If I Was Starting Over


I’ve read a recent spate of forum posts about people’s homes being broken into and their firearm collections stolen. Obviously, that is a terrible event and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

But it made me think.

If I was starting over with my collection knowing everything that I know now, what would I focus on? I thought this question tied nicely with my AR-15 guide posts, since those are where I dumped my current understanding of the platform (and continue to be the most popular posts on the blog).

If I was Buying My First AR-15

If I had to start over from scratch, or I was just getting started in the AR world, my first rifle would be a Colt Combat Unit Carbine. It represents nearly everything I recommend for first time buyers, and I would expect it to perform admirably in nearly any role it is pushed to do.


  • Barrel: 16.1″
  • Capacity: 30+1
  • Finish: Matte Black
  • Receiver: Matte Black
  • Safety: Ambidextrous Safety Selector
  • Stock: Magpul MOE SL Buttstock Collapsible / Folding Stock
  • Magazine: 1 / 30 rd. Magpul PMAG
  • Weight: 6.47 lbs.
  • Rate of Twist: 1-in-7″
  • Sights: No Sights
  • Barrel Length: 16.1
  • Overall Length: 33 to 36.5
  • Features: Mid-Length Gas System/ Lightweight Profile Barrel
  • Handguard: Centurion Arms M-LOK CMR

Sure, I could always build a more specialized rifle with this barrel or that trigger, but this package represents an excellent “do-all” carbine.

If I Was Buying My First Rifle Optic

The first optic I ever purchased was a Trijicon TR24G, one of the better early examples of the 1-4x variable market. It still works well, though I don’t have it sitting on top of anything at the moment.

Having now experimented with red dots, low power variables, and fixed low magnification optics, I definitely have a preference for the fixed low power varieties. That said, if it is a first optic, and one that I’m going to presumably use for a while in a variety of roles, then I’m going to take a variable.

My choice would be the Vortex Razor Gen II-E 1-6x with VMR-2 MRAD reticle.

The illumination is bright enough, the magnification range is good, the optical clarity is fantastic, and it’s proven to be durable. I prefer the MRAD reticle because I can always move the optic to other rifles/platforms and figure out my drop points rather than having to improvise on a preset BDC.

If I Was Buying My First Handgun

The first pistol I ever purchased was a 1911. Specifically, it was a Springfield Black Stainless Loaded model, which was set up more for competition than anything else. I didn’t really know what I was looking for at the time, and 1911s were all the rage on the internet. Technically, I also had a HK USP-9c on loan from my father, which was a much more practical self-defense pistol, but I returned it to him after buying my own pistol. After that was my Beretta 92A1, then FNS-9, and then the CZ P-07.

I prefer hammer fired pistols over striker (call it a safety thing, I like the reassurance that the hammer is not cocked during holstering). I don’t care for cocked and locked carry, or single action only pistols that would otherwise require me to cock the hammer before firing the first shot.

I’m a big fan of my CZ, but I feel like it wouldn’t be a first pistol.

If I was starting over, I would pick up an HK P30L LE model (included night sights) and go master it.

If you just cannot stand DA/SA pistols, then I would pick a Sig P320 Compact. I know it’s not popular right now because of bad press, but the same happened to the Beretta 92 when it was first adopted by the military as the M9. But that’s the bottom line for me, the P320 series is the new official handgun of the US military, which means it is going to have ample aftermarket support and accessories- something nearly everything in my collection lacks.

I’m sure someone will argue that I should recommend a Glock 19, and it’s a fair recommendation. It is a well known quantity, reliable, and has ample support as well. I’ve just never liked shooting Glocks, and this post is about what would pick.

If I Was Buying My First 30 Cal

My first rifle was an M1A, which was awesome for showing off at the range. Then I picked up an M1 Garand from the CMP. Then I got into ARs, then a bolt action, and then I started a 308 AR that I never finished.

If I was doing it all over again, I would get a SCAR 17s and be done with it.

Yes, it costs more. But when I factor in all the money I spent on the M1A ($1700ish to buy it, then nearly another $1000 for the stock it sits in), and then the bolt action, and what it would cost to build a reliable 308 AR- we are in the same price range as the SCAR. It’s already a proven platform, and doesn’t require a lot of tinkering.

If I Was Buying My First Set of Load Bearing Gear

This is an odd one. I’m still working on it myself, and I think I’m up to four different platforms myself that are nearly fully equipped. If I was totally starting over, I would make the choice between belt-oriented (old school) and chest rig (new school).

If going with a more traditional belt-oriented method, then I would look at the First-Spear Joker Rig. Again, yes, it is expensive. But it will last you forever, and offers a lot of flexibility. This would be a great “one and done” solution (after you get the pouches, of course).

If I was going more in the direction of chest rigs, I’m a big fan of my MVT Rig, but he doesn’t make them anymore (or really any gear, for that matter). The next best thing is the Mayflower UW Gen IV Rig. Pair that with a decent duty belt with some extra mags and such, and you have a very capable system.




