The plate carrier provides frontline protection against ballistic threats ranging from small caliber handguns to high-powered rifles.
In recent years the plate carrier has quietly gone from a specialty item, used in only the most extreme circumstances, to must-have survival kit for military and police personnel, private security officers, politicians, celebrities and average citizens.
The number and variety of plate carriers on the market today is vast and ranges from discrete accessories that slip under your business suit, to feature-rich vests worn externally by soldiers patrolling the mountains of central Asia.
After a painstaking examination of the market we determined that the following are the best plate carriers of 2020.
1. LBT Modular Plate Carrier
From a distance the LBT Modular Plate Carrier may look like a lot of others. But once you get up close and examine it you begin to understand why it gets such high marks from users. The build quality is outstanding. The 500D fabric is tough and water-resistant. There’s double stitching all the way around and plenty of padding in the shoulder straps.
It will also accommodate side plates, which is a major plus. There are water hose guide loops, a front map pocket, radio pouches and all stress points feature bartacking. We could go on but hopefully you get the picture. The LBT Modular Plate Carrier is not cheap, but as far as plate carriers go, it’s our clear number 1 choice.
2. Veritas AR500 Plate Carrier
The Veritas AR500 Plate Carrier is discrete enough to slip under a jacket, yet at the same time bold and practical enough to wear on the outside loaded down with peripherals. The design is simple but effective and accommodates 10” x 12” plates front and back.
If you want to use steel plates but are worried about the weight, there are removable shoulder pads that will help ease the burden. All stress points are bartacked, the 500D cordura fabric is rugged and water resistant, and without plates it tips the scale at a very modest 1.4 pounds. With a very attractive price point the AR500 is an outstanding value no matter how you measure it.
3. VISM by NcStar
The VISM plate carrier by NcStar is a fully modular piece of defensive gear you can configure to meet your physical and tactical requirements. It will accommodate front and back plates up to 11” x 14” and features a quick release mechanism that lets you exit the apparatus in seconds.
There is generous stitching throughout, bartacking at the stress points, genuine Velcro closures and an expandable cummerbund to watch your sides. It will accept hard or soft plates, features an outrageous amount of molle webbing, has breathable panels front, back and side and it breaks down quickly into 4 component parts.
4. RAC Plate Carrier
The RAC Plate Carrier has you covered coming and going. It’s built like a tank and fully adjustable so you can achieve the perfect fit. It will accommodate hard or soft plates of 10” x 13” and features guide loops for your hydration hose. The material is 500D Cordura with heavy duty stitching throughout. The lack of a cummberbund means no side plates.
But it also means the RAC Plate Carrier breathes a lot better than some other plate carriers. There is also a zippered back panel feature that enables a high degree of functional customization, while the shoulder straps are rugged and well-padded. If you’re looking for a tough, airy plate carrier, here it is.
5. Crye Jumpable Plate Carrier
Lots of people think the term ‘Jumpable Plate Carrier’ is a standard industry designation for a plate carrier worn by airborne troops. In fact, the term is a trademark of Crye Precision who use it for their line of lightweight, minimalist, plate carrying vests. The Crye Jumpable Plate Carrier eliminates weight where it can, without compromising functionality or safety.
The vest is crafted from 500D Cordura fabric and features plenty of molle webbing. If it has a drawback it’s that it provides only minimal coverage front and back. But, if you feel too exposed, you can pick up the optional side plate pouches.
6. GFire Tactical Plate Carrier
GFire ups the ante by using 1000D Cordura fabric on their Tactical Plate Carrier. There is nothing discrete about this particular plate carrier. It’s overflowing with molle webbing along with internal and external pockets.
It will take front and back plates, features an adjustable internal waist strap, and has a highly breathable mesh interior lining. Plus, it’s priced to go. If there’s a drawback it’s that it only accepts relatively small plates. So, it’s not for patrolling those ultra-high risk areas around Kandahar.
7. Shellback Tactical Plate Carrier
With front, back and side coverage for your upper body and lots of opportunities to sling gear, the Shellback Tactical Plate Carrier is frontline ready. There are three rows of PALS webbing, lots of pockets inside and out, and both shoulder straps and cummerbund are adjustable.
Setting and removing armor plates is also fast and simple. The vest itself is made of water-resistant 500D Cordura, while padding in the shoulder straps is some of the best you will find. There’s also room in the back for a 2-liter hydration bladder.
8. OneTigris Griffin AFPC Modular Vest
The OneTigris Griffin is bold and durable and provides 4-sided protection at a reasonable price. It breathes easy, rests light on your shoulders, and features quick release shoulder straps so you can gear down in a hurry.
The 500D Cordura is tough and water-resistant, the molle webbing is extensive, and you can easily add and remove components as the situation requires. A great choice for frontline personnel regardless of their employer.
