You know when you try out a new item and you just don’t notice it in use? That’s my acid test and that’s what this rig is like. It does its job comfortably and stays out of your way. There are no reminders like being heavy when wet, being heavy when dry, chafing, overheating, backache, overloading or being stuck with pouches of the wrong size or shape; or positioned in a slightly suboptimal position.
That said, when not in use it’s devilishly addictive in terms of optimal pouch configuration (which, obviously, stitched on pouch chest rigs aren’t). So the biggest downside is the agony of choice in self-optimising how your load is carried; though presumably anyone considering purchasing this rig has made a conscious decision to forgo fixed pouches – otherwise you’ll want a Spiritus Micro Fight (reviewed here), HSP D3CRM (reviewed here), HSP D3CR (OG reviewed here; X-version reviewed here), or a Mayflower chest rig of some description. I’ve either owned or had hands on with the lot; but what Crye has engineered in the AirLite Convertible Chest Rig is simply the best.
I use the term engineered with purpose, because you can bet that aside from all the real world input Crye has received, the Convertible Chest Rig is the work of a highly qualified product designer: it’s simply dripping with design, and not design for the sake of it, either. Intelligent design, which is as simple as it can be and still be smart.
The biggest point to note here is the almost architectural harness. Is it an X or an H? Well, it’s an H but shaped like an X. Like all of Crye’s ‘structural’ products, it doesn’t flop about like a spawning salmon but is semi-rigid to help with load bearing. It’s also highly ventilated, with built in pontoon pads and huge vents for massive airflow. In addition, it’s elasticated at the arm pits; as is the waist strap – which is elasticated at both ends. Quite frankly, it’s like a limpet – absolutely glued to the user, with the appropriate amount of give to adapt to movement – or that extra layer you throw on when the temperature drops.
In synergy, these features make this chest rig harness the best out there, and I can imagine that even if someone doesn’t like this chest rig’s AirLite placard, Crye’s harness would upgrade pretty much anything with the standard pattern of anchor points.
But the placard is great, too. The only fixed pouch is the radio type on each side. However, if not using a radio or if the user prefers an external pouch, the integral pouches simple stay tidily collapsed and out of the way.
Don’t confuse the AirLite used for the placard with the quite frankly crap AirLite of old. This is the new Structural AirLite – the same stuff the rig’s harness is composed of which (as I understand it) requires a really, really nasty level of abuse to catastrophically damage it.
I’ll be honest and say that despite the maddening second guessing that’s gone on in chez Reptile House regarding which pouches and where to put them, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single iteration of this chest rig when in use in the woods. I’ll run through my current configuration at a later date, but I’m very happy with this and it’ll work either as a dedicated chest rig or as a PC placard.
However, the one area where Crye has gone with expediency over clever design is with the totally inadequate hook velcro sleeves which come complete with the rig. These, you’re supposed to thread through the exposed PALS straps on the reverse of the placard. It’s just not a very good solution because there are too few of them, and they are not incredibly easy to install or remove; something you simply cannot do without removing pouches. So I use One Wrap, instead.
That’s all I’d change, but to be fair I rarely wear a PC so it’s not a deal breaker. And I’ve fixed it anyway.
You can also use One Wrap or other methods if you like to dangle shit off the bottom edge of the placard, or repurpose unused stuff like I have.
Again, check out Part 1 of this series if you want less opinion and more thoughts on the feature set per se.