“Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain”Unknown badass
In this article I like to talk about a trend in the load carriage gear industry. A trend that started a revolution in the industry but nowadays leads to weird misconceptions. We gonna talk about “low profile” gear and loadouts.
Back before 2010 it was not uncommon that operators tended to overload themselves with unnecessary weight. It were the times when gear was made out of double layered Cordura and it was not uncommon that a single operator carried up to twelve magazines in their second line.
Manufacturers and instructors alike did everything to lighten the load by either developing gear made of lightweight materials or focusing on a less is more approach in SOPs. This is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But there is a point where some people seem to forget that the mission dictates the gear.
Today almost every product description features “low profile” or even “low vis”.
First off, let us talk about what those catchy phrases really mean.
Low Profile: Low Profile equipment means that your gear is as slick as possible. There is no clear definition about it. But the canon on this is that your gear allows you to work in confined spaces, going into prone position without getting distracted by your mags or climb through a window.
Low Vis: This is the kind of doctrine that most people confuse with Low Profile. But Low Vis or Low Signature gear is not about wearing a slick plate carrier. It is about concealment. It is about how fast you can be recognized as a threat.
The conclusion is that a plate carrier worn under a shirt with minimal print is actually an example for Low Vis. Even a concealed gun is Low Vis.
A plate carrier with three elastic pouches and a strip of velcro isn’t Low Vis! It is Low Profile! But as I said before, your mission dictates the gear. There are not that many military applications that require you to only carry three mags and a patch! I ask what’s next? A plate carrier with paracord as shoulder straps and no flaps because gravity holds the plates in place? Kidding aside, I see a problematic industry trend here.
On the flat Range three mags and an IFAK may work well. But in the field of the military or even law enforcement you won’t encounter many scenarios where you only need to carry this bare minimum.
Looking at many product pics that are floating around on the web and especially Instagram you encounter mag holders without any retention and plate carriers that offer three mags and nothing else. Not even PALS estate.
Considering that most military SOPs require you to carry mags, two TQs, big IFAKs, frags, smokes, strobes, lights, water, radios and even flash bangs you may notice that most of those “minimalist” systems out there won’t make the cut. You may also notice that the trend of minimalism actually causes some dangerous misconceptions.
Always keep in mind that less is not always more and when there is an overload there is always an potential to “underload”.
That being said there are also some problems when it comes to gear construction and design related to the current low profile trend.
Magazines, bangs, radios and smokes are important items. They are mission critical. Pouches that only rely on one kind of retention seem to be a kind of trend that comes with “low profile gear”, remember that a lost mag may kill you faster than a mag that can’t be accessed in seconds. Always try to opt for pouches that rely on two kinds of retention (e.g.: Pull tabs and friction) as you will move in a tactical environment.
Even in LE or close protection you will need some kind of retention as you may as well hit the ground while struggling with a suspect.
You should also consider that the construction of your gear has to be able to survive not just the range but also the dynamics and environment of a range. A plate carriers shoulder strap or cummerbund for example should always rely on a combined solution (e. g. Triglides and Velcro) and not just a plain velcro construction. Velcroed together cummerbunds may work great for concealment but will fail considering aspects like saltwater, dust and dirt! It’s better to go at least for a velcro sandwich construction.
A buddy of mine recently purchased a well praised minimalist solution. It looked fucking slick I have to admit. But when deployed he suddenly realised that he had a hard time carrying everything he needed to carry and the construction couldn’t really carry the necessary weight. The slick cummerbund peeled apart in short time and random gear busted out of the “low profile adaptive pouches” (love this word) so he changed to a MOLLE platecarrier quickly.
The most important skill to select the right load bearing equipment is awareness and not thinking in stereotypes. The mini chest rig that looked so cool over the Hawaii shirt on Instagram might not always be YOUR and your teams solution.
Use a simple checklist when purchasing your own gear.
- Am I grown up and able to differentiate my gear choices?
- What are my units SOPs?
- Do I need low visibility?
- Does the product have dedicated pouches for this kind of gear.
- Do I have pouches with multiple retention mechanisms to retain most of my gear?
- Does my gear get in the way?
- Can I reach my critical gear?
“Low Profile is not about buying” “Low Profile” gear, it’s about lowering the profile of your needed kit! “
As soon as you answered all the questions and reflected your SOPs you should be good to go. If you are not able to properly use those questions you should stay away from privately purchasing anything and ask your more experienced buddies.
Instead of carrying less then you need, try to rely on innovative material choices. For example pouches with traditional Natick webbing create almos a half cm of unnecessary offset, you could better go with tuck tabs or Helium Whisper.
That said, low profile products like the Velocity Systems Elastic Placard, BFGs TenSpeed pouches or Terra B’s Discreet Pouches have their place. But they are very specialized products!
At the end of the day stay away from blindly following trends and always keep in mind that a design revolution will always meet its borders as soon as they have become a hype.
If you want to see some of our loadouts (without Hawaii shirts!) you may visit our Instagram profile.