Within the capabilities of the JPC, AVS and CPC there are interesting trade offs. I’m going to focus on one such trade off in this introduction, as it’s highly relevant later on. However, if you wish to skip to the actual SPC review without any context, scroll down to the ‘Review’ heading for the TL:DR version.
Those looking at the JPC, AVS and CPC for ‘one PC to rule them all’ usually end up going for the JPC or AVS for a variety of reasons, but there’s a lot to be said for the CPC. It’s super comfortable and distributes weight so very well, that the user needs give little thought to load weight; or how things balance out. This makes it perfect for longer duration activities, where more is carried and space is not a constraint – because by modern standards it’s overbuilt.
The JPC, on the other hand, is the CPC’s antithesis. It’s low profile and best for shorter duration activities and confined spaces; loaded lightly with an eye to symmetry. Even carefully loaded, the cummerbund tends to sag after some use – which is detrimental to the fit. I know I’m not the only one who finds the front plate riding up over time and the rear plate dropping low. Some AVS bells and whistles were added to the JPC 2.0 (my review here), but the fundamental design remained the same.
The AVS, as it often does in terms of capabilities, sits somewhere in between the JPC and CPC – but is closer to the CPC in the way it distributes weight; and hangs as it should, all day long – assuming it’s configured with the AVS Harness, that is. And it’s this ‘Base Configuration’ which I tend to benchmark against. The AVS can of course be configured in many ways.
Back to the JPC and it’s a rightly popular carrier – the load bearing side of things being just one element of a PC’s capability. In any case, the user is mistaken if they expect a stripped down carrier like the JPC to perform like the bulkier AVS or CPC. If we look at capabilities which amount to high speed low drag (HSLD) – a related quality – the situation is obviously reversed, with the JPC coming out on top by a significant margin.
So, this is an example of one of the trade offs I mentioned to begin with. The JPC may not bear weight as well as the AVS or CPC, but weight bearing capability is inversely related to HSLD, where the JPC excels.
Except, that is, the SPC really messes with the accepted HSLD/load bearing relationship – which is clearly Crye’s cunning plan…
Enter The SPC
Now that I’ve spent enough time with it, I can see why Crye’s AirLite Structural Plate Carrier (SPC) has turned the heads of JPC, AVS and CPC users beyond its marketing hype.
In terms of HSLD form factor, the SPC betters the JPC in my opinion. It’s lighter, slicker and more minimalist without losing a huge range of features. Let that settle for a bit, because a bigger claim is coming in the next paragraph.
Where the SPC totally defies the rules is that it’s closer to the AVS and CPC than the JPC in terms of load bearing. And, like the AVS and CPC, the SPC stays put on the wearer’s body – in my experience – with no significant slippage front to rear.
The SPC components reviewed here are:
Note that these items are sold separately. The SPC does not come complete with the Structural Cummerbund, although I do think it’s essential to leverage the SPC’s load bearing gains. In this review I am evaluating the SPC and AirLite Structural Cummerbund as if they are one unit.
1. AirLite Structural Cummerbund
An odd choice to kick off the review with the cummerbund, isn’t it?
Unbeknownst to me before I got hold of this system, the cummerbund is crucial to how the SPC breaks all the rules: how it’s more minimalist than the JPC, but has inherited something of the AVS and CPC’s load bearing prowess – as mentioned earlier.
The common denominator with the AVS and CPC is that they utilise a ‘harness’ component. The harness is an exoskeleton which comfortably encapsulates the AVS or CPC wearer and provides load bearing rigidity.
The Airlite Structural Cummerbund is the SPC’s equivalent. While not a true harness, because of its plastic backbone it is way more rigid than the standard Crye Skeletal Cummerbund – with no sign of deformation or sagging. It’s comfortable to wear because it conforms horizontally and is only two bands high, yet its vertical stiffness is immense.
The cummerbund’s harness-like capabilities don’t stop at its rigid backbone. It integrates with the SPC’s front plate bag in basically the same way as the AVS/CPC harness – by insertion into channels on either side.
