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Bulletproof Plate Carrier Buying Guide - Atomic Defense

Bulletproof Plate Carrier Buying Guide

Best Bulletproof Plate Carriers

Bulletproof carriers remain an essential aspect for law enforcement, the military and more. They can easily be worn over clothing or under it if a wearer needs discreetness in addition to extra protection. Armor plates can be added to the front and back of carriers to keep the wearer safe from gunfire, especially rifles.

A proper carrier will allow for an adequate range of motion without inhibiting breathing or sacrificing protection. When researching how to buy a bulletproof carrier, you will want to learn about the best plate carriers available and which material and type are right for your unique needs.

What Is a Bulletproof Plate Carrier?

What is a Bulletproof Plate Carrier

A plate carrier is similar to a bulletproof vest and is an important piece of body armor. In most cases, a plate carrier is used by law enforcement and the military, but it also can be a great addition to anyone's tactical gear. Plate carriers provide adequate protection from potential gunfire and are generally used against rifle threats.

A plate carrier uses bulletproof plates, which provide the wearer with added protection. A proper plate carrier can help absorb the shock of a bullet and prevent the bullet from piercing the skin or causing severe internal damage.

If you are choosing between a bulletproof vest or plate carrier, it will help to understand the differences between the two:

  • Level of protection: Plate carriers have protective panels inserted inside that provide a higher and more effective level of protection than traditional vests. 
  • Load-carrying equipment: Modular lightweight load-carrying equipment (MOLLE) refers to compartments and pouches that help wearers carry essential gear and equipment. While MOLLE isn't mandatory for vests, it is a crucial element of plate carriers. These compartments allow you to carry rifle magazines, first aid kits and other items.
  • Material: A plate carrier features a fabric vest that can hold armor plates at the back and front. These plates may be ceramic, steel or polyethylene. Each material has unique advantages and provides different levels of protection. A bulletproof vest, on the other hand, doesn't feature these removable armor plates.
  • Wearability: A tactical vest often has a zipper, making it easier to take off or put on, even in a rush. These zippers prevent anything from being placed in the middle. Plate carriers often take a bit more time to put on, but they feature adjustable straps for a snug and secure fit.
  • Weight: In most cases, plate carriers are usually larger or heavier than a tactical vest, but this added weight helps provide even more reliable protection. A ballistic panel in a carrier can stop a bullet, significantly reducing the chance of injury. Despite having less protection, a tactical vest is a lighter-weight option, making it ideal for applications where a user needs speed, mobility and agility.

Bulletproof Plate Types and Materials

Bulletproof Plate Types and Materials

What kind of bulletproof carrier should you buy? To help you decide, you will want to consider the different styles and materials body armor comes in. Additionally, the application you will need the body armor for also can heavily influence the type of material you choose.

For example, applications that require a chemically inert material may benefit from polyethylene plates. Weight also plays a crucial role, as the weight of a plate can affect the level of movement and mobility the wearer has. In general, bulletproof plates can be divided into hard and soft categories.

Plate Materials

There are many types of bulletproof materials available, each with specific benefits. Lighter applications generally use soft armor, but heavier applications, such as law enforcement and police, often require heavier armor for added durability and protection.

Another important aspect of different plate materials to consider is the level of concealability. Inconspicuous body armor is essential for many applications, especially law enforcement. These are some of the most popular bulletproof plate materials.

Steel Armor

Steel plates are a popular body armor material because they are incredibly durable and dependable. Steel is a form of hard armor plate with a long lifespan. It can withstand regular use without degrading too quickly. Steel armor may also not need as much care as other types of plate materials.

In addition to its durability, steel is a cost-effective armor material as well. It can be cheaper than ceramic or polyethylene choices. Steel can withstand multiple hits without the material degrading and leaving you vulnerable. Another benefit of steel armor is that it is often more discreet than ceramic plates and other plate materials.

Ceramic Armor

Ceramic is a non-metallic material used for ballistic plates and tactical gear. Ceramic is an inorganic material, typically made from carbide or nitride. 

Because of its lightweight properties, ceramic has been used in body armor for decades and has grown in popularity. While steel typically is 10.2 pounds per square foot, ceramic is only approximately five to six pounds. Another benefit of ceramic is that it can efficiently absorb and disperse energy, minimizing the risk of collapsed lungs and broken bones.

Ceramic also works well against armor-piercing rounds and may be more efficient than steel plates. You can add Kevlar to ceramic as well, further reducing bullet force. The customizable aspects of ceramic plates make them ideal for improved protection.

Polyethylene Armor

Polyethylene is a commonly used plastic to make bulletproof vests and plates. In most cases, body armor made of plastic uses a specific type of polyethylene known as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). UHMWPE is rated as one of the most durable thermoplastics available.

UHMWPE has numerous beneficial properties, including chemical inertness and impact resistance. Polyethylene is also exceptionally abrasion resistant for increased durability. UHMWPE is one of the lightest types of body armor available.

Because UHMWPE is chemically inert, it means that if chemicals come into contact with the armor, the armor will not react with the chemicals, ensuring the wearer remains safe. UHMWPE also has exceptional self-lubricity, reducing friction with anything it touches.

Kevlar Armor

Kevlar is a popular body armor material because its linked chain fibers are incredibly durable and difficult to break apart due to tensile strength. This means Kevlar is capable of absorbing high-velocity impacts and is an ideal choice for police and military applications.

Bulletproof Carrier Styles

Another important distinction between bulletproof carriers is the style. Generally, bulletproof carriers come in different styles with varying weights and levels of concealment. Lighter weight carrier styles are often best for applications where a wearer may want to conceal the fact that they are wearing a carrier.

