This is an in-depth overview of my plate carrier, the gear/equipment its packing, and why its setup the way it is. I’m not going to get into whether or not YOU need body armor. Whether you’re military/leo, an instructor, a dentist, or even homeless, you should have every right to protect yourself the way you see fit. How its setup should also be specific to your intent.
This carrier was set up with these needs in mind: response to an active shooter situation or other dangerous call AND a personal home defense/off duty response carrier.
My first experience with armor and modular vests was when I joined the Marine Corps. During my time in boot camp and SOI I used what I could only describe as a Vietnam era flak jacket with molle. Needless to say, it left a lot to be desired in terms of mobility and comfort. Eventually, we were issued the standard USMC plate carrier in use today, which was a vast improvement.
I considered eventually getting my own plate carrier before I ever got out of the Marine Corps, and when I decided to become a police officer, that consideration turned into an eventual necessity. However, due to budgetary problems, it wasn’t high on my list of priorities. Two important events changed that:
1 – A month after I was hired, my department issued me a generic black vest labeled “POLICE”. For a brief second, I thought, “hey, this will save me $500 bucks”. Then I put it on… The problem with issued gear is always the same. It comes from the lowest bidder and isn’t designed to customize to the individual. This was even worse than my Vietnam era flak jacket in that the pouches could not be reorganized, and the pouch placement could only have been designed by someone who assumed the majority of the population was left handed. It also didn’t offer any more ballistic protection than my body armor… Getting my own plate carrier started creeping up on my list.
2 – About 5 months off FTO, I went to assist a County unit on a shot’s fired call. Despite my previous military training and very recent training from the Academy, I had no idea what to expect. I arrived in the area with other responding officers, who immediately donned their own plate carriers and snatched their rifles out of their trunks… All I had at the time was a shotgun and a yellow traffic vest… Later when I got home and the adrenaline wore off, I talked with my wife and decided it was time to make this happen.
These experiences, coupled with my previous training and mission specific needs, led me to what I consider a very excellent and affordable setup.
I had already done quite a bit of homework on the subject and had a good idea of what I wanted and where I could save some cash. I knew I could afford Ar500 steel or some Ceramic armor plates. My research revealed that the AR500 steel was heavier, but more robust. There are guys on youtube who love to shoot this stuff. Some of its pretty comforting to watch… some others will let you know what to avoid.
Like the world of AR manufacturers, there is an endless list of quality gear manufacturers (HSGI, SKD Tactical, Velocity Systems, to name a few). I happened to choose Beez Combat Systems. I can’t remember how I discovered Beez Combat Systems, but I was very glad I did. Not only do they make quality carriers, but they are very affordable. Don’t feel limited by the stock photos or displayed design. If you want a carrier with swimmer cut plates instead of shooter cut, send them an email and they’ll help you out. I purchased the Spartan Armor Systems Shooter PC and they added velcro to the back for me so I could run two “POLICE” patches.
I decided on this design because it was cheaper than the traditional cumberbund/velcro design they offered, and I thought the two belt straps would help me don the Carrier faster.
The plate carrier I purchased was specifically designed to work in conjunction with Spartan Armor AR500 plates. Mrgunsngear does a good review/shoot of these. That video and other reviews made buying a pair of lvl III plates easy. I purchased two 10×12 single curve plates with their base coat for $110.
The tricky part was deciding what equipment I wanted/needed, and how to compromise comfort with preparedness. I wasn’t training to potentially go overseas anymore, and I wouldn’t be able to run a War Belt, so I decided I could live with three magazines. However, a problem I have with the standard vertical pouches is that the magazines tend to eat up an extra 1-2 rows of molle and aren’t what I’d consider ideal for a possible emergency reload. I thought it’d be cool to make mag pouches that mount upside down, so I got on Google and found Limitless Gear’s OPFOR mag carriers. The $35 price tag for a single mag carrier was a turnoff for me, so I did some more research and discovered Blue Force Gear’s horizontal ten speed pouch…
This pouch design only uses the molle space it needs, but I don’t have to index my mags anymore (which I hate). Don’t get me wrong, practice/training always overcome, but this innovation just made sense to me. My only worry was that the ten speed compression design would make tactical reloads impossible… to my surprise, I was wrong. Although the material compresses once the magazine is pulled out, it isn’t difficult to catch the mag lips and re-insert a magazine with one hand if necessary.
This purchase led me to Blue Force Gear’s triple MP7 pouch, which I cut and sewed into a double (because they don’t make a double for some reason). This pouch is specifically designed for – you guessed it, the MP7 magazine. However, the web description also advocates its use for tourniquets and extended glock mags, which is what I did.
In my opinion, trauma care was underemphasized during my time in the Marine Corps, so I made a point of getting whatever training I could on the subject (which is still lacking). I believe it’s more likely that I’ll have to use my tactical trauma skills than weapons skills. Gunfighting is important, and definitely sexier, but knowing how to plug holes is just as important as making them. I started searching for a small pouch to fill the molle void on my carrier that would fulfill this specific need and finally settled on a $5 Condor 4×4 pouch. It was surprisingly well made and I managed to stuff a lot of medical gear and other equipment in there.
At this point, with this configuration, I thought I was solid. However, once I started training with this configuration, I discovered its limitations.
