17 Best Plate Carrier Vests in 2020 and Where to Buy Inserts

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.

Marines Wearing Plate Carriers

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. For those of you looking for a plate carrier for fitness training, I recommend checking out my favorite weighted vests here.

Best Plate Carrier Review and Buying Guide

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.

  1. 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.

Marines Wearing Plate Carriers

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.

  1. 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.

Handgun Calibers

  • 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

Rifle Calibers

  • Level III: Effective against 7.62 FMJ core ammunition.
  • Level IV: Effective against .30cal steel for armor piercing rounds.
  1. 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

USMC Machine Gunner Squad in Flak Jackets

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 2020

1. TacTec Plate Carrier by 5.11 (Best Value)

TacTec Plate Carrier with Rogue Plates

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Estimated Price: $200

My Review:  5.11 took their time and interviewed the highest level operators in the world and asked for their feedback while designing the TacTec Plate carrier. That effort did not go unnoticed and the attention to detail and unique features of this plate carrier set it apart in many different ways.

While it was purpose-built for military and law enforcement, it’s so comfortable and offers such good mobility that it was adopted by the CrossFit industry, and is now the official plate carrier of the Crossfit Games. This is no surprise as the TacTec has these massive airflow channels that keep you cool and help to minimize sweat building up under the vest. These air channels are highly appreciated by Crossfitters and Military personnel all over the world!

So what’s so great about it? Well, for starters, it’s the most comfortable and cool plate carrier I’ve ever worn. 5.11 incorporated padded yoke-style shoulder straps, the same style that makes 5.11 backpacks so comfortable. This technology distributes the weight of the plate carrier very well and eliminates common plate carrier pressure points. 5.11 also allowed the shoulder straps to have a little play, which allows them to move with the body, but not so much that they feel loose. The mesh/skeletonized cummerbund system is elastic and has some flex to it. This allows the plate carrier to stay tight against the body but still gives a little bit of flex, making it a lot more comfortable when bending, jumping, picking up heavy objects, leaning, or switching from prone to standing or vice versa. The mesh system makes it very breathable and still allows for molle attachments and even side SAPIs. The plate carrier is tapered at the top to give operators more freedom to move, while still allowing it to hold medium and large plates. This tapering style is also a much better shape to swim, climb, and hold things over your head.

You get a laser cut molle/velcro panel on the upper half of both sides of the plate carrier and there is plenty of space to put your ID and morale patches, along with a front compartment to hold maps and other gear. The entire vest can be taken off in seconds with the specially designed one-handed quick-release system.

The drag system is one feature on this vest that is very unique. The drag handle is tethered through a strap that goes all the way through the plate carrier and is incredibly well designed. Having a drag handle that can be pulled out and extended from the plate carrier allows operators dragging a casualty to stay in a more powerful upright position. This makes it much faster to move casualties, requires less effort, and allows the person dragging to the casualty to face the direction of travel, increasing situational awareness. Funker Tactical did an awesome torture test of the drag system here if you’re interested in checking it out.

Tactiholics actually did an awesome review on this plate carrier that is very in-depth if you want to check out the video below.

Here is a cool video by 5.11 that explains why this vest is so popular in the Crossfit community. Rogue Fitness actually makes non-ballistic plates that are cheaper than buying front and back ballistic plates if you’re planning on using this plate carrier for fitness training. You can find the contoured plates here and the non-contoured plates here.

The 5.11 TacTec is an awesome plate carrier that offers better mobility and flexibility than any plate I’ve worn. Buy once cry once, I know 5.11 products seem a bit pricey but they are built by the people that know what we need and they use only the best materials because they know it matters. It is a minimalist plate carrier, so if you’re someone who needs or wants to carry a ton of mags and gear this might not be the best choice, but for most people, this is a great option. I purchased both the fitness-specific plates (you can find them cheap used on eBay) and AR500 ballistic plates here.

