TLDR - Look at the pictures.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but busy days, small kids, etc, has meant I haven’t had anywhere near the time to get to this. But recently, I had a chance to interact with one of the guys at Esstac, and I got my hands on some updated products from them, and I wanted to show the rest of you how I’ve worked through the problem of trying to carry well all the things I need.
Some background on me: I spent some time doing mostly low-speed things in the military. I’ve always been bit by the shooting bug, so I had a couple years where I was competing in practical shooting events at a decently high level. Now I work full time as an investigator, and am part time on my agency’s tactical team. Day to day I get a lot of latitude in terms of what gear I carry. On missions its obviously a little more proscribed.
We got issued garbage for holsters and mag carriers straight out of our academy. Like a lot of places, the guys that graduate to head the firearms department aren’t gun guys, don’t want to be gun guys, and tend to have a lot of disdain for gun guys. Examples - we get little low light training, weapon lights are a non starter, and our current qual course allows a shooter to miss a human sized target nearly EVERY time at the 15-25 yard line and still pass. At least on the equipment side, we’re finally catching up to the times, and guys are actually getting issued ALS holsters, as opposed to a leather “speed scabbard” that retains all of 1.5 inches of the gun, excepting the thumb snap.
I’ve consistently run Raven holsters, as I’m plain clothed full time. No complaints, no issues, which is surely no surprise to anyone who has dealt with them before. On missions I run ALS, but I’ll get to that a little ways down.
My biggest issue, and probably one a lot of you have faced, is what and how to carry the rest of the equipment. Restraining devices is a big one, and like a lot of guys, I just wasn’t doing it day to day. I finally had to face the fact that I’m more likely to need to cuff someone than to shoot them, and I started looking for a way to integrate a set of cuffs. That led me away from what I had been carrying up until them, which was a set of bolted together Raven gear - mag holder, light carrier, knife carrier. Rode well, concealed well, but took up a lot of real estate. Kydex also has its limitations, and after about two years, the light holder started to crack in a few places at the rivets. I had talked back and forth with Raven, trying to get them to make a combo light/mag carrier that had a smaller footprint, but they said they had tried it and the dual use products didn’t tend to have great longevity. Then, I discovered ESSTAC. I started playing with their mag holders, and figured out I could mod it to take a light as well. Shortly thereafter HSGI released their handcuff case (great product). The HSGI had one failing - only a single row of molle on the backside. A trip to the seamstress, some playing with the Raven moduloader fingers, and I now had everything I wanted in about half the real estate it had required in the past. I have been incredibly pleased with this set up, and while there are a few quibbling points I still want to polish up, I think this may be an answer for a lot of people.
A few notes on the ESSTAC stuff. Kydex is amazing, but it can and does fatigue. Some of this can be mitigated by good design, but I’ve found Kydex just doesn’t hold up as well as higher quality injection molded stuff, especially when you are talking sharp corners or areas that will have to flex. You are also molding the products, which means that with the pancake style of construction you start adding a lot of lateral real estate to your gear. Nylon/Cordura on the other hand is amazingly flexible, strong, durable, but it just doesn’t retain and grip as well as Kydex does. It also has a tendency to lose its shape, which can make reinserting a mag difficult. Well, the KYWI’s manage to provide a perfect marriage of these two products. A kydex liner in a nylon sleeve allows me to put three mags in the space I would have normally fit three. Then, they actually stitch the entire backing of their products with Molle. Small detail that a lot of other companies miss, but this makes adapting their products using the Raven moduloaders a lot easier.
For tactical missions, I’ve been running the new injection molded ALS, and a single pistol/rifle mag holder on the support side. The new ALS has been great. I had to cut it down a little to get the grip I wanted when I draw, but it has an awesome feature which they don’t (or didn’t) advertise - it retains the gun perfectly without a light. They do this by inserting a flange at the muzzle end that inserts into the tip of the barrel. This holds the pistol in perfect alignment with the ALS locking system regardless of the light/lack of light on the pistol. How did I figure this out? I was running the old APL (only light that will not destroy the reliability of my G22) and it love to jump off the gun when firing.
Anyway, my approach to where to put my ammo comes from a couple principles. First, I’m plain clothes most of the time, so I want to keep my muscle memory the same. Therefor, I run my primary reload for everything off my support side. Similarly, I like my pistols at straight cant, and on the belt. I don’t switch to a thigh rig for missions, because that is a different draw stroke than I use the rest of the time. Second principle is two is one, one is none. So I keep a second pistol and rifle mag on the vest. I keep them on the vest because I don’t have the shoulder flexibility to reach my support side when running the gun weak handed. At that point, having mags centerline is a godsend.
I’ve been very pleased with this setup. However, some other guys have started to ask me to put these together for them, and I think the system would be much improved if I wasn’t trying to marry up a single pistol mag holder, single rifle mag holder, to the moduloader system, as there can be a bit of play. I want them to be one unit. I reached out to ESSTAC, and it turns out they are magic. In less than a week they sent me a perfect solution to this problem. Only change is that this one incorporates two pistol mags instead of one. Why two? Other guys wanted it, and its a nod to the square range. We do a lot of training that requires multiple pistol mags on the belt. I got tired of clipping on an extra kydex single mag carrier. New setup is on the left, old is on the right.
In my head this post was going to be a few quick lines, but this turned into a wall of text. I don’t think there is another forum on the internet where this kind of thing even gets talked about, but it does on Lightfighter. The above is my solution, and if you have a better one, I’d love to hear it.