5.11 Chest Rig – Initial Impressions

For awhile now I’ve had interest in playing with some simple chest-rig configurations for somewhat unconventional purposes. Namely, supporting firearms not commonly supported by modern tactical gear, and load-bearing for non-tactical purposes. The easiest solution for adapting to something unconventional is to start with a highly modular platform. The obvious conclusion is a strictly MOLLE chest rig. Also as noted in some previous writing, this type of load bearing equipment arose as a possible solution for mine exploration work as well.
There are a bevy of options for this type of rig out there, almost everyone makes some variant of a plain-MOLLE chest rig. One of the more recent entrants into that field is 5.11
Known for their clothing, 5.11 Tactical has only more recently begun to expand their line into tactical gear proper. Among other things, they offer a small handful of packs and bags, and a growing range of MOLLE compatible pouches and rigs.
These offerings seem to be aimed at providing a low cost alternative, that delivers higher quality than airsoft grade drek without the price of higher end gear. I don’t think anyone is expecting Eagle, Tactical Tailor, Emdom or Paraclete for the prices 5.11 is asking, including 5.11 themselves.
The chest rig from 5.11 is a simple design, using basic features to create a robust platform rather than going for anything too “whiz-bang”. The rig is a simple mesh panel, with PALs webbing across the front, and a mesh pocket its width across the rear. The X-harness attaches to the chest rig via four UTX Flex side-release buckles, two at the top and one on each side. The construction of the rig seems solid enough. I’ve seen more bombproof stitching methods than are used here, but I see no obvious problems with those used. Again, for a $29.99 product, this is a step above what is commonly available for those prices (i.e. airsoft crap). It has certainly, in my initial outings with it, held up better than airsoft-grade crap.
(More after the Jump)


So far, I’ve used the chest rig hard twice, and had no issues with it. The first hard use was loading it up with pouches and wearing it for a mine exploration trip. The intent had been to go into a fairly large complex, and spend most of the day in there, so I had packed accordingly. The essential gear was mounted on the chest rig – A medical kit in an OSOE blow-out kit pouch, tools (carabiners, haul line, multitool, spare batteries, and backup lights) in a 6×6” utility pouch with a small admin pouch atop that containing miniature pry bars, a BFE Labs survival saw, a multi-driver and bits, pencil, paper and a CountyComm SO-LED. That’s a really minimalist kit, but it allowed me to put most of what I like to have on my chest, freeing up my back. The 5.11 chest rig held all this well, and I had no issue with the PALS when mounting the pouches with Blackhawk SpeedClips. The chest rig was jammed into my backpack, along with a Camelback hydration carrier, and packed to the adit.

The 5.11 Chest Rig Loaded for Subterranean Exploration

Our plan didn’t quite work out, and in lieu of spending all day in one system we ended up hole hunting for most of the day. We found several promising adits, and the pack was abandoned for the chest rig and hydration carrier, only to find the tunnels to be short, or collapsed. Over the course of an eight hour day, I took the chest rig on and off at least half a dozen times. No problems presented themselves during this repeated donning and doffing, nor from shoving it into a pack and yanking it out repeatedly. It held its size adjustments surprisingly well given that. I’d had my doubts about the elastic keepers used to hold the running ends of the harness straps, but they seemed to do their job.
Once we finally found a tunnel allowing for extended exploration, wearing the chest rig for an extended period presented no problems either. It wore comfortably, and did its job without issue. For being a fairly simple strap system, the harness wasn’t uncomfortable, even worn under a full hydration carrier. The mesh backing also worked to ensure that the rig was fairly breathable, further adding to its comfort over an extended period.

Wearing the 5.11 Chest Rig Below Ground

The second hard use of the 5.11 chest rig was simply an afternoon shooting off it. I mounted a MOLLE pistol holster, mag pouches and a blow-out kit and spent several hours playing with the idea of a chest rig mounted pistol set-up. I spent a few hours out of an afternoon with unloaded pistol and support gear practicing draw and reholster, magazine access and deploying the blowout kit until I had things positioned where I liked them and found them at least somewhat functional. Taking it to the range, I didn’t shoot an extensive course of fire with it, but worked several drills repeatedly from the holster and involving reloads. I never had a problem with the rig during this use either.

My only real complaint, if it can be called that, is that the material for the chest rig is somewhat shiny. This is common with a lot of nylon, particularly when brand new, and decreases over time as the gear gets used, sun faded and dirt worked into it. However, I decided to speed up the process and grabbed my rattle cans. I gently dusted the rig with black in erratic stripes. This is pretty much useless on the chest portion, as it will be covered with pouches, but adds some enhanced shadow effect and breaks up the outlines of the edges. On the straps and buckles it helps to do the same, and adds a general dull tone to the whole thing. I paid special attention to the hardware, going so far as to grab some netting, and hit it all up with some additional green for enhanced shadow and disruptive effect. I’ve ended up rattle canning most of my gear, simply to help break up the lines and make it blend a little better in my environment, so this isn’t really a negative statement on 5.11 or the quality of the rig.

Detail of the Rattle-Can Treated Hardware and Straps

So far, I’m happy. For the cost this rig seems to deliver good functionality and durability. I will say, were I in the business of wearing a chest rig every day, all day, and doing hard fighting or work off the pouches mounted on it, the 5.11 would not be my choice. What are small differences in construction, and a slight lack of utter bomb-proof stitching and materials tend to not matter for occasional use, but they do reduce the long term hard use durability of an item. Now, I want to make it clear, this isn’t a shortcoming on the part of 5.11, as they are upfront about the intent for this product marketing it as gear for active shooter response, not day in day out wear.
In accordance with the use of the target market, the 5.11 Chest Rig delivers a better value for $30 than comparably priced (but lower quality) units from other manufacturers. It is, so far, meeting my needs and expectations with aplomb.

A lot of folks would call this a more complete review than a mere “initial impression”, but it’s really not. These are my initial impressions from several weeks of having it around, but only two periods of real use. Despite how some conduct reviews, this is not extensive enough to constitute a complete review. Once I’ve used it more, and actually shot off it more, I’ll post a more detailed review. Stay tuned.

For those interested, you can find the chest rig, and learn more about 5.11’s complete line here: http://www.511tactical.com/

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3 responses to “5.11 Chest Rig – Initial Impressions”

  1. Carol says:

    Hey thanks for posting this review. I have been mulling a project to make a MOLLE chest rig to use when I am hiking. Just never happy with stuff shoved in my pockets or having nothing on me when i take off my pack. Add a couple pouches and I hold the 10 Essentials. plus my GPS.

  2. BFE Labs says:

    Carol – Glad you found the review helpful.I still prefer hiking with a pack, even a lightweight one. My primary non-tactical use for the chest rig remains confined space movement, i.e. abandoned mine and cave work.That said – There is a lot of merit to chest rigs for hiking as well.There remains a lot of room for exploration away from the conventional backpack for hiking. Some companies, Civilian Lab's (who I think are defunct now), have made movements in this direction before. MaxPedition has also offered some unconventional gear carrying/load bearing options, coming out of more tactical inspired type of design.I'd like to see a company like Lowe-Alpine (my favorite pack maker still) innovate in this direction.Though compact MOLLE systems may still win out, for the sheer modularity if nothing else. Thanks for reading and the feedback! If you put a MOLLE chest rig to use and have further thoughts on it, feel free to drop back by and share them! Good luck – Morgan.

  3. […] wilderness use, primarily during abandoned mine exploration. These evaluations, beginning with the 5.11 Chest Rig, and continuing with James Mac’s evaluation of the CamelBak Delta 5, are not the typical […]

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