Offgrid Gear S&S Precision Plate Carriers, Chest Rig, and Illumination: More than Maritime Excellence
The new HRT Tactical LBAC plate carrier offers impressive scalability...
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There are platitudes that we grow up with: small phrases, parables, and proverbs that apply to a specific situation, or lessons that have a near-universal application. They are less than laws of nature: they are not absolute, but are as close to it as you can get. Imagine the phrase: “Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.” On its face, it is suggesting that someone stop and consider what they are about to do. It does not immediately conclude that the action in question should be prohibited. Another example: to be precise, you must exclude every option that is not specifically the target. In this light, S&S Precision has squarely hit the mark.
When regarding gear such as plate carriers, night vision, firearms, and specialty gear, we often cringe when we hear the phrase “It wasn't designed with you in mind.” Unless you're at the absolute tip of the Special Operations spear, you won't likely be able to utilize some equipment to its fullest potential, at least not on the government dime. What that doesn't say is that we shouldn't be allowed to own it, or accept arbitrary prohibitions. From their illumination tools to their load-bearing systems, a brief look at the catalog of S&S Precision reveals that many of their products are designed to be the best solution to very specific problems.
With two different Plate Carriers, and a considerably scaleable chest rig, S&S Precision deliberately attacks the needs of the end-user, willingly straying from the norm to produce truly high-end equipment. The norm for plate carriers could be described as two bags and a strap: two large pouches, likely made out of nylon, that will carry the front or back plate that hang from the shoulders, with a cummerbund that wraps around the torso. The S&S Precision PlateFrame – Modular (PF-M) differs drastically from this pattern, and instead begins with a sub-frame into the mix. The PlateFrame-Redux incorporates the premium polish of the PF-M into an ultralight minimalist design. Finally, the Chest Rig-Modular also applies similar design concepts, all the while expanding the capabilities of the rig to even carry plates or Scuba fins, as a direct nod to part of its utility.
When looking at most plate carriers, they are typically constructed of two plate bags with variations for different shaped or sized plates, and a cummerbund to constrain them to the upper torso. The result is an ever onward pursuit of lighter and stronger materials to reduce the strain on the person wearing the armor. The S&S Precision Plate Frame – Modular, however, takes a distinct divergence from this tradition, beginning instead with a harness-like frame that simultaneously holds plates in place on the body, and secures it in such a way that produces noticeably less movement when the bearer is running, jumping, climbing, etc.
Above: The S&S Precision PlateFrame Modular distinguishes itself from the pack of plate carriers in its novel interface and hydrophobic design. Works well on land too.
When assembling the PlateFrame – Modular, both the front and back plate are first wrapped in a choice camouflage pattern. Each plate is then laced between the subframe and the outer panel: a semi-rigid skeletonized section with space for mounting magazines, admin pouches, and more. It is this semi-rigid, thermoplastic subframe that sets the PF-M apart from so many other plate carriers, as it spreads the weight of a fully-loaded plate carrier across the upper torso, taking a little off the shoulders for comfort, flexibility, and the long-term performance of the wearer.
The subframe consists of sections specifically shaped to contour with an athletic body, with a comfort foam to rest against the body. Accomplishing two things: the thin foam lining reduces rubbing and pinching, while also providing a channel for sweat and water to drain out, and air to flow in, keeping the wearer just a little cooler.
That draining feature highlights some of the PlateFrame-Modular's specialty. S&S Precision has catered the Tier-1 community and even more specifically, those engaged in maritime operations. The result is a focus on hydrophobic materials and the ability to scale gear to the needs of the mission.
A full suite of pouches and attachments are available from S&S Precision, but the PlateFrame-Modular is by no means restricted to proprietary gear. The front panel does exclude some mounting options such as a BladeTech Molle Lok, but malice clips can be used to attach a variety of mag pouches. Without modification, placard-type front panels do not attach as designed. While it requires some creativity of the end-user, the semi-rigid mounting platform holds gear securely to both the chest and the back, considerably more so than plate bags. Gear attached stays attached where attached reducing the strain on the wearer when in the thick of a gunfight or when moving through a complex environment.
On each side of the front section, a small, semi-rigid wing extends off the front section, serving as a space to attach radios, knives, or extra magazines. The two arms that extend much like a cummerbund stretch independently, requiring no adjustment when adding or subtracting gear from these wings. Built of the same load-bearing material they keep equipment from canting into the body, further reducing issues of kit digging into ribs or pinching against the belt when crouched.
The entire back quickly separates from the front, with four buckles: two at the clavicle, and one on each side of the front plate, so there is no need for an additional quick release/jettison system. In two parts, the PF-M stores smaller than most other plate carriers as well.
Overall, the S&S Precision PlateFrame – Modular presents body armor in a new light. The Near-Future appearance of it is far from a purely aesthetic choice, but like the best designs, is the result of a deliberate and novel approach to equipment of this sort. When worn in a miniature Murph workout, the PF-M carried its weight without becoming a bouncing, shifting hindrance in the run: not something to be overlooked. On the range, magazines, radios, and a Haley Strategic FlatPack remained in place.
Now, these are places one might expect to see a plate carrier: a Tactical Games skirmish, an outdoor range, or at a firearms class. An unorthodox testing method, however, would be to attempt to ride a dual-sport motorcycle at night, wearing a fully loaded PlateFrame – Modular, as well as night Night Vision Goggles, to see how it affects one's center of gravity and ability to shift weight where needed.
But more on that later.
The advent of Night Vision has created entire sub-sections of equipment specifically designed to further enhance advantages in both Military Special Operations and Search-And-Rescue efforts. IR (Infra-Red, only visible by those wearing Night Vision) strobes help mark maneuvering allies, and can be varied to signify specific circumstances, such as an injured team member or warning sign.