Key Features:

  • Vest weight: 2.5lbs
  • Compatible plate size: Medium (12.5″ x 9.5″ x 2″) and Large (13.25 x 10.25 x 2.25 SAPI plates.
  • Modularity options: No modularity options
  • Color schemes: Standard Black, Navy Blue, Tac OD, Sandstone, Terrain, and MultiCam
  • Material Construction: 500D Cordura

2. Crye Precision Adaptive Vest System (AVS)

Crye Precision Adaptive Vest System (AVS)

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Estimated Price: $600 for Base AVS Configuration Plus Additional Add-ons

My Review: The AVS stands for “Adaptive Vest System” and boy oh boy is it ever so adaptive. Crye Precision was fed up with single situational vest systems that are really only built for certain situations and thus they set out to create a modular platform where the user can easily and quickly swap out modular parts and sections of the vest to quickly adapt and reconfigure their loadout on the fly. These vests are some of the easiest and quickest platforms to change your weapons systems and go from covert to heavily covered in just a few minutes.

What makes the AVS so popular and so highly rated? Well, they’re constructed of military-grade materials and consist of some of the highest quality craftsmanship while allowing for the user to completely configure its armor plates, mag pouches, cummerbunds, straps, and a plethora of other add-ons and assets. The AVS is perfect for those of us who aren’t privy to mission information ahead of time and may receive an ever-evolving threat or new orders to execute with very little time to prepare or reconfigure. The AVS is ready for the operator that needs to be ready for anything and everything no matter what.

Crye Precision sells an AVS customization kit which is basically a massive set of buckles, straps, MOLLE straps, pads, belts, etc that you can use to ensure the AVS fits absolutely flawlessly over any other gear you might have on and further extend the AVS’s capability to carry gear and accommodate armor plates. You could also grab just the standard plate pouch set and grab the AVS 2-Band Skeletal Cummerbund for just a plate carrier configuration with no storage. This would cost you roughly $400 and provide ample protection in a very lightweight configuration.

Key Features:

  • Vest Weight: The weight primarily depends on how you spec out your vest and since there are so many options, we won’t list a set weight here. The base AVS harness though weighs about half a pound.
  • Compatible Plate Size: This depends on which plate carrier system you choose but for the most part, the AVS could be compatible with just about plate that follows somewhat standard sizing options.
  • Modularity Options: Swimming friendly armor plate set, a modular body armor set-up (MBAV), the Crye Precision standard AVS plate pouch system, detachable caliber-specific pouches and mag dumps, loadbearing and low profile belt, detachable MOLLE systems and MOLLE extensions, several different cummerbund systems, peripheral storage options, quick detach radio pouches, padded yokes, padded shoulder covers, extendable STKSS load supports, and the AVS 1000 backpack which is purpose-built to fit and operate with the AVS vest system.
  • Color Schemes: Coyote Brown, Flat Black, Ranger Green, and MultiCam.
  • Material Construction: 500D Cordura

3. LBT Modular Plate Carrier LBT-6094A

London Bridge Trading Company (LBT) Modular Plate Carrier LBT 6094A

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Estimated Price: Roughly $450 + Add-ons

My Review: First and foremost, LBT carries several versions of this plate carrier that host subtle differences mostly surrounding sizing.  The “A” variant is compatible with plates up to Swimmer SAPI plates, the “B” variant is compatible with large SAPI plates while the “C” variant is compatible with XL SAPI plates. We just really like the 6094A, so that’s what we’ve chosen, however, another model may suit your specific use case better.

Like many modular plate carrier systems, these consist of the same great 500D Cordura construction that has proven time and time again to be reliable, durable, and rather lightweight. Every chance LBT had to reinforce a seam or strap was taken with high-quality Bar-Tacks and Type E Mil-Spec threaded stitching. These vests, no matter which model you choose, are extremely high quality and are some of the most durable lightweight vests on the market. Of course, the price reflects this, as I’m sure they don’t have many repeat customers and not because they aren’t good but because they are so good most people only need to buy one.

Aside from the phenomenal quality you receive here, you can expect some pretty standard modularity attributes such as a plethora of web attachment points littered over the entire vest, adjustable padded shoulder straps with removable padded wraps, adjustable and removable side panels, wire/hose guides, adjustable spine plate pouch, anchored drag handle, and interior hooks for shoulder and collar armor.

