skully in a plate carrier

Skully’s Tactical Gear Guide | Part 3 – The Plate Carrier

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This entry is part 3 of 3 in the Skully’s Tactical Gear Guide

Hello everybody, it’s your pal Skully again! Even after several very busy weeks, I haven’t forgotten about you! Part 3 is here! Let’s delve into possibly the most customizable part of all your gear that you’ll be using: your plate carrier. 


First, let’s talk about the carrier itself. There are so many different choices it can make your head spin. They can have different cuts, some have different camouflage patterns, some have hook and loop for velcro, etc. 

For operators on a budget, I can’t recommend the Condor MOPC enough. Although often touted as an airsoft carrier, I got to use these briefly during my time in service before the higher-ups ordered us back to using the standard-issue IOTV. For everything I put mine through, it came out just fine reliably with the wear and tear I could throw at it. At only around 80-120 dollars, it’s an absolute steal, coming in black, green, coyote tan, or the famous multicam pattern. I personally recommend the multicam one. It’s a little more expensive, but you won’t have to color it up the way you would for a solid-color carrier. It also comes with a MOLLE system, so feeel free to weave your MOLLE pouch collection on it any way you want. With hook and loop for patches, you won’t be having any trouble being identified by your friends either. 


As the name of a plate carrier might suggest, the purpose of a plate carrier is to carry armor plates. Now that you’ve gotten a plate carrier, next up is to get plates. If you’re running a carrier, chances are you’re not concealing it, so you might as well have the strongest armor you can get for it. That’s usually going to be either Level 3 or 4 plate armor. Both of these levels are designed to stop rifle rounds: Level 3 will stop several rounds from most assault rifles such as an AR15 or an AK47 and weapons of less power such as handguns, and Level 4 armor can stop a high-power rifle round such as a 308, an 8mm Mauser, or a 30-06 along with lesser-powered weapons. 

When you choose your plates, you’ll likely be offered a spall liner. Get it if it’s not already included with the plates themselves. If your armor chips because you’ve been hit, that armor shard can be just as lethal as the round that hit you. Get yourself spall liner with your plates, it will absorb those armor fragments, upping your chances of survival greatly. 

There are many companies out there making plates. However, when your life is on the line, you want the best you can get to protect yourself. To that end, Spartan Armor Systems makes some of the best plates out there money can buy. Not only are they superb quality plates, they also tend to be lighter than plates from other companies, allowing you more speed, stamina, and endurance on a battlefield, while delivering uncompromising quality protection. 

To insert your plates, look on the bottom of your plate carrier. Most plate carriers have a flap on the bottom that opens up, revealing a securing strap or pocket inside. Simply slide your plate in, secure it, and close the flap. If you have side plate pouches, the flap should be on top of the pouch. Open it and insert your side plates too.


Just because you have a set of plates doesn’t mean you should stop there for your protection. You can also purchase “soft” armor plate inserts as well. While not steel or ceramic like a Level 3 or 4 plate, these inserts are typically made of kevlar and are rated for Level 3A, dealing with powerful handguns, submachine guns, and quite a bit of shrapnel. You can keep this armor behind your plates to reinforce them against a round that hits you.


The last insert you can get is a trauma pad. These pads aren’t ballistically rated, meaning that a bullet will go right through them. Keep these pads behind your armor, both the hard and soft plates. The point of a trauma pad is not to protect you from enemy fire, but rather to disperse bullet energy from a round that hits your plate. Think kind of similar to the air bag of a car.

You don’t want to be in a car crash without an air bag to protect your head, and you don’t want to take a round to a plate without a trauma pad, which can lessen and mitigate blunt force injury from the impacted plate. Get a trauma pad that’s the same size as the plates you’re running and keep them behind your plates. 


Now to the fun stuff: your pouches. There’s many different pouches, different camo patterns, different companies, different purposes, yada yada yada. Let’s focus more on what you’ll need on your plate carrier rather than specific products. 


Your plate carrier should be able to hold at minimum 6 magazines for whatever weapon you are using. Ideally, you want 7 magazines in total, because 1 magazine will be in your weapon, and the rest of your magazine pouches will be carrying 6 magazines. If you’re running 30-round magazines, that’s 210 rounds in total you have (180 in your mag pouches, and 30 in your weapon). Your mags, along with your tactics and your teamwork, will keep you in the fight longer against the enemy. 

