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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review: Original SOE Micro 12g Rig Part 1 of 2

OSOE 12g Micro Rig
Tonight we'll be kicking off another review series. This time sponsored by John Willis, owner of OSOE Tactical.

John was kind enough to supply us with a fresh-from-the-line Micro 12g Rig. For those of you unfamiliar with OSOE and it's offerings to the tactical market, John was kind enough to respond to a few questions I had to shed a little light on the topics. A full copy of that interview can be found below our initial review.

Part one will focus on our impression of the rig. Text and picture based. Part two will be an after action report from a range day using the rig, a video review and very special announcement.

Massively micro.
I got home after work and found in my mailbox the little slip of paper that we all like to see - there's new toys waiting at the post office. I got in the door, dropped my stuff and headed back out to see what it was, knowing full well it was probably the 12g rig. I had spoken to John on and off since initially emailing him and knew it was on the way.

There it was - the package was from OSOE. I got home and opened it up. New gear smell.

I took the rig out in a few pieces - the chest rig itself and two included straps. Immediately I began fitting it to my chest. Easily done by myself, I had it on in probably two minutes with another being spent fitting it correctly.

I walked around the house a little bit and moved into various positions to see how it would sit on my chest. Much to my surprise, the rig stayed almost completely still throughout. Transitioning from a standing position to kneeling, sitting, prone and back up again did not move the rig at all. Nice and solid. Most likely because the rig is so small, there's nowhere for it to go to and nothing weighing it down into different positions. It stays where it should and doesn't wander - nice.

The straps fit my shoulders easily and comfortably - even after doing some yard work wearing the rig under my rain jacket, I couldn't notice any visible lines on my skin - or any physical disturbances at that. I think it's important that we really function test our gear. If you only put it on to look in the mirror, you'll never know how it really feels. Wear your stuff around, load a little weight in those pouches and move around - how does it feel?

This rig sat high on my chest too - which I liked. It doesn't get in the way when prone or shouldering your shotgun. Everything you need is close and out of the way. I don't see much chance of losing something attached to this rig by swinging your arms, shouldering your weapon or putting it through the expected wear and tear to be had on a rig like this.

Storage space included.

It is what it is.

If there's one thing I admire about this rig it's this - it is what it claims to be. It's a rig, not so much a platform. A lot like OSOE's owner, this product doesn't pull any punches. You'll notice on the OSOE site, the button is labelled 'vests and rigs'. That's exactly what this is - it's a rig.

This has a specific purpose and it does it well. The 12g rig is meant to haul your shot around until you need it. There's additional storage in a number of places, as an added bonus. You've got a panel that backs the entire rig. There's a pocket beside the shell caddies. It seems that our version is updated even from the one listed on OSOE's site. You'll notice the pouch has velcro on the front, where I slapped another shell carrier on - it didn't come with it, I just added it from my existing collection.

The 'storage' pouch also has velcro inside on the back wall - perhaps to add in some kind of interior organizer. A great idea and really sleek. It's there if you need it.

I'm not sure if the backing storage area is big enough to carry some kind of armor. I'm not in a position to say as I have never had the need to carry armor - OSOE makes it clear to us as well that those who do need armor get a priority. Warfighters, armed security and 'professional protectors' are among the groups that 'need' this gear. I'd be more likely to carry the required paperwork to shoot in that back pocket, maybe some ID too. Nothing saying you could slip an oiled rag in a ziploc back there with some elementary cleaning kit. There`s lots the every-man could use that pouch for.

The pouch is secured by velcro and stitched directly onto the rig. The shotshell shingles are attached directly as well. As I said before - this isn't so much a 'system' or a 'platform' as some products are marketed. This serves a specific purpose, but it does it very, very well.

Out of the box - OSOE Micro 12g Rig
I've got a case of shingles...

Easily the most innovative design I've seen in a long time. I don't throw that word around - this is the real deal. Of course, we've yet to put this to a function test on the range, but simply from a design standpoint, this rig has it right.

