Chest Rig, Plate Carrier, or Armor Carrier?
I wanted to take a second to address the difference between chest rigs, plate carriers, and armor carriers. I frequently see the terms plate carrier and chest rig being used interchangeably, and I often see armor carriers being referred to as plate carriers. So, what’s the difference?
A chest rig is simply a nylon load carriage system that places pouches on the wearer’s front and leaves the back open, often for wearing a pack or ruck. The front can be set up with PALS webbing (aka MOLLE) but usually it is permanently sewn on pouches in a variety of preselected configurations. There is no ballistic protection provided by the chest rig. It’s simply a way to carry magazines, radios, and other support equipment. In my world, we primarily use chest rigs as a means of quickly scaling up our load out on an operation where wearing more overt equipment would be bad optics. As with everything, for every rule there is an exception – there do exist chest rigs which allow you to add a front plate, like the old school Eagle Industries Rhodesian Rigs, or most of the Velocity Systems UW chest rigs. A chest rig gives you the flexibility to wear armor by itself with the option to quickly add a fighting load, or to just wear your fighting load in the event the training or operation doesn’t call for armor due to either terrain, weather, or optics. For a basic carbine course, a simple chest rig capable of carrying a couple mags and basic support equipment would be a good option for someone getting their feet wet in the training world.
A plate carrier is exactly what the name suggests – it carries rifle rated hard plates. While the plate carrier offers rifle rated protection, it only protects the areas that the plates covers, which is not much. Any extra fabric on the carrier is just that – extra fabric. Some people have tricked themselves into thinking that if they are covered by the carrier that they have ballistic protection there. If there is soft armor worn in conjunction with the rifle plate, it is footprinted to the size of the plate. The purpose of this soft armor (often referred to as a backer) is to offer increased protection from backface deformation. Additionally, depending on the carrier and the plate, some users prefer a soft backer to add a degree of padding between their body and the plate. While a plate carrier sacrifices coverage against handgun threats, it does provide a large degree of mobility and comfort, especially in hot weather, where soft armor traps heat against your body. I see many people using a plate carrier with just front and rear plates. Depending on the intended use, I can’t help but feel that users are needlessly sacrificing protection for comfort and weight savings. My personal preference is to have side plates (6x6 not the larger military side plates) as well as the side soft armor inserts. Obviously, this is dependent on weather, terrain, and your intended role. Plate carriers usually come in two varieties, slick for less than overt use with the option to throw a chest rig on over top, and with MOLLE to attach pouches. Personally, I feel that rifle rated armor belongs in the same realm as eye protection and ear protection. If you’re going to be a serious student of the gun, its a good idea to be wearing some ballistic protection when you are training. To me, a basic plate carrier set up, like the Velocity Systems APC or Crye Precision JPC, with a decent set of ceramic plates, is a far better use of funds than a 4th AR15 build or a 3rd carry gun.
An armor carrier is a bit more complicated. Though it can be just a handgun rated soft vest with no provisions for rifle plates, for our purposes it is a handgun rated soft vest offering full wrap around coverage in conjunction with rifle rated hard plates. It can either be slick, intended for wear with a chest rig thrown over top, or it can have full PALS webbing to attach pouches. It can come in a variety of cuts, from the proprietary STOP vest from Velocity Systems or the classic BALCS cut like on the Eagle Industries CIRAS. This is my preferred style of armor for most things that I do. The primary threat in the US comes from handguns, and an armor carrier provides you with an excellent level of coverage to protect against handguns, in addition to supporting the wear of rifle plates (chest, back, and side plates). There are downsides, its not as mobile as a plate carrier and the soft armor traps heat which can and should be a concern depending on weather. Depending on the cut of the armor, it can also impede your mounting of the rifle. Something a bit narrower through the chest, like the Velocity Systems LPAC/LPAAC cut armor helps immensely with this issue. There are also hybrid cuts, like the MBAV cut of armor, which offers a bit more soft armor coverage than a plate carrier, though not as much as an armor carrier.
In summation, there are a wide variety of options and each has a valid role. Its up to the individual to make an informed choice regarding which option is best suited to their needs depending on terrain, weather, and mission they are tasked with. Stay safe, and I hope to see you out on the range.
Thanks for reading.