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Editor’s Picks: Plate Carrier – Looking at Personal Kit

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A well-appointed plate carrier should be a staple item in any ready room, go-bag, man cave, or gear box. The ability to carry not just armor, but ammo, medical kit, water, and miscellaneous equipment is vital not just to personal protection and SHTF preparedness but for classes and training days as well. As an editorial team, we’ve had the chance to break-in, break-down, and just-plain-break a lot of kit in our collective experience over the years. While there are many high-quality options at reasonable prices, each of us have settled on something slightly different: that Goldilocks fit of plate carrier, placard, pouches, and accessories that does just what we need it to in an efficient and comfortable manner.

What follows is a brief overview of each individual RECOIL editor’s personal kit. The featured rigs aren’t the only kit each of us owns or uses, but we keep coming back to them time after time — sometimes in spite of newer, flashier substitutes. There are undoubtedly some similarities. Despite wide variance of personal preference in the selection and setup of a kit, there are some right ways to do things. But beyond that, we think you’ll see a holistic spectrum of parts, pieces, and features that each of our individual team members has deemed essential for their application. We hope you’ll find both information and inspiration in this montage as you seek to build or improve upon your own plate carrier or chest rig setup.

Iain Harrison

Make: First Spear
Model: Assaulter Armor Carrier
MSRP: $511

  • Safariland Protech DT206C Type III plates: $460 ea.
  • First Spear Single Mag Shingles: $44 ea.
  • First Spear Tourniquet Pouch: $43
  • Battle Horse Knives Bronco: $200

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Editors Plate Carrier Iain

While seeming to be about as minimalist as it gets without resorting to shoving plates down a spandex T-shirt, the First Spear AAC allows the user to add side plates should the environment warrant it. There’s also a couple of sneaky pockets in the cummerbund that accept a spare mag, though they’re more difficult to access than the three pouches on the front plate. After years of adding and subtracting gear, the current rig is set up to complement the crap I have on my LFT battle belt, which is why it doesn’t have any pistol mag pouches — if I’ve lost the belt, then I’ve lost the handgun they go in. Despite living in the desert, there’s no hydration pouch on the back, as adding one tends to make working out of a vehicle a complete pain in the scrotum, and in summer, you’ll need more than one liter of water anyway, which is what a daypack is for.

It’s only after you’ve dealt with armor carriers employing a traditional Velcro cummerbund that you truly appreciate the genius of First Spear’s Tubes system — if I ever meet the person who designed them, I’ll buy him or her a drink. They’re by far the easiest and most secure method of donning and doffing I’ve encountered. First Spear offers retrofit kits, should you want to add them to your existing rig. It’s a truism that you should choose plates according to the prevalent threats in your area, meaning that if potential adversaries are tooled up with 375 H&H bolt guns, you might want to consider moving. On the other hand, if you live in the U.S. where AR pattern rifles and M855 ammunition are common, picking armor purely based on the current NIJ Level III rating is a bad call, as although it’ll stop 7.62 NATO ball, faster bullets with penetrator cores tend to sail right through. It’ll be a really bad day if I ever have to rely on them, but the Safariland multi-curve plates in my carrier have a ceramic strike face backed with ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), so they’re fairly light but rated to stop green tip.

Dave Merrill

Make: Grey Ghost Gear
Model: Minimalist Plate Carrier
MSRP: $136

Editors Plate Carrier Dave


  • Grey Ghost Gear Level III+ Shooters Cut plates: $415 ea. 
  • TYR Tactical Happy Mag pouches: $50 ea.
  • HSGI Shoulder Pads: $28
  • HSGI Taco LT: $42
  • Tactical Tailor Fight Light Pouches: $17 ea.
  • Tactical Tailor Hydration Pouch: $80
  • Source Tactical Gear WXP 2L Hydration Bladder: $39
  • DIY DARC Strap: $5

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This plate carrier falls right into the awkward category of “general purpose.” It’s neither a shaky skeleton of minimalist gear nor an overt going-to-war carrier. This basically breaks down to there being space available — but not much of it. Ultimately, this is an in-conjunction-with rig, meaning that regardless of what’s available on the torso, all first-line gear is located on a belt. The plate carrier itself is mostly for protection and back-filling primary reloading points. Must-haves like emergency medical gear are also largely held on the belt, though a lonely tourniquet is on the centerline. 

