Chest Rig is a fun term. It could be used to describe that one blackjack dealer at Ceasars — you guys know who I’m talking about, right? It’s also a term that’s slumped onto every piece of load-bearing gear known to man. Chest rigs are a very specific piece of gear and shouldn’t be confused for the other various torso-borne pieces of gear.
From what I can find, the first more or less modern tactical chest rig was developed by the Chinese Communists for the SKS and AK rifles—following that, the Rhodesians copied the design for their FAL rifles during the brutal bush war. From there, the design grew and became more popular, eventually exploding in popularity and becoming the modern chest rigs we know today.
Let’s Define Chest Rig
Before diving into the big world of chest rigs, let’s define what a chest rig is. Chest rigs are a piece of load-bearing equipment that is often minimalist by design. It sits across your chest and will typically contain pouches or space for ammunition, MOLLE panels for adding gear, and maybe even a small chest pouch for maps and similar documents. They don’t offer a ton of room or space.
Chest rigs are primarily for carrying extra ammo with some minimal equipment tacked onto it. They can be fitted over body armor or worn without it. Chest rigs come in various designs to accommodate a variety of different ammo types. You can get chest rigs for AR-15s, AR-10s, AKs, FALs, shotguns, subguns, and more.
Chest rigs are not armor carriers and do not contain plates of any kind. Chest rigs and tactical vests are two different things. A chest rig just sits across the chest and is secured to the body by a strap system across the back. A tactical vest fits like a vest and shouldn’t be considered a chest rig.
Other setups like the old School Deuce gear TA50 issue are predecessors to the chest rig. However, it shouldn’t necessarily be considered a chest rig. That’s more of a belt, and body combo, which still works, and battle belts are more popular now than ever before. Chest rigs, by design, fit a very narrow definition.
Pros of a Chest Rig
Chest rigs are such a prevalent piece of gear because they rock. The best part about a chest rig is how unobtrusive it is and how small and compact it can be. Chest rigs can be superbly lightweight and minimalist by design. They are the smallest and most discrete means to carry some spare ammo and gear outside of a backpack.
Chest rigs are often much cheaper than armor carriers, and an AR-15 chest rig like the Ten-Speed M4 chest rig can be cheaper than purchasing four high-quality magazine pouches. These vests are also very quick and easy to don and wear over armor should the user prefer that method. Instead of attaching magazines to a plate carrier, you can simply don a chest rig over your armor. You can pair armor with a multitude of different weapons without having to take the plate carrier apart. I just built an 80% lower AR 15 and I’m tired of my 870. Just swap your chest rig, and you are ready to rock and roll with a new long gun and platform. Chest rigs give you a quick, slick option when paired with armor.
Chest rigs are also often small and discrete enough to hide under a light jacket or windbreaker. These small rigs can still carry a substantial amount of ammunition with a rather small footprint than other load-bearing equipment. They allow you to carry ammo while reducing weight, and in many environments, you will stay a lot cooler wearing a chest rig than a tactical vest or plate carrier.
Downsides of a Chest Rig
The worst downside to a chest rig is that it is not a versatile option. It carries ammo, maybe a small IFAK, and that’s about it. Chest rigs provide nothing more than a means to keep a little ammo and a little gear. The small, minimalist design doesn’t leave room for much else.
If you take the chest rig route, you still have to invest in armor, well, you don’t, but armor does help keep blood in your body. According to science, blood in your body is better than blood out of your body.
Chest rigs also don’t necessarily allow you to pick and choose where you get to place your ammo and gear. The small design means you get what you get, and there is no way to move things around for customization.
Chest rigs are a fantastic piece of gear, and if you take the time to pick the right one for your needs, then you’ll be better than good. I stick to a few different companies, including Beeze Combat Systems, Blue Force Gear, and Gadsen Dynamics. They make high-quality gear that will last a lifetime. Chest rigs are another tool in the box, and while not for everyone, they provide a unique ability to work with or without armor, undercover and overt, and come in every flavor of ammo out there.
What are your favorite chest rigs? Let us know below.
Travis Pike: Read more of his articles.
During the Vietnam war, the chest rig worked as improvised body armor, stopping shrapnel and some spent rounds.