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Published Apr. 18, 2022

Chest rigs are the next evolution of load-bearing equipment that enables you to become the fast-moving lethal warrior you’ve trained to become. Most military veterans are familiar with load-bearing vests (LBVs), which were utilized as recently as the 1990s during the Gulf War. These systems were often uncomfortable, had limited customization and modularity options, and since they were designed to fit over bulky body armor, they were hard to fit properly without it. These older designs have evolved into a more versatile option that can be fully customized and work with or without body armor, which we call chest rigs. 

While chest rigs offer less protection than plate carriers, they do offer more mobility and weigh less. These attributes can come in handy for various missions, but an added bonus is the ability to pack or store your body armor while still carrying ammo and gear. Those of us who had chest rigs would utilize this option during large unit hikes as we would be required to pack our body armor. Wearing our chest rigs would save space in the pack, even out the weight, and keep us ready for anything. To this day, I keep a chest rig in my go bag to be ready for anything.

Like other prior servicemen who started gear companies, veteran Force Recon Marine Travis Haley wanted to make better gear for real-life tactical applications — and the Haley Strategic Partners D3CRX is exactly that. It’s a purpose-built chest rig featuring 10 pouches capable of accommodating almost any mission.

Because this rig’s design has been influenced by real-world experience, the placard is capable of attaching to body armor or pack systems via SwiftClips or other clip systems. Inside the rig is a hook-and-loop flap that allows for inserts like the holster or triple-mag accessories or drop-down pouches. Just beyond that are four rifle magazine pouches that are large enough to accommodate 5.56 AR magazines, AK mags, knives, or even small radios. Finishing the front of the placard are the four multi-mission pouches that can hold most double- or single-stack pistol magazines as well as flashlights, multitools, or any other slim gear you’d need. Flanking the multi-mission pouches are two utility pouches for navigation, admin, or similar gear that have loop Velcro panels for attaching ID or morale patches.

The whole system comes with an X-harness and waist strap. The D3CRX is available in black, coyote, disruptive gray, multicam, ranger green, multicam arid, multicam tropic, and M81 woodland patterns.

Product Specs
  • Colors: 8
  • Number of pouches: 10+
  • AR/AK compatible: Both
  • Harness style: X
PROS

SwiftClip-compatible

Streamlined design

Multi-mission pouches

Velcro inserts available

CONS

High price point

Small-width waist strap

No padding on harness

Even 20 years ago, Condor was producing quality gear at affordable prices. The Condor Recon Chest Rig is a prime example. At the heart of this rig are the kangaroo-style mag pouches that hold a total of six rifle magazines and six pistol mags. One of the sets of pistol mags sports a double-wide flap that you could use with flashlights and multitools instead. On either side of the kangaroo pouches are 4×4 sections of bare MOLLE webbing for adding holsters or radio pouches. Centered on the inside is a Velcro-sealed admin pouch for maps or reference cards. Each rig has padded shoulder straps for the X-harness that connect with Swivi-locksters under the armpit which allows extra movement if you have gear in either of the integral utility/radio pouches. We wish more colors were available, but Condor offers the recon chest rig in black, coyote, ranger green, and multicam.

Product Specs
  • Colors: 4
  • Number of pouches: 15
  • AR/AK compatible: AR15/M4 Only
  • Harness style: X
PROS

Carries lots of ammo

4×4 MOLLE on the sides

Swivi-Lockster for comfort

Admin pocket

CONS

Bulky upfront

Only fits AR15/M4 mags

Limited colors

If you’ve done any research yourself, then you have probably heard of the Mayflower chest rig by Velocity Systems. From overall design to performance, the Mayflower UW Gen 4 is a solid competitor to the D3CRX. Velocity Systems has designed this chest rig to be worn with body armor by utilizing SwiftClips, which also can connect to pack systems. There is an H-harness that is included, but that can be swapped out for the larger two- or three-inch ULTRAcomp harnesses. The heart of the rig is a placard sporting four rifle magazines, two general-purpose (GP), four pistol magazines, two radio/IFAK, and one admin/map pouch. This rig is designed to sit close and hold gear tight. It is offered in black, coyote brown, multicam, ranger green, and digital desert patterns.

Product Specs
  • Colors: 5
  • Number of pouches: 12
  • AR/AK compatible: AR15/M4
  • Harness style: H
PROS

Plenty of pouches

SwiftClip-compatible

Antenna routing loops

Drop-down pouch compatible

CONS

Limited colors

4-6 week lead time

If you’ve read our reviews on the best overall mag pouches, then you’re familiar with Blue Force Gear’s Ten-Speed mag pouches. The Ten-Speed chest rig utilizes the same mag pouches integrated into a placard with 3×3 MOLLE on either side for adding additional pouches. It is because of the elastic mag pouches that this rig keeps a low visibility profile, making it ideal for concealing undercoats or large shirts. The elasticity also means this rig can also be used for medical supplies or comms equipment if ammo isn’t needed. In the center of the rig is a hook-and-loop map pouch for quick access. While this rig can be worn over plate carriers or other body armor, the placard is not SwiftClip-compatible.

