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by Sullivan Owens March 16, 2022 6 min read

There are many qualities to consider when setting up your armor plate carrier system. A lot of it truly comes down to user preference. Sizing, comfort, maneuverability, threat level of protection are all important to consider when choosing the right plate carrier for your needs. 

                                    tactical plate carrier vest with side protection           bulletproof vest that can hide under clothing

What is the Difference Between a Plate Carrier and Bulletproof Vest?

Plate carriers are technically a type of bulletproof vest, but intended more for tactical use. Typically when someone refers to a bulletproof vest, they are referring to a soft body armor option and often concealable. A plate carrier is an external vest meant to hold body armor plates. Bulletproof vests are standalone products without the possibility of adaptations for extra gear or changing environments.


Bulletproof vests are commonly level IIIA threat level of protection. Plate carriers are scalable and modular. A great tactical vest can be interchangeable with Level III or Level IV rifle rated plates (we’ll explain the difference of levels later). 


Why Do People Own Plate Carriers?

Traditionally plate carriers were used in the military or law enforcement, but now they have become really popular for civilian body armor. A plate carrier is often used for sport or training purposes.  


Another great perk of a tactical plate carrier is that they help you carry your tactical gear efficiently and within reach for emergency situations. A lot of plate carriers come with MOLLE straps that allow you to add accessories like magazines, med kits, holsters, or any other gear you need on hand. It’s a great way to keep your eye on target and grab any necessities like a mag reload. 


Sometimes plate carriers are also used for exercise. The added weight causes resistance and strain to build muscular and cardio strength. We would recommend using 1Enemy’s weighted vest if you’re looking to take your workout to the next level.  


How Should My Tactical Vest Fit?

Maneuverability and comfort are always the most imperative aspects when it comes to any armor system. It is also important to find a high quality, heavy duty carrier. A tactical bulletproof vest is meant for rugged use.


At Premier, all our products are made in the USA, which means our plate carriers are constantly under our watch and quality control. Every strip of MOLLE, every implementation of quick release First Spear Tubesin our Core Plate Carrier is with intention and purpose. 

Image of the quick release for spear tubes for our bulletproof tactical vest.

 

Your plate carrier should be lightweight! Many plate carriers offer heavy steel plates or have added features that only add weight. Some body armor systems can add nearly 30 pounds, but that is unnecessary! 


We offer polyethylene armor which makes a drastic difference for ballistic protection. Our enhanced rifle rated plates range solely between 2.8-4.4 pounds. For maneuverability, many of our plates come in Shooter’s Cut. 


Shooter’s Cut lightweight armor allows you to roll your shoulders forward more when shooting or to be more agile with your arm movements. This cut in our polyethylene armor doesn’t compromise protection, comfort, or mobility. 


Your tactical vest shouldn’t compromise your movements. It should be comfortable to let your arms move without restraint for shooting, accessing gear, running, or whatever movements your training demands. The last thing you want is for your plate carrier setup to slow you down, cause resistance, or interrupt muscle memory. 


Does a Ballistic Carrier Need to Cover the Stomach?

A great fitting carrier secures the body armor plates while not adding resistance to your range of motion. A snug cummerbund also helps to reduce pressure of weight from the shoulders. Overall armor vests should extend roughly from right below the collarbone to the base of your rib cage. 

Image of how your plate carrier vest should fit

The priority of ballistic protection should be to cover your vitals. Your vest protection should start two fingers’ width below your collarbone. A common mistake is to wear a body armor system too low in an attempt to cover the stomach, then compromising the armored protection of your vitals in the upper chest. 


To be frank, getting shot in the stomach has a greater survival rate than getting shot in the upper chest. You should always emphasize your armor around the areas that are most vulnerable.  


How Should I Set Up My Plate Carrier?

Be intentional about your goals in training or protection and model your plate carrier setup around your mission. You can add or take away tactical gear and even scale your threat level of protection!


Modular

Some tactical gear and accessories we recommend for your armor system would be mfak/ifak (medical first aid kits/individual first aid kits), magazine holsters, along with any administrative or mission-specific equipment. 


Medical gear should be placed somewhere that is accessible by both hands in case one arm were somehow injured. Magazine holsters for storing ammunition should be placed either on the front of the plate carrier or on the cummerbund of the non-dominant arm side.


