Letter Re: Holster, Sling, and Web Gear Recommendations

Howdy Mr. Rawles!
Before I begin, I’d like to offer my congratulations on your fine novel being republished. I’ve read it once myself, then again to my family (I hate television, reading is good family entertainment) which should be considered high accolades in itself. Currently my copy is in the Pacific Northwest, bound for the midwest next, as it continues to travel the country within my circle of friends.

I read the posted letter by R.P. on 26 August, and associated recommendations on holsters, slings, and web gear, and thought I’d offer some discussion on the matter:

The main reason pistols are currently worn on thigh rigs has less to do with ‘CDI’ [“Chicks Dig It”] factor and more to do with accessibility. When one wears a vest festooned with pouches, the bulk of these tend to hinder proper presentation of the pistol when the holster is worn conventionally on the pants belt. That is, if the pants belt can even be seen, as most wear their vests low enough to preclude such. The addition of body armor only exacerbates the situation. The pistol, therefore, is typically moved elsewhere – mostly onto a thigh rig or integrated into the vest itself. This is far from a new style though – the old leather 1911 holsters hung down from the frog clip to accomplish the same purpose.

As you noted, thigh holsters typically aren’t comfortable while ‘on the move’ . They are good for one thing though, and that’s an assault. Thus the reason that laden troops are often seen with them – those troops are equipped for an assault. Additionally, a conventionally mounted holster will typically interfere with a ruck waist belt. If not precluding ruck use entirely, at a minimum compromising comfort.

I’ve been working through these issues for years, and have come to some conclusions:

No one rig will ‘do it all’. Compromises abound and are mandatory. For the vast majority of time (as it applies to me) a light vest, at the
most, is all that is called for.

I am not personally a fan of the heritage [LC-1/LC-2 series] deuce gear. Not that the concept is wrong, bad, or anything else – but the ALICE clips (or as my associates and I came to call them, “meat hooks”) really did need to be jettisoned. They rub body parts raw, blistered, and cause other similar problems when used for any significant length of time. As well, the magazine pouches were designed more for extreme magazine retention and protection (security) than allowing a speedy reload, and the closure hardware on them never was very robust. When I had evolved my deuce gear as far as it would go, my pouches were all lashed to the pistol belt with gutted paracord. Using the grommets of the belt and the freshly-emptied ALICE clip slots on the pouches, paracord can be worked tight enough to prevent pouch movement laterally and vertically. Another consideration is that by using paracord, there is less metal to clink against other items. This technique worked well in my opinion, and happened to be identical to the way – in both layout and attaching – one of my closest friends independently evolved his LBE in Ranger school. If one is really attached to that generation of equipment, then I recommend this method of pouch attachment, as it is a quantum step up in comfort! Just make sure that the knots are oriented away from your body and melted somewhat, to prevent them from coming loose and the paracord sheathing from unraveling.

In my opinion the new generation of MOLLE load bearing vest (LBV) is superior to the old deuce gear – of course allowing that everyone is different. Not only are the MOLLE vests superior in comfort, but the modularity offers the capability of repositioning your pouches to find the placement where they feel best for that individual. I personally prefer the slightly older models that use two buckles in the front, as opposed to a zipper. Conveniently, these vests are low enough in cost that purchasing one per rifle, carbine, or shotgun isn’t cost prohibitive.

Like R.P. and yourself, I have attended Front Sight. I’ve also attended other top-notch institutions – I typically attend at least one course per year. As such, it should come as no surprise that after significant attempts at finding “a better way”, I also advocate using a conventionally mounted belt holster. It seems we prefer the same manufacturers as well – Blade-Tech and Milt Sparks specifically. The Milt Sparks folks talked me into trying the Summer Special II and I’ve been happily using that for the last three years or so and actually prefer it to the original Summer Special. I would also add Lou Alessi to the recommended holster-maker list, as I’ve been using his leather belt holsters for the last decade or so and am quite taken by his execution of the old Bruce Nelson design, which Lou calls the DOJ holster. Specifically, I prefer the slightly modified version he made for Dick Heinie. Those can still be ordered as such directly from Lou, as Dick quit carrying them. I’ve used several gun belts over the years, but eventually stuck with the Riggers Belt offered by The Wilderness. I prefer mine with the optional 5-stitch reinforcement, to make the belt less flexible under load.

I have found that the key to proper pistol presentation when wearing a vest is to have the vest ride high enough that it doesn’t interfere with the holstered pistol; not quite as high as a chest rig, but almost. As well, when laying out the pouches for attachment, I leave a open area on my front and both sides; approximately 10:45 to 1:15, 2:00 to 4:30, and 7:30 to 10:00 are all open space. This allows unimpeded access to a properly holstered pistol, as well as the spare pistol magazines and such on the opposite hip. The open area directly to my front is so that I can assume a solid prone position without lying on full magazine pouches; I space the pouches such that they act as wheel chocks when I’m in the prone. With the vest riding at this height, other items can be carried on the belt with decent access – a knife, pistol magazines, flashlight, multi-tool, and compass for example. With all that open area though, the vest really doesn’t carry much. As I’m not employed to assault enemy positions, I don’t need an assault vest. What I do need – and what the vest provides – is water, more ammo for the pistol and carbine, navigation, communications, and a blow-out kit. If called for, a PVS-14 or PVS-7D in rigid case can be quickly and securely attached to the water carrier on the back. As the unofficial motto of my favorite school says, “shoot, move, and communicate”, this vest is geared to meet those needs. What it is not geared to meet is self-sustainability. This vest shouldn’t be confused with a rig meant for patrolling, what one would choose to wear when knowingly venturing into unfriendly areas, or anything to sustain oneself longer than a few hours. Essentially this is a vest to be worn when contact isn’t expected, just something to work ones way back to a nearby resupply.

For the applications where the light vest isn’t sufficient, a ruck is called for, as well as a vest that works well with a ruck but also has the volume capabilities for sustainability. Of course, this is a trade-off, and there are many trade-offs involved in choosing kit. As always, determined by METT-T [Mission,+Enemy,+Terrain,+Troops+Time Available]. At this time, for a patrolling / heavy vest, I’m evaluating the K171 Arktis model. It’s heavier, bulkier, doesn’t allow unimpeded pistol usage (the pistol is stowed in a cross draw integral holster and meant to provide security over speed), and favors security over speed in reloading – but it does carry a patrolling load well.

On the topic of slings, I realize this is personal preference, but I prefer different slings for different applications. On a battle rifle or a precision rifle, I prefer the Quick-Cuff from Tactical Intervention Specialists. I’d been using these slings for years before our military adopted them as part of issue sniper kit – they really are top-drawer quality. I’ve used them on long-range courses and competitions and never regretted it. It doesn’t do anything that a good loop sling doesn’t do – it just does it faster and easier. For shotguns and carbines, it’s difficult to find better than the Giles or Vickers slings, in my opinion. When set-up such that the buttplate is approximately one fist height below the chin, these work very well.

At this point though, I’d like to reiterate your admonition that training must be sought. If a trip into the Arizona or Nevada deserts, the Oregon mountains, the Oklahoma hills, isn’t a viable option at the moment, then I also advocate the Appleseed Program [rifle matches and clinics]. These fine, hospitable folks will get you spooled up on the basics of marksmanship quickly and efficiently – I should know, I’ve been volunteering as an instructor for almost a year now. All the best, and God Bless! – Bravo