Choosing between a chest rig and a plate carrier can be pretty easy in some situations and difficult in others. It all depends on how much protection you need, where you think you’ll need it, and when you’ll be wearing it.
A chest rig normally refers to webbing or panels that you can attach to your chest to hold magazines, first aid kits or other gear. A plate carrier is designed to hold body armor plates over the vital organs in the body. Sometimes they also hold magazines and other tactical gear.
Just being able to tell the two apart really doesn’t do us much good. Let’s take a closer look at the two and the benefits and disadvantages of both.
Chest rigs and plate carriers are popular topics on the internet, but I’ve seen some confusion between the two. Sometimes people swap the two terms interchangeably, and other times they’re looking for a plate carrier when a chest rig may be a better option for them and sometimes they’re looking for chest rigs when they probably should be looking for some level of body armor instead. Let’s try to clear that up.
What is a chest rig? Normally, when someone is talking about a chest rig, they’re talking about a panel of nylon (or similar material) that is held on the chest and is designed to hold tactical gear like magazines and sometimes pistols, knives and other things. Chest rigs can be put on over body armor but they usually don’t have any kind of armor inside of them.
A tactical vest (or tac vest) can be considered to be a chest rig. They’re certainly in the same kind of family as a chest rig, but it isn’t what I normally think of when I first hear someone talk about a chest rig.
Tactical vests fully wrap around the body and are worn like (you guessed it) a vest. A tactical vest usually has pouches for magazines and molle webbing to allow you to attach more pouches or holsters if you feel like it.
It seems like it should go without saying but Tac vests and chest rigs aren’t bulletproof. They don’t have body armor, or any place to put body armor, in them.
Don’t put a chest rig on and expect it to stop a bullet or a knife.
Choosing the best chest rig is more a personal thing than a cut and dry this is good and this is bad. Any chest rig that fits you well, can hold everything you want to carry, and is constructed to last is a good chest rig as far as I’m concerned. The two suggestions below are a good place to start looking if you’re in the market for a chest rig.
Condor Tactical Rapid Assault Chest Rig – Don’t look down on Condor Tactical gear. Their stuff is usually well made and pretty tough. This chest rig isn’t going to win you any best operator awards but it holds 6 AR mags and it’s low profile so it isn’t going to get in the way if you have to go prone. 6 mags are a little more than what I like for most chest rigs, but this is great if you need to carry a full combat load.
Haley Strategic Partners D3CRX Chest Rig – This Haley Strategic chest rig is a lot more expensive than any Condor gear out there but it’s also built better. It has mag pouches for 4 rifle mags 2 larger pouches and 4 spots of flash-bangs or pistol mags.
What is a plate carrier? A plate carrier is designed to hold a piece of armor (usually a level IIIA, III or IV hard armor plate) over the heart, lungs, and other vital areas in the upper center part of the chest. Sometimes they have pouches for magazines and other things attached to them and sometimes they don’t.
Plate carriers also normally don’t have any soft armor in them. You should only wear plate carriers if the threat you’re worried about is rifle fire. If you’re worried about pistol fire as well then you should go for full body armor with soft armor.
Soft armor doesn’t limit mobility or increase weight in a significant or meaningful way. If you think you’re going to come across pistol fire as well then suck it up and wear it!
If you think you’re going to come across IEDs and other explosives then you should wear soft armor too. Soft armor stops frag so protect yourself as best as you can.
Wearing plate carriers in the wrong spot is the number one thing that I see in both civilians and military personnel when they wear them.
You want to cover as much of your vital areas with the plates as possible. I’ll say that one more time, plates protect your vitals, not your belly.
Position your front plate centered and level on the front of your body. The top of the plate should sit level with the top of your sternum where your collar bones connect to your ribcage. The rear plate should be even, or just slightly higher than the front plate.
A lot of people let the rear plate drop down too low even if the front plate is positioned in the right place. Make sure you have it positioned correctly!
First, figure out how large you need your plates to be and then choose the size of your plate carrier, making sure that it will fit a plate of the dimensions that you need.
It’s said that you should buy a plate carrier based on the size of your plates. This is generally correct if you’re buying plates and a carrier from the same manufacturer, but not all plates are made to the same size. A large AR500 plate isn’t the same size as a large issued military SAPI plate. Just make sure that the carrier will fit your body and the plate will fit in the carrier and you’ll be okay.
Plate carriers are pretty light on their own. Some weigh as little as 1 lb! As you add more material and pouches the plate carrier by itself can weigh as much as 5 or 6 lbs (or more) all on its own.
Jumpable plate carriers is a term coined by Crye Precision for their lightweight plate carrier that is designed to be as small and light as possible while still covering your vital areas. It’s more of a product name than a true distinct type of plate carrier.
Any plate carrier that fits into that description would effectively be the same as Crye’s Jumpable plate carrier.
Plate carriers normally last for quite a while. As long as the material is still intact and all of the fasteners are still working, then it’s still technically good. After a while, all of your gear starts to stink and get stained if you use it long enough, but it’s not there to win a cool guy contest. It’s there to keep you alive.
