Body armor has saved the lives of countless individuals over the past several decades, but hard plate body armor, the type designed to stop rifle rounds, has one glaring shortcoming: buxom women need not apply.
In order to be effective, hard plate armor needs to be flat, but rigid flat plates do not work well for women with large breasts. But there is hope. Some manufacturers are pouring time and resources into designing plate carriers specifically for women, and we feature several below.
However, female plate armor design has still not caught up, meaning there are not yet hard plates designed specifically to harmonize with larger breasts. That said, women with more modest sized breasts should be able to find plate carriers and hard plates that will serve them well. Below, we present 4 of the best female plate carriers.
1: TYR Tactical Female Epic Assaulter’s Plate Carrier
The Female Epic Assaulter’s Plate Carrier is designed to accommodate female anatomy without compromising comfort or effectiveness. It features single-handed 4-wire cutaway for quick release should the need arise, and is compatible with the full line of TYR armored accessories. This is a robust yet comfortable plate carrier with superior shoulder straps and back padding and plenty of room up front to accommodate your particular physique.
There’s plenty of molle webbing, a large pocket in the front for peripherals, a zip-on back panel, and the fabric is treated with an antimicrobial agent, which is important if you’re wearing this thing in the rain. The lace adjustable cummerbund is semi-rigid while the vest features TYR’s XFrame Dynamic Load Carriage design that disburses weight evenly across the torso to relieve the stress of carrying plates for long periods. An all-around outstanding choice for the woman who has everything except an effective plate carrier.
2: Vantage7 Female Concealable Carrier
It was a coin flip whether to lead off our list with the Epic Assaulter or this outstanding female plate carrier from Survival Armor. They are both equally impressive in their own ways. The Vantage7 is a fully concealable plate carrier designed to accommodate female anatomy that will accept either soft or hard plates. The carrier itself is fashioned from Mini-Diamond ripstop nylon that’s as tough as it is lightweight, comfortable, durable, water resistant and breathable.
The ballistic suspension system is improved from earlier iterations and resists sagging to a much greater degree when hard plates are installed. There are dual 5″ x 8″ and 7″ x 9″ external trauma plate pockets on both front and back and the shoulder straps are wide and comfortable regardless of the type of plate you choose. Available with or without tails.
3: Poly Elite Female Concealable Carrier
Survival Armor takes our #3 spot as well with their thoughtfully designed and executed Poly Elite Female Concealable Carrier. Like the Vantage7 we looked at above, the Poly Elite is extremely comfortable (for a plate carrier that is). It’s fashioned from the same ultra lightweight Mini-Diamond ripstop nylon as the Vantage7 but is a wee bit longer and has a couple of other unique design cues that don’t affect performance.
Survival Armor has put a lot of thought into the logistics of inserting and removing the ballistic plates and it’s evident here. They slip in and out with little to no resistance or hassle. It includes the same upgraded Ballistic Suspension System that keeps the plates in place. You also have the option of having an integrated med kit pocket, or adding or excluding tails. Takes hard or soft plates.
4: Chase Tactical Lightweight Operational Plate Carrier (LOPC)
This is not a “female” plate carrier per se. That is, it was not designed to contour specifically to the female form. However, as anyone knows the female form is not a matter of one-size-fits-all. Women with fewer curves don’t necessarily need a plate carrier that is designed to accommodate an hourglass figure. For them, a standard plate carrier that is versatile, light and effective will do.
Among the many standard plate carriers that fit that description we feel the Chase LOPC carrier would be the best choice for women looking for excellent coverage, outstanding durability and a weight that won’t hold them back. The carrier is crafted from Mil-Spec IR treated 500D Cordura and, when empty, weighs just 2 1/2 lbs. The shoulder straps are very comfortable, there’s tons of molle webbing, it will accept both soft and hard plates and it comes in 5 different colours.
Plate Carrier Buying Guide
There are any number of things for a woman to consider when trying to determine if a certain plate carrier might be right for her. Those considerations include:
Duh, right? The single biggest issue standing between women in law enforcement, the armed forces and private security industry and their ability to protect themselves from high velocity projectiles is fit. Specifically, the fact that 99% of plate carriers are not designed to accommodate women with large breasts. Even women with medium sized breasts will find it difficult to find a plate carrier that will accommodate their anatomy without compromising their safety. Meanwhile a small breasted woman will find her options nearly as plentiful as a man. But for more buxom women the fit remains a significant challenge.
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will be more than happy to tell you about the joys of wearing a plate carrier for hours at a time. One has to be constantly on guard against dehydration and the threat of heatstroke. Therefore, when sizing up plate carriers make sure you give due consideration to the breathability of the carrier and whether it has adequate ventilation built into it. If the carrier provides the ability to add a hydration system, all the better.
