Load-bearing vests – you remember these? Some of us were around when this was the height of fashion and considered the best tech for load carriage available. Yeah, we’re waxing nostalgic. Don’t judge us.
This article originally ran in September 2017
Do the DOAV – the Old School BLACKHAWK! LBV
What’s up, party peoples? Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, before MOLLE, before plate carriers and battle belts, before Cobra buckles, MultiCam, and Facebook, a fightin’ man’s gear options were rather limited. If you were in the bulk of the armed forces, what you got was an ALICE load-bearing setup: suspenders, a pistol belt, a pair of M16 magazine pouches, a pair of canteens and pouches, and a compass/first aid pouch. There were other things you could carry, too: buttpacks, extra ammo pouches, your entrenching tool, the old angle-head flashlight, your bayonet, and (if you were one of the few who was issued one), and M9 in a UM84 holster…unless, like our Editor-in-Chief, you sported a Holster Assembly, GUU-1/P for an M15 Combat Masterpiece.
Don’t forget your pro-mask, too. That had to be with you all the time.
The system was quite modular, but in most cases, you were told how to configure it by your leadership and everything had to be dress-right-dress.
Body armor? What’s that? Other than your Kevlar, and the occasional odd PASGT flak jacket, you generally didn’t get armor. A much greater emphasis was placed on protecting you from chemical weapons than protecting you from bullets.
Eventually, things changed. First came the LBV-88, then the first generation MOLLE system, then the Great Camouflage Debacle of the 2000s, with more and more armor and more and more companies making and selling nylon gear. Even so, choices in those days were limited. The tactical load bearing vest (LB) was quite popular.
Such vests are still around, of course. Eagle Industries stopped making them, and Tactical Tailor only makes a MOLLE one now. You can get surplus USGI MOLLE vests on eBay for cheap, too. As the military moved to an attitude of everyone in armor all the time, most troops simply attach their modular pouches directly to their armor. It leaves you with only one thing to put on, instead of layers and layers of gear.
In the tactical gear world today the plate carrier and MOLLE belt is king. The old-school load-bearing vest is considered a quaint anachronism, or something for airsofters to play with, out in the yard. Let’s set aside those prejudices for a moment and examine one in detail.
I have in my possession a recent-production Blackhawk (excuse me, BLACKHAWK!) D.O.A.V.
Introduced by Blackhawk sometime in the 1990s, the DOAV (which stands for Dumb Old Assault Vest, or something like that I think) has been in production for probably twenty years or more now. An internet image search will show you that it was quite popular with special operations personnel in the early days of the GWOT, though few are likely in use by them today.
BLACKHAWK!’s DOAV [Dumb Old Assault Vest]
Originally available in woodland camouflage and desert tan, the DOAV today can be had in any color you like, so long as you like black. Black is not exactly the most wonderful color for camouflage, especially in an arid environment in broad daylight. But be honest with yourself; how often do you really practice good camouflage techniques anyway? Do you even bother, or do you just roll into the middle of the village in your fifteen-foot-tall MRAP, shiny safety glasses and unpainted face? Also, consider the advantages: black coordinates very well with that $200 Guccicam Black™ uniform you bought…more like $400-ish if you want with Crye or one of the other high-end guys.
Camouflage isn’t something you wear, it is something you do.
LBVs like this also work fine with many of the uniforms used by law enforcement.
This is the vest as it arrives in the box. It’s made of heavy-duty Cordura nylon and mesh. It has four large magazine pouches on the front, with adjustable Velcro flaps. On either side is a utility pouch, which closes with Velcro and can be tightened down with a buckle and strap. The two innermost magazine pouches have smaller pouches on the sides, and there are four horizontal pouches on the front. The vest closes with either a pair of plastic buckles (with adjustable-length straps) or a stout YKK zipper.
So what can you carry in the DOAV? Damned near everything, to be honest. The magazine pouches are quite large, and can be used with a wide variety of weapons. Each will fit two 20- or 25-round 7.62×51 magazines, up to three (three!!) 30-round AK-47 magazines, or up to four 30-round M16 magazines (the smooth aluminum ones will stuff better than ribbed polymer ones). They’ll also hold a 60-round quad-stack M16 magazine with room to spare.
Adjustable magazine pouch flaps.
Note that you don’t have to carry this much. Three AK magazines and four M16 magazines will fit very snugly, and it will make retrieving them a little bit slower. Also, all that ammo is going to be heavy.
The two side pouches are suitable for medical supplies. Each one has a rubberized interior and internal elastic loops. They will also fit an entire 25-round box of 12-gauge shotgun shells with room for more, a big pair of binoculars, snacks, a 1-quart canteen, several Blu-Ray movies, a couple beers, quite a few pieces of eight, a kitten, or whatever you need.
