The durability of a given piece of equipment is a combination of several factors. Design is the first, critical step. Well executed construction on top of a poorly conceived design still yields sub par kit. The builder either has experience and common sense and knows what he’s doing or he doesn’t. Fabrication and assembly are areas we all know to look at with good reason. Everybody knows how gear falls apart when the sewing lacks quality and attention to detail. Finally, the selection of materials and hardware is very important. Substandard parts lead to rapid wear and deterioration.
Do all this right and still something breaks. That’s what happens when your gear interacts with the real world.
A customer recently requested a replacement ITW Surface Mount Buckle for a Chest Rig/ Armor Interface Kit which shattered when hit with a paintball. Yes, that’s right, a paintball. Doesn’t make for a very good story, but that Down Range Gear would replace the piece was not even a question. What was in question was how to address the underlying problem. That ITW Surface Mount Buckle formed one of two vertical attachment points suspending the chest rig to the plate carrier. The vertical attachment points are critical load bearing parts. They have to work or the Kit will dump your gear. There’s a world of difference between a paintball park CONUS and a combat mission overseas. Regardless, buckle failure is an unacceptable liability.
Why did the buckle fail? Problems with the batch from the factory? Buckle not to specification? Mold formed incorrectly? Extreme environmental/ temperature effects on the plastic? The reasons are highly irrelevant when this happens and you’re outside the wire. All that matters is that the issue gets resolved as quickly as possible so that you can drive on. Sending your gear ‘Stateside for repairs or warranty service is not a viable option. We know because we’ve been there. We’re going to address it because we know it happens.
ITW Nexus is the plastic hardware provider of choice for Down Range Gear in no small part due to the smart designs and the field proven, robust construction. Down Range Gear will continue to use ITW Nexus hardware, including the Surface Mount Buckle for the Chest Rig/ Armor Interface Kit, but with the expectation that if it can happen, it will happen.
That is why effective immediately, all vertical supports on the Chest Rig/ Armor Interface Kit will be reinforced with a velcro wrap and a spare buckle body. The velcro wrap is a less than ideal solution to the real world problem of parts breakage. We can’t speak for the buckle manufacturer, but we also understand that an equipment failure in mid-mission is an unacceptable outcome for customers who depend on our kit. Wrapping the buckle with a loop of velcro is not an elegant solution, but it will increase the margin against a part failure. It will not mitigate it entirely, but it will serve to improve the part in two ways. First, hook and loop actually has some minor cushioning properties. By covering the buckle, the velcro wrap will absorb some of the shock and impact that might otherwise be transmitted directly to the structure of the buckle, splitting or shattering it as in the case of the paint ball. Secondly, if the velcro wrap fails to prevent a catastrophic buckle failure, it will hopefully help keep the assembly together until a replacement part can substitute the damaged piece or some other field expedient workaround can be reached. We cannot anticipate every situation but we do want to provide you with the tools to take care of the problem and drive on with your mission until you can effect repairs on your gear. Again, we realize this is an imperfect solution. It is not intended to be a permanent fix, but might be enough to get you back to base.
The velcro wrap will, by it’s very nature impede quick donning and disconnect of the chest rig and will not be necessary in all, or even most situations. You don’t have to use it, but it’s there if you need to. There are a great many Chest Rig/ Armor Interface Kits in service right now, world wide. ITW Nexus buckle failure is not a common occurrence. The buckles are well designed and robustly constructed. But a statistical improbability doesn’t help in the field when it happens to you.
Down Range Gear would welcome customer input and experience on this matter. If you have a better way to address the issue, we’d be pleased to hear it. Anyone currently running a Chest Rig/ Armor Interface Kit who needs one of these parts should contact Down Range Gear directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The velcro wrap will also be made available to any prospective customers with a need running third party gear for a nominal fee.
There are no absolutes. Down Range Gear will continue to provide the customer with the best designs, construction and materials it is capable of assembling into the product. When these fail, Down Range Gear will step up to resolve issues to the satisfaction of the customer.