If you want a complete set of tactical gear, you’ll eventually find yourself exploring chest rigs. Chest rigs have been used for hundreds of years to carry items for quick access. They might have been more decorative in the past, but their function was much the same.
A chest rig is a pouch or series of pouches typically made of nylon and allows you to carry equipment on your chest. The MOLLE pouch system is a popular choice. Chest rigs can be worn with or without body armor underneath. Chest rigs allow you to carry gear higher on your body. Some people prefer a chest rig over adding a lot of gear to their belt.
Deciding what to carry is critical for comfort and the success of your mission.
A chest rig itself weighs little. However, what you carry in it can add up fast. Traditionally, chest rigs are used to carry extra ammunition. Here are other things you might consider carrying.
- Ammo in clips or magazines
- Small medical kit
- Multi-tool or pocketknife
- Distributes weight higher up on your body. On level ground, this allows you to carry your load more efficiently. This advantage fades the more uneven the terrain becomes.
- Keeps gear close at hand, so you don’t have to struggle to reach anything.
- More comfortable to sit in vehicles because you don’t have a ton of gear on your belt. Multiple people can ride more comfortably while wearing more gear.
- Gear doesn’t get in your way when performing actions such as kneeling.
- Chest rigs can make you hotter. Wearing gear on your chest decreases your body’s ability to cool itself. This is more of a problem in the summer or in warmer climates.
- Increases the odds you'll overload yourself with gear. The more you carry, the slower you'll be and the faster you'll tire out.
- Chest rigs make it harder to hit the deck and take cover. They increase the height of your body when lying on your stomach so it takes more cover to conceal you.
- Adding bulk to your front and sides can make it awkward to move a weapon. This can have a major impact on your shooting accuracy and response time.
Tips for Reducing Bulk
- If carrying magazines, only pack a single layer.
- Consider what you really might need quickly. This varies depending on the situation you’ll be using your chest rig in.
- Pack smaller versions of items in your chest rig. For example, a basic multi-tool instead of one with 30 tools.
- Avoid putting a lot of extra gear on a belt in addition to your chest rig. Just because you can strap on a lot of stuff doesn’t mean you should.
Our Picks For the Top Chest Rigs
There are a lot of chest rigs out there. The ones featured in this post stand out because they offer versatility and durability to fit a range of budgets.
The Condor Recon features a hook-and-loop closure and padded cross-back shoulder straps. Its swivel push release buckles make it easy to put on or take off. The three built-in kangaroo pouches hold six M4 mags and six 9mm pistol mags, so you can have a lot of extra ammo on hand if desired. Behind the pouches there’s a single large pouch with mesh backing. Two side magazine pouches with open tops provide even more storage space. The Recon is one size fits most with an adjustable strap that fits 30–60” waists.
This is a big rig with many compartments. The larger compartments fit bulkier items, but take care not to overload it. The large main pouch is divided into three compartments to help keep things organized. Five interior elastic bands provide securement options. The four rifle magazine pouches are large enough for AK-47 or AR-15 magazines. The four smaller pouches provide space for extra ammo for your sidearm.
The detachable bottom pouch hangs a little low, so you might not always want to use it. If you do use it, it’s a great place for a medical kit.
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If you want to keep it basic, the Huenco offers just that. A single line of pouches prevents overloading but gives you enough room to stash four AR-15 magazines and four 9mm mags. Two recycle pouches are also included.
There is some room for small items like a GPS, tourniquet, etc.
This rig is fully MOLLE compatible and features webbing on the front and shoulders so you can add more pouches and accessories if desired.
The Lancer Tactical chest rig holds a lot of gear. The many compartments allow you to keep gear well organized. The six magazine pouches fit AR or AK mags, making this rig very versatile. If you add more pouches, there’s plenty of MOLLE webbing to accommodate your needs. This rig includes a large hydration bladder pouch that can accommodate most standard hydration bladders on the market. Two general utility pouches are great for stashing small items.
This chest rig is also popular for air soft. Air soft players report being able to fit three magazines without adding pouches.
Although this is a one-size-fits-all rig, customers report that it fits some pretty big guys. If you find it’s a big snug, Lancer sells extenders that will give you a nice fit.
The Defcon 5 is another chest rig with a built-in plate carrier. This rig has a ton of pockets for gear, so it’s unlikely you’ll want to add more. This is something to consider when comparing this rig’s price, around $158, to its less expensive counterparts. Adding pouches to a $75 rig can quickly make it a $150 rig.
This rig can be worn in chest mode or plate carrier mode thanks to the versatile shoulder straps. There are eight built-in pouches for AR-15 magazines but only a single pouch for pistol ammo. Of course, you can use some of the other pouches for additional ammo if needed. The whole rig weighs just under 5 lbs.
The first thing to notice about this chest rig is how many compartments it has to keep your gear organized. If you want a chest rig with a lot of storage without having to add extra pouches, this rig is an excellent deal. The rig holds seven 30-round magazines and four pistol magazines.
