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April 05, 2006
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The Royal Robbins 5.11 tactical vest

by John Pfeiffer

The Vest Test

I've conceal carried on and off for years. Lately, I've been back into the "carry on" mode, not because of increased threats including terrorism, but because I have the God given born right to carry personal protection on myself to protect life, limb and family, in addition to liberty and happiness, which isn't possible without the Second Amendment and common sense.

I've carrried through the years wearing the most uncomfortable holsters and rigs imaginable. After agonizing over how to carry my pistol concealed while maintaining comfort and mobility all those years, I settled on a Galco shoulder holster which was comfortable and allowed easy access to my gun. Unfortunately, removing my jacket during a Chili's lunch get together or in someone's residence (granted they were aware anyway, but the wife or significant other may not been), was impossible without at least one individual freaking out and pointing at me as if I was a broke day trader with an incredibly high debt ratio and a bad attitude.

Earlier this year I discovered the recently released Royal Robbins 5.11 tactical series of shirts, pants and vests. I was ecstatic that they would produce civilian style garments that would allow me to hide a small armory on my person without others being the wiser. Finding a decent review of the 5.11 vest, let alone an actual vest locally, proved to be fruitless. I finally gave in and mail ordered a Khaki vest in 2XL. I had to know for myself if this was the vest of my dreams.

I found that the 5.11 vest was far better than all the previous ranger vests and photographer vests that I had owned through the years. Those were great for carrying everything short of a full sized pistol. Many were too thin for concealed carry and "printed" (where the outline of the pistol is visible), which was embarrassing, especially when everyone but you was aware that your pistol was hanging out plain as day. Many vests are too short and cause your waistband mounted holster to peek out when you bend over or raise your hands over your head. I've told more than one CCW hombre that his "pearl handled six gun was a showin' " while shopping or at some other public location. My, how red we turn when informed.

Personally I don't care if someone carries their .45 in a side holster out in the open for all to see, as long as there's a retention device on the holster. However, "etiquette" and "state law" dictate that to be inappropriate. By the way, I'm being facetious about the state law part. In any case, we have to "hide" our firearms as to not "threaten" or scare the majority of the sheeple, um... populace. We wouldn't want to "brandishing" any weapons in public, would we?

The cure (well, at least in weather below 80 degrees). By no means a heavy winter vest, the 5.11 is not the most comfortable garment for hot summer use. Exactly the reason for me to purchase the vest in black AND khaki! ^_^ The vest is made of a cotton canvas fabric and is very durable. It comes with an amazing seventeen pockets! All but two are useful - more on that later. Two of the larger pockets are hidden in between the outer and inner front layers of the vest. Those two hidden pockets are the very reason that I purchased the 5.11 vests.

Both hidden pockets measure approximately 12" X 14" and contain a semi-rigid 6" X 8" velcro loop covered plate which hangs on triple 10" X 1" velcro hook strips sewn onto the inside inner layer. Each of these plates can support several items such as holsters, mag or flashlight pouches that have velcro hook material attached. These pockets have three short pieces of velcro on the edge of their 11" openings to keep the pockets closed and hidden. While a long velcro strip along the opening would totally conceal what is in the pockets, it would hinder access under time constrained conditions (for instance when you're whipping something out to show another individual that you would prefer to stay in a state of existence on this earth, and are not ready to "go to Valhalla, do not pass Go, do not collect $500". Life isn't a Monopoly game folks (except maybe to the rich), you can't have at it in a bad situation if you can't get to your "MPR" (malicious person rehabilitator).

The pockets:
There is a very deep inside pocket with short velcro strip on the left side of the vest that is large enough for a passport, map, etc. I have used it on occasion for a small 9mm pistol when I didn't have time to load up the hidden pockets.

On the front right side of the vest are 2 lower velcro flap pockets capable of storing two AR-15 magazines each, an additional lower left mag/shotgun shell velcro flap pocket with storage for several pistol magazines, 2 mid chest (one zippered, one velcro'd) pockets that can hold various flashlights, keys, folding knives, etc., and three upper breast pockets with open tops that can be used for smaller items such as pens, keys, or poptarts (messy but easy to get to). In my case, a Surefire E2e flashlight resides in one of the upper pockets at all times.

On the back of the vest there is a large map pocket flanked by deep elastic topped pockets to each side. The elastic pockets are large enough to hold one liter bottles of water or any other favorite tasty beverage. There is also a inside back pocket capable of holding a map or documents.

The most useless pockets on the vest are the side pockets. They have a very small ledge which allows items to evict themselves over time. If you assume that it takes a lot of motion or activity to achieve this, think again. They don't retain objects near as well as the other "utility" pockets. I guess they're OK to place your hands in on a cold day. Considering how useful the other pockets are, I'll ignore the side pockets as annoyances that may disappear in the future or perhaps evolve and grow zippers or deeper ledges before they're useful.

Shoving 20 lbs. of Glock into a 5 lb. vest.

On the evening that I received the vest, I wasted no time in jamming every conceivable firearm and knife into it. Much to my amazement (and disappointment) I easily concealed a Glock 19, Glock 30, two Glock 17's, three Glock 19 mags, two Glock 17 mags, one Glock 30 mag, a 33 round Glock 17 mag, a Cold Steel 6" tanto folder, Cold Steel 6" SRK fixed blade tanto, a 4" Gerber Applegate/Fairbairn folder, 2" CRKT boot knife, 1" Victorinox Swiss Army knife, two AR-15 magazines and an M&M topped Rice Crispy treat into the vest. It was HEAVY. I don't mean "cool" heavy. Just HEAVY. You wouldn't normally carry that many items, but after sauntering into the family room and asking the wife how I looked (what do mean, you're wearing a vest? So what?) I am convinced that no one in public would ever notice the amount of gear that I had crammed into the 5.11 vest.

Overall the 5.11 Vest is a massive leap of in tactical textile over previous iterations of the venerable ranger vest. While it may not suit the true traveler or photographer because of it's additional weight and thickness, it's the very best available at this time to those who want to carry a large amount of items without resorting to a fanny pack or rucksack. On a scale of 5 to 11, I rate the 5.11 tactical vest a 12.

I got mine from: http://www.ombps.com/ I used "tactical vest" as a search string. They have quite a few more photos of the vest Selling price is $49

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