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Published Jan. 13, 2021

A plate carrier is designed to hold armor plates that protect your vital organs if you get shot in the upper body. The basic design is front and back panels — each equipped with a plate bag, which is a thin sleeve much like laptop slot on a backpack — shoulder straps, and a cummerbund. Many plate carriers, though, improve upon that standard by offering features for comfort and mobility, load-bearing capabilities, and longevity. 

With so many options available, we compiled a list of the best plate carriers out there — the ones that strike the right balance of protection and features. We know they’re the best because we and our trusted experts conducted hands-on testing with all the options on this list. Plus, this article is not sponsored by any of the companies listed.

The Crye JPC is used by everyone from Navy SEALs to Army Rangers to SWAT officers to yours truly. The Jumpable Plate Carrier has a close fit and offers excellent mobility. Plus, the average infantryman can scale it down for general-purpose use.

The simple carrier consists of two plate bags and a Velcro cummerbund joined in the back by two strands of flexible and adjustable shock cord. The shoulder straps also feature a unique ripcord system — the two-step emergency doff system — so you can quickly remove the rig if you’re submerged in water or need medical attention.

The JPC 2.0 also features attachment points for buckles to attach a front placard, and zippers on the back for a Crye Precision back panel, which can be changed to fit the mission. For most users, some form of the JPC 2.0 will work well, possibly with some aftermarket accessories depending on the user, and that’s why it’s our pick for the best overall plate carrier.

The JPC is a nimble plate carrier, often described as a “Cordura bikini” because it doesn’t extend very far past the actual rifle plate. Also, the JPC is not especially heavy, so it won’t add much weight on top of your attached equipment and plates. The JPC achieves this by having minimal padding and excess material, and by relying on materials like Hypalon to strengthen stress points.

The JPC also excels in the area of adaptability, with the inclusion of a back zipper panel and front buckle loops and Velcro for the mounting of placards. What this means is that you can keep multiple back panels or front placard setups for multiple mission types, or remove the back panel entirely to ruck into the mission area, drop the pack, retrieve a back panel with a hydration bladder carrier or a small backpack, zip it on, and be ready to maneuver.

The flexibility of front placards also allows users to simply unclip a placard or chest rig that’s meant to carry M4 magazines, and swap over to one that’s designed for Sensitive Site Exploitation or one designed to accommodate magazines for a 7.62-caliber rifle like the SR25 or SCAR-17, which are both uses that the experts I interviewed have done with their JPCs.

Finally, the JPC — being a mainstay of cool guy gear — has a healthy aftermarket for accessories, including Crye back panels, most micro chest rigs and placards, and enhancements from designers like AXL Advanced. This means that with enough coin and enough time, you can truly have a designer plate carrier that fights with you.

Unfortunately, the lightweight and nimble cut of the JPC is as much a limitation as it is a capability, leading to a plate carrier that’s not the most comfortable out of the box. For starters, the shoulder straps are paper-thin, and offer no sort of padding to help alleviate pressure points over long periods of time, which is fine when you’re someone who gets chauffeured to a 30-minute direct action raid in an MH-6 Little Bird, but less optimal when your average day deployed involves patrolling for hours on foot. You can alleviate this by buying a quality pair of shoulder pads, but that’s an extra cost that could be anywhere from $30 to $90. Additionally, the front of the JPC is designed specifically to be used with placards, lacking any sort of lower torso MOLLE webbing to avoid the extra weight and complication of a front MOLLE flap. This thin design also lends itself to consistent complaints about durability, especially with the previous generation of the JPC, and the relatively low cost can mean you may have to repair the shoulder straps after hard use.

The Velcro cummerbund is another point of contention, appearing obsolete as quick detachment options like tubes and buckles become more popular. Also, adjusting the cummerbund in the rear isn’t as intuitive or precise as other options. It relies on your ability to tie the shock cord on either side of the cummerbund evenly.

