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Basics of Body Armor

Modern body armor comes in many shapes and forms. Protective vests are adaptable to fit the requirements of just about any mission profile. Body armor can provide protection from ballistic, edged, or even spiked weaponry. This article will cover the very basics of understanding modern body armor.

Plate Carriers

The carrier itself holds plate or soft armor and is then strapped to the body. There are countless different variations of armor carriers. These are what make the protective device mission adaptable.

The plate carrier can be designed to hold front, back, and side plates, as well as soft inserts. They can also be designed to have additional attachments including neck, shoulder, and groin protective soft armor. Shop Plate Carriers | How to Train with a Plate Carrier

Sizing and How to Wear

Proper wear of the armor system is imperative. Many who wear armor on a daily basis have no idea they are wearing it wrong, thus leaving themselves vulnerable. The top of the front plate should be in line with the top of the sternum. When the plate is positioned this way, it will provide the most coverage to your vitals.

The top of the back plate should be lined up just halfway up the shoulder blades. The back plate will ride just about even with the front plate. This provides the most coverage front and back and will ensure it protects everything the front plate does.

Side plates may seem unnecessary at first. However, they are extremely valuable. They must ride as high as possible in the carrier without restricting your movement. Most modern carriers have adjustable side pockets. Raise the height of the side pouches so the plates can protect your lungs.

As far as sizing is concerned, you'll want to purchase a carrier to fit your plate size. If you are using medium plates, buy a medium carrier. You do not want your plates bouncing or sliding around inside the carrier during use.

If you are worried about the carrier being too loose or too tight on your body, you can always purchase a different size cummerbund to go with your carrier. The cummerbund will ensure the carrier itself stays snug to your body.

Types and Styles of Plate Carriers

There are tons and tons of carriers on the market these days. The market is so flooded with tactical equipment that it can be difficult to identify the type of carrier system that is applicable to your mission needs.


Concealable carriers are more often than not called "slick." These carriers do the bare minimum to get the job done: they hold the armor against the body. That doesn't mean that they are low quality, however.

Slick carriers are often used in two different situations. When they are designed to be concealable they are built to be low profile and go under the wearer's clothing.

This is ideal for professionals such as Executive Protection Agents who want to blend into the environment around them. A bulky vest under their clothes or on top would be exceptionally conspicuous. While they often have a low rating, the armor inside can still provide ballistic protection. VIPs that are being moved under high alert can sometimes be seen wearing slick armor outside of their clothing. Police officers also often wear slick armor, usually under their uniform.

Another benefit of concealable or slick armor is that the user can wear a rig or other load bearing equipment over it. In a situation like this, only one carrier is necessary and can perform multiple duties. The wearer can conceal the carrier or wear it outside their clothing and have a similar set up to a MOLLE carrier. If they choose, they may not wear the carrier at all and still have access to all of their magazines and other pouches.

Snaps with Hook-and-Loop Velcro Patches

These are becoming more and more rare as each day passes, but it is at least important to know that they exist. These types of carriers are covered in the soft loop velcro with a grid pattern of snaps embedded throughout. The accessories are backed by the hook velcro side embedded with the other halfs of the snaps.

In order to attach your accessories, you simply line the snaps up and press the entire assembly onto the carrier. You know the accessory is secure when you hear the snap, because the hook and loop will automatically grip together.

This sounds like an awkward and outdated system, and it is. There is a benefit, however. The system allows for incredible amounts of freedom when it comes to location and orientation of your equipment. Pouches and holsters can be mounted sideways, or at any kind of angle the user may desire.

MOLLE Carriers

MOLLE webbing is a relatively new invention. It was designed to simplify the process of attaching accessories to your armor system while providing excellent retention and ease of removal. It is similar to the old A.L.I.C.E. system, but without all of the metal clips. The carrier is covered in strips of fabric, and the accessory has at least one strap and one snap on the back, with a few pieces of webbing sewn on the back as well. The strap will usually have a piece of plastic inside for rigidity.

When installing an accessory piece, the strap needs to be woven through the webbing on the carrier and the webbing on the accessory. The result should be that the accessory won't come off of the carrier even if the snap comes undone. This is imperative as many wearers find their pouches or attachments getting hung up on doorways or dragged across the ground.

MOLLE carriers make up a large percentage of the market today. Some of these carriers maintain complete MOLLE functionality while being so thin that they could also be concealable. Others are designed for extreme duty while also being lightweight and providing excellent mobility. Check out our guide on how to use MOLLE to learn how to add accessories.

Quick Release

A common feature sought out amongst carriers is the quick release. These carriers are often designed to be used in and around tight spaces such as ships and vehicles. In the event that the user becomes trapped, either due to an accident or combat, the carrier can quickly and easily be removed in order to escape.

Some carriers produced tend to be much more specialized than regular consumer carriers. They are designed for military operations in a war zone. These carriers tend to be bulky and allow for attachment of peripherals. Most commonly you will see these carriers with shoulder plates, throat armor, and groin protectors.

These carriers are cumbersome and extremely heavy. That being said, they excel at what they do. A surprising number of combat fatalities come from arterial wounds. Shoulder, throat, and groin protectors are designed to protect these arteries in some of the most vulnerable locations.

Outside of the peripheral attachments, these carriers tend to function similarly to other carriers. Some, such as the IOTV have quick release systems and offer improved internal support, cushioning, and breathability. They also tend to offer multiple cummerbund systems so that the wearer can set up their equipment to be both comfortable and functional to them.

Surplus or New Stock?