Typically, the better something is and the better that material, the more expensive it is. This isn’t always the case though. You can sometimes find great gear out there! Just look around, try to touch things yourself before you buy them or, if that’s not an option, read reviews from people that have bought that item.
This is not legal advice. Please check with a lawyer if you have any questions about the legality of body armor in your area.
Body Armor Legality in the United States: In the United States it is illegal to possess body armor if you are a convicted felon. In Connecticut, it is illegal to ship body armor meaning that all sales must be made face to face. Many other states have made it a felony to commit a violent crime while wearing body armor. Others have made it illegal to wear body armor on school grounds. Check your local laws to be sure!
There has been some talk among politicians in the U.S. about making body armor illegal.
Body Armor Legality in Canada: In Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia a license is required to possess body armor. In the remaining provinces, there are no restrictions.
Body Armor Legality in the UK: In the United Kingdom, there are currently no legal restrictions on the purchase and ownership of body armor.
Body Armor Legality in Australia: In Australia, it is illegal to possess body armor without proper authorization in South Australia, Victoria, Northern Territory, ACT, Queensland, and New South Wales.
Plate carriers by themselves do not stop bullets! You need to buy plates for them in order for them to be “bulletproof”.
Choosing the best plate carrier is really a personal thing, much like choosing the best chest rig. These are a couple of my favorites.
AR500 Armor Veritas Modular Plate Carrier – The Veritas is one of my favorite “slick” plate carriers. It’s tough, comes in a bunch of colors and it’s cheap compared to a lot of similar plate carriers.
AR Freeman Plate Carrier with Armor Package – If you’re looking for a super minimal plate carrier that is light and pretty cheap (it’s about $150 with plates) then give the AR Freeman a look. It only comes with 9×9″ plates so you’re losing a couple inches of cover over your vitals for a package that’s about 10 lbs total.
Spartan Armor Systems Leonidas Plate Carrier – For a full military-style plate carrier I like the Leonidas from Spartan Armor. It’s very similar to a lot of issued armor.
Plates are what actually stop the bullets when they hit your plate carrier. There are a lot of different types of plates out there so make sure you read our body armor guide to find out all about them.
All armor plates should meet the standards of the National Institute of Justice. If they don’t then you shouldn’t purchase them.
Plates come in a variety of sizes and they vary a little based on the manufacturer so take that into consideration. One of the best suggestions I’ve seen is to cut a piece of cardboard to the size of the plates that you’re going to buy and hold it up to your chest. If the cardboard covers all of your vitals and doesn’t restrict your movement very much then you found the right size.
Military armor plates come in the following sizes:
- Extra Small – 1.27 kg (2.8 lb) | 184 x 292 mm (7¼ x 11½ in)
- Small – 1.59 kg (3.5 lb) | 222 x 298 mm (8¾ x 11¾ in)
- Medium – 1.82 kg (4.0 lb) | 241 x 318 mm (9½ x 12½ in)
- Large – 2.09 kg (4.6 lb) | 260 x 337 mm (10⅛ x 13¼ in)
- Extra Large 2.40 kg (5.3 lb) | 280 x 356 mm (11 x 14 in)
Other manufacturers have plates in a lot of different sizes. Check with the different manufacturers to get their current sizes and the different cut styles they’re offering.
The most common size is 10″ x 12″.
Civilians can own level IV body armor in many places across the world. Check here to see if level IV body armor is legal in your area.
The NIJ requires level IV armor to stop up to a .30 caliber Armor Piercing round moving 2880 ft/sec. This means that it is capable of stopping almost any rifle round out there short of extremely large caliber weapons.
Level IV armor is capable of defeating most rifle rounds .30 caliber and smaller.
|Body Armor Level||Effective Against These Calibers|
|III||.308 Winchester Full Metal Jacket = 7.62 X 51 mm NATO rounds at ~ 2,750 fps|
|IV||30-06 Armor-Piercing .30 M2 AP One round at ~ 2,850 fps|
Your vest should fit tight enough to not move around a lot when you’re moving, but not so tight that it overly restricts your breathing.
Try doing some jumping jacks and push-ups in it. When you’re done doing that, it should be pretty much in the same place and not be choking you out. If not, then adjust it accordingly.
The best way to get your vest fitting perfectly is to wear it in the real world and adjust it until it’s right.
AR500 steel plates last for 20 or more years! Their composite plates are good for 5 years.
The plate carrier and the chest rig are sometimes confused when people are talking about them. The chest rig is primarily made to carry gear and make it easily accessible and the plate carrier is primarily designed to hold hard armor plates over your vital areas to protect you from gunfire.
Chest rigs are pretty straight forward. Just look for a well-built piece of equipment that has the number of mag pouches and add-ons that are right for you.
Plate carriers are a little more difficult if you don’t understand armor levels and know what you’re looking for. Just follow the info here and check out our armor guide if you need help figuring out the different armor levels.