The last drawback is the plate bags. They’re cut to accommodate a SAPI plate and not much more. If you’re using something thicker like an RMA 1155 plate, you may want to go up a size. Additionally, for military users, the soft armor panels that are included in the USMC plate carrier or Army IOTV are too large, and military plates don’t work without soft armor backers, so if you’re putting issued ESAPIs in, you will need to purchase SAPI shaped soft armor backers.

Overall, the Crye Precision JPC 2.0 is a solid carrier that can be adapted to many different missions, and can even be an acceptable infantry carrier if set up properly. It’s the gold standard for a reason, and if you purchase one, you won’t soon regret it.

Product Specs
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Color options: Coyote Brown, Black, Ranger Green, Multicam, Multicam Black, Multicam Tropic, Multicam Arid, Other colors for specific contracts
  • Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Cummerbund fastening: Velcro
  • Quick attach points: Yes, front placard and Crye zipper back panel
  • Plate cut: SAPI and Shooter Cut Plates
PROS

The gold standard with tons of aftermarket support

Slim and agile

Reasonably lightweight

CONS

Durability Concerns

Fits very small on many users

Needs many upgrades to be a general-purpose carrier

The Defense Mechanisms MEPC doesn’t try too hard. It’s not trying to convince you that it’s a military plate carrier — because it isn’t. It’s designed for people who need to throw on a plate carrier and have ballistic protection and carry all the essentials, while still being scalable enough to adapt to the mission, hence the name Mission Essential Plate Carrier.

The MEPC features Velcro space, attachment points for placards, and a built-in zipper admin pouch. It’s a fully scalable design that’s borderline concealable. The cummerbund attaches in the rear with Velcro, but you have two options for attaching it in the front. You can either use Velcro or Rapid Open Connector (ROC) clips.

Although the MEPC doesn’t have a ton of webbing, I was still able to fit a wide variety of military accessories and essentially replicate how I set up my issued gear. It’s also reasonably comfortable. It has moisture-wicking mesh built into the inside of the plate bag, which doubles as some mild cushioning. The plate bags are cut a little more generously as well, so you won’t have to use expensive thin plates in your budget price carrier, and thick RMA 1155MCs aren’t going to be an issue. Finally, it’s compatible with standard-size placards and chest rigs, using either standard ITW Nexus buckles or G-Hooks depending on your preference, making this a thoroughly modern plate carrier.

The front plate bag has no MOLLE webbing to speak of unless you attach a specific placard. The chest Velcro is great for attaching Forward Observation Group patches, but chest MOLLE webbing is a popular location for things like Juggernaut phone cases, multi-tools, and radio push-to-talk boxes, and I would have preferred if the chest Velcro did double duty as MOLLE webbing. The straps are completely unpadded, which becomes an issue if you’re using 8.5-pound budget plates or carry a significant amount of equipment. Finally, there’s no stretch to the cummerbund whatsoever, so you’re either stuck with a plate carrier that’s a little too loose and chafes your chest when you move, or one that’s a little too restrictive when you bend over.

Overall, the Defense Mechanisms MEPC will work well for most civilian users and some military users who need a lightweight plate carrier that just carries plates. Vehicle crew and military police are two examples that I could think of that would prefer a lower profile plate carrier. In fact, when one of our reporters was asked to go to Ukraine, this was the first plate carrier that I recommended.

Product Specs
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Color options: Coyote Brown, Black, Ranger Green, Wolf Grey, M81 Woodland, Multicam
  • Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Cummerbund fastening: Velcro or ROC Clips
  • Quick attach points: Yes, front placard
  • Plate cut: SAPI and Shooter Cut Plates
PROS

Excellent load bearing

Customizable in every way

Excellent protection from backface deformation

CONS

Not designed for general purpose military use

Unpadded shoulder straps

Limited MOLLE space

Editor’s Choice

The Crye Adaptive Vest System is an unbelievably well-designed carrier that more than makes up for its high price tag. With some patient setup and deep pockets, the AVS makes itself the best upgrade for the servicemember who wants something that carries heavy loads extremely well for long periods of time. Unlike a traditional plate carrier — consisting of front and rear plate bags, shoulder straps, and a cummerbund — the Crye AVS is whatever you need it to be.

