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EMDOM-MM Hippie Panel
10/5/10 - The Hippie Panel is a low profile, hip-mounted MOLLE platform for use when the bottom of a armoured vest may interfere with belt mounted pouches. It is designed with the highest ride possible on the hip while providing enough drop from a belt for easy access to pouches mounted on it. The Hippie Panel is for folks who hate thigh and leg rigs, but need to use one.
Background/Description - Drop-leg or thigh rigs have been around for quite a while; I remember seeing them at least 15 years ago. All the 'cool guys' seemed to be using them (mostly SWAT or anti-terrorist units), and I jumped onto the bandwagon with a couple of thigh rigs for mags. Back then, the thigh rigs were not modular, because MOLLE wasn't around yet. I used to have a couple of different ones for carrying rifle mags. They were fine for range use, but when I actually tried to run around with one for more than a couple of hours (like out in the desert), they weren't very comfortable as they were mounted on the thigh, and the weight moving back and forth on my thigh felt ungainly. I had also made the mistake of putting four 30-round M4 mags in them; too much weight for a thigh panel. So, I stopped using them; instead mounting most of my mags on a vest. As MOLLE became the standard method of attaching pouches to platforms, modular MOLLE-compatible thigh rigs/panels also became a standard offering for most manufacturers.
In recent years, in order to keep a lower profile on the front of some plate carriers or armour, I looked into moving mags to the belt in belt-mounted pouches. The issue I ran into was that the bottom of my armour prevented me from accessing belt-mounted pouches easily. I have a short torso and depending on the armour, the vest would sometimes overlap the belt. I looked into MOLLE-compatible thigh panels, and didn't really find what I wanted. I wanted a panel with one leg strap only, with four columns of PALS webbing and three rows, and was compatible with a molle belt, or a standard duty belt. The closest I found was the Tactical Tailor mini-panel, but it still wasn't exactly what I had in mind. I wanted the highest possible mount - a hip panel instead of a thigh panel - basically just enough to mount a couple of pouches on to clear the bottom of body armour.
I proposed this to Ken at EMDOM and he was up for it. Something as simple as a leg panel proved more difficult than I had anticipated. It was in the details - making the strap reversible for left or right hip use, finding the optimum ride height, etc. With each prototype, the panel moved higher until there was essentially no 'drop' - it ended up mounted right below the belt.
Here are the main features of the EMDOM-MM Hippie Panel:
The Hippie Panel was designed primarily for carrying two M4 single mag pouches for quick access. I found that the ITW FASTmag or EMDOM IAP pouches worked very well. While the Hippie Panel can be used to mount any MOLLE compatible pouches that will fit on there, I recommend keeping the weight to a minimum.
Observations/Notes - During the development of the Hippie panel, we tried different ride heights and configurations. One of my concerns was that the panel was mounted so high that it would not pivot on the hip. I found that there was enough flex in the two straps that the panel would pivot and allow unrestricted motion of the leg. I did consider using a pivoting/rotating buckle from Duraflex called the Swivi Lockster, which has a center push button release, and allows the two parts of the buckle to swivel 120 degrees. However, I had another leg panel that used the Swivi Lockster, and found that it was prone to releasing accidentally, sending the panel down my leg. The bottom corner of a pouch mounted on my plate carrier had pressed the center release button when I took a knee. This happened twice before I figured out what was going on. So, I ditched that idea and stuck with the more secure mounting method, foregoing a quick-release.
A with thigh and leg panels, the Hippie Panel will rotate and stay with the orientation of the thigh. I did not have any trouble extracting magazines from pouches mounted on the Hippie Panel while standing, running, squatting, kneeling, shooting from prone or seated. While running, the Hippie Panel is mounted high enough that it does not reciprocate as much as a thigh mounted panel, so it was possible to locate and extract the mags easily and quickly.