The base of the Grey Ghost MPC provides enough real estate for a rack of mags and not a whole lot else, but it’s quick to don for emergencies. In terms of comfort, it’s just fine for normal range days but for multi-day use, I added a set of HSGI shoulder pads and never looked back. 

Editors Plate Carrier Dave

While reading through this description, keep in mind the type of work that we do. Because we use so many different firearms and magazines, I needed a way to accommodate an assortment of magazines without playing frustrating MOLLE games. The TYR Tactical Happy Mag pouches readily accept AR, AK, and SR-25 magazines. There’s an old-school HSGI Taco shoved between the two TYRs because it was on-hand. For AK mags, I wish they were all just an inch or so taller for stability. 

A bit more space comes from the addition of some small Tactical Tailor pouches mounted to the waist strap itself. A hydration bladder is on the back to top off in the heat. I weaved a DIY DARC drag strap (see for a how-to) down the back (and my belt) to make dragging me across the street eminently easier.

This entire rig is a compromise, but it’s not a bad one.

Tom Marshall

Make: Defense Mechanisms
Model: Mission Essential Plate Carrier
MSRP: $140

  • Prime Armor Level III plates: $325 ea.
  • Defense Mechanisms 5-inch Hybrid Cummerbund QD: $100
  • HRT Tactical Maximus Placard: $100

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Editors Plate Carrier Tom

The Mission Essential Plate Carrier is an affordable, versatile option in a growing market of modular plate carriers. The cummerbund must be purchased separately for the MEPC, but Defense Mechanisms offers several different options, including two- and three-row MOLLE options, plus their “hybrid” cummerbunds, which feature a combination of MOLLE loops and stretch material. These can be had with or without the quick-release buckles seen here. It can be run slick or bulked up with a placard. Defense Mechanisms sells their own modular placards, but I cross-pollinated with HRT Tactical’s Maximus Placard, as it best accommodated the load-out I wanted for this setup — primarily CQB and shoot-house training, as well as other classes that require significant load carriage.

The Maximus placard features two pistol mag pouches, one on each end, that have flexible polymer inserts for retention without using the cover flaps. Since the flaps and the inserts are both secured with hook-and-loop, I removed it all and used those pouches to hold a pair of SOFFT-T tourniquets. The main kangaroo pouch comes with an elastic three-mag insert for AR-style mags, but can also be swapped for a 2-cell M1A/FAL mag holder or a 5-cell insert for PCC/SMG mags. This allows me to run different weapons systems in different classes, as my T&E schedule requires. The two front square pouches have been purposed as an on-board IFAK and a pyro pouch, which contains a mini smoke grenade and an IWA International “thermobaric device,” which can simulate flash-bangs in a breaching scenario. 

Forrest Cooper

Make/Model: ½ Crye AVS Harness, ½ First Spear STT Plate Carrier, with some customization, cutting, and stitching
MSRP: Crye $259, First Spear $124 (SKD exclusive)
URL:, /

Editors Plate Carrier Forrest


  • Grey Ghost Gear III+ Plates: $415 ea.
  • HSGI Taco Magazine Pouches: $36 ea.
  • KAGWERKS Cell Phone Kit: $295
  • Garmin Foretrex 301 (discontinued)
  • Haley Strategic Flatpack: $160
  • Veil Solutions Custom Baofeng Radio (discontinued)
  • Disco32 U-94/A PTT Radio Adapter: $105
  • Milwaukee Custom Kydex Messenger Radio Carrier with DIY Latch: $50
  • REFactor Recondo Pouch (discontinued)
  • Petzl Tactikka+ Headlamp: $50
  • Source Tactical Gear WXP 3L Hydration Bladder: $45

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At one point, choosing between the various plate carriers required giving up one feature or another, as many options had overlapping qualities like a Venn diagram, but none of them included everything I wanted out-of-the-box. Thus, I did a little cutting and pasting between Crye Precision, First Spear, and various other components. As a result, the plate carrier was fit specifically to me, combining the support of a semi-rigid thermoplastic harness and lightweight plate bags.

