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I’m really interested in the mechanics behind impressions. I admire those with the tenacity and iron will to deliver a picture perfect impression – hunting down dead stock Merrells and obsolete Eotech variants – as much as I admire those who play firmly within the SOF rules, yet still manage to personalise their loadouts.

Then there are the guys who blend a multiplicity of impressions, who break some of the rules but who are skilful enough in their choices to remain SOF-ish.

What have all these impressionistas got in common? High standards. They ask a lot of themselves, and their gear.

However, there’s another class of player out there. A player who knows the SOF rule book but chooses to exist outside it, taking from it only what they need, together with their own experience, to fully optimise their gear.

This class of player has high standards, but they may not be seen wearing 100% Crye. This is simply because, given the latitude, they’ve found something that works better for them. They also play regularly, enabling them to rapidly test newly sourced gear or prototype configurations.

I was browsing my IG feed earlier, when I came across some powerful pics of AI’s Ben Webb by a talented photographer called Elliot Knott. For me, Ben’s attitude to gear embodies high standards with full-on optimisation.

It defines a different class. A class where gear choices are, first and foremost, performance driven.

I mentioned this to Ben and he very kindly made time to give me an insight on his current loadout.

First, thanks for agreeing to answer my questions, Ben. It’s great to have you back on the blog!

It’s my pleasure… I love to be a part of this blog and it’s awesome to be able to talk gear and kit under this pretence. Thank you for having me once again!

Performance optimisation combined with gear made to high standards is my take on this phenomenon. It’s not exactly snappy. How do you view your kit selection process?

It’s a bit of a natural evolution combined with the odd ‘tear it all up and start again’ tantrum. I’ve always had an interest in impressions and real-world load outs and I’ve dabbled in creating my own (including the whole AOR1 SEALs thing). It comes with the territory what with working in the industry. What also comes with the territory is an unhealthily high level of exposure to new gear and tactical kit and sometimes treating myself to something new and shiny is irresistible.

I originally selected the SEALs/DEVGRU angle because it best fit my play style. I’m a bit of a CQB fan and that’s my preferred domain so primarily my kit selection is focussed on what you’d probably call ‘direct action’. I basically hit a wall with the load out thing as I’m a detail oriented person and I’d love to get it all 100% right… The mind is willing but the wallet isn’t. I’d gone as far as I could realistically go with an impression and I had to have a long, hard think about what I really felt was important… Big money on the final details was the next step but I didn’t really feel like my game might improve for doing it.

I’ve always been in a bit of turmoil when it comes to the practicality of replicating a load out as I have quite a strong passion for making things work for you in a tactical application. A replicated load out is basically building a costume and although I got a good deal of function out of the costume I had chosen it was still a compromise. Impressions can be limiting.

I’ve always thought that there’s nothing more ‘ally’ than making you own choices in modifying and laying out kit and genuinely using the options out there to their strengths so finally, after much soul searching I finally decided to drop the pretence of going for a specific ‘look’ and just run what I work best in… Also, it’s allowed me to make the most of a few bargains and deal on top tier kit and get the most out of it. Basically, within reason, this is what I would run if I had to do this for real… Within reason!

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I have LEAF Assault Pants like yours. I feel like I’m offending my Crye G3 wearing friends every time I wear them. What led you to choose LEAF trousers?

Honestly… They were on a massive sale at Edgar Brothers Online so I took advantage of the bargain. Arc’Teryx kit is great and I have numerous items. It’s expensive but highly capable. I took advantage of the Talos pants being on a knock down price and I use them, to go climbing in once in a while too. I’m not a big fan of integrated knee caps like the Crye system, so I don’t miss them.

You’ve gone with a LEAF Talos LT shirt up top, also in Wolf. Wolf has gained traction in the ‘rule book’ with recent CTSFO pics, but as a very early adopter what drew you to the colour?

Myself and a colleague were lucky enough to be able to source some kit direct from Arc’Teryx LEAF back when they first launched the Talos LT, which was about the same time as the Wolf colourway. It was selected mostly as an alternative to overtly military camp patterns and also because it might be discreet enough to wear outside of a skirmish setting. I sometimes do a few garden jobs in the shirt and hopefully I don’t look too much like a dick doing so!

You split your hardware between rig and belt. What goes where?

I have a good friend with a good deal of military and policing experience who also shares a bit of an unhealthy obsession with tactical gear. I’ve laid out my rig with a bit of help from him and also from reading a lot about how guys doing this stuff for a real run out.

