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5.11 Tactical Series Load-Bearing Equipment

Written by Scott Oldham

Few people reading this magazine are not familiar with 5.11 Tactical Series®. What started as a relatively small venture making pants has turned into a company diversified into a major player in the industry of tactical clothing, equipment and accessories. While the company’s tactical apparel has long been the flagship of the line, 5.11 has recently begun to produce a variety of other equipment including boots, watches, sunglasses, and most recently, load-bearing gear.

While 5.11 may have the design and manufacturing base to make a line of load-bearing equipment that would be considered “usable,” officials realized that in order to turn out a product that was of 5.11’s superior caliber, they needed to partner with someone with insight into what went on when simple load-bearing gear turns into “mission-critical equipment.”

For this, they turned to Kyle Lamb. Lamb, who is the author of the recently published work “Green Eyes and Black Rifles,” is a retired member of one of the foremost counter-terrorism units in the world. His unit, which is classified by the United States government as a “Tier One asset,” has been involved in military actions around the globe.

Lamb himself is a veteran of many of these conflicts, including multiple tours in Iraq and other places around the world where his unit has been involved. To say that Lamb has some idea of what is needed in a piece of load-bearing equipment is a vast understatement. Lamb, who is the president and chief instructor for Viking Tactics®, also known as VTAC®, helped to create and test a well-thought-out line of equipment that includes a wide variety of much-needed products.

VTAC LBE Vest

One of the premier offerings in the 5.11 Tactical Series web gear catalogue is the VTAC Load-Bearing Equipment (LBE) Vest. Designed by Lamb, the unit differs from other tactical vests on the market in that it is made of a reinforced, stiffened mesh that allows for air to pass through—a huge plus in conditions when heat is not only a detriment to peak performance but could possibly be a killer. The vest, which is available in both standard black as well as flat dark earth, is covered in molle-compatible webbing with a zipper in the front. The vest is then doubly secured using two male / female buckles.

The tactical vest also features hidden document pockets and a grab handle that is located on the inside of the back of the vest at the collar. The reason that the grab handle is located on the inside is because when placed on the outside, it may provide a handle for an opponent to grab from the rear. By recessing the drag handle to the interior, those problems have been alleviated while still retaining the rescue feature. No one who tested the unit could tell any appreciable difference in the time that it took to reach or the ability to use the drag handle.

Plate Carrier

While the LBE vest is a good piece of field gear, many officers do not need an entire vest. In fact, a vest may be contraindicated by other gear. For officers working uniformed patrol or those who are in positions where they do not need a large “surface area” for mounting pouches and pockets, there is the plate carrier.

The 5.11 Plate Carrier, which also bears the VTAC mark, is a perfect example of a company designing and fielding different equipment for varied roles and job functions. For people who need to quickly “up armor” to rifle level plates, this is a perfect example of form following function. The Plate Carrier bears more than a passing resemblance to the LBE vest in its construction in that it, too, is made of stiffened, reinforced mesh.

Capable of being adjusted at the shoulders, the plate carrier is able to fit most everyone. The unit, which can carry both standard and oversized ballistic plates, also features the same internal grab handles as the LBE vest and Velcro panels on the front and back so that identification can be readily affixed.

As many officers are realizing the need for ballistic rifle level plates while on patrol for use during incidents such as active shooters, the plate carrier’s style of load-bearing equipment is becoming much more commonplace. The unit can be stored in the trunk of the patrol vehicle and quickly donned upon arrival on the scene of an incident. While the unit is available in both flat dark earth and black, it is the black color that is much more in tune with the “look” of an American police officer.

Tested by several officers while on patrol, the unit was found to be easily adjusted for size and carried more than enough equipment in terms of ammunition and first-aid pouches for use during high-risk calls for service. Officers found that they were able to quickly slip the plate carrier over their head and secure the torso straps without issue. The unit, once adjusted properly, did not interfere with their gunbelts and offered them an increased amount of protection, as well as the ability to carry spare ammunition and other needed supplies.