Product Specs
  • Colors: 2
  • Number of pouches: 4
  • AR/AK compatible: Both
  • Harness style: H
PROS

Lays flat when empty

3×3 MOLLE sides

Map/document pocket

CONS

Limited colors

Not SwiftClip-compatible

Best Range/Recreational

Most chest rigs are designed for operators or larpers, which is why the Helikon-Tex Training Mini Rig stands out. It was designed for the recreational range shooter, range instructor, or anyone else who wants a convenient way to carry essentials on the range.

Front and center is a decently-sized pouch with bungee organizers and a zippered mesh pocket. Flanking either side are two Velcro-secured pistol mags that can also fit flashlights or multi-tools. Dropping down from the front is a zipper-secured pouch intended for medical supplies. Sitting behind the pistol mag pouches are two built-in AR/AK rifle mag pouches, one on either side, with bungee retention.

Helikon-Tex got creative with this rig because there is a hook-and-loop pocket behind the main pouch that can fit the included double AR/AK rifle mag insert or a pistol holster insert it sells separately. The chest placard is SwiftClip-compatible and comes with an H-harness and waist belt. The belt only has one clip, though, and uses a fabric loop and metal hook on the left side instead. This chest rig is offered in nine colors and patterns including blue denim and black denim-look, as well as PenCott Wildwood camouflage.

Product Specs
  • Colors: 9
  • Number of pouches: 10+
  • AR/AK compatible: Both
  • Harness style: H
PROS

Fits AR/AK rifle mags

Accommodates pistol or double rifle mag insert

Three Velcro ID panels

Casual patterns available

CONS

No padding in shoulders

Waist belt has only one clip

Most Discreet

Sometimes it is more important to go unnoticed, which means that uber-tactical chest rigs would not be the best gear for the mission. Wearing the Hazard 4 Covert Escape is an easy way to look more like a tourist than a combatant.

This small pack measures only seven inches long, five inches wide, and 1.5 inches deep for both the fixed main pouch and the removable slip pouch. That is large enough to hold at least one 30-round AR magazine, multiple single- or double-stack pistol magazines, or even compact or subcompact pistols. The front of the pack features a flashlight pouch and a multitool/lighter pouch.

One feature that sets this little chest pack apart is a unique harness system that can be worn as an X-harness for the chest, or you can wear the pack with a single strap for bandoleer and waist pack configurations. It is a solid option for bicyclists and motorcyclists as well.

Product Specs
  • Colors: 1
  • Number of pouches: 3
  • AR/AK compatible: Either
  • Harness style: X
PROS

Unassuming appearance

Swiveling clips for comfort

Multi-purpose pack

CONS

Smaller than preferred

Not designed specifically for tactical applications

If you’re looking for a bare MOLLE chest rig to be able to customize for your specific needs, the Blackhawk Strike Recon Commando Chest Harness is your best bet. You’ll notice right away that this rig has MOLLE webbing without spacing, which allows you to customize the height of the pouches on your chest rig.

In the center of the rig is a hook-and-loop closure for the admin pocket that doubles as storage for the chest bib when not in use. The chest bib plays an important role when you plan to wear an armor plate, which is what this rig was designed for. On the inside of the placard is a mesh pocket for the bottom of the plate, and the chest bib has a similar pocket to hold the plate securely in front of your vital organs.

To help fight fatigue, there are padded shoulder straps that can be worn in an X- or H-style for comfort. One feature I really like is the thicker waist strap and the single row of MOLLE webbing that could be used in conjunction with the shoulder straps for hydration pouches.

Product Specs
  • Colors: 1
  • Number of pouches: 0
  • AR/AK compatible: Configurable
  • Harness style: H/X
PROS

Fully customizable

Can carry one armor plate

Padded shoulder straps

CONS

Only one color available

Higher pricing for bare MOLLE

No pouches included

Why you should trust us

During my tenure as an infantry Marine, I purchased and wore several bare and preconfigured chest rigs. I’ve combined this personal experience with the research skills developed as a writer for Task & Purpose to identify quality products for your next mission. I also tapped into my network for recommendations, thoughts, opinions, and reviews by industry professionals and hobbyists alike. Combining all of these together resulted in the list you just read. 

Types of chest rigs

In order for you to choose the best chest rig, we need to identify them by their intended purpose. We’ve broken chest rigs down into three different categories based on the design and how you’ll be wearing them. 

Bare

The most basic design of chest rigs is to have a panel with MOLLE webbing attached to it. These can be small chest placards or larger panels that wrap around the torso, and it looks bare or empty because it has no pouches. Bare rigs offer the most customization as you can alter the placement of pouches and choose what type of pouches are on the rig. While this style offers excellent modularity, it can feel bulky, especially if attaching pouches to pouches. 

