AIrsoft | High Speed vs Low Drag
Some of you may recognise my alternate title from popular games such as Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. This article discusses the relative pros and cons of the types of load out you see on the field and how they can impact on in game performance.
What I will not be addressing is what I would term the efficiency of a load out e.g. magazine pouch placement, holster placement etc. as while there are some basic conventions, it’s really a whole other articles worth of writing. For clarity, when I use the word load out, I am referring to the load bearing equipment (henceforth LBE) that a player may utilise, this equipment may be more simply referred to as a ‘rig’.
A little about myself, I’ve been playing since 2005 originally modelling my load out on the British Army ‘CEFO’ (combat equipment, fighting order’) Soldier 95 PLCE webbing system, then moving onto the All Arms Assault Vest and eventually onto a Warrior TMV MOLLE ‘waistcoat’ as my primary piece of LBE. I tend to structure my kit in a manner that allows me to spend extended amounts of time on the field without the need to go back to regen/spawn, the carpark or harbour area (depending on the scale of event) for resupply, as such, my regular skirmishing gear comes to something in the region of 32lbs and I will expand on this later.
So, the phrase ‘Low Drag, High Speed’, essentially this phrase takes a little inspiration from the world of aerodynamics. The more streamlined an object is (low drag), the easily it moves through air (high speed). Therefore, the less your gear sticks out from your body, the smaller a target you present, the closer you can press into cover, the less weight you are carrying and you are generally less encumbered allowing greater mobility e.g. speed.
There is constant debate in real military circles around the requirement of protection vs. mobility and for anyone in the UK you can look back at the development of the Osprey plate carrier system as an example of an armour system becoming more streamlined. On the other hand, looking at the Americans, their Army infantry wear bulky plate carriers complete with deltoid, neck and groin protection, whereas their elite units such as the SEALs utilise much lower profile plate carriers in direct action assaults.
What I will call a ‘parallel’ strand of logic exists in airsoft, typically the bulkier your load out becomes the more equipment (mags, water, pyro, comms, food, bivvi kit etc) you can carry at the cost of reducing your mobility. This means both speed and your ability to surmount obstacles such as climbing through windows or crawling through mouse holes, not to mention the impact on stamina and endurance before considering environmental factors such as hot and cold weather.
A key factor in deciding how ‘heavy’ a load out you require depends entirely on what sort of airsoft you play.
If you tend to play re-enactment or milsim type games where there is a heavy emphasis on accuracy in the equipment and being as close to reality as possible (so no access to vehicles, you need to carry what you need to be comfortable) then your load out is going to be inherently bulky. If on the other hand your preferred flavour of airsoft is more ‘round by round’ with an opportunity to reload between bursts of activity then you can carry as little as you need without too much concern for more long term concerns such as in field reloading and eating to name a few things.
To use some ‘real world’ terminology, gear is broken down into 3 tiers and I’ve included a simplified explanation of each:
1st line: The gear upon which you can carry the minimum you would need to play. This typically constitutes a belt rig. Belt rigs can be as simply as a few ammo and utility pouches with a supplementary holster. This kind of set up is great for mobility and ease of access if you keep your gaming essentials to your left and right, ‘sustenance’ (be that spare ammo, food, water) can be carried in utility pouches but you will have some difficulty accessing these on the fly.
2nd line: This will constitute your main LBE and in some instances all the items you would carry on ‘first line’ equipment can be carried in a larger rig. This is one of the reasons assault vests, plate carriers and chest rigs can be popular choices and sometimes the logical go to point for someone looking to get started. The downside to these ‘all encompassing’ pieces of gear is that you can end up carrying items you don’t need, which increases the weight you’re having to move around and as such you start to suffer from reduced mobility. There is also the heat retention factor which can be avoided with some forethought in your selection of LBE, but generally anything that is a full on plate carrier such as the Warrior RICAS will be warmer to run around in than the DCS from the same brand.
3rd line: You will not typically need a ‘third line’ in airsoft, but for the sake of thoroughness this is all the equipment you would need to ‘live’ in the field. As such, this can be anything from a 35L patrol sack to a 120+L Bergen. Not something you would typically carry around at your typical open day.
Going back to my earlier point of the type of airsoft you play affecting your load out, I play mostly open days with a few milsims dotted here and there throughout the year as such I tend to optimise my rig such that only have to change the uniform I wear under it for the game rather than spend ages rethreading MOLLE pouches. Most of the time I play in a rifleman type role and carry the following:
- Primary weapon magazines x 5 (+1 in PW)
- Secondary weapon magazines x 3 (+1 in SW)
- Primary weapon M4 mag shaped speedloader
- Secondary weapon pistol mag shaped speedloader
- Hydration bladder 3L
- Blank Firing Grenades x 2
- Smoke grenades x 2
- Spare ammo/food (depends on event)
- Dump pouch
Now, you could take away the radio, the secondary weapon, even the smokes and BFGs and that would leave me with 6 mags and a speedloader to refill them….I could just shove all that in my pockets and clank around but a belt kit would be a more practical approach.
Another advantage of belt kits compared to other rigs is that the load is distributed around the hips and your hands naturally hand just past this, this means that anything you store on a belt is in a naturally easy reach compared to the potentially awkward reaches you could make when using a rig with the pouches mounted mid chest.
As mentioned earlier, my kit comes to 32lbs, 20lbs if you take away my M4 and USP a substantial amount of weight in most current gear is made up in the 1000D Cordura material it is made from. Some forward thinking companies such as First Spear have started to release LBE made from lighter materials and have rethought the way in which pouches are attached to further reduce the ‘drag’ LBE puts on military personnel in the real world.
Why I play a game with 32lbs of equipment when I could do so just as easily with half the weight comes down to preference. It doesn’t necessarily make me any more effective than the guy next to me with a hire gun with a bottle of BBs rattling in a cargo pocket when you break the game down to the basic premise of chucking little plastic spheres at one another, but it doesn’t make me any less effective either as I can still run 300m to regen and back to the main fighting in 3 minutes in 28 degree heat and not fall over – but that’s a whole other topic on general physical fitness and airsoft.
Generally, once you’ve worked out what you need to carry to play and determined whether you want a low weight/low mobility impinging belt rig or if you want to carry a bit more ‘stuff’ or are going for a particular look, you then need to set the rig up to carry all your equipment assuming the pouches are not fixed.
The only guiding principle I can offer in an area that is ultimately up to the individuals preferences is to avoid necessary bulk, stack no more than 2 mags in thickness out from the platform you’re mounting the pouch to.
I used to run three double ammo pouches and thought to free up some space I would go to a twin triple ammo pouch. This put my mags a significant enough distance off of my body that I was actually finding it hard to press my left side against walls, it’s only half an inch of difference but it’s enough to put your shoulder out of cover and a hit is a hit. Needless to say I reverted to double ammo pouches within a few games.
In conclusion, you should always be looking to Review, Rationalise and Reduce what you need to carry in game. Sometimes it will be inevitable that you will be ‘High Drag, Low Speed’ and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re finding that by the end of the day your back is beginning to ache, or every time you hit the deck you feel like you’re lying on top of a barrel or maybe you simply can’t go through a door without turning sideways due to your gear, then you need to look at not only how much you are carrying but where and how you are carrying it.
I hope you this overview provided some food for thought, in future I may do a more in depth appraisal on the types of rig/loadout touched on in this article.