Tactical Vests – So Many, Which One To Choose?


UTG Tactical Vest with Shot Shell Cartridge Holder, Army Digital

The Scenario

Imagine it is a regular Monday morning. Commuters are preparing for their work week. Kids are catching their bus to school. Your neighborhood is waking up from the weekend. Suddenly, a massive earthquake devastates your community. Power is cut. Roads are severely damaged. Police and medical personnel are swamped with emergency situations. Because a vast majority of the populace didn’t prepare food storage, looting of grocery stores ensues. Because the roads are severely damaged, aid has trouble arriving for weeks. Looters turn into mobs, robbing neighbor’s food supplies. Violence erupts in your peaceful town. This situation is far from being a fantasy. Each city, no matter its size, is susceptible to this scenario. Lets say you’ve done your part with food and water storage, and can last for up to 6 months without outside aid. Will that matter if looters break down your door and take your storage by force? What can you do to prepare for this situation?

A lot of survival blogs preach the stockpiling of ‘guns and ammo.’ While I don’t disagree, a common sense approach is needed so as not to get bogged down with several different calibers of ammunition. Choose one for your rifle, one for your sidearm, and call it good until it becomes economically feasible for you to expand. For the sake of simplicity, lets say you invested in an AR-15 rifle platform. You have seven spare magazines and a few thousand rounds. Your sidearm of choice is a Glock 17, 9mm.  You have four spare pistol magazines. The looters are coming down the street towards you and your neighbors houses. How do you easily carry all of your ‘guns and ammo’ out to protect your loved ones?

Tactical Vests

Molle tactical vests are an invaluable option for this scenario. Unless you want to stuff your pockets with spare mags, tactical vests organize your gear in a way that suits you. In military jargon, these would be your LBEs, or load bearing equipment. Modular pouches hold anything from spare magazines, shotgun shells, radios, flashlights, trauma kits, water bottles, tactical knives, and even grenades (for the fortified looters). There are many types of vests on the market, most with customization as the key feature. Here is a breakdown:

  • Tactical Crossdraw Vests – Single configuration, 3-4 M4 double mag pouches, 3 pistol mag pouches, crossdraw sidearm holster, tactical belt with utility pouches, admin pouch, radio pouch
  • Tactical Plate Carriers – Blank canvas, can be completely configured to user, front rear and side armor plate pouches
  • Tactical Chest Rigs – Blank canvas, can be completely configured to user, map pouch, no rear attachment capabilities, high speed/low drag

Crossdraw Vests

Tactical Crossdraw Military Cross Draw Vest w/Pistol Belt--ACU CamoCrossdraw vests come already configured with pouch layout. They are not customizable, with the exception of possibly removing the holster to add more M4 mag pouches. But the idea of the crossdraw vest is that it incorporates the sidearm right on the vest. As long as you keep it supplied with gear, it will be ready to throw on in a grab-and-go situation. Crossdraw vests can be purchased for under $50, so they are a great economical choice. They also come in a wide variety of camo choices.

Plate Carriers

Blackhawk Lightweight Commando Recon Chest Harness, Coyote Tan 37CL82CTPlate carriers are fully customizable tactical vests, with endless possibilities of pouch configuration. If tactical shotguns are your thing, these vests can be loaded out to carry shotgun specific gear. If you are a medic, they can be loaded out to carry strictly medical supplies. They are large with lots of real estate. Internal armor plate pouches are available on the front, rear, and sides. Plate carriers also come in a wide variety of colors. A typical plate carrier can cost upwards of $100, but it does not include pouches, which would have to be purchased separately.

Chest Rigs

Condor Recon Chest Rig (Tan)Like plate carriers, chest rigs are fully customizable. However, they tend to only have a front section of molle webbing, hence the name ‘chest rig.’ They are smaller and lighter, and designed for mobility and speed. They tend to be a little cheaper than full plate carriers ($50), but also do not come with pouches. Like the other tactical vests, they come in a wide variety of colors.


Which One To Choose?

Choosing a tactical vest is difficult. A crossdraw vest might be the most economical choice, but is not flexible with pouch placement. Plate carriers are nice with all the molle webbing real estate, but you can run up quite a bill on different pouches. Chest rigs are lightweight and low profile, but lack a true loadout capability. If my financial limitations only allowed me to choose one LBE of the three mentioned above, I would buy a black crossdraw vest. This would be the easiest rig to set up, and would just require you to add gear (mags, sidearm, etc.). I would choose black because I live in an urban environment.

But why just have one?  Multiple tactical vests configured for different scenarios has its advantages as well (different colors for desert, forest, urban, and different loadouts for rifle, shotgun, sub-machine gun). Either way, having your rigs at the ready is important for when disaster strikes and those looters are headed for your neighborhood. You probably wouldn’t even have to fire a shot; just the sight of one or more tactical vest-clad assault rifle-armed men would most likely be enough to scare any looter away for good.

Tactical Vest Layout

Obviously, if you go with a crossdraw vest, you will be limited to where you put your gear because the pouches are sewn into the vest. You will need to train with the placement of your gear as it is on your crossdraw vest. But if you go with a plate carrier or a chest rig, where do you place your pouches and ultimately your gear?

This is a good question to ask yourself. It comes down to what purpose your vest is being outfitted for. If you are setting up a dedicated medic rig, the placement of pouches will be based on the tasks you will be performing as a combat medic. If you are setting up a rifleman rig, your rig layout will be based on the specific tasks of a rifleman.

I like to use the crossdraw vest for a basic layout for my plate carriers because it is the most generic layout there is. Pistol magazine pouches, rifle magazine pouches, and comms pouch are all in a good location to start out. But you can tweak where each pouch is placed based on the access you need for specific gear.

Each person has different needs. Left handed shooters versus right handed shooters might want everything flipped. A person with only a pistol might want only pistol magazine pouches. The key is to set up your vests to fit your needs, and then practice with it fully loaded. The weight is something that a lot of people aren’t ready for unless they have worn a fully loaded vest. Run drills with your vest to build muscle memory for magazine switches and transitions to your secondary firearm. If something doesn’t work, re-arrange your pouch layout until you find something that works. And train some more.

Here are some pictures of different tactical assault vest loadouts to give you some ideas.

The Bottom Line

As you search for the right tactical vest for you, remember that what works for me may not work for you. You need to try different systems out to see for yourself what you like. Good luck.

What is your favorite tactical vest type? How do you have yours loaded out? Any tips you would add? Please comment below. Thanks!