Over the last six years, I’ve added and subtracted various components, trimming excess material while making small improvements over time. The only thing that hasn’t changed are the three HSGI Tacos across the front. Integrating a KAGWERKS cell phone kit used solely for ATAK has required the most effort to get used to — not in an invasive sense, but to take advantage of all of its features.

Editors Plate Carrier Forrest

Some chase after the lightest plate carrier, others specialize for a low-profile approach. This rig is geared toward range of motion, heavily prioritizing mobility, especially in urban and athletic environments. It’s neither the lightest nor the lowest profile; as set up now, it wouldn’t work under a jacket, yet the weight sticks close to your bones for structural integrity, riding evenly across the chest, shoulders, and back.

Outfitted for an urban, or semi-rural biome, where most towns are within 20 to 30 miles of each other, a small radio and NATO-style PTT sits on the front, with a Haley Strategic Flatpack for a drone, water, batteries, and long-term supplies on the back. Two tourniquets, one beside the mags and another below, stow in makeshift attachment points. The admin pouch carries a printed map of the area, any comms information I want on me, and markers.

As I’ve had the liberty to explore different configurations with a plate carrier, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to balance new ideas with time-tested standards.

Steven Kuo

Make: Tactical Tailor
Model: Low Vis MBAV Plate Carrier
MSRP: $164

  • Midwest Armor Venture FM3 Plate: $699
  • Midwest Armor Venture FM STX Plate: $499
  • Sneaky Bags Shoulder Utility Bag: $95
  • Cannae Battle Ready Tactical Hoodie (discontinued)
  • Tactical Tailor Low Vis Double 5.56 Magazine Pouch: $29 
  • Tactical Tailor Low Vis Single 5.56 Magazine Pouch: $16
  • Tactical Tailor Low Vis Double Stack Pistol Double Mag Pouch: $14
  • SureFire Fury IntelliBeam Flashlight: $241
  • Combat Application Tourniquet: $30
  • Mechanix FastFit Work Gloves: $15
  • Tactical Tailor Tough Hook: $20

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Editors Plate Carrier Steve

In stark contrast to an overt setup, this rig is designed to be extremely low profile, especially handy behind the iron curtain. Additionally, it sits within reach of my bed and is intended to be quickly donned and used even when, for instance, dressed in pajamas or boxers in the middle of the night — so it isn’t dependent on a belt-based rig. I have a separate overt rig that looks rather similar to others featured here, which wouldn’t have been as interesting to highlight.

The Tactical Tailor Low Vis MBAV plate carrier is rugged and well-built. It’s also simple, with just a few Velcro fields and a couple Hypalon gear hangers. It’s made of 500-
denier Cordura nylon, with no padding to minimize bulk. Note that the MBAV is designed for eSAPI-sized plates, so commercial-sized plates may or may not fit well depending on their exact dimensions. I’ve removed its side plate pockets as well, making it as low profile as possible without duct-taping plates to my body or stepping up to pricier materials like Dyneema. The now-discontinued Cannae hoodie runs large, making it perfect to quickly throw on and completely cover the plate carrier. 

