Words and Pics: Tactical Optician

I don’t think that many airsofters are without a plate carrier or two these days. In fact they seem to be de rigeur for most load outs.

We have been exposed to a vast array of in-the-wild photos, and I am sure that many of us have been inspired to emulate those images. Indeed, I count myself amongst this group.

When Rich (Reptile House) and I were discussing the finer points of tactical nylon placement recently, he suggested that I might write a piece for the blog about my current plate carrier and set up. Naturally I needed little encouragement.

Thinking back, my first plate carrier was an ill-fitting Warrior Assault Systems one. Incorrectly sized, I chose one too long (an error I’d repeat in the future) and found moving at a crouch was impeded. I bought a shorter version and thought little more of it.

A few months later, I had the opportunity to try a London Bridge Trading 6094A. The difference was like night and day. This was the point at which I learned how unimposing a well sized and adjusted plate carrier was.

My next lesson was one that many of us take our time to discover; that PALS real estate doesn’t exist simply to be filled with pouches. A well-fitting plate carrier is easily transformed into an encumbrance by packing pouches on.

My next acquisition was a Paraclete RMV, with soft armour inserts.

This taught me another very important lesson. Plate carriers are designed to carry weighty armour, and fit at their best when worn as designed. The soft armour in the RMV would, I thought, be dead weight that I just didn’t need to carry. In practice, it was (of course) integral to the fitment of the vest. Without it, the nylon sagged and fitted poorly, and pouches moved around.

Lesson identified, lesson learned. Unfortunately for me, the RMV was slightly too long, resulting in an uncomfortable fit around the abdomen.

So I’d need something else.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Tyr PICO MV plate carrier.

It was well designed, sized according to the plate size carried rather than the torso of the wearer, and came with soft armour inserts.

I was very fond of this plate carrier; it was remarkably comfortable and unobtrusive. Worn for twenty four or more hours on a weekender, it never rubbed or caused any discomfort. It was also particularly cool in warmer conditions, I think due to its liner material. Weight wise, it won out thanks to Tyr’s Pluma Vires lightweight fabric. I wrote a comprehensive overview of it for Airsoft Action magazine a few years ago, as they were proving hard to source, and I had one of the few in the UK.

But then Crye released the CPC.

With its semi-rigid skeletal support structure, it appeared to be a huge stride forward in the execution of protective load bearing.

I had to have one. When it arrived, it was typical Crye. Quality construction, well thought-out modularity, and expertly executed. I was particularly impressed with how well it spread the weight of the plates. Clearly the exoskeleton was doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Of course the payoff for this was the increased rigidity of the whole. It was this that I simply couldn’t live with. Despite spreading the weight very effectively, it lost points for comfort. Without enough flex around the ribcage, it felt too constricting. I’m sure that it is a very effective plate carrier in DA scenarios, but as a jack-of-all it just fell short for me.

Which brings me to the plate carrier which is the do it all, for me.

Disclaimer: your mileage may vary; these things are very individual.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Crye Precision AVS.

I bought this as a spare, intending to kit it out for a very specific task. I soon found, to my surprise, that it could tick all the boxes.

I stripped it back to fundamentals, dispensing with side armour, leaving an AirLite cummerbund. On the advice of Mike Perrett (a man who’s tactical nylon knowledge I value highly) I fitted the Crye AVS Yoke to the rear plate bag. This does away with the two conventional H-straps over the shoulders and it was this one particular modification that put the comfort of my AVS above any previous plate carrier (thanks, Mike). This has been fundamental to all that followed.

So, onto my arrangement of nylon.

I don’t like bulk. In particular I dislike double-stacked primary mag pouches. But I do like HSGI’s Taco with pistol mag piggyback. So I have two on the bib front, toward my left side. I’m right handed, and want my mags toward my left side for ease of access.

On the right of the bib is a Tactical Tailor vertical E&E pouch. This contains a few essentials (Silva military compass, map protractor, chinagraph pencil, Sharpie, Cyalumes, Inova red microlight torch, and my trusty Gerber DET multitool).

To the right of this, mounted on the cummerbund, is a Crye smoke grenade pouch which will take pyro or my BFG.

There are no other pouches on the right side after this, as they would impede access to my pistol which is belt mounted – as are the remaining pyro pouches.

To the left of the two TACOs, on the left portion of the cummerbund, is an inverted First Spear MultiMag Rapid Adjust Pocketreview here – which holds my first reload.

This pouch replaced an ITW FastMag which was also fitted upside down. My rationale here is that my first mag change involves stowing the empty mag in my belt mounted Emdom/MM Mesh Dump Pouch, which is worn at the left rear of my belt.

As my left hand returns towards my weapon, it falls naturally to the mag on my left. As the pouch is inverted, the new mag is held in the correct orientation to be grabbed and inserted with no grip change; facilitating a quick reload.

Retention is good, but I’ve added a home brew kydex insert for safety. I wouldn’t trust it with the weight of a mag full of rounds instead of BBs.

A few years ago, an instructor recommended building familiarity with one’s personal equipment set up. His method was simple and elegant; he advocated standing in front of a mirror while practicing reaching for each item or pouch. In particular, he suggested that magazine change drills done this way improve muscle memory and therefore speed and efficiency. By starting slowly, and building familiarity, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” I am happy to say that I have spent a great deal of time doing just this – much to the consternation and bewilderment of my family – and I highly recommend it!

I’ve rarely found a need to carry more than three magazines. In PTW terms, where I load ninety rounds per mag, I have an ample sufficiency; particularly if I include the one in my blaster. If three hundred and sixty rounds isn’t enough, I can add an extra by mounting a Crye Horizontal M4 Single Mag Pouchreview here – onto the Tyr Lower Abdomen Flap which is mounted under my plate carrier. It places an extra mag in a convenient orientation for a second quick change.

Another optional extra which is added should circumstance require it, is a C2R TacPad Chest. This excellent bit of kit contains an electroluminescent pad and clear sleeve for maps, notes and quick reference cards. I’ve found it to be very useful for speedy reference, and surprisingly unobtrusive.

I also use a First Spear Mini Admin Pocket interchangeably. Of course, there is a built-in admin pouch on the AVS, but the advantage of the pouches is acetate coverage to make notes on, when combined with a chinagraph pencil (works even when rainy unlike pens).

To the rear left on the cummerbund is a High Ground Gear Single Hand Drop Down 152 pouch, to accommodate my TRI Industries PRC152. The antenna is stowed on the back panel of the plate carrier, underneath one of two interchangeable Crye Zip On back panels.

I like the Crye back panels, as they have the added benefit of providing space for a water bladder as well as integral pouches.

After many years of trying pouches of many types, in a multitude of different orientations, this arrangement is where I appear to have settled.

For me, the process has been almost osmotic. Gradually, I have reached an equilibrium where I shall stay, until something disrupts it.

Truly, this will forever be a work in progress.

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