There is no way to get around the fact that plates are heavy. If the carrier is also hefty, wearing it for extended periods of time may wind up seeming more like a curse than a blessing. Keep in mind too that the heavier the plate carrier the greater the limits it will impose on your mobility, and that could have life threatening implications if the SHTF and the rounds start flying. Some plate carriers and female plate armor are definitely lighter than others. Just make sure the manufacturer isn’t compromising safety to achieve a lighter weight.
Forward deployed forces and members of SWAT teams usually wear their body armor/plate carriers where everyone can see them. But that may not always be the best idea. Wearing your plate carrier openly for all to see also allows potential adversaries to identify areas of vulnerability. So if you are going to wear your plate carrier on the outside it would certainly help if it blends in with your outfit. For instance, a camo carrier if you plan on wearing a camo outfit. A dark colored plate carrier if your outfit will be uniformly dark, etc. Female bodyguards or close protection agents will want to be more discreet still and find body armor that will disappear under their clothing so as not to draw undue attention.
Body armor/plate armor is designed to handle various types of projectiles. If you anticipate facing relatively low-level threats such as small caliber handguns, shotguns or thrown objects such as rocks and stones, soft body armor will typically suffice. If, on the other hand, you anticipate having to defend against rifle shot you will need Level III or Level IV plates and a carrier that can handle them. It is essential that you select plates/body armor that is appropriate to the threat level. Failing to do so could have lethal consequences.
Distribution of plates
The point of wearing armor plates is to enable you to survive in the event you are shot. However, your survivability will depend in no small part on how those plates are distributed in the plate carrier. Sleeve distribution on some less well-designed plate carriers can be fairly random, failing to provide optimal coverage for vital organs and leaving you wide open to rounds coming at you from the sides. Before you invest in a plate carrier check the sleeve distribution to ensure it will provide the kind of protection you’re after.
What exactly is a plate carrier?
A plate carrier is not something that’s used in the kitchen of restaurants. It is a pocketed vest designed to hold rigid “plates” that are intended to stop bullets. If you purchase a plate carrier thinking you will be getting body armor you will be disappointed. The armor plates themselves need to be purchased separately.
Plate carriers are not one trick ponies however. Most will also have generous amounts of molle webbing (1) that you can attach other gear to, as well as pockets for ammo, flashlights, lip balm or whatever else you feel like carrying. Plate carrier vests are typically waterproof, in the sense that they will not be compromised if you get caught in the rain. Most are also extremely durable and should provide many long years of dependable service.
Who needs a plate carrier?
The state of the world being what it is, any woman who feels like she needs a plate carrier needs a plate carrier. Thinking more conventionally, however, there are several professions that can potentially put a woman in the line of fire, necessitating some form of armored protection.
Frontline military personnel come immediately to mind. During the 2nd Iraq war hundreds of American soldiers were killed by snipers, including a now legendary (and perhaps non-existent) insurgent sniper call Juba (2) who is purported to have killed dozens of Americans.
SWAT team members also require plate carriers/plate armor. These specialized teams respond to extreme situations, which often include lone shooters brandishing high powered rifles, which makes plate armor a must.
Beyond that, the picture gets murkier. Some private security agents may want the extra protection they get from plate armor. The same goes for politicians, although they typically opt for soft armor (3) if they wear any at all. And of course, living in some of America’s cities at the moment is roughly akin to living in a war zone (4). So the enlightened woman may want the heightened sense of safety and security she will get from body armor.
Can any woman own a plate carrier?
Any woman who is not a convicted felon can own and wear a plate carrier. In 49 of 50 states she can purchase her plate carrier anywhere she sees fit, including online. In Connecticut, however, she will only be able to purchase a plate carrier in person either from a private seller or at an officially authorized trade show.
Just bear in mind that while it is legal for you to own and wear this type of body armor, doing so while, say robbing a bank is likely to dramatically increase your sentence (should you be caught and convicted).
How heavy are plate carriers?
The weight of plate carriers tends to vary pretty significantly from manufacturer to manufacturer. As with most things in life you usually get what you pay for with a plate carrier. So an inexpensive one will often be made with a more affordable material with little regard given to weight. If you are a large powerful individual a pound here or there won’t make much difference.
But for the average person the difference of a pound can be significant if the carrier has to be worn all day in a hot environment. And remember, once the plates are added, the weight of the carrier is going to increase significantly. If you need to spend a few more dollars to get a carrier made of lightweight but durable materials, it’s usually money well spent.
What is an NIJ rating?
NIJ stands for the National Institute of Justice, which is an arm of the US Department of Justice. The NIJ maintains the most widely recognized standards by which body armor is judged. Every body armor product that reaches the market in the US is assigned an NIJ rating. Those ratings can be broken down into 5 different categories.
Will plate carriers protect against multiple hits?