The panel puts the top of a 30-round M4 mag right about belt level. It's easier to extract than one mounted higher (for me, at least), and placing the mags with bullets facing backwards (as in the photos below), put the mag in the correct orientation when using a 'beer can' hold for reloading.
In all honesty, I prefer belt-mounted pouches, and wouldn't use a panel unless I had to. It's not very comfortable having an elastic strap around the top of the thigh. Given my shorter torso height and interference of some armour vests with belt pouches, a drop panel is sometimes a necessary evil. But, if you turn to the Hippie Panel as a last resort, we've tried to make it as painless a possible.
Beez Combat Systems AK Chest Rig
6/24/11 - The BCS AK47 Low Profile Chest Rig from Beez Combat Systems is a light weight chest rig designed to hold five AK47 magazines in five internal compartments with elastic retention.
It's been six years since I reviewed the BCS NIJ Body Armour Carrier from BCS, and since then, Beez Combat Systems has added quite a few more items to their lineup. When Beez contacted me and asked if I was interested in checking out their AK47 chest rig, I said 'yes', but I added the request that he make a version that had lat straps that could be adjusted by pulling foward and down. The main reason why you haven't seen me review too many new chest rigs or non-armour carrying rigs is that none of them are as easy to don and adjust as my old Blackhawk STRIKE Commando chest harness, on which I modifed the straps myself. My main complaint with all the rigs I've come across is that they have can't be adjusted while being worn. You have to take them off, adjust them, put them back on, and repeat the process. If a chest rig is adjusted properly so it's snug, it can be inconvenient to don, especially if you add a jacket or article of bulky clothing. If you want to loosen or tighten the shoulder/lat straps, you're shit out of luck, and need help from a friend, or have to take it off to do it yourself. Most shoulder or lat straps, for some reason, adjust by pulling up and towards the back. That's a physical impossibility for anyone to do that while wearing the rig.
When I modified my BH STRIKE rig, I swapped the strap configuration around so that I could leave them loose, put the rig on, then snug them up to my liking. In the eight years I've had that rig, I haven't had the desire to switch to anything else because of that reason. That's why you still see me wearing it in so many of my photos. So, when I brought this up to Beez, he was very open to the idea, and said 'no problem'. He sent me the standard configuration, and the modified 'pull forward' configuration chest rigs for me to compare.
Description - The BCS AK Chest rig is a system that holds five AK47 magazines in five internal/separate compartments that are retained with oversized elastic pull tab retainers. It measures 22" wide x 9" tall, and has three rows and fourteen columns of PALS webbing across the expanse of the rig, allowing the user to configure it as needed with any molle-compatible pouches. The main body of the rig is made up of two layers of 1000D Cordura nylon, sewn together around the perimeter to form a large pocket. The pocket is accessed through a 10" wide, velcro-secured opening in the middle, with pull tabs.
Two more layers of cordura sewn to the front form the five AK47 magazine compartments. Two layers are necessary as the PALS webbing is sewn to the outer layer, while the inner layer forms the sides, or separators between each compartment. A length of 1" webbing is sewn across the front of the main rig body, just inside the magazine compartments. A webbing eyelet is sewn to the front of the compartment, at the top. Elastic shock cord with an upside-down Y-shaped webbing pull tab retainer is routed through this eyelet and the 1" webbing to provide the magazine retention. The Y-shaped retainer centers itself at the corner of the magazine, whether it's "lips up" or "floorplate up" in the compartment. The compartments are symmetrical, so magazines can be carried with bullets facing left or right. Some AK chest rigs have pouches or compartments that are curved like the AK mag, and limit the orientation a particular way. As a lefty, I'd rather have one that doesn't.
The shoulder straps are configured in a H-harness style, and are made of 1.5" wide webbing. Two 1.5" buckles on the chest allow the shoulders to be released from the rig at the front. The straps go over the shoulders and are connected by a cross-strap below the neck, on the upper back. 1" straps are sewn at this juncture to provide the lat straps. A 1" wide waist belt secures the bottom of the rig around the waist.
