What is the best plate carrier? Despite what some would tell you, it depends, and not just by brand. Sometimes the best plate carrier (PC) is no plate carrier or even no armor at all. Other times it could be a “soft armor” concealable vest, and less frequently something more extensive, like the military’s IOTV or its various civilian “heavy vest” counterparts.
Choosing a PC isn’t as easy as selecting a skin in a video game or choosing to wear chainmail in D&D, but it isn’t rocket surgery either. It is very important, though. One of more lives may depend upon your selection after all.
That decision boils down to the following steps:
- Pick the right PC for your mission
- Put the right plates in it
- Put the right stuff on it
- Wear it correctly
- Train in it
- Maintain it
Note: This is a work in progress. Because it is an accretion of information it will occasionally be reorganized so it’s not confusing as fuck.
I Mission/Intended Use of PC
- PCs, LBVs, and some hard talk about body armor, Pete Nealen
- Plate Carriers for the professional female, Michelle C. Meyers
- Plate Carriers as a part of (or not) a “full dress rehearsals, Matt Jacques
V Glossary of terms
What is the best Plate Carrier?
As with many things (like beer, bourbon, booze, boots, and more), the answer to that question will be largely a matter of individual interpretation. Unlike those things, however, this choice has less to do with taste and preference than it does with mission and need (which necessarily incorporates threat level).
Though the plate carrier (PC) is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, its proliferation is at least in some measure based on a misunderstanding of its proper use and/or a desire to have the same Gucci Kit all the kewl kids are using. This is certainly not to say a PC is a bad investment, it’s just not always the right one to make given the context of how it will be used. Sometimes it is exactly what you should be wearing, both for weight and maneuverability concerns.
No one should purchase an item that might be used in a deadly force event without performing due diligence. No one should take any single person’s opinion on such an item either (particularly mine), no matter how fast they run a gun on the flat range (or how many cultists Instagram followers they have). If you’re buying a PC, presumably your life and that of loved ones could be attached to it. You should act accordingly.
What plate carrier do I need?
Here are some things to consider:
• You shouldn’t be wearing a PC by itself in lieu of soft (concealable) armor when and if the most likely threat you’ll face is a handgun round — Body Armor: you’re doing it wrong.
• If you’re using a plate carrier without armor, solely as a chest-rig type loadbearing device, you might look instead to a “battle belt”, chest rig (“modern style” or older Rhodesian type), or even an old school LBV instead (remembering in the latter case it can sometimes be dual-purposed to carry smaller plates if need be); the same consideration could be applied to de facto chest rigs too.
• Do you require protection against bullets or knives? This should go without saying, but so nothing gets dropped – while body armor has served to stop stabbing/slashing attacks before, it offers very limited protection when compared to armor built intentionally to protect against edged/pointed weapons.
• If you need it, buy it. If you just want it, that’s okay too, as long as you’re not setting yourself up for failure. This goes back to your mission, and honestly that mission could easily include what is effectively “tactical LARPing”. Are you playing tactical dress up? Are you a metrotactical geardo? If it’s the latter, no worries — we’re not going to rag someone who wears Crye when they could get by with Condor, as long as they’re honest about it (and being realistic). For that matter, a certain amount of tactical LARPing is, at least in some opinions around here, a Good Thing. Particularly if you understand/believe the principal reason for the Second Amendment.
• If you’ve determined a PC is the most expedient and efficient way to throw on some protection (and perhaps gear) before you deal with an unwelcome noise at your door or the unexpected flashlight beam you see down at your barn, good to go.
• If you require some protection but don’t want to go lumbering across hell’s half-acre with your own body weight of armor weighing you down, a PC is a good option, but depending on policy & procedures (first responders) and command guidance (the military) that might not be an options.
Once you’ve decided a PC is the way to go, you’ll want to make sure your intended rig will accommodate the plates you own (or intend to buy). Grey Ghost Gear ballistic plates are stupid light and have an excellent reputation, but they trade increased thickness to maintain better-than-average protection, even with the advanced materials used. Other manufacturers’ plates may vary in height and width. Confirming your preference ahead of time will save you some asspain, and is a relative no-brainer. You’re not researching how to use Dalekanium in breaching charges here.
