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Old 11-26-2009, 12:01 PM
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Austin's Guide To Buying Tactical Vest's

Buying Guide -- Airsoft Tactical Vests

By Austin

One of the very fantastic things about airsoft is that you can not only have an accurate replica weapon, and wear the same camouflage, you can get the same gear to completely match the look, and the gear is also very functional for carrying along magazines, shells, sidearms, tools, and water.

When you started airsofting, odds are you had a cheap gun, maybe a BB loader, and some goggles. You've now moved up, and, not surprisingly, looking for somewhere to put stuff. You may also have noticed that after getting some good BDU's, you're a lot closer to looking like a realistic soldier -- but the same thing is missing: a way to carry your stuff. Pockets are great until you have a bunch of stuff. Belt rigs may work, but probably not for rifles and SMGs.
If you're a sniper, buttpacks and subloads are the way to go.
LBV's are a fantastic choice for carrying lighter gear, and maintaining mobility.
Web vests seem to be the best intro choice, providing a good set of pouches tailored to a specific role.
Chest rigs are light, and great for carrying along mags and tools, coming in magazine rigs, to modular bibs.
The advanced gear such as MOLLE plate carriers and operator vests are modular -- you can buy a whole host of different pouches tailored to your role, arrange them as you see fit, and rearrange them as necessary.
There's a TON of different gear options, but vests seem to encompass the best options for people with a rifle, carbine, or SMG.

So what are you going to need to know before you get a vest?
Budget -- how much money do have to put towards a vest? This is a good indication of quality and useful features.
Magazines -- What guns do you have? How many magazines from each? This will determine which and how many pouches you will need.
Capacity -- what other items are you going to want? Map pouches, utility pouches, radio pouches, and Hydration pouches?
Durability -- If you low crawl around and do some insane moves, you'll not only appreciate, but Need quality gear
Color -- Seems simple, but a vests are clothing items, and it needs to match. Black is terrible in woodland, but Tan isn't SWAT
Sizing -- some vests only come in one size, and if you're in either extreme, you need to make sure they have something that fits
Future Use -- This may, in fact, be the most important one. If you're buying an interim vest, know that, but always consider if it has the ability or capability to carry future gear needs -- and this is why people are willing to pay more for modular gear.

Again, if you are buying a vest for replicating looks, odds are the original unit has put extensive thought and testing into what they need in a vest, but still consider what features you'll actually use.

The last intro bit I need to add is about nylon -- all tactical gear is made of nylon, so you should know a bit about it. DuPont has a proprietary Cordura series that is arguably the finest nylon made -- this stuff is preferred. The most important thing about nylon is the linear mass density -- Denier, which has to do with thickness and strength. I'll use my girlfriend as an example, she looks hot in 15 and 1000 Denier, but at different times -- 15 Denier is the really thin, fragile stuff used in panty hose, while 1000 Denier is the heavy duty stuff used in real tactical gear. Most knockoff stuff is 600 Denier -- which works fine for airsoft, but if you plan on doing any crazy stuff, or having it last a lifetime, 1000Denier is the way to go.

Llama and ShadowFox agree that the color of a vest is one of the make-or-break attributes of it. Odds are you're wearing this with camo BDU's, or an all-black setup. If you have a poorly colored vest, then your whole appearance is just out the window.

Black -- best for CQB or SWAT type games. It'll work, but can look out of place in desert and woodland
Woodland -- thought most replica vests won't match your actual color scheme, it's a versatile pattern, and will even go over desert
Olive Drab -- the most versatile color -- looks great over woodland, desert, MARPAT, and of course, other OD
Desert -- really best for desert use, but it only looks a little out of place in a semi-temperate area
Khaki/Tan/Coyote -- There are many shades of light brown, but these are also extremely versatile. Khaki and light tan are best for desert, but the darker Coyote and other browns can be used in desert AND woodland pretty easily.

Digital patterns -- only the US Army so far is using digital camouflage colored gear, and since the replica patterns are almost always off, I'd advise against these. Often the sudden jump in the spacing, shape, and coloration in the pattern is more eye-catching than no camo at all.

Sadly, money is the biggest restriction on what one can do in airsoft, so I'll group what you can get by how much it costs.