The Battle Belt, Mod 1

Late in 2015, I completed my first iteration of a battle belt. I admitted at the time that the configuration was mostly based on research and theory rather than practice. Since then, I’ve had a few more months to work on the practice portion and some changes have been made- albeit relatively minor ones. I’ve continued to apply the principles of METT-T and changed my approach a bit. Keep in mind, this is all just based on my own observation and experimentation. I’m not some door kicking meat eater with decades of light infantry experience backing me up. What I have seen, though, is that even the guys with the credentials don’t have a common way of running gear. It is very much a personal thing, so long as it works.

The New Hotness


The addition of a the MVT Chest Rig, as well as a more fully featured H-Harness from First Spear, drove the changes here. I will talk more about those as well.

The fundamental purpose of this belt is to carry a minimum effective fighting kit. I still want this belt to support all of my magazine fed weapons (both 5.56/308 and pistol). I reduced the amount of survival and comfort items. Those things will either be carried in pockets or in a pack. This is more than the pure minimalist belts out there that have just a few items on it, but it also is much more stripped down that the British PLCE style belt I was pursuing before. I place it in more of a mid-weight category.

Here is the newest iteration of the system.

Pouches from left to right:

  • TT Magna double pistol magazine pouch
  • HSGI Taco (holds one 5.56 or .308 magazine)
  • HSGI Taco (holds one 5.56 or .308 magazine)
  • HSGI Bleeder Pouch
  • BAE Systems Eclipse Canteen/General Purpose Pouch
  • Grizzly Outdoors kydex knife sheath for BK-10 knife
  • Safariland 3280 holster for Beretta 92A1 with or without attached light

When I put the original belt out there in the public eye with a request for feedback, I received a lot of good input. The biggest thing to look out for was bulk, particularly on the sides. My original concept had two triple mag pouches set on the outside of HSGI tacos. When filled, this created 4+ magazines worth of horizontal bulk. I found that it tended to snag on things, particularly door frames and furniture. It didn’t really work the way I originally intended.

P1010690.jpgI dropped the external TT pouches in favor of just the two tacos. This reduced the ammunition capacity from 8+1 to 2+1. Alternatively, it went from eight pounds of ammunition on the left side of the belt to two. My logic is that this is a minimum fighting capability, good for generally bumming around and enough to get out of most sticky situations. Extra magazines can always be carried in pockets, especially if I’m wearing a smock. 

I scaled back the trauma kit back a bit. The HSGI Bleeder just doesn’t hold all that much. This kit represents a bare minimum capability for stopping bleeding, and should be supplemented by a larger first aid kit carried in a pack or pocket.

  • 1 pair nitrile gloves
  • 1 pair HyFin vented compact chest seals
  • 1 NAR S-Folded gauze
  • OLAES 4″ Compression Bandage
  • CAT Tourniquet
  • Flat roll of 100 mph tape
  • Benchmade Rescue Hook 8

I searched for a tear away method of mounting the Bleeder pouch so that I could rip it off with either hand when I need it, but no avail. Instead, I attached the bleeder pouch with two MOLLE Stix. This lets me give a firm yank to a lanyard and unlock the mount. From there, I simply give an upward pull and the pouch falls free. I much prefer this method because removing the kit and putting it next to whatever I’m trying to do is much more desirable than twisting around and fishing through a very crowded pouch on the belt. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works. I also experimented with a Chinook Med TMK pouch, but I didn’t like the way it sat on the belt. Another option I’m looking at is SO Tech’s Flat Viper kit.

P1010691.jpgI wavered back and forth regarding water carriage. I considered removing the canteen carriers all together. I carry a 3L water bladder in my pack, so losing the canteens off the belt wouldn’t represent a great loss. However, I kept one with the reasoning that I can always remove the canteens and continue using the covers as general purpose pouches. Furthermore, hard bottles do still have their perks over bladders (thats a discussion for another day).  

I wanted something that was a bit less bulky than the MOLLE II covers I had. I picked up two of the BAE Eclipse pouches as well as an SO Tech Canteen pouch during my experimentation. The BAE pouches are much lower profile, and present a nice tight fit for my Nalgene canteens, but can also hold other items (including 4 more magazines). It will not hold the canteen nested with cup and stove, though. Since this belt is intended to be used with a backpack, I decided those items could be carried elsewhere. The SO Tech carrier is perfect, and is my favorite carrier by far- but I thought it was better utilized on my larger H-Harness.

The other major addition is a new fixed blade knife. On my first revision, I mounted a Spartan Blades Breed Fighter Dagger. While a fighting knife is cool, it honestly isn’t as useful as a general purpose utility knife.

The Becker BK-10 is my camping knife. It is Ethan Becker’s version of the classic Air Crew Survival Knife, and is designed as a type of “do all” outdoors knife. It is fairly large and wide, which makes it useful for many outdoor tasks, but also makes carry options a little more challenging. The kydex sheath came from Grizzly Outdoors, and is very nice. I have it mounted with zip ties for the moment, bt am looking into other mounting methods.