Let's focus on the shotshell shingles. Each one holds 6 shells with elastic webbing, the same colour as your rig. The elastic is sized well, holding the shells easily in place, even if we shake it. The elastic isn't so tight though - I've found with some shell-sized loops they get so tight you can't get rounds in easily. With SOE's rig they seem to have found the length that sits the shells 'just right'.

Each shingle is held in place by velcro backing. It sits in place very well and doesn't move unless you give it a pull. The bottom of each shingle is attached to the rig with a piece of one inch webbing that can be loosened right off. This serves a few purposes.

When in use, the user will remove shells from the elastic webbing. When all the shells have been removed, the user pulls the tab at the top of the single away from the body, releasing the shell carrier to either fall to the ground if it has been loosened off or otherwise to just hang freely. At this point, the user digs into the pouch behind the initial carrier and removes a secondary carrier via a pull tab also located on top and drops it into place, locking via velcro backing. Six more shells, ready to rock and roll.

Truth be told, I've never seen anything like this. I've looked at shell caddies before, but I hadn't even known that OSOE produced this rig. Not to my surprise, John reflected my surprise in our interview; "We have never spent a single dollar on advertising. We are not the biggest, easiest company to do business with. Guys used to say we were like the A-team... "if you need them and if you can find them you can buy OSOE gear".

The shell carriers work. I ran a few dry runs with snap caps and found that the rig works very well in my hands. I could easily get shells into the loops, remove them and dump the extra carriers into place. What more could you ask for? 

For those that don't want a dedicated rig - OSOE sells the shingles as a stand alone, MOLLE equipped pouch.

 High test nylon.
Even just handling the rig, you can tell that the materials used are quality and trustworthy. Side by side to a 'knockoff' vest, there's no comparison.

The buckles are snappy and thick. I'm not worried about breakage at all here. The nylon is strong and sturdy. All the edges are crisp and clean. Well done, OSOE.
Even as a presentation piece - the rig stands up to the highest expectations.

As you can see, the stitching is far from under-done. Every seam on this item is rock solid. I'm no expert, but John was able to expand a little further on the types of materials used. 
"As with all SOE product they are made from 1000D cordura. SOE has a warrant that you will never use. That's what we tell people about our warranty. If we made gear from 500D we wouldn't be able to keep saying that. It says a lot when SEAL and SF operators order from us individually and pay out of their own pockets. They are suppose to get issued the best and I guess they do for the large quantities that they get but to the individual there is still better stuff and they often choose SOE to purchase the better option. All SO items are made with US made materials. Type 4 webbing, grade A velcro, and 1000D cordura. Everything is double layered and at minimum triple stitched. We torture test our stuff. If you look around the net the term you will see often is  "Bomb Proof". I didn't start that term but it has been used for a decade by our customers."

Overall, our initial contact with this rig has led me to believe it will outperform any other shotgun rig you can suggest to me. Most vests will have pouches adapted to them to carry shells, but this was built for shotgunners. An interesting note - my brother had the opportunity to get his opinion heard on this rig and one of the first things he said was an idea he had for an alternate use for this item. He suggested that this rig is compact enough to be considered for a drop leg unit. Sure, it's out of the box, but it would work. On top of thicker pants, the buckles are in the right place - something to consider. I'm excited to get out to the range and use this as it was meant to be used - shooting. 

Full transcript of the interview between myself and John Willis, owner of SOE Tactical. Unedited, save for one question that was answered through the rest of the questions.

1) What does SOE stand for - both just regarding the letters and further, as an ideal, what do you stand for at SOE?

