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The Lightfighter Rig: Explained

Updated: 4 days ago

I recommend reading this article (or at least this “Intent” section) before purchasing a Lightfighter Rig, to be sure that it is a good fit for your job at hand.


INTENT OF THE LFR

So let’s start with the use case of the Lightfighter Rig: fast and light dismounted (AKA on-foot) patrolling or backcountry trekking, lasting one to three days. It’s hard to wear a LFR while sitting in a vehicle, just like with a rucksack. It’s also hard to cram much mission specific gear into a LFR besides a regular infantry combat load. There’s not really room for large bulky items such as special-purpose tools, communication devices, or heavy weapons/ordinance. For carrying such supplementary items, I would recommend a short backpack, worn as high on the back as possible. It plays well with slick soft and hard armor carriers, but it doesn’t play well with chest rigs, battle belts, or assault vests. The LFR is a standalone load-bearing solution, meant to replace these things rather than supplement them.

What the Lightfighter Rig DOES do well is carry your 2nd and 3rd line fighting load: your ammo, your IFAK, your radio, your NODs, your sleep gear, your food, and your water. Furthermore, it does this in as light and maneuverable a way as possible. My entire rig, fully loaded with all my stuff, weighs just over 30lbs. It’s so light and maneuverable, in fact, that it is no longer necessary to drop any 3rd line gear before going into combat. The classic light infantry doctrine is to ditch your ruck (and its contents) during a fight. But the Lightfighter Rig aims to be lightweight and well-integrated to the point where ditching all your 3rd line gear is no longer necessary.

The way it accomplishes this lies in two parts: the first is the integrated lumbar pack, or buttpack. There are plenty of buttpacks and belts on the market. But almost none of them are integrated with each other. A buttpack attached to a belt with MOLLE/ALICE, when loaded with gear, will flop all over the place while its user moves. Try it and you’ll see what I mean. Integrating a wide, tall padded belt into the buttpack puts enough tension on the buttpack to prevent this flopping. And now that it’s secure, we can make it much bigger and stuff much more gear in it than if it were detachable, and it still won’t flop around. Eliminating all the webbing and hardware needed for MOLLE attachment also saves a lot more weight than you’d expect.

The second way the Lightfighter Rig makes itself so lightweight and well-integrated is through the six-point suspension harness. This is actually an old idea: look at the US M1910 and M1928 webbing systems of the world wars and you’ll see a set of six-point suspenders. The idea is to combine the strap styles of a suspender and a backpack for maximum stability and a comfortable ride, even with the rig heavily loaded. You can transfer weight between your shoulders and your hips however you want, much like a good hiking backpack. Tighten the belt and loosen the shoulder straps, and the weight will ride more on your hips. Loosen/unbuckle the belt and tighten the shoulder straps, and the weight will ride more on your shoulders. I like to shift the weight around throughout a long hike in order to give my different joints a rest.

The Lightfighter Rig is not for everyone or for every situation. But it occupies a niche that I found to be very underserved by the existing gear market. And within that niche, it shines.

WHAT GOES IN THE LFR?

PREFACE 1: What you put in/on your LFR is somewhat up to personal preference. However, the rig was designed around what I need and use in the field, and it will probably work best if you keep that in mind.

PREFACE 2: The LFR is part of a system. When used with the other parts of that system, it will work well. When used with things very different from that system, it may not fit your needs as well. What I'm getting at here is that this compact, lightweight rig is designed to accommodate lightweight, compact gear. A 20 degree down quilt will fit, but a full USGI modular sleep system (MSS) will NOT. A baggie of clif bars and a small container of peanut butter will fit, but three MREs will NOT. The only way to make a kit this compact and light work is to be conscious of weight and bulk, and trim "excess fat" from your gear wherever you can.

