Plate carriers are a life-saving piece of gear for anyone operating in a hazardous environment.
Whether you’re working in the private military contracting industry, law enforcement, or serving in the Military, you’re going to need to have a plate carrier for your specific mission set.
Choosing the best plate carrier, however, can be difficult due to the sheer amount of options available on the market.
No matter the price range, they all do the same thing: hold armor plates that will, hopefully, stop bullets. You do, however, get what you pay for. This buyer’s guide is going to help you navigate all those options and figure out the right one for you and your mission.
History of Plate Carriers
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the U.S. military issued its first iteration of plate carriers and body armor. That issued armor system was called the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT), more commonly known as the flak jacket.
The flak jacket carried Doron plates that had seen some use in WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Those Doron plates though, were not going to stop rounds from a rifle. The flak jacket was only designed as a means of protection from fragmentation and smaller weapons.
In the early 2000s, we started to see more chest rigs and armor systems being rolled out. The military referred to these personal armor systems as plate carriers.
Our military ground forces dream of having effective body armor that is as light as the uniform they are wearing. Every ounce (ounces equal pounds) lifted off the body of a soldier increases their ability to operate longer and faster.
A lot has changed in the evolution of body armor and plate carrier setup, especially in the last 50 years or so, and development is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Best Plate Carriers
We’re going to get into specific plate carriers throughout this article, but to give you a quick rundown of the best plate carriers, here you go. Keep reading to find out why we picked them.
First and foremost, a plate carrier is for ballistic protection: it can defeat different types of ammunition, frag or shrapnel.
In addition to providing ballistic protection, there are a few other uses of plate carriers.
Plate Carrier vs Chest Rig
Most plate carriers are manufactured with different attachment methods such as velcro and molle webbing. In addition to securing body armor plates, the plate carrier can be configured to carry spare ammunition, communications equipment, medical gear, and other mission-critical needs.
With the molle webbing attachment points, you can configure your plate carrier to your personal preference. There are going to be a few SOPs you’ll need to follow such as making sure you can access your magazines and medical with both hands. Other than that, you’re clear to attach M4 pouches, frag pouches, radio pouches, and medical gear in a way that works best for you.
Chest rigs are great at providing you with the space necessary to mount all this gear in an easy-to-access setup. What the chest rig is lacking is ballistic protection; that’s where a plate carrier becomes essential.
Being able to attach this additional gear to your plate carrier takes the burden off your waistline as well as carry an additional pack on your back all while providing you with a certain level of ballistic protection.
Plate Carrier vs Weight Vest
Weights vests are different from plate carriers. Both add additional resistance to body-weight exercises, like pull-ups, push-ups, and running, but they’re fundamentally different in shape, load-bearing capability, weight distribution, and obviously their primary use.
Weight vests let you add weight in small increments, up to a certain point, and they’re usually only designed to carry weights specifically made for the vest. Some weight vests come pre-weighted, so you’re stuck with what you get.
Plate carriers start at the weight of the plates you’re carrying and are often designed with a MOLLE attachment system to let you add and distribute weight (in the form of gear) wherever necessary.
Not only are you getting a great workout, but a workout with your lifesaving gear on. If you’re military or law enforcement, knowing how your plate carrier is going to work in dynamic environments is critical, and working out with it is a sure way to shake out any nuances.
What To Look For When Buying a Plate Carrier
First things first, what are you using the plate carrier for? Are you using it for a professional occupation, home protection, or for a coming collapse of society and you want to be prepared?
When it comes to buying a plate carrier, spend once & cry once. Why? Because if you really need it, and your life or a family member’s life is at risk, you’re going to want the best. Do you want to bet your life on that $50 Amazon plate carrier, or have the utmost confidence in a proven plate carrier system? You do not want to leave it to chance or buy something cheap because it looks cool but in reality, is not used by the professionals.
If you’re in the market for a plate carrier, especially if it’s your first, there are a few questions you need to answer. Once the following two questions are answered, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the type of plate carrier to start looking for.