For under $50, you're looking into belt rigs, LBV's, and the cheap replica web gear
From $50 to $130, you're mostly looking at the quality replica and real web gear, and very cheap replica modular gear
From $130 to $200, you're looking at top-end real web gear, or quality replica modular gear -- the vests may only be $70, but a reasonable complement of pouches can put you over $150
Over $150, you're either needing versatile, durable gear, or might be a geardo -- person who loves and adores gear, and looks sharp doing it.

The key point left here is how much more are you willing to pay for real gear that has the same features as something perhaps half the cost -- replica gear is fine for looks and light use, but ALL gear, pads, boots, holsters, belts, and vests are liable to take a beating, especially the longer you use them and get more comfortable with them. Not only is the material used important, but also the workmanship, type and quality control of stitching, and the design of wear points -- the replica stuff doesn't have the subtle, but critical engineering worked in usually. Part of the extra you pay is for the brand name, but companies like BHI, TAG, and others also provide a lifetime guarantee -- and that means they are built better, and built to last.

This may seem like a lot of information, but oftentimes satisfaction with a vest can come down to something as cheesy as a zipper handle, pocket placement, or even just 1cm of nylon allowing a pocket to hold another magazine or not.

Load Bearing Vests and ALICE attachments:
First are the simple LBV's. Load Bearing Vests are what the name implies -- a vest that will carry some weight. It usually isn't much, but most LBV's don't have much 'real estate', or places to put things. This limits how much you can carry, but everything you add has weight, so capacity is a two-way street. If you have a relatively simple loadout, or are planning to travel light and move fast, and LBV is a very cost effective way to do just that -- heavy vests are impossible to move quick with, so often LBV's are a better choice than paying more money.

The ALICE attachment system is based off of the simple, rugged, and elegant ALICE clip.

Virtually all ALICE attachments use a pair of these clips to secure themselves to a belt, and the clips themselves are interchangeable. This allows for rearranging and repositioning gear on a belt system, allowing users to decide which items need to be most convenient.
There are a variety of various items that are compatible with ALICE attachment, such as M16 Magazine pouches, M67 Frag Grenade pouches, M9 Pistol HOlsters, M9 Bayonet Scabbards, Canteen pouches, first aid pouches.

As far as weight handling, LBV's typically come in the Y-Harness and H-Harness variety, as seen above. Again, let comfort, weight, look, and cost be your guide. Many also use pads on the belt, allowing more comfortable carrying of items, which are especially useful if you're carrying a lot of gear in a ruck.

As far as cost goes, the best place to look for quality LBV gear is a surplus store -- the United States bought literally tons of pretty high quality gear, which is now piled up on the surplus market, making it the most affordable well-made gear available to an airsofter.

Among the replica gear, there are some very neat varieties -- often replicating the more expensive BHI models of gear. The advice Llama is willing to give is that the surplus stuff is so well priced and so much better than cheap asian made counterparts, only buy knockoff gear for unique features.
Here are some examples from AirSplat:

The second also has a hydration bladder -- if you live somewhere arid, or just happen to be aware that you're over 60% water, you'll agree that this is a good thing to have. For airsofting use, 100oz is the most you'll really need, any more than that is a lot of weight. The 82oz seem to be fairly common, and that's a very good size to use.

BlackHawk Industries Omega Crossdraw Vest

Web Gear:
Next up is the web gear -- a complete vest, built around nylon webbing with a host of permanent pockets attached. Web gear breathes well, which reduces how hot they get in the summer, as well as saves weight, but the added capacity for great in some cases reduces range of motion and mobility. Web Gear is great for assault kits, since you can keep a good few primary mags close at hand, as well as keeping other items, such as a pistol, grenade, or flashlight handy. Most vests come in four principal variants -- rifleman, grenadier, EOD/utility, and crossdraw.

A rifleman vest will have primary mag pockets all along the bottom, where they are most accessible, and pistol mag pouches, utility pouches, and radio pouches along the top. These aren't limited to 'rifle' models, and SMG sized pockets exist too. For most uses, this is an excellent vest choice.
A grenadier vest has room where you can carry along 40mm shells, or possibly shotgun shells. Since most airsoft shells run over $40 each, this is not the best choice, because the vest will cost significantly less than its contents, and odds are you won't be able to fill it with 40mm shells.
An EOD/utility vest has larger pouches, which can also carry medical supplies, fake explosive bricks, or whatever else you have that's too odd or bulky. They have uses for airsoft stuff, but a reduced amount of magazine capacity cramps other potential uses
A crossdraw vest is really a vest/holster combo -- usually removing two M4 magazine sized pouches and adding a pistol holster. For myself, it's a great place to keep a pistol for CQB games where you might rapidly need to switch to secondary, and also because a thigh holster reduces range of motion. The major downside is that if you go prone ever, especially if often, you'll get back up with sand, dirt, mud, leaves, insects, and debris all over/in your pistol -- not desirable. I'd say crossdraws are the best choice for CQB use, but not the greatest for woodland.

