Plate carriers can come between you and a hail of gunfire. That's why we brought in Navy SEAL Mark Cochiolo to share his vast knowledge of tactical gear.
By the end of this article, you'll know what plate carriers are, why we use them, and best practices when using them.
What Are Plate Carriers?
Plate carriers are load-bearing vests that carry various tactical gear and hold body armor to defend you against bullets, shrapnel, and knives. Standard plate carriers have armored plates that protect the front and back of your upper body while heavy-duty plate carrier vests will protect your sides, too.
First Known Users of Body Armor
Body armor has been around ever since men started using weapons to fight one another. Knights are the first warriors to come to mind. But shields were used long before suits of armor came into play.
So the next logical step from a handheld shield would have been attaching protection, armor, or shields to your body. As for modern body armor, we can look to a few innovators.
- During WWII, Col. Malcolm C. Grow created the flak vest.
- Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar in 1965.
- The Smithsonian documents former Marine Richard Davis' modern bulletproof vest here.
Each inventor had their motivations. Grow wanted to protect his fellow soldiers in 1943. Kwolek was doing her job as a chemist. And Davis had his lightbulb moment when he was shot during a robbery.
Why Use a Tactical Plate Carrier?
Tactical plate carriers keep you safer. They are valuable not only to the wearer but to the organization they work for. You want to avoid the grim reaper. But your employer wants the same on a personal and financial level.
Law enforcement officers are valuable assets, as this department saw firsthand on Christmas. Soldiers who protect themselves can better protect their unit. Employers of bodyguards are safer if their guards are less vulnerable.
As Coch told us, the great thing about plate carrier vests is that you can remain mobile while wearing them. Were you to pack all your equipment onto a battle belt, you might have to leave some tools off. If you did manage to pack them all along your waist, you would find the unequal weight cumbersome. Not ideal when you're on the move in hostile situations.
Don't forget the importance of getting to your weapons and tools quickly. These vests make quick access to flashlights, magazines, handguns, and blades super smooth. Imagine reaching to the rear of your battle belt in a deadly situation or being unable to reach your ankle for a second weapon.
Plate carriers are often thought of as heavy impediments to movement. But they are the best alternative unless you're willing to roll the dice with the bare necessities on hand.
Different Types of Plate Carriers
Coch talked to us about the different types he has used throughout his career–from ship boarding rigs to full-blown ‘invasion' setups.
Below, you'll find descriptions of the major types.
Hot-footing it across hostile territory is no easy task when you're carrying a heavy load. That's where a lightweight ballistic vest comes into play.
You should also consider how your gear should be worn. Will it go over your regular clothing, or will you be wearing it beneath a jacket? Lighter versions are typically easier to conceal because there is less material to deal with.
Being mobile can be as crucial a part of your self-defense as stopping the deadliest of bullets. Choosing a lighter vest is the right choice many times. So, a clear understanding of your mission should guide your decision when picking out your perfect tactical plate carrier.
There are few situations where you will be hunkered down 100-percent of the time. But for scenarios where movement isn't a large part of your detail, a heavy carrier may be the best option.
Those scenarios could include:
- Active shooter situations
- Protecting an area for an extended period of time
- Certain types of room entry situations
These vests offer protection against high power calibers. Side protection is usually included in addition to front and back armored plate protection. The amount of pockets elevates too, allowing you to pack more equipment.
Keep in mind that adding equipment just because you have extra space, however, can weigh you down unnecessarily.
You may never have considered using a bulletproof or ballistic backpack. Backpack style plate carriers can be very effective, and they are becoming popular among civilians.
Most of these backpack plate carriers still function as a backpack. For example, students can feel safer in case they end up in the middle of a school attack. Security guards in relatively peaceful positions would also feel safer with a shield on their back or by their side.
What Makes a Good Plate Carrier?
A suitable choice will be different depending on your body type and mission, which we'll dive deeper into in a minute. But some things to look for include:
- What size body armor plates it holds.
