Chest Rigs in Abandoned Mines and Other Ideas Explored

This past Saturday, I, along with Ian Wendt of Special Circumstances and two of our friends, went for an extended wander. It was a great single day of hiking and exploring. Eight hours of near-non-stop movement through pretty rough country (7000 – 8000+ feet elevation, with rapid drops and rises between that range), plus some forays into abandoned mines.
We had struck out with the hope of entering a specific mine, but found our way blocked, and rather than give up we went for a wander. Looking, of course, for other dark holes to poke around in. We found a few, mostly short and un-interesting. The last one however provided a few hours of good exploration and some opportunity to test some things out.

The folks from 5.11 were kind enough to send me one of their MOLLE compatible chest rigs to T&E. I don’t think they had abandoned mine exploration in mind when they provided the sample, but this was my first opportunity to seriously use the rig after receiving it. }
Our little crew of intrepid idiots… erhm, adventurers, has been talking about changing up our load-bearing methods for working in the mines and using chest-rigs or load-bearing vests has come up as a very workable idea. This was the first time any of us has tested it however.

So far, the idea absolutely has merit. A simple chest rig may not, entirely, be the way to go. At least not as minimalist a rig as the 5.11 one. A larger rig, if not a full vest, might offer better options for reducing the profile and carrying a more complete array of tools. I am going to try some other chest rigs, as I’m already working on some other chest rig projects, and see if some different size or layout (split front) works better. I do think though that I’d like to try a vest as well. One of the crew will eventually be trying this, and it will get talked about either here or on Ian’s blog if he beats us to the punch.
That said, I was able to carry almost everything I normally carry in a full sized pack, by mounting pouches on the chest rig, and using a slim-line CamelBak hydration carrier. This greatly reduced my back profile, and mitigated about 80% of the accidental contacts I was previously experiencing with the walls/ceilings of mine tunnels. Having a pack sticking out from my back, or above my shoulders when ducking, repeatedly caused jarring impacts or hangs on timbers – Both situations to be aggressively avoided in mines.
In addition to reducing my moving profile, I was pleased with the efficiency of having all my tools right in front of me, and easily accessed, without needing to take off a pack.
There are also some shortcomings to this idea, however. As I said, I was only able to carry almost everything I’d have wanted. I reduced my usual first-aid kit to a blow-out kit, and limited wilderness aid kit. I don’t think this is ideal. I want to build a purpose driven medical kit for this type of work, something to at least pack to the adit, and then be running a personal size tailor made kit inside the mines. I was primarily unhappy at not having a SAM Splint in my kit, tough on reconsideration this could’ve been placed flat in the rear pocket of the 5.11 chest rig.
Carrying larger gear such as an extra layer/jacket for those mines that are really cold, becomes pretty difficult without a larger solution than chest mounted pouches as well. I used my regular Lowe-Alpine Contour Mountain 35 to pack all my gear, plus extras (like a jacket) to the mine adits, and then simply left it there, removing the CamelBak and chest rig when preparing to enter. Using judgment from the temperature of the air at the adit, one could decide to wear, or leave, their jacket then and there. It becomes a problem again however, if you do wear an extra layer into the mine and then decide to remove it after you’ve acclimatized. This may take some work, or simply some acceptance of suffering.
But, so far, the idea is proving interesting, and promising.
As we’re looking to get into a much more technical approach, conducting more vertical work, this minimalist approach will have a lot of advantages once we start adding rope bags and gear slings to our regular kit.

For this set of explorations, I kitted out in a loose-fit 5.11 UnderGear FRX-3 t-shirt, 5.11 HRT pants, and Garmont Nasty trail runners/hiking shoes.
The Garmonts are, frankly, a shitty option for both being low top shoes, and being the particular shoe they are. Garmont supposedly makes good kit, but these have so far sucked. They do work in this environment better than other options currently available. This will soon be remedied with a good pair of multi-terrain tactical boots, or a more mountaineering-boot style hiking boot such as from Asolo. I’m not quite ready to go the full mountaineering boot route, due to the increased weight, but the aggressive styling and heel structure appeals to me for this type of adventuring.
I’m really not a 5.11 fan boy, despite running quite a bit of their gear this time out. It’s simply what met my needs at the moment, take from that what you will. The 5.11 HRT pants, which have been discontinued I believe, but they feature an additional layer of a tear and puncture resistant material across the knees, as well as knee-pad slots. This seems quite ideal for the mines, where you can spend a lot of time on, or moving across, your knees. This is the first time I wore them for this, and I was pretty darn happy with them. However, one of my compatriots (Ian of SpecCirc) was wearing a pair as well and ripped out the knee pretty good. But, it does seem that any double knee pant would be better than any single layer, far and away.
The UnderGear shirt is pretty simply just a t-shirt. It was more comfortable than a plain cotton, non-performance/low-performance, t-shirt far and away. I had no reason to need the fire resistant capability this time out, nor do I plan to (these were purchased primarily for firefighting), but I will note that 5.11’s UnderGear with FR capability is a good bit cheaper than that from UnderArmour, and (thus far) seems to offer good performance.

There were some other observations made and lessons learned this trip, but I’ll get into those later as we start developing on some of what we noticed.
I’m also going to throw up an initial impression of the 5.11 Chest Rig in a day or two, once I’ve done a few more things with it. Not a full review, not yet, but just a quick look. Stay tuned!

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