Some gear makers are content to make a piece of gear the same way as everyone else. Some makers innovate small changes that tweak the functionality of a piece of gear. The best gear makers seem to be able to completely re-imagine a piece of gear from the ground up and create something that is extremely functional, very unique, and demonstrably better than anything else on the market. Blue Force Gear (BFG) is cementing themselves as one of those rare gear manufacturers that fits the last, best category.
You can look at the BFG Ten-Speed line to see a great example of the kind of innovation that I am talking about. When everyone else was making nylon box shaped magazine pouches, Blue Force Gear made theirs from heavy duty elastic. The result is a pouch that is extremely functional and completely different than anything else – not different for the sake of being different, but different with a purpose.
Now it seems that BFG might be set to turn the tactical gear market on its ear again with Project Helium Whisper. Helium Whisper is an effort to make the lightest possible load carrying gear without sacrificing durability through the use of modern technology, design, and materials. The project is getting a ton of attention (for good reason) and I am happy to have gotten my hands on a few examples from the new line to review.
Helium Whisper Overview
Project Helium Whisper represents the convergence of several factors like new light weight materials and innovative design, but the key is the entirely new way of manufacturing a MOLLE pouch’s backing. Most MOLLE pouch backings consists of several pieces of webbing, snaps, and stiffeners. The backing for the Helium Whisper line is made from a single piece of CNC laser cut laminate. This laminate is very light weight and very durable. By cutting the backing from a single piece, BFG also cuts out several manufacturing steps and eases the challenges around aligning and sewing the webbing.
There are other benefits to this new thin, flexible laminate backing. The MOLLE tabs are flexible enough to be able to fold onto itself and they are cut to be narrower where they pass through the MOLLE webbing that it is being threaded to. This allows the pouch to be attached to webbing with out-of-spec spacing like in cases where a row is cut short because of a zipper. Pouches with stiff MOLLE tabs could never be mounted in these narrow columns, but this becomes usable space with the Helium Whisper line.
An additional benefit is that the laminate material can be laser etched. This means that the additional weight and manufacturing complexity of a label is unnecessary. The manufacturer name, pouch name, NSN, etc. can all be etched directly onto the pouch. So, if you think about it, instead of adding weight with a tag, they are actually reducing the weight of the pouch when they laser etch it.
All of the above means that BFG has created a durable and versatile line of pouches, some of which weigh as little as half of what their similar current issue MOLLE pouches weigh, and they hope to be able to deliver them at around the same price or perhaps less. Amazing.
Ten-Speed Single M4 Magazine Pouch
The regular, non-Helium Whisper, Ten-Speed Single M4 Magazine Pouch is already a lightweight at around 40 grams. The Helium Whisper version of the Ten-Speed Single M4 Magazine Pouch weighs an astonishingly light 30 grams! To put that in perspective, I weighed several other manufacturers single M4 magazine pouches that I had access to and they weighed anywhere from 59 grams to 77 grams. The lightest single magazine pouch that I own weighs 1 gram short of double what the Helium Whisper pouches weighs. Two large MALICE clips weigh 28 grams. The Helium Whisper Ten-Speed Single M4 Magazine Pouch which includes MOLLE straps weighs only 2 grams more than just the mounting system of other pouches. The numbers tell the story.
I own other Ten-Speed pouches so I knew what to expect. These pouches are far different than anything else on the market. They are soft like nylon but function much like an open top kydex magazine pouch in terms of ease of access. The elastic is very heavy duty and has proven to be extremely durable. It almost has a slightly toothy texture that seems to help it grip whatever you can fit in the pouch. I have used the Ten-Speed Single M4 Magazine Pouch to carry everything from a Motorola radio, to a GPS, to a tourniquet. The unique properties of the elastic allow it to fit and retain a wide variety of items and yet still lay completely flat when not in use.
This magazine pouch has so many applications thanks to its extremely low profile and feather weight. The most obvious is to build an entire load carrying system using these pouches, but there are tons of other possibilities for those who just need to update or expand the capabilities of their current gear. Let’s say you have a 3 magazine shingle on the front of your plate carrier and want the ability to occasionally carry more than 3 magazines. Add a few of the Ten-Speed M4 Magazine Pouches and now you have the ability to carry additional mags with negligible additional weight and almost no bulk. If you aren’t using the pouch(es), you will not even notice that they are there.