I struggled long and hard finding a belt to suit me, I tried all kinds from Blackhawk, Tactical Tailor, HSGI and Warrior but the padded battle belt design always left me feeling like I was wearing a nappy and I just couldn’t deal with it. After spending a while chatting about the issue with the aforementioned mate, I was about to dump a wedge on the Ronin Tactics Senshi belt. A last minute pre-transaction distraction led me to take a look on the Intelligent Armour website. I got in touch with Alex from IA. And asked him if he could make me something similar to the Senshi. For less than half the price of the Senshi Alex hooked me up with the IA CT belt and Velcro inner liner within 2 days. Ideal

As for the layout… I run my belt order so it could be used as a standalone system. Side arm, mags for it. A primary mag for speed reloads, utility blade, multi tool, impact bang and an IFAK live on my belt. I can use this alone for security taskings or similar.

My plate carrier takes the full compliment of mags, my comms and an additional IFAK. It’s pretty simple.

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You’ve been going through rigs pretty rapidly of late, but it looks like your new Ronin Tactics one is a keeper. How did you get to this point with rigs?

After ditching the 6094k I was running as part of the SEALs load out, I jumped back onto a Mayflower slick carrier and chest rig combo. I love the look, feel and build quality but it was short-lived because the Gen. V chest rig I clipped onto the front was more suited to a recce role. It was a little too wide for me and put my radio right in my armpit.

I had quietly been considering a JPC for a little while (many of my peers get on very well with them and they have a bit of a following) and the opportunity to trade out the Mayflower kit came up so I figured if I couldn’t beat the masses, I’d join them. The Ronin Assaulter Lite is basically a forerunner to the JPC 2.0.

Basically I took the opportunity presented to try and fix the issues I had with the Mayflower and went back to the drawing board.

How many mags do you carry on an average one day skirmish?

Lately I’ve been carrying less. Previously I used to run between 6-8 but with the new rig I’ve decided to cut down to 5. 4 in pouches, one in the gun. I run 30round magazines, giving me a total of 150 primary rounds loaded.

I run 3 pistol mags in total, so just shy of 90 for that.

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“Doesn’t it hit you in the bollocks?”
…no, not how many times have you heard that, but how’s the Platatac dumper you sourced from HR4K working out?

In the couple of weeks since I’ve had it, I’ve been asked the first question about 2,000 times! It’s a legitimate question though as it looks a bit odd. In use thought it sits a bit higher up than my wedding tackle so it’s all good. I find the front position promotes a more eyes-forward reloading procedure allowing me to be more aware of the situation and overall faster. I actually used to run my Maxpedition dump pouch hanging off of my front left belt loop before I started running the IA belt so this is a realisation of a concept I’ve been skirting around for a while.

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As of right now, what’s your favourite bit of kit?

Right now it’s got a be the dump pouch! It’s the newest thing and I’m loving that it’s basically a solution to a requirement I’ve had for a while, other than that I’m still loving the novelty of a low profile belt system that I actually like.

If I’m honest though. The whole thing is feeling good right now.

Optimisation entails change, but is there anything in your loadout that particularly needs tweaking?

The radio pouch MIGHT need tweaking about a little… Maybe. As of Saturday my PTT seems to be banjo’d so that needs fixing or replacing and I might have to invest in a Glock 17 Safariland holster so I can run my RWA Agency Arms Urban Combat instead of the SIG.

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Ben – you’re not just about high performance gear, you also condition yourself with a good deal of exercise outside Airsoft. Does that help your game?

Wow… Maybe a bit more of a searching question than you might think here but it’s one I’m really happy to be able to answer.

This time last year I was heavier than I have ever been at nearly 16 stone and honestly, I was depressed, airsoft wasn’t enjoyable because it was harder work than it was worth. I was unfit, uncomfortable and unhealthy and it all took a pretty heavy toll on my life, I was shocked into making a change and realised how far I’d let things slip. I took time out from airsoft whilst I got my shit squared away again and I can’t tell you how much difference it has made to every aspect of my life.

Keeping things relevant, things are more comfortable to wear. I can move faster and I’m stronger so I enjoy everything about airsoft so much more. Instead of hanging back because I’m blowing out of my arse, which had become a bad habit, I now find myself back at the front again.

It’s the best choice I ever made.

Lastly: ballcaps or helmets?

I have both and run both… If it’s hot I often drop the pot and run a cap just to keep cool but when conditions allow, I like running a helmet because they look badass. It’s something of an indulgence in vanity really as I don’t run NVG or anything, so it’s all for show…

No bullshit, no agenda; candid, honest answers from one of airsoft’s taste-makers.

Thanks very much, Ben!