When you buy an AVS plate carrier, you’re actually buying it piecemeal and building it out bit by bit. Essentially, the AVS is a semi-rigid harness that serves as the foundation for your vest. It’s also supremely comfortable. It’s equipped with foam pontoons that hold it away from your back and sides, improves ventilation, and decreases backface deformation.

The system is completely modular, meaning that it’s as simple or as complicated as you need it to be, and supports any number of attachments or modifications. You can choose from more than 25 components that include plate bags, side carriers, cummerbunds, MOLLE flaps, shoulder straps, packs, pouches, panels, and more until you create the plate carrier that fits you and your needs.

The plate bags come in a variety of different sizes, meaning if you need them in SAPI cut, swimmer cut, MBAV cut, or a mixture, you’ve got a carrier that can support anything. Finally, the AVS supports a wide host of aftermarket modifications, due to its status as the cream of the crop in terms of military plate carriers.

Because of the customization, though, the AVS does have some inherent drawbacks like you have to assemble it yourself, which can be challenging depending on how much gear you’re adding. And, all that customization doesn’t come cheap. A basic AVS setup is going to cost more than $800 new.

Overall, the Crye AVS is an overpowered and supremely supportive carrier. Although it doesn’t come cheap and it’s not always easy, there’s a reason why it has seen widespread military use.

Product Specs
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Color options: Coyote Brown, Black, Ranger Green, Multicam, other patterns for specific contracts.
  • Weight: 3 pounds
  • Cummerbund fastening: Harness slot and Velcro
  • Quick attach points: Yes, Crye precision zipper back panel
  • Plate cut: SAPI, Swimmer, Shooter, and MBAV cut platebags available
PROS

Multiple colors

Customizable

Comfortable in a variety of climates

CONS

Expensive

Complicated to set up

Parts sold separately

The Whiskey Two-Four Plate Carrier 13, or PC13, is perfect for those who need protection from rifle threats, but aren’t worried about things like load-carrying or prolonged military usage. The sleek and simple design makes it an excellent choice for concealed use, but it’s also equipped with pockets if you need to carry more gear and slots for buckles if you need to attach a placard for a scaled up operation.

The PC13 breaks down into four main pieces: front panel, back panel, and a two-piece cummerbund. They all fasten together with Velcro. Both sides of the cummberbund have three pockets — so six items total — and each one will fit just about anything you’ll want to carry on a carrier like a magazine, grenade, water bottle, radio, first aid kit, etc.

Whiskey Two-Four constructed the PC13 out of a variety of mil-spec nylon fabrics. The plate bags are cut for a variety of armor plates. That opens you up to a lot of options, but it also means the bags will be somewhat roomy for thinner plates.

While it’s lightweight and fitting, the barebones design does get uncomfortable if you wear it for an extended period of time. However, at around $100, the PC13 is very affordable, so it won’t be too burdensome on the wallet if you choose to upgrade. Whiskey Two-Four offers shoulder pads, hanger bags, a PALS back panel, and a hydration back panel.

The Whiskey Two-Four Plate Carrier 13 is a no-nonsense carrier that carries armor plates, and does so with minimal complication and cost. It might not be suitable for general-purpose military use, and it might not be built for comfort, but for many users, the PC13 is all the carrier they’ll ever need.

Product Specs
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Color options: Coyote Brown, Black, Ranger Green, Multicam, Wolf Grey
  • Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Cummerbund fastening: Velcro
  • Quick attach points: Yes, loops for placard buckles
  • Plate cut: SAPI/Shooter
PROS

Easy to set up

Inexpensive

Still capable of carrying gear

CONS

Limited adaptability

Less comfortable for long periods of time

Baggy platebags

Best for Comfort

First Spear is known for two features: laser-cut webbing and an innovative quick-detach system. And, the Strandhogg series of plate carriers makes the best use of both of them. The Strandhogg is possibly one of the best plate carriers for load-carrying and long-term comfort that does not rely on some sort of dedicated internal frame.