Below you’ll find some plate carrier suggestions based collectively on our experience. Others elsewhere may have had different experiences leading them to different conclusions, so it’s worth doing your research.
What protection will it provide?
Plate Carriers are not complete protection, and the protection they do provide can be substantially reduced if it’s worn improperly – specifically if the plate inside is placed improperly.
That doesn’t eliminate the advantages of wearing one, you just need to keep in mind that it won’t protect you completely, particularly from the side. In the course of my (very limited) career, I have had two friends killed by rounds that struck them laterally. Both were hit below the armpit and above the rib cage.
Crucially, this is above where cummerbund carried side plates will protect you.
This isn’t to say there is no place for side plates or side-wrap soft/concealable coverage, just be aware of it.
I’m not entirely sure what the answer to that vulnerability is, though being lucky is a start. Understanding and utilizing cover is critical as well, though as none of that is a guarantee. There are a few models of armor out there that provide some protection to that area, but mostly that is comprised of soft armor that’s unlikely to stop rifle rounds.
Plate Carrier Setup
How to set up your plate carrier
Although there are a variety of perspectives about plate carrier setup, there are a couple of things you’ll find consistently in virtually every recommendation I’ve solicited, heard, read, or watched (none of which involved young competitive shooters in skinny jeans, by the way).
You may recall seeing this before, further up in the article. The fact that you’re seeing it again should be a clue. Those things are:
- Put your ballistic armor plates in the right place.
- Don’t utilize real estate just because it’s there.
We’ll start with…
Placement of the Plates
This is where you start. If you have shit, knock-off plates, and/or you’re wearing them in the wrong place, why bother? Wrap yourself up on a poncho liner instead, at least then you’ll be comfortable.
We’ll address that as more information or learned suggestions become available.
Front Armor Plate
Aortic Arch, at least up to the top of the notch in your sternum (super sternal suprasternal notch), but not so high that you’re smacking your chin and chipping teeth with the top of it.
Most recommendations indicate it should drop at least an inch and a half below the bottom of your sternum (which will cover your diaphragm), but not so low that it’s digging into your pelvic girdle.
We’ll call it outsides to prevent confusion by differentiating the term from actual side plates. Get a plate that at least cover your nipples. Yes, we could get into a big discussion about the nipple size and areola, but that’s just you guys purposefully being pervy (and a little obtuse). *giggle* nipple
Rear Armor Plate
This is the counterpoint to protecting the stuff your front plate is covering from assholes who are in front of you. Sadly, when it comes to gunfights, your back is not an exit only. Take measures accordingly.
It should sit roughly an inch below your C7 vertebra, for an average-sized person anyway. All things being equal, the size of the individual wearing armor will be a factor in ballistic plate placement, though this will be mitigated somewhat if more appropriately sized plates are available.
Think of it like this: Gregor Clegane might need more than an inch between the top of a standard SAPI plate and the C7 vertebra. Arya Stark would need rather less.
Outside & Bottoms:
Typically, though not always, this will be the counterpart to your front plate. There may be an argument for a different-sized plate in the rear (whether larger or smaller) but I haven’t heard one yet. If that changes, or if I can get some SMEs to weigh in on the matter, I will update this.
More on PC Set up
Here’s Kit Badger on armor placement – note what he says about the diaphragm vs. lungs. Vurrrry interesting.
III Opinions and editorials from SMEs
PCs, LBVs, and some hard talk about body armor, Pete Nealen
I fielded a few questions lately about plate carriers and plates, largely related to size. That raised the question of just what is a plate carrier for, and should it be the default choice for on-body gear?
Plate carriers as we are familiar with them really only started to come into common usage within the last ten or twelve years. Previously, plates were added to soft armor vests—or worn over such vests.
On an Iraq deployment in 2007, we took our Second Chance vests from the FSBE kit [USMC Full Spectrum Battle Equipment] to the tailor on Camp Fallujah and had him sew pockets for the plates onto the soft armor carrier itself. Then we wore regular load-bearing gear over that.
The Interceptor was the standard during the beginning years of the Iraq War, with various (increasingly bulky and constrictive) evolutions after that.
What the modern plate carrier does is effectively do away with the soft armor (except for a soft armor backer on non-standalone plates to stop spall) in favor of just the plate. They’re certainly easier to move in, but there are drawbacks.
