Blackhawk DOAV – Old School Load Carriage

blackhawk doav
February 5, 2021  
Categories: Gear Curious

Load-bearing vests – you remember rigs like the Blackhawk Tactical Vest? Not the Blackhawk Plate Carrier mind you, the Blackhawk vest. 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. It’s not just the dudes from The Expendables and Stargate SG1 who wore the Blackhawk DOAV. Some of us did too!

This article originally ran in September 2017

Do the DOAV

Blackhawk DOAV, that is

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), an 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. Back in those days, a much greater emphasis was placed on protecting you from chemical weapons than protecting you from bullets.

TA-50: old Y harness web gear.

Ye olde Y harness web gear; successor to the H harness web gear (which had rather more canvas aboard)…and that sweet angle-neck flashlight!

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 (LBV) 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.

Blackhawk tactical vest with all the bells and whistles attached.

A Blackhawk tactical vest with all the bells and whistles. And it’s in black, too, so not only is it more tactical, it’s perfect for Stargate missions.


The old-school BLACKHAWK! DOAV load bearing vest, or LBV - makes you wistful while also making you cringe.

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 there are proportionally fewer in use today.

You can still get them in various places, including LA Police Gear and Optics Planet, assuming you can find ’em in stock. You could also check the Blackhawk page Amazon, though the closes thing they seem to carry right now is the “S.T.R.I.K.E. Omega” vest, which to be fair sounds pretty cool.

Blackhawk Tactical Vest

DOAV [Dumb Old Assault Vest]

Originally available in woodland camouflage and desert tan, the DOAV Blackhawk vest 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.

The Blackhawk DOAV load bearing vest - this LBV is just magnificent, isn't it?

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.

While many of us older folks deployed with an LBV of some sort, most youngsters have never even seen a Blackhawk DOAV in the wild.

Zippered LVBs, like this Blackhawk DOAV, were once all the rage.

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.

Blackhawk DOAV adjustable mag pouch flaps.

Blackhawk DOAV adjustable magazine pouch flaps. This LBV has room for all sorts of supplies, thus allowing for all sorts of activities!

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 of beers, quite a few pieces of eight, a kitten, or whatever you need.

The Blackhawk DOAV is like a tactical bag of holding.

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.

You can carry vast numbers of magazine, multi-tools, pogie bait, a dead cat, whatever you want.

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.

Ye olde load bearing vest is so room you can carry extra revolver rounds, shot glasses that look like 40 mm, chapstick, a fleshlight, and an extra sandwich and STILL have room left over for your radio and extra batteries.

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).

The BLACKHAWK DOAV loadbearing vest.

The BLACKHAWK DOAV loadbearing vest.


Blackhawk Plate Carrier

Don’t confuse the Blackhawk Plate Carrier (or any PC, for that matter) with load-bearing vests or soft armor vests. Terms like “tactical vest” get thrown around a lot, and interchangeably, but they often have very different applications. A PC is, by definition, for armor plates, i.e. body armor. Before you go spend any money, make sure you’re buying what you actually need. If that need is in fact a PC, takes steps to ensure it is the best plate carrier for your actual needs.


Blackhawk Tactical Vest: Rear Load Carriage

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.

The BLACKHAWK DOAV loadbearing vest.

The Blackhawk Tactical vest’s pouches expand out to be quite large and will fit a helmet completely.

The BLACKHAWK DOAV loadbearing vest.

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.


Grab the Shellback Banshee Civil Unrest Kit if you really want to make an impression. People will say, “Oooh you fancy!” But, you’ll spend more money. And you’ll still need to add MOLLE pouches.


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 BLACKHAWK DOAV loadbearing vest.

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.

LBV inside pouches are also big enough to carry a small handgun, like this Ruger LCR .38.

The inside pouches of the Blackhawk Tactical vest are also big enough to carry a small handgun, like this Ruger LCR .38.

Don’t immediately dismiss the Blackhawk LBV – or any “tactical vest”

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 what was once known (correctly, by the way) as Indo-China.

That said, I have no complaints about the quality of the Blackhawk LBV’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.

The Blackhawk Tactical vest will 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.


Condor Tactical Vest

Can’t locate a Blackhawk DOAV? The Condor tactical vest has features similar to the Blackhawk DOAV (though not as much cargo capacity) if you can’t find the one you’re after…though, well, it’s Condor. There are many who would consider that a dealbreaker. But at least you can usually find one online.

Whether you’re preparing for the apocalypse or just need a tactical vest that can carry a lot of stuff (gotta use the term tactical), 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.

So Sayeth Kupari

P.S. 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.


Next up: CHEST RIG: The Life and Times of Load Bearing Gear


⚠️ Some hyperlinks in this article may contain affiliate links. If you use them to make a purchase, we will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. It’s just one way to Back the Bang. #backthebang 

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Mike Kupari

Mike Kupari

About the Author

Kupari is a wrong-handed Air Force EOD combat veteran of Afghanistan. Now a civilian, he has spent a disturbing amount of time rendering safe a number of things that would otherwise blow shit up. Much of the time he was doing that in a place where favorite local pastimes include such activities as shooting, blowing up or even eating Westerners.