The emphasis for ammunition placement is quickly in reach for an emergency reload. Administrative or mission-specific equipment may include batteries, pens, cellphone, radios, etc. Our suggestion overall is to remain minimalistic; more gear means more weight and restriction. 


Scalable

The National Institute of Justice has many different standards for various threat levels of protection. The cool thing about plate carrier vests is you can scale your armored protection for different needs by adding rifle rated plates. We’re going to cover how to scale your plate carrier from NIJ Level IIIA up to Level IV protection.

Image of scalable tactical vest 

Understanding NIJ Levels 

For the sake of tactical vests we’ll cover NIJ levels IIIA-level IV.  

NIJ Level IIIAare tested to stop .357 SIG and .44 Magnum ammunition fired from long barrel handguns. No rifle ammunition protections. In essence, it stops all common handgun rounds and a 12 Gauge shotgun. 

NIJ Level III is tested to stop 7.62mm FMJ lead core ammunition. Level III+ meets Level III NIJ standards, but also has been tested for rounds outside the Level III NIJ standard. 

NIJ Level IV is tested to stop .30cal steel core armor piercing rifle ammunition; this is the level to stop 5.56 M855. 

Looking for NIJ Level IIIA Protection?

Usually ballistic vests are stand alone products that are not as modular or scalable, but our Hybrid Tactical Vest is exceptional. This duty-rated durable vest is an external carrier that already comes with Level IIIA ballistic panels in the front, back, and offers 360 degree protection. Let’s take it to the next level. 


The Hybrid Tactical comes with strips of MOLLE for your tactical accessories, but better yet, it comes with front and rear plate pockets for NIJ Level III or IV plates. This is a highly versatile, scalable vest that can truly take you from level IIIA to level IV protection. 


Another option is our Core Plate Carrier. This tactical vest comes with NIJ Level IIIA soft armor in the cummerbunds. It is an extremely adaptable vest with laser cut MOLLE for all your plate carrier accessories. We even have multicam plate carriers available in tropic, arid, and multicam black. 


Want to add Level IIIA soft armor inserts to the front and rear of your plate carrier? Simply slide in our 10x12 AGILE Level IIIA soft armor inserts. This minimalistic soft body armor option fits 10x12” carriers, is flexible, and lightweight. 


Looking for NIJ Level 3 Body Armor? 

At Premier, we like to go above and beyond the standard. Level III+ meets the Level III NIJ standard and even rounds outside of this standard. For example, our STRATIS Level III+ Enhanced Plate has been Special Threat Tested against these rounds (15 meters distance) outside the NIJ Level III standard:

  • 7.62 x 39 123gr PS Ball (MSC)
  • 7.62 x 51 147gr (M80) - up to 2850 ft/s
  • 5.56 x 45 55gr (M193) up to 3150 ft/s 

If you’re looking for a multi-hit capable, lightweight level III plate, the STRATIS III+ Enhanced plate has a 15 year warranty, triple the industry average! Did we also mention that it only weighs 2.8lbs? Add these plates to your plate carrier and take it to NIJ Level III. 

Image of lightweight armor rifle rated plate sliding into a bulletproof vest.

Looking for NIJ Level 4 Body Armor?

The new STRATIS Level IV Enhanced plates are unmatched. They are composed of a tiled composite strike face and a polyethylene core, making them multi-hit rated and ultralightweight at 4.4lbs. These plates are tested to meet the NIJ Level IV ballistic standard, but also stop rounds above and beyond the NIJ Level IV standard. Here’s the additional rounds this plate has been Special Threat Tested against:

  • 7.62×39 123gr PS Ball (MSC)
  • 7.62×51 147gr FMJ (M80) – up to 2850 ft/s
  • 5.56x45 55gr (M193) up to 3150ft/s 
  • 5.56x45mm 62 grain steel core (M855)
  • 5.56x45mm M855 A1
  • 7.62x63mm M2 AP (.30-06)

Armor-piercing protection, multi-hit capable, and a 10 year warranty, this plate is uniquely handcrafted to do it all. This polyethylene body armor is great protection against nearly all threats! If you need more information on rifle-rated body armor plates, go check out our Rifle Plates 101 blog. 


Do What Works Best For You

How to set up a plate carrier system ultimately comes down to your goals. Your tactical vest setup should reflect your mission. Look for versatility, durability, maneuverability, and ultimately keep it light. Here are some other great sources to check out more information for your armored system:



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