Review: Phantom CIRAS Replica
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I. My CIRAS history
II. Initial Impressions/Problems discovered outright
VI. After action report
I. My CIRAS history
While never having served in the military (for medical reasons) I have owned two Eagle Industries CIRAS vests. I originally preordered my first one from Texas Tactical. A medium Land Version in Khaki. When it was announced that the mediums would not be available for a month or more after the larges, I accepted Texas Tactical's offer to change my order to a large. I was concerned because I am 5'11 and 135lbs. Your basic, skinny white-guy. However the large ended up being adjustable enough that it would fit just fine once it was fitted with fake plates and panels. Without the plates and panels it did not fit very well. The defining features of the Land Version are the full cummerbund with front Velcro locking flap and two pull handles, one at your left or right chest (can be routed to either side) and one at your groin.
A year or so later I decided I was tired of the PITA it was to don and doff the thing, and having heard that the Maritime version, while slightly less comfortable and adjustable, was much faster to don and doff (both statements being true in my case). So I posted a WTT add on the light fighter forums and found a trader. Thereby trading my khaki Land Version for an OD Maritime Version. The Maritime version has differentiating features of two locking Velcro flaps on the sides (side opening vest) and one pull handle at the top center chest at your chin.
Eventually I encountered some financial difficulties and had to sell my CIRAS and stop playing airsoft for several months.
When I started playing again, I found that just using a hi-cap or my backup rig with lo-caps was no where near as satisfying as playing in my CIRAS with a boat load of lo-caps.
After doing a significant amount of research I decided to get a Phantom made replica, and after determining that the OEM version on eHobby Asia was indeed made by them, I opted to try the Small Maritime version they offer in Coyote Brown for $99 + $55 shipping (far less than the $524 I paid when the real one first came out!)
II. Initial Impressions/Problems discovered outright
So the package arrived in four days. Not bad from half way around the world. Upon opening the box I was presently surprised to see the whole thing partially assembled. At least the hardest (not so hard) part of putting the CIRAS together was already accomplished - the real CIRAS comes completely unassembled.
The pouches shown in the promotional photos come attached (incorrectly) but in the exact position you see in the promotional pictures. The MOLLE webbing is just pushed through the channel and not woven in and out of the channels like they should be. Easy enough corrected - no problem.
At first glance, it is hard to tell the difference between this and the real thing.
However when I started weaving the mag pouches into the webbing I discovered that one small portion of the MOLLE webbing on the vest had the upper edge frayed. That was the only problem I saw on the webbing.
Next, I decided to give it a more thorough inspection. This is when I discovered the next problem. A small portion of the "pillow" or pull handle was torn where it forms the ring. This let the rigid cord that makes the ring on the pull handle stick out. I just stuffed it back in for now. This can be stitched up.
- One of the first things one will notice when looking at the Coyote Brown version is the color. It is a 100% match with the real Coyote Brown gear I own. Now, keep in mind that every manufacturer has a slight variance in their implementation of Coyote Brown, but you should be more than happy with this. As a matter of fact I have real Coyote Brown webbing I have purchased separately from my pouches and the color is also a 100% match.
It should be understood that there are at least three officially issued versions of the color most of us civilians call "Coyote Brown". USMC Coyote Brown 498, SOCOM Coyote Brown 499, and Mojave Khaki. The origin of "Coyote Brown" is in the development of MARPAT. The brown dominant color in MARPAT was chosen from the Ralph Lauren color palette at Home Depot and was called "Coyote Brown"!
In the follow photo, look at the color of the vest compared to a real Tactical Tailor M14 mag shingle.
Note the minty green stuff you see inside the vest is some closed cell foam I bought at Joanne's Fabrics.
- The quality of the Cordura/Nylon is excellent. Can't tell the difference from the real thing using the naked eye.
- Cut appears to be correct in every way I can find for a size small CIRAS.
- Very affordable at $154 shipped from Hong Kong. Saves you about $50 from the name brand edition and about $340 off of the real steel at current prices.
There are a couple of things to note here.
- The yoke that is supposed to cover the shoulder straps and shoulder pads appears to be sewn too tightly. I can barely tuck the shoulder pads into the yoke. And I mean just barely! There is no way you are going to thread a hydration tube through that while still having the pads tucked into it.
- The loop that secures your release cable at the center rear. In the real CIRAS this is made of Dacron. In the Phantom copy it is simple paracord. Far less durable in the long term.
- Color is incorrect on the pillow. If you look at the real thing, you will see green on the pillow for the Khaki version and Khaki on the pillow for the OD version. Oddly enough, the normal (non eHobby Asia OEM) Phantom DOES have the correct pillow color. Interesting, no?
- The flexible hard armor plate is a joke. Time to bust out the plywood and circular saw again!
- No soft armor panel inserts. I have some closed cell foam to rectify that.
- Only two color choices, only one style and one size.