Spade shaped tabs at the end of each cummerbund arm accomplish this task. The cummerbund’s rigid plastic is most exposed at these tabs; although they are covered with a stitched layer of flexible plastic. This is the same type used throughout the carrier to strengthen its laminate, which we’ll see again and again during the course of the review.
Each of the tabs’ receptive channels are lined on one face only, with the same flexible plastic. This helps with wear and tear (presumably) and tab insertion.
On the other side of the spade shaped tab, the cummerbund bifurcates into the familiar velcro tab which affixes to the front of the plate bag, to keep the wearer secure.
Crye clearly learned its lesson from the JPC 2.0, because the e-doff handles in this implementation are relatively flat and unobtrusive.
The AirLite Structural Cummerbund’s outer face is, of course, massively ventilated and PALS compatible – but the PALS columns here are composed of AirLite laminate.
The bund’s inner face is lined with loop velcro, for the attachment of pouches, AVS Harness Pads, etc.
In the pic below I’ve installed a Smart Pouch Suite (SPS) pouch, which slides on to the arm using the AVS system. The cummerbund’s loop velcro attaches to hook velcro contained within the SPS pouch’s AVS pass-through, to secure the pouch.
Now, a word of warning on sizing, because these cummerbunds come up quite big. With a medium JPC or AVS I use a large Skeletal Cummerbund. However, with a medium SPC, a small Structural Cummerbund is more than adequate for me. Luckily, before I ordered, I heeded this advice from OpTactical:
It seems therefore that the SPC’s bund is sized more in line with an AVS or CPC harness – with many users sizing down from their plate size (e.g. medium AVS plate bags with small harness). My advice is to use OpTactical’s information to inform your decision.
Lastly, the AirLite Structural Cummerbund also fits the AVS plate bag set according to Crye’s website.
2. AirLite SPC (Structural Plate Carrier)
In silhouette, the SPC looks a lot like the JPC but instead of cordura, webbing and hypalon we have light weight, thin, hydrophobic AirLite laminate.
This exhibits slots, and huge voids which are a doddle to thread with PALS webbing or equivalent.
The laminate gives the SPC a sleek, modern look and saves a lot of weight.
The rear plate bag is similarly slick while retaining full PALS compatibility – but at the loss of a drag handle, which would need to be purchased separately if required.
The cummerbund doesn’t spill out of the rear plate bag, but is held captive within; although readers must excuse my initial experiment in downsizing the cummerbund which, as mentioned, comes up quite large.
The cummerbund inserts through channels in the rear plate bag. The bund ends at this point are lined to reduce friction. Note also the lo pro fabric loops for adding side armour. These are present front and rear and are a departure from the JPC’s plastic buckles.
Like the JPC, the SPC’s cummerbund is latticed at the rear with bungee, which makes the fit dynamic – expanding and contracting as the wearer ambulates. Also like the JPC, it can take some time to get the weave right for the user.
My fifth trial and error attempt at weaving the bungee paid dividends and the excess is now out of sight. Crye provides four thin bungees, which seem to be equivalent to the two thicker bungees supplied with the JPC. I’ve used two of the thin bungees here to finally get the retention right for me.
There’s a channel for cables etc – cut into the rear plate bag flap, which is a really useful excess bungee stash point.
Note that both the front and rear plate bag flaps are JPC orientation – not AVS.
Also at the base of the rear plate bag are two additional cummerbund routing channels; so you can really dial in the fit. The cummerbund will also go one notch higher than where I have mine set.
Note the zips, for Crye Zip On Panels.
The face of the front plate bag has some of the same features as the JPC 2.0. These include loops for Fastex buckles, from which a Mayflower style placard or chest rig can be suspended. While in this implementation the loops do not stow when not in use like the JPC 2.0, they are composed of AirLite laminate so as to remain unobtrusive.
Unlike the JPC, AVS and CPC, there’s no admin pocket at the top of the plate bag; and no dedicated PTT loop, like some PCs.
The e-doff toggles at the shoulder straps will also be familiar from the JPC 2.0. These are used in synergy with the cummerbund e-doff handles, to quickly remove the PC – and they do work. That said, the toggles are a faff when donning the SPC (like they are with the JPC 2.0).
