Review: Spectre Gear/CQB Solutions Operator Vest Model 2
Published: June 2003
When I separated from the armed services some years ago, I retained the LBE rig I had built over the years. Load bearing vests for the common grunt were in development and slowly seeping into use in those days, but were far from being common—or even generally accepted. I even had a Camelback hydration device many, many years ago, but it never saw significant field use. Such ‘fancy sports gear’ was thought to be unsuitable for use by a soldier.
My LBE was pretty unique in that, unlike many folks, I despised the issue Y harness. It didn’t seem to distribute the weight very effectively. Instead I used a Korea issue H harness made of canvas. It provided greater balance of the load and, despite the occasional rip I’d get for not being ‘uniform’, it was well received by other soldiers.
Fast forward to a new century and my LBE is hopelessly dated. Load Bearing Vests have become the norm, with under funded National Guard and Reserve units pretty much being the last soldiers carrying the old LC2 LBE gear. While the LBE I carried for years is still serviceable, even the now 45 year old harness, it simply isn’t comparable to the many vest options out there in terms of flexibility and load distribution. Finding myself once again on field maneuvers, this time as a part of my Airsoft hobby, I found the LBE’s limitations highlighted for me once again.
So old Kob went shopping for a Load Bearing Vest. I have to admit that during my search I often found myself looking at some of the ‘new’ belt and harness rigs out there. The LBE format was something familiar to me among all the new ‘vest tech’ that sometimes was a bit daunting. MOLLE, MALICE, RACK and all the other acronyms kept popping up and I was having a hard time deciding. Finally I sat down and made a list of what I felt I needed.
Kob’s Vest Requirements:
* Clear Left Shoulder (I fire left handed—pockets on the left shoulder get in the way)
* Capability to hold at least 3 G36 mags (fattest mags on the market)
* Hydration pocket (a place to put that Camelback bladder I bought so long ago)
* Points to attach a butt pack and/or other accessories (gotta have pockets)
* OD Green (I plan to use a MARPAT camo soon—can’t have mismatched gear
* Internal pocket (someplace to put my wallet when at large events)
* Inexpensive. (I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a vest but I would if I had to to get the other options I wanted)
This tightened my search. I was able to immediately discount almost every model of vest offered by the most ubiquitous vest vendors, Blackhawk and Eagle, who appear to make vests for right handed people exclusively. Additionally, most MOLLE and related systems were fairly highly priced, despite giving me the flexibility I would need. Also, a variety of different chest harnesses were easily eliminated, as they don’t generally integrate hydration systems well, if at all. I looked at several ‘custom vest’ places that build vests to spec. However, these were very expensive with every quote I got exceeding $400 USD.
The search for a vest was complicated by my ‘left shoulder clear’ requirement. It was nearly impossible to search based on that. Essentially I had to look at each vest and determine whether they placed any obstructions to a left handed shooter. It was a very tedious and manual process.
Eventually I found what I needed. A tactical vest in OD green with no obstructions on either shoulder, 3 adjustable magazine pouches, 2 internal ‘map’ pockets, a hydration bladder pouch on the back, ALICE/MOLLE attachment points on the back and all for less than $150. Seemed too good to be true.
So I reached out to Spectre Gear General Manager, Jeff Orchard to see what I could learn. I discovered that Jeff ran a friendly, responsive organization that not only made sure they took care of existing customers but was always on the lookout for new ideas and products to manufacture. Their design decisions are guided by input from real world law enforcement and military personnel. After several email exchanges and phone conversations, I finally arranged for delivery of a Model 2 Operator Series Tactical Vest. Spectre Gear boasts a long list of features in this vest.
* Constructed from heavy duty nylon mesh, 1000 denier nylon, and durable heavy duty webbing.
* Heavy duty #10 front zipper closure.
* Fully adjustable for height and girth via heavy duty side vent paracord lacing and 3" wide velcro backed webbing strips at the shoulders.
* The 3 magazine pouches feature adjustable flaps which allow either (3) 30 round 5.56mm magazines, (3) 20 round 7.62NATO type magazines, (3) 30 round AK-47 magazines or (6) 30 round 9mm SMG magazines to be carried in the magazine pouch assembly.
* 2 large utility pockets on the outside front of the vest.
* 2 slot modular strips above the magazine and utility pouches allow attachment of additional pouches such as cuff pouches, OC pouches, radio holders, baton holders, flashlight pouches, etc.
* Additionally, each front modular strip features an external velcro loop strip for attachment of velcro backed ID panels, name tags and/or badges.
* 3 triple slot modular strips on the back of the vest for attachment of additional pouches such as radio pouches, gas mask pouches, distraction device pouches, etc.
* 2 large zippered internal utility pouches located inside each front panel of the vest.
* 1 large internal hydration unit pocket on the inside back panel of the vest.
* The upper chest and shoulder areas are clear of any pouches or material which would interfere with positive shoulder mounting of long guns or pack straps.