BUTTPACK: This contains the following:

-20 degree synthetic quilt: this quilt was custom sewn by myself and is made with climashield apex synthetic insulation inside a multicam nylon shell fabric. However, I recommend you buy a down quilt instead, 10deg or 20deg. It is lighter & more compact. The performance of down degrades when wet but hey, synthetic does too. Why a quilt and not a sleeping bag? Short answer is that quilts offer the same warmth as a sleeping bag in a smaller package. Long answer is to go read arguments of quilt vs sleeping bag in ultralight camping forums. To get a nice synthetic quilt I recommend purchasing from Enlightened Equipment or Hammock Gear. Lastly, the quilt is carried in a watertight drybag, because the buttpack is water resistant, not waterproof. I use a Sea to Summit (STS) Ultra-Sil 13L drybag

-Helikon Swagman Roll: this is a great item. It is in multicam, and is filled with a thinner climashield apex than my quilt, but still offers about +15 degrees of warmth, and is much smaller and lighter than the lame polyester batting in a USGI woobie. It features a zipper to zip it up into a sleeping bag shape. This works as a standalone sleeping bag in the summer, or can be combined with the quilt to sleep in the winter (I've used my setup down to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, any lower and you would want a 10 degree or 0 degree quilt). Finally, the swagman features a head hole with hood, and a buckle to fasten it around yourself. This is very important because this is also your overcoat. Wear it when sitting in a static position, or around camp on a cold morning. This way you don't need to carry a separate coat and blanket. I recommend the Helikon Swagman Roll, or the Hill People Gear Mountain Serape. This also goes in a STS Ultra-Sil 8L drybag

-2x Sleep Pads: Secured to the bottom of the buttpack using the provided straps are two sleep pads. For those who may not know, the primary reason to use a sleep pad is NOT as a cushion, though it does that too. The primary reason is to insulate you from the ground to help keep you warm. This is critical in cold weather, and in such temperatures, your sleep pad is as essential as your quilt/sleeping bag. My first pad is a Thermarest Z-Lite, in coyote brown color. It has an R-Value of 2.2 (R-Value indicates how much insulation it will provide). This pad is 20” wide, which (by design) is the exact width of the buttpack and canteen pockets when fully loaded. I recommend getting a sleep pad no wider than 20” if you can help it. A foam sleep pad will never be punctured and deflate like an inflatable pad, and it can be deployed or packed up in seconds without having to inflate it. In summer weathers, the Z-lite pad alone suffices to keep me warm. My second sleep pad is a Thermarest NeoAir. This is a thick inflatable pad that has no foam inside, so it rolls up very small. I keep it in a self-made multicam stuff sack. During cold weather, I lay the inflatable pad on top of the foam pad, sleeping on both to benefit from both their R-Values combined. Now, there’s a bunch of different models of sleep pad under the NeoAir line. I currently have a NeoAir XLite Max SV, and it works good, its R-Value is 3.2 (used in conjunction with the Z-Lite: 5.4 total). However, I recently got my hands on a NeoAir XTherm. This pad has an insane R-Value of 6.9 (used in conjunction with the Z-Lite: 9.1 total), while not being any bulkier than the rest. As of writing this I haven’t gotten a chance to try it, but I think this is probably one of the best inflatable pads you could get for cold weather. EDIT (03.28.2022): it totally is the best pad. It rules. It is fragile and expensive, so keep that in mind, but it is the ONLY way I know of to carry a winter sleep pad in this small/light of a package.

-Poncho: a Helikon "US style" poncho in Multicam. Much smaller and lighter than a regular or even a lightweight model USGI poncho because it's made with more modern materials. The Rocky Mountains are my AO, and it doesn't rain a ton, so a poncho covers the rare instances when it rains. It can also be draped over you while sleeping, rolled into a "ranger taco," or attached to a tree with the micro accessory cord I know you all are carrying. This item is kept rolled up and tucked under the buttpack flap, so it can be grabbed without taking the rig off. I recommend the ones from Helikon, though I think US Cav sells a good one too.

-NODs: my buttpack also contains a PVS-14 night vision monocular, a counterweight pouch, spare batteries, and a Triple Aught Design grid fleece skull cap, wrapped up inside of a Crye Nightcap. The Nightcap is an excellent item in its niche. It is not as comfortable as a helmet, but it is far lighter and smaller. A helmet, even a bump helmet, is an extremely bulky item to carry on a long dismounted patrol. The Nightcap can do it's job 75% as well for only 10% of the weight and bulk. Sometime before sundown, I stop ajd deploy my NODs. At dawn they get put away again. All of this is stored inside, you guessed it, a STS Ultra-Sil drybag.

