Bulletproof Vest Vs Plate Carrier

Body Armor: Bulletproof Vest Vs Plate Carrier

Bulletproof vests are what comes to the minds of many people whenever body armor is mentioned. Body armor encompasses all wear that protects you against ballistic threats. Also, the specifics surrounding bulletproof vests and plate carriers are quite confusing for some people. Plate carriers, as the name suggests, are ordinary fabric vests that are used in conjunction with armor plates. The vests are usually lined with an aramid material, and have pockets at the front and at the back were armor plates go in. In this case, the armor plates are the ones offering protection.

In the case of bulletproof vests, they offer protection on their own. These vests are made of high tensile soft materials such as Kevlar. Bulletproof vests fall in the category of soft body armor, and mainly offer protection against low-caliber firearms. Some bulletproof vests come with armor plate pockets, to allow you to raise protection levels if you need to. In the sections below, we dig a little bit deeper into the differences between bulletproof vests and plate careers with regard to how protective each one of them is.

Protection Levels

The main reason you purchase body armor is to protect yourself against any attacks that might come your way. As such, it is important that you fully understand the various protective levels of body armor, or what threat levels you are facing. In terms of protection levels, there are very significant differences between bulletproof vests and plate carriers.

As mentioned earlier, bulletproof vests are categorized as soft body armor. They deal with threat levels ranging from Level IIA to Level IIIA. This levels mainly feature gunfire from pistols and handguns. Level II bulletproof vests are the least protective. They will stop bullets such as the 9mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) as well as the .40 S&W (Smith & Wesson) FMJ. Level II bulletproof vests will protect against bullets such as the .357 Magnum JSP (Jacketed Soft Point). Level IIIA is adequately protective against bullets such as the .357 SIG FMJ FN (Flat Nose) and the .44 Mag SJHP (Semi-Jacketed Hollow Point).

On the other hand, plate carriers are only categorized in a particular protection level when they have ballistic plates in them. It is the ballistic plates that determine the level of protection. The idea behind plate carriers is to make it easy for you to choose what level of protection you need. One plate carrier can be used with ballistic plates of different protective levels. However, each plate carrier is specifically designed to be used with certain types of ballistic plates only. You have to check carefully while buying, to ensure you get the right carrier rig for the right ballistic plates.

Ballistic plates are normally classified as hard body armor. They will, in most cases be either threat level III or IV. Armor plates can be made of polyethylene (PE) material, steel, or ceramic. PE plates are the best because they are very lightweight, and the most protective. Steel and ceramic are also quite protective, but they are bulky.

Level III ballistic plates will offer protection against gunfire such as the 7.62 mm FMJ steel jacketed, while level IV will protect you against 30.06 M2 AP (Armor Piercing) bullets. This is extremely dangerous gunfire that would leave you with slim survival chances if you got shot. As such, it may be argued that plate carriers are the better option if you are facing high ballistic threat levels. Keep in mind that carrier plates by themselves can never be categorized in any protection level unless they have ballistic plates in them.

They are not bullet resistant. Having gone through the protective details of both bulletproof vests and plate carriers, let’s explore why you would choose one over the other.

Bulletproof Vests

Why would you choose a bulletproof vest over a plate carrier? The two main reasons are weight and concealability. Before we discuss the two, it is important to mention that you should never compromise on the protection level that you need for any of the other factors.

Walking around with visible body armor is not desirable, especially if you are not a security or law enforcement officer. It also puts you at risk because whoever wants to attack you will see the parts of your body that are exposed. Concealability of body armor is, therefore, a big thing especially to civilians. 

Bulletproof vests are quite easy to conceal. The difficulty to disguise body armor increases as protection levels increase. As such, it is a bit more difficult to conceal a Level IIIA bulletproof vest than it is to conceal a Level IIA bulletproof vest. Plate carriers, when loaded with armor plates are not concealable. In fact, plate carriers are designed to be worn over other clothing.

Weight is another very pertinent issue. Nobody enjoys walking around carrying pounds upon pounds of body armor. Bulletproof vests, especially those in lower protection levels tend to be quite lightweight. They feel just like ordinary clothing, and you barely feel any discomfort.

Plate carriers that are loaded with armor plates are heavy, especially if you are using ceramic or steel armor plates. PE armor plates are a lot lighter than ceramic. Polyethylene as a material is actually lighter than the Kevlar fabric mainly used to make bulletproof vests. However, due to the thickness required in order to provide high levels of protection, the complete package of a carrier vest and PE armor plates ends up being heavier than low-level bulletproof vests.

Lastly, bulletproof vests offer adequate coverage. Since most are designed to be worn under clothing, they wrap around your chest, stomach, ribs, and back quite well. Plate carriers usually feature a front flap and another one in the back, then the two flaps are joined together on the sides with straps. Your sides are left exposed, and you could easily get hit in intense gunfire.

As mentioned earlier, there are bulletproof vests that come with plate carrier pockets. These pockets allow you to raise the protection levels of the vets. The upgrade cannot be very significant because of the size of the bulletproof vests. For instance, it is possible to upgrade a Level IIIA bulletproof vest to Level III by adding armor plates, but you cannot upgrade a Level IIA bulletproof vest all the way to Level III, unless the armor plates are rated as “Stand-alone”, like they are on the Atomic Defense website. The plate carriers would not fit since Level IIA vests are quite thin.

Plate Carriers

Keep in mind that these discussions are based on the fact that you must load plate carriers with armor plates while wearing them. Plate carriers ensure it is easy for you to get the level of protection you are looking for at any point. Plate carriers are best when you are looking for protection against rifle threats. You’ll have to put up with the bulkiness, but at least you will be sure you are adequately protected.

Plate carriers are typically used by military personnel, but other tactical forces or civilians are free to use them whenever they want to. Plate carriers are also quite easy to accessorize. As already mentioned, they only cover your front from the neck to the waist and the back. They are flexible, adjustable and easy to remove. The straps are easy to pull off, and one would be able to take them off and drop them in an emergency.

Just to reiterate, PE armor plates are nowhere near as heavy as steel and ceramic plates. They are also quite protective as compared to steel or ceramic. The most impressive aspect of PE armor plates is that they can provide protection against multiple hits. Take for instance ceramic plates; In the event of heavy gunfire, the ceramic plate will shatter with the first hit, and leave you exposed while shots are still being fired.


When steel plates are hit, steel fragments fly off the surface of the plate. These fragments can slice through the carrier vest and injure you. They do not offer optimum coverage like bulletproof vests. Secondly, if you have to put on steel or ceramic plates, you’ll have to carry around a lot of weight. They are also not concealable. All these issues make plate carriers ideal for military use, but not daily civilian use.


The suitability of either bulletproof vests or plate carrier depends on the situation. In a wrap, if you are facing low-level threats, bulletproof vests are the ideal option because they are comfortable to wear. For high-level threats, you’ll need plate carriers and their respective plates in order to stay safe. As mentioned earlier, your safety should always come first when making any considerations concerning body armor. All other factors are secondary.

If you are stuck somewhere in between the two, we recommend that you purchase carrier plates with PE armor plates. These offer ample protection without compromising too much on comfort.

Visit www.atomicdefense.com and purchase any body armor that you need. We have a large variety of body armor products in stock. If you have any queries or concerns, get in touch with us via the email contact@atomicdefense.com or call 1-507-400-0490.








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