If you are like many civilians in today’s chaotic world where riots are becoming commonplace, personal protection is a must. In addition to having firearms, you may be adding defensive gear to protect your body and have the additional ammunition and other items necessary if you find yourself in a survival situation.
Plate carriers may be new to you. You have probably never thought about what one is, much less what to include when setting one up for personal use. Hopefully, the information presented here will help you set up your personal plate carrier to provide you everything you need without weighing you down too much.
What is a Plate Carrier?
A plate carrier is a piece ofprotective gear that is much heavier than a bulletproof or tactical vest. A tactical vest is made of a softer material than plate carriers and weighs much less but you get less protection. Tactical vests are designed to protect you against low-caliber gunshots.
Plate carriers are also fabric vests; however, these vests have armor plates placed strategically inside to protect against higher caliber firearms. The level of protection depends on the level of armored plates. It’s up to you how much protection you put in the plate carrier.
The plates inside the plate carrier are typically made of polyethylene materials, ceramic, or steel. Steel and ceramic are the bulkiest and heavier of the plates; polyethylene (PE) plates provide the most protection and are the lightest of the plates.
Your plate carrier is much more than protection from gunshots and other threats; it is also your toolkit for reloading, injury, and other gear you might need. As you read on, keep this in mind as you begin to consider your plate carrier setup.
Basic Rule for Plate Carriers
No matter what you decide you need to incorporate into your plate carrier setup, the most important rule is to make sure it fits correctly. If the vest and plates are not fitted correctly, you will not be fully protected.
The plates inside the carrier are designed to protect your heart and lungs, the two most vital organs in your body and the ones that have a very short lifespan if hit by a bullet. Protecting these organs should be your number one concern when looking at body armor.
Your front plate needs to provide coverage starting at the center of the collar bone and cover you down to the base of your rib cage. The backplate should mimic the front, but it should sit up higher, with the top of the plate even with the top of the shoulder blades.
Once you have the plates positioned correctly, you need to make sure the fit of the vest is secure enough to keep the plates from moving around. You need to have full range of motion, and the plates need to stay in place no matter how you are moving – running, crouching, or climbing.
You should be able to adjust the shoulder straps and cummerbund to get this fit. Use the cummerbund’s adjustment to help relieve some of the weight carried by your shoulders.
Making sure your plate carrier fits perfectly will not only keep you better protected. It will also help with weight distribution as you begin to set up your carrier with mags and pouches.
Before you begin packing out your carrier, you should decide what level of body armor you need. Practically all body armor today is at least level IIIA. You can also get soft and hard body armor. Soft armor can be worn underneath clothing and does not have pockets that can be customized like hard armor. Hard armor is composed of plates inside vests, and as the name suggests, these are hard and worn outside clothing.
Plates come in several levels based on the amount of protection afforded. Double-check the protection level before buying your plates, often, Level III and Level IIIA are confused, and two have different protection levels.
- Level IIIA: This does not protect against rifle rounds and is normally found in bulletproof backpacks and soft body armor. Level IIIA is often worn as added padding with plate carriers using Level III or IV plates.
- Level III: This protects against all common handguns, the .44 magnum, and the 7.62 x 51.
- Level III Plus: This level will stop an AR-15 and is the minimum protection available for most rifle ammunition; however, it is not effective against a 30.06.
- Level IV: This level is heavier than the other levels and will protect you against an AK-47 as well as the 30.06. There are light Level IV plates, but those are not available to civilians. This level of protection is more than most civilians need; however, it is top of the line, heavy-duty protection if you want it.
Choose your level of protection based on the situations you think you might encounter, your budget, and the amount of weight you can comfortably carry in an active situation. A Level IV plate isn’t going to be much use if you can’t run while wearing it.
Important Factors to Consider
Now that you have looked over the various levels of protection available and you have decided that a plate carrier is the way to go, there are a few other things to consider before you start planning your setup.
- Cost: Consider your plates, plate carrier, and your pouches an investment. It isn’t going to be cheap, but your life isn’t cheap either. Plates vary in cost depending not only on the protection level but also what they are made of and their size.
- Activity: Are you going to wear your gear to work every day? If you work in a potentially dangerous field like auto repossession, you may want to opt for the lightest setup possible. On the other hand, if you are designing your gear as a “just in case” setup due to ever-changing world conditions, you may want your gear maxed out with the best of the best.
- Weight: Plate carriers are heavy. Add to that the various gear attached to it and your weapon, and you can easily find yourself running with an additional ten to fifteen pounds or more. Even if you spend the extra money for the lightest carrier and plate available, you will still be adding weight that you have to carry.
- Sex: Carriers designed with the female body are hard to find, but that is slowly changing. Females tend to be bustier than males, which makes the various vests fit differently. Padding worn underneath carriers can help, but it makes the setup heavier and hotter.
Many carriers are also too long on the female body and ride up when sitting, literally hitting the wearer underneath the chin. This is another reason to look for female carriers and make sure you are fitted before buying one.
- Add-Ons: If you plan to design the setup of your pouches and pockets, you need to make sure you have the right vest. Some come with the pouches and pockets already attached, while others have a MOLLE setup that you can add to whenever you want.
MOLLE stands for “modular, lightweight, load-carrying equipment” lets you attach equipment such as knives, magazines, canteens, and more to your backpack or vest. You can redo the setup anytime. This is a great beginner’s setup. You can start with the basics and add to it as you determine your needs.
You have your vest and plates fitted with the protection level you want, you have a Kevlar vest for backup, and your firearms are on stand-by.
You are now ready to set your carrier up for use in the field. You know what your mission is, mainly self-defense and survival in the event of civil unrest. You’ve decided to design your own carrier. Let’s look at what most experts agree are the critical items you should include and where you should place them on your vest.
