One of the many issues wrestled with by kit manufacturers is creating a load carriage system that is optimised for multiple roles and environments. The holy grail of webbing would be a system that enabled you to sit comfortably in a vehicle with easy access to pouch contents and then tab and fight, carrying a full combat load, with maximum comfort and minimum encumbrance. Sadly no-one has yet produced a full solution, as the first situation dictates pouches on your chest and maybe a man bag, while the second pretty much demands belt kit.
As significant as multi-role utility, however, are the issues of minimising weight and having a system that can be worn with or without body armour. Issue PLCE belt kit is fine for tabbing but is relatively heavy and difficult to adjust to wearing with body armour. In their Airborne Webbing, Vanguard have produced a system that has the load carrying capacity of issue belt kit for much less weight and which, coupled with their slimline yoke designed to be worn comfortably underneath Osprey body armour, is suited for both Afghanistan and also cutting about on SENTA or SPTA with only CBA or (joy of joys) no armour at all.
The webbing is a single unit, consisting of 2 x double ammo pouches (total capacity 12 x 5.56mm 30 rd magazines) fastened by velcro only and 3 x waterbottle/ utility pouches fastened by adjustable quick release fastex-type buckles in coyote tan and with a snow/ sand shroud and small internal pocket in the lid (you can get the large size with 4 pouches if you are a chubster (waist 35 or over) or intending to wear lots of clothes). I was a little concerned by the lack of a secondary means of fastening the ammo pouches, but there is a good slab of velcro and I suppose you can always replace it when it wears out. The pouches are permanently sewn onto a hip pad which is fastened by an old-school roll pin buckle, and the far left utility pouch, as worn, has rot resistant elastic loops with a quick release buckle above to fit your bayonet scabbard directly to the set. The bottom of the hip pad has 4 evenly spaced D-rings for attachment of kit such as (if you are old-school) Vanguard's NBC/ poncho roll or (if you are hip & trendy) various drop-leg dangly things. The yoke is a separate item, similar to a PLCE yoke but slimmer and lighter, which reduces pressure points when worn under armour.
My first impression was how shockingly light the kit is less than half the weight of my issued PLCE with hippo pad - but this is no cheaply made cadet/ airsoft type kit; while the materials have been pared down to save weight, the single layer Cordura (doubled up on wear points at the base and lid of the ammo pouches) is still MoD Spec 1000 Denier in genuine Crye Precision Multicam and the stitching is doubled or tripled up on stress points. It is clearly built to save weight and the feel and overall construction can be likened to an issue chest rig. Toby Long from Vanguard reassured me that it is built to last and that he has had no complaints about equipment failure from any of his customers.
Two things caught my eye at first inspection:
The yoke attaches to the hip pad by the normal method of two straps from the front and four from the rear of the yoke. To cut down on pressure points when wearing the yoke under armour, the traditional ladderlock buckles on the the yoke have disappeared and the straps pass through flat friction buckles on the hip pad known as tri-glides; this leaves you with dangling straps which have to be taped away. I spoke with Toby who told me he has considered attaching velcro to tidy away rolled up straps, but most people tape up straps on issue kit anyway.
Being used to front yoke straps that loop through A rings on the top of the ammo pouch, I noticed that these yoke straps attach to the hip pad quite far around to the front, and the hip pad itself extends a good 3 inches beyond the ammo pouches. This seemed a bit odd and also a waste of material as you cannot fasten anything to the uncovered pad. That said, the webbing feels extremely comfortable when worn, so maybe it is just for stability. As the front straps are attached to the hip pad by the same tri-glide buckles as the rear, they are not particularly easy to adjust while wearing the kit: I would think that an upside-down ladderlock buckle attached on the front of the hip pad just in front of the ammo pouch would solve this issue without creating a hot spot, with the added bonus of being able to capture any spare strap in the top (now bottom) bar of the buckle.
The webbing will comfortably take the standard load of an equivalent set of PLCE; although the rear pouches are a little slimmer than issued water bottle/ utility pouches you can fit in a 58 bottle and a hexi cooker back to back, and the snow collar allows them to be filled up beyond the top of the pouch without risk of losing kit. The webbing is without doubt more comfortable than its PLCE equivalent it is lighter, more ergonomic and doesn't rattle or bounce (or squeak) when you move. Unlike issue tissue you can use it in UK for normal training, repack it for MST and then be the coolest kid in the green zone without all the bother of sticking lots of pouches to your Osprey. It costs a fair old whack - £170 or so (add £10 if you are a fatty) but that appears to be the going rate for this sort of kit. With the issue load carriage a long way off, despite the clothing starting to roll out this year, its certainly worth considering.