Your Definitive Guide to Plate Carriers
Among modern many body armor systems available on the market, plate carriers are definitely one of the most popular vests. Not sure whether you need a tactical plate carrier or a bullet-resistant body armor? What are plate carriers and what are they pros and cons? This guide will explain the basics and will suggest some best options to select from.
What is a plate carrier?
A tactical plate carrier also called airsoft plate carriers or plate carrier vests are tactical equipment worn over the clothes designed to provide protection from bullets, projectiles and shrapnel. The plate carrier itself does not have any protective capabilities, though. However, the vest can carry inserted armor plates. It is these armor plates that provide the actual defense to the user.
There are various types of plate carriers on the market. The most common ones are described below.
Types of plate carriers
The market today provides all kinds of armor plates to protect you from different threats like pistols, rifles and knives. But plate carriers also vary, providing different set of features depending on the usage scenario and on who is going to use the carrier.
Tactical plate carrier
The tactical plate carrier is a very popular design that fits almost any application. Tactical plate carriers have MOLLE webbing to attach a number of accessories and tactical gear (hence the name), but remain rather minimalistic so the wearer retain as much mobility as they could. Tactical plate carriers are also lightweight which make them ideal for quick tactical missions by law enforcement officers, military and tactical squads.
Conceivable plate carrier
While a normal plate carrier is usually worn over the clothes, there are types of plate carriers for conceivable wear too. Indeed, conceivable body armor is typically soft armor that can protect only from pistol shots. Conceivable plate carriers at the same time can carry hard armor plates and hence deliver protection even from rifle shots, while worn under the clothes. To remain invisible under the clothes, conceivable plate carriers most often than not come in white or nude colors.
MOLLE full protection plate carrier
This type of plate carrier offers the most protection along with providing the maximum space for additional tactical gear thanks to the integrated MOLLE webbing. The webbing allows attaching modular equipment like magazines, radio sets, knives or flashlights. The full protection plate carrier provides maximum coverage for the body and therefore is heavier than a typical tactical vest. At the same time, thanks to quick release buckles the entire vest can be instantly removed if necessary with a single click.
What is the difference between a plate carrier and a body armor vest
When it comes to body armor systems, plate carriers are considered a narrower type of body armor vests. Yes, you can user these terms interchangeably, but most armor specialists and enthusiasts conclude that plate carrier vests are adjustable pieces that can hold armor plates of one of standard cuts. Body armor vests on the other hand are often seen as one-piece units without the ability to replace body armor plates in them.
Among some distinct features of plate carriers are:
- Adjustable straps to fit the vest on the body;
- An emergency handle to pull out friendly troops under cover;
- A quick release buckle system to immediately remove the vest for medical treatment;
- A pocket Velcro and a MOLLE webbing to attach tactical equipment.
What are basic characteristics of plate carriers
Plate carrier vests offer only partial protection to the body of a wearer, but in exchange they have a number of extremely useful features and therefore find wide range of applications in tactical and law enforcement operations, sports shooting, hunting, and other spheres where protection from bullets and projectiles is vital.
Here are the main characteristics of plate carriers:
- Allow to fit armor plates of varying sizes and protection levels. Normally, you can insert armor plates of varying standard cuts (SAPI, ESAPI) into the plate carrier. Indeed, depending on your goals, situations and potential threats you may want different type of protection. Sometimes you may target for soft armor, other times hard armor plates are the best. With a plate carrier you can insert plates with the protection level you want.
- PALS or MOLLE webbing. Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment system allows you to attach directly to the vest all equipment and tools you may need on the mission. The webbing on the back allows attaching a tactical backpack or a hydration system.
- Velcro fasteners. This type of fasteners combine quick attaching and detaching with low weight, versatility and usage comfort. Plate carriers feature Velcro both on the front and back sides of the vest, and sometimes on straps too.
- Extra durable materials. Plate carriers are made from extremely durable textile materials such as nylon. These materials perform well in wide range of conditions including heat and cold, and also under high load.
- Comfortable design. Adjustable straps and sleek design stipulate comfort even during longer wearing sessions such as on a tactical mission. Of course, overall comfort depends on the type of armor plates inserted into the carrier and the amount of equipment attached.
