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.


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.


A Glance at METT-T

I was writing an entry detailing my “Fighting Load” within the the guidelines of Army regulation and my own needs. The post was growing excessively lengthy because of my description of the decision making process I’m using to prioritize the load. If I had that much to say about it, then it probably deserves to be its own post.

In the past, I have mentioned the importance of choosing the rifle configuration that best matches your actual use, and not your imagined use. Correlating to this, my second law of purchasing rifles and accessories is, “Let the mission dictate the configuration.” If you’re not sure what your need is, then it’s probably best to stick to a generalized configuration that does okay at a lot of things without being great at any one particular task (a summary of my recommendations for first time AR-15 buyers). This holds true for the rest of the equipment that can be brought along for a marksman’s mission.

Factors for a Fighting Load

As much as we would like to try, it is simply impossible to be ready for every possible contingency at the same time. It’s relatively easy to load up a vehicle with a ton of gear you might need for any given situation, but it’s another when you have to carry it all yourself. I made this mistake when hiking the Smokey Mountain leg of the Appalachian Trail several years ago. I packed too much food, clothing, and “extras” for the amount of time that we were actually on the trail and the conditions that we were actually backpacking in. The heavy pack combined with a heavy pair of “tactical boots” from a local surplus store, rather than purpose built hiking boots (another lesson learned), meant my knees were just about shot after the fourth day and I was all but out of commission by the seventh. I would have been better off carrying far less and relying on a resupply every few days, especially given the rather dramatic elevation changes and relatively difficult terrain on that section of the trail.

The Army has long struggled with this concept as well. There is a rather famous story about an officer during WWII, frustrated with the amount of equipment his men were being required to carry, walking into his commander’s officer wearing every item of “kit” that the brass wanted the enlisted men to hump. The load was extremely excessive and the bulk was laughable. The men were making active decisions to ditch much of the equipment at the risk of punishment for not following SOP. The officer made his point and the commander sought to provide more leeway. The most modern iteration of this is called METT-TC, which stands for Mission, Enemy, Terrain/Weather, Troops, Time, Civil considerations. I find that using this model (minus the C at the end, which takes it back to the METT-T model that has been around long before the GWOT) is very practical.

Mission: What is it that you are trying to accomplish? Figure out the who, what, where, when, and why of the mission. What will be required to complete that task? What constraints might limit me from accomplishing that task, and how will you overcome them?

Enemy: Who are your adversaries? What are their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses? How will you counter their capabilities and strengths while taking advantage of their weaknesses?

Terrain/Weather: Where will you be performing this mission? Is the ground level or will there be elevation changes? What kind of cover/concealment is available? How available is fresh water? What will the climate be like (cold/heat/rain/etc)? How will you account for or take advantage of these factors?

Troops: What are your capabilities as far as equipment and training? What about your team (if present)? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you leverage strengths to reduce load? Will weaknesses cause you to require more resources?

Time: How much time do you have to prepare? Do you have time to improve your weaknesses (conditioning/capability)? How long will you be in the field without resupply?

Using these factors, you will be better prepared to prioritize what kind of items you should be carrying. If you are unconditioned or unused to carrying loads over terrain, for instance, then you will likely need to carry more water and move at a slower pace. If your enemy is a deer that won’t fight back or take cover, you probably don’t need to carry much extra ammunition. If it’s going to be warm and dry, then you don’t really need to bring rain gear and bulky insulated garments. If you need to “pack out” the carcass of an elk over rough terrain, then you should probably start with a lower equipment load so you have “room” for that task.

For defensive scenarios, it is really an exercise in risk management. Your average concealed carrier who is not likely to draw their weapon, much less get involved in a shootout, probably doesn’t need more than a couple magazines for their pistol. But if you are looking for trouble, or intend to cause trouble, then you will probably want to carry more ammunition as well as other supplies.

Similarly, as you analyze weaknesses of both yourself and your team, be honest about them as well as what you can do to either eliminate them or mitigate them. If your problem is fitness, then it is within your control to improve upon it. If you lack practice, then go to the range. If you lack training, then go out and get it. This is true for all things in life.


A Problem of Weight

… what we want is not a light battalion but a light army…such mobility is only to be obtained when the army is formed of sturdy men, well-practiced in peace, well fed In the field, and carrying as regards all arms a really practical equipment. An army which marches light will also maneuver freely.

– Helmuth von Moltke

Following from my last post, I want to dig into weight. I’m not talking about how much you weigh, specifically, but how much your chosen equipment weighs and how effectively you can carry it for however long is required. I am not a hunter, but I have spent significant time backpacking through some pretty austere and difficult territory; and as an officer in the US military, my thinking tends toward the defensive in nature and that is how I will relate to the problem. Regardless of how I approach these ideas, take the principles and apply it to yourself and whatever your chosen mission will be.

The general rule from backpacking is that your equipment should weigh no more than 25-40% of your body weight. After you climb through that range, or exceed it (as the military often does), you will be unable to sustain effort and the risk injury is dramatically increased. Realize that these numbers represent an upper limit, not a lower one. There are plenty of light and ultralight hikers out there who can get by for seven days with a 27lb  pack.

Army doctrine, going back for generations, has generally set a series of limits on soldier loading. The two most important categories I want to cover are the fighting load and the approach load. I base my definitions on Army Field Manual 21-18, Foot Marches.

The fighting load consists of all items that a fighter is wearing and using while “in contact.” This includes clothing, weapons, ammunition, radio, and minimum capability equipment. I consider minimum capability equipment to be survival/readiness items such as maps, compass, knife, water, medical kit, and other items that enable the fighter to continue surviving for some time, even if their other equipment is lost or destroyed. In modern tactical parlance, this would be your first and second line gear. Army doctrine states this should not exceed 48 lbs. 

