Chest rig madness

Disclaimer: This is NOT meant as a tacticool fanboi hardware post. This is rather about a meta theme that I've touched on repeatedly already; modesty and self-discipline. This is also a re-write of a too short six year old blog post.

From the late blackpowder era to the early Cold War the infantryman's load was primarily on his waist and in his hands during combat, with additional rucksack (or other container) on the shoulders at times (not during all marching).

The waist position makes a  lot of sense for placing loads. Unlike extremities, the waist doesn't move forward and backward much, so you do not need to accelerate it with its mass so much. Sports sciences have found that very good marathon runners tend to have very small and light calves. This is energy efficient.
Kalenjin have particularly thin ankles and calves, a body build common to Nilotic tribes who grow up near the equator. Epstein says this is particularly important in running because your leg is like a pendulum. The more weight you have farther away from your center of gravity, the more difficult it is to swing.
If you take a runner and put 8 pounds of weight around his waist, he can still run reasonably well. But if you put those same 8 pounds in the form of two 4-pound weights around his ankles, that will take much more energy and slow him down considerably.

More importantly, nothing that's being carried by the waist is a burden to the back torso muscles or even neck or arm muscles. This greatly improves energy efficiency.

Photographic evidence of WW2 shows that infantrymen rarely had much load in the front position on the waist. There was an occasional egg hand grenade on or in chest pockets and sometimes a bandoleer for cross-loading ammunition, but very rarely anything big in the belly position. Big pouches in the left front and right front are seen often, but those pouches gave way for the body when the soldier went prone to minimise his silhouette as a target.

I once read that some snipers - notably Simo Häyhä - preferred iron sights for sniping at short ranges because this allowed them to minimise their silhouette as a target*. This is a very distant idea for today's infantrymen with their straight buttstock** + raised optics rifles, particularly with stacked optics as on the G36.

So why would anyone intentionally add about 10 cm to his silhouette height by adding chest pouches  to the belly position? This maybe even in addition to 2-3 cm thickness of hard body armour inserts. That may make sense in urban combat, and nowhere else.

All those belly position pouches are near-suicidal in my opinion. They do not only increase the height in prone position, but also discourage going into the prone position (or to crawl) in the first place.***

But "modern" chest rigs do not stop at this. It's standard behaviour to burden the soldier to his limit, not to some optimum level, after all. This does not only apply to mass. It's also about surfaces and volumes. There is a chest area? Let's cover it with big pouches!
The result is not only a large silhouette, but this also burdens the torso muscles. A chest rig may do so as well to some degree or completely (resting on suspenders).

The result is that you can actually carry LESS because you tire out more quickly per kg carried.

WW2 infantry was able to sprint from cover to cover, and still had a remaining life expectation that makes one wonder why they didn't surrender or desert right away. To stay in front line infantry service was either suicide or self-mutilation. Most likely it was delusional.
Yet those infantrymen were able to sprint from cover to cover. Today's infantrymen cannot do so with their full combat equipment. The WW2 infantrymen were also able to use the smallest depressions of the terrain as cover - today's infantrymen couldn't. Their smallest silhouette is comparable to the silhouette of those extremely short-lived WW2 infantrymen who were careless enough to always keep their head up when prone.

As hinted before (twice), this is not about some fancy gear. This is about modesty and self-discipline. I think modern armies lack the respect for old lessons learned, modesty and self-discipline to get this right. It doesn't take a genius to discover this; troops in laser-based or other exercises recognise this every day. Yet somehow the bureaucracies cannot resist the temptation to burden the infantryman to the limit not only in regard to mass, but also area and volume. In fact, I think they went past the limit of practicality, but didn't get the bloody nose to recognise this yet.
Similar patterns are to be expected in other areas of armed bureaucracies.

earlier article: 2010-09 Chest rigs


*: Maybe you remember how in basic training the trainers stepped on your heels (and later you did to others) of recruits in prone position to ingrain that heels need be down to minimise silhouettes in prone position?
**: This allows the recoil impulse to go straight into the shoulder without major muzzle climb tendency.  The drawback is that the sights need to be raised far above the barrel for ergonomic reasons. This makes sense mostly for fully automatic fire at 50-150 m. I knew the 7.62x51 mm G3 rifle and considered its climb tendency on full auto as unproblematic at 30 m (I was no big guy at all at the time). You simply had to aim low, then you would place 3-4 hits on a torso-sized target. I cannot quite understand the modern preference for the straight buttstock rifle designs.
***: I sure remember that my pants' belt knuckle behind the load-bearing belt buckle was a painful-enough combo to often inhibit me in this regard.