Blackhawk Industries Omega Web Gear Series -- Image Credit:

You have a choice between the Tiawan/Korean made copies (Warhead, TacForce, UTG, and others) and the real stuff (BlackHawk Industries, Blackhawk Gear, Tactical Tailor), the difference being price and quality. Almost all of the copies are based directly on the BHI or Tactical Tailor counterparts, so you get the same features, but often with inferiour materials and stitching.

The difference here is just like buying jeans -- the really cheap ones look as good, but after a year, look frayed as can be, and the stitching/pockets/zippers might be coming apart -- but vests have more wear points, pockets, and velcro, which are just more places to come apart. Not so with the name brand ones, and the cheap ones have been known to lose magazines, or come apart is strange ways.

Here are some vests to choose from: -- scroll down to the TacForce ones -- froogle of the BHI ones -- even has MOLLE webbing in back for hydration carriers

Tactical Assault Gear Modular Plate Carrier

MOLLE Modular Gear
The MOLLE/PALs system was developed initially for use by US Special Operations Forces, as modular gear that could be configured by the user to carry many different pouches in a large number of arrangements. The system is based on 1" straps spaced 1" apart with 1.5" loops allowing gear to be attached via a selection of clips. The modularity of the system is remarkable, from single for 8x M4 magazine, .308 magazine, pistol magazine, M249 box magazine, 40mm Shell, hydration, utility, gas mask, flashlight, mock silencer, and administration pouches to pistol holsters, and the list of accessories grows.
Probably the most airsoft relevant capabilities of the vests are abilities to carry various magazine pouches, utility and radio pouches, along with hydration carriers.

While hicap magazines make the position somewhat obsolete, SAW gunners have the most options using a MOLLE loadout -- with purpose designed pouches such as the 200rd and 2x 100rd M249, and M60 pouches, and the ability to carry other gear, MOLLE gear should defenitely be considered for your role.

The operator type vests were intended to be worn over body armor, and have slightly less real estate, but are lighter, and a lot less hot in warm weather.

SDS MOLLE 2 Fighting Load Carrier --
BHI Strike IV Omega MOLLE vest --
TAG MOLLE Operators Vest --
...and their replica counterparts from Guarder, and cheaper manufacture

The Interceptors have little real estate, but it's also very possible to wear a vest over them.

The current trend in body armor is for plate carriers, nylon gear that carries ceramic/kevlar composite ballistic plates (commonly SAPI are used), as well as personal body armor, such as the Interceptor body armor, with MOLLE webbing on the outside. This allows for relatively lightweight personal protection, as well as integrated load bearing capability. Since body armor has become basically essential equipment, the enhanced Interceptor Body Armor has become a favored choice, though there are a number of purpose built plat carriers that also work.
The simple chest plate carriers (BHI Strike IV, Blackwater Gear I/O) have a little bit more real estate, but are designed for lightweight more than armor and gear coverage.
Now onto the larger gear that easily accepts hydration equipment:
The Full Spectrum Battle Equipment (FSBE) are used by USMC Force Recon, though apparently versions of the Eagle CIRAS Maritime are beginning to supplant those vests. Guarder makes very fine replica Interceptors and FSBE's (ModII) -- just remember to upsize if you're not Asian sized.

The largest purpose built vests and outright plate carriers have the most real estate (some up to 8 rows of webbing, capable of carrying LOTS of gear).
The Tactical Assault Gear Modular Plate carrier is among the cheapest, but has remarkable real estate, and is compatible with all SAPI plates.
The Patriot Performance Materials DAV and DAV cutaway vests are larger, with more features, and still retain very large amounts of real estate.
The High Speed Gear Inc. Wasatch and Weesatch vests have integrated M4 magazine capability, with webbing along the front outside, allowing a staggering array of magazines to be carried.
The Eagle Industries CIRAS carriers (in Maritime and Land flavors) retain immense carrying capacity, along with a solid low profile.
The Paraclete RAV seems to be the most expensive, over $700 new w/out plates, which most would assume is out of the realm of airsoft.