- The number of pockets.
- Ensuring your standard equipment will fit.
- Can it hold soft and hard armor?
- Is it water-proof or water-resistant?
- Reliable material.
- Does it have infrared properties?
How Long Will It Last?
Invest in a well-made, reliable plate carrier brand, and you won't have to worry about it for practically a lifetime.
However, even the best plate carriers will begin to wear and tear, and Coch mentioned all armored plates have an expiration date. While it may be tempting to assume your plate carrier is “Ok” for using past the date, that can be a dangerous theory.
Like any piece of protective gear, you should always inspect your plate carrier and body armor before and after use. Using a defective plate carrier with expired armored plates is no better than going into a gunfight with a faulty weapon.
Other factors to consider are that soft armor expires sooner than hard body armor. Also, water plays a role. It can shorten the lifespan of your plate carrier and even destroy its effectiveness if submerged.
Are Inexpensive Options Worth Using?
We would never advise you to go the cheap route when it comes to self-defense and your life. Money can be made daily, life can't be regenerated. So you want to buy the highest quality protection you can afford.
That said, these days, there are inexpensive options that can get the job done.
Coch recommends looking to the Airsoft community to find a lower-cost plate carrier. Designs can be very similar to the plate carriers used by the military and law enforcement, yet they will be cheaper and can last years.
Setting Up Your Plate Carrier
Ok, you know where you are going and the risks involved. So, make a list of the tools, weapons, and equipment you will need to carry. This is the starting point for the best plate carrier set-up.
Also, it's a good idea to consider:
- How long will you be wearing the plate carrier?
- The weather and environment.
- How long will you be in the field?
- Weight distribution.
Don't forget to keep medical equipment on you as well, like tourniquets, chest seals, and gauze. These items, and more, can be attached to your gun belt, but you can use your plate carrier as well for quick access.
No One Perfect Setup
Everyone's body type and comfort level is different. It's your plate carrier, so make it as light or as heavy as you'd like.
We've seen guys carry everything but the kitchen sink because they are the type who prep for everything. Other buddies prefer to lose five or six pounds on a vest to avoid fatigue and are more mobile.
For “Coch,” a three-mag, fixed-blade knife, multi-tool, night-vision, flashlight set-up is enough. He also has a trauma kit secured behind his armored plate for emergencies.
Look, you know your job better than anyone. That means you can likely envision what's needed on an hour by hour basis. Build your set-up with those hours in mind instead of trying to see the entire forest first.
Keep a Standard Configuration
Even though it's advisable to change your loadout based on your job or mission, there are exceptions. Think about the tools you use most frequently, regardless of the environment or the operation.
As Coch recommends, it would be best if you kept tools like this in the same locations on all of your plate carriers every time for quick retrieval.
The same goes for whichever weapon you would need to grab in an instant. Keeping this weapon in the same place, even if using different vests, means muscle memory is on your side.
Testing Your Setup
Would it be better to test your plate carrier the first time an emergency rears its head? Of course not. You'll want to get plenty of reps under your belt with your plate carrier during any kind of tactical training. Wearing your plate carrier while training will reveal flaws in how you set up your equipment.
For example, you may discover:
- Your set-up prevents you from removing the vest quickly.
- The weight distribution hampers your speed, balance, or shooting stance.
- Drawing your weapon is hindered.
Issues like these are great during training because they give you the chance to adjust before live-action. Make sure to wear your plate carrier in realistic situations, such as during force-on-force training, so you know what will work and what won't.
Plate carriers have come a long way, and there's now a vast selection to choose from. No matter your profession, there is an affordable plate carrier available to suit your needs.
Just choose yours carefully based on your specific job or mission. Load it up with the right equipment. And be sure to train with your bulletproof vest as much as you practice with your weapons and tools.
Being bulletproof will take your self-defense to a whole new level. Please share this article with folks who'd appreciate the intel.