Purpose-built

Opposite of bare rigs are the chest rigs that are purpose-built. These rigs feature pouches that are sewn directly onto the chest placard or other pouches. This helps keep the gear tight into the rig and your body. Since the pouches are sewn on, there isn’t a lot of customization offered by this style of rig. Overcoming this just takes a little imagination and using pouches in creative ways to achieve your mission. 

Concealable

Traditional chest rigs were designed to be worn over or instead of body armor, but there’s been an increase in the need for concealable rigs. These chest rigs are intended to be worn under larger shirts or jackets and keep your gear tight against your body. 

Key features of chest rigs

There are tons of variations and designs of chest rigs out there, but they all share the same basic components. Let’s take a look at them and how they make or break the chest rig you’re looking at. 

Placard

The heart of any rig is the chest placard. These can be small or large panels of fabric and may have MOLLE webbing or sewn-on pouches. Any chest rig you purchase must have a placard to be effective and not waste your money. Look for a placard that offers enough space to carry all you’ll need and will fit properly around the base of your sternum. 

Harness

In order to hold up the placard, chest rigs utilize one of three types of harnesses: X-harness, H-harness, or Y-harness. X-harnesses are probably the most common and feature two shoulder straps that cross behind your shoulder blades and connect to the placard. H-harnesses are similar, but the shoulder straps have a connector piece instead of crossing. Y-harnesses are less common, but some older designs use two shoulder straps that connect behind the shoulder blades into one strap and attach to a waist strap or belt. 

Waist strap

To help keep the chest rig from bouncing around during operations, most rigs have a waist strap that connects to the bottom of the placard on each side. Better-quality chest rigs will often feature a pad or panel of MOLLE webbing on this strap as it should sit around the lower back above the belt line. 

Pouches

The point of wearing a chest rig is to carry ammo and gear, which is done with the use of pouches. Most rigs will have at least a couple of rifle magazine pouches and one or two multi-purpose pouches. Other models will have pistol magazine pouches, radio pouches, or any number of utility pouches. Ensure that the pouches have some form of closure or retention so you’re not losing the gear during missions. 

Benefits of chest rigs

Chest rigs have their place in tactical applications because of the benefits they offer. If you’re still unsure about using a chest rig, then you need to read on.  

Save weight

The most obvious benefit of wearing a chest rig is how much lighter they are than plate carriers or body armor. Even if you take out the armor, plate carriers and vests weigh more than the majority of chest rigs. If you’re working in the mountains or will be on foot for any extended period of time, you will appreciate the saved weight. 

Comfort

Comfort is always important when we’re talking about gear you wear on your body. Anyone who has spent 12 to 24 hours in body armor will tell you this. A chest rig’s less-rigid frame and adjustable harnesses allow you to custom-tailor the rig to your level of comfort. This will free up your brain to remain focused on the mission and reduce overall fatigue during missions. You’ll really notice the difference when wearing packs or rucks. 

Silence

Not only are chest rigs capable of being quieter than body armor, but they also allow you to move quieter. This is because you’re saving weight, bulk, and are more comfortable. It all works to allow you to remain nimble and move silently for the reconnaissance or infil. 

Chest rigs pricing 

Budget

When you purchase a budget chest rig, you’re often trading quality or features for a lower price point. These are typically priced under $75, which frees you up to purchase the missing features or pouches. 

Mid-range

Chest rigs priced between $75 to $150 are your mid-range priced rigs. These may have more features, but typically are made from better-quality materials than the budget options. 

Premium

Offering top-of-the-line features and materials, premium chest rigs are typically priced over $150. These will normally be preconfigured and have the ability to work with other systems such as packs, body armor, or belts. 

How we chose our top picks

To get the right products, each chest rig had to meet certain performance criteria and pricing considerations. Products with unrealistic claims or exaggerated prices were not considered for this review. We picked chest rigs that were made from rugged materials known for their durability. We also chose brands with reputations of reliability and consistency.

FAQs on chest rigs

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: Is a chest rig better than a plate carrier? 

A: When it comes to protecting your vital organs, plate carriers win. The good news is that you can have both or even combine the two and use them to adapt to your missions. 

Q: Can you wear a plate carrier under a chest rig?

A: Absolutely, depending on the carrier. Streamlined plate carries may be more challenging, but we used to wear chest rigs over our MTVs and larger body armor vests. 

Q: Where should your chest rig sit?

A: The placard should sit around the base of your sternum/rib cage, but you don’t want it too high where it affects your reloading ability. The waist strap will normally sit around the lower back while the X or H should sit in between your shoulder blades. Play with the placement to get it right to make sure it doesn’t interfere with wearing belts or packs. 

Q: What should be on your chest rig?

A: This is all mission-dependent. Most chest rigs can carry one to three mags for each firearm you’re carrying, any light devices, notepads or other admin essentials, navigation devices, and/or medical supplies. 

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