Enough modular fun? At this point, your vest is naked -- you'll need to decide how many primary magazine pouches you'll need (the common M16 2x magazine pouches (two mags per pocket, up to three pockets per pouch) are the most common -- each will hold roughly three MP5 magazines, two M4 mags, and one G36 magazine.
The .308 magazie pouches are just that -- pouches intended for M14, SR-25, and G3 magazines.
The AK magazine pouches, surprise, hold AK mags.
Pistol magazine pouches will typically hold one 9mm double stack magazine (e.g. M92, P226) and can often hold two 1911 single stack magazines.
The frag, flashbang, and 40mm pouches all serve intended purpose, but since 'munitions' have limited airsoft use, just be aware of that.
The shotshell panels do just that -- hold shotshells, but I haven't had any experience with them.
Among hydration pouches, they all hold the same bladders (apparently Camelbak Omega are much preferred over Hydrastorm), and most have webbing in back for more pouches. Apparently TAG makes the niftiest one, but they all serve the same purpose.
Commander pouches seem to be very common for airsoft use, mostly because they will happily hold velcro patches (Calico Jacks', and the infamous Fun/Suck meters)

Now I must caution you that often a full complement of pouches is going to run you around $200 -- and that's empty. One could very forseeably put over $800 into a loaded down M16A4/M203 rigged vest with M4 mags, M203 shells, M9 Mags, fake SAPI plates, hydration carriers, and sundry accessories. That said, it would garner the envy of everybody you play with.

If all this is dizzying, just put your head between your legs, pull out your wallet -- oh, we're not there yet.

Anyway, optactical -- seems to be the easiest resource to browse for information and window shopping for vests and gear.

Guarder is the only replica brand I know of that's very good, apparently the G&P FSBE's are substandard, but I have heard good things about the PROUD RAV replicas and the Phantom CIRAS replicas.
Guarder Interceptor: **Now in Coyote**
Guarder Operator Vest:
Guarder FSBE Vest:

CheaperThanDirt is also currently carrying a Wide variety of various MOLLE vests, based on such designs as the SOTech Hellcat MkII, or Callahan Convertible Plate Carrier

BHI Plate Carrier:
BHI Recon harness:
Blackwater I/O Carrier:
Eagle CIRAS Maritime:
Eagle CIRAS Land (Llama's) :
Patriot PM TCV:
Patriot PM DAV Cut:
HSGI Wasatch:
Paraclete RMV:

Eagle Industries CIRAS Plate Carrier

As you can see, there is a large number of styles, with various features to suit different needs. The permutations of possible arrangements is staggering, so chances are very good you can get a style that fits you best.

Llama's Phantom CIRAS LandV (Eagle Copy) w/ Various Phantom, Paraclete, TacticalTailor, TacticalAssaultGear, DiamondBackTactical pouches

Well... I hope this helped a bit on choosing what vests you are looking for. Remember, as always you get what you pay for. Cheap vests work, but real stuff is a smart investment if it's going to see much use -- dependable and durable means quality.
Just remember, vests are practical and stylish, so try and find the one that fits YOU best!

Credited Given To My Friend John Bullock

Last edited by austin314080; 11-26-2009 at 12:22 PM.
Old 11-26-2009, 12:06 PM
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Nice copy and paste
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Old 11-26-2009, 12:07 PM
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yea lol imo just trying to help =/
Old 11-26-2009, 12:10 PM
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You're not helping if you're stealing other people's work and claiming it as yours.

Give credit where credit is due, and there won't be a problem...
Old 11-26-2009, 12:21 PM
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ok i willl gotcha
Old 11-26-2009, 05:57 PM
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You said you will change it, then edit the post so it says where you got it.
In all honesty your argument is most likely allready been discussed.
Old 11-26-2009, 06:38 PM
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You put in the end notes you got it from your friend yet at the title, claim it is "by Austin."

There's enough crappy stuff going on in this hobby without having you steal someone's work and pass it off as your own.

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Last edited by Texx; 11-26-2009 at 06:41 PM.
Old 11-27-2009, 01:19 AM
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This is some of the worst copypasta I've ever eaten
Old 11-27-2009, 12:53 PM
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Can you post a review of the utg l96?
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It's true, i mean we are all thinking it. SoL is a sexy man beast. I'd hit that.
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Old 11-27-2009, 01:50 PM
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Alright guys, this is done.

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