What should I attach to my plate carrier?
This can be quite a debate. Some say to carry as much ammo as you can fit, while other more seasoned military operators will say to carry 3 mags on the plate carrier and have one in the gun. Both are correct answers, depending on what your primary mission is.
For someone in more of a generalized ground combat role, then having upwards of 6 magazines on your plate carrier makes sense. For those operating in top-tier military units, their missions are much more specialized, allowing them to be more streamlined with few magazines.
For the average guy looking to defend their home and being prepared for more common threats such as violent riots and other homeland attacks, 3 mags across the front of your plate carrier is plenty, but that’s just my personal opinion.
The next most important thing to consider is medical. Many companies out their make compact tear-off pouches specifically for being used on plate carriers. As the term implies, you can just "tear it off" the plate carrier when needed.
Aside from ammo and medical, you’ll want to consider some type of admin pouch to carry smaller items such as a multi-tool and navigation aids such as a small GPS and compass.
Remember, just because you have free space on your plate carrier doesn’t mean you need to cover that space with unnecessary gear. Carry only what you NEED, otherwise, you’ll "What-If" yourself into carrying more kit than you really need, adding unnecessary weight you need to bear.
What armor plates should I use in my plate carrier?
Just because you have body armor plates in your kit does not mean you’re bulletproof. All armor can be defeated depending on what ammo is being used and how many hits the armor has taken.
Knowing the threats you’re going to face is key to identifying what type of armor to use in your plate carrier. There are two types of body armor; soft armor and hard armor. Soft armor is typically in the form of a soft insert that is rated at level 3a which only stops handgun rounds as well as other threats such as knives. These are found in backpacks much of the time and not inside a plate carrier. For your plate carrier, you’re going to want to look at hard armor in order to defeat rifle threats.
For the best all-around hard armor plates, go with Level III+ which is rated to defeat 5.56 M193 and the hotter M855 rounds. These are the most common round used in AR15 rifles. Level III will also defeat other rifle rounds such as 7.62/308 and 300 Blackout.
If you want to go big and have armor that will defeat true armor-piercing ammunition, then you need to look at Level IV plates. These are usually reserved for police and military, but if your local threats warrant that level, then by all means spend the money on it.
Plate Carriers used by Current SOF Units
I asked around some of my contacts within the SOF community what plate carrier they used and they all pointed to the LBT 6094 plate carrier as their go-to for missions. The LBT 6094 is one of the most-used plate carriers in the Special Operations community, especially those in Tier 1 units such as DEVGRU and Delta.
Tier 1 guys are issued several different plate carriers because they have a wide variety of missions from direct action, to more covert requirements, like surveillance. As an assaulter on one of these teams though, there is probably no better piece of gear than the LBT 6094 plate carrier.
Any deployed military member will tell you that a quality plate carrier is worth its weight in gold. That’s because they work in dynamic environments that can turn from safe zone to full-on battle rattle in the blink of an eye.
There are many different types and styles of military plate carriers to choose from, so it’s always important to carefully review your unit SOPs before purchasing.
The Crye Precision JPC Jumpable Plate Carrier seems to always be at the top of every list when talking about plate carriers for the military and special operations units.
Those that need the ability to handle more weight without killing their shoulders should take a look at the Blue Force Gear PLATE-6 MOLLEminus Plate Carrier.
The name of the game is mobility. Being able to get in and out of vehicles without getting hung up is pretty important for our guys operating on convoys.
This provides fully modular load carriage capability but significantly reduces weight and bulk over traditional armor carriers. The PLATEminus plate carrier is designed to hold ESAPI/SPEAR armored plates and has fully enclosed plate pockets that protect the plates. "Plate 6" provides users with built-in 6"x6" side plate pockets and cummerbund side closures. It also has a flat admin pocket behind the front loop field and a drag handle on the back.
