Body Armor - The Case for Concealable Rifle Plates
Rifle rated armor systems in their modern form have existed since the 1960's but discussions about the use of such armor outside of the obvious are rare. With that in mind this article is about making the case for an often overlooked concept for the employment of rifle rated armor - as a realistically concealable armor solution.
Rifle rated armor is in use by military, law enforcement, and private/civilian users across the world but is typically only seen in use in an overt manner - generally thicker plates in overt load-bearing armor carriers. However, it is possible to conceal rifle plates, at least to some degree. Concealability in armor and the ability to stop rifle threats are not mutually exclusive traits.
The setup -
The ideal concealment setup for rifle armor should look much like the photo above - a totally slick carrier with minimalist construction and low-profile armor plates. Examples of such slick carriers are the pictured Extreme Concealment Carrier by Beez Combat Systems, the Slick by First Spear, or the Slick Plate Carrier by Ferro Concepts. These carriers do not have MOLLE webbing or any extraneous features that would make concealment difficult. They are the ultimate in minimal plate carrier design, and that is exactly the desired style of carrier for this purpose.
In regards to plates multi-curve is, in my personal opinion, a must. It may be possible to conceal single curve plates, but it isn't something I would choose to attempt and single curve plates will be at a minimum more difficult to conceal as they don't follow the bodies profile, meaning they're likely to stick out - particularly at the top and bottom.
Thickness is a critical factor. I would not recommend trying to conceal plates thicker than .65" inches and would target plates .55" thick or thinner for this use. That said there are multiple options in this category, most being in the category of Special Threat plates as the lack of a rating for larger cartridges such as .308 Winchester allows for the plates to be thinner. Such plates include the TenCate 2000SA, Hesco U210, Velocity Systems API-BZ, and a few others. All of these options measure around .55" in thickness and are multi-curve. They all stop common 7.62x39 and 5.56 threats, including M855.
When such plates are paired with a slick carrier like the ones mentioned above you have an easily concealable and fairly light weight rifle rated armor solution that stops a wide range of common threats in the United States.
Below is a photo of yours truly wearing the above pictured Beez carrier with a set of 8"x10" TenCate 2000SA armor plates inserted. For reference the pictured individual, me, is about 5' 9", 145 pounds. Weight and body shape will play into the concealability of rifle armor and as such must be taken into consideration.
Below, the plates and carrier and easily concealed under a standard (and properly fitted, not oversized) black colored Hot Weather Combat Coat. This is a single layer coat, with no batting or multiple fabric layers. No carrier printing is visible (no shoulder straps or cummerbund showing through), but light plate printing is visible around the top edges of the plate.
Below is the view from the back. No notable carrier or plate printing is seen but there is a slight "overhang effect" due to the coat hanging off the protruding back plate.
The view below is from the rear with the body in a slight hunch, showing what happens when the wearer is in a position other than upright. This position and others can result in noticeable printing - a watchful person would likely take notice of this but typical passersby on your average street would probably glaze over such details.
Clothing should be chosen accordingly for the amount of exposure and movement of the wearer in the given scenario.
The next set of photos are the same other than the coat has been replaced with a Woodland Combat Coat. As this is a patterned top this pattern can help break up any outlines created by a printing plate or carrier. M81 Woodland however is not ideal for this application as its pattern consists of fairly large sections. In its intended use as camouflage this helps prevent it from "blobbing up" or otherwise blending into a solid color at a distance but these "chunky" patterns are non-ideal for breaking up printing viewed from up close. However, its effect is still somewhat noticeable and a much more granular pattern would be even more effective.
Again, the jacket is properly fitted and not oversized.
Some additional notes are that "fluffy" clothing such as puff jackets or other winter clothing with thick batting can also aid in concealability. The point of the clothing being worn over the armor is to prevent it from being visible to the eye and to effectively break up any printing that may occur to further aid in preventing its notice. Thicker or oversized clothing can aid in concealing any armor worn under it.
Concealment of rifle rated body armor is very much a realistic possibility, but there are some limitations to keep in mind. That said a setup such the one described here is a solid option for those that have a need to remain covert while retaining the ability to stop rifle caliber threats, whether that be plainclothes officers, civilians, or others working in high threat areas who need covert protection from rifle threats.
Stay safe, stay informed, and don't forget to check out the rest of the blog.