JTT: Setting Up Outer Carriers

outer carrier vest
September 19, 2017  
Categories: Learnin'

Lotta agencies going to exterior vests, thankfully…but this has led to a noticeable trend of loading it up unnecessarily. We’ve seen many LEOs, particularly younger officers, fill up every bit of available real estate just because they can. Here’s one man’s take on the subject. Mad Duo Today’s tip is geared more toward LEOs and those who wear body armor daily as a part of their job. Soft body armor technology has come a long way since it was first introduced decades ago. It’s lighter and stronger than ever before, but it’s still plenty hot to wear, even on the night shift. Most of us have worn, or are currently wearing, soft armor in a concealment carrier that goes under the uniform shirt, and it is uncomfortable, even with today’s armor.

A current trend in many agencies is the use of outer carriers. We are seeing more and more LEOs wearing them nowadays, myself included. Some outer carriers fit more like traditional military LBE; others look like their part of the uniform shirt until you get up close.

I’ll go over the Pros and Cons of each system based on my personal experience with my department-issued ABA (Safariland) Body Armor System:

Concealed Carrier.


  • It’s concealed, though everyone knows you’re wearing it nowadays.
  • Maneuverability, it’s less restrictive than the outer carrier.
  • Public friendly (PR); frankly, I don’t give a shit what people think, but with concealed soft armor, you don’t get comments like: “It looks like you’re ready to go to war!” That’s a comment we hear frequently, not just from the members of the public but from agency civilian staff.
  • No difficulties throwing on a plate carrier for an active shooter or other exigent events.


  • It’s uncomfortable and hot to have on all day. You sweat a ton wearing it, and if you don’t wash the carrier regularly, your partners won’t be standing anywhere near you; it take bad odor to a new level.
  • It holds no equipment in a traditional fashion; it wasn’t designed to, so everything (and all the weight) is on your gun belt and your hips.

Outer Carrier.


  • Gar more comfortable, much more breathable, and significantly cooler.
  • Easy to don and doff; you can take it off when you’re in a secure location, like writing your report at the station.
  • Superior load-bearing distribution, depending on the make and model; you can pull a significant amount of equipment from your duty belt and distribute that weight across the vest.
  • Some agencies looking to this in order to reduce daily discomfort and long-term injury to personnel (specifically sciatica).


  • Limits mobility, depending on the make and model as well; makes it somewhat difficult to raise arms
  • Overt, many people will confuse an outer carrier with a “militarized” armor plate carrier such as the IBA/OTV.
  • Marginal plate carrier compatibility; in most cases, it will be difficult or impossible to throw a plate carrier over an outer soft armor carrier. Smaller framed officers may have less trouble, but larger ones may find it all but impossible.
  • Snagging; the chances of snagging on objects is a lot higher since you now have more pouches and equipment hanging off your torso.
  • Limited modularity in some cases; you cannot always arrange the vest as you’d prefer
  • Physical memory; officers used to access a particular piece of equipment from their duty rig will need to accustom themselves to drawing or pulling from the vest.

Setting up the Outer Carrier.

I’m issued the American Body Armor (ABA) Xtreme soft vest at work, with both concealed and outer carriers. We are authorized to wear the Outer Carrier system, depending on the assignment. I prefer it to the concealed carrier.

Because I am issued just one set of ballistic panels, I have to switch them out between carriers, which is time-consuming and a pain in the ass. (Come to think of it, add that to the list of cons above.) Unfortunately, the outer carrier I’m issued has pre-configured, built-in pouches and holders, so I had to adapt to it rather than set it up the way I’d have preferred.

My particular carrier carries the following from right to left (as you’re facing it):

radio holder, double mag pouches, a tubular pouch, and an admin pouch.

On the back, there are two handcuff pouches, one each on the lower left and right sides.

The use of the exterior carrier allowed me to move my radio, extended magazines, flashlight, and handcuffs off my gun belt to my torso. This freed up a substantial amount of space on my belt and better distribute weight across my upper body. The radio system with cable and mic are integrated into the carrier; running the cable between pouches secures it, so there is no issue with snagging or catching the slack. Mag and flashlight pouches are easily left open by simply tucking the covers down.

The organic mag pouches were deeper than required, so I packed the bottom of each with sufficient filler to place the magazines where I needed them. I initially carried OC spray in the tubular pouch, but after running “what if” scenarios (including the possibility of a hit by an incoming round), I moved it back to my belt. That pouch now carries a SureFire light. This particular admin pouch is perfect for the various sundries I constantly use (pen, notepad, cellphone, et al). A double mag pouch remains on my belt, giving me 30 rounds there and (utilizing Xtech Tactical baseplates) an additional 40 on the vest.

The switch from belt to vest has significantly decreased the amount of felt strain on my back, and I’ve now been able to reconfigure the belt to carry an SO Tech IFAK and Taser. I did not have sufficient real estate for those before.

I’ve been wearing the Outer Carrier for several months now. Despite its drawbacks, it is definitely an improvement over duty belt-only wear. It provides superior equipment and ammunition options and is significantly more comfortable. If your agency allows outer vest carriers, it’s definitely worth a look.



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Fifty Shades of FDE

Fifty Shades of FDE

About the Author

Fifty Shades of FDE is a full-time LEO in California with about a decade's service in a very large metropolitan agency. He’s a husband, father and firearms enthusiast. He is a supporter of the Second Amendment and a proponent of law abiding citizens’ right to defend themselves with concealed carry permits. He runs his @fiftyshadesofFDE page on Instagram and writes gun/gear reviews on www.fiftyshadesoffde.com - when he's not writing for Breach-Bang-Clear, of course.

1 Comment

  1. JS

    Been wearing an external carrier for a few years. Started with a modular one by Turtle Tracks and now am wearing the Portland, Oregon City design by Curtis Blueline. Both are great vests and considerably more comfortable than a concealed carrier. Never had any member of the public take issue with the carriers, not that it would worry me.

    I recommend getting a set of suspenders for your gunbelt, they hide perfectly under an external carrier and it takes that last bit of weight off your hips. Also, it helps to keep you from feeling like your gunbelt is trying to slide past your hips when you are running.


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