Other Changes


A side effect of this project is a strong reconsideration of what kind of pack I want to use.I’ve been running a SOC Three Day Pass as a “do all.” The reality is that there are different packs for different purposes, and “do all” doesn’t really work well for any of them. My GoRuck GR1 now serves as a general purpose 24 hour “assault” pack and is considered an integral part of the fighting kit. The next step up would be something like the Karrimor SF Predator 45 for a few days worth of patrolling, and then a full on large TT MALICE pack for extended periods. That is a long term project, of course, as none of that gear comes cheaply. 

The MVT Chest Rig I picked up last year has become the “plus up” for this fighting kit. It adds an additional four magazines in the main pouches, and the ability to stuff an additional four in the radio pockets (two magazines will fit on each side). The chest rig is light enough and low profile enough that it doesn’t get in the way or add undue weight or bulk. When I bought it, I also picked up a few small pouches, but those have been migrated elsewhere in an effort to keep the chest rig low profile.


The combination of the medium belt, the chest rig, and the backpack provide an effective layering system. At the lowest end, I could carry a concealed pistol on a standard belt. Add the chest rig to that and I have a basic pistol/rifle combo. The next level would be wearing the medium battle belt by itself, which provides pistol, rifle, and basic survival needs. Add the chest rig to that and it increases the rifle capability (as well as some other “nice to haves”). Add the pack to any of it, and there is essentially no limit to flexibility (so long as weight is kept reasonable). The combination provides a selection between 3, 5, or 7 magazines (including one in the rifle).

The H-Harness

I mentioned that I also picked up a more traditional H-Harness. I managed to get a pretty screaming deal on a First Spear 6/12 Tactical Patrolling Harness. I’ll do a more thorough overview of it later, but it is being pressed to fill that traditional dismounted patrol niche. The harness is equipped to carry six magazines, two canteens, a utility pouch, knife, medical, and other misc items. It has a much wider belt, and sturdier shoulder straps.


This follows the same pattern as my previous battle belt configuration, but with equipment that is actually designed for it. Here is a quick rundown of the H-Harness configuration:

  • MVT Medium Pouch
  • TT Universal Mag pouch
  • Chinook Med TMK IFAK
  • ATS medium utility pouch
  • Tactical Tailor canteen utility pouch
  • SO Tech canteen pouch
  • Knife sheath for the BK-10
  • TT Universal Mag Pouch
  • MVT Medium Pouch

You will probably notice that I left off a holster and pistol ammunition. I set this is up as a rifle-focused kit. If needed, I would carry a pistol in my HSGI holster, which is slightly dropped on my leg, and also has magazine carriers. I’ve left a small gap in the pouches on my rights side to help with that. If I wanted to, I can go back and mount a MOLLE holster into the space between the knife and magazine pouch, but I would honestly rather save the weight.

So far, all of the pouches mounted on the patrolling harness are “leftovers” from things I’ve experimented with in the past and didn’t keep. That’s not to say they are bad items, they just weren’t filling the need at the time. On this kit, they work very well as a way to comfortably carry more stuff on the belt, potentially eliminating the need for a separate pack. I plan on writing more about this kit in the future.


I first started this post almost a year ago. It has taken so long to finish because I am constantly tweaking and adjusting while trying to figure out what works best for me. The truth is that there really is no final answer for how to set up your gear, and everything comes down to personal preferences.



The Battle Belt

Authors Note: This configuration has been updated. The newest iteration is discussed here: Battle Belt Mod 1


A while back, I wrote about developing a combat load for a post-disaster situation in my neighborhood- a modern minuteman, if you will. I expressed interest in going with a belt load, as it provides better stability and more energy efficiency over uneven terrain. At the time, though, I didn’t actually have a complete kit. Since writing that post, I’ve been slowly completing the battle belt.


What is a battle belt? I think of it as the modern interpretation of the old ALICE webbing. Throughout most of American military history, a soldier’s combat load was carried on the belt and in pockets. This lasted up through the early 90’s, with the introduction of the Interceptor Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) and its rows of MOLLE attachment. The OTV was replaced by a series of successors, with the modern scalable plate carrier being the newest. With each succession, the combat load migrated more to the chest and armor cummerbund. These later configurations make a lot more sense for mostly mounted combat operations where the soldier is riding around in a vehicle, but can contribute to lower back issues when loaded up and standing or walking for long periods of time. I believe it, too, as carrying my 1 month old son on my chest in a carrier begins to wear on my back relatively quickly; but I’ve never had that issue through many long distance hikes using a proper backpack and waist belt setup.

Aside from the military armor carriers, there are an assortment of chest rigs available. Chest rigs perform essentially the same task as armor carriers, but without the armor plates. This isn’t new technology by any means. Chinese-built chest rigs were popular among adversaries in Korea and Vietnam. The origin of the western version probably goes back to Rhodesian Security Forces in Africa during the 70’s; they used a modified version of the Chi-Com ones from Korea and Vietnam. In any case, it has the same benefits and drawbacks as the armor-based carry. You will sometimes see a combination of the two, where the user is wearing a “slick” plate carrier with a chest rig on top (I think this would be my preferred method).