It’s important to select plates appropriate for the threats you expect to encounter, balancing other considerations such as weight, mobility, and cost. Midwest Armor offers a variety of plates to suit differing needs and budgets; their Venture FM3 and STX plates fill out my MBAV carrier. The FM3 plate is extremely light at 2.3 pounds, made purely of UHMWPE, and is rated for NIJ Level III as well as 7.62×39 ball. The Venture STX plate is heavier but very thin, at just over half an inch. Composed of ceramic and polyethylene, it isn’t Level III rated (7.62×51) but will defend against 5.56 (including M855), 7.62×39 ball and API BZ, and handgun rounds. If you’re not worried about 7.62×51, running a set of Midwest Armor’s STX plates would make for an extremely low-profile rig.

The Sneaky Bags Shoulder Utility Bag contains my spare magazine load out, SureFire flashlight, Mechanix gloves, C-A-T tourniquet, and a knife. I can quickly sling it over my shoulder and get moving immediately. If the situation doesn’t warrant rolling out with an AR, a pistol easily fits in the Sneaky Bag while maintaining complete discretion — with the hoodie zipped up and a nondescript man bag over my shoulder, nothing stands out. Additionally, if I want to carry more easily accessible mags, at the expense of bulk, I can simply slap Tactical Tailor Velcro-equipped pouches with rifle or pistol mags onto the plate carrier.

Patrick McCarthy

Make: TYR Tactical
Model: PICO-DS with DSX cummerbund
MSRP: $500

Editors Plate Carrier Patrck


  • TYR Tactical HA3/7 Level III+ Plates (2): $496 ea.
  • TYR Tactical T52/SP Level II Soft Ballistic Backers: $196/pair
  • TYR Tactical DS Combat Adjustable Chest Rack: $300
  • TYR Tactical Lower Abdomen Level II Ballistic Panel: $190
  • TYR Tactical DSX Lower Ab Pouch $60
  • Blue Force Gear Ten-Speed M4 Mag Pouches (2): $31 ea.
  • Blue Force Gear Tourniquet NOW!: $12
  • TYR Tactical Huron DS Zip-On Backpack: $320
  • Camelbak Crux 3L Short Hydration Bladder: $49 

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TYR Tactical’s HQ isn’t far from my home, so I took the opportunity to support a local business and get fitted for a plate carrier on-site. A size large PICO-DS with the company’s own 10×13 multi-curve ceramic plates and soft backers offered a good compromise between protection and maneuverability. Since I’m tall but slender, I also added a soft armor abdominal panel for a little extra protection; this sits neatly behind a lower ab pouch that carries gloves, a notepad, and other admin gear. 

Editors Plate Carrier Patrick

The TYR Chest Rack attaches to the carrier via Velcro backing and four surface-mount buckles, but it can also be worn as a stand-alone rig using the included H-harness. It features four carbine mag pouches, two pistol mag pouches (one of which holds a Gerber multi-tool), and two zippered general-purpose pouches. The large GP pouch contains a complete IFAK, while the small pouch contains a Streamlight Bandit headlamp and spare SureFire ear pro. 

Peeling off the chest rig to attach or remove the standard Velcro cummerbund is a hassle, so I recently upgraded to the quick-detach cummerbund from TYR’s new PICO-DSX carrier. I used its real estate for a secondary C-A-T tourniquet in a BFG carrier and a pair of low-profile BFG elastic mag pouches. One serves as overflow space; the other holds a Baofeng radio. Its hand mic is clipped to my left shoulder strap, and a 3.5mm cable is routed to the right shoulder strap, where it can plug into my active ear pro. Before you scoff at this rag-tag comms setup, keep in mind that it fits my needs — I use it occasionally to communicate with pre-programmed Baofengs I loan out to friends or strangers at classes.

The final element of my kit is a zip-on Huron backpack that contains a CamelBak 3-liter bladder. When I don’t need armor, I can easily remove this pack and the chest rig for stand-alone use. 

More on Body Armor and Plate Carriers from RECOIL and OFFGRID

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1 Comment

  • Philip Albrecht says:

    are wearing any of these vest (outside a coat) with ammo/ pistols consired to be ‘technically open carry?”

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  • are wearing any of these vest (outside a coat) with ammo/ pistols consired to be 'technically open carry?"

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