BCS is offering two options for the AK47 Chest Rig - a 'Standard' model with the regular lat strap configuration, and the "Pull-forward" model with lat strap configuration that can be adjusted by pulling forward on the lat strap ends. Both models have a lot of strap length, so it can be trimmed by the customer if there's too much excess.
Standard configuration - The Standard configuration has female SR buckles sewn to the upper corners of the rig. The male buckle is attached to the lat strap, which has a triglide for adjustment. As you can see from the photos below, the triglide is in its uppermost position and there's still a lot of extra length left. Normally, I'd just trim that off, but left it on for illustration. To adjust the fit, you don the rig, take it off and adjust the lat strap and shoulder straps. It's an interative process. The position of the shoulder strap triglide can be varied, and excess cut off if needed. So, with the standard model, you pre-adjust the straps and leave them alone. To doff the rig, I found it easier to unbuckle the lat straps as it can be a bit tight coming off.
Note that a strip of molle webbing has been added to the production versions (shown in the third photo below - my samples did not have this), at the inside bottom of the carrier for the attachment of a mag drop pouch
Pull-forward configuration - The Pull-forward configuration has the female SR buckle attached to the lat strap. The male buckle is attached to a length of webbing that is sewn at the upper corners of the rig; the pull strap. To set up the rig, I adjusted the shoulder straps the same way I did with the Standard configuration model. To set up the lat strap length, I first loosened the pull strap so that the lat strap was loose, donned the rig, then pulled the pull strap forward until it was almost all completely tightened. I took the rig off, then adjusted the length of the lat strap using the triglide so that it was at the correct length. Again, it's an iterative process where you put it on, take it off and adjust. Once it's set up, to don the rig, I loosen the pull strap (it doesn't have to be loosened all the way), don the rig, then pull the ends forward and down, snugging up the lat straps. I tuck the loose end of the pull strap over, and behind the rig, so it's out of the way. To doff the rig, I can either loosen the lat strap or unsnap the SR buckles.
BCS also made a different waist strap, which pulled forward to adjust as well. There's really no need for it, and I told BCS that the simpler standard waist strap was fine. In the photos below, I've left all the excess length of strapping untrimmed to illustrate how much excess is left. I later trimmed it, still ensuring that I had quite a bit of adjustability left in the rig.
Pull-Forward Configuration Advantages - The advantages to the Pull-forward lat strap configuration over the Standard configuration are that once set up, it can be adjusted by the user to accomodate thicker or thinner clothing, or soft body armour without having to take it off. It's essentially self-adjusting. You pull forward on the pull strap until it's snug, no matter what you're wearing. With the Standard configuration (which is common to most chest rigs), you have to go through that initial iterative process all over again, anytime you need to adjust the strap length. If you want to wear the rig over a thicker field jacket or soft body armour, you'll have to adjust the straps each time.
The Pull-forward configuration is also easier to don, as the lat strap is longer. As I mentioned before, I've used the pull-forward configuration on my old BH STRIKE recon chest rig, which I modified a long time ago, and because of that, keep going back to it over other chest rigs.
In the two photos below, I'm wearing the BCS Pull-forward configuration, but have trimmed the excess strap length to suit my needs, and trimmed the waist belt, getting rid of the 2nd triglide. You can see that it's quite a clean configuration. I'm wearing it over the Crye Blast Belt.
Observations/Notes - Overall construction and quality of BCS gear is generally very good. I did notice that some of the internal webbing ends were not heat sealed, and would tend to fray. I noticed this in the front pocket pull tab, and some of the internal webbing that the shock cord was routed through. The elastic shock cord ends were also not heat sealed and when I went to adjust the retention tabs, the sheath has frayed so I took a lighter to them. I brought this up to Beez, and said 'dude, you need to get a heat cutter.' A heat cutter works better than a lighter, with a cleaner cut that's less likely to unravel. I'm happy to say that Beez invested in one, and now cuts his webbing with it. So, you should be seeing all webbing and shock cord ends heat sealed on subsequent items.