As the person I was talking to expressed their frustration, rifle plates only come in certain sizes. The largest plates don’t come close to covering a large man’s entire torso. Of course, they’re not really meant to.
Rifle plates are for fighting upright, in close quarters. They don’t do you much good at any other angle. One of the reasons the isosceles stance has become standard for shooting in the standing is to square the front plate to the enemy. But there’s that nasty factor that the plate only covers so much.
Plate carriers are a tradeoff.
The philosophy behind rifle plates isn’t total protection. It’s to protect the vitals (heart and lungs) in a CQB fight. Plates are little defense against fragmentation unless the fragmentation is limited to the front or back, right at the heart and lungs.
They provide you some protection against rifle fire to the heart and lungs, which would result in near-instant incapacitation — barring drugs or insanity on the part of who is hit, but that’s another matter.
However, you lose protection in other areas to maintain mobility along the way.
I’ve said that plate carriers are for fighting upright in close-quarters combat. That’s because once you get into any other situation, they don’t do much. I knew two men who were killed while wearing their plates—front, back, and side SAPIs—because a sniper shot them in the armpit while they crossed a road.
In a fight where you might be down in the prone, the plates won’t help you against anything except a shot from directly above. They might even be a hindrance, as the thickness of the plates—especially ESAPIs—keep you higher off the ground.
Body armor is not a magic SAFE button. It can certainly give you more of a fighting chance, but all too often, people get the wrong idea. They think that it should protect all of you, all the time.
This isn’t just a problem for people who are new to it, either. It’s been a problem in the military for years. Consider SOF units required to wear body armor and helmets while humping rucks high in the mountains: that’s no way to fight mountaineers in flip-flops up on their home turf.
Armor doesn’t work that way, though. In fact, in a lot of situations, it can actually slow you down and make you easier to hit.
Plate carriers are popular because everybody uses them. They can be something of a convenience because they provide a way to have your mags, first aid kit, comms, and various standard pocket litter all in the same rig with your body armor.
That’s certainly a viable option. But if that’s the way you’re going to roll, you have to be realistic about what you’re running with.
There are absolutely times where body armor saves lives. My assistant team leader from my first deployment is alive because of his plates. However, plates can slow you down, restrict your movement, and increase your bulk. They won’t protect you against blast or fragmentation. And even against gunfire, sometimes just taking cover is a better option.
(Side anecdote: I was teaching a tactical tracking class to a bunch of Marine Combat Engineers who were going to embed with grunts. While walking one of their patrols, in a creekbed in northern Camp Pendleton, near Talega, I called, “Contact Left!” I proceeded to watch all of them turn, take a knee in the open and “return fire.” I’d called all of them dead before any of them figured out that not one of them had tried to take cover.)
Body armor and even the plate carrier has its place. But at the risk of trotting out a tired adage, it’s a tool in the toolbox.
If you have the money and resources, it might be advisable to have a plate carrier, a soft armor vest, and a regular, old-fashioned load bearing vest all available. Your choice of what to wear would be dependent on the mission profile and threat profile that you’re looking at.
Even ever-popular chest rigs have their drawbacks, and in some situations an old-school “tac vest” or “loadbearing vest” that opens in the front might be an even better option. With one of those you can get a lot lower to the ground than when you’ve got magazines, maps, and pouches holding you up.
We tend to talk a lot about gear on the internet. It’s something tangible that we can hold, and review, and take pictures of. But gear is only a tool. And sometimes the right tool needs to be picked for the right job. You can certainly compromise and run with one set for all missions, but only so long as you’re aware of the pros and cons of what you’re using and can adjust accordingly.
No amount of gear is going to make up for bad tactics.
Study tactics and learn the skills. Let the gear will follow. The better your tactics and movement, the less important the gear will be.
A lot of old woodsmen go out with the absolute minimum. A knife, a firestarter, some string, maybe a blanket and an ax. The Rhodesians went out in short shorts and t-shirts, often with only four 20-round mags for their L1A1s.
Gear can be useful. Don’t let it become a hindrance.
⚠️ Anything you’re going to bet your life on should be the focus of significant pre-purchase scrutiny!
MORE TO FOLLOW
*and by armor, we mean something DOJ related, not something your character will be wearing in Valheim.
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