* 6 detachable belt loops are provided for optional attachment of a duty or web belt to the vest.
* Hydration tube and comm wire routing D rings on each shoulder.
* Heavy duty injured operator drag handle located at the upper back and reinforce with multiple rows of stitching.
* This item is made in the USA using only top quality materials and manufacturing procedures.
* Currently available in Black or Olive Drab
So I waited with baited breath for my new gear to arrive.
Vest has some good things
The vest arrived in a timely fashion. They shipped this vest nested in a bunch of packing material, in an obviously new box (no reused boxes being pressed into service here). It contained a small product pamphlet and, naturally, my new vest.
I had a full week before I’d next get to go to a game so I had lots of time to spend inspecting the vest and trying out different ways to wear it.
One of the first things I noted was the great length of paracord used for the side cinches. There was so much ‘extra’ cord included that they had it tied in a big bow knot to keep it from getting it all tangled up. Later that evening when I finally got the vest fitted properly, I cut off no less than 5 feet of paracord. Had I been a larger man, I might have needed this cord, as it was I now had a couple lengths of paracord I could use for other projects.
As I inspected the vest I discovered that, to my surprise, all the claims made about the quality of this vest were, in fact, true. The stitching was flawless, usually double stitched, often triple or better. The materials are all top notch. The placement of the pockets, straps and other features are all well planned. So far I found it to be all I expected.
The vest has detachable loops for attaching the vest to a duty belt. This is most often done in the law enforcement sector where it is the norm to wear one’s BDU shirt tucked in, instead of outside the pant, as is common in the US military. While it may seem like a goofy idea at first, I quickly realized the value in it. The vest, when the belt loops are employed, effectively acts like a pair of suspenders, keeping one’s pants pulled up, even when you are dragging yourself along the ground or get hung up on something. Additionally, the vest is prevented from ‘riding up’ your torso when running or sliding down something (whether it be cover or an embankment). In the future I may cut off the useless lower pockets on my BDUs and tuck them in so that I can employ these belt loops.
One other real world consideration for the belt loops that makes tons of sense. Anyone who has grabbed the back of your sibling’s shirt and dragged them across the grass or over the carpet is familiar with the way a shirt will ride up and even come completely off as you try and drag them. This effect could have fatal results in the real world. If you are wearing this vest without the belt loops employed, you could make it harder for your buddy to use the easily accessed drag handle found on the back of this vest. Modern vests and even LBE harnesses usually have some type of drag handle on them so you can be pulled clear if you are hit. Obviously, if your vest is attached to your pants, there is little chance that your vest will ‘ride up’ as someone tries to pull you out of the line of fire. That being said, for Airsoft, I don’t even sweat this.
On the front of both shoulders are 2 short ALICE type connection points and along the back are 3 more long ones. This connections have a small advantage over just a plain old strip of cordora nylon. On the inside of the strips is a section of Velcro. If you use Velcro straps to attach your gear, you can keep it from sliding back and forth on the attach points. This was a good addition to the ‘normal’ ALICE system.
The front of this vest, in addition to the 3 magazine pouches, has 2 utility pockets as well. These pockets are roomy and will hold up to 3 30 round m16 mags or 2 g36 mags each. They are very well constructed with Velcro flowing the entire side of the pocket. This allows one to adjust the pouch to match the load. For instance, if you drop 2 mags in, the Velcro will be at it’s end, just enough o hold it shut. However, if you put something smaller in it, like a Talkabout radio, you can tighten the pocket further, holding it firmly in the pocket. Or, if it is completely empty, you can cinch it down tight and it will lay flat against your chest. The adaptability of these pockets is really well designed.
In the field this vest worked most excellently. I play a fairly inclusive milsim game, replete with a full BDU uniform, fear, ammo, water, mask and other gear. This can get fairly heavy and, with the LBE it was often ungainly. The vest distributed the load batter and more compactly than my issue LBE. I did have some concerns about how that would affect my overall body temperature, given that the vest effectively covered more of my body than the LBE did. At a recent game I played over 5 hours of various operations from hard hitting trench battles to extended sneak and snoop ops at a field near a swamp. It was in the 70s and muggy that day—bad enough that everyone’s goggles were fogging. The vest, was comfortable throughout. It’s mesh design allowed breathability and the presence of the 120 ounces of water on my spine helped to circulate air and keep me cool.
I also had an opportunity to compare the Model 2 to a similarly equipt Blackhawk Omega TAC vest, side by side. I discovered that in many respects it was identical. Lots of double stitch sewing and high quality materials, with the exception of the girth adjustment lacing: on the Blackhawk they used a cheap shoelace type of cord, as opposed to the high strength paracord found on the Model 2. The Blackhawk did have a pockets on the left shoulder though. It also had a ‘pad’ on the right shoulder that prevented that side of the vest from breathing at all. However the magazine pockets were essentially identical in construction, although the Model 2 did have pull tabs at the base of each flap to assist in opening them. Additionally the belt loops on the Blackhawk were permanently sewn on, as opposed to being removable. All in all, even setting aside Blackhawk’s dismissal of left handed shooters and cross shoulder transitions, it was still apparent that there was a bit more care and attention to detail that went into the design and construction of the Model 2.
