Pocket protectors aren't just for doctors and physicists anymore now...
The market for purpose-built survival gear is substantial and, it seems, growing by the day. From bracelets to backpacks, the “prep” or “survival” gear industry has taken on a life of its own. More often than not, we lean toward the right-tool-for-the-job philosophy: Buy a piece of kit that’s designed from the ground up to do what you need it to. If you need a vest or chest rig or assault pack to hold your bug-out gear, the natural choice would be to purchase from a company that specializes in that kind of equipment. But that’s not to say there isn’t good and effective crossover between end users.
Above: The hydration pocket also accommodates stripped-down MREs or other trail food, and the tool pouch fit our first-aid kit perfectly.
That brings us to the topic of this story — the Klim Arsenal vest. Klim doesn’t produce anything specifically for the tactical, EDC, prepper or survival markets. In fact, their bread-and-butter lies in the high-performance motorsports user group. Snowmobilers, motorcyclists, and off-roaders are likely familiar with their line of technical apparel. But how well do these hobbies reflect the needs of us looking to stay ready in a turbulent world? The answer, in our experience with the Arsenal, is “better than we expected.” The Arsenal vest was specifically designed for endurance motorcycle racers. When compared against the average citizen looking to stay prepared, both groups look for a couple of the same key factors when they shop for gear: high-quality construction, the ability to stand up to long-term use in varied conditions, ample storage space in an efficient and compact configuration, versatility in load carriage and employment, comfort, and ease of use.
The Arsenal vest was designed for motorcyclists who spend long hours in the saddle as an alternate option to backpacks and on-bike storage for essentials like water, fuel, and tools. To the author, the layout is similar to an ALICE system LBV (Load Bearing Vest) from way back when, before the military put everything in modular pouches. The Arsenal features three large pouches on the front, with three more on the back, plus a small detachable kit that’s meant to be used specifically for wrenches and tools. It comes with its own hydration bladder and tube topped with a bite-valve. The areas of the vest not covered by pouches are nylon mesh, which provides good ventilation and trims a little bit of weight. The front closes with fastex-style buckles, and the each side has three adjustment straps, so sizing is just about universal, with fit being completely customizable to what your situation requires.
Above: The front pouches of the Arsenal are sized for any number of survival sundries.
Those of you crossing rugged terrain in hot climates may want it cinched tight to the body while anybody packing the Arsenal into blizzard conditions can loosen the vest to fit over multiple layers of cold-weather clothing. The front pouches have nylon webbing in a large grid pattern over them. It’s definitely not MOLLE spec in terms of spacing. But if you have a need to add pouches to the Arsenal, it’s possible. You can also use this webbing to weave fishing line or 550-cord through. The Arsenal is available in two color schemes: a geometric mash-up of dark gray shades that definitely doesn’t qualify as camouflage and, new for 2019, a pseudo-khaki with orange accents and white mesh. This may be a good or bad thing. Both of these options are very un-tactical. In fact, our test sample was literally gray — which may fit right into your low-visibility look. But if the rest of your equipment is coyote brown or MultiCam, perhaps the khaki version makes more fashion sense.
Above: The Arsenal vest includes a hydration bladder standard.
We ran the Arsenal in a two-day Weaponize The Senses class with Greenside Training, as well as on several weekend hiking adventures. Weaponize The Senses is a curriculum that focuses on tracking animals and humans alike over rough terrain. We moved nearly 10 miles on foot over the course of two days, wearing the Arsenal vest for most of that movement. Moving through brush and cactus across Arizona border country in August was probably the best test we could come up with for the Arsenal’s mesh ventilation. The vest performed well and kept us as cool as possible, given the conditions. The other thing we noticed was how evenly the weight was distributed while moving. Typically, in a class like this we’d use a patrol or assault-style pack. While we’re used to long walks with heavy packs, the Arsenal saved us a ton of shoulder and back pain after our Greenside class.
Above: We found the Arsenal to be comfortable in a variety of climate conditions.
Repurposing the motorcycle racing pockets turned out to be fairly easy. The hydration pocket in the back also fit two stripped-down MREs. That pocket is flanked by two long, narrow zipper pouches that were originally intended for spare fuel bottles. We figured out that we could carry two additional 1-liter bottles of water. In a long-term survival/camping situation, small bottles of fuel for lanterns or camp stoves also fit perfectly. Rolled up flags or signal panels, blankets, balled-up socks or underwear and toiletries could also be stowed in these pockets. The detachable tool kit also straps to the back of the vest. If you have generators, dirt bikes, or ATVs incorporated into your bug-out plan, having some tools on hand would be a wise decision. If you don’t need hand tools, you can convert the detachable tool pouch into a standalone kit for anything from medical supplies to signaling to fire-starting.
On the front of the vest, there are three large square pockets for storage — two low and one high. The two low ones each have a built-in holster for small- to medium-sized handguns. It’s a semi-universal pocket-style holster that you have to Velcro your handgun into. But it’s there in case it’s an option you want to use for a backup gun or survival pistol. Wearing a full vest may inhibit your ability to wear a proper belt holster, so the built-in holsters could be a less-than-optimal alternate to that. Aside from a pistol, the front pockets are general purpose, and can be stuffed with anything you desire. Food, boo boo-fixing supplies, small GPS units, sat phones, knives, multitools, and trapping/fishing supplies all fit. Smaller binoculars, thermals, night vision, or other optics can be made to fit as well. The bottom line is that the Arsenal vest is your blank slate to load out in whatever fashion fits your environment and preparedness plan. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and offers a significant amount of cargo space.
Since Klim isn’t a tactical or survival equipment company, there aren’t really any direct competitors in the prepping space, but there are a few similar options that stand pretty close. The Arsenal’s MSRP is $190. The aforementioned military LBV can be found for about 10 percent of that price, however, those vests are usually old, tattered, and the pockets are sized specifically for AR-style rifle magazines, with no storage on the back — severely limiting your load capacity. When you expand your horizons to include new-design load bearing vests from reputable manufacturers, the Arsenal quickly becomes one of the most economical options. Many of the purpose-built “tactical” load-bearing vests can run well past $300 and, by our research, don’t offer anything significantly different from the Arsenal. While it may not have been built as a survival product, it absolutely stands up to the rigors of that duty. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced, well-constructed, and comfortable piece of kit for load-bearing purposes, the Arsenal is worth your time and possibly even your money.