As a former Infantry Marine, our issued Load Bearing Equipment (LBE) has been an area of interest for me for many years. LBE can be the difference between misery and relative comfort (or as comfortable as one can be encumbered by pounds of gear). Early in my infantry career it became brutally apparent that our issued LBE was lacking, to put it mildly. So I took my meager base pay and begin procuring aftermarket LBE.
This would quickly become a crusade to find a more comfortable way to carry mission essential equipment. The usual type of LBE I selected was a chest rig. At the time the issued Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) armor carrier didn’t offer much in the way of modularity. To overcome this I’d carry all my pouches on the chest rig and leave the IBA “slick”.
Toward the end of my time in the Corps I heard about a chest rig by a relatively new company, Mayflower Research & Consulting. After purchasing the current iteration of their UW (not sure what that stands for) chest rig I I realized I’d found what I was searching for. But what really stood out once I began researching deeper was how the UW chest rig was truly an evolutionary process.
So let’s take at how the Mayflower design evolved over the last decade to remain one of the most popular chest rigs on the market. The UW series has gone through many generations, and we’ll follow the design from initial design until the 4th generation. We won’t examine the 5th and 6th generations, since they’re designed for different mission requirements.
The initial chest rig was heavily influenced by a previous design created to fulfill the need for a low-profile chest rig. This was a major departure for chest rigs, as at this time most carried enough ammo to fight the Soviet 3rd Shock Army as it burst through the Fulda Gap. During the mid 2000’s most chest rigs were double magazine pouch monstrosities that carried two basic loads of ammunition. So the idea of carrying a much lower profile load out was against conventional wisdom of the time.
This initial design was then modified to be ambidextrous and carry dual radios. This would become the UW Gen I chest rig, the basis for all future generations. The ambidextrous layout in my opinion is one of the rig’s best features, allowing quick access and balanced weight distribution.
The Gen II didn’t make it past prototype phase, and was a Gen I with a Cordura H-harness sewn directly to the body of the rig. After the Gen II prototype the Gen III was created, and is probably the first version to catch widespread attention. This version had more fitted magazine pouches and was offered in a wider color/pattern selection. The Multicam version pouch lids and harness were made of 330D nylon, and all other patterns made of 500D.
The slight changes to the Gen III would be rolled over to the Gen IV, which was optimized for integration into Mayflower’s armor carriers; the user could detach the H-harness and directly clip the chest rig to the armor carrier. This version is still in production and has undergone several slight modifications since release, such as adding adjustability to the front of the H-harness.
After many months of searching I was able to get my hands on a UW Gen I from one of the SOF unit runs, and compared it to one of my Gen IV rigs. When comparing the two rigs it is quickly apparent not only how far ahead of its time the original design was, but how changes over the years have made a great chest rig still a go-to item for so many in the SOF and infantry communities.