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5.11 is best known for its wide assortment of tactical pants, moisture-wicking polos, and everything else you’ve come to expect from a mild-mannered, not-so-secret OGA (other government agency) employee. The style became so iconic that it’s now the unofficial uniform for DA civilians and contractors in theater. But now, 5.11 is entering the tactical training market in grand style with the premier of their PT-R (Physical Training, Ready) line of field weight bags and fitness vests. 5.11 asked us to try out demos of the PT-R 50lb and 100lb bags, as well as the TacTec® Plate Carrier, and here’s what we learned while working with them.

First Impressions

The two PT-R weight bags are essentially identical except for the volume of weight they can hold. 5.11 sent us the 50lb and the 100lb versions in black and kangaroo brown respectively. The material is thick with handles on the top, front, and sides, which allows for various holds depending on which exercise you’re performing. They even added a little nametag strip in case you want to keep your bag from getting stolen by any light-fingered FOB dwellers while you’re out earning that sweet, sweet paycheck. 

If you’ve never heard of a weight bag, it’s just what it sounds like. They’re heavy-duty bags designed to be filled with field-expedient material (i.e. sand or dirt). When not in use, the bags can easily be folded up and compactly stored in a ruck or sea-bag. The inside of each bag has two 25lb or 50lb bags, which can also be removed and used for kettlebell-style exercises, providing added versatility.

The Tac-Tec plate carrier offered everything I’ve come to expect from 5.11 gear. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and easy to put on and take off. Unlike the combat models, the Tac-Tec carrier focuses more on comfort and ergonomics, balancing ease of wear with load distribution. While they’re meant to be used with weighted plates, I used what I had and put in standard Level IV ceramics, adding approx. 24 lbs. to the vest. I’m happy to report I had no issues at all.

The vest was a snug fit, without feeling constricted. The straps and front were a bit thicker than I’m used to for a standard plate carrier, which actually made it much more comfortable. Besides, you won’t be wearing this in a tactical environment anyway (though it does include MOLLE webbing if you’re an enthusiast on a budget and don’t want to spring for a separate combat vest). The inner fabric is made of a moisture-wicking material that provides additional comfort once the sweat really starts running.

Testing

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to wear the Tac-Tec vest while starting with the 100lb PT-R bag. I didn’t have a ready supply of dirt, so instead I raided my kid’s playground for some sandbox sand. Filling the bags was straight forward. Each one has two separate liners, which can fill to a maximum of 50lbs each. I assumed most users in the field wouldn’t have access to a scale, so I didn’t use one, which caused a bit of trial and error while I dialed in the load distribution. Filling them by yourself is a bit tricky; I’d recommend having a buddy hold the bag while you do it.

Once they’re filled, you essentially have two 50lb kettlebell bags. Unfortunately for me, I quickly realized this was a bit too much for the exercises I was looking to do. Curls, thrusters, and anything requiring a palms-up lift were a bit awkward and I needed a more stable platform. However, the 25lb bags from the PT-R 50 worked great, so I don’t see this as a design flaw. It’s just the nature of the handle arrangement.

My favorite exercises with the loose 50lb bags were farmer walks, shoulder shrugs, and weighted lunges. The comfort of the handles was actually preferable to the dumbbells I normally use, with the added advantage of being able to drop them on my concrete floor without worrying about damage to the ground or the bag. They’re sealed with a Velcro flap arrangement and finished with heavy-duty zippers that leave no chance of leakage. Once I realized how many layers of protection there were between the fill and the outer bag, I did my best to beat the hell out of these things, and they performed well above my expectations.

After I put the individual sacks back into the main bag, I tried to find any gym exercises that I was not able to do with the PT-R. I was unsuccessful. The beauty of the internal dual-bag arrangement is if the bags are too loose, you can always open them, compact them again and tighten up the connection to ensure minimal load shift. Despite being filled with sand, these bags felt like a solid piece of weightlifting equipment.

The placement of the handles means you can lift, drag, curl, or squat using any configuration. I’ve assembled a full gym in my garage and I follow a pretty regimented daily routine. I decided to use the 100 and 50lb PT-R bags to replicate everything I would normally do on my upper body, chest/back, and leg days respectively. The only negative I could find was the added time it took to pack and unpack the internal bags for those movements. You’ll likely need to restructure your workouts to minimize the downtime. But that aside, the bags worked great. I was able to complete three full days of my standard workouts using nothing but floor space and the PT-R bags.

As for the Tac-Tec, I was sweating profusely 10 minutes into my workout (it was July in Georgia), and yet I didn’t experience the friction or heat-rash discomfort I’ve come to associate with fitness vests. The extra-thick shoulder straps paid dividends, giving me the freedom of movement to use the PT-R bags without adding extra resistance.

At the conclusion of each workout, I went on a short 1-mile cool-down run with the vest, and the cummerbund-strap combo kept the bouncing to a minimum, while still allowing me to breathe.

Final Thoughts

I’ve seen products similar to the PT-R bags on my social media feed for a few years now and I’ve always been skeptical of their utility. The 5.11 products completely changed my mind. Tough, versatile, lightweight, and easy to pack, I would recommend PT-R bags for anyone who plans to spend time in an austere environment without easy access to workout facilities.

Those who’ve deployed overseas know the frustration of being limited to pumping iron with cement-filled buckets, or using sandbags and 550-cords with pulleys to simulate rowing equipment. PT-R bags provide all the flexibility of a regular gym and still weigh no more than a few sets of fatigues. Throw in the Tac-Tec vest and your ballistic plates to get a first-class workout no matter where you are.

For those of you not planning to go back to the sandbox anytime soon (or ever!), you can still get some great use out of this gear. I actually prefer using the PT-R as an alternative to clean and jerks, squats and lunges. I stick with dumbbells for arm and chest exercises, but the PT-R provides better weight distribution versus a standard Olympic bar that digs into your shoulders and neck. Both demo bags now have their own place in my garage, and I’ll be using them in my workouts from here on out.

The PT-R bags come in at $160 and $140 respectively, but are well worth the price for the value they provide. Whether you’re a civilian, a service member, or unit leader, you can’t go wrong adding some 5.11 gear to your next packing list. 

This article is sponsored by 5.11.

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