Chest rig or plate carrier? In today’s high speed low drag military mentality, there’s much discussion on the pros and cons of both. There are countless reasons for consideration of either.
While putting together a battle-ready kit is solely up to the individual’s preference, it’s important active military personnel maintain their units standard procedures while assembling.
Specialized units usually have more flexibility when it comes to kit customization because their patrols, equipment, and overall purpose may differ from your standard infantry Company.
In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of both while keeping into consideration weight, durability, protection, mobility, cost, and capacity.
Table of Contents
- What is a chest rig?
- What is a Plate Carrier?
- Main Differences Between a Chest Rig And a Plate Carrier
- Chest Rig or Plate Carrier
- Key takeaways
What is a chest rig?
Like all military equipment, chest rigs have adapted and changed over time. A chest rig is a broad term for a non-armored, load-bearing piece of personal equipment.
Usually designed in the style of a vest, their basic functionality is to provide a platform to carry the three B’s (bullets, batteries, and band-aids). Most of the chest rigs produced today are implemented with the MOLLE system for ease of use and diversification.
Chest rigs are designed to be durable, yet lightweight. Your most basic rig will carry magazines, like a glorified war belt. More advanced rigs may be designed to carry a multitude of equipment.
Many companies offer different varieties and may even provide custom-built chest rigs to carry specific gear.
What is a Plate Carrier?
Plate carriers are a piece of personal equipment that perform literally their name, they carry plates. These plates are called trauma plates, ballistic plates, armor plates, or bulletproof plates.
Plates come in a variety of ballistic grades and may protect the front, back, and sides of an individual. In addition, the majority of plate carriers are lined with soft armor. The soft armor itself will have its own ballistics grade and is commonly made of synthetic fibers, nylon, fiberglass, kevlar, vectran, or biosteel.
Like the chest rig, plate carriers commonly incorporate the MOLLE system and are customizable to carry the three B’s. Plate carriers are a standard issue nowadays for infantrymen across the U.S. Military Branches.
Check out our review on how to choose the best plate carrier!
Main Differences Between a Chest Rig And a Plate Carrier
Regardless of the task, there are six main differences to take into consideration while comparing plate carriers with chest rigs. Weight, durability, protection, mobility, cost, and capacity all differentiate between the two in their respective categories. Below, we’ll take a look at the six categories.
Even without the plates, the plate carrier will be substantially heavier than a chest rig. In combination with the soft armor, the plate carrier’s build quality adds additional weight to the overall design.
This is because carrying plates requires additional stitching and stronger materials. Because we are using stronger material, the durability also increases. During durability testing of the plate carriers, one of the main focuses is on plate retention.
Chest rigs do not have to take into account carrying ballistic plates. When it comes to weight and minimization, chest rigs work best. While searching for a chest rig, be sure to take into account the higher quality material tends to come with a heavier weight.
As far as durability we can retrace our steps with the weight. Plate carriers are designed for a heavier load, sustained use, military-grade capabilities, and days upon days of brutal use.
Well, at least that’s how it used to be. In today’s E-commerce market, there are many knock-offs and cheap variations that would have no respect in comparison to Government Contracted suppliers.
The majority of the cheaper brands are designed for airsoft or training purposes. Since we are military professionals, we should train how we fight. So using your combat rigs during training should be a top priority.
Make your mistakes during training, not while Lance Corporal Smuckately is unconscious and needs drug out from a hostile position. Most suppliers will offer customer reviews for their products and sites like this one are available to find highly rated rigs.
When considering between the two for protection, keep into account your general purpose. Are you just going out to the range to practice immediate action drills, or are you holding security at a FOB with known risk.
Chest rigs lose out in this category completely. Any equipment that is secured to your chest rig is the only protection it provided against ballistical objects including shrapnel from IEDs and such.
There may be limited protection against knives simply due to the added layer of fabric material, but this should not be counted on for any serious form of protection.
The plate carriers main purpose is to provide a platform for protective plates. Quality plate carriers will have soft armor for protection against sharp objects and blunting projectiles impact.
Each plate carrier will have its own soft armor ballistics grade. In general the higher the grade, the heavier the weight. Adding to the soft armor protection will be the plates themselves. Plates have different ballistic grades, weights, and sizes.
In traditional warfare, plates are provided by the military service branch. Plates need to be inspected on a regular basis and need to be removed from service if any defects exist, or if they have done their job and have been struck by a projectile. If you’re an armor or supplyman check the manufacturers recommendations for inspections and out-of-service specs.
First, let’s define mobility in Military terminology. Mobility refers to the ability of a combat unit, weapons system, or armed force to move toward a military objective.
With this definition and our topic, we will say that mobility is referring to an individual’s ability to locate, close with, and destroy an enemy by fire and maneuver. Speed is the first thing to come to mind.
The plate carriers will be heavier but offer you and your unit the protection needed after the initial sprint to cover. Chest rigs offering no protection may decimate an entire combat scenario if one individual is struck down because of an injury in the vital areas that plates protect. Not only is that individual out of the fight, but now his gear retention and body retention have to be addressed.
