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How to Buy a Plate Carrier

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Buying the right Plate Carrier or Chest Rig

Choosing the right plate carrier or chest rig for your needs is something that should be regarded with some real thought and research. Many factors determine if a plate carrier will work for you or if you’ll just end up tossing it into storage or selling it. Which brand plate carriers provide the best quality product, at the best price and with the best service? Which tactical gear manufacturers take into account real world feedback and experience when developing their plate carrier models? We’ll go over some of the pitfalls of buying a chest rig or plate carrier that will both work for your needs, but also save you money in the long run and last through what ever abuse you manage to subject it to.

This article will be broken into several parts for easy reference for purchasing a plate carrier.

Plate Carrier or Chest Rig?

Which one, a plate carrier or chest rig, will you need? What are you planning to use it for? Do you need body armor protection, and if so how much? Do you have heavy loads to carry on your body, or do you need to be able to move quickly and quietly through terrain? How big is your favorite load out?

All these questions help determine what you will need. If you’re worried about small caliber fire only, you can likely get away with a soft body armor bullet proof vest, and cover it with a small chest right or tactical vest to stay light weight while still offering decent protection.

If you know you’ll be going into an area with the possibility of rifle fire, you’ll want a full blown plate carrier to carry Type III and IV body armor. This obviously adds to the weight of the plate carrier, but increases your survivability. Furthermore, most plate carriers have PALS webbing wall over their structure, offering tons of expandability to carry a large amount of gear.

Knowing your mission or job role will often determine what plate carrier you can get away with. As with all jobs, the right tool for the job is the often the best, and having several plate carriers and chest rigs will provide you flexibility a single option simply does not provide.

Lastly, just because you have a plate carrier, does not mean you need to run the SAPI plates all the time. If speed is more important than protection, this is often a reasonable solution.

How to Determine Plate Carrier Quality

RTFL.. Read the Label.. What’s the unit made of? 1000D Cordura is a recommended fabric for chest rigs and plate carriers. It’s high quality and highly resistant to wear. The vast majority of modern plate carriers or MOLLE setups are made from some version of Cordura, and the higher the number, the more abuse it will take.

Next, look at the stitching. Double stitching is almost a requirement for high quality and durability. Single stitching will eventually give out and if someone needs to drag you or carry you by your drag strap, it’d suck to have it break off in a high stress environment.

Look at the PALS Webbing.. Is it stitched evenly? How wide are the loops? If they’re too narrow or stitched unevenly, that’s a pretty good indication that this is going to be a nightmare to setup. Depending on how often you swap in and out your MOLLE pouches on your plate carrier, this may be something you can live with, or something that’s a complete deal breaker.

Finally, ask guys that own one.. many will be quick to complain about issues with their tactical gear or praise the plate carrier they love. If the faults of the plate carrier or chest rig are too much for you to live with, look elsewhere.

Testing the Fit of the Plate Carrier.

We’re all different sizes and not all tactical gear is sized for the same size person. Try on multiple chest rigs and check your movement. Can you move your arms freely? Does your neck rub on anything? Is the load balanced? Is there enough PALS webbing on the plate carrier to mount all the MOLLE pouches and tactical gear you need to carry? Will all that interfere with your movement? Is there padding to cover any straps or buckles?

You basically want to ensure that the plate carrier will not keep you from doing what you need to do. If you can’t properly shoulder your rifle, or move your arms freely or bend properly, it’s time to look at something different.

Heat Considerations for Plate Carriers

While trying them on, pay attention to the breath ability of the plate carrier. Some are known to retain heat extremely well, which is nice in a colder environment, but can be hell in a hot one. You don’t what to suffer from heat stroke when you’re on the move.

Built-in Options on Chest Rigs and Plate Carriers

You’ll find that many of the plate carrier models and chest rigs out there may offer some build in options. Some plate carriers offer built in hydration bladder slots (some even come with a bladder) saving you a few bucks, and yet still providing you with plenty of MOLLE real estate on your back.

Some also come with mag pouches built right into the front. If you carry 90-120 rounds on you, this is a nice option as you won’t need to purchase addition mag pouches for your kit.

Cummerbunds are also nice if included as they give your plate carrier options for side SAPI armor plates, more MOLLE real estate on the sides and allow the tactical vest to be more secure around your waist.

Plate Carrier Colors and Camouflage Patterns

Some of you are stuck with what you need to buy, others have options. If you ever plan on reselling a plate carrier, try to stay away from specific camouflage patterns as they limit resale value. For this reason, neutral colors, such as Coyote Brown tend to be favored as they go well with most camouflage and additionally don’t stand out to the naked eye.

What? What colors do stand out to the naked eye? Black. Nothing in nature is truly black and it stands out to even the untrained eye. A black plate carrier will outline your entire chest, and with some options, your neck, shoulders and groin.

Setting a Tactical Gear Budget

If you’re buying this yourself, obviously you want to ensure that you’re not over extending yourself with the plate carrier purchase. You need to think about not only the cost of the plate carrier or chest rig, but also the cost of the MOLLE pouches and other gear you may need to purchase to go along with it. You can easily spend 1000’s on a load out not even counting bullet proof protection. If you must spend the cash, try to spread out the purchase over time, and buy what you need first.

Country of Origin

The Berry Amendment basically states that government funding for any tactical gear needs to be appropriated to articles manufactured in the USA. TAA Compliancy dictates that the products are American made and can be purchased and used for government activities.

For those not bound by the law, this is a none issue. Patriotism dictates you purchase high quality nationally made products, but you and your wallet often decide which plate carrier you choose.

Tactical Gear Manufacturers

Look for a solid reputation in producing quality plate carriers. You don’t want to buy a plate carrier from some second rate company in China building them for airsoft play. The price may be great, but the quality simply can not compare to high end specialized US Manufacturers.

There’s always exceptions to that rule, however, you’ll want to fully research the plate carrier manufacturer to determine their philosophy when it comes to creating chest rigs. Are they just pumping out tactical gear for profit? Do they take into account end sure feedback? Have they had infield failures in the past? Read their websites, read online reviews, talk to people. A plate carrier is an important purchase, and you don’t want to buy something subpar.

In Closing..

In closing, choosing a chest rig or plate carrier is not a knee jerk acquisition. Please explore each option as if your life depends on it, as it very well may. Follow the guidelines above and purchase the best chest rig or plate carrier you can afford.