I’ll post a video below where a Navy SEAL goes over his setup with this vest. I think you’ll find it useful.

Key Features:

  • Vest Weight: 3.13lbs
  • Compatible Plate Size: Medium size 10”x12”
  • Modularity Options: Hooks for shoulder and neck armor attachments, webbing attachments for extra magazine storage, radio storage, etc, removable side panels, and removable shoulder pads.
  • Color Schemes: MultiCam, Mas Gray, Ranger Green, Black, Coyote Tan, Coyote Brown, and Olive Drab
  • Material Construction: 500D Cordura

4. Crye Precision AirLite SPC

Crye Precision AirLite SPC

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Estimated Price: $170 gets you the AirLite SPC vest and then you’ll need to price out the accessories and additions you need separately. The AirLite Structural Cummberbund will cost roughly $80 and can be found here.

My Review: The AirLite SPC (Structural Plate Carrier) is virtually the best of both worlds between the technology found in the JPC 2.0 and the structural integrity of the AVS. Of course, the AirLite SPC is ultra modular and, just like the name suggests, is purpose-built to be as light as possible. AirLite itself is actually the name of the material that Crye Precision is using, which is essentially a super light tightly woven nylon that sheds water and is equally or more tear-resistant than heavier nylons.

Aside from the noticeably lighter and better water-shedding materials the biggest difference and I’d say pro over the other Crye Precision products is the addition of better structural integrity for the cummerbund system. The back of the system has upgraded loops that help support the weight of heavy plates. If you’ve ever run heavy plates, like ceramics, you’ll notice that most plate carriers on the market end up sagging which puts the plates a bit lower than what’s ideal.

The design of the SPC provides for better support thus positioning heavy plates right in the perfect spot to provide the best and most efficient protection from your back protective plates. This particular system also has some of the best quick pull away tabs I’ve ever come across on a plate carrier.

The AirLite doesn’t come with a built-in admin pouch on the front of the chest like the JPC 2.0 has, which for me, isn’t a deal breaker but I did want you to be aware of that.

Of course, the AirLite SPC is quite modular but some of that modularity comes in a proprietary flavor, meaning you should ensure the addition you’re planning on adding fits if it’s from another brand. The loops on the rear side of the shoulder straps are there to support the AVS 1000 light pack. All of the Crye Precision front flap and groin protection additions are compatible with the SPC AirLite as well as the SM/MD zipper panel accessories.

As with many of the premium vests offered by Crye Precision, the AirLite SPC is compatible with the Extendable Structural Kinetic Support System (STKSS) which is one of the best adjustment systems of any plate carrier on the market today. Check out the Crye Precision STKSS system at this link here. I highly suggest this add-on as it greatly reduces the cumbersome weight on your shoulders and more evenly applies the weight of the vest and your gear over the entirety of the vest.

One of the last key takeaways I noticed and really enjoyed about the AirLite SPC was the double-thick 3D mesh they used on the plate carrier sections. The mesh allows a much better breathability than almost any other plate carrier systems which is especially helpful for allowing sweat to dry and air to move between you and your plates. Now, usually, mesh used like this becomes extremely uncomfortable as the mesh isn’t exactly soft, however, on the SPC there are what I can only describe as packets of padding around these mesh areas that allow the mesh to sit slightly off of your body, ensuring the mesh doesn’t get uncomfortable over time.

The Crye Precision AirLite is available here in a Swimmers Cut.

Key Features:

  • Vest Weight: Just a little over a pound including the vest, cummerbund, and front flap
  • Compatible Plate Size: Adjustable plate bags that fit all standard SAPI plates
  • Modularity Options: Highly modular and accepts most of the AVS add-ons as well as any Crye Precision front flap, groin protection, small packs, zip-up front panels, side ballistic coverage, and more.
  • Color Schemes: Multicam, Coyote Tan, Ranger Green, and Black
  • Material Construction: Crye Precision Proprietary AirLite (T420 High Tenacity Fibrous Nylon). It’s basically water-shedding tightly woven nylon that is roughly 40% lighter than traditional nylon fabrics used in other plate carriers.

