By Uli Gebhard,
Suarez International Staff Instructor Los Angeles
How much gear to you need to run your rifle? I'm not talking about just the one mag that you just slapped into your weapon, hoping that those first 30 rounds will get the job done. The question is, what do you need as a bare minimum in terms of support gear to be an efficient fighter with your long gun?
During my last rifle class, every student had a different approach to his support gear and all of them worked very efficiently with it.
Three Students, three approaches to carry their gear - what are the pro's and con's?
The Shoulder Bag
Let's start this review with my personal favorite: the dedicated rifle support bag.
There are quite a few different versions out there. Here is what most of them have in common: They are designed as messsenger-style shoulder bags, that one can quickly sling and get going. Some have additional straps, allowing to secure them with a belt or leg strap so that they will stay in position while the operator moves around. Inside the bag are typically compartments for rifle mags, a dump pouch compartment to accept empty magazines and additional pouches or pockets for other support gear such as pistol magazines, flashlight and a trauma kit.
The big advantages of this type of bag are that it allows hiding the gear in plain sight and that it is a very fast system to get into action. Throw the bag over the shoulder, grab your rifle and go! It does not get a whole lot faster than that.
Disadvantages are weight distribution (everything is suspended from one shoulder) and location of the mags on the support side only, which makes ambidextrous reloads a bit more difficult. Weight can be an issue and it is a really good idea to keep the gear don to what is reasonable. An unlimited supply of ammo is great - unless you have to log those twelve-hundred rounds for a couple of miles. Four mags in the bag plus one in the rifle is what was sufficient for high-round-count class segments, including laying down cover fire in partner drills.
Concealed Carry Vest
Another option is a concealed carry vest. Many of them have two vertical pocktes on the front that are designed around typical rifle magazines such as th ones used in theAR-15. Just like the bag, these vests hide the support gear in plain sight, albeit since the original "photographer's vest" has been retasked quite a bit for this kind of use, it is more of a known what the true purose of this gear is. While this is a convenient and somewhat efficient solution, I would not use it because of this give-away.
Concealed Carry Vest: all gear is close at hand and out of view.
In regards to keeping reloads and other gear at hand, everything is in its place and close to your body - it will not flop around, which makes fast movement with this gear carrier easy. However, the setup is fairly rigid and will make ambidextrous operation difficult. With a big rear pocket, there's usually a decent option for a dump pouch, however, it is all the way in the back, which makes for long and potentially awkward maneuvers to retain partially depleted mags.
However, a vest like this one in the trunk of a car is not very likey to raise any red flags.
Third basic option: mag pouches on a regurlar belt, paired with a foldaway drop pouch. This is the most compact setup that one can get to keep the rifle running. All gear is stored close to the body - which makes concealing it with an oversized shirt truly possible. It takes a bit time to get the gear set up. Mag pouches need to be secured on the belt by threading it through or clipping the carrier around the belt, but this in turn provides a very secure setup that will not shift or swing around. With magazine carriers on the right and on the left, this also allows for swift ambidextrous reloads. The student who ran this rig in class found out that a drop pouch with a larger mouth does not take up significantly more real estate on the belt, but allows for significantly easier magazine changes.
Mags and dump pouch stacked on the belt.
Keeping everything on the belt provides a very small amount of bulk - which comes in handy when fighting in tight quarters, but it also limits the amount of gear you can keep at hand. There is not a whole lot of room for a full-blown trauma kit. With this approach one will most likely have to settle for the compact version that will fit into the thigh pocket of a pair of cargo pants.
The Best Solution?
Which one is the best solution? The version that works best for your particular situation. Did you get stuck in a Katrina-like scenario and expect potential hostiles trying to evacuate? A belt-mounted system covered up with an oversized shirt might be the best option. If you want to keep your gear at hand for rapid deployment in the trunk of your vehicle? The re-tasked photograper's vest or the shoulder bag will most likely be better. As stated before, my personal favorite is the shoulder bag, such as the Terrorist Interdiction Bag from One Source Tactical, since it is very low profile, fast, versatile, and holds all my gear in one compact package.
I have several of them, set up for the different rifle types that I frequently use, such as the Saiga in 7.62x39 or a Marlin lever action in .357. For the latter, I have the rounds stored in an elastic loop panel from Minuteman/OST to keep them organized and ready for swift access.
They all sit stocked next to my rifle storage ready to get paired up with the long gun that will be the most suitable for whatever our family is up to on a particular day.
Uli Gebhard is Suarez International Staff Instructor in the Los Angeles/Southern CA Area.
Please click here to find out more about him and the classes that he has currently scheduled.