P.S.: Now my recommendations, just in case anyone is interested: A wide, padded belt with a fragmentation protection insert in the front area with some fixed (saving fabric weight) and a few modular pouches + a light fragmentation protection vest (STANAG 2920 F2, pretty much a shortened version of the flak vest that I had in the 90's but without any integral pouches and with even better ballistic textile layers to cut down its 2.5-3.2 kg weight even more). Add a non-combat rucksack of medium volume. A chest rig with grenade and magazine pouches on the chest is acceptable only as an option for urban combat.


  1. Take a look at 10:20 of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1otNlYgX4eA

    Did you have something like that in mind? Maybe there could be a version with fragmentation protection integrated or a simlar belt could be attached over this ultra-modern modular efficient load-bearing system.

    Possibly a somewhat longer system aka microskirt could be used to protect the groin ...

    So usually a light "Flak" vest + (load-bearing) miniskirt augmented in case by a plate carrier with attachments or chest rig. Some integrated frag protection for elbows or knees could make sense to somewhat limit damage to those complicated areas (volumes?). A thin padding underneath might additionally encourage getting down and crawling.


    Some educated informations about historical groin protection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUMfjHANRVw

    1. http://tinyurl.com/h2ycc9m
      A problem with COTS padded fragmentation belts is that they have the Kevlar/Aramid inserts where you need them the least (under the usually filled pouches, not in front close to the buckle where I oppose having thick pouches).

      Plate carriers make no sense for anything but guard/checkpoint duty imo. In urban combat you need to climb stairs, ladders, walls or into balconies and windows. HE/FAE is a huge killer in urban warfare. 12 kg extra weight for partial bulletproofing are unacceptable.

      The bureaucracies added one patch (side torso plates, shoulder plates etc) after another, approached full coverage because they always felt that a little extra weight is OK. They arrived at soft groin protection long ago:
      There are also suspended plates NIJ Level III/IV in use as groin protection, but I think of this as excessive weight (save for EOD and maybe guard/checkpoint use).

  2. A quick look at accoutrements supports your thesis. Chest rigs, also called "bras" (direct translation of "lifchik" in Russian usage) generally have the advantage of being flat-backed, enabling you to wear a rucksack over them. The South Africans and Rhodesians, often highly lauded for expertise in small unit battle, explicitly developed load carriage on the chest for these purposes (see M83 chest rig versus M83 assault vest or preceding patterns of web equipment). The Soviets in Afghanistan, burdened with rather shitty LBE, come up with a number of bottom-up solutions, most of which move magazines to the chest and all other weight to the waist or a rucksack. Most commonly: the magazine cells only accomodate a single magazine or two stacks of magazines at maximum, there are sometimes grenade pouches or small GP pouches for a field dressing, and all other equipment is carried in a rucksack or pockets. These solutions are all substantially different from modern MOLLE-equipped plate carriers or body armour vests with the plethora of pouches. Russian "lifchiki" have gotten heavier, but are still minimalist compared to NATO solutions.

    PLCE continues the "flat front" directly from the P58 web equipment that superceded the P37 and P44 equipments. Pattern 37 can often be seen with the basic pouches pushed over to the sides under the arms so troops can get flatter, or completely abandoned and substituted for with pockets and bandoliers. The modern Russian "Smersh" equipment and its immediate predecessors ape this exactly. The Smersh is highly popular with units that actually get into fights, unlike the LBE-cum-Chestrig Sh119 equipment.