When using the chest rig at the range, I noticed that when the rig has all 5 magazines in it, it's obviously a bit tighter than when empty. When the magazines start coming out of the pouches, the rig flattens out and becomes looser. This is common to all internal-magazine rigs. With the pull-forward lat straps, any changes can be accommodated immediately. If the rig loosens up, I can tug on the pull strap to snug it up a bit, or loosen if I need to. All without having to remove the rig, or get someone to help me adjust it With the weight of 5 mags distributed across the chest, the rig is very stable and comfortable; even without padding on the shoulders.
With 5 mags in the rig, it's still quite slim and low profile - more so that if the mags were in external pouches. I didn't have a need to add any additional pouches at this time, but appreciate the capability to do so later on as needed. The Y-shaped retention tabs worked great, either with bullets up or down in the compartments. The magazines came out smoothly and didn't snag or hang up on anything. I was initially concerned that the two end magazines might be uncomfortable under my arms, but I didn't find it to be the case. Obviously, reloading from the end compartments isn't as fast, so when possible, I move them at first chance the middle 3 compartments as I use those up.
For those looking for a simple molle chest rig with internal AK mag capacity, the BCS rig is a very good option. Especially with the pull-forward lat straps :-). But, I'm biased, of course.
9/23/11 - The PIG Hydration Carrier from SKD Tactical is designed for the Source WXP 2L Hydration Bladder, and offers innovations that increase performance while minimizing bulk and weight.
Description - The PIG Hydration carrier is a tapered hydration carrier made of 500D Cordura nylon, and is designed to fit the Source WXP 2L (70 oz) hydration bladder, or the 50 oz reservoir. The PIG carrier has a unique wedge shape when viewed from the side, measuring about 3" thick at the top, and tapering down to a point at the bottom. It measures about 14" tall x 7" wide at the top, and about 6" wide at the bottom (it tapers slightly when viewed from the rear as well). Near the bottom, there's a 4" wide elastic band which helps keep the bottom of the reservoir from bulging out at the bottom; keeping the side profile of the carrier flatter, and the water distributed more evenly as the reservoir empties.
The carrier is actually open at the sides where the elastic goes into the body, and the elastic runs directly over the bladder. This was done to allow the carrier to expand and contract without adding weight and material since there's no outside channel for the elastic. This configuration works very well, as seen in the photos below of it mounted to my Crye JPC. The side profile is relatively flat.
A wide-profile zippered opening offers easy access to the hydration bladder for refilling and maintenance. The Source 2L bladder (also available from SKD), fits into the carrier perfectly. I've also used the smaller 1.5L Source bladder in the PIG carrier. The PIG Carrier uses 2 short malice clips and 2 long ones to attach to any molle platform. It has six rows and four columns of PALS webbing on the front for attaching other pouches or accessories. A loop velcro patch version is also in the works. Instead of a grommet, the entire bottom of the back panel is made of mesh to aid in drainage and evaporation of condensation. There are hydration tube ports at both top corners of the carrier, allowing the hydration tube to be routed over either shoulder.
Blue Force Gear Helium Whisper
5/18/12 - The Helium Whisper attachment system from Blue Force Gear made its public debut at the 2012 SHOT show, and caused quite a stir. Taking MOLLE-compatible pouches to the next level, Helium Whisper utilizes a single piece back panel made from an ultra-light high performance laminate that reduces the number of parts and the weight and bulk of the attachment system.
Helium Whisper - The MOLLE system has been around for over a decade, with it's familiar rows of 1" webbing and spacing, and 1.5" vertical bartacks. It's the standard for the U.S. military and provides a standardized method of attaching pouches and accessories to platforms such as plate carriers. While the MOLLE platform is standardized, the pouch attachment system isn't. The military uses what's commonly known as the 'Natick Snap', which uses reinforced strips of webbing to weave in and out of the MOLLE platform and is secured with a snap. Another popular method is the Malice clip developed by Tactical Tailor. Each company has their own variation of the 'weave and tuck' attachment system, usually comprising of sewn webbing straps and velcro, or stiffened tabs. While Blue Force Gear's Helium Whisper isn't much different in configuration from the rest, it's very different in execution.
