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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Stevens

Tiered Gear Set-Up

If one size doesn’t fit all, why do we expect tactical gear to be any different? The intent behind this post is to address common misconceptions around tactical gear while attempting to address why you might need different set-ups, along with the practicality of those different set-ups. This post is by no means the final word on this subject of tiered gear set-ups, and I am by no means an expert on this topic. I’m just a dude who has spent a ton of time in tactical gear and, therefore, has a better-than-average understanding of the limitations—along with advantages—that gear creates. I would like to preface the information in this post by explaining that my background is primarily military, specifically Army Infantry. Due to this fact, I have many biases. I will attempt to prevent these biases from influencing this discussion, but they exist nonetheless. Many readers may think that my military background lends me significant credibility on the topic of tactical gear, and it does, to some degree. However, it’s important to remember that a soldier in full kit in Afghanistan compared to an American civilian in full kit in the United States is an apples-to-oranges comparison in almost every respect, from that person’s mentality and capability to their equipment and logistical support. The above statement isn’t to say that Americans don’t need tactical gear; they absolutely do. I am merely attempting to point out how important it is to view things from the correct perspective. Big, bulky armor like the IOTV and DAPS that the military used during the Surge in Iraq was, at the time, considered the pinnacle of armor tech. If you look at statistics from the fighting during that time, you could get the idea that the IOTV was fantastic and saved many lives. However, the IOTV was quickly replaced because such bulky equipment was incredibly detrimental to combat effectiveness. The reality is, what won the day was a better understanding of medical treatment and combined arms combat. You should also never view a military background as a prerequisite for someone to be an authority on civilian ownership and employment of firearms or related equipment. Like anything else, always take what you hear with a grain of salt and be skeptical.

With all that being said, let’s dig into the meat of this topic of tactical gear. My gear philosophy is a bit different than most. Having spent time overseas, I don’t want to trust my life to cheap gear. I understand the value of quality equipment that maximizes my fighting potential while keeping me safe. At the same time, I’m also not an eighteen-year-old kid in excellent physical condition. I’m not thrust into ambushes where our Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is to walk around without getting IED’d, only to find out that the Close Air Support (CAS) and Artillery support on which the plan relied was busy elsewhere.

As a civilian, my plan is to avoid conflict rather than run towards it, and my gear reflects that. I have noticed a trend, especially in the gun community, that if you don’t have the highest-end stuff, then you’re a “poor LARPer, airsofter, cheap-ass, fudd, etc.” I feel that, while high-end gear is preferable to lower-end gear, and it’s nice to have high-end gear, most civilian users will never fast-rope into a HALO-jump sea insertion to [redacted] some [redacted]. With that being the case, many people get ripped off by kit they don't need or kit that they purchased to do things they won’t do. The inverse also frequently happens. People get ripped off by cheap kit that doesn’t properly function when needed because slick marketing and low prices lured them into something else that won't preform well.

When it comes to gear, you get what you pay for, but it’s a sliding scale with diminishing returns the closer you get to the higher-end stuff. High-quality gear is great, and if you have the money, go for it. However, if you don’t have the money, don’t feel bad about getting mid-tier gear either, so long as it works and will hold up against hard use. I cannot begin to stress the importance of training. You can have the best gear in the world, but you will look like a clown if you don’t use it, adjust it correctly, and wear it confidently and comfortably. I could walk up to any police or military unit right now and tell you who is serious and who isn’t by the look of their postures and gear. I know what I’m looking for, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. For example, compare these two photos of similarly-equipped dudes and think about which one you’d want to engage in a gunfight.

One guy wears his gear in a comfortable and practiced manner because he’s used to that gear. He is comfortable wearing it due to training extensively in it. The other guy has new, yet sloppy-looking and poorly-adjusted gear, worn in a visibly uncomfortable way. Finally—and I always hit on this point because it’s crucial and has absolutely saved my life in the past, both in combat and later on as I dealt with injuries from combat—fitness. Physical fitness is a super big deal.

All the fancy gear in the world is garbage if you can’t get where you need to go with it. Good split times are garbage if you can’t catch your breath after running 100 meters to the fight. Also, adding with the image issue above, an out-of-shape fighter commands less respect.

I had Afghans overseas refuse to work with higher-ranking people because they “don’t look like they can fight against the Taliban for us,” while I, on the other hand, met their standards of physical fitness. At the same time, it’s a sliding scale as well. I’m thirty-two, and my body is trashed after ten years of Global War on Terror (GWOT) fun time. I won’t ever be able to run the 6:30 minute mile that eighteen-year-old me could, but I still ruck, run, and workout. I might not be young and fast anymore, but old and slow me can still keep up and get my body and my gear where it needs to go. With that being said, I understand the limitations of my body, and I realize that I don’t have tons of time to dedicate to fitness like I used to. Some fitness is better than no fitness, and you have to find the balance that works for you. In a future article, I’ll write up some of the workouts I complete based on the “Mountain Athlete Warrior” (or MAW, because it isn’t military enough if it isn’t a cool acronym) program the Army developed to help train light Infantry dudes for the mountains of Afghanistan. Not only does this program condition your body and build cardiovascular strength, but it also helps you get accustomed to your gear. This helps to work out any gear issues before you will actually need said gear. Here is a basic layout of everything:

Everything here is based around tiers, with lighter, more concealable gear designed around more clandestine use. I’ve then laid out the heavier, more robust gear for overt use, along with a bunch of stuff in between.