There is a school of thought that combines both chest rigs/armor carriers with battle belts. In these cases, the belt will be loaded only with a minimum of equipment. Usually one or two reloads for each the rifle and pistol (if carried), a pistol (maybe), first aid kit, and maybe a knife, and a dump pouch for dropping empty magazines. With this configuration, the individual can drop the bulk of the load (chest rig/plate carrier), but maintain a minimum fighting capability. It is also popular among those who spend most of their time carrying concealed weapons, as the primary magazine reload will be located in the same position whether carrying concealed or all kitted up.

My battle belt is decidedly old school in that I intend to run nearly all of my gear on it rather than a chest rig or plate carrier. It weighs more, but it sits tightly around my hips like the support belt of a good hiking backpack. This transfers the weight directly to my legs and avoids issues of back strain. The suspenders are present to help stabilize the load, not transfer any weight to my shoulders. The benefits of this configuration include keeping my chest and abdomen clear, which allows for better prone position. I can wear a small to mid sized backpack with no interference from the load carrying gear. In fact, when properly set up, a backpack resting just on the top of the belt helps transfer the weight of the pack to the belt, just like a hiking pack. Lastly, I believe a belt configuration appears more “low profile” than a full on armor carrier- but admittedly not by much if you run it in a similar fashion to mine.

I built this belt with an eye towards flexibility. I currently own several magazine-fed rifles and several pistols. All of the 5.56 guns use the same magazines, but I also have M1A mags, 308 PMAGs, and AICS mags for the bolt gun. I also have the M1 Garand and its en bloc clips. In the future, I’m looking at an AK variant (particularly the DDI Magpul edition). I wanted a rig that could sufficiently support all of these weapon systems.


The Belt:

  • VTAC cobra instructor belt
  • VTAC/Tyr Brokos belt
  • Tactical Tailor fight light h-harness (suspenders)

Pouches from left to right:

  • Tactical Tailor Magna Pistol Magazine Carrier
  • 2x HSGI Tacos
  • 2x Tactical Tailor Universal Magazine pouches shingled on top of the Tacos
  • MOLLE Canteen Carrier/General Purpose Pouch
  • ATS Medium Upright general purpose Pouch
  • MOLLE Canteen Carrier/General Purpose Pouch
  • HSGI bleeder IFAK pouch
  • Safariland 3280 mid-ride holster for  Beretta with light
  • Space for future expansion

The pistol magazine pouches can carry any magazine I’ve stuffed in them so far. There are magnets sewn into the material that forcefully keep the magazines in place. There is a hook-and-loop closure over the top of them for even more security, but I don’t use it and have them tucked away. I competed for two years with the Beretta, my FNS, and a 1911 in various two and three gun matches and never had to close the top flaps. But it’s there if I need it.

IMG_0530The HSGI Tacos can carry basically any common rifle magazine. The TT universal magazine pouches can carry up to three STANAG 5.56 magazines each, or two each of 7.62 magazines. This allows me to carry up to nine magazines of 5.56 (270 rds), seven AK-47 magazines (210 rds), or seven 308 magazines from other rifles (figure 140 rds based on 20 rd magazines). Or, I could carry two AR mags and a couple of beers. Nominally, I expect to carry one mag each in the tacos, and then two mags each in the TT pouches (6 mags on belt, 1 in the gun: 210
rounds). The shock cord material around the outside squeezes the pouch so that it will not rattle, even with only one mag in the pouch.


The canteen covers can obviously be used to carry two liters of water (combined) in standard USGI pattern 1 liter canteens  as well as a canteen cup/stove combo (mine are an updated design from the Pathfinder School, as opposed to the standard GI issue). However, the MOLLE canteen cover was also designed to be a general purpose pouch.

With the canteen removed, the pouch can hold up to five STANAG 5.56 magazines or a variety of other gear such as night vision, binoculars, snacks, or just about anything that will fit. Ditching the canteens means I could carry up to another 300 rounds of 5.56, bringing my total potential load up to a whopping 570 rds (or 600 if I use a mag coupler on the rifle). That is excessive, frankly, but it illustrates a point. In this way, the canteen covers work as passable dump pouches (though clearly not as well as the purpose built IMG_0532variety like the EMDOM USA version I removed from this belt). The small hook and loop closures on the sides of each pouch are sized for USGI field dressings, but I keep water purification tabs, soaked cotton balls (for fire starting), or other small items in them

The ATS GP pouch in the middle can hold any other items I need. The important thing to remember, though, is that there should be no hard objects in this pouch, as it is placed at the small of the back. Large solid objects in this position pose a significant risk to the spine during a backwards fall. In this pouch, I keep a cleaning kit, snacks, Cyalume sticks, batteries, and other small survival items (survival blanket, fire steel, etc.). Alternatively, it could be used as a dump pouch if I didn’t mind violating the rules of large hard objects, and wasn’t wearing an outer jacket (which I intend to use as a dump pouch, if needed, by dropping empty mags down the front to be retained by the belt). I also chose the ATS pouch to use as a type of shelf for a pack, this helps transfer the weight of the pack to the belt during movement.


