Virtually every prepper of a defensive bent understands the fact that they, along with their fellows, will be responsible for providing security and protecting that which is valuable when the rule of law invariably breaks down in their area, across the region or even across the nation.
To do that effectively, particularly across a large expanse of rural terrain, you’ll need to carry more gear than you typically would as part of your basic EDC setup. That means you’ll need load carrying equipment.
If you consult Instagram and other social media watering holes you’ll probably notice a trend when it comes to load carriage. Seemingly every, single tactical influencer, Hawaiian shirt-wearing hipster and gun world corporate mouthpiece is sporting an itty-bitty, teeny-tiny chest rig.
This super minimalist piece of gear, typically called a micro chest rig or just micro rig, carries perhaps three rifle magazines and maybe a spare pistol magazine or two with a general purpose utility pouch if the wearer is loaded “heavy.”
They are lightweight, compact, slick and most importantly look really, really cool.
But I am here to assert that despite the ceaseless prattle you’ll hear from legions of sycophants that adore the tactical celebrities whose words they invariably take out of context these postage stamp-sized magazine carriers are not the best choice for someone who is serious about protecting their patch during an SHTF situation. I’ll state my case below.
The Accoutrement of Combat
To determine what our requirement are for our harness, large or small, we must first understand our mission– what it is we are trying to do.
Considering that the harness, in any shape or style, is the piece of second line gear that is primarily responsible for helping us conduct the fight, it stands to reason that the items it shall carry will help us get to the fight, conduct the fight, sustain the fight if required and then leave, hopefully in that order.
What will a well-equipped fighter need? A firearm and ammunition, preferably a rifle with plenty of the latter to feed it, medical supplies, containers for water, navigational equipment, and various odds and ends to otherwise maintain both their body and their equipment. All of these things belong on the harness.
When the time comes that you need any of the above, you must have it close at hand and easily accessible.
If you do not have it close at hand, you may as well not have it at all: If you have it but it is not accessible you might not be able to achieve a good outcome as speed is so often of the essence when solving a tactical problem.
For instance, when additional ammunition to feed your primary weapon is required you need it PDQ; pretty damn quick. If you’re forced to rummage around and your backpack to fish that ammo out things will probably not go your way.
Both the micro rig and more traditional load-bearing vests can certainly carry what we need, that much we know, but the micro rig starts to falter in our other performance criteria.
How Long Are You Going to be Fighting?
The next logical question when considering what we must carry in order to conduct a fight ably is how long we are going to be fighting, or rather how long will the fight last. Remember, the bad guys get a vote, too!
Much of what you will read concerning the matter, in any civilian context, varies from “total lack of context” to “fantastical imaginings.” When we try to determine what our fight will look like, we must consider the circumstances in totality to do so accurately.
Considering that the average civilian living in the West in normal times will only be facing a fight that is very short and sharp except under the most unusual or rare circumstances. For example, the typical street self-defense or home invasion encounter will be decided in a matter of seconds typically, win or lose.
A considerable amount of study and experience in this particular domain informs our equipment selection, producing the determination that a handgun carrying a handful of rounds is entirely adequate to solve this particular tactical problem the overwhelming majority of the time.
But this presently “typical” fight modality may very well change in the aftermath of an event that eliminates or suspends the rule of law.
Fights that are short and sharp in kinder times are only that way because criminals know that the victim’s cavalry, in the form of police or civilian reinforcements, is not far away, and also because they do not truly need to win in order to eat or survive.
The logic is much of the time that there is an easier mark in greener pastures just around the next bend. The reasoning, and even specific demographic, of your aggressors is likely going to be different post-crisis.
Living in the circumstances that preppers, well, prepare for means that your antagonists will have much less to fear from organized law enforcement or other paramilitary forces with their radios, vehicles, prisons and plentiful weaponry.
More to the point, they may very well not be “jobbers” looking to make an easy score and pad their bank account, but instead will be pursuing resources, your resources, that are now literally a matter of life and death in this new society.
We can look at similar situations occurring in the modern, civilized world all over the globe to confirm this, situations resulting from war and societal breakdown, and also confirm that the bad guys you might be dealing with now could arrive in substantial numbers, heavily armed and surprisingly well organized.
The problem has then morphed from one of individual or small team self-defense in case your spouse or partner is on the same page to that of a legitimate small unit action, with you taking on bad guys that are potentially platoon level in strength, perhaps even larger.