Rather than using a back panel to which fabric straps and webbing are sewn, Helium Whisper utilizes a one-piece back panel/strap combination, laser cut out of a hypalon-like material. The material is a durable, high-performance laminate with a rubberized texture, and is very thin, light, and strong. It also doesn't soak up water when wet (unlike webbing). I say 'hypalon-like' as most folks familiar with gear know what hypalon is, but it's a trade name and a number of manufacturers make similar-looking materials.
The vertical straps and horizontal straps are all part of the single piece of backing material. The horizontal straps then sewn down across the backing material and the vertical straps woven through them and the platform to attach the pouch. The integrated design of the vertical straps makes them stronger than sewn webbing. The end of the vertical straps are tucked under the last horizontal strap, and secured with velcro. A pull tab aids in disengaging the velcro to remove the pouch.
The Helium Whisper attachment system cuts the weight in almost half, over the Natick Snap system, and reduces the number of separate parts by more than half. Depending on the size of the pouch, the Helium Whisper line needs a minimum of two rows of MOLLE webbing (3"). It cannot be used on 2" wide non-MOLLE belts. To date, it's the lightest, lowest profile MOLLE-compatible pouch attachment system I've seen.
Featured here are some of Blue Force Gear's pouches with the Helium Whisper Attachment system, which is replacing the legacy attachment system. Unless otherwise mentioned, they are all constructed of 500D Cordura.
Double M4 Mag Pouch:
The Double M4 Mag Pouch with Helium Whisper attachment system is about half the weight of a standard double M4 pouch. It's already light due to its 500D Cordura construction, and made even lighter with the Helium Whisper attachment system.
Ten-Speed Single M4 Mag Pouch:
When Blue Force Gear introduced their Ten-Speed mag pouches about three years ago, I'll admit that I was a bit skeptical. I didn't think that the elastic would be very durable. Well, colour me wrong, as they've done very well and seem to hold up just fine. The Ten-Speed line are probably the simplest design you could come up with, for holding mags or other items; a piece of elastic is sewn to the backing panel. That's it. No box shape needs to be constructed, as the elastic conforms to the item inserted, and also provides the retention to hold it there. Wish I'd thought of it first.
The elastic front is 5" tall, and covers a little over half of the magazine's body.
The Ten-Speed Single M4 Mag Pouch with Helium Whisper attachment system is 30% lighter than the original Ten-Speed Single M4 Pouch. And that was pretty light already. The Helium Whisper attachment system uses fewer parts in construction with increased strength and durability.
It doesn't get more compact than this. If you're looking for the lightest, slimmest mag pouch, the Ten-Speed line is it. Contrary to what I thought initially, I'm able to insert a mag with one hand using my finger to first open up the elastic.
Ten-Speed Triple M4 Mag Pouch:
This is the triple magazine version of the Single M4 Mag Pouch shown above. It holds 3 M4 mags or similar sized items. Like the single mag pouch, the triple has a single sheet of elastic sewn across the front, to a Helium Whisper backer. The backer has four straps, which use six columns of MOLLE webbing.
The Ten-Speed Triple M4 Pouch with Helium Whisper attachment system is 26% lighter than the original Ten-Speed Triple M4 Pouch. The Helium Whisper attachment system uses fewer parts in construction with increased strength and durability.
I did notice that TangoDown ARC magazines have sharper corners; and tend to stretch the elastic more than USGI or Pmags. In the photo below on the far right, you can see the vertical white marks made by inserting the ARC mags. They haven't torn the elastic yet, but it'd be something to keep and eye on, or stick to magazines that don't have sharp corners. For some reason, the triple Ten-Speed pouch seemed a bit tighter than the single, as I'm able to insert a mag into the single with one hand. With the triple, I have a bit more trouble.
