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Best Budget Plate Carriers for the Money: Top 5 Minimalist Picks

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The tactical gear market seems to grow every day, with new brands and products giving users virtually endless options. This can sometimes make it overwhelming for people to commit to an item.

In specific order, we have selected five of the top budget plate carriers currently on the market.

Best Budget Plate Carriers

#ImageProductScoreBrowse
1RTS Tactical Premium Plate CarrierRTS TACTICAL PREMIUM PLATE CARRIER9.5check price
2SHELLBACK TACTICAL RAMPAGE 2.0 PLATE CARRIERSHELLBACK TACTICAL RAMPAGE 2.0 PLATE CARRIER9check price
3AR500 Armor Testudo Lite Plate CarrierAR500 ARMOR TESTUDO LITE PLATE CARRIER9check price
4Condor Defender Plate CarrierCONDOR DEFENDER PLATE CARRIER8.5check price
55.11 TACTICAL PRIME PLATE CARRIER5.11 TACTICAL PRIME COMBAT VEST8check price

What to Look for When Buying Affordable Plate Carriers?

There are so many considerations you will need to consider when choosing an affordable plate carrier. Things like the quality of material used, comfort, features, design, durability, and more are all things that matter.

The following are crucial considerations in choosing the best plate carrier for the mission at hand:

  • Material Quality – The quality of material used in the plate carrier is of vital importance. You need something rugged, strong, forgiving, comfortable, and durable to last the length of the mission. It’s a good idea to go with a material that has already been tested and used in the field for years. Strong nylon is the way to go.
  • Durability – Durability is one of those things you need to know before you buy a tactical solution. Go with a great company that has a history of producing durable plate carriers and other gear. Read the reviews before you buy. Ask friends in person and online what they think.
  • Webbing – The type of PALS/MOLLE a plate carrier has can make or break the deal. Do you need a specific type of webbing for your pouches, or will MOLLE cover it? Do you want traditional MOLLE, or laser cut MOLLE? Do you need loop material on top of the webbing or not?
  • Design – You’ll need to choose a plate carrier design that allows you to add other gear you want to use like a battle belt. Some plate carriers can fit small or full-size side plates. Some attach to battle belts to take up some of the load.
  • Cummerbund – A cummerbund can add comfort, storage space, and stability to your rig. A variety of attachments and functionality are offered. Lately, rigidity and comfort are what people in the field are insisting on.
  • Comfort – Will you be on long tactical missions that last days? Weeks? Is it possible that you’ll be out there taking fire for weeks on end? Comfort and safety are going to be prime concerns if the mission is long-term. On short-term missions, you might decide you can put up with some discomfort if you’d rather carry heavier gear.
  • Price – Often users must buy their own gear or upgraded gear out of their hard-earned income. How can you be guaranteed this product is worth your money? Why is this product so expensive or inexpensive? How can you be sure this item will stand up to your use case?

Plate carriers are a mission essential piece of gear for any operator, regardless of civilian or warfighting application. This piece of gear must be able to accommodate a variety of gear, configurations, and mission demands.

Our review of the following products helps buyers understand the differences between each option.

1. RTS Tactical Premium Plate Carrier

RTS Tactical Premium Plate Carrier
RTS Tactical Premium Plate Carrier

The RTS Tactical Premium Plate Carrier is a product RTS has had positive feedback from military, first responders, law enforcement, as well as responsibly armed citizens. This carrier boasts a ton of features, allowing it to be easily configured for different missions. It does follow a similar recipe to other carriers on the market, which makes it easy for buyers to compare it against other options.

Key Features:

  • 500D Mil‑Spec Cordura and advanced technologies are used to form an industry leading affordable plate carrier system.
  • This carrier is said to be widely used by first responders, law enforcement, and civilians.
  • The RTS Tactical Premium Plate Carrier is widely endorsed by professional organizations.

Material Quality:

500D Mil‑Spec Cordura is used in this carrier’s construction. This in conjunction with quality stitched MOLLE webbing and hook and loop (Velcro) make this carrier similar in quality to other carriers found at this cheaper price point.

Durability:

Using industry standard materials and what also appears to a be a conventional configuration, this carrier can withstand regular duty use and is backed by a solid warranty.

Webbing:

Standard MOLLE webbing covers most of this carrier system, allowing users to reconfigure their loadout for different missions, as well as be able to carry everything in a convenient but secure manner. The webbing is double stitched to ensure rigid strength and long-term durability.

Design:

This carrier follows a very conventional layout and meets the expectations of a plate carrier which is priced affordably but also designed to handle regular hard use. The system can be used with or without a cummerbund, adding a lot of value and flexibility to users not always found in a budget tier carrier. This carrier easily accommodates 10” x 12” ballistic plates.