Do you feel confident tackling this tactical problem with your EDC loadout of a handgun a couple of mags? How about with your trunk or “truck” gun consisting of a long gun and your little bitty micro chest rig hauling a couple of extra magazines? If not, why not?
A Post-ROL Shootout Could Get Nasty
It’s time to start thinking about the problem in a new context, because it is very likely that the specific parameters of your shootout in a post-ROL setting could look very, very different from the fight you have likely been training for your entire life, e.g. a typical civilian self-defense encounter.
Not only will you be dealing with multiple assailants, but you could very well be dealing with a truckload of them, all of them armed with long guns, and very likely ones with automatic fire capability.
As soon as you and yours start putting up a fight there is no guarantee they will just pack it in and go home.
Consider that, like usual, such attackers are likely to be far more comfortable with violence than you are and that your little, happy homestead or bug-out location is likely not the first one they have raided. I guess I’m trying to say that you must expect them to be better at this and more determined than you are.
Ask any combat veteran what a modern shootout looks like: they will likely tell you that a typical gun battle consists of rounds being ripped off on both sides fast and furious. Shooting takes place not just as careful, well aimed shots on either side.
Fire superiority is a thing, and especially critical for surviving a small unit battle. An attempt is made to fix and suppress the enemy with fire to prevent them from moving and only then does the business of maneuvering on and destroying them takes place.
Have you ever done a mag dump at the range with your favorite AR or AK? 30 rounds goes real fast, doesn’t it?
Now consider that in the context of your ammunition load as carried by your chosen harness: Your trendy micro rig carries an additional 90 rounds, perhaps 120 if you have it loaded very heavy, or are carrying larger than standard magazines.
A typical, true load-bearing harness will carry upwards of eight magazines as a rule, with many of the best carrying 12 magazines or more. In the latter case that is 360 rounds in reserve. Which war load would you prefer if you were going into a fight against a numerically superior and determined enemy?
A Micro Rig is Super Specialized
You will be moving and fighting as “infantry”, an on-foot fighter, when the time comes, whatever your actual profession is, and for conducting a basic infantry fight a micro rig is sorely lacking.
It carries a pitiful amount of additional ammunition. It may have a single utility pouch to carry a small water bottle or a radio, perhaps a smoke grenade or some other device.
This is completely inadequate for a fight that is very likely to occur in the situation that you are otherwise preparing for.
So what is a micro rig actually good for, aside from racking up likes on Instagram?
A micro rig is exactly what it appears to be, and this informs our determination: a super minimalist, low profile bare-bones rig that can supply the wearer with a couple of reloads, and conveniently carry one or two pieces of supplementary equipment. That’s all.
It is not intended nor designed to help the person wearing it stay away from base or camp for any length of time or help them conduct a rip-roaring, proper fight.
So who is the micro rig for? A micro rig is for people who have a genuine need to conceal, or at least passably conceal, their additional ammunition and equipment. Under a coat or zippered sweatshirt such a rig might go undetected by passersby at a distance.
A micro rig also works well enough in settings where the friendly force can expect reliable numerical supremacy and a large load is simply not required. For instance, a police officer might choose to don a micro rig as a supplement to deploying his long gun on perimeter duty, with several or dozens of other officers similarly equipped close behind.
With even more equipment and sustainment supplies close at hand in his patrol vehicle he needn’t worry about sustaining himself off of his harness.
Some preppers might believe their micro rig is entirely adequate for defense of group and property during a bug-in scenario considering you’ll have the bulk of your supplies very close at hand, but this will not help you once the fight is on and you must fight from a position.
If your fighting supplies are not within arm’s reach, preferably on your body, you are doing it wrong.
Your Harness Must Allow You to Execute the Fight, Period.
It is imperative that your harness support you and everything that you do while actually in a fight for your life, or moving in a condition when a fight is likely or suspected. One thing that a traditional LBE-style harness has in spades over the trendy micro rig is in supplementary storage.
Aside from ammunition, a traditional, full featured harness will have room for:
- map and compass,
- a medical kit,
and other utility gear, items that you’ll be interacting with regularly. Many suspender- and vest-type harnesses also feature an integrated, daypack sized backpack that can potentially replace a carried pack entirely depending on your specific requirements.
