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No matter how far you take it, one things for sure… You need to have a phone strapped to your plate carrier, that’s just the way it is.
The US based company Thyrm have been making unique products for quite some time, from their Cellvaults and their Switchback flashlight attachments to more interesting bits like the newly announced Vari-Arc helmet light attachment system (Read The Geardo Crow’s fantastic review here). But up until now I’d not seen a particular product of theirs that would fit a role within my specific needs, that is of course until their Darkvault storage case was announced.
When the Darkvault was announced I wanted to try one out, luckily the guys at Tactical Kit were kind enough to provide one at no cost for the purposes of review. Although at only £65 for the comms version, its a lot cheaper than say a Kagwerks phone mount and something I’d have probably spent my hard earned on anyway.
Unlike a lot of dedicated plate carrier mounting systems for Mobile/Cell phones, the Darkvault is designed as a secure storage box for various electronics and other important items. So you don’t need to worry too much about the fitment of which model phone you have or even if you’re looking to carry a Kestrel or Garmin, you should find that the Darkvault is suitable with it being a “one size fits most” product.
There are two versions available in four colours…
The “Blocking” version which the manufacturer claims will block most cellular and GPS signals, useful in certain situations where you do not want a device being visible to local networks. Ill not bore you with the full breakdown of what it will and will not block but be aware that some frequencies will cut through the case easier than others and your proximity to cell towers or other transmitters/receivers will determine how effective the Darkvault is at preventing those signals getting through. At £99.99 it’s not cheap, but it might offer those fo you in certain job roles the ability to keep your device in a secure state.
In addition to the “blocking” Darkvault, there is a “Comms” non-blocking version which along with being made from a more traditional polymer comes in at a cheaper £64.99 price point.
The actual unit I had for review is the Non-blocking comms Darkvault in Field Dark Earth which is perfect for my needs as I’m not exactly Jason Bourne (Or am I?…).
The other colours are Rescue Orange, Black and Olive Drab which should hopefully fit the majority of users needs.
Made from a textured polymer material that feels like a rugged ABS or Polypropylene, the box itself is designed like a shell, in a bevelled clamshell shape with a gentle taper towards its outer edges.
Both sides of the clamshell have that modern angular design which not only gives it a contemporary look, but helps maximise the internal storage area by eliminating unnecessary curves. All this whilst giving it more rigidity and structural strength, without adding undue weight or bulk. The rear Clamshell is flatter which means less wasted space and means you can put in large, wide devices but the for t having that taper means it doesn’t feel as big as it looks.
The hinge is a tale of two halves… Literally! On the right hand side is a captive bar hinge that threads through the preformed holes on both sides of the case, on the left side is a threaded “tensioning bar” which threads trough a series of disks that when compressed with the cantilever latch helps the user set the tension on the hinge itself.
The tensioning arm is designed to help the user pre-select from either a loose tension (useful if only using the Darkvault as a storage box) to a tighter tension if using the Darkvault as a Nav Board.
The case will naturally stop at just over a 90 degree angle due to the shape of the hinge, you can’t lock it to prevent it opening past 90 degrees but you can adjust the tension to make it rather difficult to open past this point.
So the reason why I’ve held off on this review is twofold, firstly I wanted to ensure that I’d had a chance to try this case in an environment where I could make sure it didn’t get in the way and also that it would do its job properly.
The second reason is that upon receiving my Darkvault I’d managed to break the roll pin on the arm by doing it up too tight. I contacted Thyrm directly and they apologised profusely, it appears that there might have been a small batch of roll pins that were not up to Thyrm’s usual standard but managed to make their way onto retailers shelves.
Now I’m a firm believer in transparency, so I have to tell you that this happened or its not worth me writing a word at all about the case. However, the issue was resolved in a matter of days by Thyrm and a new tensioning arm was dispatched along with a nice patch for my troubles that I’ve added to the wall.
So you might be thinking that if the pin breaks, surely its not worth buying? Well… The replacement pin is showing no signs of weakness that I’d originally seen on the first one whatsoever. In addition to this its important to note that not only was the issue resolved but it didn’t actually stop me from using the case, as the hinge itself along with the way the case is mounted still allowed me to use it without any noticeable issues.
So internal space? Well its bevelled design does take away a little cubic storage but considering that primarily we’ll be using this for phones and other small electronics, depth isn’t too much of a concern.
There’s a lot of phones that can be accommodated within the case, I personally use an iPhone 8 but during the game at the tunnels we had a look at the various phones that would fit and barring all but the biggest and chonkiest, they all did.