5. Crye Precision JPC 2.0

Crye Precision JPC 2.0

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Estimated Price: Around $245

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 and it comes with a 2-step emergency doffing capability that is likely the fastest in the current market.

It happens rarely, but I see no major cons here other than the fact that if you need more options and modularity, the AVS by Crye Precision may be the more suitable choice.

Key Features:

  • Vest Weight: 1lb
  • Compatible Plate Size: This particular vest is sized to accommodate SAPI standard plates and thus fits awkwardly with civilian sized plates like the 10″x12″. Plate size also depends on vest size which ranges from small, medium, large, and extra-large.
  • Modularity Options: Compatible with a lot of the Crye Precision AVS add-ons such as the AVS front flap. The Skeletal Cummerbund allows for pouches to be quickly and easily mounted on both the inside and outside of the cummerbund.
  • Color Schemes: MultiCam, Ranger Green, Coyote Tan, Black
  • Material Construction: 500D Cordura

6. Crye Precision JPC Plate Carrier

Cry Precision JPC Vest

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Estimated Price: $210

My Review: Crye Precision has hade this list multiple times already and for good reasons, they make some of the best plate carriers out there and are a popular choice among special forces operators.

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 weighs 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.

Key Features:

  • Vest Weight: 1lb-1.2lbs depending on the size you choose
  • Compatible Plate Size: This particular vest is sized to accommodate SAPI standard plates and thus fits awkwardly with civilian sized plates like the 10″x12″. Plate size also depends on vest size which ranges from small, medium, large, and extra-large.
  • Modularity Options: Compatible with a lot of the Crye Precision AVS add-ons such as the AVS front flap. The Skeletal Cummerbund allows for pouches to be quickly and easily mounted on both the inside and outside of the cummerbund.
  • Color Schemes: MultiCam, Ranger Green, and Coyote Tan.
  • Material Construction: 500D Cordura

7. Shellback Tactical Banshee Elite 2.0

Shellback Tactical Banshee 2.0 Elite

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Price: Around $290

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 one of the best plate carriers out there 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!

 

Key Features:

  • Vest Weight: Roughly 3lbs
  • Compatible Plate Size: Up to 10″x12″ level 3/4 ESAPI
  • Modularity Options: Compatible with hydration tubes, shoulder wiring, attachment to the six PALS webbing system, removable Banshee Elite Cummerbund, and two vertical nylon strips that can accommodate QASM buckles for chest rig attachments.
  • Color Schemes: Black, Wolf Gray, Ranger Green, and MultiCam
  • Material Construction: 500D Cordura

8. AR500 Armor Veritas (Great Budget Option)

AR500 Armor Veritas Modular Plate Carrier

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Estimated Price: $80 for just the vest + add-ons

My Review: The Veritas is a great modular plate carrier offered by an extremely well-respected brand, AR500 Armor. You may know of them from their large selection of armor plates and as such, it’s only fitting they offer you a way to carry those slabs of armor.

The AR500 Armor Veritas, coming in at only 1 pound and 14 ounces for the base layer, is one of the lighter modular systems on the market that isn’t priced sky high and as it’s made of 500D Cordura, you won’t be weighed down and will have plenty of weight capacity left to add-on necessary attachments and extensions. Furthermore, the webbing including what lines the inner plate pouches is 3D printed and is Bar-Tack reinforced for durability and ensuring the plates do not shift around. The Veritas is equipped with a low-profile drag handle that is anchored into the entire rear platform for ultra-strength and reliability.

These guys don’t do the proprietary thing and they allow compatibility with most chest rig mounts, rear load-bearing systems, and extensions on the market today. This means that if you already have gear from another company, it’s likely it’ll work in tandem with the Veritas modular vest platform.

Something I highly recommend you to add to the Veritas platform is their Adaptive Plate Insert and the cumberbund kit for added comfort.

AR500 Made an awesome video overview of this plate carrier that I think you’ll find useful if you’re looking for a budget-friendly plate carrier.

