My audience asks me about Plate Carriers and Chest Rigs about as much as anything else, it is a top five in what I get asked. From lightening systems to how to setup a plate carrier or chest rig, I get asked a lot. While I am experienced in this subject I am certainly not the yoda, so please use my thoughts as information for your tool box and not gospel. So what have I seen in the plate carrier and chest rig market? I have seen plate carrier go more streamline, less nylon and lighter weight nylon. Tactical Tailor and Mayflower have always led this fight to lighten kits. Tactical Tailor has their Fight Light line, while Mayflower for the most part only used 500D cordura versus 1000D cordura that most other companies use. In terms of durability of the 500D cordura, another question I get asked a lot, it withstand the wear and tear of the battlefield. It has been proven time and time again. Moving to 500D cordura will have minimal effect in terms or durability, so I mainly have moved my gear to 500D where I can.
The next thing with plate carriers is the fit and function. After using about a dozen different plate carrier I have seen multiple ways companies construct and design their plate carriers. I have used the Tactical Tailor Fight Light Plate Carrier, Mayflower APC, Grey Ghost Gear Minimalist Plate Carrier, Ares Armor Aspis, Hard Point Equipment Axis, Condor Defender Plate Carrier and Mission Spec EOC just to name a few. I purposely bough the Condor just to see the difference between China made and USA made, as I mostly have USA made plate carriers. The Condor Defender, while it will work, proved to be majorly overbuilt. Now some people might say overbuilt is better, but I do not. If something is built right, there is not need to slap 15 layers of nylon together just to say it is bombproof. Proper stitching and design will always win out over overbuilding. Back to the Condor Defender, it will work and hold plates well but it is heavy and very hot. When I tested mine out it was 100 degrees everyday and at the end of the day I was spent just due to the overheating fatigue that set in. Now when you look at most other USA made options you see a big difference.
USA made plate carriers will mainly be setup to keep your temperature regulated well. This is due to the close interaction with USA made companies with current and past military personnel. They design and work with soldiers who have valuable information on how to make plate carriers and chest rigs better. Air Mesh, purposely indenting padding to create air flow channels, lighter weight 500D which breathes better than 1000D cordura, and overall using less nylon which reduces the temperature for the operator are just a few things you will see in USA made plate carriers. I look at most China made plate carriers and see companies who can make a plate carrier, but is it practical? I see much more practical plate carriers built by USA companies versus foreign companies.
When it comes to Chest Rigs any one can take a 10x12 piece of nylon, sew on some PALS webbing and back straps and call it a day. What I look for is innovation like companies doing the split front rigs and even more important the suspension straps. H-Harnesses are a big step forward and Marz Tactical has made a great back harness which is similar to the H-Harness. Using a chest rig for an extended period of time without these harnesses will show you very quick how much suck you will have using very standard back harnesses. I own a Mayflower Gen V Split Front chest rig and love it. It holds four rifle magazines, medical, radios and other gear and has some PALS to add to it. It is very streamline and works very well with a minimalist plate carrier like the Grey Ghost Gear Minimalist Plate Carrier or the Mission Spec EOC. Some companies have their chest rigs way overbuilt and I personally like a medium or small shoulder strap. I see no need for the 2"+ straps some companies use. One key thing to remember is that your setup is specific to yourself. As Nate Murr says, "Mission drives the gear". So for example for home defense, having a chest rig or plate carrier with two saw pouches on the front and 12 mags is not the best setup. Which gets us to our next subject, setting up your plate carrier or chest rig.
When setting up your plate carrier or chest rig keep in mind what you want it to do. Home defense, combat, etc. I will talk about self and home defense as that is more my wheelhouse. I have moved to a more simple setup on my rigs then in the past when I would have 8 mags on the front of my plate carriers. I have now moved to a more slimline setup of no more than 4 magazines on the front. This keeps the front slim so that going prone will be effective, versus having tons of crap on the front of your plate carrier or chest rig and then when you go prone your profile is much great and higher. So my favorite setup that I feel comfortable with is 2-3 magazines, a knife, medical kit, flashlight and multi-tool, maps/navigation, comms, compass and a signaling device like Chemlights. To have this on a plate carrier is very easy and not heavy. I like the Grey Ghost Gear rifle plates, particularly the Level III stand alones. You could go soft armor for home defense, but the minimal weight of most plates now a days it makes no sense not to have rifle plates, in my opinion. Obviously having a battle belt and pack with this plate carrier or chest rig setup allows you options and is what I run. But plate carrier or chest rig alone I do not see the need to have an overabundance of gear.
Obviously if you were in combat your setup would change, again what you are doing drives what you need. So for home defense lets hit what the major needs are.
Obviously ammunition to fill your pistol/rifle, so having two mags each is a good amount. Having a flashlight is a major must along with a laminated sheet of local phone numbers to emergency personnel, a set of flexi cuffs, a small medical kit and a notepad and pen. I recommend a notepad and pen as after an incident, writing down what happened for your own records is a must. You will forget details the longer time moves past after the incident. Of course what pouches to use is like going to Baskin Robbins and asking for ice cream. There are literally hundreds of choices from many companies including smaller ones like Orca Arms who make great pistol pouches. I recommend open top for home defense, as the majority of your motions at inside a controlled environment versus on the battlefield. Again, this really comes down to personal preference as you can have bungee retention, velcro flaps, etc.
Hopefully you found this helpful!