I read a very interesting article over at American Partisan the other day about gear selection. The author (John from Apha Charlie Concepts), raised an extremely valid point – your mission should always drive your gear selection. I thought the article was an excellent initial approach to thinking about what gear you’re buying. My only argument with his article is that it seemed to focus very heavily on one segment – a well-stocked, rural individual. As such, I believe that while his primary point is valid (especially in regards to copying trends), there are additional points to be considered. Please note that I’m not trying to start some sort of internet fan-fight, I just want to expand what I can on his thoughts. If you take only one thing away from his or my article, let it be a reminder to understand why you’re buying your gear and not just to copy what might work (or not work) for someone else.
First, one of his primary arguments against armor is the danger of heat casualty versus the need for the protection offered. The other argument is the decrease in mobility that armor can bring. His point about heat is valid. I’ve worn armor from the Mid-Atlantic all the way down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and heat is a huge concern. There is nothing fun about sweating to the point where your shirt is so soaked that sweat is actually trickling out of your sleeve. If your area isn’t networked, your logistics are going to be limited to what you have on hand when the fight kicks off, including water. You have what you have unless you can procure more, so blasting through half of your water stash on one patrol isn’t going to work out in the long run. His point about mobility is also valid. Even the lightest armor will restrict your mobility, whether weighing you down or affecting how you can maneuver your weapon. So, yes, for a rural patrol with very little likelihood of contact, the protection of the armor may not outweigh the danger of dehydration or the decrease in mobility. However, for an urban environment (assuming you can’t leave and get rural), you will likely be in a very population dense area where you are far more likely to run into threats, and also far less likely to have to do an extended patrol. In that case, the higher threat level may justify a plate carrier. Know your operating environment and your mission and let that decide your gear.
Second, keep in mind that your mission may evolve as an incident continues. No matter how well-stocked you start out, eventually your stocks will run out if the incident goes long. Hopefully before that happens you find another source of supply to wheel and deal with. But, if you can’t find a trading partner, it may become necessary to scrounge. If you are scrounging, others probably are as well. That increases your likelihood of coming into contact with decidedly unfriendly individuals, and thus increases your need for armor. With that said, you’ll probably only need the armor for small sections of your work. Having a light rig for the other sections is still a good idea. Since everyone likes copying cool guys, we’ll use them as an example. A SOF team might get tasked with direct action and reconnaissance work, and they often have separate rigs for each mission, or they may have modular rigs that they can add and subtract from based on their needs.
As a personal example, back when I acted a lot cooler than I actually was I worked for a Coast Guard unit that conducted both direct action-style law enforcement work as well as reconnaissance and surveillance in preparation for the direct action work. On the direct action side we wore Eagle Industries quick release plate carriers, swimmer cut level IV plates, a rifle, a pistol, magazines, communications, medical, night vision, and breaching gear. Except for our team comms guys, our comms were basic – just a PRC-152 for local intra-team communications. We typically inserted via some sort of mobility platform that could also resupply us, so we went as light as we could (because falling in the water with a hundred pounds of gear sucks).
On the reconnaissance side, we wore Eagle Industries multipurpose chest rigs (usually without plates underneath), carried one to two rifles, a full comms and camera suite, medical gear, three days worth of supplies, and all our hide gear. We often had a PRC-152, PRC-117, antennas, multiple cameras, night vision for us, night vision for the camera, food, water, shelter, and sleeping gear. We were expected to be self-sufficient for those three days and our load weight reflected that – I’m pretty sure every load we ever packed was a minimum of 100 pounds. The gear was broken up into a large backpack that could be dropped at our processing site and a smaller pack that integrated with our chest rig for when we pushed out to our recon site. Our mission was to be as invisible as possible and gather information until the direct action side was given the green light, at which point we would support. Two very different missions, two very different kits.
Now, back then I had Uncle Sam buying my gear, so having two dedicated kits was easy. Heck, I had three rifles and a pistol issued to me (a Knight’s Mk11, Colt Mk18, Colt M4, and Sig Sauer P229R DAK) and about four Pelican cases worth of gear. Sadly, I had to turn all that back in and now I have to buy my own gear, so the cost of multiple kits can easily get daunting. So what’s a civilian without a sugar daddy to do? Well, know your mission. No matter what your environment, you’ll need to carry ammo, at least some water, and probably comms. Get a rig that can support that, at a minimum. Look for surplus stuff on eBay and in some of the gear exchange groups on Facebook or forums. If your mission requires, get a plate carrier with the best armor you can afford. There are a lot of different carrier and armor manufacturers. Even if all you can afford is a slick carrier, you can throw your other rig over top. Now you have a modular setup that doesn’t require two dedicated kits and you can slide between the missions relatively simply. While I understand that armor can be very expensive I do honestly believe that having the capability is a necessity, but not necessarily first priority.
Lastly, don’t forget your low-profile kit. In many cases (including day to day), not looking like the armed prepper is one thing that might keep you flying below the radar. And in many cases, invisibility is fantastic armor in its own right. Here again, make sure your gear lends itself to your daily life and fits your mission.
Always remember, before you drop a dime, ask “why?” You’ll save yourself pain in the long run.