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It's easy to think of a SHTF situation as an all-or-nothing event. Either everything is hunky-dory and you're going about your daily business, or it's the end of the world as we know it. In the latter case, it wouldn't be unreasonable to venture outside decked-out with a bug-out bag, plate carrier, and a rifle at the ready. If you're heading into a literal warzone, keeping a low profile will be less of a concern than maximizing your defensive capabilities. However, the likelihood of a switch flipping from “all good” to “apocalypse” in an instant is minimal.
In the real world, most disasters are a snowball effect moving progressively from bad to worse. Scattered instances of civil unrest can spread into a large-scale societal collapse or civil war, but this usually takes weeks, months, or even years to unfold (especially in relatively stable first-world nations). It's therefore wise to prepare various levels of gear that can adapt to these changing circumstances. Just as we prepare layers of clothing to protect ourselves from gradual changes in weather conditions, we can prepare layers of defensive gear that escalate to meet the threat level.
A lightweight chest rig is one piece of gear that fits into this intermediate category. Let's say things are bad enough that you think your concealed handgun isn't going to cut it, but not so bad that you're openly wearing rifle plates everywhere you go. A chest rig can be stored in a backpack or the trunk of your car alongside a rifle, and takes seconds to put on. It offers quick access to an expanded set of gear, and has some distinct advantages in comparison to a full plate carrier.
For those of you who may not be entirely familiar with chest rigs and plate carriers, we'll briefly outline some of the differences.
Plate carriers are exactly what they sound like: carriers for bulletproof armor plates. Many plate carriers will accept soft Level II or III-A armor inserts for protection against handgun calibers, but most of the time they're used in conjunction with rifle-rated Level III or IV hard plates made from steel or ceramic. Most plate carriers incorporate PALS webbing or laser-cut attachment surfaces for MOLLE-compatible mag pouches, IFAKs, and other gear.
Chest rigs are designed exclusively as a form of load-bearing gear, so they don't accommodate armor plates. While they offer no protection against gunfire, this makes them substantially smaller and lighter, and allows them to be rolled up for storage in backpacks and other compact spaces. Some chest rigs are just a field of PALS webbing with some straps attached, while others include built-in pockets and pouches.
A third option is to use both a chest rig and a low-profile “slick” plate carrier or bulletproof vest. This is usually done when body armor is already being worn underneath clothing, such as by undercover law enforcement personnel. It's then easy to throw on a chest rig atop the other apparel if more gear and ammo are needed — for example, transitioning from everyday duty to clearing a dangerous area or responding to an active shooter.
Recently, while preparing for a carbine class, we were in search of a chest rig to expand our magazine-carrying capacity beyond what would fit in the pockets of a pair of jeans. Although this rig would mostly be used at the range, we also wanted something that could be stashed in a bug-out bag and used as a grab-and-go SHTF resource. So, even though most chest rigs could already be called minimalist — at least until you start adding pouches — we were looking for a setup that took that philosophy to the next level.
The Ten-Speed System
Blue Force Gear's Ten-Speed M4 chest rig is an extension of the company's existing Ten-Speed line of pouches, which use a special stretch fabric to tightly grip contents. This elastic design allows the pouches to lay almost completely flat when they're empty, but also expand to fit large or oddly-shaped items. For example, the rifle magazine pouches can securely hold a wide range of magazine types, as well as handheld radios, cell phones, tourniquets, wound dressings, flashbangs or smoke grenades, and so on.
Opposite the elastic front surface, each Ten-Speed pouch is constructed from ULTRAcomp laminate, a thin yet durable composite material. Standalone pouches are offered in either standard MOLLE-compatible form or direct belt-mount configuration, with a variety of sizes, shapes, and color choices. As with all Blue Force Gear products, the Ten-Speed line is made in the USA and comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
As pictured above, we also set up an old 5.11 Tactical battle belt with more Blue Force Gear Ten-Speed pouches. This included a double pistol mag pouch, M4 mag pouch with Gerber Center-Drive multitool, dump pouch, Tourniquet NOW! pouch, and Micro Trauma Kit NOW!. A Raven Concealment Perun strong-side holster completes the setup, and makes for a good optional supplement to the chest rig.
