About this guide:
This sub is predominantly for the assembling and discussion of “tactical” load outs, so I feel motivated to weigh in as a guy who’s been-there-done-that with respect to assembling and employing kit professionally. These are tips and tricks that I both learned in my time in service (US military) as well as some “institutional” knowledge that was passed down to us by the operators who trained us when I was a noob trainee at the beginning of the previous decade. I am no longer in the military so this guide is targeted towards civilians who find this shit interesting/useful. I addressed some of these topics in a PSA I had made previously on this sub. It received a lot of attention but went into little detail, called out several individuals by name, and was generally aggressive in tone. In fact, I was so overtly obnoxious people mistook me for an NSW guy (my DD214 didn’t come with a book deal). That’s not the guy I want to be nor how I want to package information I picked up over the years to disseminate to people who care. I'm sorry if anyone who remembers that post was rubbed the wrong way. I removed the post in question and assembled this probably-incomplete and totally non-comprehensive guide to assembling kits. My intention is for this to be a living document. If you have any suggestions for expansion, correction, clarification, please let me know. This doesn’t have to be my document if you are experienced and willing to contribute. If I ever sound antagonistic it’s probably my shitty sense of humor falling flat for the n-th time. CAVEAT:
If your purpose is LARP or collecting, this guide isn’t directed at you. Do what makes you happy. BLUF:
Gear doesn’t make you cool, being squared away makes you cool. Being squared away is the epicenter, work out from there. Purpose, first:
Kits are assembled with a mission or purpose in mind. Things that directly serve that purpose go in the kit, things that don’t are omitted. This seems obvious but it’s clear from looking at the way a lot of dudes approach kit building that they are following trends or mimicking things they’ve seen without considering why they’re doing what they’re doing.
No kit should exclude these things. These items are often not equipment. 1. Training:
This is the most essential tool in our arsenal. Training and mindset turn average idiots into effective and lethal assets. This is not a magic pill, its hard and focused work built on a solid base of quality
instruction. Good training comes from a person/organization of experience, mimics reality as closely as possible, and is iterative. There is an adage passed to me from a prior TL in training: Perfect Prior Practice Prevents Poor Performance. The takeaway here is that the practice needs to be correct. If you are training dogshit skills, your performance will be dogshit when it’s game time. So how do we train the right way?
- How to train: Flat range skills are an essential base skill for us as combat shooters (this means shooting at papesteel targets on a purpose-built shooting range). You need to internalize shooting and weapon handling fundamentals and keep them fresh. This is a perishable skill. Flat range, while it makes up a good amount of training volume should not be the skill you are trying to maximize. Highly developed flat range skills make for flashy YouTube videos but after some threshold (this is dependent on the individual) will not translate to a combat environment.
- You must train to fight: There are numerous guys who have spent their entire adult lives fighting other human beings with firearms. They make their knowledge available for you. If you can (financially/location permitting) you must train for actual force-on-force. This is the most valuable skill you will develop. Fighting is messy, physically arduous, and unpredictable (to a degree). You have to practice fighting other people who are trying to kill you. I don’t care if you shell out thousands of dollars to do shoothouses with sim rounds or just run your scenarios with paintball guns; if you want to be effective in a fight you MUST FIGHT, and you have to fight A LOT. You will learn more about shooting and gear in this environment than you will from any other source available.
- My choice: If you want to get quality training check out guys who made fighting their profession; Pat McNamara, John McPhee, Tu Lam, etc. There are lots of great teachers out there that have combat experience, dispense with the theatrics, and teach you what kept them alive during their careers.
Your physical fitness is essential to your effectiveness in a fight. The reason the physical standards are so high to get in to SOF units is not to drive the attrition rate; it is because these jobs require it. You don’t need to spend your entire day working out, it’s impractical for most people. Instead you should focus on building generalized fitness. Find a GPP program (Crossfit is fine for beginners, get at me for advanced options) and stick to it. You MUST supplement these workouts by training in your gear. The best way to figure out what you hate about your LBE/kit is to do a disgusting work out in it.
You will quickly identify problem areas. I’m going to repeat this so many times.
- My choice: I do my own programming these days, but in the past have been a fan of “The Horsemen”, SOFWODs, Mountain Athlete, etc. There are a lot of great programs out there. If I could only have 2 pieces of equipment to train with (I don’t count an Olympic weight set as a piece of equipment) I would pick a set of rings/pull-up bar and a reasonably heavy kettlebell. You can do a lot of damage with that setup.
