The Best Plate Carriers for Comfort, Protection, and Performance
A plate carrier is a crucial piece of gear for military personnel, law enforcement officers, and civilians interested in personal protection or participating in shooting sports. It is a vest designed to hold ballistic plates that provide protection against bullets and shrapnel. As the demand for plate carriers has grown, so has the variety of options available. This article aims to help you find the best plate carriers on the market, taking into account factors such as comfort, durability, and adjustability.
- The Most Important Bits:
- The Best 5 Plate Carriers for Comfort, Protection, and Performance
- What Criteria You Should Look For
- Types of Plate Carriers
- Sizes, Shapes, and Fit
- Women’s Plate Carriers
- Emergency Doffing and Grab Handles
- Emergency Doffing Procedure
- Customizing Your Rig
For concerns surrounding home safety or emergency evacuations, it’s recommended to consider the use of hard body armor plates. Offering enhanced protection from different types of firearms than soft armor, these plates operate as standalone units needing additional gear for secure body attachment.
Certain plate carriers serve as a basic platform designed to securely hold plates in position over the chest and back. In contrast, other carriers serve as a versatile foundation for carrying essential equipment during combat scenarios, including additional magazines, a radio, an individual first aid kit or tourniquet, hydration systems, and even specialized backpacks.
When considering the usage of body armor, it’s crucial to take into account the specific scenario and context in which it will be worn. Body armor is heavy and can restrict movement, so for activities like long-range rural scouting, individuals often prioritize reducing weight and may opt for alternatives such as chest rigs, belts, or backpacks without wearing armor. However, in situations where defending one’s home amidst the collapse of a city is necessary, individuals may choose to bear the extra weight and wear the armor due to the increased likelihood of close combat encounters.
The Most Important Bits:
- There are numerous excellent options available at around $150, but high-end medium and minimal carriers can cost approximately $300.
- Avoid buying cheap carriers as they are prone to falling apart due to the heavy and abrasive nature of armor, along with the jostling it may experience during emergency movements. Cheaper materials and stitching are not suitable for real combat situations and are typically designed for airsoft, weighted exercising, and LARPing.
- If you have a limited budget and don’t yet have the carrier or plates, it’s advisable to purchase the carrier first as it can still be used as a gear platform without armor. However, ensure you know the size and shape of plates you’ll be using before buying the carrier.
- When considering used carriers, carefully inspect the fabric and seams for any damage before making a purchase.
- Plate carrier sizes are typically determined by the size of the plates they accommodate, rather than your general body or clothing size. Pay close attention to sizing, as labels may vary between different websites.
- Carriers are designed to hold an even number of plates, with most people opting for 2 or 4 plates. It’s not recommended to use a carrier with only a plate on the front without one on the back, as it would result in an imbalanced platform.
- The standard configuration for most people involves using two plates, one on the front and one on the back. While carriers can accommodate smaller side plates under the armpit, they are typically not utilized outside of highly dangerous situations.
- “Emergency doffing” is a crucial feature that enables quick removal of the entire carrier from your body, often achieved with a single pull of a cord. This is especially important in cases of injury or being trapped.
- Neutral colors are generally more suitable than camouflage for urban or suburban settings. Tactical plate carriers are still relatively uncommon and may draw attention during events like civil unrest, with camouflage exacerbating this issue.
- Women face challenges in this market, as manufacturers primarily cater to frontline soldiers and law enforcement personnel. Additionally, the physics of securely holding a heavy, flat, and rigid plate over the breasts presents difficulties.
- Considering the weight of hard armor, opt for a carrier that is as minimalist as possible while taking into account the gear you will be attaching, such as magazines.
The Best 5 Plate Carriers for Comfort, Protection, and Performance
1. Crye Precision JPC 2.0
The Crye Precision JPC 2.0 (Jumpable Plate Carrier) is a lightweight, minimalist plate carrier that has gained widespread popularity among military personnel and law enforcement officers. Made with high-quality materials, this carrier offers a comfortable fit and excellent protection. Its sleek design includes a skeletal cummerbund, allowing for optimal ventilation and minimal bulk. Additionally, the JPC 2.0 is designed with MOLLE webbing for attachment of pouches and other gear, making it highly customizable.
2. AR500 Armor® Veritas™ Modular Plate Carrier
The AR500 Armor Veritas Modular Plate Carrier is a versatile option for those looking for a carrier that can be easily adjusted to fit various body types and sizes. This carrier is constructed with durable 500D Cordura® nylon and features a modular design that allows for the addition of various accessories, such as side plate pouches and additional MOLLE attachments. The Veritas is also designed with padded, adjustable shoulder straps and an adjustable cummerbund for enhanced comfort and a secure fit.
