In this article, we’ll review plate carrier vests from the bottom of the budget barrel all the way up to Mil-Spec vests ready for combat.
From weight to breathability to downright tacticool factor, we’ll cover it all! I have used a number of them, so I can tell you which ones are good and what features you should look for in a vest.
I’ll also show you where to buy real plates (and the best type) to put inside the vest to make it as “bulletproof” as possible.
- Here are the Best Plate Carriers in 2019
- 1. Condor MOPC Plate Carrier (Best Value)
- 2. Crye Precision JPC Plate Carrier
- 3. Tactical Molle Coozy (Editor's Choice)
- 4. Shellback Tactical Banshee 2.0 Elite
- 5. Crye Precision JPC 2.0
- 6. Gloryfire Modular Assault Vest
- 7. SDS BAE Ranger Releasable Vest System
- 8. vAv Yakeda VT-1099
- 9. ArcEnCiel Tactical MOLLE Vest
- 10. vAv Yakeda Outdoor Vest
- 11. Elite Spanker Tactical Paintball and Airsoft Ves
- 12. Condor Tactical Vest
Soft Body Armor vs Plates
I’ll go more in detail and cover the pros and cons of each type of body armor below. To give you a brief summary, soft body armor is effective at stopping smaller caliber rounds like 9mm, but it doesn’t offer the same level of protection as plates. If concealment isn’t a factor for you, I recommend a vest that allows you to insert hard plates.
Here is a good video I found on YouTube about plate carrier setup and has some information you may find valuable. I recommend skipping straight to 1:50 in the video.
- Level of Protection
Level of protection is an important consideration. Different vests and plates have different rating levels that let you know what type of rounds they can effectively stop (more on this below). Before we cover that, here are the types of vests out there to choose from.
Plate carriers are designed to carry inserts made to stop real ballistic rounds. The plates inside the vest cover and protect the vital organs of the upper body. Some vests allow you to insert side and back plates, which might be a little overkill for civilian use, but hey if you don’t mind carrying a little extra weight go for it. They typically have MOLLE attachments and pockets to carry other military-style gear.
Soft bulletproof vests are nice because they are concealable and much lighter than plate carriers. That said, soft vests do have some major downsides. While they can effectively stop smaller rounds like 9mm or shotgun pellets, they’re ineffective against higher caliber firearms.
Multi-functional vests are tactical and are great for attaching accessories like magazine pouches and other gear. They are typically lightweight, but typically don’t have any areas to insert hard or soft plates. As far as protection goes, they aren’t much better than just wearing a regular vest or shirt.
- Ratings and Certifications
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), which is part of the Department of Justice has been setting body armor standards for a long time. Here is a link to the National Institute of Justice website with armor standards. These allow you to know what type of rounds the armor you’re looking at can realistically stop. Here are the levels.
- Level IIA: Effective against 9mm to .40 ammunition fired from short barrel handguns. Not effective against rifles
- Level II: Effective against 9mm and .357 magnum ammunition from short barrel handguns. Not effective against rifles.
- Level IIIA: Effective against .357 and .44 magnum ammunition from long barrel handguns. Not effective against rifles
- Level III: Effective against 7.62 FMJ core ammunition.
- Level IV: Effective against .30cal steel for armor piercing rounds.
- The Different Types of Plates
SAPI Plates (Small Arms Protective Inserts) are used by all branches of the US military and are what we used in the Marines. Kevlar vests are great, but as mentioned above for rounds larger than 9mm they’re largely ineffective. SAPI plates were specifically designed to stop higher caliber rounds than standard Kevlar vests. SAPI plates are basically ceramic plates (described below) covered in a tough composite material (to trap fragments).
There are actually different types, but they’re typically made of boron carbide or silicon carbide ceramic. The level of protection is great, but they’re quite a bit heavier than soft plates. In the Marines, we had to wear these plates in the front, back, and sizes of our vest. The major downside of SAPI and ceramic plates is they are only designed to stop one impact in the same spot. This is because they shatter when hit to absorb the kinetic energy from the round.
Estimated Plate Weights:
- Extra small plate: About 2.8 pounds
- Small plate: About 3.5 pounds
- Medium plate: 4.0 pounds
- Large plate: 4.6 pounds
- Extra Large Plate: 5.3 pounds
Ceramic Plates are a common type of plate you can find for sale. They were first used on a large scale during Operation Desert Storm. They were a breakthrough in body armor technology and were much lighter than other types of armor at the time. That said, they’re still pretty heavy and bulky.