Cummerbund:

Although designed to be used comfortably without a cummerbund, the RTS cummerbund is covered in MOLLE and allows for users to add additional pouches and gear to the carrier system. The cummerbund easily accepts side pouches and plates to upgrade the carrier’s armor protection. 

Comfort:

This budget carrier offers plenty of adjustment and will fit a variety of body shapes and sizes. The shoulder pads have built-in padding, allowing for the weight of plates and gear to be worn comfortably for hours at a time. Additionally, the internal faces have 3DX mesh pads which channel air between the carrier and body, increasing the long-term comfort of the carrier.

Best for:

This carrier is reviewed, supported, and heavily endorsed by domestic law enforcement, as well as civilian oriented groups. This budget carrier has clearly garnered a ton of support from police and first responders.

Pros

  • Good value for money
  • Well reviewed by professionals
  • Highly adjustable
  • Built and marketed more towards law enforcement/domestic duty more so than a military/hard use category
  • Lacks any major differences in design and construction

OUR RATING

We review our products on a 1 to 10 scale. The higher the score the better the product quality is in the performance category.

Performance CategoryRating Score
Durability9.5
Material Quality10
Comfort8.5
Design9
Webbing10
Cummerbund9.5
Overall Score9.5

2. Shellback Tactical Rampage 2.0 Plate Carrier

SHELLBACK TACTICAL RAMPAGE 2.0 PLATE CARRIER
SHELLBACK TACTICAL RAMPAGE 2.0 PLATE CARRIER

Shellback Tactical is a very well-known and reputable maker of soft goods. Their Rampage 2.0 plate carrier is priced very aggressively and allows users to save a few extra dollars, allowing for the purchase of additional kit and gear. The color options and built-in features provide this carrier with more versatility than is often found at this price point. This carrier also exhibits some subtle details which more seasoned users can appreciate.

Key Features:

  • The Rampage 2.0 is made in a variety of common duty colors, allowing for military, civilian, and law enforcement professionals to utilize this carrier for work.
  • A minimalist, low snag, simple profile enhanced using laser cut MOLLE.
  • The large Velcro face and buckles on the front panel allow for additional gear and mounting options not always available on budget plate carriers.

Material Quality:

  The Rampage 2.0 uses 500 Denier nylon in its construction. This, in conjunction with laser cut MOLLE, provides the carrier with a slicker and simpler profile, minimizing snag hazards and reducing the look and feel of the plate carrier system.

Durability:

  The denier nylon used in the construction of this carrier is a urethane coated fabric, and this material is used in a variety of durable outdoor goods like raincoats. This carrier also uses mesh and other nylons found in most other plate carriers to maintain or exceed industry standards.

Webbing:  

  The laser cut MOLLE webbing of this carrier is not unique, but it is not commonly found on budget carriers. The webbing has its merits, as it is essentially a full sheet that has been cut and sewn onto the face of the carrier.

Design:

  The Rampage 2.0 has more of a duty application in mind, based on the colors available, but also the way in which some of the finer details are incorporated. The padded shoulder straps have hook and loop loops around the straps to reinforce the straps, but also allow for communications or hydration equipment to be looped through. This carrier easily handles 10” x 12” plates. The clips on the front panel also allow for additional pouches to be easily attached.

Cummerbund:

  The cummerbund also utilizes laser cut MOLLE as well as 500 Denier nylon, forming a seamless transitional to any side mounted pouches and gear. The built-in mag pouches also promote the slim and minimal snag characteristics of this carrier. This is also another enhanced feature not normally found at this price point.

Comfort:

  Similar to most carriers on the market, the Rampage 2.0 uses a combination of mesh and padding to distribute weight across the user’s body, while promoting good airflow between the carrier and the body. The shoulder straps appear to be a bit bigger than some competitors, optimizing the carrier for extra weight and longer operations.

Best for: 

For the money, the Rampage 2.0 is a great option to consider for hard use or military applications. Also at such an affordable price point, the carrier would make a great choice for law enforcement and civilian applications. There are multiple subtle features built-in to the carrier which make longer use and military specific tasks a bit easier, given the smart engineering and design. Overall, this carrier is one of the best value propositions on the market. 

Pros

  • Extremely good value for money
  • Incorporates a lot of features not often found on a budget plate carrier
  • Designed for full spectrum use (civilian/police/military)
  • Reduced MOLLE slots
  • Cummerbund is not optimized for side plates

OUR RATING

We review our products on a 1 to 10 scale. The higher the score the better the product quality is in the performance category.