- Protect your vital organs. Plate carriers are somewhat limited in their protective capabilities, but they still protect your heart, lungs, liver and stomach thanks to inserted hard armor plates.
Advantages of armor plate carriers
Armor plate carriers have a number of distinct advantages you should always take into account when looking for body armor for your activities or job.
A plate carrier is low weight because it is made of extremely tough but lightweight textile. Typically shipped with a dummy ballistic armor plate inside, they welcome any NIJ level armor plates equally well.
Provide a lot of space for equipment
Tools and modular equipment is easy to attach to the webbing of the plate carrier. This feature makes it ideal for both tactical missions and active sports shooting on the range.
Do not hinder your movement
Being lightweight and adjustable, plate carriers do not affect your flexibility. You can jump, crouch, climb or crawl with minimal impact from the plate carrier vest.
Can be used solely to attach equipment
Plate carrier vests are a type of body armor after all, and it is used as such more often than not. However, many users find it convenient to just remove any armor plates from the vest and use the plate carrier as a MOLLE webbing vest only. Importantly, you must not remove armor plates when there is even a tiny chance that someone will use firearms during the activity. This could bу dangerous!
Disadvantages of plate carriers
Of course, despite many pros of plate carriers they do have some disadvantages.
Limited protection of the body
Unlike body armor vests, plate carriers only provide protection with two armor plates, one is inserted to the front pocket of the vest and the other – to the back pocket. The sides of your torso remain unprotected as well as the neck and the stomach below the belly button.
Note that there are models of plate carriers that deliver maximum protection of your body, so this disadvantage can be mostly compensated by clever choice of the actual plate carrier.
Too much attached equipment can restrict movement
While MOLLE or PALS webbing on the plate carrier allow you to attach a lot of tools and thus ready yourself for almost any type of a tactical mission, there is a backside of such flexibility too. In dynamic scenarios hindered flexibility can be deadly. Literally. This is why you should pay close attention in selecting a particular plate carrier and make sure the webbing with all the tools attached does not hamper you.
Plate carriers are prone to overheating
Plate carriers are made of synthetic materials such as nylon. And synthetic materials are know for their low breathing qualities. This means that wearing a plate carrier during hot days can lead to overheating of your body. Especially with all the tactical gear attached to the carrier. For better comfort, make sure to select models with air mesh liners that improve airflow around your body.
How to select a plate carrier
Needless to say, just like with any other type of tactical gear around, selecting a plate carrier is a matter of multiple factors, primarily your goals and your budget. Surely, there is no one universal answer to all tactical questions that may arise around you. What are those situations you will be using your plate carrier? Will you be facing armed violence? Do you plan to spend days on a shooting range? Is it hunting or guarding the area? Depending on your typical tasks, you may need one or another model of a plate carrier.
Here are main principles when choosing a plate carrier for ballistic plates.
- Asses a situation you will be using the vest in. Tactical operations require tactical plate carriers. And if serious ballistic threats are possible, make sure to select a plate carrier for hard armor plates.
- Will you need to attach just one tool or a whole set of tactical gear? There are plate carriers with varying MOLLE webbing capabilities.
- The size of a plate carrier depends on how you will use it. Sometimes you may want to stick to 10x12 plates to reduce weight. Other situations require heavier armor plates up to 11x14.
- If mobility is crucial, make sure the plate carrier support swim cut or shooter cut plates.
- Tape-measure yourself correctly! Measure your torso from nipple to nipple to get the width of the plate, and two fingers from belly button to suprasternal notch to get the height.
- Adjust the length of straps properly. The plate carrier should sit firmly and move along with your body when you turn or bend. At the same time, you should not feel any discomfort, your breathing must be free.
Best plate carriers
If you are not sure what plate carriers are the best for you, don’t hesitate to ask a professional consultant. Too many people rely on their own understanding of how a plate carrier should be selected. Such overconfidence is dangerous, especially if you purchase a plate carrier online. This way you can end up with a vest that simply does not provide enough safety and comfort, so you are literally putting yourself at risk!
BattleSteel®️ recommends carefully studying the product catalog and make a short list of plate carriers that you feel suit your goals. Then, contact our specialist and ask him questions on each model. Ask to help you compare plate carriers you have pre-selected. Do not hesitate to request exact specifications and features. This way you can get the best plate carrier for your ballistic plates and equipment.