One major difference in this rig is that it has a pocket that can hold a 10”x12” bulletproof plate of your choosing. If you can handle the weight, this rig could be worn over a plate carrier and the extra pocket could have an extra plate or trauma pad in it for increased protection or impact reduction. This rig is offered in sizes up to 5XL, so if you have trouble finding a larger rig that’s comfortable, look to Voodoo Tactical.
This rig provides a lot of coverage and room for additional pouches. The set has six built-in M4 magazine pouches—two more than many rigs provide. Two internal mesh pockets provide additional storage space. The adjustable chest platform is removable and provides space for more pouches. The heavy-duty webbing offers the versatility to customize this rig for various situations. You can easily add pistol magazine pouches or a pouch for your medical kit.
This rig’s extra coverage means you’ll retain more heat in warm conditions. For those who want something to help maintain body heat, this rig has potential.
If you want a chest rig that doesn’t stand out and keeps gear close to your body for a very low profile, this is the rig for you. Satisfied customers report that you can easily conceal five AR-15 magazines and several handgun magazines by wearing this rig and a slightly baggy sweatshirt. However, the downside is that elastic won’t hold up as well as heavy-weight nylon over time or in situations where abrasion is a problem. The rig is also one size fits all, but it’s only rated for up to 43” chests. If you wear larger than a men’s large shirt, good luck using this rig.
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There are many MOLLE pouch options out there. Generally, you can expect to pay $5–$30 for a MOLLE pouch depending on the size and purpose. Make sure to carefully read the dimensions of a pouch before purchasing. If you’re new to tactical gear, you might want to use a ruler to get an idea of how much space it will take up on your rig before buying. However, MOLLE pouches are handy so even if you accidentally buy one that isn’t the best fit for your rig, it may work for a belt or backpack.
This MOLLE pouch includes an IFAK (individual first aid kit) already packed and ready to go. The patches are removable if you want to add your own; however, you may want to keep the red cross if you want others to be able to find your kit. The inside of the pouch has elastic bands and a pocket to keep items organized, which is important in an emergency.
This large pouch is a great addition to a chest rig that’s designed to only hold magazines. The size and interior layout make it ideal for organizing a lot of small but nice to have items. The roomy interior features elastic pockets, a zippered compartment, and a detachable map and pen holder with a see-through window.
The Tacticon BattlePouch is an inexpensive way to add ammo storage to your rig or plate carrier. For $15, you get a MOLLE pouch that holds three AR-15 magazines and three pistol magazines. If you don’t want that much weight, consider the K2 that holds two rifle and two pistol mags.
These pouches are an economical way to add a lot of storage space to any MOLLE compatible chest rig, plate holder, belt, or pack. The pouches are about 4” x 6” and 2.5” thick, a great size for small items. Some customers report that they are perfect for a Sawyer Mini Water Filter. The interior features a mesh pocket. Choose from four colors to match your gear and surroundings.
The MK3 is a well-balanced chest rig to meet your tactical needs. The fully adjustable low-profile design makes it easy to add other KRYDEX accessories for a more customized rig.
This rig is designed to accommodate six 5.56 magazines. The included radio pouch keeps your communication equipment secure yet close at hand.
The MK3 is available in five colors to match the rest of your tactical gear. Price can vary based on the color you choose.
Chest rigs are nice for carrying extra ammo and gear but not everyone likes them. They can be less comfortable and more cumbersome on women because of their body shape. Tactical belts are a good alternative for carrying extra gear on your torso for easy access.
Many plate carriers have places to attach MOLLE pouches. Plate carriers offer a lot of coverage compared with a chest rig, but they are harder to put on and take off. A chest rig is nice because it can be worn alone or layered with body armor and plate carriers if the situation requires it. At the same time, if you'll be wearing body armor most of the time you're using other tactical gear, a separate chest rig may not make sense. Many people have plate carriers with storage and ammo pouches as well as a separate chest rig so they can carry gear on their chest whether they wear body armor or not. Chest rigs are not a huge expense, so it may be worth it to have one just for the sake of versatility.
While there's no magic number, there are some things to consider when planning how to distribute gear on your body. The key to not overloading yourself is to not carry more than 20% of your body weight. That being said, it's always a good idea to balance your load. This means spreading weight out over your body. Some chest rigs weigh 4–5 lbs. before you add a single item. Adding too much weight to your front without anything on your back can affect your balance and strain your torso muscles. Of course, some people carry a lot more than 20% of their body weight, especially in the military, but for the average person, it's not a good idea unless you're in good shape or gradually increase the loads you carry. Rucking is a popular sport and a great way to increase what you can carry safely.
Chest rigs are useful for carrying gear so you can reach it fast. They also make it easy to add a lot of extra gear and weight, so what you carry should be chosen carefully.
Some chest rigs allow you to add many pouches, increasing the odds of overloading yourself. If you choose to carry a significant load on your front, you may find it easier to walk if you balance the weight out with a similarly weighted backpack.
Many chest rigs are designed to be one-size-fits-most. Smaller women may want to double check the sizing to make sure a rig can be tightened down enough before purchasing.
Chest rigs can be a good alternative when you only need limited gear and don’t want to carry a pack on your back.