Key Features:

  • Vest Weight: 1.875lbs
  • Compatible Plate Size: Up to 10”x12” plates except for the 10”x12” AR500 square plates (also does not hold 11×14 plates)
  • Modularity Options: Highly modular with a suite of additions including the Veritas Adaptive Plate inserts and cummerbund kit. Also includes dual high and low admin pouches that can be extended with the AR500 Armor Cummerbund system and multi-caliber Kangaroo pouch and adjustable 2” anterior buckles for extension and perfect fitment
  • Color Schemes: Flat Black, Coyote Brown, Veritas MultiCam, and Olive Drab
  • Material Construction: 500D Cordura

9. Condor MOPC Plate Carrier (Another Great Budget Option)

Condor MOPC Plate Carrier

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Estimated Price: $70

My Review: The Condor Modular Operator Plate Carrier (MOPC) is a very popular plate carrier that for the money is almost impossible to beat. Although it comes with no attachments, at around $60 this vest is an absolute steal.

This vest is suitable for civilian applications and most people won’t ever need to upgrade to a higher-end vest or being displeased with it down the road. Sure, there are higher-end vests that I would opt for if I were actually heading into a war zone, but for most people, this vest will do the trick.

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.

It utilizes the PAL system, so you won’t have to worry about buying a MOLLE attachment that won’t fit on the vest.

Skip to around 2:30 in the video below to see where they start reviewing this vest.

Potential cons:

  • No quick release feature
  • Doesn’t come with pouches or accessories

Key Features:

  • 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)Top choice for value
  • Comfortable for long duration usage
  • Breathable mesh interior

10. HRT RAC Plate Carrier

HRT RAC

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Estimated Price: $200

My Review: These are an excellent option for staying cool and comfortable and are probably some of the most comfortable vest options, especially for hot climate operation. The shoulder pads are of some of the best in terms of comfort and the entire vest is designed around an airflow channel. Like many vests, the HRT RAC comes with a ton of modification opportunities including a Duraflex buckle platform for extensions and additions of modular pouches and equipment storage.

Consisting of 500D Cordura, this is one of the lighter vests on the market today and was purpose-built to be more of a lightweight platform to use in hot climates. Of course, this is still a solid choice if you don’t need the cooling effects.

Key Features:

  • These will fit plates of up to 10”x13”.
  • Constructed out of lightweight but heavy-duty 500D Cordura
  • Designed specifically to accommodate adequate airflow for the operator
  • Duraflex Buckle modular platform
  • Many additional options such as the HRT Quick Release Cummerbund system available
  • Available in the following color configurations: Black, MultiCam, MultiCam/Black, Ranger Green, and Coyote Brown

11. Tactical Molle Coozy (Best Design)

Tactical Vest Beer Cooler

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Price: Around $10

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.

Key Features:

  • You can’t truly be an operator if you aren’t willing to protect your brewski’s

12. SDS BAE Ranger Releasable Vest System

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Price: Around $215
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.

Potential cons:

  • A bit more expensive than most other plate carriers on this list that are similar quality

Key Features:

  • Ultra fast release ability
  • One of the most coveted and admired design styles

Important Note: The rest of the vests on this list are suitable for training, paintball, airsoft, and other outdoor activities, but I would not recommend them if you’re looking for a vest to trust with your life. Most of these vests are available on Amazon, so for those of you who are just looking for a plate carrier for recreational use, these will work!

13. Gloryfire Modular Assault Vest

Gloryfire Tactical Plate Carrier Vest

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Note: This Plate Carrier was recently delisted on Amazon, if it comes back in stock I will post a link.
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 one is 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 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.

Potential cons:

  • No quick release buckles
  • no webbing on should straps
  • Plates not included

Key Features:

  • Accommodates mag pouches and has built in utility pouches
  • Thick, durable, and breathable
  • Adjustable velcro side straps
  • Accepts side SAPIs (Soft and Hard)
  • Backed by a 2-year quality warranty

14. vAv Yakeda VT-1099

Lightweight Plate Carrier

Shop or Read Reviews

Note: This plate carrier was also recently delisted by Amazon. I will repost a link if it becomes available.

  • 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.

Potential cons:

  • Cannot hold side plates
  • Plates not included

Key Features:

  • Usable with both soft and hard armor plates
  • 3 point adjustable height using velcro straps
  • Adjustable shoulder straps
  • Comes with removable magazine pouches

15. ArcEnCiel Tactical MOLLE Vest

Military Style Vest

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  • 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.