9. Yakeda Tactical CS Adjustable Vest
The Yakeda Tactical CS Adjustable Vest provides generous plate coverage front and back while retaining an airy profile that makes it a good choice for warmer climes. It’s crafted from 1000D nylon, features heavy duty stitching throughout, and there are three flapped magazine pockets on the front.
These can easily be repurposed to hold your radio and other electronic tech. Finally, the shoulder pads are remarkably comfortable, even if you’re toting around steel plates, and the waist expands to 56”.
10. Condor MOPC
The last of our plate carriers is the affordable Condor MOPC (Modular Operator Plate Carrier). It accommodates 10” x 13” plates front and back and accepts 6” x 8” side plates as well. That way you have 360 degree protection.
At least to some degree. There’s a front pocket for your map, side and shoulder buckles for quick release, and an adjustable cummerbund. If there’s a downside here it’s that the shoulder straps start to dig a bit when using steel plates.
What is a plate carrier?
Contrary to what you may have heard, plate carriers are not by themselves bulletproof vests. But they have the ability to become that with the inclusion of the right armor plating. The best plate carriers do more than just provide a platform for armor plating, though. They also have multiple gear pockets, molle webbing (1), adjustment straps and more.
They are typically made from ultra-durable materials, are not bothered by inclement weather, and will last for years, even with regular use. So, what is a plate carrier? It is a no-nonsense piece of self-defense gear that greatly enhances your odds of emerging from an armed conflict in one piece.
Are plate carriers legal?
Yes, plate carriers are legal in all 50 states. In 49 of those states it is legal to purchase a plate carrier online and have it shipped to your home. In the remaining state (Connecticut), you will need to purchase the plate carrier in person at a trade show or from a private seller. That said, there are some hurdles to plate carrier purchase and use.
In theory, those convicted of a violent felony are prohibited by federal law from owning a plate carrier (2). And in some states, lesser convictions will also disqualify someone. Also, wearing body armor during the commission of a crime will add to the severity of the charges and the length of any sentence in almost every state.
Who needs a plate carrier?
Frontline military personnel and police officers are obvious candidates for plate carriers. But they are far from the only ones. Politicians regularly wear plate carriers and bulletproof vests. American Presidents have been wearing them since the 1980s (3)(4). And today, many other politicians have come to appreciate the wisdom of wearing a plate carrier (5).
Private security personnel are often in need of extra protection too, as are the people they are hired to protect. And plate carriers are becoming increasingly popular among store owners and members of the public.
What should I look for in a plate carrier?
Not all plate carriers are the same, but any good plate carrier should provide a few basic features, including:
Sleeves for soft or hard body armor – This might seem like a no-brainer but you might be surprised how many tactical vests are marketed as plate carriers, even though they will not accept plates. Before you spend your hard-earned money on something marketed as a plate carrier, make sure it actually has sleeves for accepting armor plates. If it doesn’t, it’s not a plate carrier.
Molle webbing – Molle webbing is comprised of heavy duty nylon loops that are sewn onto the exterior of the plate carrier vest. They provide a means for attaching whatever it is you need to attach by whatever means you are able to attach it. They are the ultimate in practicality: light, cheap, rugged and versatile.
Gear pockets – In a pinch you can lash anything to your molle webbing. But let’s be real; you don’t want to hang your valuable electronic tech or your magazines from the outside of your plate carrier vest. You want pockets where those things have at least a modicum of protection from rain, snow, branches and potentially destructive contact with your firearm or other items. So, some pockets are important.
Build quality – 500D Cordura is standard material for most plate carriers. Also, a single steel plate can weigh up to 10 pounds. So the stitching around the plate sleeve or pocket needs to be rock solid. Otherwise your plate may wind up on the ground just when you need it most. In addition, any molle webbing should be fashioned from rugged nylon mesh. The closures on the pockets need to be dependable. And any zippers need to work effortlessly in all conditions. Real Velcro is also a necessity.
Plate distribution – Armor plates are all very well and good, but if they only cover a tiny portion of your torso, what’s the point? The goal is to emerge from an armed encounter in one piece. To give you the best possible chance to do that the plate carrier should cover your vital organs from as many angles as possible. So if side coverage is available you will want to consider that, even though it will add more weight.
Are plate carriers heavy?
The plate carrier itself should not weigh more than a few pounds. Once your plates have been loaded into it, however, it is going to get much heavier. A carrier with two large (front and back) and two small (side) steel plates may wind up weighing 30 pounds or more. If, however, soft plates are substituted for hard that total weight can be reduced to under about 10 pounds, or slightly less.