The Plate 6 is available in a low profile version without side plate pockets and adjustable side straps for low threat environments or side plate pockets that fit 6" x 6" hard armor side plates secured with a Ten-Speed cummerbund for a more secure fit and to hold extra mags or equipment.
Best Plate Carrier For Law Enforcement
The Mayflower RC by Velocity Systems Law Enforcement Plate Carrier (LEPC) has to make the list based on its modularity. I’ve had the privilege to be a police officer and soldier and the kits I was forced to wear state-side couldn’t compare to the Interceptor vest I wore in Iraq.
The Velocity Systems LEPC gives you everything you want in a plate carrier for those men and women serving in blue.
The carrier is as sleek as it one could be and still hold an NIJ-Listed Level IIIA, III, or Level IV body armor plate. Even with Level III body armor, the LEPC plate carrier will reduce your profile versus what most LEOs wear now at level 3A.
As an LEO, I know having the ability to freely move my arms across my body and above my head was critical to my safety on the job. I’m most impressed with the durability of the plate carrier, and its thin and compact design.
In the body armor world, a cummerbund is a piece of elastic that allows the wearer to adjust the waist size of the plate carrier. Most companies include common PALS loops for MOLLE accessible attachments like radio pouches, ammo pouches, I-Fak, Tazer cartridges, and axillary pouches.
I would only recommend attaching something small to your CBN1 because the integrity of the strap is at risk when you attach something heavy like a Sat radio or double 5.56mm ammo pouch. I’d use this area for miscellaneous things like handcuff keys, extra cuffs, knife, etc…
Velocity systems provide 3 different options to choose from based on your mission requirements. The Low-Profile Elastic Cummerbund (CBN1) comes in 4 different sizes and fits almost every plate carrier at Velocity Systems.
The Low-Profile Elastic Cummerbund With Dividers (CBN1D) features the same 4 sizes as the CBN1, but it has added dividers to provide extra storage for first responders, such as medics, fireman, or beat cops in large cities like NYC or Chicago.
With the dividers, you can add heavier attachments to the cummerbund because the straps that hold it to the plate carrier are reinforced with 500 denier nylon.
The LEPC with the CBN1D can allow first responders to carry extra life-saving medical equipment such as tourniquets and small medkits.
They come with 6"x6" plate pockets to slide in a side-plate and also 7 rows of PALS loops for MOLLE pouches (large). The CBN3 comes in 4 sizes that have a specific number of MOLLE pouches.
It’s important to measure your waist correctly because the entire purpose of a cummerbund is to fit the form and shape of the plate carrier. If you get a size too small, the cummerbund will dig into your side and chafe your stomach and hip bone. Velocity Systems offers 4 distinct sizes to fit any size LEO.
If a cummerbund fits properly it can then be used to improve modularity and the amount of gear you can carry into the field. Adding a cummerbund can also increase your level of protection because the added width can help accommodate side plates to protect your flanks.
Top Concealed Plate Carrier Vest
The Low Viz Alpha Kit (LVAK) is a plate carrier setup designed for low vis with reduced print and signature for law enforcement, special details, personal security details, and executive protection. The absolute minimalist design makes strategic use of materials for a formfitting, plate-profile-reducing, and comfortable system.
The Low Viz Alpha Kit DOES include body armor. You have the option of Level IIIA, Level III, and Level IV body armor.
The LVAK plate carrier vest comes equipped with one of two cummerbund options. The first option is an elastic cummerbund with storage sections for magazines, communications gear, or accessories.
The second option is a slick elastic cummerbund for the operator or agent who will need no access to additional equipment supported by the armor system, thereby allowing the user to maintain the lowest profile.
You’ll probably look more like a wannabe ‘Operator’ if you’re pulling a plate carrier and plates out of a kit bag at the local range. But if you shoot in the open whether on private property or at a public outdoor range (or go to sketchy gun ranges) it may not seem like a bad idea.
