Solid. That's the word that first sprang to mind when I pulled the £160 1157 Tactical Molle Webbing Platform from its packaging. First impressions are good and it looks to be built to a high standard. Visually it reminded me of the cummerbund for the new Osprey with the size of it. It also struck me as being a bit on the large side but it's only because it has the free space at either end for your own pouch fits. Normally when you'd buy webbing like this it'd be the complete affair and that's something I'll talk about later in more detail.
So what have we got then? Well it's a three rear pouch sewn belt kit affair in MTP (Which all the cool kids are wearing these days) with free space on left and right hand sides with molle straps to allow you to fit your own choice of pouches to tailor the kit to your field needs at the time. It's designed for use with the 1157 Tactical yoke or the issue yoke. What I will point out now is that there were no yokes available for use with this item so it was tested on a purely belt kit basis.
As I mentioned, the pouches are sewn in place and again this raises a raft of questions about reward vs risk. Will it fall off in the field, will I suddenly find myself in a bit of a sticky situation, will I look like an arrse and will I get my arrse chewed for it by my boss? Well. It's a gamble, regardless of who you buy the kit from there is always a chance of failure. I said it on the Dragon Supplies Airborne webbing and I say it again here. You throw the dice you take your chances. However for fit and feel you cannot beat a sewn pouch. Of course, it all depends on the quality of stitching and this is where you start to get really fussy.
When checking stitching you need to look for how many runs are used. I don't know the technical term so I've made my own. 'Run' refers to how many times the stitching has been repeated up and down a sew line. So for example, two runs means that the item has two lines of stitching. The more runs the stronger the build.
On the pouches in question where they are sewn onto the back panel it's three runs with a fourth at the corners to give greater security.
Stitching securing the pouches in place
There does seem to be glue on the back of some of the pouch tops which was quite concerning. Having spoken to 1157 Tactical about it the glue is purely cosmetic, being used at the production stage to hold the cordura in place before it's sewn in. So no need for alarm, the glue after that stage serves no purpose.
The molle straps throughout have three run stitching apart from one strap which had only one run and was already pulling out. However this has been assured to me as an oversight and something that shouldn't happen. I always give kit a chance and issued kit will have the odd bit of poor stitching as will the best of gear, so it's all swings and roundabouts. It's something that needs to be watched out for though as if you secure a pouch on the straps and one gives then it's going to be jiggling everywhere. It won't fall off as it's still secured by other sides but it's not ideal. I called 1157 and spoke to one of the two Ians that run the show and they are adamant it's the first time it's happened and that it's something that would be fixed for free. All molle strap stitching should be three runs. They also assured me that they would look at their quality control process though in fairness when checking over something like that you can see how a single thread might be overlooked and again, it happens everywhere regardless how big or small the company is.
For the sides itself you can conceivably fit another four pouches on and these would be your ammo pouches in most cases. The customisation available is a nice touch though and leaves you free to choose what you need in the way of individual pouches you can buy and fit yourself. I mentioned we'd look at this later and so we'll cover it now. People might think why not just buy the full webbing instead of having to then fit the inevitable ammo pouches? Everyone thinks about magazines but a belt like this is ideal for that gunner in the section who has no need for mag pouches but does need either free space at either end to give better movement of the GPMG or for specialised pouches for 7.26mm link or 5.56m link. It was always the bane of my existence that your pouches would be brimming over with link, having it stuffed in ammo pouches and utility pouches. This is a good choice for those men as there are now good 7.62mm link pouches out there that could be fitted and save a hell of a lot of mucking around with stupid 50rd link which is as much use as tits on a fish.
It also gives them the option that when they move back to rifle they could pop their own link pouches off and stick on ammo pouches again.
Going to the rear of the platform it's a good, large area for resting against the base of your spine. It's also made of breathable material, Spacer fabric, and according to manufacturer claims (Of , not 1157) it's breathable, provides insulation, compression strength, durability, pressure redistribution, it’s lightweight and, I laughed, recyclable. Good to know we can do our bit for the planet eh?!
It's a mesh construct which straight away had alarm bells ringing because all those quite sizeable holes are just asking to be caught, ripped and torn open. I know everything tries to be breathable and lightweight these days but I don't think it should apply to everything, certainly not in this case where you need to know it's not going to put the material integrity at risk. Thankfully this has been taken into consideration and the fabric used is strong and tough, a heavy duty polyester mix, it's not flimsy or weak and attempts to tear it and snag it proved fairly futile. The chances are, if it's snagged on something you'll know about it before it rips. Using a barbed wire fence I tangled one of the barbs up in the mesh then attempted to walk away. I didn't get anywhere as the fabric held and kept me back. However that's an engineered example and as we know in theatre the most random of situations can occur. Plus, I don't know if I'm the only one that feels this way but taking off a sweaty bit of webbing when you're under the Afghan sun and putting it back on 20 minutes later when it's nice and cold is just lush!
The other concern is that all those lovely holes are asking to be filled with sand, and when using it in a sandy / muddy environment there was certainly a build up inside of crap that took vigorous shaking to remove. Some people may say it's just sand and dirt but enough of it can add weight and negate any breathable aspects. Speaking to the guys over at 1157 they say it can be requested to be done as a solid back panel at no extra cost. User preference on this point but it's good to see that the customisation option is there.