  1. Ted Hitchcock

    I loved my DOAV. I prefer a separate vest and plate carrier with a mag shingle over a plate carrier with molle pouches. A couple times i had to get real slick to fit in a pipe or small opening, only had to take off the vest to fit through. Also a zipper is alot quieter than the loud velcro of modern plate carriers. Downside with my set up preference is im carrying a couple pounds more of material making up the vest. I think the DOAV was designed for being in the field for an extended amount of time, away from vehicles and quick resupply. But seeing this review of an old vest brought me back to my days when I felt young and invincible. Not the bone popping and aching old man today. Haha

  2. Hoot

    DOAV = Delta Operators Assault Vest

    originally custom design for Delta, then Blackhawk starting selling it

  3. S22

    I the event one finds ones self conducting dismounted patrols in sandy places, and if getting to said patrol location is via the CROW station in a MRAP, AND if perhaps you are not under 5’5 having the ability to keep your armor on while being able to remove your “kit” can be a spine and literal lifesaver.

    Mags, gerber, NVGs, radio, water, E&E kit, hiviz panel, strobe, batteries, 9-line card, flashlight, IR and common chems rubber banded on and GASP a compasss! in/on the vest.

    Ye Old 9mm can ride a drop leg and now your waist is free, gaining you mobility and saving the last of your lumbar.

  4. William Marshal

    “M9” indeed. No siree! M1911A1 it was and always shall be.

  5. CharlesInCharge

    Liked the H-Harness for the standard battle rattle, but updated to a Blackhawk STRIKE LBE for heavier load-outs and comfort. Used a DOAV never liked them but the possibilities are endless: only good aspect was shotgun breaching as the shoulder skin would prevent much of the black and blueing. Join your local militia, support the US Constitution – “Honor your Oath Join Us!”

  6. Eric Poteet

    Outstanding essay, Ese’.Eric Poteet here. Retired having served as a Texas police patrol officer and PIO my entire adult life, Austin and Round Rock. I was the young officer who, in wee hours of 01SEPT97, traffic-arrested Heisman winner and perpetual arrestee Errick Lynne Williams, Jr., alias Ricky “Wedding Gown by Ditka” Willams. I got the “last” laugh, except the last laugh is still not the last. Laugh. But I digest…

    To the point, sir: deep night patrol brother, now UTPD Austin Assistant Chief of Police, gifted to me a f****g mystery of enigma –missing link, evolutionary mistake, unk?– mint-condition Point Blank Body Armor [reportedly Spider “SWAT-cert High Neck”] modular carrier vest. Skookum as frig build quality; a mutant MOLICE ALLE of sorts…snappy-snappered snap grid front/back, with luggage space for family of 4.
    But, no accessories, and nobody knows nuthin’.
    The sketchy-rumor product ID noted above? From ScyFy channel’s outstanding 2004 Battlestar Galactica fan site, because cosplay. Identical to Galactica Fleet Marines assaulter loadout uniform.
    Those kids were spitballing about the (costume basis) actual product & manufacturer, e.g. Pinnacle, US Armor, *PBBA Spider etc. ca. 80s.
    PBE clearly quantam-scoured this thing from interweb existence.
    I wrote PBE customer service, nee PBBA, fascinating thing, this, asked only: What was it (grid-snap-velcro platform) called, or branded as?
    Is there a hobby collector-MILSURP source for any accessories?

    They never replied. Follow up note; they never replied x2. Dicks.
    If anybody can enlighten me, it is you, sir. Can you advise?
    Many thanks for your time, and my respect for your quite enjoyable & entertaining stuff.
    Where we go one, we go all. Oath Keeper.
    Shalom and Godspeed,

  7. Martin Bobs

    Excellent post… Thanks for you sharing and discuss DOAV old school load carriage. This post is really informative and essential for knowing and choosing the right tactical vests. I recommended your great post and DOAV old school load carriage. I think to inspire and confident to increase to picking the right tactical vest.

  8. John

    I remember reading the US Cavalry catalog when I was 10 or 12 and seeing this vest and creaming my shorts over it. I thought this was the coolest thing ever, but at the time, the price made it seem totally unreachable. Then I saw the old school Eagle Industries catalog, with the Made in USA versions of these kinds of vests, and then basically blew three wads spontaneously.

    Anyway, a vest like this isn’t totally useless today. There are plenty of agencies that issue body armor, but issue compete garbage as an excuse for an outer carrier. I could see someone wearing their body armor in a concealable carrier, and then throwing this vest over the top of their issued armor. It’s not an elegant solution, but when you have agencies that supply gear based on the lowest bid, and decision makers who are looking for a retirement job, you sometimes have to come up with creative work arounds.

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