If you have ever wondered what it looks like to both love something with all your being, and despise it in equal measure then you should have been present for me opening my SADF Pat. 83 rig for the first time. Everything about the chest rig itself screams sideburns and short shorts and I’m convinced is the answer to most of the world’s problems, until you look at the fucking harness.
As anyone who has spent longer than 15 seconds in a room with me can tell you I absolutely detest X harnesses, but this is one case where it can be forgiven as the 83 rig comes from a time where they were appropriate, and is where they should have fucking stayed.
Regardless of how cool the Pat. 83 rig is, the first order of business was of course to remove the bulky and awkward shoulder straps, and replace them with something that would actually make the rig comfortable to use. Cue Cellar Gear‘s phone pinging with me sending a horribly vague description of what I wanted and a photo that was 10% measurements (that turned out to be wrong), and 90% my pathetic attempt at drawing.
The Cellar Gear RetroFit Kit
Taking a knife to an original 83 rig is a cardinal sin, so the first challenge of making any modifications to it is deciding how best to do it in a way that can easily be reversed. In the case of the harness this is actually really simple as the existing X harness has triglides at either end, meaning there is an abundance of 1″ webbing at all the attachment points.
Instead of sewing side release buckles directly to the rig, you can instead simply loop them onto this webbing and secure them in place with a triglide, before rolling up and taping the excess. This is far from the lightest or most efficient method of doing it, but as I wanted to be able to return it to it’s stock layout in case madness ever descended on me this system allows me to do so.
The next hurdle was measuring for the new H harness. This is where I can take exactly 0% of the credit, as my conversation with John basically amounted to “I want an H harness, here’s some numbers I’ve plucked from thin air”. Luckily he had a standard sized harness to hand and I can only assume rodded off all my measurements, and just went ahead working off that.
The key features I’d requested were the ability to use QASM clips on the front, and a sternum strap. The first request was made simply because I had QASMs to hand, and the second because of the rigs former identity as a cross back harness survivor.
X harnesses are well known for chafing like a pair of floppy nylon scissors at your neck, and in the 83 rig’s case the straps were particularly wide, so the mounting points for them are spread quite far apart along the front of the rig. This works well in the original configuration, but can allow H harnesses to slip off the wearer’s shoulders. To get around this, instead of modifying the rig I instead opted to have an adjustable sternum strap that would hold both shoulders firmly in place without chopping my neck to pieces.
The finished product is simply excellent. If you didn’t know it had been made by a mad Irishman in a dungeon then you wouldn’t be able to guess. Stitching throughout is superb and the 500D fabric used to make the harness is exactly what you would expect from the likes of Spiritus or Haley.
On the front, 3 slots of vertical MOLLE allow the use of either QASMs or regular side release buckles, and allow you to adjust the ride height a touch. Above this there are 2 bands of webbing for mounting comms equipment that extend across the chest to form a sternum strap, broken in the middle by a side release buckle. On the back there are the familiar folds forming the H harness shape, and an area of velcro for adding tasteful Rhodesian meme patches. Coming from the harness are two straps of 1″ webbing, going under the arms to attach to the rig.
From an aesthetic perspective Cellar Gear has hit the proverbial bush communist right in the dome, using the darkest tan fabric he had to hand and contrasting black webbing and tan threads. While this is an overtly modern conversion, it still retains some of the charm from the original harness and is infinitely more comfortable to boot.
As the original 83 rig was made for fit people who lived in the heat of Africa, the stock back strap around my waist looks like cheese wire going through a soft brie. To fix this I asked John to include a length of 1″ webbing to go around the back, and a set of side release buckles.
Committing the single bit of irreversible treachery I had to cut the elastic retainer off the original strap, so I could remove the male portion of the existing buckle. Using the same loop a new buckle on and tape up the excess method as above, I added a modern SRB to the side of the vest where the back strap was anchored, and used the existing buckles together as an anchor for the other side.
Running the new webbing between the two, and taping the old buckles together to protect them means that I now have an adjustable back strap that will go around those of us who enjoy food and dislike the gym.
The tan fabric isn’t Nutria brown, because no one makes Nutria brown 500D cordura. That is literally all I could find wrong with it.
As with every other wild project I’ve thrown at John he’s come out swinging and delivered another perfect representation of what I had in my head, without him ever actually having it properly explained to him.
As far as the retrofit kit goes I think it breathes new life into the chest rig and despite it being from an age when the FN FAL was the universal cure for being a cunt, and the glorious HMS Conqueror was sailing around the south Atlantic shouting “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”, it still feels like a completely practical piece of load bearing equipment.
I can’t wait to put the Pat. 83 to more use in its new configuration, especially as is it one of the quintessentially “ally” bits of kit in the eyes of a Brit. I can’t thank Cellar Gear enough for being an all round cool bloke who can look at the hand diarrhoea that is my drawing, and return a product that can stand toe to toe with the major manufacturers.
Thanks for reading my review of the Cellar Gear Pat. 83 chest rig retrofit kit. If you want one for yourself then I’m sure John would be happy to oblige, and maybe if there’s enough of you he might be able to order something closer to the original Nutria brown colour. If you want to get in touch with him, I’ll leave a link to his Instagram here.
If you have any questions for me, or just want to fire some abuse my way, you can reach me on my Instagram @thegeardocrow.
Oh yeah, and it’s pronounced “The Falkland Islands”, not “Islands of Marvins” or whatever.