I started repairing black hawk gear for seal fiends. We started basically duplicating what they were doing but the designs still had issues so we started making our cqb and patrol vests. We were selling more than we could make and local CA gun shows and soldier of fortune shows. Back them any agency doing anti drug stuff could get federal money and military training. A lot of those guys were going through SEAL weapons school and saw those guys wearing my gear. Before we knew it we had cop cars pulling up at my house and knocking on the door looking for the guy that made gear.

a few years later we had a shop near Camp Pendleton and units from all over came out to train and camp Pendleton and would come by the shop. We were written up in every magazine out there and units would cut orders to fly guys out to my old shop to have us design and pattern gear for them.

We have never spent a single dollar on advertising. We are not the biggest easiest company to do business with. Guys use to say we were like the A-team "if you need them and if you can find them you can buy SOE gear" The guys that truly need our gear are able to get it"

We don't even have a published phone number. We don't have a customer service dept. We still do a great job of getting gear out. We turn work down every day to be able to take care of the real warriors. Just Friday we turned Colt firearms down on a deal to make rifle cases for a special project rifle they are making. Rifle cases are just not our thing. We do what we do and do it better than anyone else.

We moved to a small town in Tennessee three years ago and run a smaller shop now but still put out more gear then we ever have. Eagle had offered to buy us and also offered to hire me. I have no interest in that. I still like what I do and have complete control over what we make and when we make it. We use to do millions in sales when we were in San Diego, now we make a bit less but have better control. Even then we were know to make the best gear your could buy. Now it's even better and its still all made 100% in the US by US citizens all in the same location. We cut and make everything in house.

2) What kind of reception have you seen to your 'micro' line? Who was the 'micro 21g rig' built for?

The Micros have been a huge hit. Our big vests are $350.00 plus and the chest rigs started at $200.00. The micros allowed a customer to get a piece of SOE gear for under $100.00 were that was never a possibility before.  They have been such a big hit that we now offer several version, and have a few upgraded options available. Sherman house sat down at lunch with Chris Barrett from Barrett Firearms at lunch and drew out the idea on a napkin at a BBQ restaurant. Sent me a picture over a cell phone and I made it that day. I was flying to TN the next day to look at shops and houses and brought the initial rig out to TN. They ran it in a Tac Response "Fighting Rifle" class the next day. Worked flawlessly. We made the initial rig from parts of other vests but the price point was very high so I sat down and made a few and figured out how to come to market with a rig at a lower price point but still have SOE quality.

The idea for it was for a police officer for active shooter or armed citizen. They already had a pistol and pistol mags on so we kept this simple to support long gun and give you some medical gear. Thus the no pistol mags. We make the pockets lids adjustable so it will fit both M4 and AK mags. The utility pocket is meant for medical gear. The SOE medical insert tray sets perfectly inside the  pouch and still has room for a full size smoke. The loops underneath were added later to carry pocket smokes and many guys keep other stuff in them like tourniquets or wires for the radios. We later added pals to the outside of the mags and the utility pouch so guys could add single pistol mag pouches yes still keep the cost lower.

Later came the pals micro rig to get a rig out that cost even less but still gave them a piece of SOE gear to attach pockets they already have.

Then the 12ga rig. My wife was about to take Tac Responses "Fighting Shotgun" class. I came into the shop on a Saturday and set out to make a rig for 12ga that held enough rounds and was fast. Thorghu out everything we had always down for the past 10 years and came up with what you see today. Pretty much nailed it the 1st try. That's the black wig with pink thread you see in pics on the website. Made 12 of them and put them on students in the class and they worked flawlessly.

The top of the line in the micro rig lineup is the stacked mag micro. The price point is higher at $185.00 but that's because of the labuor involved. We sell a ton of them. They do what they do perfectly and that's carry 4 m4 mags or AK mags and lets you get them as fast as possible. They keep each mag in an individual slot with bungee retention over the top. The mag pouches are also velcro lined so you can use velcro dot retention. There is nothing faster. We also added the compact tear off med pouch. Stuff to put holes in bad guys and stuff to plug holes in good guys. And its the smallest rig we make. It has become very popular with many small military units. You can also fold it in half and it will fit right under the seat in a car or in a center console.