Look for mag pouches that don’t let the magazine slip out onto the ground. A lost magazine can’t be used. 

Also, insert your magazines upside-down in the pouches. This keeps sand, dirt, and debris out, and if it should go down into the pouch anyway, then the magazine will have little to no feeding issues. It’ll also be easier to pull out and insert into your weapon when reloading. 


An IFAK is a must. You want bandages, gauze, chest seals, and tourniquets MINIMUM as part of it. As morbid as it will sound, the first aid kit on your plate carrier isn’t meant to help others. It’s meant for others to use on you if you go down. A US military surplus IFAK with all included components is great. Ensure you are well-trained on the components of you and your buddies’ IFAKs. If possible, make your IFAKs uniform and all the same. You and your buddies will be able to operate much better on muscle memory without having to research how to work a different product from a different company. 

For the pouch itself: you should mark this pouch with a red cross or a red cross patch, as the red cross symbol is almost universally recognized and associated with medicine and first aid. 

Placement of the pouch should be on the side opposite your dominant hand. If you’re right-handed, place your IFAK on the left side of your plate carrier. This will keep your weapon out of the way if you go down. It also makes a decent improvised platform for your elbow while you’re shooting, helping improve accuracy. 


This one is more for leaders and for assigned radiomen, but you absolutely need a pouch for radios. I prefer keeping my radio pouch to the left of my IFAK, allowing me access to the radio whilst keeping the shooting hand ready on the weapon. 


This one is a lifesaver. Your dump pouch should go on the back side part of your plate carrier on your non-dominant side. A dump pouch is there for your empty mags, and also for anything important you may find. It can also be used to store extra ammo, grenades, food, etc. Some guys prefer to attach their dump pouch to their belt on the backside on their pants. This isn’t wrong and totally dependent on the comfort of the operator. But for me, I prefer to have everything attached to the carrier to prevent anything from being lost. 


You should always have an empty pouch that’s set aside for anything you may pick up on patrol. You may find important intel. You may find a useful object. Whatever the case is, you’ll need a pouch to store that important thing. This one’s it. 


Water is an absolute necessity when wearing a plate carrier for an extended period of time. Doubly so in combat. You’ll want a canteen pouch for your water canteen. Many US canteens also come with a canteen cup that fits both the canteen inside it and also fits right in this pouch too.

If not holding a canteen, this pouch can double to hold night vision, or for those familiar with the gear of the North Hollywood bank robbers, to hold drum magazines for your rifle. 


A knife is an essential tool. Not only is it a tool, it’s also a close-quarter weapon. While I won’t get into the specifics of knives, which are in themselves a whole topic, I can emphasize that many knives come with sheaths that fit into a MOLLE configuration. Pick where you want to draw your knife from, practice it, and when you feel good, attach your knife sheath and your knife to your plate carrier.


Your pouch requirements are mission-dependent, but the ones provided above are essential. You may decide you want to carry a pistol. There’s MOLLE holsters to attach to the side of your plate carrier. You might want a pouch to store a dip can. Old grenade pouches can do that. Consider what you want, then set your carrier up for it. 


You should have two tourniquets on both sides of your plate carrier, for 4 in total. The reason being is simple, you want 1 for every limb on your body, and if you’re hit and unconscious then your buddies will have two tourniquets facing them they can use to immediately help stop bleeding, upping your chances of survival. You’ll want the popular Combat Action Tourniquet often seen, and you’ll want to train vigorously with them. The practice could mean life or death, quite literally. 


Some guys like to put their pouches on a Fighting Load Carrier (also known as FLC, pronounced Flick), a chest rig, or a similar piece of gear and wear it over top of their plate carriers. The logic is to allow one to take off the combat pouches to relieve weight,  while leaving the armor on. While this can be done, it’s my opinion that if the situation calls for wearing armor, then weapons and ammo are required too, so it’s just better to attach everything to the plate carrier until the threat is over. 

Well, those are the basics for your plate carrier, have fun setting yours up! Stay tuned for Part 4!

Part 2: Rucksack
Part 1: Assorted Gear

Series Navigation<< Skully’s Tactical Gear Guide | Part 2 – Rucksack Rumble

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