Also some not so good things.
As I was fitting the vest I kept hearing a metal rattle. It took me awhile to discover what it was, despite the fact that the answer was right in front of my face. There are 3 zippers on this vest. One is the main closure running up the front and the other 2 are for the internal pockets. Unfortunately, the zippers employed are not very tactical. They have metal bodies, as well as metal pull tabs. This means that as you move your torso there is ample opportunity to rattle that zipper, making a distinct metallic sound that carries forever in a woodland environment.
I took steps to correct this deficiency. With a pair of side cutters I snipped the existing metal pull tabs off the zippers and removed them entirely, leaving only the metal body of the zipper itself. I then too short 3 inch lengths of paracord, stripped out the inner white threads and heat sealed the ends (any household matches or lighter will do the trick). I threaded this ‘tube’ of paracord through the body of the zipper and tied a knot on the other side. Now, instead of a metal pull tab, I had a paracord tab for this zipper. Now I could move without an incessant metallic rattling. Also I could open the zipper, with it’s metal body and nylon teeth, silently.
Simple problem, simple fix.
A couple small issues cropped up with respect to the pocket construction. The pockets are designed so that you can adjust the length of the flap to accommodate different sizes of magazines. The flap is even completely removable for those instances where you might value the ability to draw the mag quickly and unimpeded, rather than concern yourself with retention during extensive movement.
However, the design incorporates a 1 inch strap that runs along the top portion of the mag pocket to tuck the end of the flap behind. This strap may get hung up on magazines that are not completely smooth, like those found on the H&K G36 series or the SIG 552. These magazines, with there integrated magazine clip systems, sometimes get hung up on the strap when you are ripping them out or jamming them in. With a little practice you learn to avoid this trouble by pulling the mag away from your body as you draw it our push it in. Not a huge flaw but it can cause problems on occasion. I don’t know if it is possible to remove this strap but it would be a definite improvement if they could, without losing the flexibility of the adjustable flap.
I would have also liked to see some way of adjusting the tension on the elastic that runs across the mag pockets. We all know that elastic loses its snap over time (don’t we all) and it would be better if this could be adjusted, instead of sewn in place as it is now. This would also allow one to put smaller mags or items in the pockets and be better able to secure them.
Tactically, Velcro has some flaws. Chiefly Velcro is noisy to operate. Unfortunately all the pockets on the front of this vest have Velcro closures. It would be better, in my opinion, to use a buckle system, with Velcro as an option perhaps. However, buckles are more expensive so it is unsurprising to see it used in this fashion on a vest in this price range.
One final complaint, albeit an even smaller one that the others. There is certainly a hydration pocket in the back of this vest. It is HUGE. Larger than any hydration pouch I have ever seen. I have a 100 ounce pouch and this pocket can hold both it and my 80 oz pouch at the same time. This might seem like a good thing on the face of it. However it soon became apparent that was not the case. When the bladder is full, it sits still and stands tall, as one would expect it to. However, as you drink the water, the bladder has room to move. It begins to shift and sink in the pocket. This can trap water in the bladder, making it hard to get the full cargo out of it. It also makes the back feel odd at times, as the folds of the bladder rub your back. Simply adding 2 stitches down the length of the back would create a pocket that the bladder would have a harder time moving around in. Again— a simple answer to a small complaint.
How does it work?
This vest saw use in a recent game. I added a standard issue butt pack to the rear and attached a single strap sling to mount my G36c to the left shoulder. Placing my radio in the top cargo pocket with the button facing up allowed me to use the PTT feature, without the addition of another pocket.
I found the vest to be very comfortable in the field. The cold camblebak bladder pressed against my spine helped keep me comfortable on the muggy evening. I also felt like my gear wasn’t going anywhere. Unlike my LBE, the weight of the gun on the front didn’t ride the back of the vest up. The weight distributed across my body was even and comfortable. The side girth adjustment was within easy grasp so I could tighten up or loosen the vest depending on my needs and comfort level.
I tend to be rough on gear. In all my jumping into foxholes and crawling over downed trees and scraping along the sides of buildings, I didn’t seem to cause any damage, or even any real discernable wear on the vest.
While I did encounter a small amount of clumsiness with the G36 mags as described before, it was minor and would be a non-issue for the more prolific Armalites or MP5 variants out there.
This feature rich vest manages to pony up excellent quality and usability in a well designed, inexpensive package. I am certain I will be back to CQB Solutions if ever I decide to buy a new vest or some accessories. While there are some minor issues with the vest they do not significantly impact the usability or quality of the gear. The Model 2 Operator Series Tactical Vest is an excellent replacement for standard LBE gear.