Gear For The Big & Tall

chest rig
One of my current chest rigs for consistent use. Ignore the pattern, it’s all in your head.

Throughout my years of shooting, hiking, and just generally being alive I’ve been taught the hard way that the world is simply not meant for tall or large sized people. Most major clothing brands are designed for individuals under 6′, and current model cars are suited to shorter people. Even finding a pair of shoes over Size 11 can be a task that might better be described as a quest rather than an errand. I stand right around 6’3, or 6’4 on a good day and generally my smallest shirts clock in at an XL tall sizing. As a result I’ve found that tasks as simple as finding gear in a surplus store to be an exercise in futility. And God forbid I even consider buying some knock off Chinese brand to save a few dollars should I need a plate carrier, or a rig. However, after years of fighting to find something that works for me, I’ve come to offer my own knowledge on finding gear for the big and tall folks among us.

Plate Carriers

6b45 plate carrier

Starting off with something simple, and incredibly common among most American shooters I’d like to offer my insight into plate carriers. Generally plate carriers provide a modular system for both carrying gear, and protecting the wearer from ballistic harm against a variety of calibers. However, in the realm of one-size fits all miracle carriers, clones, and of course knockoffs, finding one that actually fits is about as difficult as finding gold in your sink. If you manage to accomplish it, good on you but you shouldn’t be all that surprised when all you have to show for your effort is disappointment. Select real gear in the proper size for your body, and if the option is available go ahead and try it on in person. I’ve found Russian gear to be quite a treat in some regards for sizing, as it takes into account height as well as your chest measurements. Some options to consider can be real Defender 2 carriers, Russian clones of American rigs that can be personally sized, and of course some of the standard issue items like the 6B45 plate carrier. Although, Russian gear does have its own inherent disadvantages, including the fact that it may not always accept traditional armor plates.

Where a plate carrier fails, however, is the level of comfort during extended use. More often than not, to get a plate carrier to fit correctly you will need plates, or some form of weighted insert. Add on mag pouches, an IFAK, and any additional gear and you’re in for a personal hell if you want to just shoot comfortably at the range. My general advice would be to go more toward a chest rig if you plan to be shooting a lot, want a system to hold magazines, and practice reloads with. While a plate carrier can be set up in any number of ways for a user, it will still be the heaviest option available on the market, which can steer some people away.

Chest Rigs

Above is my personal 6sh117 vest. It’s less of a chest rig than some other options, but it works wonders for keeping any load well distributed, and at a reasonable cost.

Compared to a plate carrier, chest rigs, and most load bearing vests can lack the general versatility of a plate carrier. For example the average American made chest rig will come with three to four pouches for 5.56×45 magazines, a general purpose pouch or two, and if you’re lucky, a few pistol magazine pouches. These will often be permanently affixed, and offer no room simple customization for the user. Of course exceptions exist, the 6sh117 load bearing vest that I own can be adjusted for AK platforms, grenadiers, marksmen, and of course the squad machine gunner. This is by no means a common feature when looking at most commercial chest rigs and load bearing vests.

Where the chest rig will win in comparison to a plate carrier is just raw weight. The average plate carrier alone will weigh between 2-3lbs in cloth. Compare that to something like a chest rig which may only come in around 1lb or so, and will offer a fairly large carrying capacity. More often than not when I go shooting, if I’m planning to practice reloading drills, I’ll do it with my chest rig on. I do this purely because it’s quicker to remove during a cold range, but also because I find myself able to move much more freely when it comes to transitioning to a handgun.

My only real complaint is comfort for wearing long term. While light, the weight is very rarely distributed, it’s all pulling toward the front of your body. Unlike a plate carrier, full vest, or a belt rig, most chest rigs are purely designed to mount everything in easy reach and at the front of your body. Pro-tip from me: Do not wear a tank top if you plan to wear a chest rig all day, it’ll dig in, and find some wonderfully uncomfortable places to rub against. Generally what you’ll lose out on in versatility, you’ll more than make up for in cost and weight.

Belt Rigs, and Harnesses

Pictured above is a “Partizan” harness. A bit outdated, but still much more modular than something like a traditional chest rig. Most decent belt rigs are also set up to be attached to a set of shoulder straps, creating a harness rig.

Belt rigs and harness setups fulfill a rather niche role in terms of gear. Generally speaking a harness setup will offer weight distribution off of your front, and moves it mostly to your hips and sides. I’ve generally found that for hiking, or any sort of long term movement, I really enjoy a harness due to it’s weight distribution. It can also be designed for a more high-speed configuration. A modern battle belt is effectively a large strip of molle suited to take a variety of pouches, set up in a manner exactly designed to the shooter’s preference. While I currently do not have a belt rig of my own, I’ve found that being able to put a pouch exactly where my hand wants to go naturally is extremely advantageous, alongside the fact I can use just about any pouch from any company. The only downside I’ve found to a battle belt is the fact the cost can very quickly exceed a Smersh, pattern 83 webbing, or an SAS harness due to the individual pouches varying in costs tremendously.

Personally I would advise something along the lines of an SRVV SAS harness for most users, the price is generally right, and while it’s geared more toward the AK platform it’ll fit most any intermediate caliber magazines. In addition, it includes a spacey butt pack for storage, which I tend to use for storing general survival gear, hiking supplies, and extra medical gear. Another part of the system I love is just how easily it can be mounted over the top of a plate carrier, providing a quick solution to limited carrying capacity.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, being someone who is big and tall can provide a multitude of problems when it comes to shopping for gear. It’s more often than not a Goldilocks story of trying to find what’s just right. My own adventures have included buying anything from a Defender 2 (a bit too small), to finally settling for something more elastic like a 5.11 Tactec for personal use. Do your absolute best to find high quality (and durable) gear that is sized right for you. You will end up paying more initially, but in the long run you’ll be absolutely thankful that you didn’t waste your money on a variety of unnecessary bullshit.

Bismarck

Bismarck

Bismarck, self-proclaimed giant, and firearms enthusiast. From the history and innovation of gear and firearms, to the simple things like what happens to be more practical for every day use. Generally speaking, if there's something worth knowing, I'm happy to share it.

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