Military and high-risk law enforcement operators who want a way to distribute the additional load of magazines, hydration systems, communications gear, medical "blow-out" kits, body armor and more face a weight versus preparedness conundrum. Often, these shooters adopt ballistic vest systems that carry soft armor and/or armor plates, which are then generously endowed with row upon row of Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment (MOLLE) attachment points to carry the aforementioned equipment. The total load-out of a such a system can easily weigh 40 pounds or more, but it ensures the operator has everything he needs...except an assistant to help shoulder the load.
The problem for most bipedal life forms is we move slowly when carrying heavy equipment. In many instances, a fully loaded vest will restrict movement, slow us down and provide things we really don't need for the task at hand, leaving us feeling like a walking tactical bodega. At times like these, the old ways seem to make a lot more sense.
Generations of servicemen and outdoorsmen have found a rugged belt-and-suspender rig set up with a few carefully chosen accessories to be lighter, more comfortable and more flexible than the kitchen-sink approach of some vest systems. Barring an invasion, this is the kind of rig most shooters will find practical for carbine courses, 3-gun competitions or a day in the field.
Blue Force Gear's SOC-C Modular Padded Belt Kit is a solid effort in providing a sturdy, lightweight frame with MOLLE compatibility. It is composed of three parts: low-profile suspenders, a lightweight inner duty belt and a modular padded belt that provides load-carrying capability. I'm contemplating one of the many carbine courses offered by shooting schools in my area to help me improve proficiency with my mid-length AR, so I opted for MOLLE-compatible gear that would hold four, 30-round STANAG magazines and a pair of pistol magazines.
I chose the Double M4 Mag Pouch and Double Pistol Mag Pouch from Blue Force Gear's Ten Speed line of lightweight, expandable, lay-flat pouches, and offset them with a pair of ITW FastMags in the MOLLE configuration. The shipment from Blue Force Gear arrived quickly, and I was impressed with what I found inside.
Dressed in Coyote Brown, the SOC-C Belt Kit required some assembly out of the box. The suspenders were easy to attach and adjust, but I had a bit more difficulty getting the back and side panels of the modular belt centered on the inner duty belt and adjusted to fit on my hips the way I wanted. Once I did, though, it was simply a matter of playing "thread the MOLLE" to get the Ten Speed pouches attached on the right side (pistol mags in front of the hip, carbine mags behind) and the pair of FastMags on the left. I had the option of running drop-leg subloads on each side, but deferred.
The first thing I did with the SOC-C rig was a simple cycle of bending and stretching to test my range of motion, and I was pleasant impressed. The suspenders do not have the traditional "H" or "Y" type yolks. Instead, they feature a bungie "O" attachment that moves with you, so you don't run into the typical suspender problem of leaning to one side and having the opposite side pulling the belt up and out of position. It moves with you.
Situated on my hips like the belt of a mountaineering backpack, the modular belt was effortless at carrying the load I selected, and could have easily managed subloads and either a belt-mounted hydration kit or buttpack comfortably for hours.
From there, it was a matter of seeing what the very different pouches I'd selected were capable of doing.
The lay-flat Ten Speed carbine and pistol pouches are designed to carry double-column magazines side by side, using elastic tension to keep the magazines from shifting or falling out. The material is very grabby and conforms to the shape of whatever item the user stuffs inside. Getting some magazines into the pouches, however, wasn't always so easy.
The Ten Speed pistol pouches easily accepted the tapered shape of a double-column 9 mm magazine, a folding knife, flashlight or multi-tool, and held it securely, once I got the mouth of the lay-flat pouch open. This was difficult at first, and the quality elastics used in the pouches' construction meant it didn't give too much over time, either. If you could make it fit, it held secure.
The Ten Speed rifle magazine pouches required a bit more work to use when compared to their pistol cousins. While they can carry M4/M16 magazines (both 20 and 30 round), the high-quality elastic used throughout the body of the pouch that makes sure whatever you manage to cram inside won't be coming out accidentally also makes it tough to insert magazines when compared to traditional pouches. Of course, it is much faster to draw from a flapless, open-top magazine pouch like the Ten Speed, so you have to decide if the trade-off is worth it.
I also found one style of magazine simply didn't work for me, but I think that is an issue of how the magazine was designed, and not an issue with the pouch. While I could get standard military aluminum-body magazines, Magpul PMags and even AR-silhouette .22 LR magazines from CMMG and Smith & Wesson to fit in the Ten Speed M4 pouches, the mag-well ridge on the body of the original Lancer L5 translucent magazines kept catching on the pouch material. Newer model Lancer magazines (the L5A) have a less pronounced ridge, and may work better with the Ten Speed pouches, but I'd consider the L5 generation is a bust for any expanding pouch.
Opposite the Ten Speed pouches I attached the 3rd-generation ITW FastMags. Being a fixed, semi-soft (or semi-rigid if you're a glass-half-full type) polymer design, they were easy to get mags into and out of, though they lacked the flexibility of the Ten Speed pouches to carry other useful items. The FastMag pouches are good only for holding magazines, but they perform that task very well.
As with the Ten Speed pouches, the FastMags worked with popular polymer magazines and standard military-issue aluminium magazines. The aluminum magazines actually felt a little more secure in the FastMags. I can't prove it, but the lubricity of polymer magazine body against the polymer FastMag made them feel the slightest bit more slippery, though I don't think there is any danger of a PMag or similar magazine accidentally freeing itself. Once again, the Lancer L5, while an excellent magazine, seemed to have an issue. It was the only magazine type I ran through the FastMag that had a less than stellar fit.
These MOLLE-compatible products from Blue Force Gear help form a solid platform for the majority of shooters that favor durability, comfort and mobility.