With ceramic plates, you have to weigh the benefits of increased protection with the cons that come with a heavy vest. You see this a lot in the military; guys will remove their side or back plates to drop weight and increase their mobility. Also keep in mind that because they are designed to shatter when struck by a bullet, they are only effective at stopping one round in the same area. With ceramic plates, you also need to be careful to not drop them and remember to service them if they take a hard impact.
Polyethylene Plates are another type of plate you can buy. They’re significantly lighter than ceramic plates. These plates often involve woven shield materials that actually take advantage of the natural spin of a bullet to absorb the impact. The heat of the bullet actually melts the polyethylene and helps stop the round.
Steel Plates are an old type of plate that I don’t recommend because of the weight. Steel has been used for centuries, and if it’s thick enough it can account stop ballistic rounds. It was originally made to stop rounds from musket rifles but is still effective against modern firearms.
- Weight and Heat Considerations
Weight is another important factor, especially if you’re planning on wearing the vest for long periods of time. If you’re looking for a vest to workout in you might actually want one that is heavy.
If you’re looking for a vest for home defense or sports like paintball/airsoft you probably want to look for one that is lightweight. I’ll list the weight for each vest below, so you can compare.
If you’re wearing a heavy vest and moving around a lot, you’re going to sweat a lot. In the Marines, after hikes, our cammies would be totally soaked under our plate carriers. If you plan on wearing the plate carrier for a long time, I recommend attaching a hydration bladder to the back, so you can stay hydrated and prevent overheating.
- Functionally and Attachments
You want to make sure you get a plate carrier that has MOLLE attachments and places where you can attach ammo pouches or other gear you want to have on you. Certain vests have lots of places for attachments and accessories, while others are more minimalist.
MOLLE (pronounced like Molly) is an acronym that stands for “Modular Lightweight Loadbearing Equipment”. At the very basic level, it’s essentially a ladder of tightly woven and durable denier nylon that is far superior to other velcro systems. Having a MOLLE system integrated into your plate carrier allows you to quickly and easily attach pouches, accessories, patches, holsters, and many other pieces of gear. Using MOLLE is typically better than stuffing things into your backpack or your pockets because you can customize where the items go and you’ll always have quick access to what you need the most when it counts. Most high-quality plate carriers will be riddled with MOLLE and basically, all military issued vests encompass MOLLE in one way or another.
Here are the Best Plate Carriers in 2019
1. Condor MOPC Plate Carrier (Best Value)
Accepts: Medium or Large ESAPI plates up to 10.25 x 13.25 inches
(Side plates up to 6×8″)
Size: Adjustable (Medium to XL)
The Condor Modular Operator Plate Carrier (MOPC) is a very popular vest that I would recommend to anyone. Although it comes with no attachments, at around $60 this vest is an absolute steal. The Condor MOPC is a ture “buy once cry once” purchase. You won’t have to worry about upgrading to a higher quality vest or being displeased with it down the road.
It utilizes the PAL system, so you won’t have to worry about buying a MOLLE attachment that won’t fit on the vest.
I like the wide shoulder straps, it’s a very comfortable and well-made made vest. It’s a simple rig made by one of the most reputable companies in the industry. Of all the carriers on this list, this one is the most like the KHD Defense plate carrier used by Marines.
- No quick release feature
- Doesn’t come with pouches or accessories
2. Crye Precision JPC Plate Carrier
Accepts: Large vest holds plates (10″ x 12″) plate size depends on vest size.
Size: Different sizes available (see link below to find the right size for you)
Note: Does not accept side plates
Colors: Multicam, Coyote Tan, and Ranger Green
If you’re looking for a high-speed plate carrier that is the “most operator” look no further! Crye Precision makes some of the best plate carriers out there and are popular among special forces operators. This is a great choice, but in terms of value, the Condor plate carrier listed above is a better value.
Crye Precision has a few popular models (they actually have a JPC 2.0 version you can check out here. The JPC 1.0 has a minimalist design and offers a variety of configuration options. It has a patented skeletal cummerbund that allows pouches to be mounted on both the inside and outside of the cummerbund. This makes the vest less bulky when carrier gear. It’s a lightweight vest (the smallest size weights about 1.2 pounds and the largest XL vest weighs about 1.5 pounds. If you want to know what size to buy check out the sizing chart on the Cry Precision website here.
Here is a video of a Marine comparing his KHD plate carrier issued by the Marine Corps and the Crye Precision 1.0 vest.
Also, Amazon recently listed the JPC 1.0 Vest here. It’s a little more expensive than on the Crye website but after shipping it’s probably around the same.