    Fixation on straight stock rifle design is for close combat, as you've identified. It's very warry, ally, door-kicker operatory, and therefore necessary for every rifleman to have. In the same way, over-adorned vests that make sense for direct action urban raids have become de rigeur and very much the standard. Interestingly, even the gear porn-heavy advertising videos of certain units (see: 45ORP, FSB TsN) reveal that on exercise in rural areas or where agility is required, equipment shrinks to a minimum of LBE (generally Smersh type or a lifchik) and a rucksack, with minimal if any body armour.

    1. I was able to consistently score 3-4 hits out of five on a torso-sized target at 30 m with a G3 (7.62x51 mm, angled buttstock). Control would be even more simple with a 5.56x45 mm. I do not see a need for bursts at distances where you cannot hit with 4/5 rounds of a 5.56x45 mm burst. And the issue is quite non-existant with bursts of 2 or 3.

      As mentioned, the straight shoulder stocks make very little sense. Maybe the AR-15 action was simply too long, so they chose straight instead of the classic angled ones - and then others mimicked the design for no reason.
      The high sights aren't anywhere near ideal for the purpose of aiming in itself either.

      Soldiers abhor using the full kit on exercises. The problem is leadership from platoon to battalion that don't dare impose weight discipline when there may be a real fight that may go wrong and some equipment not carried might have helped.
      This is similar to the airspace deconfliction excesses; officers (who shouldn't be officers) covering their asses first.

    2. I agree with your points on small arms, it is not a problem that required a solution. And I think the technical requirement on the AR15 action definitely influenced design, now that you mention it.

      The nature of the videos was for display, and in all instances they showcased as much shit as they could. I agree that troops are troops, but these videos were distinct. For that reason they might be non-representational: but when I look at photos of the same formations in Dagestan or Ingushetiya, they are also carrying a minimum of equipment in a chest rig and then a mountaineering pack with all other kit.

  3. I never cared much for chest rigs either, they have a place in a fast moving assault, but make it tough to climb over walls, and of course screw-up your ability to take a low profile prone position.

    Of course large packs are also a great telltale for the enemy.

    Weight belongs on the natural waist above the hips as much as possible, the spine is not suited to carrying heavy loads.

    I dislike the AR15/M16 intensely, but think that the general ergonomics (including the straight butt stock) are fine.

    I more concerned about troops overloading their rifle with toys: a simple optic, provision for night vision, and perhaps small light (or for leaders, a laser target designator) is sufficient. Specialist troops might add a more, but they have access to the training facilities needed to make effective use of the added gear.

    On a final note, the USA has a long history of overburdening troops with equipment, but I know of a few SOF units that cut the combat load of their troops for 24-hour missions to: carbine, plate carrier, helmet, 4x magazines, squad radio, water, knife, tourniquet, field dressing - about 13 kg!


  4. The legs of a deer or horse offer show neatly how evolution has elongated it's elements to increase the dynamic efficiency. The muscle mass high up powers the stride through the tough sinews. The same goes for a bird, with it's powerful breast muscles moving the light wings.

    Obviously there is also a certain logic behind the placement of fat in mammals...


    It's somewhat ironic that the straight buttstock was introduced as part of a light-weight package which also contained the far lighter-recoiling 5.56x45. Such ergonomics are more important for calibres with heavier recoils or higher volumes of fire. With a suppressor, important for hiding infantry, the disadvantages of an angled stock are further reduced.


    P.S: What is your opinion of the Hidesight? Of course you could also use it entrenched with headcover and rifle rests. It's fairly light and cheap. Interestingly it comes from Suomi and according to them "Hidesight is highly useful in situations where the opposing force is significantly larger in size, carrying body armor is not an option, or when the opposing force tries to advance with help of indirect fire."



    P.P.S: The Bundeswehr has other things in mind, it seems.
    5:35 + 6:18 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeMj07yKTzE

    1. There were a couple such gadgets, for example the "parascope". For some reason they keep waiting for a breakthrough. I suppose there is little use for them save for urban combat situations.
      A proper, really lightweight telescopic/folding periscope for observation AND quick looks should be used, and once you have that there's less need for such rifle sight gadgets.