So, due consideration needs to be given to the threat level, as well as the potential activity level of the person wearing the plate carrier. That assessment will determine whether hard plates are called for, or if slightly less secure soft plates can be used. You may also have to factor in cost. Because, while steel plates are the heaviest type out there, in most cases they are also the cheapest.
Will a plate carrier cause me to overheat?
That is certainly a danger when talking about a plate carrier loaded with steel plates. Of course, other factors will come into play as well. First and foremost, the environmental temperature where the plate carrier will be worn. Other factors to consider are how long the plate carrier will be worn, what the wearer will be doing while wearing the plate carrier (standing still or out on patrol), whether they will be exposed to direct sunlight, and their overall conditioning.
If the person wearing the plate carrier will be active they will need to have ready access to plenty of fluids while wearing the plate carrier. In which case, they might want a carrier with a built-in hydration bladder (6) or hydration bladder sleeve.
Can a plate carrier protect against more than one shot?
That depends on where the shots impact the plate. If a person is moving while under fire and multiple shots impact different parts of the plate, the plate should hold up.
If, however, a person is standing still and takes more than one round in the same place, there is a chance the second shot may cause a fatal injury. Even if it does not fully penetrate the plate. Simply because the level of penetration might be enough to trigger a cardiac event or serious liver damage.
What are the different kinds of plates?
Steel plates – If you want the highest level of protection there is still no substitute for steel plates. They will stop most ballistic rounds dead in their tracks, will not shatter if you drop them, and they are the most affordable type of body armor plate. You may even be able to survive more than one shot in the same spot. That said, they are not without their downside. Their most significant weakness is their weight. A single large plate to protect your torso could weigh 10 pounds or more. Bullet splash and spalling are also a concern.
Ceramic plates – Ceramic plates provide robust protection but they too have their downside. First off, if you accidentally drop your ceramic plate it will likely become useless. Second, when a round hits a ceramic plate it is designed to shatter. So, if you take another round in the same area it will likely get through. On the upside, ceramic plates will provide better protection from high-powered rounds than soft plates, and they weigh considerably less than steel plates.
Soft plates – Soft plates are typically composed of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). This type of material is made using a gel spinning (7) technique. Two layers of the resulting gel are fused within a PE film creating a flexible plate. This type of plate works by capturing the round and distributing its force among the fibers. In some cases the fibers actually melt around the bullet, sealing it in place. Soft plates, while generally effective on small caliber handgun rounds fired from a distance, will not stop a high-powered rifle round, or a large caliber handgun fired from close range.
Why do so many people choose soft plates?
The most obvious attraction of soft body armor is the weight. A soft plate will typically weigh about 1/4 to 1/5 what a steel plate weighs and less than half what a ceramic plate weighs. But that is not the only thing soft body armor has going for it. It is also easier to conceal than rigid steel or ceramic plates, and it can be contoured to the body in a way a steel plate never could be. That, in theory, should provide more comprehensive coverage. Although, that coverage will not be as robust as you would get from a steel plate.
What is ‘bullet splash’?
When a bullet hits a soft plate it is enveloped by the fabric. When it hits a ceramic plate the ceramic absorbs much of the force and shatters. When a bullet hits a steel plate, however, the steel does not shatter, the bullet does. This can cause fragments of the bullet to shoot off in all directions, or ‘splash’. Should one or more of these fragments hit the throat area it could produce a life-threatening injury.
What is ‘spalling’?
If a bullet hits a steel plate the force may be sufficient to cause fragments of the plate on the inside, opposite the impact, to break off. These fragments have the potential to cause grave bodily injury to the wearer of the plate carrier. While this is a very real danger it is a threat usually confined to cheap steel plates. The better steel plates are coated with a material that traps most plate fragments before they can cause injury.
Can a woman wear a plate carrier?
That depends. Women with small to medium-sized breasts should have no trouble wearing a plate carrier. However, a woman with large breasts will likely find that most plate carriers simply will not accommodate her anatomy. That said, a few manufacturers are starting to make adjustments to their standard models to better accommodate all women. But, as of this writing, choices are still limited.
Even if such a woman can find a plate carrier that fits she will likely be limited to using soft plates, which do not provide the same level of protection as hard plates. The fact is, at this point, women with large breasts are probably better off having a custom plate carrier made.
The bottom line
A plate carrier can be the difference between life and death for military personnel, law enforcement, private security officers, politicians, celebrities, store owners and anyone else who comes under fire for any reason.
Today’s best plate carriers are tough, affordable and extremely versatile. For front line troops they have rows of molle webbing, multiple pockets, and can accommodate all manner of gear. For those who require discretion there are plate carriers with no extraneous features that slip comfortably under a shirt or jacket.
Whether you need heavy duty steel plates, light but rigid ceramic plates, or less extreme soft armor plates your plate carrier can accommodate them. Use the above information to help you determine which type of plate carrier is right for you.