Mindset drives and is developed by the quality and arduousness of your training. It is the framework through which you interface with the world. Everyone has the will to win, you need to have the will to prepare
to win. Most people are not born with a substantial amount of grit. It can be developed. Do things that really suck and make you want to quit and then don’t quit. It’s as easy as that. You could write books on this topic, but this isn’t the place. This is the hardest skill to develop on this list, but will serve you in every single other area of your life. 4. A good primary weapon:
You likely already have this covered so I wont harp on it. If money is an object get a rifle that will fill as many possible roles that you will find yourself in. Can’t go wrong with a well-made AAK system that has around a 14-16” barrel.
- What to avoid: If you can only have one weapon, don’t make it an extremely (9-in or under) short-barreled rifle/”pistol” unless you absolutely have to. They’re good when space is limited (catight halls) but fall short in most areas, are loud as fuck, and have stupid amounts of recoil. It’s still a gun, but you can do better if this is your only tool. Every rifle should have a sling.
- Don't put shit on your gun that you don't need. I see tons of guys running DBALs/PEQs who don’t run NODs. Everyone has a damn foregrip augment regardless of if they even like it or not. Try running your gun without a VG! A lot of guys are surprised that they shoot just as well without it. Figure out what works for you and stick with it. Don’t follow trends in this area. You have to be comfortable on your gun. Training a lot will help you figure out what you like and what increases your performance.
- My choice: A 11.5 or 14 inch AR in .556 with a suppressor and a variable power optic if I could only have one. DD makes great uppers. Keep your gun light – like REALLY light. The only reason I prefer a slightly shorter barrel is because I am used to it, not because it improved the performance of the weapon. I like suppressors because I like hearing/SA. They beat the shit out of your rifles and are not necessary for everyone. A quality flash-hider is my preferred muzzle device.
You should have a basic combat trauma kit that contains at least: chest seals, combat gauze, multiple tourniquets (CAT or SOF are standard). You also need the training on this stuff.
YouTube doesn’t count – this is your own life; if you’re going to fight it behooves you to take it seriously.
- My choice: I really like Dark Angel Medical’s IFAK and run it on the front of my right PC cummerbund flap where I would have typically run a radio. I generally recommend keeping it as close to the body as possible, so I don’t run the shears or tourniquet in the outer pouches as they tend to stick out and get in the way.
Great to Have:
Things in this section are non-essential but add capabilities that almost everyone will benefit from. 1. Belt:
Having a good gunfighting belt is the easiest and best way to carry the minimum amount of gear necessary to increase your effectiveness in a fight. I would prioritize it over a chest-rig or PC if you are incrementally assembling gear. For a lot of guys this may be all you need. In most cases it is extremely unlikely we will need more gear than we can fit on a quality belt (2 extra primary mags, 2 extra secondary mags, meds, secondary weapon). In most cases, unless you’re suppressing an enemy or fighting multiple people you will end a fight with your first mag mostly full.
A holster for your secondary should be included in this setup if you have one. You can run a Safariland if you need retention out the ass, otherwise a well-made kydex holster is perfectly adequate for most people. The real key here is that you train with what you have and adapt it to your needs.
2. A backpack:
- What to avoid: At the risk of repeating myself; you need to train and work out with your belt on. I’m talking about a miserable fucking workout with your belt on. This is the only way you’re going to really find out what you hate about it. Don’t just run on your treadmill with it for 10 minutes and think you’re going to get a good impression of what it feels like to run it in a fight. Do a fuckmillion burpees, hit-its, whatever forces you to redline.
- My choice: I’m running a Ronin belt (can’t remember the exact model). If you’re not going to be in a helicopter (read: most of us), don’t bother with the D-ring if you need to save some money. Please don’t try to rappel off of the D-ring. Make sure to get the smaller inner belt so you can run this with jeans/whatever and don’t have to be wearing BDUs/combat pants, the 2” belts won’t fit regular pants. I run an extra rifle mag, 2 pistol mags, a small BlueForce dump bag and a kydex holster. I don’t hang my gloves off of my belt on a carabiner because I don’t use Instagram but don’t let that stop you.
This is not for every situation. A lot of you are building kits for societal collapse or the like, so this may be something you have to consider. I don’t want to go into an insane amount of detail here because I’m not a survival/SERE guy. The essentials are food and water, everything else is just “nice to have”. If you’re going to be bugging out or travelling long distances through shitty terrain use a pack with a frame. You can’t go wrong with a well-made ALICE ruck but they stick out so take that into consideration.