Above: An Gentex Ops-Core Fast SF Super High Cut ballistic helmet equipped with a TNVC RNVG, Wilcox Mount, TNVC Mohawk Counterweight, S&S Precision Manta Strobe (top) and Green V-Lite.
S&S Precision's Manta Strobe solves multiple problems at once. First, since IR markers are typically worn on a night vision helmet setup, the Manta vibrates to inform the user when it has been turned on. This may sound like a frivolity, but one cannot always take their helmet off to confirm if the condition of their strobe Second, most variations include some form of visible spectrum light that can be activated by choice, to designate training cadre, emergency situations, or different Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's).
Lightweight and low-profile, it resembles some of the best attributes for equipment of this type: capable with varying brightness levels and simple to use.
S&S Precision V-Lites follow this principle as well, providing marking solutions for both specific SOP's and out-of-the-box situations. Attached by Velcro, with a lanyard for extra security, they have been used for both skydiving helmet markers, and many more tasks. Available in IR, a V-Lite can function as a strobe for either personnel or vehicle markings.
Attached to the gas tank of a motorcycle or offroad vehicle, they mark a vehicle's location during dismounted operations and can be turned on with the touch of a button.
These two lighting solutions by S&S Precision represent the front edge of illumination devices, whether for the needs of the Military or for the pursuits of private citizens.
While the PF-M caters to a smaller audience with specific, albeit esoteric needs, the PlateFrame – Redux addresses the needs of a larger swath of end-users. Whether for personal protection or as part of issued gear for a specialized Law Enforcement Team the PF-R pulls specific features from the PF-M and incorporates them into an ultra-lightweight design.
Closer to a traditional plate carrier in layout, the front and back sections are joined at the shoulder straps, which can be adjusted easily and are small enough to utilize most sleeve-type shoulder pad options if desired. Body Armor Plates can still be camo-wrapped before getting strapped into plate-specific front and back sections. Instead of a thermo-plastic outer panel, the hydrophobic outer face has laser-cut Molle slots, opening up the PF-R to a much wider list of compatible parts.
Once again utilizing semi-rigid thermoplastics for the cummerbund, the PlateFrame – Redux takes the sub-structure cue from the PF-M as well as the individually adjusting arms. Load-bearing wings are available for the PF-R, for both the front and back panels. Lightweight buckles attach the cummerbund arms to the bottom of the front plate wrap for quick and easy donning and doffing.
Although the molle-cut front and back are not made of thermo-plastic, they maintain their shape through their material as well. The gear attached has less room to move about than on a direct Pals webbing attachment, and can be tightened to the plate for a little more stability.
A sturdy platform from the beginning, various model-specific add-ons take the PlateFrame – Redux to a more capable level, showing the scalability of the lightweight plate carrier. By itself weighing just over a single pound, it begins as a low-profile minimalist carrier, and can be transformed into a hard-use mission capable kit with only a few accessories.
Although not necessary, optional comfort foam liner panels bring the same benefits to the PlateFrame – Redux as they do the PF-M.
The amount of thought, time, and effort that went into the Chest Rig – Modular reflects in it's vast departure once again from common patterns. Instead of a cross-strap or H-harness, the CR-M somewhat resembles a Y-harness, but from the future. A hydrophobic, laser-cut Molle front similar to the PF-R is supported by a thermoplastic sub-frame. This give the chest rig enough rigidity to carry a heavier load without deforming itself.
Wide enough space to fit three AR-15 sized magazine pouches across the front with 2 columns available for pistol mags, radios, medical, and admin gear, an additional admin panel can be added to ride above. Comfort foam lines the front section protecting the wearer from whatever they used to attach their pouches, as well as the back section that rides between the shoulder blades. The back is then open for carrying a rucksack over the Chest Rig – Modular adding value as a patrol rig.
The modularity of the CR-M cannot be understated. Capable of attaching plates, it quickly scales up to the status of impromptu-plate-carrier without having to remove any pouches. The back can fit underneath a rucksack, or be replaced with an assault pack, or even carry Scuba fins once again highlighting the maritime-specific considerations that went into S&S Precision's design process.
Far from the ultimate test of gear, but one that stood out in addition to time on the range, long hikes fully loaded, and through physical exertion, navigating dirt roads and moderate trails while wearing Night Vision as well as S&S Precision gear brought a new appreciation for the way it carries the weight. When shifting from peg to peg to corner, a fully loaded PF-M remained tight to the body, instead of shifting suddenly as the Triumph Tiger 800 lurched beneath the rider.
S&S Precision lighting tools have gone through their fair share of abuse, and are worth the initial investement to complete a night vision helmet setup. Through rain, plate carriers and chest rigs shed water like they were made of oil, but remained securely attached to the wearer.
Although their gear might very well cater to the needs of esoteric end-users, the benefit trickles down to some of the highest-quality and most advanced gear on the market. It won't turn you into a NAVY SEAL, but then again, no gear can do that. However, having been developed for the needs of top tier units, and beyond, the high aim of S&S Precision has resulted in gold-standard-setting illumination, and top of the line plate carriers, chest rigs, and load bearing equipment able to be scaled to the needs of the end-user.
So, just as S&S Precision gear might not be made with each and every one of us in mind, we all benefit by their excellence.
Colors: Black, Multicam, Tan, Toadvine
MSRP (Base): $1,142 (as Bundle at time of writing with additional 3x AR-15 Mag shingle)
Colors: Black, Multicam, Tan, Toadvine
Colors: Black, Multicam, Tan, Toadvine
MSRP: $401 base
Colors: Multi-Mode, White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, Pink, Infra-Red.
MSRP: $45 for one-color models, $63 for Multi-Mode (Blue, Red, Green, and Alternating)