To say the Strandhogg has a lot of webbing is an understatement. Nearly every outward-facing surface — the front panel, back panel, and the cummerbund — is covered with laser-cut MOLLE, which is more durable than you might think. I tested it by dragging the fully-loaded Strandhogg across a dirt road behind a vehicle, and the MOLLE did not rip or tear. The tradeoff to a fully-covered MOLLE vest is you have to add Velcro or placard attachments, if you want it.

Additionally, the Strandhogg makes use of the First Spear Tubes technology. It’s an intuitive fastener molded out of plastic, which you use to quickly close and detach the cummerbund and shoulder straps. The “rapid-release” technology would come in handy in emergency situations where your vest needs to be removed. On my Strandhogg vest, the tubes are sewn directly into the front plate bag.

Despite it being a fully-featured general-purpose plate carrier, the Strandhogg is relatively lightweight and streamlined. The laser-cut MOLLE webbing takes up very little space, and functions as a flat surface when not in use, while still providing great load-bearing capabilities.

For many trying out the Strandhogg, you either love or hate the Tubes system. Personally, I like the quick-detach cummerbund and shoulder straps (however, I prefer National Molding TacTik buckles over First Spear Tubes, but that’s besides the point).

Overall, the Strandhogg is an acquired taste, but it’s one that I’m fine with. I’ve gotten over my minor preference issue with Tubes vs TacTik buckles, and this is a carrier that trades some of the load-bearing capabilities of the AVS for increased simplicity, ease of use, and very speedy donning and doffing.

Product Specs
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Color options: Coyote Brown, Black, Ranger Green, Multicam
  • Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Cummerbund fastening: First Spear Tubes
  • Quick attach points: No
  • Plate cut: SAPI/Shooter, MBAV, Swimmer
PROS

Extremely comfortable

Maximum MOLLE space

Quick on and of

CONS

Tubes are the only option

No Velcro

Limited placard support

Best Lightweight

The Crye Airlite Structural Plate Carrier, or SPC, is a perfectly named carrier. It’s made entirely out of 1.1 pounds of laser-cut laminate material, so when it’s strapped to your body, all you’re really feeling are the armor plates, pouches, and whatever gear you choose to carry.

The Airlite SPC is equipped with a semi-rigid structural cummerbund, which is the core of the SPC’s load-bearing capability. It works using a plastic tab that tucks into a pocket behind the Velcro on the front, and the two rows of the cummerbund tuck through dedicated slots in the rear plate bag. This system stabilizes the cummerbund, so it supports the entire carrier with minimal sagging.

However, the way in which Crye keeps the Airlite plate carrier so lightweight is by doing away with non-essential features. Compared to other vests, it doesn’t offer much in the way of padding. The closest thing to comfort is the mesh backing on the plate bags. Another drawback is that you have to buy the Airlite SPC piecemeal, much like the Crye AVS. You can pick from more than 15 different components and tailor the carrier to your liking, but it’ll add up.

Product Specs
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Color options: Coyote Brown, Black, Ranger Green, Multicam
  • Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Cummerbund fastening: Plastic slot and velcro
  • Quick attach points: Yes, one loop for front placards and zipper back panel for Crye back panels
  • Plate cut: SAPI/Shooter
PROS

Great balance of load-bearing and slim profile

Light weight

Adaptable

CONS

Bought in pieces

Less comfortable than other options

Limited placard support

Best Amphibious

The S&S Precision PlateFrame is made entirely out of hydrophobic materials, so unlike traditional plate carriers constructed from fabric, there’s nothing to absorb moisture, even when it’s completely submerged. It’s a popular feature for Naval Special Warfare operators or anyone operating in or around water.

When you buy an S&S PlateFrame, what you see is what you get. It’s essentially a lattice of plastic that fits around your body (and it’s not as uncomfortable as you might think). However, you get a host of options for tailoring it for your needs like custom text cutout, PlateFrame and harness color, harness size, and even engraving options, but probably the most important thing is plate size. You can choose from around 20 plate options, meaning the carrier is built for the plate.