Bare bones

This is more or less my EDC: a small, single-stack G43 pistol with an Appendix-style holster and a spare mag. I prefer to have a light on every firearm I plan to use in a defensive role, simply because you can get decent lights at very economical prices these days. This means you have very little reason not to have a good light for your firearms. They provide significant utility, particularly with target identification, which is critical for defensive use in America. Bottom Tier

If I want more ammo on hand and a better platform to sling around that ammo, the G19 is my go-to. I have holster options to both conceal and open carry. Generally, if you come into the shop, this is what’s sitting on my hip.

Second Tier

Now, we branch out into options that allow longer-range accuracy and more ammo on hand than a traditional pistol. My Stribog is another standard gun you’ll see around the shop. The Stribog is legally defined as a pistol. It can be concealed, kept loaded, and ready to go in the state of Oklahoma, just like a pistol. This brace affords me the option to shoulder the weapon and get better, longer-range accuracy within the limitations of the 9mm bullet. It also presents a small package that can be easily concealed in a bag. The chest rig is a simple Chinese surplus SMG rig modified with shock cord to help retain the mags. You can find more information on this rig in my article on budget chest rigs. What I like about this rig is how low profile it is. I can carry plenty of additional ammunition wearing nothing more than a hoodie. I’ll just look a little fatter than normal without adding much weight at all.

This set-up would be ideal if you plan to enter an urban area with a higher-than-normal threat level that could necessitate greater accuracy and ammunition; you’ll do so without drawing attention to yourself. A good example of this would be if you had to enter or exit an area with ongoing violent protests. Naturally, avoidance is the best way to keep out of trouble, but we can’t always be so lucky. A set-up like this would offer additional peace of mind and give you more flexible options without drawing undue attention, ideally allowing you to prevent an altercation by avoiding it entirely. Third Tier

Here, we start to enter rifle calibers while still using what is legally considered a pistol. In this case, we have a braced AR-15 with a 10.5-inch barrel, along with a Tactical Taylor chest rig using a three-mag HSGI taco pouch to retain magazines. We also have a low-profile Grey Ghost Gear Minimalist Plate Carrier with level four “In Conjunction With” (ICW) plates and soft armor.

This is a bit bulkier of a set-up that, while still being concealable, starts to skirt the boundary of being overt. The rifle can be broken down and stuffed in a gym bag, for example. The Plate Carrier (PC) can be worn by itself under a hoodie, offering rifle-level protection with low weight and, again, without drawing any attention. Alternatively, the chest rig can be worn by itself, also under a hoodie, without sticking out significantly. Simultaneously, both the chest rig and the PC can be worn together, providing both protection and all the benefits of extra ammunition on hand. Like the last one, this tier would be ideal in a situation where trouble is expected but it’s still something you’re trying to avoid, much like our previous protest scenario.

Like our previous tier, the gun being a legal pistol affords us more flexibility in how we can load and carry it compared to a traditional rifle. Fourth Tier

Here, we step fully into overt gear and are no longer trying to hide what we have. By this point, while you are not looking for trouble, you’ve found yourself in a position where it’s expected. Since this whole set-up is scalable, you are afforded many options. This set-up is designed around mobility and portability. It gives you everything you need for a small engagement but is focused on speed and comfort instead of protection and firepower. We now have a full-sized, sixteen-inch AR-15, HSGI battle belt, G17 with light and holster, IFAK, fixed-blade knife, dump pouch, additional ammunition, Helikon-Tex Bandicoot waist pack for miscellaneous items, chest rig, and slick armor. For example, if you are doing rural terrain reconnaissance, the full-size rifle, battle belt, and waist pack might be all you require. The idea is to survey an area without getting into a fight, with mobility being the primary requirement. Like all the previous tiers, this one remains scalable, so you are afforded the option of adding armor and the chest rig for additional protection at the cost of mobility and vice versa. Final Tier

This kit primarily affords us plenty of additional protection. When coupled with the small assault pack, we also have extra ammunition and items to sustain us in a prolonged fight.

I wrote this article around the idea that there is no “one size fits all” approach to tactical gear. This article is not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination. My intention is to provide a quick snapshot of how to plan out and purchase gear, along with giving practical applications for that gear.

Is cool gear fun to have and train with? Absolutely! But the likelihood of you needing to grab the final tier kit and run off to Red Dawn your way across America is pretty low. What’s more likely is that you’ll need to carry some extra mags while going home from your workplace that happens to be near a planned protest. If you are buying gear and equipment, it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider the practical applications of that gear before investing your hard-earned money. I advise all readers, especially newer shooters, to focus on lower-tier equipment first and then branch out from there.

The most important thing you can do is to get out and train with your gear. Wear it, shoot with it, run around with it, work out with it. Get a good feel for how it works, find out what you like and don’t like, and, most importantly, get comfortable wearing it. This will provide you with valuable feedback that can help inform your purchasing decisions later on and help save you some money as you collect more gear and equipment. As always, if you have questions or need more information, feel free to stop by the shop and ask. You can also shoot me a message on social media or through the different methods listed on this site, whichever is more comfortable for you. I’m always happy to help.

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