The HSGI bleeder IFAK pouch is a comparatively small first aid kit to many on the market. It is designed only to keep the bare minimum supplies for trauma wounds. I intend to keep more robust medical supplies in my backpack, smock, or left cargo pocket of my pants. The bleeder kit is empty at the moment, but I intend to fill it with:

  • (2)  Nitrile Glove
  • (1)  Compressed z-pack gauze
  • (1)  Israeli Emergency Bandage, 4” (or Olaes bandage)
  • (1)  NAR Hyfin Compact Vented Chest Seal (2 pack)
  • (1)  Nasopharyngeal Airway w/ Lube, 28 Fr
  • (1)  Permanent Marker
  • (1)  Tactical Combat Casualty Care Card
  • (1)  Chitogauze (hemostatic agent)
  • (1)  ARS chest decompression needle
  • (1)  Small flat roll of duct tape (better than medical tape)
  • (1)  Benchmade Rescue 8 Hook for cutting material

Missing from the kit is a tourniquet, which I will have to add and carry elsewhere.

The holster is one I’ve had for a while. I would love to replace it, but it is devilishly hard to find holsters for the Beretta 92A1. This one is discontinued, but I hope to get a hold of one of the newer Safariland 7TSI holsters at some point. It started life as a Safariland 3285 low ride, but I replaced the belt loop with the mid ride model, effectively making it a 3280.

The last space is left open for now, but I am on the lookout for a small admin type pouch or TQ holder.


The final component is the Tactical Tailor Fight Light H-Harness. I already mentioned it before, but this is more for load stabilization than carriage. I don’t want the weight hanging on my shoulders. The fight light suspenders are very low profile, and fit easily under straps from a backpack.


The big hazard I see in this rig is weight distribution. If fully loaded in standard configuration, there is a lot of weight hanging off the left side of the belt (upwards of 8 lbs in just AR mags). Time will tell if this actually presents a problem for me. But, for now, since I don’t even have any magazines over 10 rds (thanks, California!), I will be unable to test it. The alternative is to de-shingle the TT rifle pouches from the Tacos and redistribute them around the belt. I would delete the second Taco and replace it with one of the TT mag pouches. The second pouch would be placed in front of the holster, on the right side. This violates one of the rules of keeping bulky items to the side or behind the hips for range of motion issues, but sometimes you just have to do what you need to do.

Another option I have considered is ditching the pistol all together. That would give me more room to distribute weight, and give me room to carry a fixed blade knife instead. The tacticool thing these days is to carry both a rifle and handgun, but most active infantry do not. That isn’t the end-all-be-all answer, but it is a data point to consider.

There are some other limitations to this style of load carriage. The first is that riding in a car seat is more or less a no-go. The canteen covers and ATS pouch along the back simply won’t allow for it. That means that this rig is pretty much dedicated to dismounted light-infantry style patrol work. Secondly, the location of the belt on the hips and the pistol magazine carrier somewhat limits my range of motion. I can still get a decent kneeling and squatting position, but it is more difficult than without the belt squeezing my hips. A chest rig would better allow for these shooting positions. Prone, however, is very comfortable and works better with a belt than chest rigs.

For now, this setup is relatively untested. A big reason for that is that I’m stuck with 10 rd magazines while I live in California, and this rig is built around 30 rd mags. All of the photos here are of my 10 rd magazines pulled out a bit to emulate where a 30 rounder would be positioned. Without the full 30 rd magazines to practice with, and their corresponding size/weight, I will never really know just how well this belt meets the intent of a modern day minuteman.

In the future, I do plan on adding a second system with both a chest rig (leaning towards a SKD PIG UCR) and minimalist belt. That provides me some options.


Product Review: Vertx Smock


A while back, when I wrote about my fighting load and approach loads, I mentioned an upcoming review of my (then) new Vertx smock. Here it is.

I first came across the smock concept, and the Vertx offering in particular, via a series of posts from Soldier Systems (here, here, and here). It is a concept that has had a lot of popularity in European militaries (as well as Australian), but never really caught on in the US. I saw one in person for the first time when a couple of Canadian officers passed me in my work center (my career field works closely with the Canadians). It looked big and billowy, but had a kind of vintage military charm to it. It just screamed utilitarian and comfortable. I have wanted one every since.

I continued to read more and more about them and their value to a variety of people, from military members to outdoorsmen. I really wanted a Vertx one in particular, as it had several new and fancy technical additions that other varieties did not. However, the prohibitive cost of the Vertx (it was nearly $500 at the time) meant that I was looking elsewhere. There are several companies out there making them: SORD USA, Arktis, First Spear (also $$$), and a variety of European companies that manufacture smocks as issue items for various militaries. I’ll put a list at the bottom of the review.

So what is a smock, and why has it never caught on in the US?

Sgt Harold Marshall of the Canadian Calgary Highlander Sniper Section in WWII
Sgt Harold Marshall of the Canadian Calgary Highlander Sniper Section in WWII
For lack of a better phrase, think of a smock as a wearable go-bag (which is exactly how Vertx markets their model). They will universally have a variety of large pockets positioned all around the garment to store equipment such as ammunition, survival gear, navigation gear, rations, and comm gear.. They are generally windproof, but not necessarily waterproof or insulated. They are cut generously to allow for the wearing of load bearing equipment under the jacket, but it is also common to wear equipment on the outside as needed.

