by your situation and purpose!
For static defense and vehicle mounted operations guys are going to go with the full load out. Level-III or IV plates front, rear, and sides as well as chest mounted mags, IFAK, comms (electronic communication equipment Ed.), hydration, etc... The problem your going to encounter is mobility. Guys prowling and growling are going to be more likely to opt for a low profile carrier and slim battle belt set up that they can move and run in but still require armored protection, be it even a minimum amount!
Putting it all together:
All in all, there really isn't one right answer when it comes to what you decide to wear or use in your Minuteman kit! Keep in mind what your situation and needs are, where you are most likely to be operating, and what you are comfortable with and have experience using! If you are use to the old ALICE (All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment Ed.) and LBE (Load Bearing Equipment Ed.) setups and have trained in it, well then by all means run it! Whatever you decide to put together, please remember to train in it every chance you get and learn to use it!