Features and Specs
The Ten-Speed M4 chest rig is described as an “ultralight fighting load.” The word ultralight gets thrown around a lot in the outdoor gear industry, but it's certainly appropriate here. Unloaded, this chest rig weighs just 330 grams (11.6 ounces / 0.7 pounds), and like all Ten-Speed gear, it packs flat for easy storage.
The front of this chest rig consists of four elastic pouches that fit polymer or metal AR-15 mags (or other STANAG-pattern mags — here's a more complete list). Rather than being connected to a layer of PALS webbing as they would be on most chest rigs, they're directly sewn into the 500D Cordura backing fabric, further reducing weight and bulk.
On either side of these pouches there are 3×3 PALS webbing fields. You can add an IFAK, radio pouch, knife sheath, pistol mag pouches, or any other gear of your choosing here, or you can leave them empty for a slimmer feel. As seen in our photos, we elected to add two more Ten-Speed MOLLE M4 mag pouches — these can increase carrying capacity to six 30-round AR-15 mags, or hold a variety of other items.
Two tabs at top of the chest rig provide access to a hook-and-loop-sealed 18×6-inch document pocket. You can stash a map, notebook, or other slim items within, but we wouldn't recommend much more than that so the rig doesn't start to feel bulky.
When you're carrying as much as 180 rounds of ammo on your chest, comfortable straps are an obvious priority. Fortunately, the Ten-Speed M4 chest rig uses wide nylon straps that connect in a carry/drag handle at the shoulder area. Additional adjustable straps attach to the chest rig body underneath the arms and around the torso with ITW GhillieTEX buckles.
This chest rig retails for $90 and is available in black, coyote tan, wolf grey, and MultiCam.
We set out to find a setup that distills the chest rig down to its most basic elements, and we found exactly that. The Ten-Speed M4 chest rig is exceptionally light and packable, making it ideal for use as an emergency tool. In fact, we found ourselves filling it with AR mags and shoving it into our range bag before going shooting — it's more convenient than carrying loose magazines in the bag, and takes up almost no additional space.
After adjusting the straps to the appropriate size and height, we found the rig to be impressively slim and comfortable. It can even be worn underneath a cover garment like a button-down shirt or jacket, if necessary. We were a little concerned that the non-padded shoulder straps would dig in or chafe, but the material is wide enough that it's not an issue, even with six full mags up front.
Admittedly, six AR mags may be overkill unless you're running lengthy training drills or preparing for an extended firefight. In all other situations, the adaptability of the Ten-Speed elastic is helpful. The side pouches can be left empty to lay flat and give your arms plenty of breathing room, or they can be filled with other items. We found the M4/AR pouches to be the perfect size for a Gerber multi-tool and bit set. You can even get away with storing handgun mags in these large pouches, although they'll obviously be a bit more secure in the dedicated pistol mag pouches offered by Blue Force Gear.
The $90 MSRP seems fair, considering that this is made in the USA and devoid of the sloppy stitching and questionable materials often found on imported gear. Adding two more M4 mag pouches made the value seem less appealing, however — at $30 apiece, we were two-thirds of the way to paying for a second chest rig. We would've appreciated a bundling option to purchase various add-on pouches at a slight discount when buying a chest rig. But if you don't need the extra capacity, or you have MOLLE pouches of your own to add, this isn't an issue.
As for long-term durability, we're always a little concerned about elastic material loosening and losing its stretch over time. However, the elastic is surprisingly strong out of the box, and we know several people who have been using Ten-Speed pouches for a few years without this becoming a problem. We'll have to wait and see how this rig holds up, but we're not too worried.
The Blue Force Gear Ten-Speed M4 chest rig is a great intermediate solution for anyone looking to layer their defensive gear options. It's no replacement for a fully-stocked plate carrier in any instance where you'd need one, but unless your profession dictates firefights with heavily-armed bad guys on a regular basis, a plate carrier may not always be necessary.
This chest rig is easy to store, quick to put on, and positions magazines and other critical items right where you need them. In any event where you transition from your carry handgun to an AR, the Ten-Speed chest rig gives you organized, unobtrusive storage for the supplementary gear you'll need.
For more information on this chest rig, go to BlueForceGear.com.