These are important considerations, especially in rural environments when you might be patrolling far from camp or making a straight line transit from one waypoint to another.
Whether you carry a backpack or, not a micro rig simply does not furnish the necessary amount of storage.
Proponents of such will often talk to the advantages of a modular system that allows you to add a “kangaroo” pouch, utility pouches on either or both sides, and additional expansions here or there.
Unfortunately, by increasing size and bulk of the micro rig you take away what few advantages they confer as it mutates into a form factor closer and closer to a- you guessed it- traditional LBE, only one that is improperly balanced, comparatively fragile and does not properly distribute equipment across the wearer’s body.
The bottom line is this: If you are getting a micro rig because you think it is cool or you have a genuine requirement for such a low profile piece of load carrying equipment, knock yourself out, but if you are a prepper who wants a general purpose piece of gear that can actually help you survive and sustain when the chips are down you should be looking at gear with far greater capacity.
The Best “Traditional” Harnesses for Your Consideration
Below you’ll find my recommendations for adaptable, capable and full-featured harnesses that will provide you with storage a micro rig-wearer could only dream of as they suck the dirt next to their three empty rifle magazines while rounds crack over their heads. All are proven systems or proven designs made by reputable manufacturers.
Safariland SPEAR ELCS
Originally fielded by the U.S. military around 1998, this innovative load carriage system was configurable, compatible with a matching BALCS body armor system and an accompanying backpack.
Of particular note is that the ELCS (enhanced load carriage system) could be worn in an H-harness, half-H, LBV or half-LBV configuration making it adaptable and comfortable when loaded light or heavy.
Compared to the super slick, super lean laser cut PALS platforms of our day, this thing looks like a bulky monstrosity, but it is not nearly so bulky or as cumbersome as it looks.
These things were made to last with typical Safariland quality and you can happily pick these up used for about a hundred bucks, still a bargain so long as it is in good shape overall. Rejoice, because these things used to retail for close to $1,000.
SADF P83 Battle Jacket
The Cadillac of modern load carriage harnesses, and with good reason. The South African Defense Force Pattern 83 webbing harness was purpose designed to support and sustain warfighters during the later years of the Border War.
Comfortable, simple, light and easy to use the P83 is in many ways a culmination of decades of hard-won wisdom garnered in combat operations.
Made of a distinctively tan waterproof Cordura nylon, the battle jacket carries a standard load of 10 5.56 magazines and is festooned with other pockets of plenty for everything from two large canteens, grenades, admin equipment and other small supplies.
Integrated backpack pouches to provide additional room for non-fighting essentials and cleverly placed straps for the carriage of bulkier items or a bed roll.
The SADF decommissioned the use of the P83 in 2015 and ever since domestic and international buyers, civilian or otherwise, have been scarfing these things up like mad. They are getting difficult to find, and even more difficult to find in excellent or unissued condition.
Put in some work and track one of these down so long as you can get it in decent shape. You won’t regret it.
First Spear JOKER
As with all First Spear gear, the JOKER is expensive but made from top quality components by people who give a damn.
The JOKER was inspired by a list of must-have features for Tropical Warfare Operations, and harkens back to the LBE our fathers and grandfathers used. Covered in PALS webbing, the joker also allows integration of a specialized backpack or expanded carrying capacity.
Featuring First Spear’s heavy-duty foam shoulder straps this harness provides plenty of comfort when loaded heavy but perhaps more importantly provides a significant degree of buoyancy to help offset the load during any riverine crossings.
First Spear Tubes closure system provides easy on and easy off capability and quick release side buckles allow fast, on the fly adjustment of the shoulder straps to preset positions.
When set up correctly with appropriate pouches this is still a remarkably lean and versatile harness that will allow you to carry all of the essentials without unduly burdening you. That’s important when you’re moving around in the hottest, densest environments no matter where they happen to be.
The micro chest rig is extremely popular today, seemingly the defacto choice of the Instagram influencer and many tactical trainers.
While these low-profile rigs have advantages in very specific circumstances, they should not be thought of or used as a replacement for a proper load carrying harness for general duty, especially in rural or other austere environments.
When the fight is on you’ll need supplies, particularly ammo, and plenty of it and no micro rig carries a load large enough to sustain you in a pitched gun battle.
Save the micro rigs for hunting, scouting or stakeout duty and keep the big “battle rattle” close at hand when a fight is likely.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.