The shoulder straps are wide spaced – like the JPC as opposed to the AVS and CPC – and connect the front and rear plate bags using velcro. It’s here in the main that ride height is adjusted, although cummerbund height setting also plays a role in how the SPC sits.
The velcro shoulder straps are wrapped in non-padded, removable Tweave covers which as far as I can make out are identical to the JPC 2.0’s. Aside from providing a degree of comfort, these covers are helpful in routing cables/hydro over the shoulders. I’m not too keen on the AVS/CPC one-wrap routing method and that’s absent here.
The reverse of the shoulder strap is just one area where Crye’s Structural AirLite laminate really reveals itself.
As mentioned earlier, this flexible black plastic strengthens the laminate. It presumably prevents the sagging common to standard laminate (time will tell) and allows it to support greater weight.
However, while the backing adds a smidge of vertical stiffness, the fabric remains malleable – which will hopefully please those users who appreciate the JPC’s Hypalon shoulder inserts.
Also on the inside face of the SPC, the plate bags are covered in 3D spacer mesh for greater comfort. This provides a degree of standoff and aeration, acting something like a Brynje base layer. I’d swear this is the same stuff used at the top end only of the JPC’s plate bags.
Most welcome are the elastic sides of the plate bag. This heavy duty elastic is more expansive than the Tweave Crye usually uses in this area. Again, perhaps a sign of lessons learned from their previous PCs.
For illustrative purposes I’ve fitted an AVS Detachable Flap, M4 to the front plate bag of the SPC. The fit is tight on the outer two slots – something to look out for – but it works really well in situ.
There’s no slip pocket to tidy away the AVS Flap’s velcro attachment fingers, but it’s not really required and in any case it cuts down on layers.
Note that like the AVS and JPC 2.0, the SPC features a popper with which to secure the base of the AVS Flap. Crye has opted to place the popper conveniently, on the bottom edge of the plate, like the JPC 2.0. This makes it easy to manipulate with gloves.
This area also features a laser cut channel for cable routing etc, similar to the one shown on the rear plate bag.
As mentioned earlier, both front and rear plate bag flaps are JPC orientation – not AVS – so some AVS accessories can’t be suspended from the flap’s velcro.
Being fairly well settled on the AVS as ‘one PC to rule them all’, I didn’t think the SPC would be anything but a JPC alternative. Beyond the marketing hype, I didn’t believe it could successfully challenge the inverse relationship between minimalism and load bearing.
Hands on with the SPC changed my mind, but I did have to get through a number of initial knee jerk reactions and proactively discover what was good about it.
To begin with, I didn’t bother buying the AirLite Structural Cummerbund, instead using the old faithful Skeletal version. This was a mistake, because as I’ve tried to emphasise in the article, the SPC’s load bearing gains rely on the appropriate bund.
That said, while the SPC does minimalism best (better than the JPC, in my opinion, as stated earlier) this is not an AVS or CPC in terms of load bearing, because it remains a ‘sandwich board’ PC without a true harness. But, it’s a lot closer to the AVS and CPC in that capability than the JPC.
If anyone is reading this review in the hope that it’s an enabler, I’d say go for it. Go for it if this will be your first Crye PC. Go for it if you want something different to an existing JPC. Go for it if you’re downsizing from a CPC, in terms of carrier weight and profile.
The gold standard for me – the AVS – is not a cheap system. So, if you want something more capable than a JPC but don’t want to pay AVS prices, the SPC could be for you. That said, I’d be hard pressed to get rid of my AVS for the SPC. The position I take is that while there is a degree of overlap, the JPC, AVS, CPC and SPC all have different specialities. Therefore, owning an AVS and an SPC is consistent with a need that many have for differently specced PCs; for specific jobs or durations. That position may change with time – after all this isn’t (cannot be) a long term review.
Which leads me to the elephant in the room, for those who aren’t keen on laminate. I simply don’t know at this stage what the longevity is of Crye’s new laminate. However, I do think they’ve taken steps to prevent sagging by incorporating the seemingly tenacious black plastic backing.
Personally I’m ambivalent on the cordura versus laminate debate and it simply reminds me of the 1000D versus 500D, then 500D versus 330D debate.
I think as long as consumers make informed decisions, they can’t really go far wrong.