While most paintball players may spend a matter of minutes on field, as a scenario players, we can be on field for several hours at a time. That means not only a need for carrying more paint and air, but other accessories as well. Over the years playing scenario games, I have found myself carrying ever more stuff in my boy-scout-like effort to always be prepared. I have always liked vest as a load-bearing system (this is not my first). Stretching the load of what you’re carrying across your shoulders can certainly help distribute the weight, and this is especially evident if the weight you carry is substantial. A vest can also be more comfortable than something that solely depends on hugging your hips for support.
Blackhawk Industries manufactures a lot of products for real world applications, including several versions of a tactical vest. Most of the Blackhawk vest are not necessarily applicable to paintball play. They come from the factory with various magazine and utility pouches already sewn in place. The problem here is that typical paintball pods are quite a bit bigger than M-16 mags, and thus won’t fit into the pouches. However, Blackhawk does manufacture one vest that is nearly perfect for those of us who want to haul a lot during scenario games.
Overall construction of the Blackhawk modular vest uses a net material. It is available in olive drab or black. The modular vest has no pre-sewn pouches, but instead comes with standard A.L.I.C.E. (All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) gear rigging, allowing the user to easily customize the configuration. Like other Blackhawk vest, it features two zippered pockets inside the front, a large pocket inside the back, a shoulder pad, and convenient belt loops to allow even more flexibility in load carrying. It is adjustable via the stitching on the rear sides, and velcro style adjustments on the shoulder. From first inspection the quality and robustness of the construction is obvious. This thing was made for serious work far beyond what any paintball player is likely to put it through.
The ALICE gear attachments are sewn across both the front and back of the vest.There are 24 loops on the vest to allow the attachments of ALICE clips which in turn allows quick and easy attachment of gear, as long as you have gear that has loops which will accept the ALICE clips. A quick trip to a military surplus store will produce a variety of gear made for these applications, which can also be used for paintball. Personally I have found that M249 SAW ammo pouches will easily hold two 100 round paintball pods, an M-16 mag pouch holds my digital camera, and smaller pouches are perfect for my radio and tools. The vest can carry a water reservoir, which can be a life saver during long haul games in the summer heat. I use a Camelback brand which I already had available, but Blackhawk also sells their own line of water carriers which will attach to the vest. With some creative work, you can us more than military gear. I have several three-pod paintball holders I purchased from COPS 911 which I have rigged to the vest.
As of this writing, I have been using this vest for over a year and really like it. Because of the distribution over a wider area, the load bearing capabilities of a well designed vest are superior to something which simply straps around your hips, or uses suspenders. On occasion I have included a 20 ounce Co2 tank for remote use, and can hardly notice the added weight. From time to time I change the configuration of the gear on the vest, depending on what I might need for a particular game. I like being able arrange the pouches where the ones I need the most will be within easy reach. The design of the vest makes that easy and gives it an advantage over pre-sewn models. I also like being able to easily attach the Camelback (and everything else I am carrying), instead of wearing it on a separate harness. When I do come off the field, I simply unzip the vest and all of my gear comes off with it at once, instead of having to undo several different things.
The Blackhawk Modular Vest is comfortable, durable, and the design offers great flexibility. This is probably not a good tool for everyday rec-ball players who are spending less than a half of an hour on the field. It’s sort of pricey (a little over $100, not including accessories) and excessive when compared to purpose designed paintball haulers. However, for the scenario player who likes to carry a lot of stuff and do it with ease, the vest can be a good long term investment. I like to justify expensive gear by dividing the price by how many times I use it. So far this one’s down to about 5 dollars per game — not bad at all considering how much I like the vest.