Performance CategoryRating Score
Durability9.5
Material Quality9.5
Comfort9
Design9
Webbing9.5
Cummerbund9
Overall Score9

COMPARE PRICES:

MerchantPrice
Optics Planet
LA Police Gearcheck price
Bulletproof Zonecheck price

3. AR500 Armor Testudo Lite Plate Carrier

AR500 Armor Testudo Lite Plate Carrier
AR500 Armor Testudo Lite Plate Carrier

Key Features:

  • This carrier can fit 10” x 12” plates or 11” x 14” plates.
  • The carrier incorporates standard features, but does so in a reduced manner, allowing for a simple but highly functional platform.

Material Quality:

  Using industry standard 500D nylon construction, this budget carrier allows for users to count on it for any number of years. The carrier also incorporates bar tacks (reinforced stitching) in critical areas to reinforce and strengthen the carrier.

Durability:

  The carrier appears to have the normal level of durability expected from more affordable carrier options. The Testudo Lite, being a lighter configuration, also inherently reduces the amount of gear and load which can be put upon the carrier, helping to balance its design and use in the field.

Webbing:  

  The amount of webbing on this carrier has been deliberately reduced to minimize the profile, weight, and bulk of the carrier. The Testudo Lite, however, does not lose much if any functionality as a result. The standard MOLLE nylon webbing still maintains a high level of functionality and coverage, allowing for gear to be placed in optimal locations. 

Design:

  The carrier has been made to specifically offer a reduced option in this line up. This additional skew saves user’s money, but also provides less duty-oriented users with enough real estate to mount items, but without excessive webbing everywhere else. A lot of companies are bringing simpler carriers to market, as the industry has seen a shift in demand by end users.

Cummerbund:

  The cummerbund is incorporated into the carrier’s construction and is fully adjustable. Like many other products, this cummerbund also has built-in side plate pouches, with MOLLE webbing on the exterior for mounting any extra gear.

Comfort:

  The shoulder straps appear to be a bit thinner, but still have padding providing users with comfort over the short to medium lengths of use. Additionally, the Testudo Lite has a reduced design which promotes a bit more mobility, not always guaranteed by other similar designs.)

Best for: 

The Testudo Lite Carrier is ideal for executive or non-duty-oriented roles. It can be forced into more dynamic situations and perform well, but the construction and design are not intended for regular dynamic use. This carrier would be useful for personnel in roles like police chief, or other key leader roles where they are located near the threat or danger, but not always the first one through the door.

Pros

  • Very good value for money
  • Optimized for lower profile/threat environments
  • Simple but highly functional design
  • Lacks the amount of MOLLE webbing found on similar carriers
  • Not optimized for daily dynamic use

OUR RATING

We review our products on a 1 to 10 scale. The higher the score the better the product quality is in the performance category.

Performance CategoryRating Score
Durability9
Material Quality9
Comfort9
Design9.5
Webbing9
Cummerbund9
Overall Score9

COMPARE PRICES:

MerchantPrice
Optics Planet
LA Police Gearcheck price

4. Condor Defender Plate Carrier

Condor Defender Plate Carrier
Condor Defender Plate Carrier

Key Features:

  • This affordable carrier features internal sleeves for both soft armor and plate front and back, a feature not always found at such an aggressive price point.
  • This carrier will fit plates up to a 10.75” x 13.25” footprint.

Material Quality:

  Condor does not come out and clearly state the core material used in this plate carrier but based on the layout and appearance of this carrier it is likely using a standard nylon-based material. This carrier does incorporate mesh and padding throughout the internal sections of the carrier. Although the materials are likely not brand name, they typically stand up to regular use.

Durability:

  This Condor carrier does not utilize brand name or premium materials; its durability must be looked upon with some skepticism. This carrier will likely support and stand up to some regular use, but is not optimized for daily hard use, as the stitching and materials are not optimized for this. However, given the proliferation of tactical materials in the industry each user should monitor the condition of their carrier during its lifespan, to ensure reliability.

Webbing:  

  This carrier uses a basic style of heavyweight nylon MOLLE webbing. The normal faces on the front, rear, and sides have standard rows of webbing. This carrier’s layout is generic and would easily fit a variety of pouches and gear. The drag handle also appears to be well made and serviceable.

Design:

  There is nothing innovative or drastically different with this carrier’s design, as it uses a lot of the features and layouts found on most basic plate carriers. The MOLLE is plentiful as it covers all the sides, but there are no additional Velcro sections or clips incorporated into the design.

Cummerbund:

  The cummerbund is fully adjustable and can accept side plate pouches. Just like with the rest of this carrier, the cummerbund is also of a basic design, allowing for gear to easily be attached to the MOLLE. 