Potential cons:

  • Plates not included

Key Features:

  • Holds soft and hard armor plates
  • Webbing loops on shoulder straps
  • Velcro section for morale patches
  • Includes 3 magazine pouches, 2 communication pouches, flashlight pouch, medic pouch, and admin pouch

16. vAv Yakeda Outdoor Vest

Bulletproof Military 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.

Potential cons:

  • Plates not included

Key Features:

  • Holds soft and hard armor plates
  • 3 Magazine pouches, velcro area for patch, two communication pouches, and flashlight / map pouch
  • Good for Paintball and Airsoft

17. Elite Spanker Tactical Paintball and Airsoft Vest

Plate Carrier for Airsoft or Paintball

Note: This plate carrier was also recently delisted by Amazon.

  • 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!

Potential cons:

  • Plates not included

Key Features:

  • Holds soft and hard armor plates
  • Adjustable Shoulder Straps
  • Comprehensive MOLLE System and includes foam Inserts

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 of good places I would recommend buying them from.

As far as overall value, AR500 sells plates on their website here and they’re usually a good bang for your buck.

eBay:

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.

Gun Broker:

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.

FAQ

What Type of Body Armor Does the Military Use?

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 MOLLE attachment points, a quick release system, a 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.

Navy Corpsman with US Marine

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?

Most the vests on this list are 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 sheer 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 undergarments, 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.

References:

Wikipedia: Plate Carriers and Armor Ratings

Encyclopedia Britannica: Bulletproof Vests

Marine Corps Infantryman

Final Thoughts

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.

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 people’s 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 our website!

Oh and if you want to help us out and stay up to date on the latest tactical gear, like our Facebook page! Thanks, Gents!

Semper Fi,

Corporal Wabo

25 thoughts on “17 Best Plate Carrier Vests in 2020 and Where to Buy Inserts”

  1. Thank you for all the info and effort here.
    Im small frame 5’8 140, 29” waist . Haven’t bought one yet for cause I’m particular on the fit that it’s not sloppy/loose. Any recommendations ?

    Reply
    • Hey Robert, running in a plate carrier that doesn’t fit properly really sucks so I get why you’re looking for one that will fit you properly. What is your price range? I’ll find a couple options I think would be best for you.

      Reply
  2. Great info! Im a medic with a bigger build and im looking for something with good mobility but that can hold a lot of pouches and supplies in my divers triangle. The shellback looked perfect except that price. ill keep looking tho! thanks again for all the advice!

    Reply
  3. Awesome article. I did basic in 1987 and the old “Nam” style vest was all we had. We weren’t even issued one but got try them out. Great way to enter and experience the suck zone. No wonder the guys ditched them.
    This article is well done, Marine. Takes into account a lot of things people might not consider. Thanks for writing it.

    Reply
    • Hi Samuel, I haven’t tried any of their plate carriers, but their armor plates are pretty good for the money. The only downside it often takes weeks or even months to actually get them after you place an order.

      Reply
    • Hi Gus, I just added the 5.11 TacTec plate carrier to the list. It wasn’t on there before because I was still waiting to get my hands on one. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Reply
  4. Would love your thoughts on the 5.11 TacTec plate carrier!! Seems like a good design from the quick release, padding, and apparent mobility. Let me know please

    Reply
    • Hi David, I recently got my hands on a TacTec and I think it’s a great plate carrier. I’ve been running and working out in it a lot and I can’t believe how comfortable it is. If you end up getting it, there is about zero chance you’ll regret it. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Reply
  5. Hi there, I decided to take the plunge on body armor, level 4 stuff all around. Infidel had a deal going and I bought the Condor carrier, first aid with a pouch, 6 mag pouches, and smoke with pouch. The Carrier could have a little more padding on the shoulder straps. It is hot here, so all I usually wear is a t-shirt. It might be better in a heavier coat or jacket. Overall, I’m pleased with the carrier, there are plenty of molle loops all around, I’m just trying to get used to the weight and where to put my junk ha! I did put the mag pouch on and filled it up with loaded mags, it’s not so bad, but after about 2 hours, I’m ready to take it off. Thanks for making this review.

