Are you wondering about all the options out there for customizing your plate carrier? You aren't alone. Plate carriers are one of those pieces of equipment that take a shape of their own depending on how you choose to set them up.
While the exact plate carrier setup will always depend on your own particular needs and preferences, there are some rules you should always follow when choosing and setting up all the gear for your body armor.
This guide will walk you through how to customize your plate carrier to prioritize efficiency, convenience, effectiveness, and comfort.
Top Plate Carrier Rule: Proper Fit Is Vital
Through the past, plate carriers have gone through a pattern of "Set It Up This Way," "Never Mind, Set It Up It This Way," where a certain setup used by military or police was considered to be the right way to do it, only to have the right way changed to something else.
But in recent years, we've taken a much broader approach to plate carriers tailored more to the individual. As a result, there's a short list of unbreakable rules, but beyond that, what you attach to your plate carrier -- and where you choose to attach it -- is up to you.
Above all other rules, proper plate carrier fit is of the utmost importance.
Getting the Right Fit
Getting the right fit is crucial because it ensures the body armor plates are in the perfect position to stop a projectile from penetrating the most vital parts your body -- the heart and lungs. In other words, fitting your plate carrier properly could be the difference between life and death.
Front and Back Plate
Once the body takes a hit, a timer starts. Just how long until that timer stops running -- and the hit person expires -- depends on the number of impacts and where they occurred. The heart and lungs have the shortest timers if damaged, short of the brain and spine.
The front plate, then, needs to ride roughly from the center notch of the collar bone (starting about the width of two fingers below it) and cover down to about the base of the rib cage. The rear plate mirrors this, though it typically rests a little higher, with the top edge sitting about even with the tops of the shoulder blades.
It's a common mistake to wear the front plate too low, trying to cover the stomach. Don't do that. Keep that heart well-covered. It's got a short timer once hit, remember.
Shoulder Straps and Cummerbund
A proper plate carrier setup keeps the plates secure while not inhibiting your range of motion too much. You don't want your plates, mags, and pouches bouncing a lot while you're running, climbing, moving through buildings, and diving for cover. That'll wear you out fast. It can also pose a risk of injury when climbing.
To make sure everything's in place and secure, the shoulder straps should adjust to set height, and the cummerbund can be adjusted for fit and to prevent the plates from bouncing.
A cummerbund tip for you: While most of the weight of a loaded plate carrier will rest on the shoulders, a slightly tighter cummerbund reduces this pressure. So not only is it good for additional storage and adding side armor, it also goes a long way toward ensuring your comfort and mobility.
Finally, as a principle, loaded pouches should ride as close to the body as possible. You've probably heard that a billion times before, but it can never be said enough.
Customizing Your Plate Carrier Loadout
The four categories of gear are into ammunition, medical supplies, admin, and mission-specific equipment. As far as tips for choosing these pieces of gear, a good piece of advice is that lighter is better so long as you don't sacrifice too much quality.
Minimalism is valued a lot now when setting up plate carriers, and that's not a bad thing. Still, don't trim the wrong gear. Keep it as light as possible and avoid unnecessary bulk, but don't drop stuff you're going to need later.
Three magazines across the front and one in the gun is the modern standard for Tier 1 units (CAG, DEVGRU). Don't double up magazines on the front of your plate carrier unless you want to have major issues laying prone behind low cover.
There's also sometimes a speed mag or speed pouch mounted to the cummerbund on the non-dominant arm side.
The speed mag is a good example of how trends in plate carrier setup change. Magazines you would have carried on the plate carrier before ten years ago are being moved to the belt, and reloading off the belt first is becoming habit.
The speed pouch gets constantly refreshed with fresh mags as magazines are expended so that the fastest mag is always ready in case of an emergency reload.
The key thing about tourniquets (and medical pouches too) is to distribute them across the body in areas accessible by both hands. This is in case one hand is injured.
Even if you're wearing a duty belt, you should have at least one tourniquet attached to your plate carrier in case you don't have time to put on the belt or you lose it.
Sometimes you'll see a plater carrier set up with "danglers" to make this happen.
First Aid Kit
Sometimes you won't have a choice as to wear to attach your IFAK because this will be dictated by SOPs. If you do have a choice, consider where you'll need it to be in the event of an emergency.
Put your IFAK somewhere you can reach it with either hand and someone else would be able to reach it to treat you, if need be. Wherever you attach it, do a test to ensure it won't get in the way of drawing your firearm.
An admin pouch is used for items such as maps, pens, protractors, a flashlight, a pocket knife, and a range of other Everyday Carry items you'll need in a pinch and which might get damaged in your bag.
Admin pouches have both straps for carrying and MOLLE for attaching your armor or vest. Which method you choose and what exactly you keep in it depends on your needs. Either way, you want it in easy access, such as on the front of your chest.
Radios and Communication Equipment
Radios have always been tricky when setting up plate carriers. Put it on the front, and you're using up space that could go toward additional pouches or something else. Put it in the back, and you're very dependent on a teammate if the batteries go out or some other problem occurs.
For a push-to-talk (PTT), the front non-dominant side of the plate carrier is generally said to be the best place for easy access while your finger remains on the trigger of your firearm.
What comprises this gear will obviously vary from mission to mission, but good advice is to make sure there's nothing dangling from your belt or plater carrier to snag or pull off at the worst possible time. Anything that could move around or fall off of you, keep bungee cord on hand to secure it with.
This is another good chance to remind you to stay as light as possible here. The less weight on your shoulders and stuff to adjust, the better.
By Office of Public Affairs from Washinton DC - Operation Triple Beam San Antonio 2017-27, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72321267
In the past, plate carrier setups were bound by rigid rules and many individuals were restricted to following standard operating procedures (SOPs) when configuring their carriers. However, nowadays, there is greater flexibility for customization.
The ability to customize a plate carrier allows users to tailor it to their specific needs and preferences, resulting in enhanced functionality and comfort.
When customizing a plate carrier, ensuring a proper fit is of utmost importance. The front plate should be positioned approximately two finger-widths below the collarbone, providing coverage for vital organs. It is crucial to adjust the cummerbund to eliminate any jostling or bouncing while running.
Additionally, careful placement of tourniquets and individual first aid kits (IFAKs) within reach of both hands is essential. For radio placement, it is advisable to choose a position that suits the mission requirements, with the push-to-talk (PTT) button located on the non-dominant side of the plate carrier.
It is important to remember that the ideal plate carrier setup varies for each person and may differ for each mission. Customization allows for personalized adjustments based on individual preferences and requirements.
Regardless of the specific setup, always prioritize the proper fit of the carrier, ensuring it conforms well to your body.
Also, keeping the load as light and streamlined as possible is crucial to maintain mobility and prevent unnecessary fatigue. By considering these factors, individuals can optimize their plate carrier customization to meet their unique needs while maximizing operational effectiveness.
How do you customize your own plate carrier? Tell us about it in a comment below!