We made all these rigs so the slim padded h-set would clip into them. For guys that spend time in these training and don't always wear them over body armour they love the h-set. It's the same shoulder set we provide with all our rigs that go to the seals. With that shoulder set you can also use out hydration carrier.

3) Can you tell me a little about your 'custom shop' options?

Use to be I did a lot of custom stuff. Now days If we can sell a lot of something we don't do custom work. We are too busy with special ops stuff. They are about the only custom work we do. If we make something for them it will eventually trickle down too normal units and if we already have a pouch or design we are already to sell to them when they get issued the items. Individual guys are too impatient. I use to take an order with every intention of getting it made. I like making new stuff but inevitable I would find some negative post on a forum somewhere talking about my long wait time. Never mind that I didn't have a deposit and never mind the fact that there is a war going on in several places. Now I just say no. That and I have done this so long I know what works and what doesn't. They watch to many movies. When we tell them it won't work they take it as an attack on them. I bill $125 an hour for anything custom. When I set down to sew that what I make. That's the cost I get paid to not do something else I want to do. That's the price I charge to not be with my family in the evening and weekends. Several of the largest gear companies pay me that price to design and pattern for them. I still turn that work down every day and am still back logged over 6 months to do that work.

4) What does the future of OSOE Tactical look like? Grow again. We use to employee 30 sewers. Now we have 12. I just hired 4 more people last week.

Now day I make stuff I want. Stuff I need and close friends want. I have several close friends that come back from deployment and come stay here for a week at a time and we design and prototype new gear. I post the new stuff on facebook. We will do a small run of a dozen or so at first.  If they sell fast we make a dozen more. If they continue to sell fast we make a production run of them. I literally post stuff on facebook and it sells out in minutes. You can see this over and over on my page. If we are making something it's because someone at the very tip of these spear has asked for it. We get hit up all the time by these kids that have started a you tube channel to "TEST" our gear. If we are selling it its already been to Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, or some other shit hole. And usually what they are asking to see has been in use for years and is actually issued to many units.

 5) Can you tell me about some of the materials that make up the 12g Micro Rig?

As with all SOE product they are made from 1000 den cordura.  You will see a lot of companies jumping on the "light weight" band wagon. Fact is we build what small special ops units pay us to make and I don't have a single request or PO for lesser weight gear. The real deal is that material costs less and is much easier on the machines. You don't have to retrain sewers and can use sewers from clothing plants. Sewing heavier material we have to retrain new people and our machines are heavier and wear out and break down much more frequently. SOE has a warrant that you will never use. That's what we tell people about our warranty. If we made gear from 500D we wouldn't be able to keep saying that. It says a lot when SEAL and SF operators order from us individually and pay out of their own pockets. They are suppose to get issued the best and I guess they do for the large quantities that they get but to the individual there is still better stuff and they often choose SOE to purchase the better option. A guy will but something. Then his team mate see it and buy it as well. Then when it comes time for one of the officers to get it he will say "Why am I buying this" and he will get a PO together for it. That's when we end up making them in larger numbers. We are sols source on many items. What that means is when it goes out to bid, no matter what companies bids the lowest to provide it to the military SOE is the only place that make it and in the end SOE still gets the order. That really says something.  When the units put the requests for bid in to their purchase people the part number contain SOE in them. They actually require that it comes from us. That speaks volumes.

All SO items are made with US made materials. Type 4 webbing, grade A velcro, and 1000 den cordura. Everything is double layered and at minimum triple stitched. We torture test our stuff. If you look around the net the term you will see often is  "Bomb Proof". I didn't start that term but it has been used for a decade by our customers.


  1. Great interview, great product. Cant wait to save up for one of these in OD green. Too bad I missed that contest eh?
    Let me know if anyone can hook a brother up with some prices. I can send a cheque (I don't use plastic) right away to the middle man. is it possible? PM me if so.

  2. Where's the link??? I want to know where to go, how much, shipping and all the other.

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