      I'm not really in the business of blogging about or reviewing tacticool gadgets. My private purchases (and thus recent experiences) in this regard are limited to camping and hiking items. I'm amazed by the lightness of Esbit(tm) titanium alloy items, for example.

  5. Long (tall) magazines oblige the shooter to maintain a much higher head and body position than the straight butt stock - the carrying handle was long ago replaced the m1911 rail.

    A great deal of improvement to magazine height and capacity could be achieved.


    1. straight buttstocks = raised profile when weapon rested on cover

      long magazine = raised profile in prone position or when magazine rested on cover (shouldn't)

      deep chest rig (or waist-height front pouches) = raised profile when prone (particularly when taking cover without observing or aiming)

      heels up = raised profile when prone

      beer belly = raised profile when prone

      helmet = raised profile (regarding visibility, not vulnerability)

  6. Gadgets seem to be an endless source of discussion and do often distract from the more important stuff, so I understand your approach. However in some instances technology and money make a difference and in some cases help to lighten your load considerably. You mentioned Esbit titan but that goes also for the big three, rucksack, sleeping system and tent.

    For hunting the El range has substituted the old rangefinder and binos, making things quicker and more comfortable. For roe deer stalking ( less so for chamoix) a Z6 or similar high-zoom scope with ~15 magnification lets you ID the game from considerable range without having to take a spotting scope with you. In those circumstances far quicker and saves you around 1kg.

    On the other hand a bit of self-constraint, by avoiding a magnum allows you to carry a (very) light, short rifle which is easy to shoot well. High quality bullets with good precision do usually a fine job if the shooter does his. Here moderate training and self-discipline are far more important then an expensive tool.

    One? short magazine (20?) enabling a lower profile for observation etc. could make a lot of sense. Trying out the fairly light (~150g) amd cheap (150€), maybe two per squad during laser exercises might be informative.


    P.S: Needless to say that the most cost-efficient weight loss happens for many older folks within your body and not around it.

  7. Straight Buttstocks = lower Recoil and better ergonomy = higher propability to hit the enemy = more firepower

    long Magazine = more ammo = more shots and bursts = = higher propability to hit the enemy = more firepower

    More Firepower = need of more ammo = more pouches necessary

    Firepower > Cover (Fire before Cover)

    Moreover modern infantry combat is not so static any longer. If you stay flat on the ground in cover, some kind of HE/Grenade and so on will finish you soon oder sooner. Or even simple bullets, shot at you from a different direction, for example from above (CQB - Fighting in Cities)

    PS: i do not like chest rigs either, but not for the same reasons.

    1. The connection "lower Recoil and better ergonomy = higher probability of hit" is marginal.

      I clearly disagree about the "static" thing, except that HMGs did indeed lose importance.

      And "firepower > cover" is a peacetime bullshit maxim that was given up on 1st opportunity in a warzone. Concealment is most important, firepower is only occasionally of importance, and cover should only be of importance if you give up concealment to use firepower or mobility (though camouflage helps in this case, too).

      The whole things about infantry suppressive fires only really works reliably at short ranges, where there are few possible and identifiable or even known hostile positions within line of sight with our exposed troops.

  8. Infantry combat happens exactly at short ranges - is about fighting at short ranges - and firepower is not about supressive fire, but effective fire and about "more bullets in the same space in shorter time". Moreover their is a psychological element in this.

    I agree about concealment, but concealment and cover are very different things and a negligible raised profile does not harm the concealment. To the opposite it enhances your perception, especially the possibility to detect hostile positions at all. There is no use in lying flat on the ground and seeing nothing and staying their immobile without any sight.

  9. Changing magazines while prone with a vest was a bother. On the other hand, even a minimal load takes a bit of "floor space" and can't be placed entirely on the chest. Plus the chest rigs, when worn without flak jackets, interfere with breathing. So, like everything, it's a tradeoff.