Many retailers will offer surplus plate carriers to the average consumer at a heavily discounted price. This price makes these carriers extremely attractive to the budget-minded individual. Most of these surplus dealers make sure that they send out the best condition equipment, or, if it is a physical shop the consumer can inspect the equipment first hand before purchase. That being said, surplus equipment even in the best shape can be unreliable.

If the user is expecting to place their life in the hands of the carrier it is strongly suggested to get new stock carriers. Oftentimes manufacturer warranties don't carry over to surplus equipment. Either way, regardless of whether or not the user purchases new stock or surplus, it is highly recommended to conduct regular inspections of the equipment to ensure that stitching is intact and there are no new rips or holes that could jeopardize the reliability of the carrier.


First, we have the plate or soft panel. Soft armor is usually designed for either lesser or more specialized threats. Plates are designed for higher power ammunition and more advanced threats. These are what actually defeat the threat and are usually able to be removed from the carrier and put into another.

Hard Armor

Hard armor is capable of providing protection against all but the most advanced ballistic threats that are prevalent to date. Aside from threats designed specifically to defeat armor, there is very little a hard plate isn't designed to defeat. That being said, it is imperative that the user buys the right plate for the application and understands what the plates can and cannot do. Shop Ballistic Plates


Hard armor is rated by the National Institute of Justice, or NIJ and typically rated III or IV. It is important to note that the NIJ does not recognize "lightweight" or "+" rated plates. These are purchased at your own risk.

Hard armor is typically only rated in level III or IV. Level III plating defeats all threats up to 7.62 FMJ lead core projectiles. In the case of .223 or 5.56 ammunition, if the projectile has a lead core a level III plate will suffice.

If the user is expecting the threat to include steel-core ammunition or anything that might include armor piercing rounds, it is highly recommended to purchase level IV armor. Armor piercing rounds require ceramic or metallic faces or interior segments in order to defeat the round. The majority of the level IV plates on the NIJ approved roster contain these features.


Hard plates can be manufactured with a number of different materials. As long as they are on the approved roster they are guaranteed to defeat the rated threats. The benefits of the materials they are made out of come in price per plate and weight per plate.

Ceramic and steel plates are relatively similar in the weight of each plate and can both be found in level IV ratings. The benefit of steel plates is that they tend to be much, much thinner than ceramic, and cost is typically much less. Steel plating can suffer from spalling, which is when the projectile fragments upon impact. The fragmentation can end up striking the user.

Steel plates are also suggested to be used with trauma pads which can help absorb the force of the bullet hitting the armor and can also protect against denting that might occur.

Ceramic plates offer many of the same attributes as steel plates, but do not suffer from spalling or denting. Ceramic plates offer excellent multi-hit protection, but the downside is that they cannot withstand multiple precision hits in the same spot and tend to be more expensive. If you aren't looking for multi-hit capability you can sometimes find a great deal on sets. In the end, the choice between steel and ceramic is often a similar choice to favorite soft drinks or cellular phones: it's all about preference.

Kevlar plates are excellent and time-tested against ballistic threats. The downfall is that Kevlar itself cannot be rated against level IV threats. Kevlar just cannot stand against armor piercing ammunition without an insert or specialized coating. Kevlar is often used in conjunction with (ICW) plate. This means that they require backing, or a specialized insert, to bring them to the Level IV rating.

Soft Armor

Soft armor works much like hard armor, except that it comes in flexible panels and protects against reduced threats such as pistol caliber ammunition. Soft armor cannot be rated to protect against rifle caliber ammunition because the highest rated soft armor found is IIIA. The flexible paneling just isn't rigid enough to withstand the impacts of higher powered ammunition. That being said, if the mission profile does not suggest rifle caliber ammunition as a threat, or if the user requires the added flexibility and mobility of the lighter, more flexible soft armor, there is no need for hard plates.


Soft armor is found in one of three ratings. IIA is the lowest rated, followed by II and then IIIA. IIA armor is rated to only stop 9mm and .40 caliber projectiles and is actually rather difficult to find. Level II armor stops higher powered 9mm and .357 projectiles.

Level II armor puts the majority of IIA armor out of date. Level II armor doesn't cost much more than IIA and isn't much heavier. When given the choice, the added protection of level II armor is far worth it. Level IIA Armor stops handgun ammunition rated up to .357 Sig and .44 Magnum. IIIA can also sometimes be found in hard plate armor.


Soft armor is typically made from materials such as Kevlar fabric, Goldflex and Twaron. Goldflex is a non-woven laminated version of Kevlar fabric, and Twaron is similar to Kevlar but is a "para-aramid" rather than Kevlar's "aramid."


Edge Blade Vests

Edge blade vests protect against slashing attacks from knives, swords and anything with a sharp edge. They come in both hard and soft armor and are a highly specialized piece of equipment. Ballistic armor may not protect against a slashing attack due to the mechanism of damage. Check the armor's rating or with the manufacturer to determine if the plates you already have are slash rated.

Spike Vests

Spike vests are even more specialized than edge blade vests. Neither ballistic rated or edge rated plates are designed to defeat a spike threat unless explicitly stated by the manufacturer. Almost all spike vests are made in soft armor due to the specialized weaving needed to successfully defeat spike threats. Shop Tactical Vests


Be sure to perform routine inspections and maintenance on your armor and carriers in order to prevent failure in the field when you need your armor the most. Ensure that plates are inspected for any damages or expiration dates. If there is visible damage to the plates or if they are out of date it is imperative to replace them ASAP.

In the world we live in today some form of armor is just as imperative to keep and own as a firearm. First responders of all kinds should have armor and should understand not only how to use the armor they have, but why each type is effective in the way that it is.

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