3. Tactical Molle Coozy (Editor's Choice)
My Review: You know how to protect your vital goodies but have you considered the security of your brewskies? Drinking beer in a warzone is no easy feat and having it spilled by a stray 7.62 is a pretty lame excuse for running out of beer.
Stack these bad boys up and protect those precious hops!
Note: Molle functionality makes it easy to add an admin pouch to store a bottle opener and bad ideas list.
4. Shellback Tactical Banshee 2.0 Elite
My Review: Phew, this one will take a hefty blow to the bank digits so it must be something damn tacticool, right?
Right! It’s probably the best plate carrier on this list as its purpose built for combat by people who have seen combat. It’s constructed of the finest 500D Cordura nylon which is one of the lightest but most durable types of nylon available. The entire thing is built to be tough as nails but they’ve gone and tried to keep your body temps as low as possible by adding ventilation and 3D mesh to keep the air flowing. The shoulders and basically any point of contact with the body is padded for long duration usage and has plenty of built in storage for just about every gadget you’d ever need in the field.
This plate carrier is capable of utilizing both soft and hard body armor all the way up to level 4 ESAPI 10×12 plates. The vest comes with a hook and loop lay flat drag handle and all the necessary guiders for hydration houses, antennas, comms wires, etc. To boot, you’ll get a lifetime warranty from Shellback!
- No cons, this is one of the best plate carriers out there
- Doesn’t come with pouches or accessories
5. Crye Precision JPC 2.0
My Review: The JPC 2.0 is purpose-built to be lightweight and mobile. Using the absolute lightest materials possible, this is one of the easiest plate carriers to maintain nearly full movement and agility in. The proprietary skeletal cummerbund system maintains an extremely breathable configuration while still ensuring maximum protection. Even better, the plate carrier section is made of durable stretchable material, allowing for every size and type of plate to sit snuggly.
You can find this plate carrier in four different color configurations and a plethora of aftermarket attachments such as the AVS flaps. The vest has a lay flat drag handle and plenty of webbing loops for back panel supports. Overall, this is one of the lightest and most compact plate carrier systems on the market today!
It happens rarely, but I see no major cons here!
6. Gloryfire Modular Assault Vest
Accepts: Hard and Soft Plates
Size: Medium to X-Large (Adjustable)
Holds Plates: Up to 10.5” x 13.5” (Front and Back)
Holds 6”x6” Side SAPIs
Material: Durable 1000D Nylon
Colors: Black, Tan, or Olive Drab
Amazon Prime members, this ones for you! If you’re looking for a plate carrier vest to put real plates into for personal defense, or a good vest for training, paintball, and/or airsoft this is a good option. It also reminds me a lot of the KHD plate carriers we used in the Marines. The vest does not come with hard or soft armor plates, but I’ll show you some good places to buy some at the bottom of the page. Remember that although this vest is made from a very strong anti-tear polyester, it’s not Kevlar, so if you take a real round to the chest without armor plates thinking it’s Kevlar you’ll surely read product descriptions from now on (if you live).
Overall, it is the best plate carrier for the money that you can buy on Amazon. Personally, I would choose the MOPC over this, but both are great options. It is very adjustable, so you can get a tight fit. It also has wide padded shoulder straps that distribute the weight of the vest nicely.
- No quick release buckles
- no webbing on should straps
- Plates not included
7. SDS BAE Ranger Releasable Vest System
My Review: First of all, sorry I don’t have an image for this one. You can check to see a picture of the plate carrier here if you’re curious.
Most certainly not the cheapest option available, the SDS Ranger is an all-encompassing monster of a vest! It’ll fit standard 10×12” plates in both front and back with ease while maintaining a very tight squeeze, ensuring those plates won’t be moving about when you are.
The quick releasability is especially helpful for quick deployment and shimmying out of the thing when need be. There’s not much to say other than that this is one of the most durable and reliable styles of plate carrier vests on the market. The design this vest utilizes is pretty widely known to be the leading edge of body armor vests.
- A bit more expensive than most other plate carriers on this list that are similar quality
8. vAv Yakeda VT-1099
- Accepts: Hard and Soft Plates
- Size: S-XXL (Adjustable)
- Material: Durable 1000D Nylon
- Weight: 2.1lb
- Holds plates: Up to 10” by 12” (Front and Back)
- Max waist sizes: 56 inches
If you’re looking for a minimalist, low profile, and lightweight plate carrier vest this one by YAKEDA is a good choice. The plate pockets are durable and backed with a 3d mesh for comfort and body heat dispersion.