The approach load consists of the fighting load and any additional equipment needed for sustainment until resupply. It is typically carried in a backpack/rucksack and includes sustainment items like food rations, batteries, extra water, water filter/purification tabs, change of clothing, shelter, spare ammo, etc. This pack can be dropped upon contact without negative effect on the ability of the fighter to perform a mission successfully. It is otherwise known as your third line gear. The approach load, which includes the fighting load, should not exceed 72 lbs. From a practical standpoint, that means your pack should not exceed 24 lbs if your fighting load is already at the maximum of 48 lbs.

I find that these definitions fall roughly in line with each other. If I use 25% of my own lean body weight, I end up with 45 lbs as the recommended maximum. Similarly, If I use 40% as my fraction, I end up with 72 lbs. Why do I use lean body weight as opposed to actual body weight? In short, my body fat isn’t helping me carry the load.

Aside from gross weight, we must also consider the distribution of that weight. The old backpacking axiom says, “One pound on your foot is worth five pounds on your back.” The military actually did a study on this, and found that there actually is roughly 4.7 to 6.4 times more energy expended per pound added to the feet compared to the back. This also applies to weight carried on the arms and hands.

Similarly, weight supported on the hips is far more comfortable and energy efficient compared to supporting it on the shoulders- hence why heavy backpacks all have sturdy waist bands. Interestingly, a study in 2004 found that loads situated higher on the chest (as in chest rigs in plate carriers) are more energy efficient when traversing over flat ground; but loads situated lower (as in a belt) are more efficient on uneven terrain. Consider that when thinking about the problems we saw with the equipment used and terrain in Afghanistan.

For this reason, I’ve become a fan of the “battle belt” rather than the chest rig for my shooting needs. If I am to come up with an Everyday Marksman’s fighting/combat load, using the information above, I figure that the belt is a good place to start.

Stay tuned.


Fitness, Practical Marksmanship, and the Future

I’ve been to the range a couple times since the last post, and have been focusing quite a bit on offhand shooting. I’ve managed to dramatically improve my standing groups on average, but it is still not terribly consistent. Some groups quite good (for me), closing in on 4 MOA, others are more than double that. My last practice session was cut a bit short due to the opportunity to introduce new folks to the proper and safe operation of an AR-15. I consider introducing new shooters to the sport, and showing them how harmless “scary” equipment can be, an absolute priority.

It is by slowly changing these minds, one at a time if need be, that will ultimately keep the 2A tradition alive.

On that note, I’ve been thinking a bit more my definition of an Everyday Marksman. I spoke at length in that post about the overarching principles of security and the inherent freedom that it brings, regardless of the circumstances. I spoke of the ability to go out and harvest your own meat via hunting, and how personally liberating (and empowering) it may be to know that you have that capability. What I did not discuss, however, was some of the practical aspects and requirements of those capabilities.

This is a blog primarily about practical marksmanship, and while I can write at length about the values and benefits of being a good shot, there is often quite a bit more to being a well-rounded marksman than that. Earlier this year I wrote about the importance of fitness from a personal and martial standpoint. I also wrote a bit on my plan on improving my own fitness level. The reality is that real practical marksmanship quite often happens outside the confines of a nice square range where the only distance you really need to “hump” is between your car and the bench (a whopping 20 feet at my range). I began considering how poor fitness will negatively affect the ability of the marksman to navigate over long distances, especially when carrying a rifle and backpack, and still be effective.

The stereotypical tree stand hunter is a good example of this. We have all seen the dude (or girl) wearing camo riding his ATV out to his pre-positioned tree stand, which he will sit in until something worth shooting comes along. He (or she) then climbs down from the tree, drags the kill over to their ATV and rides it back home. Sure, there is some physical effort involved in all of that, but it’s a far cry from humping a pack into the backwoods, stalking for a couple hours, getting the kill, and then packing that kill back out on foot. There are two very different levels of physical exertion being demonstrated here.

This also led me to think about what kind of equipment would be carried, and what level of fitness would be needed to be effective with it, and not just in a hunting context. There is a lot of interesting reading out there on the subject of equipment weight, and how it impacts the mobility of individuals. The military has been struggling with this concept since time immemorial, and it has repeatedly been in the news during Iraq/Afghanistan. The average shooting-oriented message board will have you thinking that the way the military currently does it with plate carriers, war belts, and heavy packs (all totaling over 120 lbs) is the best and only way. I don’t believe this to be true.

It is true that the military expects its people to carry over 100 lbs of equipment and hump it out for days on end. It is also true that this requires a high level of physical fitness to achieve this goal.  But we don’t often hear about the regularity of knee and shoulder surgery (hint: it is pretty damn common). Additionally, such equipment loads are heavily dependent on riding around in vehicles. The current doctrine, in most cases, is to ride in a vehicle until a couple kilometers away from the objective, take care of the mission, and then ride back home. That’s a far cry from how things used to be done, and how I envision a practical marksman engaged in hunting or defense of home and country.

Previous military studies, dating back from the Roman legions to Korea, have been pretty consistent in stating that the maximum load a soldier should be expected to carry and still be effective is between 35-45 lbs. That’s a pretty drastic difference from what is actually being carried by current US troops. This discrepancy is quite visible when looking at the differences in mobility between US troops and Afghanis running around in the mountains. So the question becomes: what would I be carrying if I was limited to 45 lbs of equipment?

I intend to explore that question a bit more. Stay tuned. As part of my ongoing efforts to rethink my crate, I also want to consider what I view as a modern practical marksman’s equipment load should be.