When you buy a PlateFrame, you’re buying into the S&S ecosystem of gear. While it may be a turnoff to some, it ensures you’re getting accessories specifically designed for maritime use, ranging from pouches to padding. There are other alternatives, and S&S offers upgraded versions like the PlateFrame Modular, albeit about a 60 percent increase in price. The PlateFrame isn’t designed to be used with plates that require soft armor backers, so standard military ESAPI plates won’t provide full protection. You’ll need stand-alone plates specifically. Finally, S&S has plate models for about 20 different plates on the market, so if your specific plates aren’t on their list, you’ll have to mail your plates to them to have it custom fitted.

For waterborne or amphibious use, there’s no substitute for an S&S plate carrier. It’s a niche tool, but they do what they do very well.

Product Specs
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Color options: Tan, Black, Multicam, Toadvine
  • Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Cummerbund fastening: Velcro straps
  • Quick attach points: No
  • Plate cut: Variable
PROS

Virtually zero water retention

Will fit any plate

Light

CONS

Less comfortable in stock configuration

Needs S&S accessories

Limited support for most military plates

Back circa the mid 2000s, this was the coolest thing in special operations body armor and favored by various units. Since then, it’s been superseded in features by nearly everything on this list in every way except for price. The surplus market is full of various plate carriers, but CIRAS vests are very reasonably priced, and are better than anything that can be had new for this price that’s suitable for general purpose use. The MBAV, RBAV, and MBSS are also good purchases.

The CIRAS vest hails from an era where all-around fragmentation protection was prioritized and when nylon gear was made of heavy 1000D cordura, based on wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. The carrier features plenty of MOLLE, and one of its central features is a relatable ripcord that causes the vest to fall apart when pulled, in the event that the wearer falls into the water. Finally, the biggest advantage of going with a reputable surplus is that the price for what you get is way lower than buying new, and in many cases you can find options still in the bag.

The unfortunate side of buying surplus is that many of the options are totally obsolete for general purpose military use, hence their low price. The CIRAS in particular is known for being a cordura tent, fitting large and being uncomfortable over long periods of time. Additionally, due to the interior and exterior cummerbund design, it restricts mobility, and makes the carrier difficult to put on. Another issue is that the surplus market is routinely raided by collectors and airsofters, meaning certain items become as expensive as buying a new, modern carrier. Finally, due to being made of 1000D cordura, the CIRAS is heavy for its size.

Bottom line, for people who need a plate carrier on an extreme budget, the surplus market is the way to go. It works much better than buying cheaply-made products made of imported materials, especially for those who need something that’s durable.

Product Specs
  • Country of manufacture: USA
  • Color options: Khaki, Ranger Green, Coyote Brown, Multicam
  • Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Cummerbund fastening: Velcro straps
  • Quick attach points: No
  • Plate cut: SAPI plates and BALCS soft armor
PROS

Inexpensive

Readily available

Durable

CONS

Large and heavy

Surplus market is at the whims of collectors

Difficult to assemble and put on

Why you should trust us

For this article, I tested eight plate carriers over the course of several months and in a variety of environments ranging from military field exercises to physical fitness training to static ranges. To review the plate carriers, I drew upon my nearly eight years of experience using and selling tactical gear. In researching this topic, I also interviewed dozens of U.S. service members, both active and retired. 

Types of plate carriers

While plate carriers have similar features, they vary in construction materials and intended purpose. While they all come in a range of styles, they can be categorized into four types: low-profile, training, maritime, and general-purpose.

