Spartacus: Thoughts on Load-Bearing Equipment, Part I
A soldier needs a lot of gear for accomplishing different missions. This gear will be sorted into different layers so the soldier isn't carrying all of it all the time. Some of it may be in a duffle bag and stored somewhere semi-permanently because the likelihood or frequency of use is low. Some of it may be in a medium-sized backpack that can be carried from mission to mission but temporarily discarded for actions on the objective. Some of the gear is intended to remain with the soldier on his person at all times.
Although there are different names for this personal on-the-body gear, most prior military folks are familiar with the terms Load-Bearing Equipment (LBE) and Load-Carrying Equipment (LCE).
CONTENTS OF THE LBE
The purpose of the LBE is to carry the bare minimum of gear that the soldier absolutely needs for actions on the objective or for a short patrol. It is not intended to sustain the soldier for long periods of time (usually less than 24 hours). Although everyone has an opinion about what the LBE should carry, the bare minimum requirements are:
--24hr ration of food (as simple as 2 MREs broken down into a buttpack)
--Individual first aid kit
--Flashlight (usually with blue or red lens)
--Optional but recommended: Binoculars, large or small.
--Optional: Communication gear (squad level commo gear)
STRUCTURE OF THE LBE
There are a multitude of options for pouches, including ALICE, MOLLE, foreign military surplus, and civilian alternatives. You can use a belt and suspenders, or a vest. Make sure you have pouches for carrying magazines and pouches to quickly dump your used magazines into. Make sure it rides low enough so your backpack fits well with it. It needs to be comfortable or you will spend more time thinking about the pain it's causing than about your mission, so some people use a belt pad (adds comfort and increases circumference to allow more pouches). How you lay out your LBE is up to you, as long as it WORKS FOR YOU. And the only way you will know that is if you PRACTICE WITH IT. The LBE needs to be a part of your practice or you will be fumble-fingered when you try to use it. Load up a bunch of magazines with 2 rounds and practice switching magazines next time you're at the range.
Here is an example of an LBE used from hiking to rifle competitions, based on a military ALICE belt and 3-point suspenders.
--It has four ammunition pouches, each of which can hold three 30-rd AR15 magazines or two M1A magazines, or other items as the mission requires.
--It has two small pouches at the front for small compass, stripper clip spoons, or other items.
--It has a SAW pouch on each side; originally designed to hold drums with ammunition belts for the M249 machine gun, these can hold binoculars, extra magazines, stripper clip bandoleers, or be used as dump pouches for empty magazines.
--It has the belt pad for comfort.
--Finally, it has a buttpack for (a) a Camelback water bladder and (b) other items that should be carried but are not first priority for use.
Notice several things about this LBE:
--there is an extender for the belt. This stays on the suspenders when not used. Use it to loosen the belt by 4-5 inches and to allow the shooter to lay prone without all those magazine pouches in the way.
--This LBE uses a Y-harness as the suspenders. Some people find an H-harness more comfortable because it does not place a metal buckle directly on the spine. YMMV according to your gear.
--The suspenders are adjusted so the point of the Y where the suspender straps come together is in the upper-middle of the back. You don't want that heavy nylon canvas digging into the back of your neck in awkward positions.
--For straps that will be adjusted once, at build time, and never adjusted again, the excess strap is taped down with 100mph tape.
--Although this LBE uses ALICE clips to attach pouches to the belt, it also uses zipties as insurance.
--The suspenders have the metal clips replaced with zipties where it attaches to the buttpack. Thin, strong rope such as 550-cord is an acceptable alternative.
--Buttpack's metal slide-thru-the-buckle straps securing the top flap have been replaced with silent Fastex buckles, available cheap on the Internet from multiple vendors.
--The front suspenders are NOT loaded down with flashlights and Rambo knives. The suspenders should be clear for two reasons: First, you don't want any gear interfering with the butt of the rifle; second, you don't want any gear trapped between you and your backpack's suspenders. Keep the suspenders clear!
1. Your load will depend on your mission. An infantryman who is part of a platoon conducting a raid, with a 3-day backpack dumped at an objective rally point 500 meters away, is not likely to need 3-days of food on his person, so he might want to go heavier on the ammo. An infantryman who is part of a squad in the boonies might want to go heavier on water and lighter on ammo.
2. Sidearms. Some people believe a sidearm is best kept on the person, perhaps in a dropdown holster attached to your pants' belt. If worst comes to worst, and you are without even an LBE, you have some means of offense.
3. Don't overload it.
4. Train with it. Go for a walk with it, feel how it rides, feel how it fits, adjust the straps as necessary. Listen to hear what is jingling or rustling.
5. Try it out at the range. Do the two-round mag drills to practice mag changes. DON'T THROW YOUR EMPTY MAGS ON THE GROUND. Stuff them in a pouch. If a new AWB passes, don't count on ordering more highcap mags online later.
Next time: Using the SneakyBag Rifle Fighting Bag as a CQB alternative to the LBE.