3. HRT RAC Plate Carrier
Price: $209.95 – $299.95
The HRT RAC Plate Carrier is a reliable, high-performance option that has gained popularity among professionals and enthusiasts alike. This carrier features a unique quick-release system, allowing the user to quickly doff the carrier in emergency situations. The HRT RAC is constructed with durable materials and designed with comfort in mind, including padded shoulder straps and a ventilated, moisture-wicking inner lining. The carrier is also compatible with a variety of placards and accessories, making it highly customizable.
4. Condor MOPC (Modular Operator Plate Carrier)
The Condor MOPC is an affordable option for those looking for a quality plate carrier without breaking the bank. Made with heavy-duty 1000D nylon, this carrier is built to withstand tough conditions while providing reliable protection. The MOPC features an adjustable cummerbund and shoulder straps, ensuring a comfortable fit for various body types. With ample MOLLE webbing and an integrated admin pouch, this carrier offers numerous customization options.
5. 5.11 Tactical TacTec Plate Carrier
The 5.11 Tactical TacTec Plate Carrier is a popular choice for those seeking a plate carrier that is both comfortable and functional. Designed with input from military and law enforcement professionals, the TacTec features an innovative design that distributes weight evenly and allows for enhanced mobility. This carrier is constructed with durable 500D nylon and includes padded shoulder straps, an adjustable waistband, and a ventilated mesh lining for maximum comfort. The TacTec also offers ample MOLLE webbing for the attachment of pouches and other gear.
What Criteria You Should Look For
Medium Plate Carriers. These are the heaviest but provide the highest level of adaptability to serve as a base for attaching extra gear, including MOLLE accessories.
- 5.11 TacTec $210
- Crye JPC 2.0 $240
- Agilite K19 Plate Carrier $270
- Grey Ghost SMC Plate Carrier $320
- First Spear Strandhogg $530
Minimalist Plate Carriers. Despite their lighter weight, these carriers effectively function as gear platforms.
- 5.11 Prime Plate Carrier $100
- Crye AirLite SPC $170
- Ferro Concepts DCPD V5 Base $265
- DFNDR QRC Plate Carrier $330
- First Spear AAC $540
Slick Plate Carriers. These carriers prioritize camouflage, ensuring optimal melding with the environment. Although lightweight, their capacity to carry extra gear is somewhat limited.
- First Spear Slick $120
- Shellback Tactical Stealth Low Vis $150
- Ferro Concepts Slickster $160
- LBT Slick Plate Carrier $270
- First Spear Decepter $265
Female Plate Carriers. These plate carriers are specifically designed to cater to the needs and requirements of female users, ensuring a better fit and comfort.
- Shellback Banshee Rifle Plate Carrier $230
- Tyr Tactical PICO – MV Assaulters Plate Carrier – Female $1,295 (includes plates)
- Tyr Tactical EPIC Enhanced PICO Integrated Carrier – Female $1,500 (includes plates)
Types of Plate Carriers
A vast array of options is available in the plate carrier market, which can broadly be grouped into four categories.
Heavy armor systems: These robustly constructed carriers are heavily padded to support loads of 35 pounds or more. However, they are excessive for civilian use and can be disregarded for our purposes.
Medium plate carriers: Falling into the ideal range for most individuals seeking to carry additional gear beyond just the plates, these carriers can comfortably accommodate 20-30 pounds.
Minimalist plate carriers: With fewer padding and attachment points, these carriers are suitable for loads ranging from 15-25 pounds.
Slick carriers: Designed to have a minimalist appearance and be worn discreetly under clothing, slick carriers provide the bare essentials. They may not offer the same emergency doffing (removal) options as Medium and Minimalist carriers, but they can be easily put on and taken off.
Sizes, Shapes, and Fit
The size of the plates they can carry typically characterizes plate carriers, rather than your clothing size. Most carriers offer one-size-fits-all suitability due to the ample adjustability in shoulder straps and cumberbund.
When searching for plate carriers, it is crucial to pay close attention to the specifications and don’t hesitate to inquire about sizing details. As a civilian buyer, one of the challenges lies in the varying standards of sizing and labels, which can make it difficult to match sizes between different brands.
For instance, the military’s SAPI standard designates a Medium plate as 9.5 x 12.5 inches. However, some civilian and law enforcement “standards” employ a 10 x 12-inch measurement. If you purchase a Medium SAPI plate and pair it with a carrier labeled as Medium according to a non-SAPI standard, the additional half-inch width may pose difficulties when inserting the plate into its pouch.
Handy tip: Even if you purchase a carrier before getting the plates, it is recommended to know the size of the plates you’ll eventually use.
Plates come in various shapes, and certain carriers specifically cater to different cuts like swimmers’ plates. We, however, endorse opting for a standard SAPI or square cut carrier for broader versatility.
In terms of plate compatibility, it is always possible to place a plate with a more angular cut inside a square pouch by allowing some additional space around the edges. However, the reverse is not possible. Therefore, it is advisable not to be concerned about the small extra space present around the corners of the plate, as it generally does not bother most individuals. Alternatively, you can insert some cotton or other material to fill any gaps and ensure a snug fit.