2x 32oz Gatorade Bottles: what holds 1qt water, and is cheaper and lighter than a USGI canteen? Gatorade Bottles. This is another idea derived from the Ultralight community. You just take some 32oz Gatorade bottles, sand them, and paint them camouflage colors. They're strong enough to last months if not years, and each one saves a couple ounces compared to a USGI canteen. If you absolutely refuse to use Gatorade bottles, I would recommend at least using 1qt Nalgene Oasis canteens, as they allow you to monitor how much water you have. Duct taped or rubber banded to the side of each water bottle is a ziplock dime baggy containing 12 aquatabs. This will allow you to refill your canteens at any dirty water source. 12x2 tabs = 6 gallons, more than enough to last a patrol. Why not carry more water? Because water is insanely heavy, and most places in the world have some sort of water source. If there is no water to be found, you're not going to be able to operate there for very long no matter how much water you bring. So carry 2qts, and refill them every chance you get. You can read my deep dive about water in this separate blog post here.

-Rifle cleaning kit: to perform basic gun maintenance when in the field. USGI kit, augmented with a bore snake and a ruptured case remover, stored inside a Magpul DAKA pouch. It is not quick access and not intended to be. If you're worried about clearing a jam quick, tape a cleaning rod to your rifle.

BELT, DOMINANT HAND SIDE:

Tactical Tailor double mag pouch: This is up front, as close as possible to where the front suspender strap meets the belt. They call it a double mag pouch but it can fit three 30rd mags comfortably, even if they're pmags. Carrying one of these pouches on each side of the belt lets you carry 4 or 6 30rd mags. That's as many as I'd like to carry in most cases, but YMMV.

USGI IFAK pouch: mine is actually homemade, but is basically a copy of the USGI IFAK pouch. Holds a homemade version of the Blue Force Gear IFAK insert which takes up less space than a USGI IFAK insert. This leaves some spare room in the pouch to stuff random shit, in my case a few chemlights and a half dozen packets of pedialyte powder to put in your canteens. On the outside of the pouch is attached an ITW Grimlok, to which I clip a pair of Outdoor Research Mutant Mitts during cold weather.


BELT, NON-DOMINANT HAND SIDE:

Radio Pouch: I use a custom made radio pouch that only takes up one column of PALS/MOLLE. I may start selling them in the future, but use whatever works. The pouch contains a radio with a stubby antenna, 2x LARGE spare batteries, and a longer whip antenna. The radio is connected to an H250 "dogbone" handset taped to my suspender on my non-dominant shoulder. I use a stubby antenna because I only need to communicate short distances to my squadmates, and transmitting further than necessary is bad COMSEC. I may experiment with a suspender mounted antenna in the future.

Sustainment Pouch: this is either a USGI 200rd SAW pouch or another USGI IFAK pouch depending on how much MOLLE space you have. It contains a baggy filled with a half dozen clif bars or other protein bar (I recommend just picking whatever you can stomach that has the highest calorie/weight ratio) and a small Chinese plastic jar filled with peanut butter. This tiny jar contains the caloric equivalent to a couple entire MREs. I dip my clif bars in it. It's great. "But what about nutrition?" This has calories, fat, and protein. Everything else like vitamins doesn't matter within the short 2-3 day timespan of a patrol. "But what about morale?" Throw a piece of candy in there too then, I don't know what else to tell you. (If you want to hear more about food on patrol, check out my blog post on it) The pouch also contains a STS TPU waterproof notepad case. Within this are 2x spare pairs of socks, a tiny container of gold bond powder, a tiny roll of toilet paper, a pill bottle containing your pill kit, a glasses cleaning cloth, and a titanium spoon with a P38 can opener tied on (just in case you come across extra food). The socks I use are thin nylon socks, DeFeet Aerators. They dry extremely fast. Stuff them down your pants with the ends sticking out of your pants and folded under your belt, and they'll be dry in a couple hours. Great item.

Tactical Tailor Double Mag Pouch: same as the other side.

OTHER / MISC:

-whistle attached to non-dominant suspender strap using shock cord

-1" luminescent square and subdued nametape attached to Velcro panel on buttpack flap

-thin nylon gloves and fleece watch cap stored in cargo pocket

-spandex gaiter around neck

-Manker E03H ultralight AA headlamp with red filter around neck (so you never misplace it or have to dig for it)

-Hill People Gear Kitbag: this is the "chest pack" you've probably seen in photos. Fantastic item, and completely compatible with the LFR. What I put in it deserves its own writeup, but suffice to say that it holds all my admin gear, my landnav gear, binos, and some survival essentials for quick access.


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