There have been posts on many internet forums and blogs debating the benefits and drawbacks of the old school Chinese web gear, such as the Type 81 Chest rig. Some months back there was a post here on AP titled “ARM THY NEIGHBOR: THE TYPE 81 CHEST RIG” discussing reasons why one should keep a few of them around. Reading the article got me to thinking about the Type 56 SKS chest rig I wore in the woods hunting as a kid- it was perfect for carrying shotgun shells, a couple of packs of nabs, a can of Vienna sausages, and a candy bar, with room left over, plus to a preteen me, it was just plain cool.
As I read more about the Type 81, I thought maybe it was what I was looking for- I have been trying to find a decent, affordable chest rig to carry AK magazines that would work well here in our woods. I like the USGI Fighting Load Carriers for an AR, but I haven’t found any AK mag pouches that work with them in a way that I like, so why not try the Type 81. Folks seem to generally point out the strengths of the Type 81 as being simple to use, inexpensive ( around $15-$25 on amazon or ebay, depending on whether you buy repro or original surplus) durable, and easy to modify. There are much nicer setups out there, but they come with a bigger price tag, which can be an impediment at times. The main criticisms that I have seen of the chicom rigs are 1) The tie strap that secures it around your back isn’t that great, 2) The wooden toggles that secure the mag flaps are slow to use, and 3) The shoulder straps are narrow, and can become uncomfortable after a while. None of these are deal breakers if you need a chest rig, but why not improve on them?
When I was at NC Scout’s Scout Course in December, there was at least one guy running a chicom chest rig, and I liked what he had done with it- he had added a set of US LC-1 style H straps to it, and had added a buckle in the back. This got me to thinking about trying it myself (I have no issues with admitting that I will copy a good idea in a heartbeat) so I ordered a couple of chest rigs, picked up a couple of sets of LC-1 straps (around $12-$15 dollars on ebay for the Rothco version) and got to work. One I did all of the sewing by hand, for the other I pressed my wife’s sewing machine into service. My technical writing skills leave a lot to be desired, but the following is how I changed the chest rig to make it better suited to my tastes.
First, I cut the shoulder straps off of the chest rig approximately 14” up from the mag pouches on the front. You might want to leave them longer or shorter, depending on how tall you are- I’m 5’8” so I didn’t need much. I also removed the front lower straps from the LC-1 harness below the padded shoulder straps. I then ran the chest rig straps through the metal adjusters on the LC-1 shoulder straps. The webbing is a tight fit for the metal adjusters, so you may have to put some effort into this. A note on the Chinese straps- these are cotton webbing, so they will fray, and need to be secured somehow. One rig I put super glue on the end of all of the straps, the other I folded the ends over and sewed them down with the sewing machine. Both ways worked fine, and you could also just tape the ends over. Whatever you do, do this AFTER lacing them through the metal adjusters, as they may not fit through the adjusters after this step.

Next, I remove the 4 remaining snap hooks off of the LC-1 harness, they are not needed here. Since I didn’t want to cut the harness, I took a pair of pliers and simply bent the snaps apart, and removed them. After doing this, I folded over the back of the lower rear straps on the LC-1 harness so that the 1” Chinese webbing that was cut off of the shoulder straps would be a snug fit in the loop that is formed. I then sewed this loop down. It looks similar to this, with the webbing fed through it:

Next, cut the tie strap that goes around the back off approximately 1 ½” from the sides of the chest rig. Fold it over and put a drop of glue or a stitch to keep it folded over. Now take the webbing you cut from the shoulder straps and sew it to the sides of the chest rig, making sure to sew it to the stumps of the strap you cut off, and to the chest rig itself. It should look something like this:

Now we add some 1” fastex buckles to the back strap that has been formed by the 1” webbing we have just sewn on. The 1” buckles will be tight, but they will work. Some of you probably have an abundance of buckles around already, but if not, you can order buckles and adjusters on ebay, amazon, etc, or most likely get them for pocket change at your local surplus store (my local surplus store has a huge bin of them for 25 cents each) Slide the straps through the loops on the lower LC-1 straps before attaching your buckles. Mine looks something like this when put together:

At this point, you should have a much more comfortable set of straps on your Type 81 chest rig, at a total cost of no more than $25-$40 for the setup. I took some camo Gorilla Tape and taped down all of the straps on mine once they were adjusted to my satisfaction, so they wouldn’t flop around and get caught on things. I also removed all of the extra metal hardware, like the old adjusters for the Type 81 shoulder straps, so it won’t rattle around. I may work on swapping out the wooden toggles for fastex buckles later as well, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. You can also remove the two small grenade pockets on the side and sew on some MOLLE webbing to attach modern pouches, if you are so inclined. I also gave one of mine the Krylon treatment, and will do the same to the other, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I saw some nicer chest rigs, such as the ones made by UW gear in the scout class, that I would much rather have, and I’m sure they’re more comfortable. At the same time, this is a simple way to improve an inexpensive piece of gear if you’re on a budget. You can easily complete this job while watching a movie on a rainy evening. Hopefully this will help someone out!