- What to avoid: Unless you’re working on a team (and even in this case, I never did this) I don’t recommend running a backpack attached to your plate carrier or chest rig. It’s a huge pain in the ass to get at anything in there when you’re wearing it. If you DO have buddies with you, it’s a huge pain in the ass for THEM to get anything in there when you’re wearing it. More importantly, having your backpack/ruck as a standalone unit allows you to ditch it if the situation calls for it. If you need to move fast, being able to lose the ruck and be slick with a weapon is valuable.
- My choice: I’m running a small STS SAR ruck that you can’t find easily (maybe eBay if you’re genuinely curious). It’s basically a heavy-duty alice bag that’s about 2/3 as tall as a regular M ALICE pack. I generally like a smaller rucksack that carries most of the weight higher on my back. If you want a nice ruck (nicer than a standard ALICE) I recommend stuff from Tactical Tailor. They make good packs and frames. As for other soft backpacks, just get something well made from a reputable outdoor gear company. It may be beneficial to get something that doesn’t look super tacticool.
Nice to Have:
These are non-essential items that improve performance and are generally more situationally useful. 1. Chest Rig:
Chest rigs are awesome when being overt (they are hard to conceal despite the promo photos), can carry more than your belt, and keep you very mobile. If think you might have a fight on your hands and have time to get ready, a rig with all of your essential gear on it is going to be an asset to you. Figure out what the most minimal set-up that works for your situation is and use that. You probably don’t need to carry 10 mags on your chest. Again, you should be working out in your gear so you can figure out what works and what doesn’t. Chest rigs are probably size/weight appropriate for most “bug-out” situations where the weight you have on you puts real constraints on how far you can move in a given amount of time.
2. ArmoPlate Carrier:
- My choice: I have a Haley rig from a few years ago that I think is perfect for what it does. It’s lightweight and you can get in and out of it quickly. You generally won’t go wrong with a conservatively sized rig from HSP or Velocity Systems.
Armor is great… sometimes. If I know I’m going into harm’s way, I’m taking armor. If I’m probably not going in harm’s way and generally trying to stay out of sight, I’m not taking it. When you put on armor you trade your speed for protection. There’s no way around it. I see a lot of people in these groups that consider a plate carrier the center of their setup. It’s definitely great to have in some situations, but as soon as you spend a few days working your ass off in one, you’ll realize it comes at a price. ArmoPC selection considerations:
This has been covered in a lot of detail here, so I’ll just share some personal insights:
- a. Minimal plate carriers have their place. Skeletonized cummerbunds, minimal padding, etc. These are like putting your armor in a nylon sock attached to a couple belts. They’re super light and you can move a little faster in them. They’re awesome if you’re going to be wearing it for a day or less. If you’re going to wear your gear for a day or more, something with more support and padding will make you more effective. Your traps will be less obliterated and your gear won’t be sagging off of you due to the extra rigidity provided by a full cummerbund. Figure out what you like better. I prefer the middle ground personally.
- b. If you’re built athletically, triple curve plates are a godsend. Single curves just don’t fit people well who have broad shoulders and chest, and a small waist. They will flare off of you and generally piss you off. If you’re a skinnier dude, single curve will probably not bother you as much. If you’re fat, you need to go work out before you do anything else (this will be the greatest performance multiplier for you).
- c. I’ll say it again, train/work out *hard* in your armor. There’s no better way to find out that the mags on your belt hit the bottom of your plates and jam into your side when you get up and down from prone than doing 100s of burpees in your plates. You’re going to quickly find out which of your 80000 pouches are in your way when they’re rubbing the inside of your arms raw. Crawl in your kit and see if anything comes off. Training in your PC also has the added and essential benefit of training you to perform when you have a load on your body. Your 25-30lb kit might not feel like much when you’re fresh but it’s going to sap your energy a lot faster than you think. Your body needs to learn to perform in this configuration. If you plan on running it, you should plan on working out in it.
- d. Choose appropriate plates for your situation but understand that quality, comfortable, and high-rated armor comes at a large price. Some armor is better than none, however. It’s okay to buy less comfortable or heavier armor while you save up if you think it is essential to your kit. Realize the trades you are making (it’s usually going to be comfort and weight). I generally recommend going with reputable ceramic type plates however I am not a materials engineer.
- e. Keep your PC clear. This is a personal preference that has served me well. Don’t put a ton of shit on your PC. I love kangaroo pouches for mags; they keep your front clear and are super low profile. I hated running radios – now that I don’t have to, I’m a happier person. Unless you have a buddy, don’t run shit on your back if you can avoid it. Use a regular backpack that you can easily take on and off. If you don’t absolutely need it, don’t run a duffle-bag sized IFAK on your side. The less shit on your body that’s getting in the way of your natural movement the better. The less weight on your LBE the better. If you don’t 100% need a capability (comms are the big offender here), you should omit it. Having 30 PTTs coming out of you like some kind of tacticool Cthulu isn’t going to earn you any cool points with anyone who matters anyway.
