It’s been over a year since the last time we took a look at how to improve the steaming turd that is the Source STV, or Virtus plate carrier. I’m sorry to say that in that year the Army has made no move to improve this bag of shit rig into something befitting the century it’s in, which has instead lead to many blokes taking matters into their own hands (and wallets) in order to turn the vest from a hindrance to a help.
As you might be able to tell I’m not a fan of Virtus, and can moan for hours about why it’s so bad. Luckily this blog is actually going to be the first time I let someone else take the reins, and discuss how this particular set up actually begins to claw at being a half-decent bit of equipment. It’s not the first time this rig has been featured on the blog, as this individual was also the guinea pig for the last round of Virtus improvements, but since then he’s made a fair few changes and it’s about time we discussed them.
Enough from me, on to a professional who has bought, sold, used and abused enough gear to know what he’s talking about, is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and who also thinks that the Source STV is an absolute fucking travesty. If you haven’t read part one of this article, it is available here.
Polishing a turd to a high shine: Virtus improvements revisited
Words and photos: Sam
I’m not too sure where to start with this, so let’s just get me out of the way first. I’m an Infantry Lance Jack coming up to my 5 year mark with 2 tours under my belt, and a few overseas exercises on top, currently deployed in a Force Protection role somewhere very hot. I’m a self admitted kitpest who is lucky to be in a position where the chain of command is somewhat lenient to the more “out-there” bits of gear, and I’m expecting this to continue after my transfer coming up this year. I’ve known Fred for years, and he’s an expensive friend to have. On top of my Military career, I’ve always had a private eye for gucci bits of nylon, and have attended private defensive firearms classes while travelling in Europe.
Shortfalls of the Virtus STV
I can’t be too critical of the STV after using what came before it, but it is still far from a perfect rig and has several quite major shortfalls. It is still bulky, features no integrated cooling system and seems to have been designed without any thought of ergonomics or people of different sizes. When compared to the gear that the Danes are running, it is laughable.
The STV also has its own quirks in its MOLLE layout. The front platebag is an awkward 7 columns wide, and has a doff strap on the top left that covers some of this. The rear platebag may as well be on drugs. There are columns of different widths in different places made in such a way to take the disappointing spine that Virtus was built around, that could have been avoided by having an even number of MOLLE columns, like a real plate carrier.
Polishing a turd Pt.1
The first round of changes that we made to my rig was to get around the very annoying fact that it has no proper cummerbund, and instead relies on shit off-brand buckled up straps. This also gave us the opportunity to fix the 7 MOLLE column problem. Initially I was running a Crye AVS 2 band cummerbund that was secured onto a Horizon Laminate velcro panel on the front, with a Spiritus Mk3 chassis over the top. To secure this at the rear I used a pair of Blackhawk speed clips and tucked it all behind a set of Flimmur tactical zip adaptors and a Crye zip on pack.
With all these changes made, I had a far more modern feeling bit of kit that actually allowed me to test the idea, and see if it worked. It did. The ability to move my fight light gear from my waist to my body has been a great help, especially in fast moving QRF roles, and even more so when dealing with vehicles. Our last stay away in Jordan featured lots of vehicle mobility, and so being able to really thin out the belt kit made sitting in a pickup for long periods of time much more manageable. They also made a big difference to me as a commander, as they stopped the need for big bulky belt kits or daysacks to carry my ammunition and radio.
Since the last blog there have been a lot of changes to my kit, which I’ll talk about now.
Polishing a turd Pt.2
The core improvements made to the STV have remained, but my “loadout” of pouches has changed quite a bit over the last year. While I’m definitely guilty of moving pouches around out of boredom, I still have to carry the same gear in them so it’s been more of a tuning process.
Something we figured out only weeks after part 1 of this blog was that the Spiritus chassis might not be the best solution to the front MOLLE problem. Not being directly attached to the vest could add a little bulk, and I wanted to slim my gear down as far as possible. Fred realised that due to the eccentric MOLLE layout of the front bag, I might be able to run an AVS panel instead, secured through the MOLLE row above my velcro panel and down onto it. As he had an AVS at home we waited for a bit of leave for him to test it out. I got a very excited text saying it would work, and set about finding one of my own immediately.