- Incorrectly sized plate pouch. A real CIRAS size small should be able to fit small, medium, and large (but not XL) SAPI plates. According to the Armor Holdings web site their large is 10.12" x 13.25". I had a 10" x 12" x 1/2" plywood pseudo-SAPI plate that will not even come close to fitting in the rear. Looks like the plate pouch on the rear is about 9.5" wide. Most likely sized for a medium. However the plate pouch in the front is the correct size.
- Will it fit me? One of the most commonly asked questions about the CIRAS is about sizing. To be honest, the CIRAS design is so incredibly adjustable that almost anybody can wear almost any size and make it "fit". However keep this in mind: For an optimum balances of coverage vs. maneuverability you should use the rule of thumb, which is choose your CIRAS to match your BDU blouse size. To get a little better maneuverability you should choose one size smaller than your BDU blouse size. I am 5'11 and 135 lbs. I can wear very comfortably a size large, but the coverage is a little too much and can feel a little restrictive in some planes. I am one of those odd in-between size guys. I can wear a size small, small-long, or medium regular, and be fine. I find that the CIRAS size small, which is what this review is about, fits very well. However having seen me wear my old size large, my wife commented, "Shouldn't that be a little longer?" Well, the size small may not offer that much coverage for somebody of my (average) height. I think if I were to ever buy another real one, I would buy a size medium land version. Maybe a Phantom size medium land version.
- Why is it saggy? One of the other things people notice when looking at some pictures of a CIRAS is that sometimes it looks saggy. Well, yes, it will look saggy! Until you put something in it. Remember the CIRAS is an armor carrier. It will not look or fit as designed unless you put in some soft armor inserts (or some closed-cell foam from Joann's Fabrics like me) and optimally put in some hard plates (or plywood in my case).
VI. After Action Reports
2/10/2007 - Took the vest out to the local field. Not one of the larger variety, but friendly, fun, and a short drive. It was cold that day and I wore an OD fleece jacket over my woodland BDU's, along with a Polartec fleece watch cap. I didn't readjust the vest, so it fit a little tight over the extra layers. But I could tell I could bend and flex my body a little better using this size small than I could with my old real steel size large vests.
The only (gear) malfunction of the day I had was one of the paracord pull tabs on the medium GP pouch came off. I came to the conclusion that the medium GP pouch has the crappiest zipper I've ever seen on anything resembling gear. Other than that, it's all good.
Being right handed I kept the two double mag pouches on the left side flap. During action I found it very difficult to rapidly draw a mag because the pouches rode up too high on my side and I couldn't use my left arm to grab them very well. On my old vest, I had another GP pouch there, so I never tried that before. When I got home I removed those pouches and replaced them with two Tactical Tailor open top pouches. It should be easier now.
Several people commented on how much they liked the vest, and were impressed with the $99 (plus shipping) all inclusive price tag.
3/10/2007 - This game I had decided to add my hydration bladder (from Cheaper than Dirt). The odd thing about the size small CIRAS replicas - and real steel - is that they only have six rows of webbing. Most hydration bladders are eight rows high, same height as the size large and medium CIRAS. The problem I discovered with this replica is that the rows that go across the rear flap are not spaced right compared to the main body webbing. So it was a little tricky adding my hydration bladder pouch. Then of course I just wrapped it around my shoulder instead of trying to run it through the shoulder straps. I did run my radio wire through the straps and pads, as I did with my rifle sling.
The vest held up well, this time using the Tactical Tailor mag shingles on the side flaps with two of the Phantom mag pouches removed. I was able to pull out mags much easier this time. I highly recommend using open top pouches on the side flaps (and just in general). No new problems with the GP pouch, but I had a strip of paracord around the zipper. I find that because Marui M4 mags are shorter than real steal, they don't stick up high enough in the MLCS pouches to be easy to grab. I have some paracord mag-pulls on them, and it is absolutely required to have some kind of mag-pull-like device if you want to be able to get Marui mags out of these pouches in a hurry. They may just need to be broken in some more, but for crying out loud, I only put one mag in a two mag pouch. It holds them very tight. This is a good thing to be sure.
I also discovered a couple of more spots where the webbing had a frayed or loose thread, but nothing that I would call a deal breaker.
When I got home I decided to break out the Krylon and start spraying some OD, khaki, and brown in an all-over-brush style pattern.
Well, so far I can say this was well worth the $154 I paid for it. Especially considering the included MLCS style pouches, which appear to be pretty good quality. Although I did notice the pistol mag pouch is virtually identical to the one I have from Cheaper than Dirt. I wonder if they are actually the same.
The following photo shows my JAC AR-15A2 hanging on my homemade copy of the RVS Mk1 Sling.
1=Unacceptable, 2=Below Average, 3=Fair, 4=Above Average, 5=Excellent
Looks: 4/5 - Lost a point for the missed or ripped stitching on the pull handle and the loose threads on the webbing.
Function: 4/5 - Lost a point for the webbing not being spaced right on the rear flap.
Durability: 4/5 - Lost a point for the zipper sucking badly on the GP pouch and loose threads on the webbing.
Value: 5/5 - Perfect score in this category.
Total Score: 17/20
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