by Charles Bausman and Liza Sarychev
Several products offered by Crye Precision and Mystery Ranch claim to redistribute the weight of a combat loaded plate carrier from the shoulder and low back to the hips. A reinforced stiff hip belt with attachments to the plate carrier is advertised to hold the plate carrier more comfortable for the user, similar to that of a ruck/pack.
Our goal is to determine if weight is redistributed as advertised and compare Crye’s and Mystery Ranch’s designs.
Methods & Mini-Study Design
In order to determine the weight of the vest on the shoulders we conducted the following tests with a plate carrier, five loaded magazines, and 5 lbs. in the utility and radio pouches:
- Taping punctured gel packets under the shoulder straps of the vest in order to determine pressure exerted by each system
- Using a spring with a known compression constant (1” of compression under 16 lbs.) under the shoulders to determine the weight of vest that is held on the shoulders.
- Doing a similar test with foam to visually see how much it compressed under the weight of the vest on lab rat’s shoulders.
We attached open applesauce packets under the shoulder straps for each plate carrier and weighed the packets before and after each activity. The bigger the weight difference between the full and used packet, the more pressure exerted by the plate carrier. The best performer should have the smallest applesauce excreted.
A plate carrier was tested on its own, with the Crye belt, and with the Mystery Ranch belt.
The lab rat performed the following activities in each vest:
- 1-mile run
- 1-mile walk
- 300 m shuttle
Our results were unfortunately inconclusive, potentially due to the difficulty of placing and taping the sauces to the lab rat. We found that up and downforce of running (1-mile run and 300m shuttle) negated the hip belts ability to distribute the weight.
A compression spring was placed between two rigid layers of foam board and placed it between the lab rat’s shoulders and the shoulder straps of the plate carrier. We then measured the height of the spring under each system.
Similar to the spring test, we did a test with foam for a better visual representation of the compression that is easier to replicate, since it was done with kitchen sponges rather than special ordered springs.
The following table shows compression values under each system.
The foam was placed beneath each shoulder and measured the compression. This is a scaled visual representation of how the foam compressed.
Qualitative Analysis from Lab Rat
The STKSS Load System utilizes two hard vertical tabs that connect to their low profile belt, which must be purchased in conjunction with the system. You can also purchase adapters for the tabs to appropriately secure to your plate carrier, no matter the brand, as long as it has MOLLE webbing along the cummerbund.
I didn’t think the hard tabs, which connect the hip belt to the plate carrier, would be functional for torso rotation. To my surprise, I felt little restriction in mobility while sprinting, cutting, or running.
The hip belt is very thick and stiff, and from a comfort perspective, not the greatest. I felt some pinching along my hips, and might chafe the user after extended movements. The belt does cinch down tightly, but the velcro to secure the straps is tough to get to beneath a loaded plate carrier.
The method in which Crye Precision instructs the user to put on and take off the plate carrier is a lengthy process. If in a position where you might have to throw on your plate carrier in a hurry, this system will add on precious seconds to the process.
From a user perspective, this product would be excellent for long-range patrolling or static security. It does effectively take weight off of your shoulders. It would be challenging to utilize this system with a pack that also has a hip belt. You just simply don’t have enough room. Overall, it functions as advertised, but I would only recommend it in very specific mission sets.
The Base Frame is a similar system intended to reduce plate carrier induced weight on the shoulders. However, the system stands out as it easily secures along the back of the plate carrier, creating a sturdy support along your spinal column connecting the to the hip belt.
The hip belt is felt more comfortable than the Crye Precision product and was easily tightened using a basic belt system similar to ruck packs. However, it did seem to loosen slightly while running and cutting.
Putting on and taking off the system is far simpler, as it’s attached from the back. Therefore, all that is needed is to put on/take off the plate carrier as the user normally would, and then buckle/unbuckle the hip belt.
As with the Crye system, it is excellent for long range patrolling and static security, but would be difficult to wear with an additional pack. I could feel less pressure along my shoulders and traps, although I could not give an honest assessment on which was more efficient from the testing. The Mystery Ranch product stands out for ease in putting on or taking off the plate carrier, and a greater range of user adjustments for fit. Additionally, it is convenient to only have to purchase one stand-alone product.
Lab Rat Preference: Mystery Ranch Base Frame
The Mystery Ranch and Crye Precision products do make a difference in transferring the load off the shoulders. Either product would be a worthwhile purchase, particularly for those who must spend large amounts of time standing, walking, or sitting in a truck with a combat loaded plate carrier. Our testing results and lab rat review varied, and our method in determining pressure during movement was unsuccessful. Our final notes are as follows:
- The Crye system performed best in stationary spring compression tests, reducing the weight on each shoulder by 14.9 lbs.
- The Mystery Ranch system also significantly reduced the weight on each shoulder by 9.9 lbs.
- The lab rat preferred the Mystery Ranch system despite the weight distribution difference between the two products.
How does the waist belt perform in various shooting positions?
How does the weight redistribute over time? Does the waist belt come loose with activity, therefore making it less effective?
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