Plate Carrier VS. Tactical Vest. Are They Different?

Plate Carrier VS. Tactical Vest. Are They Different?

Plate carriers and tactical vests. You can often see that these terms are used interchangeably, but do they really the same? Turns out, the difference is not only notable, but can demark the line between life and death in some situations. Let’s try to set the record straight.

What is a plate carrier

The plate carrier is a special vest designed to carry armor plates, just as the name suggests. This tactical wear is a vest with special compartments on the front and back sides of the vest where armor plates are inserted to.

The main purpose of a plate carrier is to deliver protection from gun shots. The carrier itself does not provide any protection. The bullet resistance of this armor type comes from the inserted armor plates. Such armor plates absorb the energy of the bullet and do not allow it to penetrate and hit the body of a wearer.

Body armor plates are offered in various types, materials and sizes. The plate carrier often allows you to insert different types of armor plates. This makes it a rather versatile solution, because you can insert light armor plates for one tasks, and hard armor plates for missions where intensive resistance is awaited.

Common materials for armor plates are steel, polyethylene, composite fiber materials such as Kevlar, or ceramic. Armor plates are rated by their protective power to four classes according to National Institute of Justice:

  • Level II is good against pistol rounds
  • Level IIIA can stop pistol rounds of higher speeds or calibers including Magnum .357
  • Level III protects from rifle shots
  • Level IV grants protection against high velocity bullets from sniper rifles

Plate carriers themselves are also different. There are compact conceivable vests designed for hidden wear. This allows a wearer to remain protected while still keeping the low profile. Other plate carriers are designed for hard armor and are bulkier.

Also, plate carriers feature MOLLE webbings to attach equipment and tools to.

What is a tactical vest

A tactical vest is designed to carry equipment such as flashlights, rifle magazines, radio, or a knife during tactical or scout missions. A tactical vest may look similar to a military grade plate carrier, but the difference is huge.

First of all, tactical vests do not provide any kind of bullet resistance. Zero. Nothing. Nada. Tactical vests do not have own protection, nor do they offer a way to insert armor plates. You must treat tactical vests as a gear, not armor.

Then, tactical vests are much more comfortable to put on and wear thanks to a zipper on the front and broad shoulder bands combined with lower weight of the vest compared to a fully equipped plate carrier.

The materials of tactical vests vary, but tend to be mostly synthetic like nylon. The vest must withstand heavy loads, so the materials are sturdy and tough. The color scheme is classic for such gear: camouflage or khaki.

What is the difference between a plate carrier and a tactical vest

Ok, here are differences between these two types of tactical gear.


  • Plate carrier – bullet protection depends on the inserted armor plates, can range from NIJ Level II to NIJ Level IV
  • Tactical vest – provides NO protection from bullets

Ease of use

  • Plate carrier – moderate ease of use. Can greatly affect mobility if hard armor plates are inserted. Hard to put on or off quickly. On the other hand, plate carriers are often equipped with an emergency handle to pull out the injured wearer under cover
  • Tactical vest – easy to put on or off thanks to a zipper.


  • Plate carrier – heavy, but depends on the weight of armor plates
  • Tactical vest– more lightweight, so is more suitable for quick tactical missions


  • Plate carrier – does have a MOLLE webbing with slots and pouches for tools, ammo and other gear
  • Tactical vest – also has a MOLLE webbing, but due to the central front zipper offers a little bit less space for your gear than a plate carrier


  • Plate carrier – the comfort is somewhat limited because of the additional weight of armor plates. On the other hand, plate carriers can use hydration bladders to offer heat or cold protection depending on the temperature of the liquid inside.
  • Tactical vest – more comfortable to wear thanks to low weight and breathable materials.


As you see, there is no direct competition between tactical vests and plate carriers. The two are simply made for different purposes. So if you face the question whether to choose a tactical vest or a plate carrier, make sure to understand your real needs and wants, and then make your choice.

This article is the author's opinion and does not represent the official position of BattleSteel®️

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