I am blessed to have a lot of interesting gear pass through my hands. I have been able to handle gear that I like a lot and some gear that I don’t like much at all. Sometimes, though, I am lucky enough to get my hands on gear that I immediately connect with and wonder if I may be looking at one of the next big things. That has certainly been the case with UW Gear and their Minuteman MKII Chest Rig.
About UW Gear
UW Gear is a small nylon tactical gear maker that was formed to specifically to address the needs of the “Armed Citizen.” John and Diz are both shooters who have an absolute ton of gear making experience between the two of them. Many of you gear hounds out there will immediately recognize Diz and know his past work.
I have really enjoyed getting to know John, Diz, and UW Gear for one big reason: They are very transparent with the reasoning for why they make their gear the way that they do. They have always been willing to share with me why they design their gear like they do, why they choose certain materials, what they tried that didn’t work, and how they are thinking of improving. I have never really seen a more open gear maker.
Minuteman MKII Overview
The Minuteman MKII Chest Rig was UW Gear’s first official product. Their product line has grown to include other items but the Minuteman MKII is still the flagship and serves as a showcase for their innovative flap design.
It is available in several formats that can customized at the time of purchase. The main format is a 3 pouch design that holds 3 magazines but a 4 pouch design is available by request. The user can customize the width of the chest rig by specifying how many columns of MOLLE webbing they would like on either side of the magazine pouches (none, 2, and 3 columns are the standard configurations).
The construction of this chest rig is top notch. 1000 denier nylon is used throughout. There is double and triple stitching through out. Every single spot where webbing is joined to the rig utilizes a box stitch. The materials are top notch. From a pure craftsmanship standpoint, these rigs are as good as I have seen.
UW Gear designed the Minuteman MKII to be bomb proof in durability, compact, to ride comfortably without padding, to ride close to the body, be field repairable, and to offer excellent magazine retention. Those goals dictate many of the design details of the rig.
The pouches are by far the most eye catching part of these chest rigs. If you don’t like covered magazine pouches, these might convert you. If you love covered mag pouches, these will spoil you.
Most of the magic of these pouches stems from the flap. You will not find any metal hardware or hook and loop on this rig. UW Gear purposely avoided them when they designed this rig because snaps can pull out, rust and rattle. Hook and loop is noisy and clogs with mud. Instead of the well traveled path, they designed an innovative, unique, and extremely functional flap closure that I really, really like.
Each flap has a stiffened tab on it that mates with a slot that is sewn into the pouch. The tab is simply pressed up into the slot to lock the flap closed. This can easily be done with one hand and it is extremely secure. When you need to open the pouch, you simply grab the tab and pull up and slightly away from you just like you would with a hook and loop flap. It opens quickly and easily and with no noise. This flap closure system is durable, repairable with needle and thread, completely quiet, operable with one hand, more secure than most any pouch that I have ever seen, and just down right cool.
The pouches themselves are very tall. They offer nearly full coverage for the magazine (retention was chosen over speed). The webbing this sewn into the slot for the flap tab is continued all the way to the interior bottom of the pouch which gives it some structure and makes it easier to insert magazines with one hand.
UW Gear was also able to avoid the use of hardware like grommets which has many of the same problems as the snaps mentioned above by sewing drainage holes into the pouches. There is a small, reinforced gap at the base of each pouch that allows the pouches to drain quickly and shed debris. This is just another one of the innovative touches that seem to abound on this rig.
Magazine Retention Pouch
Using the “admin” pouch that can be found on the back of many chest rigs to retain a partially depleted magazine isn’t necessarily a new concept but UW Gear has taken it to a whole new level by designing their admin pouch to actually support this technique. This is another one the features that you won’t find anywhere else.
The pouch on the back of the Minuteman MKII can be used to store what ever you want: maps, shooting gloves, a pad and pen for note taking during your carbine course – but it is designed to do a lot more than that. The pouch features a wide webbing tab that sticks up slightly above the top of the chest rig and runs all the way to the bottom of the pouch. This webbing allows you to press open the pouch with a magazine as you insert the mag. It basically acts as a target or index point to quickly lever open the pouch during a reload where you retain the partial magazine.
This simple webbing addition to the pouch makes it suitable for partial magazine retention for up to 2 mags. It can be used much like a dump pouch but more efficiently since the magazines are hold in a bullets down position, ready to be grabbed and reused if needed. Gone are the days of frantically digging through a dump pouch for a magazine and hoping it comes out oriented in a way that makes it easy to insert into the magazine well. The Minuteman MKII lets you store your partial magazines in a way that makes them usable immediately.
