Eli5 – Why do load bearing vests have pockets on the front rather than the sides?

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Random thought when reading the opening of a trashy military sci-fantasy novel. The writer goes on at length in first person POV as the main character about how they can get smaller/lower than normal while belly crawling because they ditched some of their gear.

I had an idle thought about the potential ergonomics of canteens, ammo, etc. on the sides of your lower abdomen. No actual, practical experience with any of this to be clear. I can see how this would limit real estate and I’m wondering about load distribution, balance, and such.

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3 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Looking at pics of vests, looks like some designs to use the sides as pockets but yeah the majority of them don’t seem to have them. I can think of two reasons for this. First one being that it makes the most sense to place the clips or straps to tighten or losen the vest from the side. Second, when handling your gun it’s always going to be in front of you, weather if you’re aiming down the sights or if it’s just hanging by your chest. Either way your hands are going to be on the gun almost all the time. Moving your hand from your gun to your chest pockets is much quicker than if you were to move them to a side pocket.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Because the front is the most accessible. When building your kit, there are basically two concepts:

1. Lines of gear

2. Load distribution

**1. Lines of gear**

The “lines of gear” concept basically refers to what gear do you need *right the fuck now*, and gear you don’t, as well as gear you will *always* have vs gear you’re okay with leaving behind. In general, your first line is your sidearm plus mags, some immediate survival gear, and maybe a first-aid kit. It keeps you alive, but it’s not comfortable; you might keep some high-calorie snacks here, for example, but not a tent. The third line is everything you don’t need immediately – your ruck, basically. This would include a tent, extra shoes/socks/bulk ammo, etc. If somebody were to say “hey this is our staging area” or “drop what you don’t need”, you’d drop your ruck to lighten the load and go with only your first and second lines.

The reason I went with first and third first is because it’s a little easier to conceptualize; these are also concepts you can use with normal hiking activities (for example, keeping a small water bottle on your first line versus a bigger bottle on your top line). The second line, on the other hand, is a little more combat-specific: it’s what you need to be *effective* in a fight. This would be your rifle plus mags, grenades, additional meds or utility gear, a map, armor, etc.

In general, the modern standard is having your belt be your first line, a plate carrier or chest rig (usually a PC nowadays) as your second line, and your ruck as your third. Sometimes, if working as a team, you might have an assault pack *in addition* to your ruck – it might even be directly attached to your PC so as to take up less shoulder strap space.

This isn’t set in stone, though. While the modern standard is to have a sidearm be on the belt, for example, as part of your first-line gear, that’s not universal. Some people don’t carry sidearms at all, and others like to have them on their plate carrier. Depending on the situation, food could be anywhere from first to third line.

**2. Load distribution**

Within each line, you want to ask yourself how to distribute the load, while also maintaining ergonomics. This goes somewhat in hand with the lines of gear concept, because they’re interrelated. For example, you don’t want too much gear on your belt, because then it’ll just dig into your hips and be super uncomfortable. Likewise, you don’t want too much gear on your PC, because if you have to ditch it, you’re shafting yourself with what you have left on your belt. Furthermore, if you have too much stuff on the front of your belt, you physically just wouldn’t be able to bend over.

For the best balance, gear should be on either side of the body – but that gets in the way of your arms, and is also hard to reach. For the best accessibility, gear should be on the front of your body – but that’ll pull the PC uncomfortably forward (not to mention forcing the actual bulletproof plate too low on your body, thus compromising its protection for you), and also too much gear makes it difficult to go prone. The correct load distribution is mission-dependent, but also takes time for each operator to figure out. Even the smallest things differ from person to person – like belt vs drop vs leg holsters, having an extra rifle mag on the belt or not, location of the dump pouch, etc.

Here, I’ll pause and encourage you to look up loadouts from different countries of various different times. Mid-00s standard gear for the US military, for example, was heavy as fuck – we’re talking about 60 to 80 pounds, fully loaded. On the other hand, the trend for operators today is to go pretty light, keeping much of their gear in their third lines.

As it pertains to your novel, having gear on the front makes sense because it’s the easiest to reach and manipulate, and you can have one layer of mags before going prone becomes uncomfortable. Often, you’ll see extra mags elsewhere around the body. If the operator hasn’t dropped one of his mags in the fight, during a lull in fighting he can take a moment to reindex and rearrange his mags. Usually, there are between two and four on the front, with a couple on the sides or under the armpit. There’s nothing stopping him from rearranging that layout so that empty/partially empty mags are under the armpits and fully loaded mags are on the front. Also, I didn’t mention this because it was less important than the basic concepts, but modern trends have been moving towards quick-detach placard-based systems. In the past, if your protagonist wanted to sneak into a crawl space, there’s a possibility he would have to remove his plates, or take off the vest entirely. Today, he might be able to just quickly detach the placard, retain a mag or two, and still make it through the crawl space.

Anonymous 0 Comments

When I had to wear one the only thing I would put on my side is light weight stuff. Normally I would have a pouch for my note book and one for extra snacks. Nothing you would need quickly like mags