Field Marshall Montgomery in his customized Denison Smock
The origin of the modern combat smock comes from the British Airborne in WWII, who wore the Denison Smock– which itself was derived from the German Luftwaffe Knockhensack (“bone sack”). It was originally issued to the British special operations units and paras, but became popular among high ranking officers as well. It was famously worn by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (pictured). As the years progressed, the smock became a general issue item in a variety of camouflage patterns.

The closest US equivalent was the M-1943 field jacket (and it’s subsequent replacements, the M-1951 and ubiquitous M-1965). However, these jackets were designed more as insulated outerwear garments and have a closer cut to match the lines of a typical military uniform. They were built with a different philosophy than the smock. I’m not going to knock the utility of the M65 jacket, as many a GI will attest to their usefulness, but the smock is designed so that you could practically live out of it if you needed to.

The Vertx Smock


As much as i wanted the Vertx smock, a price over $400 just wasn’t realistic. However, Vertx recently dropped the price down to $199, so I thought it was time to pounce. As of this writing, the price is for this version is still $199. My smock is Coyote Brown and size large. The jacket is made from a 40D nylon material that has been treated with water-repelling nanosphere. It’s not designed to be waterproof, but I’ve worn it outside during several rainstorms at this point without issue. It is windproof, but uninsulated. Think of it as a water resistant hard shell that you can wear layers under.

DSC_0611It has a total of 10 pockets. There are two chest, two bicep, two lower front, two on the side, and two large pockets over the butt (where other jackets would have a single large trapper pocket, this smock divides it into separate compartments). The two chest pockets and two butt-pockets have inner sleeves that hold 30 rd 5.56 magazines. The two pockets directly on the sides are also designed to carry magazines. This allows the wearer to carry six full 5.56 mags in readily accessible compartments. If that is not your intent, the two rear pockets will each hold a USGI canteen, and the other magazine pockets will hold any similarly sized item (iPhones, radios, etc.). The two bicep pockets are cavernous, and topped with large hook and loop panels for display of patches or other identifying materials. The two lower front pockets are lined with waffled fleece to help keep hands warm. The lower front pockets are closed with two large slotted buttons, the biceps and chest pockets are closed with zippers, and all others have hook and loop closures (Sorry for the string of pictures, I couldn’t get it to format correctly).

The very generously sized chest pocket
The very generously sized chest pocket

Chest pocket opening
Chest pocket opening

Chest pocket inner sleeve (imagine my iPhone is a 30 round mag…I live in California, after all)

Bicep pocket hook and loop panel
Bicep pocket hook and loop panel (Yes, that’s a patch from a game series, I’m a nerd)

Sleeve pocket size
Sleeve pocket size

Front Lower button pockets
Front Lower button pockets

Front lower pocket hand warmer lining
Front lower pocket hand warmer lining

Side pocket between the front and rear, big enough to hold a magazine-sized item
Side pocket between the front and rear, big enough to hold a magazine-sized item

Back pocket magazine sleeve
Back pocket magazine sleeve

Back pocket holding USGI-style canteen (I have Nalgene Oasis versions)
The hood is detachable via slotted buttons, and the inner side is lined with the same waffled fleece as the two lower front pockets. It is not sized to go over a helmet, as you will find on other military-oriented smocks. There are several drawstrings on the hood to adjust fitment.

Hood attachment and adjustment
Hood attachment and adjustment
On the inside, the jacket has more drawstrings in the middle and at the bottom. There are pit zips under the arm to help with ventilation; a mesh has been sewn in this area to keep debris out when the zip is open. The cuffs have hook and loop closures to adjust the opening around the arm.

Pit zips
Pit zips

Interior fitment adjustments
Interior fitment adjustments
The main closure consists of an inner zipper that runs all the way up to a stand-up collar and then an outer weather flap secured with hook and loop. When I have the zipper all the way up, the hood over my head, cuffs cinched down, and other adjustments set, the jacket does a decent job of retaining warmth and keeping elements out.

The exterior of the jacket is treated Schoeller Nanosphere, which makes the fabric water repellant. From the advertising materials, the treatment also does wonders on other dirt and stains, making the garment easy to keep clean. The interior is not coated, and does wick away moisture and keep the jacket breathable. I had seen some other reviews of the Vertx smock that showed a dedicated moisture wicking liner on the inside of the jacket, but I do not have such a lining and Vertx’s web site no longer mentions such a lining in either the Multicam or solid color variants.

I’ve used this jacket through several range trips, hikes, and chilly early-morning walks with the dog in the rain. So far, I am very pleased.

Taking a standard shooting position, the BCM vertical grip is a new addition I am experimenting with for a future post
If there is one word that sums up how I think this jacket fits into the philosophy of an Everyday Marksman, it would be “Mobility!” The jacket, with well-designed gussets and articulated elbows, is clearly designed for active users. At no point while using the smock have I felt that it hindered my movement in any way. That says a lot, since I almost always have issued with outerwear binding or limiting me in some way.

The uninsulated and unlined nature of the garment means that it provides very little assistance in the cold. My first morning out with it was in the mid 40’s, and I immediately regretted not wearing some more layers under it. It will do a great job keeping the wind off of you, but expect to layer up under it (as designed). Conversely, that means that it also performs pretty well in the heat.

