In Part 1 of this series I looked at the AVS Base Configuration. That article fundamentally is an exposition of the AVS Harness and Standard Plate Bag Set. While complimentary to this article, it’s not essential to read Part 1 first. However, it does provide additional detail on the plate bags which are common to both setups but out of scope here.
This article looks at another transformational part of the AVS toolkit whose adherents are every bit as zealous as those concerned with the AVS Harness: the AVS Padded Yoke.
The Yoke and the Harness are interchangeable components. In their separate ways they elevate the AVS above the ‘sandwich board’ configuration of pretty much every carrier out there, in to a peerless platform (in my opinion).
Being mutually exclusive, the choice of Yoke or Harness can for me be boiled down to one question: how much weight is to be carried? The Yoke excelling in lighter setups, whereas the Harness excels with much greater loads. However there is a large degree of overlap and that’s not to say the Yoke can’t handle heavy loads – far from it.
3. Sandwich Board, Versus Harness, Versus Yoke
3.1 Sandwich Board
Most PCs on the market today are of the ‘sandwich board’ variety which consists of two plate bags connected by straps at the shoulders, with the user sandwiched between. It’s a simple, effective, popular design which has the capability to be lightweight and mitigate heat relatively well.
That said, it isn’t optimum for weight bearing in general terms because the user bears most of the load on their shoulder blades. Two modern exceptions to this are Ferro’s excellent FCPC V5 (REVIEW) which is optimised with the vertically stiffened 3AC, and Crye’s own SPC (REVIEW) which is optimised with the similarly capable Airlite Structural Cummerbund. These carriers are as light as light sandwich board carriers tend to be, but with some of the weight bearing capabilities native to the AVS Harness.
3.2 AVS Harness
The AVS Harness bestows its namesake PC with the ability to absorb and redistribute loads across the majority of the user’s torso – not just the shoulders.
It’s like an articulated exoskeleton, which increases surface contact but stretches and flexes with the user as they ambulate. For these reasons the AVS Harness provides superior comfort at increased loads, but it has a two-part Achilles heel:
- The increased coverage which spreads load so effectively mitigates heat less well than the alternatives
- It requires a minimum weight to work well; so, for instance, it wears poorly with super light plates (which will at some point become the norm)
It should be clearly noted that while the AVS Harness needs a decent load to do its job, that load does not have to be arranged symmetrically – another positive which should not be taken for granted, as it’s a rare capability.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a more in depth exposition of the AVS Harness in Part 1 of this series.
3.3 AVS Padded Yoke
Prior to experiencing the AVS Padded Yoke for myself, I had in mind that removing the AVS Harness from my plate carrier would catastrophically demote its capabilities. That’s entirely true if I merely connected the two plate bags I’d be left with via the shoulder straps, and used the AVS as a sandwich board PC. In that case I may as well buy something more economically priced, because (to stray into tautology) there’s little unique about an AVS that’s stripped of its unique features.
What I did not expect was the transformative quality of bridging the plate bags with the AVS Yoke; although I should have suspected it, because of the number of long time AVS enthusiasts I know who swear by this configuration (and those same people happen to be ones that I trust in these matters).
They are not making it up.
I’m at a loss for similes because the Yoke isn’t quite a mini-Harness, nor is it Harness-lite. It’s perhaps not as capable as the AVS Harness at distributing very heavy or asymmetric loads, evidently because it lacks the semi-rigid structure and doesn’t envelope the user in anything like the same way. That being said, it’s excellent at managing the loads I typically carry, as well as even lighter loads which the AVS Harness baulks at.
3.3.1 How Is The Yoke Unique?
It will be of no surprise to learn that as its name suggests, the AVS Yoke is a weight distribution device. The same can be said for sandwich board PC shoulder straps, and the AVS Harness. However, the Yoke combines some of the best of both. It is adequately padded though not incredibly plush, and very wide and stable. It imparts superior comfort whilst remaining relatively flat and low profile.
Because the AVS Yoke doesn’t cover as much of the user as the AVS Harness, it makes for a better ventilated plate carrier; perhaps even more so than the average sandwich board arrangement, because it lends a degree of stand-off to the upper back. It’s certainly more comfortable because of this, as the rear plate doesn’t feel like it’s clamped directly to your back. In fairness this is aided by the uncommon location of the Skeletal Cummerbund. The latter will be explained later when we look at Yoke integration.
Lastly, an important point to make is that a PC using the AVS Yoke packs flat like a sandwich board PC. A PC which utilises the AVS Harness, on the other hand, keeps its structure and is therefore a pain in the arse to transport or stow.