    Reply
    • Hi Larry, thanks for taking the time to comment. Good choice on the Condor Plate Carrier. For the money, it’s hard to beat! I agree that the shoulder straps can be a little uncomfortable, but that’s something you’ll get used to after wearing a plate carrier for a while. It sounds like you have a pretty solid setup now!

      Reply
    • First off, thank you for your service. Law enforcement here. We are issued level IIIA soft armor vests with a single 6×6 III+ plate in front. Better than nothing, but I’ve been looking for something to keep in my cruiser for emergencies.

      I’ve got a cart full of AR500 plates (IV 10×12 front, III+ 6×6 sides and 10×12 back) ready to order, but was looking at various carriers. I’m not necessarily needing anything to fit perfectly against my torso, etc, as this would most likely be getting thrown on in a hurry over my existing vest/uniform/etc. Also, the faster it can be donned, the better. I’m not concerned with how quickly it can be taken back off. Example scenario: heading to a standoff-type call, stop momentarily prior to arrival just long enough to grab it out of the trunk and throw it on. Not planned to wear for long periods of time on a daily basis.

      In this sense, bulky is not an issue for me. I’m just trying to figure out what would best fit what I am needing it for. Again, I would either need side plate pouches or have the ability to have them added via MOLLE webbing. External mag/utility pouches are not necessary to come included with the carrier, as I have plenty of them already that could be added.

      Would PREFER to keep it as inexpensive as possible, but I don’t want something that will fall apart on me. Any input you can give as to what would best fit my needs would be appreciated.

      Reply
  6. Have you had a chance to check out BDS Tactical V ops plate carrier? looking at adding one to my vehicle kit and am on the fence about buying one.

    Semper Fi

    Reply
  7. Yeah, airsoft vests can accept real plates and run with them with no problem. In my country, our police and military forces do it all the time.
    Our GRUMEC (Brazilian navy combat diver SOF) Is known to use several Chinese replica vests, from Emerson JPC to other brands and models (Including one that I don`t know) And CIRAS.

    My army actually issued some replica CIRAS to its paratrooper battalion during Rio de Janeiro Olympic games, with ballistic hard plates and soft armor. They`ll do fine, not like a lot of people say that they will crumble within a day… Some held up till now and are still in service, and they are pretty much inexpensive to replace, compared to the original ones.

    Reply
  8. What do you think about the RE Factor/Ferro Concepts Advanced Slickster plate carrier? Garand Thumb gives it a positive review on YouTube, though he acknowledges a potential issue with the back plate coming loose from the shoulder straps, particularly under heavy load.

    Reply
  9. I’m currently using the 5.11 TacTec plate carrier. Just because I’m no longer in the Marine Corps, I don’t want to become complacent. I’m using the 5.11 plate carrier for fitness and endurance training. It’s way more comfortable than the old Vietnam era flak jackets we used when I went through MCRD San Diego back in 2001. When I got to my unit, we were issued the Interceptor flak jackets and used those when I was in OIF III (2005). I got medically retired in 2007 and bought a surplus Interceptor vest a few years later to continue to stay fit the best I could. The difference between the 5.11 plate carrier and the older generation flak jackets we used in the Corps is like a night and day difference.

    Reply
  10. First off, thanks to you and military/LEO/ems/etc who read this for their service. Second, thanks for the comparison of a good spread of carriers.
    I was wondering if you’d possibly had the chance to try the HTR HRAC? I just picked one up (still need to pick up a few placard variants) but have no experience comparing it to anything other than a few slicks and the Condor MOPC which is my main carrier for load. I intend to use the HRAC more for mobility. My main comparison of curiosity would be with the 5.11 TacTec. Thanks, Semper Fi.

    Reply
  11. Any good intel on the Blue Force plate carriers, or the Hoplite stuff?
    In my day, too, we were just issued the FLAK vests, and size was determined the same way our BDU jacket and field jacket size was.
    Brave Rifles! Scouts out!

    Reply

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