The Best Plate Carrier For You to Up-Armor You

Austro-Hungarian armor from WWI
| January 1, 2019
Categories: Learnin'

What is the best plate carrier? Despite what some would tell you, it depends, and not just by brand. Sometimes the best plate carrier is no plate carrier or even no armor at all. Other times it could be a “soft armor” concealable vest, and far less frequently something like the military’s IOTV or its various civilian “heavy vest” counterparts.

Before we really dig in, let’s make this clear:

• Beware of cool stuff.

• Resist the lure of real estate.

• Don’t be OAF – be functional for your own event. 

• If you are purchasing Gucci shit for your Glock before you allot a bigger budget to medical kit, medical training, and armor, you’re wrong.

There are minimalist plate carriers and others with more real estate that effectively serve as load-bearing equipment (LBE, LCE, TA-50, or whatever they call it now). Before we discuss preferred brands, we’re going to address preferred considerations. Once that is completed we’ll look at some breeds and models we can recommend.

Those considerations will range from your intended use (i.e. mission), to how and why you train, to how often and how many biscuits (or cheeseburgers) you eat for breakfast.

We will also be looking at some very specific issues that need to be addressed regardless of your kit’s quality, i.e things like…

What do you need a Plate Carrier for? 

Are you wearing your plates in the right place? 

Do you have bosoms? Because that can be problematic. 

How do you effectively set up your PC?

Note: This is a work in progress. 


Minimalist plate carrier review by Aaron Cowan for Monderno

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’re working a patrol shift in soft armor and want some rifle-rated protection available in case things go pear-shaped (or full-blown shitshow), that’s completely reasonable.

• 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.

Tyr Tactical plate carrier on the range in Phoenix

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:

  1. Put your ballistic armor plates in the right place.
  2. 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.




⚠️ Anything you’re going to bet your life on should be the focus of significant pre-purchase scrutiny!




*and by armor, we mean something DOJ related, not something your character will be wearing in Valheim.

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