The Minuteman MKII’s “H” harness is one of the best that I have used. It is comfortable without being padded. UW Gear purposely set out to build a comfortable harness that wouldn’t need padding so that the rig would work better with a backpack. Great care was taken to make sure that the harness and its hardware would not get in the way of shouldering your rifle.
It consists of a wide double layer of the same nylon material that the rest of the chest rig is made from, a layer of 1.5″ webbing, and then a final layer of 1″ webbing that is sewn like MOLLE webbing. The result is a harness that is wide enough and has enough structure to distribute weight very comfortably with adding a lot of bulk to your shoulders. Since the top layer of 1″ webbing is sewn on like a row of MOLLE webbing, it can be used to attach various items – possibly even a small pack that UW Gear may be introducing in the future.
I am starting to sound like a broken record but, again, I have never seen anything quite like the construction of this “H” harness and it works unbelievably well.
Observations from Use
This rig wears very well. It rides close to the body and is not overly wide. Even the 4 magazine pouch version that I have feels compact in comparison to many rigs. The harness fits like it was made for me.
Having used both, I can see why UW Gear is standardizing on the 3 pouch design versus the 4 pouch, especially with the AK rigs. AK mags are long and have a somewhat severe curve which can make them difficult to manipulate in and out of the pouches. You generally have more dexterity around your body’s center line because of how you have to bend your arms to reach the magazines. The 3 pouch design, places all 3 magazines close to your center line for easier manipulation and it keeps the weight down. Additional magazines can be carried in the magazine retention pouch if your situation dictates the need for more magazines.
I like to wear my chest rigs high on my chest. This keeps my handgun and draw stroke unimpeded. It also allows the chest rig to slide up into the natural gap that is formed between your high chest and the ground when you are shooting from prone. The Minuteman MKII is designed to ride high or low depending on the wearer’s preference. To support a nice high ride, the top corners of the rig are angled to allow the body of the rig to ride higher without digging into your underarms. This is just another example of UW Gear’s cleverness.
All that adjustability usually leads to a ton of unsecured straps flapping in the breeze, but that isn’t the case with the Minuteman MKII. All of the excess straps are secured with elastic keepers or pinned between your body and the rig. There are zero unsecured straps to flap around.
The flap system is very, very cool and very, very functional. It works. It retains the magazines tenaciously and clears out of the way quickly. You really can’t ask any more from a mag pouch flap. The potential down side here is that these flaps might not handle anything that adds length to the magazine like Magpul Ranger Plates. They also aren’t going to lend themselves to a double magazine pouch which is fine for me since these were designed from the start as single mag pouches and I prefer single mag pouches.
This rig is definitely different from a lot of what is out on the market right now. The magazine pouches are the complete opposite of the low cut open top pouches that are the norm these days. There is no denying that they are not as fast as an open top pouch but they are far more secure. There is always a trade off, and when you need security, nothing but a covered mag pouch will do. These are the best covered mag pouches that I have used.
The admin/magazine retention pouch works well. It is definitely an improvement over a dump pouch in terms of how it keeps the magazine ready to be used again but it does feel slower than a dump pouch. This may not be an issue since a reload with retention is typically only done when you have time. I think the pouch might benefit from a little bit of bellowing at the bottom to allow just a bit more space so the mages aren’t pushed up by the tightness of the pouch.
I have found that this rig works perfectly with the way I use my gear. My primary way of carrying magazines is my belt. The belt is a comfortable place to carry a small load of magazines and it is a very fast place to reload from. My emergency reloads come from my belt. Admin loads and top offs (“tactical” reloads) come from the chest rig. This basically means that I reload my rifle from my belt and reload my belt from my chest rig (see my post on magazine management). It is nice to have a chest rig that offers the security I want since I don’t necessarily need extreme speed from it but that is efficient enough to emergency reload from if I need to.
The AK Minuteman MKII is a bomb proof chest rig that is dripping with unique features and unique functionality. It is comfortable, low profile, and well suited to any shooter but especially for the armed citizen. It works perfectly for me and the way I use my gear. I think it will probably work for you, too.
The Minuteman MKII is available for the AK-47, AK-74, and AR-15 on the UW Gear website. You will also want to check out the UW Gear Facebook page and their forum where you can interact directly with John and Diz and read more about the philosophy behind their products.
Disclosure: One of the two chest rigs shown was given to me free of charge for review. The other was purchased by me.