I already mentioned the ammo issue. I’m not expecting to need more than three mags, BUT, it’d be nice to know I could easily carry more (besides using pockets or my duty belt). That problem was fixed relatively quickly with the Crye Precision magclips. I can easily hook another 60 rds to my rig. It is a little awkward getting the mags off, but at least I’d have more ammo on my person as opposed to in my car or something.
Next was the straps themselves. I thought this design would help me don the carrier faster than the traditional cumberbund, which was true to an extent. The compromise was that the sizing/fit would tend to come loose overtime. I finagled some ranger bands on the straps to prevent unwanted resizing, and then made marks on the straps in accordance with my mission needs. “On duty” is larger to accommodate for fitting over my uniform and body armor and “off duty” is when I’m just wearing a t shirt. This helped them stay put, even during workouts. Eventually I just replaced the strap with some heavy duty 2in elastic nylon. I keep the left side buckled up, slip the carrier on, and buckle up the right side.
Lastly, my medical pouch was in a lousy spot… It didn’t prevent me from properly shouldering my rifle, but it did make for awkward transitions from on target, to low/high ready, reloads, etc. I tried putting the pouch on the side straps, but that interrupted possibly using my duty belt and putting it on my back wasn’t an option. I decided my pouch and mounting solution needed to evolve, so, after some digging, I found Haley Strategic Partner’s “Multi Mission Hanger” pouch. This looked like a great solution. The pouch is designed to, well, “hang” on the bottom of your rig by being velcroed under the front flap of your plate carrier/vest. This allows you to dedicate the space on your carrier to other gear. It also means that whatever essential equipment in your hanger pouch is easily accessible with either hand.
My plate carrier didn’t have a velcro/cumberbund design, but I found a way to achieve the same results. I ordered a Tactical Tailor H1 pouch which uses their molle compatible Malice clips. Because the malice clips aren’t sewn to the pouch, I could adjust the ride height and use the bottom molle row on my carrier to get my own hanger pouch.
Although this pouch doesn’t have any organizational pockets, it fulfills my needs and Tactical Tailor’s lifetime warranty is always a plus. It carries the medical gear I wanted as well as extra batteries, a field mirror, and two door stops (for keeping bad people where they are, if necessary). I’ve since moved the pouch over towards my pistol mag/tourniquet carrier so it doesn’t get in the way when I’m reloading from the bottom mag carrier.
The final touches I added were the flexi cuffs, glow sticks, and the crowbar.These items, while potentially very important, don’t take precedent over the gear on my front. Furthermore, their setup on my back so that, although not easily accessible by myself, a teammate or other officer could effortlessly grab the cuffs and go to work while I cover, or get the crow bar for me when we’re stacked on a door. The only things I can access somewhat easily are the glow sticks. The 550 cord was pretty much just added as an afterthought. Somehow I always find a use for it. I used a roll of velcro tape from Walmart to strap the crowbar and 550 cord on.
I also stuck a pair of Surefire sonic defenders in my medical pouch. Communication during a gunfight is paramount, and although I have Howard Light electronic ear pro with my carrier, I wanted these as a backup in case my batteries died. The surefire earpro are also easier to keep stored on the carrier.
Altogether, I’m about $300 even into this rig. I already had the magazines and most of the medical gear, so I saved a bit there. The condor pouch was the only thing I bought that I didn’t end up using, so I didn’t have to worry about wasted cash or re-selling gear. I budgeted and collected everything out over a 3 month period. 2 months of training, practice, and manipulation later and we have my current setup.
- Its comfortable in spite of the weight
- Doesn’t awkwardly restrict my mobility (hips, shoulders, elbows, etc).
- Carries what I consider to be a good balance of deadly force and lifesaving equipment without having to utilize other gear like a belt.
- Weight – my bathroom scale puts it right around 25lbs. It’s probably not the heaviest, but everyone likes to shave weight.
- Off duty handgun draw – I carry appendix off duty. The position of my medical pouch doesn’t prevent me from drawing my handgun, it just makes it half a second slower.
- No readily available weapon – Not really a con, but I see a lot of other guys with handguns carried on their vests. I’m not opposed to the idea, but I always have at least one weapon on my person, so putting one on my plate carrier seemed like a redundant use of my limited space. Then again, two is one and one is none…
It’s not a perfect setup, buts it’s a lot more than I hoped for considering how much I’ve spent. All things considered, I’m very pleased with it and plan on training/using it for a very long time.
- BCS Spartan Armor Systems Shooter Plate Carrier, Molle
- x2 Spartan Armor AR500 lvl III Shooter cut plates
- Blue force gear Ten speed horizontal M4 mag pouch w/3 magpul AR magazines
- Triple MP7 mag pouch cut down to double w/ CAT Tourniquet and glock 31rd magazine
- Mil spec monkey POLICE patches
- Streamlight protac 1L
- Howard Light Impact Sport Sound amplification earmuff
- Surefire EP4 sonic defenders
- Think Safe trauma Shear
- North American Rescue decompression needle
- Sharpie w/duct tape
- Tactical Tailor H1 Pouch
- SWAT – Tourniquet
- Hemostatic Gauze
- Combat Gauze
- Field Mirror
- x2 CR123A batteries (lights)
- x1 CR2032 battery (optic)
- Nasopharyngeal airway insert
- Latex gloves
- 12in Crow bar
- x2 Flexi Cuffs
- 550 Cord (25 ft)
- Glow sticks