Turns out, body armor serves as a superb platform upon which to mount all your must-have hunting gear.
When gearing up for a backcountry elk hunt, I ran into a problem: My pack’s cummerbund precluded access to my belt, where I’d normally keep a holster or knife scabbard. That left only my legs and chest to hold my sidearm, knife, GPS, binoculars, anything I wanted to keep out of my pack and readily accessible.
Not wanting anything strapped to my legs during arduous hikes, I was left with mounting everything on my chest. So I had a choice: binocular harness or chest holster? Although I searched extensively for a product that would securely hold both, most of what I found were one-trick ponies. So the decision became, did I want to go rummaging for my ‘nocs every time I wanted to spot? Or, should I stumble into an angry grizzly, did I really want to go digging around for my sidearm?
I needed a hybrid that could hold it all. That’s when I decided to get creative—and tactical.
Although the hunting and tactical markets seldom cross over, in this case, the confluence of the two realms fit my needs well. A friend of mine in law enforcement had purchased body armor from AR500 Armor, which is how I came to know about their business. The AR500 Veritas plate carrier, in particular, seemed to me an ideal combination of affordability, features, and size. Without the armor plates, the Veritas proved to be more affordable ($80) than many bino harnesses and chest holsters.
Basically, it’s a blank slate. The PALS-style webbing makes it easy to put any MOLLE-compatible accessory exactly where you want it. I toyed around with a number of configurations before settling on the one shown above. Just don’t forget to leave the shoulder of your dominant arm free of obstructions: You should still be able to throw a rifle to your shoulder and get a consistent cheek weld.
I’ve found the Veritas provides good weight distribution, staying comfortable even when worn for extended periods of time. Mesh shoulder pads and liners breathe well so you don’t end up sweating like a congressman in a confessional. The durable and water-resistant 500D Cordura nylon construction, in tandem with the reinforced stitching at stress points, ensures this plate carrier holds up well in the field.
For its numerous qualities, this rig does come with a few downsides. First, I found it difficult to get the Veritas on. The large side buckles, though sturdy, are positioned in such a way as to make it a study in acrobatics to get them fastened by yourself.
Although I like the size and location of the built-in admin pocket (the opening is located just above the knife scabbard in the photo below), the hook-and-loop fasteners that keep it sealed are a noisy affair sure to tip off game and ruin a stalk. It’s probably best suited to carrying only an emergency fire starter or your phone—things you won’t need to access regularly during a hunt.
Another drawback—and perhaps a more vital concern for a serious backpacking hunter—is the vest’s overall weight. The Veritas weighs in at 3.5 pounds without plates or accessories. By contrast, most bino harnesses weigh in at less than a pound. That additional weight is considerable, and for those who subscribe to the mentality of “ounces make pounds,” that could be strikes one through three for this setup.
I bought a $16 6×6″ general-purpose pouch from AR500 to hold my binoculars and a few extra cartridges. For additional savings, I bought a couple of sheets of Kydex online, assembled a crude Kydex press, and banged out an inexpensive holster and knife scabbard. You don’t need to go to such lengths unless you like a challenge, though; with a couple of inexpensive Malice Clips or a length of parachute cord, you can attach a stock OWB holster or knife scabbard.
Although this rig may not work for everyone’s needs, for those with a similar objective to mine, you may just find getting kitted up like some kind of outdoorsy mercenary does the trick.
Editor’s note: We received no compensation from AR500 Armor for this review. I purchased or created everything shown here.