Written By
Published Jan. 13, 2021

So, you managed to get your hands on some body armor — lucky you. Now it’s time to load that armor into a plate carrier that works for your individual needs, or it won’t do a bit of good. Before you unload your hard-earned money on the first plate carrier you find, think about the scenarios you’re likely to face and the expectations you have of your equipment. What works during a deployment might just slow you down in a home defense situation, and reporters and private security teams know there are times when it’s best to fly under the radar.

We’ve collected a variety of plate carriers that can provide life-saving protection so you can make an informed decision without wasting time surfing the internet.

Wrap-around MOLLE and integrated magazine storage make this OneTigris plate carrier one of the most usable options out there. Store three standard 30-round magazines in the vest, and mount more to the MOLLE panels as necessary. Bungee retention makes these pouches secure and well-suited to speed reloads. The cummerbund is designed to fit waist sizes from 36 to 46 inches–remember this is measured high, not around your hips (plate carriers should always be worn high and tight; hair should be worn low and moto). Choose from black, coyote brown, and Multicam. This style of plate carrier offers tons of usability and potential for customization without weighing you down or limiting your range of motion. That makes this one a winner in our book.

For those of you who want a one-stop solution to your plate carrier needs, we recommend checking out this tactical vest from ArcEnCiel. Not only is this one of the least expensive options on our list, but it also comes with three double magazine pouches, two zipper pouches, a small open-top radio pouch, and a versatile velcro panel with elastic loops for small items like glow-sticks or shotgun shells. All attachments can be removed and replaced with standard MOLLE accessories. The broad shoulder strap design is similar to that of a traditional vest, so you might find it more comfortable than most plate carriers. Some common plates are a tight fit in this carrier, and some shapes don’t fit at all. If you have soft armor or smaller plates, it can be quite a bargain.

Leatherback Gear proves that plate carriers don’t have to be covered in pouches and equipment–hell, they don’t even have to be a vest. This understated backpack can fit 42 liters of day-to-day belongings alongside a pair of life-saving hard plates. Thick padding and mesh ventilation panels keep things comfortable. Should you find yourself in danger, this bag can be zipped in half and worn to cover your front and back with internal plates of body armor up to 14 inches tall and 11 inches wide. Outside, MOLLE mounting points let you add gear to make a survival or emergency bag. It’s a crazy world out there, and an armored backpack might be just what you need to feel more comfortable in it.

This Gloryfire plate carrier adds a little more coverage than you’d get from a minimalist option, and we dig some old-school olive drab in what feels like a sea of flat dark earth and digital camouflage. This affordable option still provides many of the features you’d expect from higher-end plate carriers. Take advantage of adjustable shoulder pads, ventilated mesh lining, and MOLLE everywhere. There’s also a drag handle on the back collar, which you sometimes have to sacrifice to get to this price range. This vest is compatible with body armor up to 12 inches tall and 11 inches wide in the front and rear, and six inches square on either side. The waist can expand up to 54 inches. If you have trouble fitting into other plate carriers, this might be the one for you.

If you’re on a budget and care about versatility, this ATG plate carrier deserves a serious look. It’s a little bulkier than some plate carriers but, at this price, we won’t complain too much. The combination of MOLLE where you’d typically attach magazines, an IFAK, and drop pouches, and velcro where you wear all those patches is a nice touch. The tan version will probably match all your coyote brown magazine pouches well. You’ll appreciate the padded shoulder straps and ventilated padding if you have to wear this plate carrier very long. Adjust the waist up to 51 inches for a proper fit. This plate carrier isn’t necessarily what we’d call heavy-duty in comparison to the top-tier alternatives, but it’s certainly capable of being your at-home body armor in case of an emergency.