When it comes to rain performance, it did keep me dry underneath; however, I would plan on carrying an additional rain layer for either wearing on top of the smock, or under it, if you plan on dealing with serious rainstorms for extended periods of time.

i do wish that the jacket had one additional feature, and this is more of a personal preference than anything. Other modern smock designs have button-closure chest pockets, with additional side entry zippered pockets under them. This one just has the zipper pockets (albeit, very generously sized ones). The lack of button pockets doesn’t affect the garment’s utility in any way, and may actually help reduce bulk if you are wearing gear on top of the jacket. As designed, it offers a nice and streamlined appearance. But, still, I guess I’m a sucker for a hint of old-school. To me, the huge expanse of empty material on the chest seems like it could have been put to more use on a garment billed as a wearable go-bag.

I can wear my belt kit under the jacket for a “low profile” appearance, but the bulk of my set up does create some unsightly bulges. The jacket is cut more generously in the chest, so a chest rig might work better for such applications (I don’t have one to experiment with), but a low profile CCW-style belt would work just fine. A better system is to wear it on top, as the Brits and Aussies do. When worn in the this fashion, it also lets you use the interior of the jacket as a giant “dump pouch,” where you can drop spent magazines down the front of the smock.

Wearing belt under the smock
Wearing belt under the smock

Wearing the belt on the outside in a more "old school" fashion
Wearing the belt on the outside in a more “old school” fashion
I really like this jacket, and I plan on getting a lot of use out of it. That said, I’m also looking at also buying a smock from SORD USA. The SORD model I’m looking at is all cotton, which would provide a bit more breathability in warm weather, and has a slightly different pocket configuration.

The Bottom Line

The Good

  • Intelligently designed for active wearers
  • Lots of well positioned pockets for carrying of essential kit
  • High-tech material helps keep you dry and comfortable
  • Generously cut to keep a low profile if you need to

The OK

  • The large and empty expanse on top of the zippered chest pockets just begs for additional pockets
  • If you plan on wearing bulky kit under it, plan on getting it a size up

The Bad

  • I’ve got nothing

Who should buy this?

The Vertx smock makes a great choice for any outdoorsman or shooter looking for a useful wind-proof garment that will move with them and carry loads of stuff. If you need a jacket to survive the zombie apocalypse with you, this one should be on your short list.

List of other Smock Manufacturers

If you are interested in the smock concept, then here is a list of other quality manufacturers that I’ve come across during my research. If my funds were unlimited, I would love to buy one (or two) from each, and have a whole collection. Sadly, I’m not that rich.

Arktis manufactures several varieties, I’ve been told to start with the B110

First Spear Squadron Smock

Leo Kohler KSK Smock

SOD Gear Operative Parka

SORD USA (Smock and General Purpose Jacket)

TYR Tactical Huron Smock ($$$!!)



An Everyday Marksman’s Fighting Load

Earlier, I discussed how the Army breaks apart combat loads into categories. In particular, I discussed the basic definition of a fighting load, which is the equipment carried or worn by the fighter while in contact with the enemy or mission objective. I consider this to be the minimum essential equipment to fight and survive. Army regulations, particularly FM 3-21.10 The Infantry Rifle Company, state the fighting load should be kept below 48 lbs. For my purposes, I would like to keep this load below 45 lbs, or 25% of my own lean body mass, and will hopefully be quite a bit less (after all, I’m not carrying linked machine gun ammo, mortars, anti-tank weapons, or other squad fire support items).

I also discussed the approach load, which consists of the fighting load plus additional sustainment equipment in order to continue surviving in the field until resupply is available. This extra equipment, typically carried in a pack of some sort, can be dropped and stowed during a fight and retrieved later. Army regulation states that the goal should be to keep the load below 72 lbs, which would be 40% of my own lean body mass. Ideally, I would like my own approach load to remain below the 45 lbs limit set by the fighting load, keeping my overall equipment load light enough to keep with me at all times and not have to ditch it during a fight. However, after performing the exercise below, I found that I may need to rethink my loading strategy.

Everything must be planned with METT-T in mind; otherwise there is a significant risk of blowing past the maximum goal weight. Since METT-T requires a situation to plan for, I’m going to pursue a load based upon my earlier idea of a marksman who is serving the role of keeping security in a neighborhood after some form of natural disaster.

In my scenario, the overall mission is general dismounted patrol of a six square mile area in a fairly suburban neighborhood surrounded by mixed farmland and agricultural industry. Local gangs have been making life difficult for residents of my neighborhood following a powerful earthquake. These gangs are relatively undisciplined, but aggressive in their pillaging since the local police response is pretty much nonexistant. Patrols are dismounted due to conservation of gasoline for emergency generators that keep some refrigerators and local HAM radio enthusiasts online. The climate is dry, with temperatures that range between 40 degrees at night and 65 degrees during the day. Patrols run in 12-24 hour shifts, with several teams on patrol at the same time. Local drinking water is not potable due to the lack of electricity for treatment facilities, and a timeline for federal/state assistance is unknown since most assistance is focused on major population centers 40 miles North and 70 miles South of my neighborhood. This scenario reflects my experiences after living through several large hurricanes (benefits of a South Florida upbringing), and observing what happens during other disasters or social unrest.