Women’s Plate Carriers
As the number of women entering combat and law enforcement roles increases, the industry is striving to catch up with their specific needs. For instance, starting in 2021, RMA Armament has begun offering female plates.
Maintaining comfort with hard plates, especially during prolonged periods, can be challenging. Although the industry strives to improve this, the comfort level achievable has its limits.
A commonly accepted guideline is that if you’re comfortable going braless, you’ll likely cope with a “male” or standard plate carrier. Despite not providing the best experience, it can be sufficient given its infrequent usage.
Some women find that angular cuts, such as swimmers’ cuts, offer more comfort due to the extra room around the edges where the shoulders move. Therefore, if comfort is a significant concern, it is worth trying out those cuts with a female-specific carrier.
During the fitting process, it is acceptable if the plate pushes the breasts to the side as long as it does not cause pain, harm, or restrict basic arm movement. It is essential to remember that the primary objective is to protect the vital organs beneath, rather than specifically safeguarding the breasts.
Emergency Doffing and Grab Handles
These two features are especially beneficial for civilians, given their lack of professional training and muscle memory, increasing their likelihood of being shot and struggling with gear management.
It is important to note that slick plate carriers often exclude these features, which is acceptable in cases where concealment is the primary concern.
Consider a scenario where you sustain an injury during a riot while clad in armor, in an area not covered by the plate. Struggling to unfasten the cummerbund and remove the entire rig, perhaps with additional gear on, is not the ideal situation.
Emergency doffing, although varying across different carrier models, always serves the same purpose: enabling a simple and rapid motion that quickly breaks apart the rig, allowing for a swift exit. It can be compared to pulling a ripcord on a parachute.
Features that facilitate quick weight shedding or snag-avoidance during sudden water immersion or injuries are highly useful.
Less flashy but equally important is the grab handle at the carrier’s top back for quick evacuation during injuries. Some carriers like Ferro Concepts Slickster even offer an optional drag handle for this purpose.
Emergency Doffing Procedure
1. Each shoulder is equipped with an emergency doff handle/cord. To release the CPC, simply pull either handle forward.
2. Activate the handle by pulling it forward until the cord detaches entirely from the carrier.
3. Upon emergency doff activation, the CPC will separate at the rear, as demonstrated.
4. As the vest separates at the back, the CPC will descend forward. To facilitate the separation of the CPC, adjust your body while the cord is being pulled.
Customizing Your Rig
Various accessories can be attached to plate carriers through open standard interfaces, such as MOLLE/PALS webbing and G-hooks, or through proprietary add-ons offered by the same company.
Among the common attachments, magazine holders are highly prevalent since the position over the abdomen allows for quick access to magazines during firefight situations. Some carriers even have integrated kangaroo pouches in that area, serving as built-in magazine holders.
Carrier fronts can accommodate additional attachments such as radio pouches, tourniquet holders, pistol or knife holsters, and general-purpose zip pouches.
Instead of assembling separate pouches, some individuals prefer whole-package kits that can be easily swapped on and off the carrier depending on the anticipated requirements for the day. These interchangeable “placards” enable swift transitions, such as switching from a panel with three magazine holders to another panel with more storage pouches.
To don the carrier, it is slipped over the head, and then the front and back panels are connected around the upper waist. This connection can be a simple strap or a more robust cummerbund. The cummerbund offers additional space for mounting gear, including smaller side armor plates that are positioned under the arms.
Certain providers offer cummerbunds as aftermarket options, with some featuring built-in soft armor like the FirstSpear Overlap Cummerbund.
In high-end carriers like the Crye JPC 2.0, the backside may feature attachment points or zippers for mounting various backpack and loadout accessories on the rear panel.
These premium plate carriers may also include zippers on the back for attaching small integrated backpacks and water storage pouches. Although they may not be frequently needed, having these options can be advantageous. However, it is generally more practical to wear a separate backpack alongside the plate carrier, allowing for independent access to the equipment inside without the need to remove the carrier or seek assistance from others. It’s important to note that the plate carrier and backpack may not always be compatible, as exemplified by the drawbacks of the Marine Corps’s ILBE system.
When contemplating suitable backpacks, consider the thickness of the plate carrier’s shoulder straps. Some like the 5.11 TacTec offer thicker straps for long wear, while others like Crye JPC 2.0 with thinner straps may accommodate backpack straps better. Preppers might find thinner straps more convenient unless expecting to carry considerable weight on the carrier.
Choosing the right plate carrier hinges on individual needs and preferences. Factors such as comfort, durability, adjustability, and cost are key considerations. The Crye Precision JPC 2.0, AR500 Armor Veritas Modular Plate Carrier, HRT RAC Plate Carrier, Condor MOPC, and 5.11 Tactical TacTec Plate Carrier all serve diverse needs and budgets.