If you like open top magazine pouches, you will like the Ten-Speed Single M4 Magazine Pouch. The elastic retains the magazines aggressively, almost like kydex. The pouch presents about 3″ of a 30 round PMAG above the top of the pouch so retrieving it is fast and easy. The pouch would basically swallow a 20 round magazine, but the hold is so aggressive that you can just insert the magazine part way and it works. I spent part of the testing time with this pouch on a plate carrier and part of the time with it on a MOLLE belt. It worked great in both locations, but it really shined on the belt. There might not be a faster way to reload than from the belt with a well designed open top pouch like the Ten-Speed Single M4 Magazine Pouch.
The biggest (and really only, in my experience) potential downside to the Ten-Speed line for some users is that it can be difficult to insert a magazine into the pouch with one hand. It can be done, and I do it all the time, but it does take some practice. However, I do not train to put empty or partially loaded magazines back into pouches, so it is not something that I need to do in a hurry. Insert magazines into pouches are almost entirely an administrative action. So, for me, this is a complete non-issue.
There is no lighter, lower profile, or more versatile magazine pouch on the market than this.
Ten-Speed SSE Pouch
The Ten-Speed SSE Pouch weighs in at just over 65 grams which means it is the lightest stand alone dump pouch on the market… or, at least it used to be the lightest. The Helium Whisper version of the same pouch weighs only 53 grams!
This pouch is just too cool. In its compacted state it packs into a 3×4″ package. The thin ripstop nylon bag packs into a small elastic faced pouch with only a rip tab protruding. When you need to use the dump pouch, you simply rip down on the tab to release the bag. It takes up almost no space on a belt, chest rig, or plate carrier but provides a very usable dump pouch.
I’ll take a second to say a few words about dump pouches. Many dump pouches on the market simply stink. You either have to cinch them so tight that you can’t easily drop anything into them or it looks like you are leaving a yard sale in your wake as soon as you start move. If a dump pouch is mounted to rigidly to your body, it will move with your body while the contents of the dump pouch knock around freely until they happen to find the opening and fly out. The best dump pouches, like the Helium Whisper Ten-Speed SSE Pouch are mounted only at the top of the pouch. This allows them to swing freely and move with the items that they contain. I dare you to try to get something to pop out the top of this dump pouch by jumping around or running. It just isn’t going to happen and that is a very, very good thing.
Utility Pouch, Zippered, Small
At first, I didn’t think that I would have much to write about when it comes to a simple utility pouch, but I was wrong. This pouch is actually packed with features.
The laminate material that is used for the backing is extended down to make the bottom of the pouch. The bottom of a utility pouch is going to take the brunt of the wear from shifting objects inside so having a bottom made from this durable material is a real plus. It also eliminates an entire seam which saves weight.
The Helium Whisper Utility Pouch, Zippered, Small weighs only 82 grams. A pouch with the same linear dimensions that I own from a different manufacturer weighs 101 grams. 20 grams here and 20 grams there can really add up when you have to carry several different types of pouches.
This pouch also has two interior loops made from gutted para-cord. These can be used as lash points for important items that you might store in the pouch like a compass or flashlight. The ability to dummy cord items to the pouch can be especially useful in the dark or over water to prevent loss.
The Utility Pouch, Zippered, Small also features a Multicam printed zipper. This is the first zipper with camo printing that I have seen in person and it is a really nice touch.
So, while the Utility Pouch, Zippered, Small is the most traditional of all the pouches that I received for review in terms of shape, it also one of the most feature rich. The way that the backing is extended into the bottom of the pouch makes it the perfect showcase for the weight savings and durability of this new laminate backing. BFG says that in the future, they may be able to print camo patterns onto the laminate backing which would allow them to extend it on the front of the pouch, saving even more weight.
If you can’t tell by now, I think these pouches are amazing and maybe even revolutionary. This blog has afforded me the privilege of being able to check out some really innovative gear and I am not sure that I have ever handled anything more innovative than these BFG Helium Whisper pouches. On one hand, they are just simple load carrying devices, but on the other, their combination of design, technology, and materials seem like the future of nylon gear.
I’ll leave you with this… Blue Force Gear has shown that the average soldier’s load carrying gear can be reduced in weight by 1-3 pounds by replacing the current issue pouches with Helium Whisper pouches. That means that an additional 1-3 30 round M4 magazines or an additional 32 ounce container of water could be carried with no weight penalty versus what is currently issued right now. Wow.
You can read more about the Helium Whisper line on the Blue Force Gear website.
Disclosure: These pouches were provided to me by Blue Force Gear, free of charge, for review.