Choosing the Fighting Load

As with choosing a rifle configuration, there are tradeoffs and compromises that must be made. This isn’t intended as a fantasy list, but rather a thought exercise for myself based upon the scenario above (which already makes a lot of assumptions, such as the cooperation of the neighbors rather than a panic situation in which everyone is out for themselves). Items I do not already own are marked with a **; I plan on purchasing these relatively soon. All weights are listed in ounces, as it is easier to add up. Furthermore, as you will see, counting in ounces provides a better opportunity to see where little weight savings, such as two ounces there and three ounces here, can combine into larger poundage savings.


  • Base layer: socks, underwear, long sleeve wool shirt (16 oz)
  • Belleville Sabre Boots (45 oz per pair)
  • Triple Aught Design Force 10 RS Pant (28.6 oz)
  • Vertx Smock (51.2 oz)
  • Fleece beanie (2.1 oz)
  • SKD PIG gloves (2.3 oz)
  • Shemagh/scrim scarf (6.5 oz)

Weapon(s) and ammunition

  • The “Musket,” as configured for my regular shooting sessions: 20” floated barrel, collapsible stock, sling, Elcan optic, etc.(144 oz)
  • Beretta 92A1 with TLR-1s (34.7 oz)
  • 120 rounds of 5.56 – 4 magazines  (~ 64 oz)
  • 51 rounds 9mm – 3 magazines (34.7 oz)

Essential Equipment

  • **Two 32oz Nalgene canteens (4.58 oz each, dry; 36.58 oz each, full)
  • GI canteen cup/stove combo (10 oz)
  • Talkabout radio with spare set of batteries (6.4 oz)
  • Map of the area (0 oz)
  • Silva compass (3.5 oz)
  • Calorie-dense food bars (3 oz each x 3)
  • 12 Water purification tabs (.44 oz)
  • Ear pro (foamies/Peltor Tac 6s ) (8 oz)
  • **DARK Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) w/CAT (tourniquet) (32 oz)
  • **One pair compact binoculars (Vortex Viper R/T 8×28) (11.8 oz)
  • Leatherman Skeletool multitool (5 oz)
  • **Firestarting equipment: Petroleum soaked cotton/ Light My Fire 2.0 (3 oz)
  • SOL survival blanket for emergency use (blanket, shelter, etc) (3.2 oz)
  • Surefire G2x Pro flashlight with spare batteries (4.4 oz)
  • Two Cyalume Chemlights (1 oz each)

Load Carrying Equipment

  • VTAC Brokos belt (10.4 oz)
  • VTAC Cobra Belt (7.4 oz)
  • **Tactical Tailor (TT) Fight Light suspenders (6.4 oz)
  • TT magna double pistol magazine carrier (3.2 oz)
  • Two HSGI taco pouches (3.2 oz each)
  • **Tactical Tailor Universal Mag Pouch (8 oz)
  • **Three Tru-Spec canteen carriers, one as a general purpose pouch (4 oz each)
  • Safariland 3280 Holster (13.6 oz)

Total weight of these items amounts to: 656 ounces, or 41 lbs 

Weight of weapons/ammunition: 17.2 lbs

Weight of Clothing: 9.5 lbs

Weight of all other equipment, with water: 14.3 lbs

Weight of all other equipment, dry: 10.3 lbs

The big takeaway for me in this exercise is how quickly things begin to add up. It is easy to look at an individual item and say, “Hell, it’s only 3 ounces, I’ll take it!” But when you do that repeatedly for multiple items, you just added several pounds of equipment that you probably don’t really need. The same works in reverse, though. It took some effort to assemble this list and the associated weight of each item; but as I look at it, I can see plenty of little ways to shave a few ounces here and there that may result in significant weight savings.

I’m sure there are a million ways to tweak this gear list. I could carry more ammunition, but each magazine is an additional pound of weight. I honestly don’t think the scenario mentioned would involve more than a few skirmish shots here and there (I’m not talking about guerilla warfare, after all). I could carry more water, but I’m already carrying 4 lbs of it for two canteens. I could carry less water, but having been a victim of heat exhaustion and dehydration in the past, I’m not inclined to do so. With a 9 lb rifle, I’m looking at nearly 20 lbs in just primary weapon, rifle ammunition, and water. If anything, this presents a valid argument for always pursuing a lighter rifle. If I can save two to three pounds of weight by using a smaller/lighter rifle, without losing much capability, then that would be two pounds that could be used for other things or just two pounds of reduced load overall.

If my goal is a total combined weight below 45 lbs for fighting and approach load, I’m not leaving myself much room for the backpack (which weighs 3 lbs just by itself). The above list of equipment will be equitably distributed between my belt and the pockets of my Smock (another post for later), but it still adds up. Perhaps 45 lbs for a combined load is unrealistic.

As I think through the next phase, I will see if I can rebalance things a bit by moving some items to the pack rather than the belt, thus reducing redundancy.