A nice thing about this vest is that it’s very adjustable as far as size. I know a lot of larger guys have a hard time finding a vest that fits right. It also comes with 3 mag pouches that can be removed or replaced.
- Cannot hold side plates
- Plates not included
9. ArcEnCiel Tactical MOLLE Vest
- Accepts: Soft and Hard Plates
- Size: Adjustable (up to 50” waist”
- Hold plates: 8×10 or 10×12
- Vest Style: Military Vest
If you want a plate carrier vest that comes with a lot of attachments and accessories this vest is a good option. It has many MOLLE attachment points for things like maps, walkie-talkies, radios, flashlights or other items you want to carry.
Like the other plate carriers on this list, it is very adjustable. It’s a great military vest for training, home defense, paintball, airsoft, and tactical training.
- Plates not included
10. vAv Yakeda Outdoor Vest
- Accepts: Soft and Hard Plates
- Size: Adjustable (S-XXL)
- Material: Durable 900D Nylon
- Weight: 3.9 pounds (1.78kg)
Note: It looks like this model is out of stock right right now.
vAv Yakeda is known for making high quality and affordable vests. This vest can hold plates, but they are also known for making good utility vests. Like the others on this list, this vest is highly adjustable to fit a wide range of sizes. The waist is adjustable up to 50 inches.
It is made with thick and durable 900D nylon that isn’t going to tear or rip like a cheap plate carrier vest. Another thing I love about this setup is the price. This might just be the best plate carrier for the money.
- Plates not included
11. Elite Spanker Tactical Paintball and Airsoft Ves
- Accepts: Hard and Soft Plates
- Material: 1050D Nylon
- Size: Adjustable (Max Waist of 48” Minimum of 32”)
- Style: Military vest
- Weight: 1.875 pounds
- Available Colors: Black / Multicolor / Ranger Green / Coyote Brown
This is another good airsoft plate carrier. It comes with soft inserts that are not ballistic but still work for paintball or airsoft. I haven’t heard of anyone actually using this vest for personal defense vest with armor plates, it’s more designed to be a CS game vest.
There is also a MOLLE system on the back of the vest where you can attach a hydration bladder. When you’re wearing a plate carrier for long periods of time I recommend buying a quality water bladder. This is a sharp looking vest!
- Plates not included
12. Condor Tactical Vest
Accepts Plates: No
Style: Tactical Vest
Size: Large to XXXL
Condor is known for making some reliable and reasonably priced plate carriers and military vests. You can pick this vest up either on a number of websites, including Amazon. If you’re just looking for a multifunctional vest to hold magazines and other accessories this one is a good option.
This is also a good vest that you could wear over a flak jacket. It’s super comfortable, and I like the Padded straps and built in hydration bladder area (bladder not included).
- Does not accept plates
- Only sizes large and up
Where to Buy Armor Plate Inserts?
It can be hard to find armor plates, It really just depends on what kind you want, but here are a couple good places I would recommend buying them from.
If you’re looking for the best place to buy SAPI plates I recommend you start with Ebay. You can search for plates on Ebay here. This is a great place to buy them from and you can often get rock bottom prices.
You can search the Gun Broker website. They often have a lot of great plates you can choose from and they have an auction style section that has the potential of netting you some good deals.
Local Gun Shows:
This one is self-explanatory, but an often overlooked option. Gun shows are a great place to find armor and talk to an experienced salesman about the best armor plates for you. You can also negotiate on the price and sometimes get an absolute steal! As always, being able to try on gear before you buy is a huge plus. My personal advice would be to find a gun show and try on a few different pieces to figure out what you like, then shop around online for the best deals.
What Type of Body Armor Does the Military Use?
I know the Marine Infantry and I believe the army both use KDH vests. The KDH company makes a quality plate carrier system that has a cummerbund style main vest with removable side plates (up to 7×8”). The 2-point cutaway system has 360-degree MOLE attachment points, a quick release system, drag handle, integrated communication channels, scalable modular components, and other great features. I don’t know if you can buy this vest as a civilian, but you can check out the KDH website here. They have a contact tab on their website with a contact form and phone number. I’m sure they would be more than happy to answer your questions.
Are Plate Carriers with Inserts Really that Heavy?
The simple answer is they can be (I have a list of the plate weights at the top of the page). They aren’t that heavy, but if you’re hiking, running, or wearing them for a long time they can get uncomfortable. I had an extra-large vest and I’ll tell you dam these things get heavy after a while. These are commonly used by all military branches and are a good option for personal defense. You can find SAPI plates in different sizes in shapes. As you can see from the weights below a plate carrier vest with inserts can get a bit heavy.