Small low-profile specialized units may have a SOP of a shallow grave, mark coordinates, and will later send in an extraction team. This leaves a mobility reduction factor at about Platoon or Company size level.
Leaving bodies in active combat areas also poses a huge risk. Booby traps, prepositioned firing positions, and bodily mutilation of the deceased have all been seen in nearly every war.
Remember in 2012 when Marine Snipers were Court Martialed for urinating on enemy KIA. This happened after the Marines observed these combatants mutilating and booby trapping other Marines bodies over a several day period during a body retention mission.
Mental demoralization affected the Marines professional judgment. This led to decreased support for the war effort by the general public. This is an example of how a few casualties can reduce an entire country’s mobility readiness.
In my personal opinion, during combat operations, plate carriers win the mobility award every time. For non-combat situations, we can give the chest rig some credit. The lighter weight alone provides advantages.
A con to some chest rigs will be how they are secured to your body. If not properly adjusted, chest rigs tend to swing with your motion causing unnatural body movements and causing the operator to become unbalanced.
Cost is one of the categories I’ll give to the chest rigs. Since there are so many variants of chest rigs, the price range is extreme. Some of the most basic low-grade rigs can be purchased for around $30 USD.
If you’re looking for a customizable mid-grade chest rig that will last, you’ll probably be in the $100+ range. If you’re looking for an everyday wear with mid-grade quality, you’ll be expecting to spend in the $250+ range. In this range you’ll have comfortable and durable shoulder straps and the rig will be extremely customizable if your missions differentiate day to day.
If you’re in the active military circle, there are individuals with the capabilities of preparing you a chest rig from scratch meeting your specific requirements.
Knowing a few of these companies, they tend to only cater to individuals that are confirmed to be in the military or have other government jobs including contractors. In other words, they probably won’t make one for your uncle Eddy with tin foil on his head.
The prices for these high-end chest rigs are up in the thousands. Luckily, plate carriers are generally issued to all infantry or related MOS’s. We could debate whether they are free, but they are not.
In 2018 the Marine Corps had a contract for 225,886 plate carriers for a whopping $62 million. That brings the individual cost to $274.47 per plate carrier acquired by the Marine Corps. Civilians can acquire the same quality for about the same price.
Low-grade airsoft plate carriers can be bought starting at around $50. Like the chest rigs, high-end specialized plate carriers run into the thousands.
Take a look at your overall purpose for buying a plate carrier or chest rig. Oftentimes, you can find them in army surplus stores, flea markets, and websites. Keep into account that if you come across used ballistic plates, not only could they be damaged, but they are serialized gear. Knowingly buying, selling, or trading serialized Government equipment is illegal.
The chest rig will win this category again. Taking into account stamina, wearing a chest rig without plates is much lighter, faster, and usually cooler. Your upper-mid to high-end chest rigs will have the same capacity capabilities as your best plate carriers minus the plate’s weight.
Chest Rig or Plate Carrier
Getting straight to the point, neither should be considered superior or inferior to the other. Their main purposes differentiate slightly enough to justify the means for both, in an ever-changing military environment.
The main purpose of a plate carrier is to provide a platform to carry ballistic plates, while the chest rig’s primary purpose is a platform for the three B’s. If this is your professional Life Style, consider having both.
Some operators even prefer to run a slick plate carrier with a chest rig over the top. A good quality chest rig will have the capability of being worn with or without a plate carrier underneath.
Also choosing between either can be very dependent on the task or operation at hand. Looking towards the future, as in the past body armor may become obsolete as new weapons or ammunition are developed. A hundred years from now our everyday plate carriers may be in museums, and our three B’s may be carried on robots.
I do believe in the future, chest rigs will have more spots available for stylists and writing utensils because of the way cyber warfare has been increasing. Having major capabilities of destroying military and civilian operations from the inside without any combat actions.
Train like you fight and fight like you train. If deciding to purchase a new plate carrier or chest rig, be sure to test it out before going into combat. Remember every individual is different and standard line Companies may have SOPs in place that limits customization.
Special unit operators understand that not everybody fights the same. In my experience with a small specialized unit, it benefited us by each having our own custom rig specific to our requirements. Such as, radio man, versus medic, versus designated marksman, versus pointman.
Once our kits were established in training, we got familiar with our own and each other’s kits. Memorizing the location and places of items of importance is critical in situations when you need access to something or need to destroy valuable assets in a timely manner.
It also benefits during night operations. You won’t have to use lights and won’t fumble around as much to find what you need. On multi-day operations, you may not always be wearing your kit. Try to be as educated as possible when setting up your kit. Minor details in combat situations do mean life or death.
Consider having your individual first aid kit and tourniquets in reach for both hands, such as in the small of your back. Some highly skilled operators like to have a magazine for both their primary and secondary weapons accessible to both arms in case one is injured in a fight.
Keep informed on new products, not only from your area of the world. Maintaining Worldly combat readiness depends on operating in all kinds of environments. Stay safe my friends.
Written by Danny Young
Danny Young is a Veteran to the United States Marine Corps where he served honorably between 2010 and 2017. He was meritoriously promoted to CPL and ended his career as a SGT in a small specialized infantry unit at Battalion level operations. Read bio!