Ceramic plates are designed to shatter as they absorb the force of the bullet. As you can imagine a shattered plate isn’t going to be a lot of help if that first bullet is followed by a second or third. Despite this obvious drawback ceramic plates can still earn a Level IV designation because the NIJ assigns their ratings based on how the plate responds to a single shot.
You have a much better chance of surviving multiple hits if you are using high quality steel plates. But even then you are not completely out of danger. If two shots hit roughly the same area of the plate the second may cause the plate to fail. That is, may. In addition, multiple rounds impacting the same part of a plate may result in serious organ damage or even cardiac arrest.
What are hard plates made of?
Steel plates provide the highest level of protection against rifle rounds. With few exceptions they will effectively stop a rifle round from penetrating. Steel plates are an old school solution to a high tech problem. There’s nothing fancy about them. They’re heavy and bulky and rigid, but they are also your best bet of walking away from an encounter with a round fired from an AK47. Steel plates are typically flat and this makes them a poor fit for women with large breasts. Women with small breasts however will find them to be just what the doctor ordered.
Ceramics are something of a miracle material. Their thermal properties are legendary (5) and they have also proven their worth when it comes to stopping rifle rounds. They are also significantly lighter than steel plates, which is a plus if you have to wear your plate carrier for hours at a time. Like everything though, ceramic plates have a downside. First, they are pretty much useless after absorbing a single round. And second, they have been known to shatter if they are accidentally dropped (which won’t happen with a steel plate).
What are soft plates?
Soft plates are a type of plate normally used to stop a handgun round fired at a distance. If this is the type of threat you need to protect against then soft plates are a viable solution. In addition, soft plates are sometimes touted as being a good alternative for women because they can be moulded to the contours of the body.
However, while it is true that soft plates have some flexibility and that they are better than nothing, they will not be much good against a rifle round. Nor will they be of much use against a large caliber handgun fired from close range.
Can I stack soft plates to stop rifle rounds?
There are some who champion the idea that all women need to do to protect themselves against rifle threats is to stack 2 or 3 soft plates. The thinking being that if one soft plate will stop a handgun round, 3 should have no problem stopping a rifle round. After all, 9mm handgun rounds typically travel at approx 1,200 fps. While an AR15 round will travel at about 3,200 fps. So stacking 3 soft plates should do the trick and stop that AR15 round. Right? Not really.
It’s not the speed of the bullet that matters. It’s the kinetic energy (6) behind the round. A 5.56 round fired from an AR15 has an average kinetic energy of about 1,000 ft/lbs at 100 yds. Compare that to a 9mm round that has 250 ft/lbs of kinetic energy behind it at 100 yards. At 500 yards the 5.56 round still has nearly 400 ft/lbs of kinetic energy behind it while the 9mm checks in at about 87 ft/lbs of kinetic energy.
So, when it comes to stopping a rifle round inside of a couple of hundred yards the first plate in your stack will be little more than a nuisance for the rifle round, meaning it will also tear through the second soft plate in your stack and make short work of the 3rd as well.
The further you are from the shooter the greater the chance that your stack of plates may repel a rifle round. But you can’t count on shooters always being a couple of miles away. Keep in mind too that every layer of soft plating you add is adding weight, and reducing your mobility.
What is spalling?
When bullets hit cheap steel or ceramic plates the force of the impact is sometimes sufficient to cause tiny fragments on the inside of the plate to break away and impact the wearer of the plate carrier. Serious injuries have been known to result from this phenomenon, commonly known as “spalling”.
You can roll the dice and hope that you do not fall victim to spalling, or you can spend a little more and get better quality plates. High quality hard plates are typically coated with a special material that prevents spalling.
What is bullet splash?
Bullets react differently when they hit different materials. For instance, when a bullet hits Kevlar (7) it is subsumed by the fabric. When it comes in contact with a ceramic plate the bullet remains largely intact while the ceramic shatters. And when a bullet hits a steel plate it is the bullet itself that shatters. When the bullet shatters it sends tiny fragments flying off in all directions. This is referred to as the bullet splash. Bullet splash has been known to produce life threatening injuries.
The bottom line
Plate carriers and the armor plates they host have saved the lives of countless people in conflict zones around the world. Law enforcement is also relying on plate armor to an increasing degree as are many private citizens living in cities where gun violence is out of control.
Historically, however, plate carriers are not egalitarian in the protection they provide as manufacturers have struggled to produce plate armor that can accommodate a woman’s anatomy. In particular, large breasts.
In the past couple of years however there has been some progress and a few pioneering companies are starting to bring female-centric body armor to the market. At the moment most of it is still focused on soft plate armor, but there are signs that will change soon.
In the meantime, women with smaller breasts will still be able to enjoy robust protection from many plate carriers and hard plates designed for men.