3.3.2 Other Features
The AVS Yoke features a hefty webbing drag handle which is colour-matched in MC, unlike the one on the rear plate bag. It also features a ventilated section at the rear, plus comms/hydro management and attachment points for other platforms and accessories – including the AVS 1000 Pack.
It can be used with a number of Crye platforms, including the AVS Chest Rig – but also MOLLE belts.
4. AVS Yoke Plate Carrier Integration
Integrating the Yoke with plate bags and cummerbund is a lot easier in principle than integrating the AVS Harness, although fine tuning for fit is a massive ballache (mentioned further in the following section).
In short, the Yoke connects via the straps at the top of each bag and the user can even retain the iconic AVS buckle (remaining stylish in the process). Even Crye can’t make this exercise more than a couple of pages long in their Operator’s Manual.
In this configuration the Skeletal Cummerbund attaches in a rather novel location: not outside or through the rear plate bag, but on the inside.
I was really expecting this to be a bit shit and uncomfortable but ergonomically it’s more like the AVS Harness (which we like) and less like a sandwich board (which we’re less keen on). So none of that ironing board pressing your back feeling and more a sense of the plate being slightly offset from the user.
It’s hard to describe but trust me, it’s good. Not as comfortable as the total plate dislocation of the AVS, but closer to it than the alternative.
5. Size and Fit
Is one size fits all a blessing or a curse? The AVS Yoke could be the only significant AVS component which doesn’t come in a range of sizes. This means that while it’s pretty much plug and play on the face of things, it’s a frustrating journey to fit optimisation.
There are (confusingly) five points of adjustment:
Once you’ve got your head around it all it then becomes a case of adjusting, trying it on, adjusting again and so on – then trying to get back to previous settings which somehow seemed better. Basically it took a day just to sort this part, before I even got to testing the configuration (although it thoroughly tested me).
What are my benchmarks for decent fit? I’m a 42” chest and take large in most apparel (e.g. Arc’teryx), but If I have any physique at all it’s closest to that of a runner. I am quite comfortable with medium or large plates, but I have settled on medium as the likelihood of needing more extensive ballistic protection is for me relatively slim.
Needless to say, my plate bags are medium. As for my Skeletal Cummerbund, the one in use here normally prowls the circumference of my AVS Harness and is size large. Medium would also work for me in this application.
In terms of plate height I aim to match the top end curve of the front plate to my chest, which means 2-3 fingers down from my suprasternal notch when using medium Travail training plates.
At the rear, I aim to get the top of the plate in line with my suprasternal notch.
Bear in mind that the location of the notch is subtly different from person to person, as are the size of someone’s hands. This method is useful for me, however, and usually allows decent coverage with the ability to shoulder a rifle effectively. I also prefer the equilibrium of placing the rear plate higher than the front and this is, after all, how the AVS Harness also is modelled.
Taking on an analogy, a standard backpack mainly concentrates weight on the shoulder blades – much the same as a sandwich board PC. Similarly, a standard backpack shifts on its straps as the user moves – as does a sandwich board PC, which can slip past its point of equilibrium and sag low at front or back.
Extending the backpack analogy, then, Crye includes frame sheet-like structures in its AVS plate bags. Together with the AVS Yoke, I do wonder if these design motifs were picked up from the pack market and recycled for a tactical audience; because like a yoke backpack, the AVS configured with an AVS Yoke shares its burden not only with the shoulder blades but with the upper back as well. It’s also less prone to slippage, so stays centred on the user much like the AVS Harness.
Surprising even myself, I haven’t rushed to replace the AVS Yoke with the AVS Harness, but that’s not to say that the AVS Harness is out of favour. Far from it – it’s still the one to beat.
The AVS is a toolkit which adapts to different use cases and right now I’m further exploring the Yoke route. My next AVS exercise may be to mate the Airlite Structural Cummerbund with the Yoke.
I’d also like to take a look at AXL’s Micro AVS Harness, which appears to be Yoke compatible – although it doesn’t show on their site right now.
Crye’s Stretch Cummerbund also looks appealing.
Will any future Yoke combination be the Harness killer? Who knows. It’ll take an awful lot for it to lose its shine in my eyes. However, if equal to the Harness it could be a more economical route to optimisation.
With thanks to Tactical Optician – an AVS Yoke early adopter who kindly took the time to discuss many of the ideas in this article, despite being on the Covid frontline.