I now run the closed top variant of the pouch, not only because it is the best of the three, but also because should any of my CoC decide to play the “your mags might bounce up and chin you” card, I can secure them shut and carry on. This did mean I lost the storage capability of the chassis, and so needed something small to take its place. I was looking at danglers for a long time but they were all just a bit too bulky for my needs, so when Fred said he had a SORD hotdog up for grabs I snatched it quick (seeing a theme here?). This now allows me to carry the small bits of commanders or other gear that used to live in my chassis on the front of my rig, easily accessible while in a vehicle.
The next biggest change has been on my rear platebag, or more accurately, what I zip onto it. The Crye pack is still an excellent pouch that I use and love, but in the name of streamlining I wanted something with dedicated pouches for certain applications. We don’t use team bangs in my unit, so the back panel only has to carry my water and my radio. If you’ve ever carried a 354 you’ll know the struggle of finding any pouch that fits it comfortably and doesn’t let it bounce around like a twat. I carry mine in a Crye 9x7x3 mounted onto a Crye MOLLE back panel. It’s far from the perfect pouch, but it works, and its large zip opening makes changing batteries easy.
I also have to carry water on my STV when ditching my daysack, and sticking with the streamlined theme this meant also having it on the removable back panel. I chose to use a Combat Systems/Shield reproduction of a 330d Cryedro as this fit on the back panel right up next to the radio pouch, and accepts the issued bladders. The whole idea of this back panel is that if needs be I could take it off, roll it up and put it in my daysack ready to go when I need to scale down my kit.
The sides of my rig haven’t changed all that much since the last blog, I still keep my PRR in a Platatac PRR pouch, and still have a TYR Smoke grenade pouch on the opposite side for obvious purposes. The only real changes have been using my Spiritus Wingman pouches as a way to scale up my magazine capacity where needed (as I can no longer rely on the chassis for this), and carrying my Essee Izula knife. A knife is one of the most useful and versatile tools to keep accessible on your gear, and shit hits the fan it’s good to have one you know will effectively switch someone’s lights off too.
After reading the Reptile House’s review of the Ferro 3AC I would like to see if I can get one onto my STV, as this would be the perfect host for carrying sideplates and so would mean I can finally take off the shit native “cummerbund” for good.
Using my improved Virtus STV
Having used the improved system for over a year now I don’t think I could go back. Every man in the Infantry has owned Jayjays webbing at some point, I started there myself, and now mine sits totally unused in my cupboard. The ability to have all my gear in one concise package makes administrating myself a lot easier, and the simple and slick format of my “loadout” makes me a much faster soldier if not a better one.
Something I have learned outside of the Army is keeping your gear in your eyeline, and finally being able to put this into practice has changed my skills and drills permanently. One training scenario jumps to mind where we “took contact”, RTR’d and proceeded to suppress the enemy. While moving into a better fire position I was up on my feet when the enemy popped up and engaged, perfectly in time with my mag running dry. I dropped into a totally unconventional position to achieve the best possible cover, and still managed to get my rifle back into the fight inside of a very awkward workspace and this was definitely down to my magazines being front, centre and easy to get to, with the added bonus of my lower profile making the cover more effective.
After this event we had the usual debrief from the directing staff, one of whom turned to me and said I’d performed the best, “most ally” mag change he’d ever seen. While this might sound like a brag, it raises an important point. A Brecon qualified NCO who likely disapproves of anything that isn’t belt kit was forced to praise my actions based on the improvements made by my gear. It effectively silenced the naysayers who don’t believe in modernising and are firmly stuck in the “we’ve always done it this way because the PAM says so” mentality.
I am a firm believer that soldiers of all ranks should be able to set up their gear however it works for them, as long as it makes them a better part of the unit and doesn’t affect the team SOP’s etc. Unfortunately there are a lot of people in the higher chain of command who don’t agree, and would rather micromanage to the point where men aren’t operating at their best possible output. This is why it is so important for those of us who are allowed to personalise their gear to do so, and change the minds of those Brecon Juniors and Seniors who in turn have the power to change the way we operate as an Army. It’s not a case of being “the allyest bloke in the company”, it’s about helping those stuck in their ways see that actually the next time there is a replacement plate carrier selected, they need to choose one on the cutting edge of modern technology and not one that requires the men to fork out of their own pockets to bring it into the current decade.
That’s all from Sam. If you have any questions at all about how and why he sets up his rig the way he does then please fire them over to my Instagram account @thegeardocrow, and I’ll make sure he gets them. If you haven’t read part 1 of the Polishing a turd series, then I’ll leave a link to it here.