- f. Mag retention (this applies to pistol holsters too) is nice but not always necessary (I’m talking retention bands). If you’re not in and out of vehicles or near explosions the chance of you going inverted and dumping all of your stuff everywhere is pretty low. I like it but it’s not essential. If I’m just training on the range I prefer as little retention as possible without having mags flopping around when I run.
- Things to avoid: I’ve covered most of my considerations above but one that I consistently see are solo guys running IR flag patches. I know they’re doing it because they think it’s cool but all it does for you in a non-team environment is make you stick right out on NODs to everyone else. In most situations, we don’t want to stick out. If you wanna rep USA and aren’t on a team that runs NODs (or at a course, etc) grab a non-IR flag patch.
- My choice: I run a Velocity Mayflower APC with the kangaroo insert and a Dark Angel IFAK on my right side where my radio pouch would have been. That’s it! I don’t need anything else on my PC (I run it with a belt that has speed reload mags, a dump bag, and a holster). It works for me, has everything I need, and nothing I don’t. I keep tourniquets in the internal cummerbund pouches so they stick out a little and are easily accessible to me or anyone else who needs to get at them. I prefer the rigidity of a full cummerbund and really like the way that VelSys has a stretchy-elastic section on the back portion that attaches to the PC.
These items are useful in some situations and are niche add-ons. 1. Helmet
: This may be somewhat controversial, but I don’t think most people will benefit from having a ballistic helmet. It’s mainly a consideration if you’re running night-vision (NODs) and even in that case, a non-ballistic helmet is probably fine. Ballistic helmets are for situations in which you might encounter a lot of frag threats (a war). They’re not rated for stopping rifle rounds, however most of the good ones will stop pistol rounds. They’re a marginal increase in protection for most people, and I honestly avoided using one unless we were going room-to-room, running NODs, or in another situation where something could blow up near us. If I’m just out and about with a weapon, I prefer a baseball cap. Let’s be honest, you always look like a dweeb even in the coolest helmet anyway.
2. NVG/NOD Systems:
- Things to avoid: Don’t put 80000 things on your helmet. I know it has all kinds of rails and Velcro and shit. Just don’t do it. If you need to know why, see my numerous other recommendations that you work out super hard in your gear. Don’t run IR patches unless you’re on a team with NODs. Make sure you actually measure your head and get a helmet from a reputable manufacturer that fits properly and isn’t flopping all over the place.
- My choice: I ran the standard FAST setup for years. When I got out of the military I stuck with what I knew and grabbed a FAST SF (the MT had been discontinued). It’s higher cut than my old one, which means it’s lighter and it doesn’t jam my ear-pro off the tops of my ears like my old helmet did. If you need a helmet (and can afford it) I can vouch for the quality. TBH I’ll probably almost never use it.
Seeing in the dark is badass. Flashlights let you do this too, so unless you absolutely have a ton of money to blow, you should probably avoid NODs. That being said, a good NVG system gives you superpowers in the dark. If you think you need/want to add this capability to your setup it’s going to cost you a lot of money and requires specific training. When you run NODs you generally want to have an IR illuminator and pointing device attached to your rifle. There are some non-military models that are really good. You definitely don’t need to shell out for a PEQ to have an effective IR laser, what you *do* need is to go to a night vision course taught by professionals who have BTDT. When you first start using NVGs you’re going to notice that your depth perception and depth of focus/field is limited. It requires a lot of getting used to! Go take your NODs for a walk in the woods and get used to judging distance. Play catch with someone (if you have a rich buddy who buys silly shit too). You need lots of time in this environment to become proficient.
- My choice: A PVS-14 monocular is what I would recommend for most people getting into night vision for the first time. It suffers from a limited field of view (honestly most binocular systems do too) but it’s cost effective and battle proven. If you want to get a dual tube system, there’s lots of better resources than me out there for you to tap into for insight. From people who know a lot more than I do about these things: do not feel obligated to buy only models used by the US Military. There are a lot of rugged and high-performant NV systems that are not currently being used by the DoD.