Boo Boo Pouch:
The Boo Boo Pouch is a small utility pouch designed to hold 'non-essential essentials'. Redesigned for 2012, and slightly larger than it's original size, the current Boo Boo pouch will hold items like small cameras, bandages, band aids, lip balm, Skoal, small survival or first aid kit, ear plugs etc. I find it useful for carrying a small first aid kit for minor cuts and scrapes, or blisters. When around firearms, someone ultimately gets some skin scraped off and draws blood, and I'm usually there with a band aid and some antiseptic wipes.
The Boo Boo Pouch with Helium Whisper attachment system measures 4" x 4" x 1".
The list of what you might carry in the Boo Boo pouch is practically endless.
Small Utility Pouch:
The Helium Whisper Small Utility Pouch is constructed of 500D and is a small zippered pouch made even lighter by the Helium Whisper attachment system. This is actually pretty roomy and is a good belt pouch for odds and ends, or extra pistol mags.
Large Utility Pouch:
The Helium Whisper™ Large Utility Pouch
can hold up to 9 M4 mags.
The Helium Whisper Large Utility Pouch is about half the weight of a standard double M4 pouch. It's already light due to its 500D Cordura construction, and made even lighter with the Helium Whisper attachment system. This is an item I'd probably use more on the outside of a pack than attached to a belt or rig - I'm a pretty small guy and don't have much room.
The Admin Pouch with Helium Whisper attachment system is designed to keep administrative and everyday useful items close at hand in a low profile pouch. It's about 50% lighter than other comparable admin pouches. It's constructed of 500D Cordura. It's sized to fit the Rite in the Rain Leader's Notebook (5" x 8").
The BFG Admin Pouch is practically designed, and relatively low profile. The BFG Admin pouch is low profile enough to stay out of the way of other pouches and rifle stock placement. I've used admin pouches on rigs in the past, but have moved away from them, choosing to keep my chest pouch-free. I do, however, find the Admin pouch useful on the outside of packs that don't have internal organization for small items. I mounted it on the front of my Grey Ghost LW Assault pack to store smaller items like keys, my phone, pens etc.
Observations/Notes - The BFG Helium Whisper line is essentially a game-changer in my humble opinion, and will make most other manufacturers scramble to keep up. The use of the one-piece high-strength laminate back and straps simplifies the assembly process and makes for a stronger, lighter product. Another advantage is that it doesn't soak up or retain water like webbing/cordura can, staying lighter when wet as well. The Helium Whisper straps are actually easier to thread through MOLLE webbing than I thought they'd be, since they're thin and grippy. But, I had no issues weaving them in and out of webbing.
One thing I did notice with the Ten-Speed Single and Triple magazine pouches is that the magazines almost have too much retention; especially when the pouch is new. The laminate backer is much grippier than the original Ten-Speed with Cordura nylon backer; and combined with the elastic pouch, makes some magazines difficult to draw. I spoke to Stephen at BFG about this, and he said that when the pouch gets used a bit more and is exposed to dust/dirt, the rubbery material loses some of its initial traction, and the magazines get easier to extract. I found this to be the case after a while, and the single mag pouch was easier than the triple to extract mags from. The type of magazine also makes a difference. USGI aluminum mags are the slickest, and easiest to insert and extract. Polymer mags like Pmags and ARC mags with their textured surfaces were harder to extract. The ARC mags are just very tight overall, so I think I'd stick to USGI or Pmags when using Ten-Speed Helium Whisper pouches.
Overall quality of construction is very good; stitching is neat and straight, and all materials are top-notch. The use of MultiCam reverse zippers is evidence of the attention to detail. Layout and features are practical and well-designed.
The Helium Whisper attachment system makes BFG's products 'better, stronger, faster', and you don't have to spend six million dollars to get it.
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