Working back to the front of the platform and looking at the clips used we see it's the ITW Nexus clips and buckles which are all IRR and come from a reputable company. I have an issue with plastic on kit though because it will get stood on and clips will snap and break. This is a very good bit of kit and I think plastic brings it down overall with metal being a better option. You've gone this far to make a really good piece of kit and then give it a poor finish. Yes, the Nexus range of clips / buckles are good, they will flex a great deal before they'll snap but all it takes is for the buckle to be sat at the wrong angle and a poorly placed boot heel and it's gone. 1157 Tactical state that they supply one belt buckle free for replacement, it's easy enough to slip the old one off and fit it, so that's good foresight on their part.
I do however love the pouch clips. The pouch lids are secured via both velcro and clips. The clips on the pouches themselves aren't held on by a strap, they're actually split through the pouch material, so you have the base of the female clip inside the pouch which means it's got a snowballs chance in hell of coming off. A really good, solid design and the male clips are good, chunky designs and because the female clips are held on the pouch itself it means they can't swing around making securing a nightmare. All you need to do is guide the male clip so it's partly in and then just apply pressure with your thumb and it'll slot home. No mucking around with five fingers behind you then giving up and getting someone to do it for you. I'm a big fan of this style of clip fit and yes, velcro is all good and well but you still need to secure your pouches properly or you risk losing kit.
Looking at the three utility pouches themselves straight away I clock something's missing, flood holes in the pouches to let water out. It's a basic requirement of pouches to have somewhere for the water to go or after a river crossing you're going to have to physically tip your belt kit upside down. When we crossed the Helmand into Babaji it was like watching a shower head demonstration as everyone stood there with water running out of the flood holes in their pouches. They work and are essential features. People might complain that they let in more than they let out, that's down to personal perception though obviously on magazine pouches they're not ideal. It is good to see however that 1157 are again flexible and customer orientated. These can be requested at order to be fitted and at no extra charge or delay provided the items are in stock.
Also on the point of pouches, if you require a repair or replacement pouch then you're looking at £20 for a new pouch and £5 if the clips or straps need replaced on them. 1157 Tactical do point out that due to the nature of the construction that they will have to sew through the back panel to refit a new pouch but that this does not affect the functionality of the breathable mesh.
Space wise the three pouches are a good, healthy size and should hold most of your requirements with plenty of space for smoke, HE grenades and meds. Thinking back to gunners, this would be the ideal use for these pouches and then a custom pouch fit to take their link would make this a good choice for them. Alternatively a commander’s pouch is another good option on the right hand side with ammo pouches on the left.
As for actually wearing the kit it's very comfortable and as mentioned the size of the back padding really does give good support to your spine. Whilst I was running around with it on and with weight it didn't really move a great deal because the size of the pad actually supports itself on your hips. I didn't use a yoke for these tests as mentioned before and it held up fine. In theatre you'll have a lot more weight though so a yoke is essential.
Getting in and out of the pouches is a dream, I can't get over how much I love the pouch clips. This must be the easiest experience I've ever had of closing pouches over! The more I wear the platform the more I wish I had had it when I was out there as a gunner.
You could go and spend £160 on a complete webbing kit and you'd love it because it has all the pouches, it's a good fit, and it does the job. What happens then when your job changes, and you realise all those pouches are now a burden, or get in the way, or don't hold what you need them to? This is where the 1157 Tactical Molle Webbing Platform comes into its own. You have the quality build with the ability for your own fit. The pouches available are wide and varied, and from a gunner fitting pouches for link to a medic having a big med pouch on there, it's all possible and still with that solid construct and the comfort brought by a sewn kit for the rear.
Even if you leave the custom pouches off you then have plenty of room to move your arms and again, as a gunner, you want that when hefting around the General. The longer the kit stays on me the more I'm starting to love it.
1157 Tactical build this to order and so you know you're getting a piece of kit that was built for you and was given individual care and attention. They've definitely nailed the build quality on an item they consider a prototype and have offered a flexible solution for those that want to be able to adapt to the situation.
The two Ian’s that run the company are both TA and have numerous qualifications and experience under their belts and started 1157 Tactical to give guys the kit they need, built to exacting standards. They've stipulated that profit is not their primary goal and that they focus on making good kit instead, having been let down in the past themselves by kit that under-performed. As such they can adapt and take on advice and suggestions as well as custom build any piece of webbing kit you need.
The biggest point throughout is that these guys will change more or less anything on the product to suit what you need. This is where the customer focus really wins over other companies approaches to the matter. They will take your feedback on board, listen to your advice and address any issues or requests. As I say, it really comes down to having a piece of kit designed and built for you but without the sometimes ludicrous price tags you come across. £160 may seem steep for an incomplete set of webbing but for customisation, customer support and the sheer level of adaptability and manufacturing customisation, it all makes the 1157 Tactical Molle Webbing Platform a winner.
UPDATE: Six years on from the review above, a revisit to the webbing platform proves one thing - durability and robustness are the name of the game with 1157 Tactical products. The belt kit took a beating across a variety of terrain including Kenya and the Falklands, from wet and humid to dry and dusty, and there were no failures or concerns over the condition of the kit. Comfort remained throughout and in the end the kit was actually re-sold with only a small loss on original cost as it was in such good condition, and in high demand.
A stamp of approval for the quality of 1157 Tactical gear and the effort put into construction.