Side pouch interior.
If you don’t fill the side pouches up all the way, you can tighten them down so they’re not so bulky and your items don’t rattle around. Though if you’re like most Joes and Janes, if there’s space available you’re gonna stuff something in it.
On the inside of the two innermost magazine pouches are a pair of smaller pouches, one on each side. The one on the left side is bigger than the one on the right. The one on the right is just big enough for a multitool, like this Gerber.
The one on the left will fit up to two double stack pistol magazines, a 40mm grenade, pepper spray, a flashlight, or three revolver speedloaders stacked on top of one another.
That pouch is the same size as three of the four horizontal front pouches, and can hold the same kinds of items.
The square pouch on the front will probably fit several types of radios, GPS devices, cameras, or similar sized gizmos (as well as a can of Spam).
On the back there is MOLLE webbing and eight female buckle ends. The DOAV comes with a pair of large pouches that can be attached using these buckles.
These pouches expand out to be quite large, and will fit a helmet completely.
The shoulder adjusts with Velcro, and a pair of nylon web straps to provide reinforcement.
The bottom of the vest features belt loops. These close with Velcro and a snap, and allow you to attach the vest directly to a pistol belt as shown in the Blackhawk stock photo. This has the advantage of allowing the vest to help support the weight of whatever you’ve got on your belt (pistol, gas mask carrier, big knife, etc.), and it means you can put everything on in one layer. If you subscribe to the theory of layered/tiered gear (first line, second line, etc.), then this is probably desirable. Also, if you’re tall enough to wear a long/tall shirt, the vest may not adjust to where you can attach a belt to it and have the belt at your actual waist. On me, with the vest adjusted as much as possible, the belt loops would still put the belt higher than my pants belt. The loops can be cut off or folded up into the vest if you don’t want to use them.
The DOAV has quite a bit of adjustability. It adjusts at the shoulders and sides and will comfortably fit those of us who are tall and possibly not as lean and mean as we used to be, with adjustment to spare. It can also be adjusted out to be worn over body armor or heavy clothing. Note that the vest panels are wide; if you’re a skinny beanpole, the DOAV might be too big for you.
The sides adjust with three straps.
The inside of the vest features a flat pocket with a Velcro closure on either side, and a row of elastic loops that could be used to run wiring or something. The back panel features a drag handle and an interior pocket that would fit a large water bladder.
The inside pouches are also big enough to carry a small handgun, like this Ruger LCR .38.
The loadbearing vest – still relevant, at least in some places.
You may be asking yourself, “Why would anyone want this over a chest rig or battle belt?”
The short answer is, not everyone likes the same things as you. Beyond that, the DOAV is a tradeoff. It’s not modular. The pouches are where they are, and if you don’t like it, too bad. Blackhawk is not generally considered the top end of nylon gear these days, and their stuff is, I believe, still imported from Asia. That said, I have no complaints about the quality of the vest’s construction or stitching. Plus, coyote brown is the new black, and the old black is out of fashion.
The DOAV does have some things going for it, though. Its biggest advantage to the consumer is that it comes complete, ready to go, for about $130 online (on Amazon, eBay, all over the place). With a MOLLE system, you’ll pay anywhere from $50 to $150 for a slick chest harness, and then $20 to $60 each for the pouches (assuming you don’t just buy Condor). That adds up quickly, and for those of us not at the drip tip of the proverbial spear, it’s wise to carefully consider how much you’re going to spend on tactical gear that may only see only occasional use.
More than that, the DOAV can carry a lot of ammo. You can stuff sixteen 30-round M16 magazines into it if you like. In my experience, a vest so heavily laden down with ammunition, especially if counterbalanced with water or a pack on the back, is more comfortable than a chest rig of similar capacity. It spreads the weight out more.
It can also support multiple weapon systems. If you run an AR, AK, M1A, FAL, AR-10 HK91 or all of the above, the DOAV’s pouches will fit your magazines. If you prefer fully enclosed magazine pouches, as I do, finding a “universal” sized one is difficult.
Whether you’re preparing for the apocalypse or just need a vest that can carry a lot of stuff, consider the DOAV. This type of load-bearing equipment has largely gone out of style, but still works as well as ever.
Despite your preconceptions of what is actually haute tactical couture, you may find that it suits your needs after all.
Buy my books. If you think this article is stupid and that I’m stupid, don’t hold it against my books. My books have nothing to do with the idea that LBVs remain relevant, so you should still buy them.
So Sayeth Kupari
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