Words and pics: Rich Norman
There was a time when tactical nylon manufacturers seemed to bring a new chest rig to market every week. Despite this constant evolution, it could be argued that the market was dominated by a particular format. Perhaps the most well known version of this was the Eagle Industries RRV (Rhodesian Recon Vest), but most companies offered variations on the same pattern.
The RRV has been out of favour since the advent of dedicated plate carriers. More recently, placards and micro chest rigs have moved into focus. However, not everyone wants to only carry three mags.
Earlier this year High Speed Gear Inc. (HSGI) made the bold move of resurrecting the RRV form factor – but with a modern spin.
HSGI published a video about the Neo, which I’ve linked below. It’s a great primer:
One of the things which sets the Neo apart is the lumbar platform at the rear. It’s a big win for me.
I don’t always want to wear a belt, but I do like somewhere unobtrusive to attach a dump pouch or stow an emergency mag. The lumbar platform is perfect for this.
With the rig dialled-in for size, it’s solid in the small of your back – not least because of the burly waist strap, which terminates in beefy QD buckles at both ends.
The lumbar platform is backed by HSGI’s signature neoprene padding which underpins the secure fit; the padding is also exhibited at the shoulder straps.
It makes the rig more comfortable for extended wear, is non-slip (or “Sure-Grip”, as HSGI might say) and – crucially – is open cell, which adds a degree of breathability. It’s also very light.
It really is one of the highlights and again sets this rig apart.
Much like a backpack, things can go wrong for chest rigs at the shoulder straps.
My favourite pack straps are wide, thin, and backed by neoprene – which is exactly how the Neo’s are; except this is better, because HSGI’s neoprene is superior to that of any pack I’ve tried.
There’s no chafing at the neck and the straps are helpfully covered in a webbing daisy chain. This also helps stabilise the Neo’s detachable bib.
In the original RRV, the bib was a foldaway item. With the Neo, it’s attached to the main platform with Velcro – so is completely removable. It’s just one of the ways in which the Neo is lower profile than the RRV: fewer layers and lighter materials.
Now, given the choice I normally go with an H-harnesses. The Neo comes with an X-configuration – but with a twist.
There’s a tubular elastic retainer which conjoins the shoulder straps and allows them to adapt to your movement, and/or additional layers of clothing. The latter means you can adjust the rig for use over a T-shirt and not have to readjust when wearing a further layer.
It’s a simple but innovative system and it’s extremely comfortable.
I’ve mentioned that the Neo is lower profile than the original RRV and it’s ilk. It’s curious, though, that HSGI has opted to use 1000D Cordura as the rig’s surface laminate. It’s more common nowadays to see 500D (or lower deniers) in these applications.
True, 1000D is more abrasion resistant than 500D, but I’d wager it’s used here to add a degree of stiffness. No one wants sag, after all – and this is no plate carrier. It doesn’t have the luxury of a ballistic plate skeleton.
Similarly curious, the 1000D is laminated to a tarpaulin backing. Again, this had me scratching my head. Tarpaulin is commonly used on high end messenger bags, because it’s tough and waterproof, but it’s more common to see Hypalon filling this niche in tactical applications nowadays.
I’m guessing Hypalon is heavier, however.
So, despite the 1000D the Neo is still really light – especially compared to the rigs of old.
The Neo doesn’t just represent a reduction in bulk. It’s light weight, too.
There’s no PALS webbing anywhere, which is also very current. Again, this shaves weight. Instead, the bib, main panel, lumbar platform and the rear of the shoulder straps exhibit laser cut slots for threading MOLLE items.
Needless to say, the quality is excellent throughout; but how does it wear and carry?
First off, the negatives. For me the tri-glides which stabilise the bib aren’t the optimum solution. When wearing a minimal layer, they’re noticeable. It’s a minor point, but I’d probably use Velcro or locate the tri-glides on the outside of the rig.
That’s really just a princess and the pea issue and probably says more about me than the rig.
Secondly, it’s challenging to re-adjust the rig for fit on the fly. The webbing which runs through the adjusters is coarse, heavy duty stuff, so it doesn’t slip through easily when you’re dialling it in. The upside is that the adjusters ‘bite’ into the webbing, so once the fine adjustment is established it absolutely does not slip.
Swings and roundabouts.
With those minor niggles out of the way, I can safely say that the HSGI Neo is one of the most comfortable rigs I’ve ever worn. Part of this is down to HSGI’s neoprene, which is awesome stuff and truly a unique selling point.
Does the rig’s name come from that, or because it’s a new spin on a traditional idea? I don’t know, but it works for both.
HSGI also deserves recognition for the dynamic X-harness system. Like I said earlier in the piece, I naturally gravitate towards H-harnesses but what the company has done here is paradigm shifting.
I’m really surprised HSGI can offer this rig at such a phenomenal price. The workmanship and materials are top notch and the design has been thoroughly thought through. This is a light, robust, innovative piece of kit.