Gearing Up - How to Choose Major Equipment Like Plate Carriers and Chest Rigs

Plate carriers, load bearing vests, chest rigs, etc. All things I consider "base equipment", meaning the base upon which you build a particular loadout. It can be as simple as a chest rig with 2 rifle mags an an IFAK, or a PC with radio, hydration, 6 rifle mags, IFAK, armor appliques, chem lights, a small dog, IR reflective patches, dump pouch, some junk you pulled out of the big bin in the corner, an assault pack, and the kitchen sink. 

You get the picture. There is a wide array of equipment combinations and not all of them are suitable for a particular use or are even good ideas at all. That said you have to know how to pick the right equipment for the right scenario, or you'll be left flailing with inadequate gear. 

A simple, slick plate only carrier vs a much more complex combination carrier covered in MOLLE. Both are suitable choices in their own right, but scenario will dictate which is used.

My process, and the one I walk people through when they ask for advice, is this:

  • Determine use scenario (building breaching, patrol, overt or covert, home defense, etc.)

  • Determine equipment needs (MOLLE/slick, hydration ready, camo/color, comms routing, etc.)

  • Determine budget, the ultimate limiting factorWith use scenario, equipment needs, and budget determined find all available options that fit your requirements

  • Narrow list according to specifics - comfort, cost vs. quality, materials, etc. Final pick should fill requirements as best as possible within budget

For example, let's say a guy named Bob needs to pick some gear. Bob should start by determining his use scenario. In this case Bob is a police officer on an entry team. His job includes breaching buildings, searching them, and dealing with high threat scenarios in an urban environment. 

Given his task Bobs equipment needs are likely to be that he needs an armor carrier with the ability to take both soft armor inserts and rifle plates. He may also want up-armor appliques like a ballistic collar, deltoid protection, etc. since his job entails close quarters scenarios with hostile actors in which attacks can come from nearly any angle with either firearms or melee weapons, possibly explosives depending on exact scenario. Bob also needs to carry a radio for team comms and should have an IFAK as well. In addition he likely wants to carry a couple rifle magazines at least, possibly magazines for his side arm as well should he bring one. 

Bobs job as a police officer means he has to meet uniform requirements set by his department. We will assume Bobs department requires the use of black equipment, and as such anything Bob sets out to buy must be available in black.

Now Bob needs a budget. We will assume a total budget of $800 for his equipment, with armor being department issue and as such not paid for by Bob. 

With the above information Bob can now begin his search. For brevity's sake we're going to cut straight to Bob having completed his search, and he now has to narrow his selection. 

For the base vest Bob has found - 

  • First Spear Siege-R

  • Safariland Titan Assault Vest

  • Beez Combat Systems BALCS SWAT

  • Shellback Banshee plate carrier

Now Bob must narrow his options to one. 

The First Spear Siege-R is a premium quality carrier and accepts both SAPI size rifle plates and BALCS cut soft armor. This gives Bob the ability to have rifle plates as well as decent soft armor coverage that extends past the plates. However, it is a very expensive carrier at $665. This doesn't leave Bob with much left over for the rest of his gear. It also isn't purpose built to add up-armor appliques. 

The Safariland Titan Assault Vest is another expensive set up, more so than the Siege-R. At $720 it leaves Bob with essentially nothing left over. However, it is purpose built for up-armor appliques and fits Bobs other requirements. 

The Beez Combat Systems BALCS SWAT carrier is a much more affordable option at $427 for a Large carrier in black with all applique carriers (collar, throat, groin, deltoid) selected. It's less sophisticated than the above two carriers and built more lightly, but fits all of Bobs needs and does so for less money. 

The Shellback Banshee is a fairly standard plate carrier, made to carry rifle plates and soft cummerbund armor. It won't offer as much armor coverage as any of the options above but does offer some and does so for only $217. It has MOLLE for Bobs other gear, comes in black, and can carry both rifle plates and limited soft armor. However, it is not purpose built for adding up armor appliques. 

For simplicity's sake we'll disregard the issue of what armor his department issues and assume it's appropriate for any of these carriers. We will also assume Bob has indeed opted for having up-armor appliques. Given this, Bobs options are the Titan Assault vest or BALCS SWAT vest. Given Bobs budget it would be best to choose the BALCS SWAT vest as it will allow for $373 to be left over to purchase a good IFAK pouch, radio pouch, and whatever else Bob needs. Bob now has an armor carrier that gives him both good soft armor coverage and the ability to wear rifle plates plus up-armor appliques. The vest has enough MOLLE space for all of Bobs other gear, and it comes in black. 

That was only one scenario and a fairly simple, limited scenario at that. In addition, some considerations like LEO discount, vest comfort, etc. were left out for the sake of simplicity but it should give you an idea of how the procurement process I outlined at the beginning should work. This process can be applied to the purchase of most equipment, not just vests or plate carriers, with minor modifications depending on the type of equipment. 

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