What exactly is load bearing equipment? What kind of kit is best? What will make me look the coolest? What gear will give me the edge? Will I be at a significant disadvantage if I can’t spend a lot of money?
The answers and more…
Load bearing equipment is quite simply what you use to carry all your stuff. Airsoft requires that you keep a wide variety of items on your person and most of it has to be quickly accessible. There are quite a few types of load bearing kits and the major ones are outlined below. Each has advantages and disadvantages so be sure to do your research before purchasing.
Belt and Suspenders
Belt and suspenders kits carry your equipment around your waist. The biggest advantage they offer is that they do not interfere with your body’s ability to get rid of heat because they cover so little of you. Another advantage is that when adjusted properly there is nothing between you and the ground when you lay down. This lowers your profile while prone and lessens the chance you’ll get hit. As a result of this, designated marksmen, snipers and support gunners love this type of kit. Downsides? Mag changes take a little bit longer as your mags are farther away from your gun then they would be in a chest rig. This style of kit is great for new players due to its ease of set up and ability to perform multiple missions. It is also very adjustable and great for rental/loaner situations. Popular styles: ALICE, H-harness, LBT 1195, Blackhawk! ISSAK, Spear ELCS.
Yep, even the simple backpack can be used in
airsoft. Why? Because you can take it off. If you are going to be in a stationary position for a long period of time or you have gear you’ll only need for part of a mission (like extra ammo, food or sleeping gear) then use a backpack. You can drop it and continue your mission without unnecessary weight. The down sides? You don’t have quick access to your gear so use this to carry items you don’t need immediate access to. Most often, backpacks are used as “FOB Packs” as seen in this article.
Chest rigs are all the rave right now. Why? All your gear is right in front of you and is easy to get to. Also, they enable you to have quick mag changes and are simple to take on and off. Finally, chest rigs are very light and are comfortable while riding in a vehicle. The down sides? All your gear is on your chest so you’ll be laying on it when you go prone, making you a larger target. Also, mag changes while prone become difficult because you’ll be laying on all your gear. Last, when worn alone chest rigs can wear your back out because all the weight is up front. I’ve found they work best when combined with a small pack of some sort.
There are many types of MOLLE vests, but for the purpose of this guide I am referring to ones that don’t carry armor and therefore don’t need to cover as much of your chest. This lower percentage of torso coverage aids in body heat dissipation and yet it has more space for gear than a belt and suspenders kit. This type of kit can be modified to do just about anything and I absolutely recommend it to a new player. There are numerous types, but the Army Fighting Load Carrier (at right) and Condor Modular Chest Set are prime examples.
The tactical (non MOLLE) vest covers your torso and has sewn on pouches to carry your gear. Why is this good? It is much lighter than a MOLLE vest. There is a large amount of extra fabric in the MOLLE system that adds weight; the limitation of these vests is that the pouches are stuck where they are at so they are best used for dedicated kits. One way to regain some modularity is to also wear a belt with pouches on it. Again there are many styles but the Lbv-88 and Blackhawk! omega type vests are the most common. Final tip: look for mesh construction. This lowers weight even more and helps your body regulate heat.
Not to be confused with a full armor carrier,
the plate carrier carries hard plates to cover your torso and back. In it’s purest form, the plate carrier does not cover your sides at all and thereby has a little bit more heat dissipation than a full armor vest. However, this cuts down on the amount of space there is to attach gear and again, makes your chest bulky and uncomfortable to lay on. Because of this, plate carriers are best used for light load outs. Another option is to also wear a belt and suspenders kit to increase gear capacity.
Full Armor Vest
The armor vest is designed to carry soft and hard armor and covers almost all of the torso. Because of this, it does not allow your body to breathe and serious heat problems can incur if worn in hot climates. However, the full armor vest also gives you the most space to carry gear and you can spread your gear out so it is very comfortable. This is my favorite type of kit to wear in the winter as it keeps me nice and warm.
So which kit will make me look cool!?
I realize that many desire to look cool while playing airsoft and believe me I am with you! That said, in my opinion the kit that will make you look the coolest is the kit that you use correctly. A $600 plate carrier sagging down to your butt is much less appealing than a $20 ALICE kit worn properly.
If you desire the HSLD look, I urge you to do your research before you start buying. The basics of many high speed looks acquired for a relatively low cost if you know what to aim for. If you are committed to an exact impression, I salute you and ask you to send me photos! The bottom line is this…buy what works for you. Think long and hard about your style of play and the things you have to carry. It is far more important to practice with the gear that you have and be comfortable in it than to purchase the latest and greatest. Elite operators need top quality gear because of the environments that they fight in but the gear does not make them elite; it’s what they can do with it that does.
For those looking for more information on how to build your kit, I have a series of articles just for you! The first is entitled Navy SEAL Kit Analysis, an Introduction to METT-TC.
Special thanks to KDog with KDog Action Photography for the use of her photos.