On the other hand, heavier carrier styles provide more protection from rifle fire and are typically worn when the wearer does not need to conceal that they are wearing a carrier. Each carrier style offers specific benefits.

When selecting a carrier style that is right for you, you should think about the application for the carrier. Generally, this helps you determine if you require additional protection or if a lighter, discreet option may be right for you — especially if you need added agility or mobility. Some of the main types of plate carriers include the following. 

Slick Carriers

Slick carriers, also known as covert tactical plate carriers, are perfect if you are looking for a concealable cover carrier. A proper covert tactical plate carrier should be lightweight but fit tightly, ensuring adequate coverage without inhibiting movement or breathing.

A slick carrier should also be easily concealed under plain clothing without looking suspicious. Generally, slick carriers are best for when you are looking for inconspicuous bullet protection. Certain situations where a slick carrier may be needed are if law enforcement or soldiers are working with civilians in potentially dangerous zones without alerting others that the user is wearing a bulletproof carrier.

Compared to other plate carriers, slick plate carriers typically don't feature a modular interface or other external features to remain discreet. The carrier is often slimmer, holding the plate and not wrapping around the user's sides to ease movement.

Minimalist Carriers

Like slick carriers, minimalist carriers are designed to provide a low profile and low visibility, allowing concealment when necessary. While specific models may vary, a minimalist carrier often features less hardware than heavy carriers and is secured with a heavy-duty strap system to hold it snugly in place.

One main difference between minimalist and slick carriers is that some minimalist options can add additional pouches or gear for different needs. Still, minimalist carriers are an exceptional choice when looking for a discreet and concealable carrier with the ability for added customization.

Standard Carriers

Standard carriers are a bit more complex than slick or minimalist carriers and allow you to carry additional gear besides just the plate. While standard carriers are somewhat discreet, they may not be as easily concealed as a slick or minimalist carrier.

If you are looking to carry additional gear, you may want to consider a standard carrier, which can comfortably accommodate approximately 20 to 30 pounds of gear. Standard carriers may offer extra coverage but are typically more noticeable when worn.

Heavy-Duty Carriers

As the name implies, heavy-duty carriers are the strongest carriers available. While they are incredibly durable and strong, heavy-duty carriers cannot be concealed, as they are often bulky and large. For applications requiring heavy-duty carriers, concealment is not typically needed.

In general, heavy-duty carriers are often used in scenarios where there is a high chance of rifle fire, meaning there is very little reason to need to conceal the fact that you may be wearing a plate carrier. Law enforcement, soldiers and those in potentially dangerous situations are the most likely to use a heavy-duty carrier. It is important to note these carriers are often much heavier, requiring training to get used to the load.

How to Get the Right Size Plate Carrier

How to Get the Right Size Plates and Plate Carrier

A plate carrier needs to fit snugly yet comfortably to offer the highest level of protection. While there should be adequate space for movement, a plate carrier should not be too loose, as it can quickly become less effective. On the other hand, body armor that is too restrictive can cause small gaps between armor plates, leaving the wearer vulnerable.

You should also pay close attention to is the plate carrier's length, avoiding armor that is too short or long. A shorter piece of body armor lacks proper coverage, and a longer piece of armor may interfere with other equipment, such as tactical gear or equipment belts.

When determining the proper fit of a plate carrier, you should check to see if:

  • Front panels: The front panels meet but do not overlap one another. If panels overlap, they can become damaged while restricting the wearer's overall range of motion.
  • Front panel gap: Ideally, the gap between the front panels and the wearer's body should only be the space left after a user takes a deep breath and exhales. A properly sized gap can help reduce the likelihood of severe trauma.
  • Armor straps: When you adjust the straps, there should be adequate tension, but, again, it should not be too loose or tight. Straps that are too tight can inhibit breathing and negatively impact the range of motion. Additionally, tight straps can cause the plate carrier to ride up or rest too high on the body, leaving the midsection exposed and vulnerable.

While plate carrier sizes and armor plates may vary, many professionals find that a medium is fits most people, but the size will vary depending on height, weight and build. One way to determine the size of a plate carrier and armor plate is placement height.

Although each person is different, general plate carrier sizing recommends:

  • Small: Chest: 34 to 36 inches. Waist: 28 to 30 inches.
  • Medium: Chest: 38 to 40 inches. Waist: 32 to 34 inches.
  • Large: Chest: 42 to 44 inches. Waist: 36 to 38 inches.
  • X-Large: Chest: 46 to 48 inches. Waist: 40 to 42 inches.
  • 2X-Large: Chest: 50 to 52 inches. Waist: 44 to 46 inches.
  • 3X-Large: Chest: 54 to 56 inches. Waist: 48 to 50 inches.
  • 4X-Large: Chest: 58 to 60 inches. Waist: 52 to 54 inches.

Plate Carrier Accessories to Consider

Plate carriers are exceptionally versatile, especially when equipping them with plate carrier accessories. Some of the most popular plate accessories include:

  • Magazines and ammo: There are many types of ammo and magazine pouches that allow the wearer to carry additional ammo, magazines and other essential rifle equipment.
  • Medical equipment: There are also medical equipment accessories that allow the wearer to carry crucial first aid supplies. You can safely store tourniquets, medic pouches, individual first aid kits (IFAK) and more.
  • Communication equipment: Communication equipment can be worn on plate carrier accessories, including radios and push-to-talk (PTT) mics.

Premium Body Armor and Plate Carriers

Premium Plate Carriers and Body Armor from Atomic Defense

Atomic Defense is the top source for premium plate carriers, armor plates and NIJ-test accessories. Our products are thoroughly tested and trusted by the military and law enforcement for dependable protection. We offer premium helmets and visors, masks, backpacks and more.

Contact us online to learn more about our premium body armor.

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