What are Some Attachments You Recommend?
Admin Pouch: Admin pouches are nice to hold things like a small notepad, pens, batteries, and other things you’d like to be able to access quickly.
Dump Pouch: If you’re planning on using this vest for shooting and military style training a dump pouch is a great attachment. When you’re reloading you’ll be able to retain your magazines during a fast reload instead of letting them lay on the ground. Utilizing a dump pouch will allow you to save a lot of time that would have to be spent going back looking for your mags. You can also fill a dump pouch with other gear you’d like to carry.
What Should I Do If I Get a Vest and It Doesn’t Fit?
With most the vests on this list they’re very adjustable to accommodate a wide range of sizes, but if you buy the vest on amazon they will usually accept returns. I recommend reading the product pages to see the max and minimum waist sizes, so you don’t have this problem. I’ll do my best to list the size specifications next to each plate carrier.
What are the Downsides to Plate Carriers?
The major downside when it comes to plate carriers or more lightweight tactical vests is the shear weight and bulkiness. They do get a bit uncomfortable after wearing them for a long time and do restrict the speed of your movements slightly. Overall you have to weigh the pros and cons to decide to find the best plate carrier for your needs. Some are more minimalistic and will be easier to move around in and are better for just training.
What are Some Advantages of Soft Body Armor?
The major advantage of soft body armor is that it’s concealable. Most soft armor can fit discretely under garments, so no one will even be aware you’re wearing a ballistic vest. It doesn’t offer the same level of protection as plate carriers, but it’s still a heck of a lot better than nothing. On top of that, it’s more flexible and comfortable when wearing for long periods of time.
What Size Magazines Can the Vests Hold?
Most vests easily accommodate the most popular .223 and .556 NATO rounds. If you’re looking to hold a much larger bullet caliber or extended mags you may want to purchase aftermarket magazine pouches that you can attach through the vests MOLLE system.
Do Plate Carriers Increase the Risk of Overheating?
Definitely, you’ll want to make sure you’re crushing water if you’re moving around a lot. Look for a good hydration bladder to attach to the back of the vests. Most quality vests will have MOLLE functionality on the back that will allow you to attach a bladder. Or you can just use the straps on the hydration bladder and put it on over your vest. That’s how I usually had mine set up when I was in the Marines.
How Many Rounds Can Bullet Proof Vests Stop?
This really depends on the type of armor/plates you’re wearing. I recommend referring to the top of the page and reading about the different types of plates and the protection ratings set by the NIJ. Do note that some plates are actually designed to shatter when shot to absorb the impact of the round. If you’re using the plate carrier for civilian uses like home defense it’s unlikely you’ll be shot in the same place twice, but it’s still an important consideration when choosing a vest.
How to Wash a Plate Carrier?
Plate carriers cannot be put in washing machines. For each specific carrier it’s best to read the manual they will explain exactly how to wash it.
Should I Buy a Camouflage Vest?
Sometimes the camo plate carriers are actually more expensive. In many settings camouflage really won’t even be an advantage so my short answer would be not, but if you’re using the vest for something like paintball or airsoft in a woodland setting it might be a good idea.
Are Plate Carriers with Inserts Really that Heavy?
The simple answer is they can be (I have a list of the plate weights at the top of the page). They aren’t that heavy, but if you’re hiking, running, or wearing them for a long time they can get uncomfortable. I had an extra-large vest and I’ll tell you dam these things get heavy after a while. They’re are commonly used by all military branches and are a good option for personal defense. You can find SAPI plates in different sizes in shapes. As you can see from the weights below a plate carrier vest with inserts can get a bit heavy.
Wikipedia: Plate Carriers and Armor Ratings
Encyclopedia Britannica: Bulletproof Vests
That concludes my review of the best plate carrier vests and flak jackets. There are a lot out there, you just need to find one that meets your preferences/needs.
There are a lot of great vests out there. If you feel that there is a great vest that should be added to this list, please let me know in the comments!
Also, let me know about your experiences with plate carriers in the comments as I really enjoy hearing about other peoples experience with tactical gear!
Let me know if you have any questions, it’s always good to read comments and I’ll respond as fast as I can.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the other pages on my website!
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Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines that specialized in Mortars. As an outdoor enthusiast, he has been testing outdoor and tactical style gear for over 20 years. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. We are currently looking for former Marines that like to talk tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. For more information about us or to join the team, check out the “About Us” tab.