Chest and Thigh Rigs

For officers who need spare ammunition or other equipment but find that even the Plate Carrier is simply too much, 5.11 markets the Chest Rig. Like all of the other mounting platforms in the line, the Chest Rig is made of stiffened mesh and is molle compatible.

What sets this particular Chest Rig apart from others on the market is that it is very “size efficient.” Offering four rows of molle webbing, the unit is capable of carrying a substantial amount of equipment for its size. The 5.11 Chest Rig also features one of the best designed and most comfortable harnesses currently available. The harness comes up and over the shoulders as normal, passing behind the back in an X pattern and is secured around the torso with a single strap, which has some elasticity.

When tested, all of the officers involved thought it was a great active shooter rig and it was very quick to don and run. The officers found that by leaving one of the chest strap buckles secured, they could simply slide one arm and their head through the appropriate spaces and then secure the final buckle when they had time. The unit was tested using a double magazine pouch with covers, which carried two 30-round M16 magazines securely. Also affixed to the chest rig during testing was 5.11’s extra large drop pouch. This unit measures over 8 inches in diameter when opened; its value can not be overstated.

The drop pouch, like the magazine pouch and all other pouches made by 5.11, is secured to the rig using 5.11’s excellent SlickStick™ system, which allows for a pouch to be quickly and easily placed on or taken off any molle-compatible mounting platform.

The drop pouch is used for safely securing items picked up by an officer during the course of an operation such as weapons removed from suspects or other evidence that needs to be taken immediately. For active shooter situations and other extremely high-risk events, the drop pouch also allows for a good deal of versatility in that an officer may decide at the last moment to take other gear or other specialty tools on the call for which there is no pouch or other carriage system readily available. For those situations, all an officer would need is to simply open the drop pouch and stuff the article inside. Capable of being secured by an elastic drawstring, the unit adds a new dimension to any officer’s “high-risk” rig.

Thigh rigs for carrying ammunition and other essentials have long been popular among SWAT officers. Placing some gear on the leg helps to spread the weight of such equipment more fully. These rigs are beginning to be seen being used in more and more scenarios outside the tactical community.

Again some officers may need to carry more equipment during some high-risk incidents and want the ability to quickly and comfortably add it when needed. Thigh rigs are another possible solution.

In the case of the thigh rig, it is a simple matter for officers to wear a female Fastex-style attachment point on their trouser belts, unobtrusive and out of the way until needed. When a call justifies the need for more equipment, the officer simply plugs the male end into the female receptacle and secures the leg straps.

The 5.11 thigh rig was tested with a double magazine pouch with bungee straps affixed to the panel. The magazine pouch, which holds two 30-round M16 magazines, features two bungee straps, which securely hold the magazines in place no matter what the activity.

Officers liked this system of carrying spare ammunition and other equipment quite a bit. They found that by wearing the female buckle on their trouser belt (under their gunbelt), they were able to quickly and efficiently don the rig and move out to the call. Best of all, both the 5.11 Chest Rig and Thigh Rig, retail for $29.99, making both two of the best values on the market.

Overall, 5.11’s venture into the field of tactical web gear should be loudly heralded. The company has used its already considerable knowledge in the field of manufacturing textiles and coupled it with a lot of great designs and unique products that bear the VTAC mark. It’s a truly winning combination in anyone’s book.

For years, individual officers and agencies have looked to 5.11 for superior quality designs and products. For those in need of individual load-bearing gear, a quick trip through the 5.11 catalog will turn up quality gear at a price that is affordable.

Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the Bloomington, IN Police Department where he is assigned to the Operations Division as patrol supervisor, as well as being one of the team leaders for the department’s Tactical Unit. He and his partner, Sergeant Mick Williams, provide contract instruction on a wide range of subjects, including tactical and patrol-based skills. He can be reached at oldhams@bloomington.in.gov.

Photos courtesy of 5.11 Tactical Series

Published in Tactical Response, Nov/Dec 2008

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