For range armor, you really only need a slick plate carrier without all the pouches hanging off it, unless that’s your thing. Or if you already have a plate carrier setup for home or professional occupation, then it makes sense to train and practice with it at the range.
If you’re looking to purchase a new plate carrier for use on the range, then we’d suggest you take a hard look at the Ferro Concepts Slickster.
The human body is made up of timers and switches, and the heart and lungs have the shortest timers if damaged, short of the brain and spine which are the two switches.
A timer is started as soon as a bullet impacts the human body. Depending on where the bullet impacts and the number of impacts will determine the speed of the timer.
A kill switch is a specific area of the human body when impacted by a bullet, will dispatch the threat immediately. There are two primary areas of the human body that are considered a kill switch. Those two areas are the head and the spine.
To protect against these, the front-facing armor plate needs to ride roughly from the center notch of the collar bone and cover to just below the rib cage. The rear plate mirrors the same placement.
Once the plates themselves are squared away, the plate carrier setup can be broken down into three basic sections; Ammunition, medical, and admin.
The most common way to keep rifle magazines attached to the plate carrier are by way of a single-layer magazine shingle. The magazine shingle uses the molle attachment method and keeps everything as low profile as possible. The most common sizing is the 3 mag shingle.
You can opt to double stack your magazines on the front of your plate carrier to increase the amount of carried ammunition, but that does come with some downsides. Those downsides are that it’s almost impossible to shoot from the prone position and having to climb over or traverse high obstacles such as fences or walls can be impeded.
If you think you’re going to need additional magazines, you could try mounting single M4 magazine pouches to the cumberbund versus stacking the front of your plate carrier.
Yes, the extra ammunition is great, but at what cost? If you cannot shoot, move, and communicate effectively, then you need to rethink your setup.
Often medical kits are mounted on battle belts according to unit SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). Mission will dictate the gear and the setup of that gear, but medical needs to be a priority.
As mentioned earlier, there are companies that make compact tear-off pouches for plate carriers or medical inserts that fit inside a single M4 magazine pouch. Regardless, the kit needs to be accessible with both hands in the event one of them becomes disabled. If there is no room for an actual medical kit, then at the very least mount a tourniquet on the plate carrier that can be accessed from either hand.
A friend of mine was severely wounded in Iraq due to a vehicle born IED. Prior to their convoy rolling out, he instructed everyone in his unit to place their CAT Tourniquets on the front of their plate carriers. Doing so saved his life that day.
As his HUMVEE rolled past a parked car, that parked car was detonated, throwing him roughly 25 yards from the HUMVEE. His instincts kicked in and he grabbed ahold of his tourniquet, ripped it from the front of his plate carrier, and administered it to his own leg.
To this day he attributes his survival to having his tourniquet on the front of his plate carrier.
Last but not least, Admin
Before plate carrier mounted communications were a thing, generally, the top center of the plate carrier was reserved for admin pouches; a place to store maps, map pens, a backup compass, spare batteries, and other small items.
Nowadays, gear such as KAGWERKS have been dominating that space, providing the warfighter with a digital layout of the battlefield.
Even with the plate carrier mounted computer systems, it’s still recommended to have some type of admin pouch. Generally, you have enough real estate on a plate carrier to mount a vertical admin pouch to the left or right of the 3 mag shingle.
To go along with admin, you need to have a pouch to secure your handheld communications radio. As with the vertical admin pouch, comms pouches are typically mounted to the left or right of the 3 mag shingle depending on your setup. Most will run radios on the non-dominant side of their plate carrier to allow easy access to their sidearm or manipulation of their primary weapon.
Most gun enthusiasts either own a plate carrier and armor or are giving it some serious thought. This list of the best plate carriers should get you well on your way to better protection.
If you’re seriously looking into buying your first plate carrier and armor plates, then these recommendations should help narrow down your search. Once you’ve bought everything and put it together, go out and shoot with it on.
Test out your loadout by going to the range and even working out with it on. Gear is life and life is gear.
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