Review – NI Chest Rig

Another tried and trusted bit of kit, not a “review” where something has been tried on in the bedroom and still has labels attached.

This is my British Army Northern Ireland (NI) Chest Rig, in beautiful DPM camouflage, and by god it’s seen some use down the years. Still in perfect condition though and still going strong, it’s probably my favourite load bearing piece because it works with everything.

In modern Airsoft, low profile chest rigs are coming back into fashion as players move away from big, bulky plate carriers. They’re a lot more breathable thanks to the open back, and can still carry everything you need. The molle rigs (I have one myself for certain events) are great because you can customise it to your heart’s content, spending all week threading pouches on and off to get that perfect mix of function vs cool. The Viper VX chest rig is certainly gaining almost cult status thanks to influencers and retailers pushing it as the ultimate sniper’s rig, though less modular than the adverts would have you believe. Here though, I’d like to present my alternative to the dainty velcro-ridden Viper offering, and why I think it’s a much better option for snipers and woodland players alike.

Ahhh, surplus kit. Designed for the real world, bomb-proof build, and simple but effective design. And it usually smells of surplus when it arrives. I picked mine up off eBay some years ago for only £1 – some people just don’t know what they’ve got. Realistically, you’d be looking at £15-£30 for most of these, and shouldn’t be paying more than that for second hand or used kit. There is a more modern replica version available, made by Mil-Tec, and I’ll share the link here in case you want a shiny, clean, new one instead of the dusty old original. It’s available in a few colours too. But the design is the same.

The NI rig became popular in the 1990’s in places like, surprise surprise, Northern Ireland, and also the likes of Bosnia where there was a lot more fighting in urban areas. They were ideal for vehicles and smaller spaces compared to standard webbing, and more balanced when worn with a bergen. They were also popular with British Army snipers, and I’ve seen quite a few reference pictures of them in use with the SAS in the 1991 Gulf War. The advantage was that they stopped soldiers from overloading themselves with kit, but still carried the essentials. Given our much reduced needs in Airsoft, it’s actually a very voluminous space that will easily fit anything you need it to fit in for pretty much any event and any scenario. It’s such a versatile yet simple rig, I’ve decided it’s worth a review and a look at.

My DPM version. I have an OD green one too.

Here’s the rig in detail then. We have 3 very solid double mag pouches for STANAG/5.56 type mags, with proper lids on them and fastened with buckles. I like these mag pouches because;

  • They’re quieter than velcro
  • The clips are easy enough to operate with gloves
  • You’re not fighting with any retention system
  • The lid keeps your kit clean and dry
  • The pouch therefore doesn’t fill up with mud and dirt while you’re crawling around, so you can get low and get into good positions without worrying about damaging your kit

Same applies for the two big utility pouches either side, originally for food and water or first aid kits, but you can carry all manner of airsoft goodies such as a ton of pyro, a canteen for hydration, comms or whatever else you think you might need. For a sniper, you’d probably only need one mag pouch for mags, and the other two can hold your radio or spare ammo etc. And that’s probably all you realistically need in airsoft. Behind the mag pouches is a map pocket too, which you can use for any mission specific maps/intel etc if you’re doing a more milsim type game.

There’s an optional shoulder mounted radio pouch if you can find one to clip on. I did find one at a recent wartime show on a surplus stall, but it was sold with the rig and I already have two rigs, and there’s no shortage of space for a radio in the rig already.

The Mil-Tec replica does come with the radio pouch though. A quick word on the different fastenings – most of these rigs come with buckles which is fine. Some newer ones I’ve seen are fitted with Spanish clips. Spanish clips are the work of the fucking devil and whoever invented them can go and die in a pool of their own vomit. Lastly, Arktis made their own versions which are broadly similar and very nice, higher quality, but have velcro closing which isn’t ideal in the close ranges of airsoft.

So, 5 pouches and a map compartment. Fixed into position. You can’t upgrade them or swap them out for different setups. And I think that’s great – let’s talk pouches. Some players have an obsession with getting exactly the right pouch for every little piece of equipment they own, and sometimes that makes sense. The reason I love the NI rig though is because I don’t have to worry about what gun I’m taking, or what extra bits of kit I might need at an event, because the closed pouches are just bags to put stuff in really. With an assault rifle I tend to run one mag in the gun and three spares (usually 120rd mids), and if you look at the design of most rigs and plate carriers, they have a triple mag pouch on the front to accommodate that. I can use two mag pouches on this rig to hold that and have an extra mag. The other mag pouch can then be filled with a few speedloaders ready to go, or a radio, or a handful of mk5 thunderflash grenades. If it’s hot, maybe a small bottle of water or a 330ml can of beer. Then we have those two big utility pouches, which can fit a combination of those bits and pieces, or even all of them in one, and if you’re at a longer event, put your lunch in the other. If you use ration packs, you can stick a first aid kit in with your food too. Now, what else would you really need? I know we could sit and make a list of optional extras but there’s nothing really beyond those essentials that’s really necessary and you’d be taking extra just for the sake of it. Because they’re fixed, you quickly get used to where the pouches are and it’s dead simple to get hold of what you want.

The lid design as opposed to elastic retention or kydex inserts means it’s held in there securely anyway, so this is a rig you can pick up and run with a wide range of weapons. I can take my M4 out with it, I can take my MC51 (G3) out with it, and I can take my VSR out with it, without any messing about with configuration. It’s a proper grab-and-go setup that is as versatile as you need it to be, so you get used to exactly where everything is. I watch players a lot now who keep adding things, taking things off, and moving pouches around on rigs to that point that you can see them struggle to find things when they need them, or have to look down for longer than they need to to fiddle with fastenings etc. High speed doesn’t always translate to high speed in practice…

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