- Spare magazines and ammunition
- Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK)
- Sidearm with spare magazine
- Communication device – mobile phone or HAM radio
As you begin to place your gear on the vest, keep it streamlined and keep the weight evenly distributed. There is only so much room on the vest and only so much added weight you can carry. Maximize the space and keep the weight in mind as you add gear.
As you line your gear up on the vest, consider how you reach for it. If you are right-handed, then put the things you might reach for most often on your left.
Related: How to wash a plate carrier
Medical Kit and Tourniquet
You should always make sure your IFAK and tourniquet are easily reached. If you are injured, you may not be able to fumble around looking for it.
Your IFAK should be reachable with your non-shooting hand on the side of the plate carrier. You may prefer to put your IFAK on your battle belt in the six o’clock position.
Tourniquets are always a matter of debate and personal preference. More is always better. If you are shot or cut, you will need to stop the bleeding. Tourniquets are lightweight and easily rolled up very small. You can place them beneath magazine pouches and use a bungee cord or rope to secure them in place or in sleeve pockets.
Your pistol should also be placed where your dominant hand can easily access it. Keep all other gear out of the way of drawing it. Some people use a leg holster for their sidearm, and others use their battle belt.
Some people do attach their sidearm to their plate carrier in a high position opposite their shooting hand. This can be done but make sure it is below the shoulder enough to be out of the way of your rifle’s butt.
Magazine placement is one of the two most important pieces of gear on your vest, next to the first aid kit and tourniquet. You need to have spare magazines for your rifle and your sidearm, and both need to be easily accessible.
Experts agree that rifle magazines should be placed on the front panel on your belt at the four o’clock or eight o’clock position. How many magazines you should carry varies depending on the expert asked; however, the general consensus is six. You can double carry a row of three magazines or carry three in the four o’clock and three in the eight o’clock position.
Carrying six gives you a total count of up to 210 rounds, depending on how many rounds your magazine holds and including the magazine in the rifle.
You should make sure your magazines are oriented correctly and are not loose in the pouch. If you are under fire and need to reload, you don’t want to pull out a magazine and have to flip it around to load it, nor do you want to dig around in the dirt for a magazine that has fallen out of its pouch.
Your handgun is already placed on your vest, and now you need to add extra magazines for it. These should be put either on the left or right of the plate carrier or in the three o’clock and nine o’clock position on your belt.
Just like the rifle magazines, make sure the pistol magazines are not loose and that they are oriented in the right direction.
You can put your knife on your belt or on a separate leg holster to make it easily reached. If you put it on your plate carrier, make sure you have a holster that is easily accessible but that won’t become loose and cause you injury.
You can choose a large fighting knife or a small folding knife. The type of knife is not as important as making sure you have one.
If you are planning your plate carrier for a survival situation, your communication device is critical, and it should be more than a cell phone. You could find yourself in an area where there are no cell towers, or the towers have been taken down in battle.
A HAM radio is a two-way UHF/VHF radio. Secure this to your carrier in the ten o’clock position or whatever position is comfortable for you. Make sure you know how to operate it and either memorize or make a list of emergency frequencies and keep them with you on your carrier. You should also make sure you know how to troubleshoot it and the proper voice techniques used in operating it.
As long as the flashlight is easily reached, there are not any requirements for where to put it. You can opt for a penlight that hangs around your neck or a full flashlight that fits in a pouch on your plate carrier. You can attach it to your belt if you have room there.
The bottom line for a flashlight is to make sure you have one somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you have a light on your firearm; you need a flashlight on your carrier or belt as well.
Don’t Forget the Dump Pouch
A dump pouch is an extra attachment on your carrier that is used for spent magazines. The debate is huge about dump pouches. Some people swear by them and keep a pouch or pocket open just for storing them. However, this is added weight that you don’t need to have.
Reloading prevents the need for a dump pouch. If you choose to do a tactical reload, then you place the magazine back in its pouch when it’s reloaded. If you use the speed reload method, put the empty magazine in a pocket or on the ground, and as soon as you get a minute, reload it and put it back in its pouch.
Of course, there are those who insist on a dump pouch, and if that is you, you can secure it to the top of your spare magazines or place it well off to the left or right of your critical gear on the carrier.
Test and Redo
You did it. You’ve made all your tactical decisions and laid out your plate carrier setup. Now, you need to test it. Put it on. Walk around outside. Run and crouch. Simulate fleeing the scene. Are you balanced? Is it too heavy? Do you have to stop and adjust shoulder straps or your belt?
A yes to any of these requires some rethinking on your part. If the carrier is too heavy, look for anything you can remove. If you are carrying six magazines, maybe you need to go to three; but, if you can remove anything other than ammunition, do that first.
Is your flashlight big and bulky? Switch it out for a smaller one. Same for your knife– if it’s a huge fighting knife, get a smaller one. Reduce anything other than your ammo whenever you can.
Next, simulate various survival scenarios. Reach for your pistol or knife while moving. Load and unload your rifle. Pretend you are injured and need to reach your tourniquet and first aid kit with your non-good hand. Is your handgun within reach? Can you load and unload it easily?
Get the point? You need to be able to move around and access everything on your carrier plate with ease. Your life could very well depend on it. Revisit your layout if you can’t access your gear easily or it weighs too much.
Personal protection is more than owning a handgun. Especially in this ever-changing world where everyone has a gun, and not everyone knows how to solve problems without one. You need to be able to take offensive and defensive positions, and a plate carrier is one more layer to this protection.
How you design your plate carrier plays a huge role in how well it works for you. Being able to access all of your gear quickly and easily while on the move can save your life in the middle of a riot. Use the information presented here as a guide to what you need and how to set it up, then create your own design and keep refining it until it meets your needs.