Sometimes being tactical requires that you don’t look tactical, and those situations call for something like this War Tech Gears vest. This plate carrier does have large velcro panels front and rear for patches identifying you as press or security, but it also fits well under street clothes for protection that doesn’t draw unwanted attention. Smooth lines and an adjustable velcro midsection let you get a snug, body-hugging fit. Adjustable shoulder straps accommodate different body types, too. This plate carrier doesn’t offer any MOLLE or velcro mounting points for attaching extra gear, so it serves a different purpose than the traditional alternatives we found. For press duty or discrete protection, this is the one to have.

Related: 9 of the best MOLLE pouches money can buy

Types of plate carriers

  • Maximum protection: For a while, the U.S. military subscribed to the more-is-more philosophy of body armor. If protection is good, lots of protection must be better, right? The modular tactical vest is a great example of this. You get compartments for SAPI plates, MOLLE all over the place, and detachable padding for your groin, neck, and strong-side shoulder. This type of vest offers the most protection, but it can make you feel like a turtle with severely limited mobility.
  • Hybrid: Most plate carriers strike a balance between protection and mobility. After wearing an MTV, modern plate carriers feel like a combat sports bra. They’re just large enough to hold body armor, with thin straps, minimal padding, and enough MOLLE to attach the basics. Pouches for side armor may or may not be included. 
  • Discrete: Just because you want to protect yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you want to cosplay your favorite operator. Reporters, security personnel, high-profile individuals, and even police officers need body armor that can fit underneath their street clothes. Minimalist plate carriers are designed to minimize their profile to help you be discrete about what you’re wearing. 

Key features of plate carriers

  • Protection: Plate carriers are built to stand between your body and serious threats like gunfire and shrapnel. In addition to making room for hard armor, plate carriers sometimes provide protection against slash and stab wounds and may include padding to lessen the blunt force trauma that occurs when hard armor stops a projectile. Always verify that a plate carrier is compatible with the size and shape of armor you plan on using.
  • Size: Most plate carriers come in a single size with an adjustable waist. Still, some are larger than others, and you’ll want to find a good match for your body type. Just like you, hard armor can also vary in size and you need to make sure any plate carrier you purchase is designed to fit the size and shape of plates you prefer. Think about things like overall dimensions and angled cutouts when you’re shopping.
  • Build quality: Not all plate carriers are designed for tactical use. There are low-cost options for airsoft and paintball that look great, but they probably won’t hold up to the weight of real body armor and loaded magazines. It’s worth the extra cost to get a product made with thick nylon, heavy stitching, and well-designed ergonomic features.
  • Mounting points: If you plan on wearing your plate carrier outside your clothing, look for options with plenty of mounting points for the rest of your gear. Standard MOLLE panels are great for attaching things like magazine pouches, map pouches, first aid kits, and hydration systems. Try different setups and practice accessing your gear to build familiarity. We recommend keeping the back slick to preserve compatibility with your favorite pack

Benefits of plate carriers

  • Safety: Plate carriers allow you to mount protective body armor securely over vital organs. These plates could be the last line of defense between you and incoming rounds or shrapnel. Whether you’re taking precautions at the range, protecting yourself in the line of duty, or preparing for a worst-case scenario, a plate carrier is an invaluable piece of gear.

  • Efficiency: Ample attachment points make some plate carriers a great way to organize the rest of your equipment. Rather than removing a backpack and digging through it, you can have your most frequently used items at arm’s reach. Magazine changes will become faster when you build muscle memory by reaching for a magazine pouch instead of grabbing at your pockets.

  • Convenience: When you’re not using your plate carrier, it can still hold other things that might come in handy so all your emergency items are in one place. Throw on your plate carrier and instantly have access to magazines, first aid equipment, a radio, and any other essentials you think you’ll need.

Plate carrier pricing

Entry-level plate carriers can be found for less than $100. In addition to compartments for body armor, these will provide basic features and might even include a few pouches. Higher-end plate carriers that cost more than $100 tend to offer increased usability and durability. Look for well-built, specialized products designed to excel in certain situations.

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