On the inside, you have the option of adding loop fields, not just generic loop either but Velcro branded ultra sticky pre-cut loop fields that fit the areas on the inside front and back of the case perfectly.
There is also an additional loop field for the outside front of the case if you should wish to keep some of your patch real estate intact.
If you’ve watched Triple Aught Design’s pre-production review video, it’s important to note that the bar retention system has been removed as it was surplus to most peoples requirements and actually ended up being removed for most people’s internal set up.
Personally I don’t miss this feature, it would have offered no benefit and would have required me to carry a small screwdriver to remove or adjust the bars if I’d used this method of restraint. The case still has the anchor points moulded in so it wouldn’t be impossible to DIY a similar solution or even bolt in a bespoke Kydex mount if you have the technical know how.
Using the case to carry my phone, a notepad and a compass, I’ve found it quite useable whilst walking around… A pleasant change to be able to look at google maps or check the team WhatsApp group without taking both hands off your weapon.
The case itself is opened with a single wide latch on the top of the case with a vastly different design to Peli’s over-centre lock type latch, but I’ve found Thyrm’s design to work incredibly well whilst staying extremely low profile. Once the case is closed, there is a firm click which lets you know that your gear is safe from the elements.
Whilst the case isn’t IP67 certified, I’ve no doubt that’s it would look after your gear in the worst of conditions. I’ve even put it to the test myself in a bucket and it didn’t let any water in after a prolonged dunk in the water, certainly worth considering if you’re name is SCUBA Steve, but for the most of us the case is tougher than the environments we’ll face.
The case is attached to your bag or plate carrier by use of a cradle bracket which mounts onto a 4 x 2 panel of MOLLE (such as found on many Plate carriers), this initially feels a little too minimalist but don’t let it fool you… The cradle is deceptively well designed. It’s also incredibly quick to instal or remove, so you can adjust your loadout on the fly, putting the case into a bag of you should want to carry some room on your carrier.
Locking the bottom of the case’s hinge into the cradle and then locking the top into the cradle’s arms prevents the case from moving, it cinches down pretty tight on the MOLLE on the front of my AVS carrier and once in place, refuses to move.
Once locked into its cradle, you also have the option of securing the case with a small cable type lock. I doubt it would stand up to much punishment, but it would certainly deter an opportunistic attempt to see what was inside or to steal the case.
The most common question I have about the case is its bulk and whether it hinders the withdrawing of magazines held in pouches directly below the case itself.
Well… It’s not a simple yes or no, of course adding any bulk (even a Blue Force Gear Helium pouch) is going to change the dynamic of a Plate Carrier but a lot of it is related to how you set up your carrier in the first place.
Depending on the way you have your rig set up, it could be virtually impossible to withdraw mags or… It could be virtually the same as without the case.
I’m using my Darkvault on a repro AVS type plate carrier, with the bottom flap as high as it will go it did cause the magazines to be tough to withdraw. However, once I’d moved the flap down an inch I was able to readily access all my magazines without any discomfort whatsoever.
Obviously your personal rig set up and your build will factor in massively, essentially determining to how this item works for you. I will say though that despite my initial worries about it feeling constantly in the way, I’d soon forgotten it was actually there… To the point where I couldn’t remember when I’d left my phone late in the afternoon and had a little panic attack.
Overall, the bottom line question is always going to be “would you buy another one or recommend it to a friend?”
I’d suggest considering why I wanted to add a relatively large object onto the front of my plate carrier in my head and certainly consider it carefully before going ahead with the purchase as its something that will take a bit of getting used to, but the answer is YES.
I’m more than happy with mine (certainly after the exceptional service from Thyrm). Along with the options that I now have for both secure storage and the ability to have a “nav board” type set up on my plate carrier, this was the type of item I’d previously only dreamed of.
It works incredibly well when completing fiddly tasks such as reloading blank firing grenades or TAG rounds with gloves on, having a small secure area to work in can be of massive benefit when you’d otherwise have to take a knee, then take items out of pockets and finally triple check you’ve not lost anything before moving off.
It’s certainly been a talking point for people who haven’t seen anything like it before and the amount of interest I’ve had in it is huge, along with more than one joke about hiding cookies or Haribo inside (Genuinely a good option for storing cookies).
If you’re looking to add a slightly different look to your load out or have a genuine need for a plate carrier mounted case, I don’t think you could go wrong at all with the Thyrm Darkvault and I’ll certainly be using mine as often as I can see n the future.
Thanks again to Tactical Kit for providing the Darkvault and of course Thyrm for not only acknowledging the issue I had with mine but going the extra mile to resolve it as quickly as possible.