Comfort:

  This Condor carrier uses padding on the interior faces of the carrier, as well as padded shoulder straps to provide a comfortable carrier fit. The basic mesh layout on the interior of the carrier also lends itself to decent airflow and comfort.

Best for:

The carrier would be best utilized in a civilian or secondary role. It does not incorporate a lot of the premium features a lot of other carriers do in the sub-$200.00 price point. The carrier can likely withstand some regular use, if it is not used heavily in dynamic operations. This carrier also uses very basic and traditional concepts in its layout and construction. Condor products typically are designed and made to a budget price point, and users should have realistic expectations of their products.

Pros

  • Good value for money
  • Incorporates basic elements for an affordable plate carrier
  • Questionable long-term durability
  • Lacks adjustability found on similar carriers

OUR RATING

We review our products on a 1 to 10 scale. The higher the score the better the product quality is in the performance category.

Performance CategoryRating Score
Durability8.5
Material Quality8
Comfort9
Design9.5
Webbing8
Cummerbund9
Overall Score8.5

COMPARE PRICES:

MerchantPrice
Optics Planet
LA Police Gearcheck price

5. 5.11 Tactical Prime Combat Vest

5.11 TACTICAL PRIME PLATE CARRIER
5.11 TACTICAL PRIME PLATE CARRIER

Key Features:

  • The minimalist design on this carrier offers users the maximum versatility within the smallest footprint of any budget carrier on this list or across most offerings.
  • The price point allows newer users or those on a tighter budget to purchase a carrier with a decent level of durability, enabling them to have access to a quality method of employing personal armor.
  • In the world of sewing MOLLE to every surface, there is something to be said about employing a simple slick sided carrier, which a garment or other web gear can then be placed over.

Material Quality:

  The Prime Combat Vest uses 500D nylon as the primary material, along with padded body panels. The vest also appears to incorporate reinforced stitching throughout. The straps and adjustments appear to be standard quality hook and loop. 

Durability:

  By no means is this carrier designed for regular duty use. This carrier would be very useful in regular low-profile areas or executive use in less permissive environments. In these less dynamic situations this carrier would excel as this would not wear the material out prematurely.

Webbing:  

  The vest deliberately lacks sewn in MOLLE webbing. This vest incorporates hook and loop (Velcro) along all the major faces and different pouches and web gear can be attached to or used in conjunction with this plate carrier.

Design:

  Overall this vest is designed to empower a user to easily wear and utilize body armor, but without the additional enhancements of integrated pouches and MOLLE. The simple configuration is designed to carry armor and nothing else.

Cummerbund:

  This carrier is not designed for use with a cummerbund, instead relying on two nylon straps and buckles to secure the lower portion of the carrier. If a user needed to, a cummerbund could be modified and incorporated into this carrier, but that is employing this product outside of its intended roles.

Comfort:

  Given that this vest is designed to carry just plates and minimal additional items, it would be a bit more comfortable due to that simple fact. The vest uses basic shoulder straps but incorporates padded section along the inside of the vest, to make the carrier more breathable and spread the weight of the plates out along the chest and back. Paired with the correct clothing, this carrier could be worn comfortably for extended periods of time.

Best for:

The 5.11 Combat Vest is best used in lower threat environments or where concealment of armor is better utilized. By maintaining a lower profile, the vest enables users to not attract as much attention as someone using a duty carrier setup, with magazines and gear looped all over a carrier. This vest is also ideal for low-profile civilian details or duty details, where discretion is key. With the use of such a vest, users should have additional gear and equipment staged nearby in a bag or vehicle to enhance their capabilities should their status be compromised.

Pros

  • Very good value for money
  • Optimized for lower profile environments and use
  • Can be used in conjunction with other web gear
  • Lacks built-in MOLLE webbing
  • Minimal comfort enhancements (lacks a lot of padding)

OUR RATING

We review our products on a 1 to 10 scale. The higher the score the better the product quality is in the performance category.

Performance CategoryRating Score
Durability7
Material Quality8
Comfort7
Design8.5
Webbing8
Cummerbund8
Overall Score8

COMPARE PRICES:

MerchantPrice
5.11 Tactical
Optics Planet
LA Police Gearcheck price
Amazoncheck price

Key Takeaways

These five affordable carriers are some of the best options in this price point. They all allow for a lot of reconfigurations and long-term uses.

Carriers in this tier also tend to get used more by civilians and law enforcement but can also be used by military members with good results.

When purchasing budget plate carriers, especially ones which have a major impact on an individual’s survivability, only the most tested and well-reviewed items should be considered.  

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