Training and fitness are your most valuable assets. Get it from people who spent their lives in combat and prioritize training force-on-force. Make sure your body is ready for the demands of a fight. I also feel obligated to get on my soapbox for a second,
This guide was written during a period in time where society is being tested. A disease threatens the most vulnerable among us and it is our duty as responsible humans to defend them. Their safety comes before our personal desires and comforts. For human beings, our greatest force multiplier throughout history has been our proclivity for collaboration. Individuals do not themselves build great countries, communities, and industries. Individuals can be awesome catalysts for innovation, but this is a collaborative effort. There has been a recent and troubling fetishization of the notion that we should throw away our collective accomplishments and shared wisdom, turning our discontent towards our neighbors and countrymen. There has been a rash of blatant disregard for reason driven by social divide. If you live in America, it might not always seem like it, but we have it good. It doesn’t mean we can’t improve. It doesn’t mean the government isn’t polluted or corrupt. It means that we have stability and the ability to work and raise families without the risk of armed conflict consuming us and ending our lives or livelihoods. Any visit to a war-torn nation will quickly give you a healthy dose of perspective of how great it is to live in the first world. We ought to keep this in mind when making choices of how to handle ourselves publicly. Be professional and take care of yourselves and your neighbors. We’re all in this together. EDIT:
Fixed some numbering issues.
Here are some additions requested in the comments. Footwear:
I can’t be very specific with regard to footwear because boots/shoes that fit one person are going to give another nasty hotspots. What we need to consider here is environment. If you’re just walking around being a normal person, dress like a normal person. As someone in the comments pointed out, the best way to blend in is to actually blend in. If you’re in a (sub)urban setting, wear sneakers or something moderately athletic (Innov8s or something like that maybe). They’re well suited to that environment. If you’re going to be humping weight out in the woods or on uneven terrain that’s where you have to take some time in choosing the right footwear. I’ve mostly run Merrels, which work fine, but used to give me kind of gnarly hotspots where there is a seam that runs laterally through the midfoot of the shoe. Once my feet were broken in it wasn’t a problem anymore, but that’s to the point: You’re probably going to need to try out a few pairs of hiking boots before you find one that doesn’t jack you up in some way (or your feet harden to the point where they don’t bother you any more). When I was in training, we had to wear uniform-approved boots. I chose the Rocky S2Vs (which were a popular choice at the time) and never had any issues with them. I know they’re not cool but they’re actually really good boots. This is going to take some trial and error on your part. There are plenty of great boots out there to be had. Choose something with a reputation for comfort and durability. My last piece of advice is to avoid “waterproof” boots. Your feet are never going to stay totally dry in the outdoors. What you need is for the water that gets into your boots to naturally drain out. If you use waterproof boots it will trap the moisture inside, and you will be unhappy. Knives:
Knives are actually something I would consider an essential “EDC” item for me. It’s an invaluable tool that at best can be slipped into a pocket and forgotten about until you need it. A small-to-medium sized folding knife by Spyderco or similar adds almost no weight and is absurdly thin. If you’re going into the wilderness where you’re going to be relying on your knife more often I recommend a good fixed blade. Benchmade makes awesome stuff. Serrations are actually pretty useful if you need to cut through anything fibrous. The fixed blade removes the failure point of a folding knife (the locking mechanism) which could fail if you’re putting it to hard use splitting wood or cutting through foliage. As a side note, I’ve never found a place to put my knife on my gear that didn’t annoy me. Putting it vertically on my belt either poked my side or leg. Putting it on my LBE near my radio/IFAK was the best compromise for me but it still annoyed the hell out of me. I’m sure someone has a good solution for this but I never really perfected it. Misc Items:
There are things that are useful to have in different tactical situations. A few of the “I always have this” items were: A sharpie/rite-in-the-rain pen
, a rite-in-the-rain notebook
, a little bit of tape
. Don’t bring a whole roll if you don’t need it, but a little duct tape can be used for a million things in the field and is always useful. If you’re going to be in the wilderness you should always have: A navigation device
(a map and compass/GPS), food and water
(this also includes a way to gatheclean food and water), a little bit of cordage and a woobie/poncho
(shelter making), batteries for your stuff
, and finally a plan
. A plan is going to be your most valuable tool in the woods/outdoors. That means getting out there and learning your terrain, having some good routes, and letting people that care about you know where you are. I am not a fieldcraft expert and there’s plenty of depth to go into here, but if something goes wrong and you get stuck outdoors for longer than you planned, it will help to be prepared for it. If you've never done land navigation or orienteering before, there are lots of good resources to learn it. It's a core "soldier skill", but will still add value to your life as a civilian. I don’t consider this part of “loadout” building, but they walk so closely together it’s worth paying some mind to.