Low-profile

A low-profile plate carrier refers to either a concealable plate carrier that fits under a shirt or jacket, or a carrier that fits over your shirt and holds gear but takes up very little space and doesn’t weigh a whole lot. They generally feature slick plate bags, minimal cummerbunds, and little to no MOLLE webbing. Examples include the Velocity Systems ULV and Crye Precision LV-MBAV

Training

A training plate carrier, usually designed for civilian use, fits somewhere between a low-profile carrier and a general-purpose carrier. What that means is it has more features than a low-profile but not as much as a general purpose. Instead of significant MOLLE webbing, it will feature things like placards, Velcro attachments, padded plate bags, and built-in admin pouches. An example of this is the MEPC from Defense Mechanisms.

Maritime

Maritime plate carriers are meant for use close to water, such as with Marines, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen. They’re designed so if you fall into a body of water, you can surface and avoid drowning. In general, they feature some sort of quick-release mechanism, and modern examples use thermoplastic or laminate materials, which won’t absorb water. Examples include the CIRAS Maritime and S&S PlateFrame. 

General-purpose

General-purpose carriers are the category that most body armor vests worn by military personnel fall under. Designed for direct combat, these vests prioritize load-bearing, protection, and MOLLE space to make sure that the individual combatant has everything they need and can carry it on long missions. Examples include the First Spear Strandhogg and Crye AVS.

Key features of plate carriers

Webbing

Most plate carriers are equipped with rows of nylon webbing that you can use to attach gear pouches. The carrier itself is considered a piece of Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, or MOLLE, and the webbing is called a Pouch Attachment Ladder System, or PALS. To use it, you just weave the pouch’s strap(s) through the webbing. 

Cummerbund

The cummerbund is how you secure your plate carrier on your body. It’s fairly intuitive in that you fasten it around your waist. However, how you literally secure it around your body varies. Some cummerbunds use Velcro or plastic clips, while others use a more expensive buckle. 

Quick-release system

A quick-release system is an important safety feature on a plate carrier, especially if you wear it for maritime operations. As the name suggests, you use the system when you need to doff — an old English word for “removing” — the carrier quickly. To activate it, you pull a ripcord or something similar. 

Comfort features

A plate carrier loaded with gear and holding armor plates will eventually feel heavy, no matter who you are. Therefore, certain features like mesh lining for ventilation or padded shoulder straps will make your plate carrier more tolerable to wear for longer periods of time. Additionally, some brands offer complex harness systems to make a carrier more bearable to wear. Comfort is something that shouldn’t be ignored when buying a plate carrier. 

Plate carrier pricing 

Budget

Plate carriers in the  $80 to $250 price range are extremely basic. They’re often meant for low-profile or civilian usage. Examples of these are the Defense Mechanisms MEPC and Whiskey Two-Four Plate Carrier 13.

Mid-range

Plate carriers ranging from $250 to $600 are meant for hard duty. They’ll be constructed from durable materials and designed with advanced features. Most carriers on the market fall into this category, and examples from our list range from the JPC to the Strandhogg to the Plateframe.

Premium

Carriers costing more than $600 are the cream of the crop in terms of technology and materials, and they will often innovate in ways that put them miles ahead of the competition. Examples of this are the Crye AVS, CAGE Armor Chassis, or the S&S Plateframe Modular.

FAQs on plate carriers

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: What plate carrier do Marines use?

A: Currently for general issue, the KDH Plate Carrier Gen II is being phased out in favor of the VPA Plate Carrier Gen III.

A: It’s legal to wear a plate carrier in public in most states and localities, but you should always review local laws or consult legal experts if you have questions regarding a legal issue.

Q: Do cops wear plate carriers?

A: Police officers wear whatever is permitted by their department. With that being said, they will wear adequate protective gear for their given assignment. A plate carrier with rifle plates might be appropriate when serving a high-risk warrant or confronting a subject armed with a rifle. 

Q: Is a plate carrier body armor?

A: No, not by itself. Without armor inserts, a plate carrier is just a cloth bag and some straps. To protect against ballistic threats, you need to use soft or hard armor plate inserts.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. We independently evaluate gear by putting products in the hands of subject matter experts. The products we test may be purchased by Task & Purpose, our staff, or provided for review by a manufacturer. No matter the source, our testing procedures and our assessments remain free from third-party influence. Learn more about our product review process.

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