Why is gear important?
Before I get started, I should warn that although I have given my best attempt at toning down the massive levels of technicality and physics in the topic of armor, it is still confusing on multiple levels to the entry level enthusiast. If at any time you are wondering how important it is to really know and understand material such as this, I try to be reminded of the importance of the Constitution and the spirit of the law behind the 2nd Amendment.
The rights and freedoms mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are not mentioned as something that requires or needs a law to be enforced. These rights are described as being “inalienable” rights. The exact definition of inalienable is “unable to be given away”.
To simply give away your right to life, your right to defend yourself, or your right to have and raise a family is realistically impossible. That is why the founding fathers spent so much time emphasizing their willingness to FIGHT for their rights. The freedoms we enjoy should be viewed as a very part of our lives and our existence, not something that can just be “revoked” or “granted” because we somehow earned or failed to achieve them.
"The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." -Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774.
Doo dee doo dee doo… I’m gonna get back to work. Don’t delete my notes here -- “defending rights, protecting your own life from a brigand, protecting people you value from harm, using lethal means to protect any and all the above, using lethal force to unlawfully harm people, using non-lethal force to harm people, the police and military are not here to protect you; they’re here to arrest lawbreakers. There’s a difference between coincidence and causality -- it’s because there’s a lawbreaker that the police stopped a man from harming you. It's a coincidence that they stopped him right before he harmed you.
Prager U publishes a great video on the topic of importance of this topic, but no one has really elaborated on the importance of the other components which fall under the 2nd Amendment rights of ownership.
In the 1770s, there was no body armor, tanks, or anything close to the classes of warfare we have today. Yet the spirit of the law provides that the citizenry ought to be able to possess whatever the government does in order to match the force of what could be a tyrannical government. You will find that "arms" means more than just "weaponry". In order to stand up against such tyrannical governments they will utilize fully kitted personnel with an array of equipment which will leave the citizenry at a disadvantage.
When a tyrannical government comes to oppress its citizens, they will come prepared. It is in accordance with the 2nd Amendment that the citizens have an opportunity to be prepared also.
The Second Amendment desires to have an equal matching force of options therefore it can be taken to the extreme that if the government owns a tank I should be able to own a tank.
"That's not safe!" you may think to yourself, but remember what the founding fathers said about the importance to keeping liberty:
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin Franklin
Therefore, to match the level of the government, armor is of great importance in supporting the Second Amendment. In order to stand a chance and live according to the 2nd amendment, equivalent training and equivalent gear are on par with the level of importance of equivalent firepower.
Is it expensive? Of course quality life saving equipment and weaponry is. But over time, all these things can be accumulated easily. The key is to start somewhere, and that’s where this guide comes in.
Pro gun vs pro 2A
An overlooked and entirely vital part of a kit is the duty belt. Purchasing a chest rig or plate carrier before a proper belt is another example of putting the cart before the horse. Belts are more low profile, and multipurpose, and are recommended baseline of gear before a rig or carrier. The modern standard is the Two-Piece belt, consisting of a loop velcro portion to go through the belt loops, and the hook velcro portion, to which you mount your gear, stick to the inner belt, and cobra buckle together. This system gets rid of belt shift, and helps distribute the load evenly with thick and stiff nylon. Many companies make quality two piece belts and accessories.
Examples of some main differences between them:
Certain brands make stiffer inner and outer belts, which helps with load bearing capabilities.
There are companies who put money into how adjustable the belt system is, and it shows.
For profiling. More covert or overt profiling for different functions, discretionary, prominent placement for ease of use, or simply minimalistic and compact for ease of movement.
The width of the nylon belt can affect things like mag pouch compatibility or holster compatibility. The typical width I have seen is 1.75”, to fit holsters and holster mounts designed with a 2” slot for the belt. More width usually equals better load bearing support.
Model vary in belts with padding and belts without. Depending on your needs for profiling, you may not be able to add the small level of comfort that padded belts contribute with their larger and more bulkier sizes.
- Mounting systems
There are mounting accessories for slick belts without webbing, as well as belts with Molle (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) webbing stitched along the exterior of others. Some belt retailers offer “panels” or small sections of webbing for certain pouches or object which require webbing, leaving the rest of the belt slick. Some prefer Molle; I particularly prefer the slick nylon belt as to have more freedom of placement and position. But the drawback is that my pouches and equipment require compatibility or further modification/accessorization in order to securely mount to the slick belt.
- Closure type
Some belts use polymer buckles, others metal cobra buckles. There are many more, but I vouch entirely for the metal cobra buckle. By design, it will not disconnect or release under tension, adding to its sturdiness and reliability to carry its load on your waist.
Expect to pay 100 to 200 dollars on the primary market for a well-constructed belt. Second-hand gear depreciates in value much more than used guns so if you're short on cash but have a lot of time on your hands, searching through the classified section of your local gun forum or TacSwap can be pretty fruitful.
AWS (Advanced Warfighting Solutions)
Ronin Tactics (Their belts actually manufactured by AWS for Ronin)
For more information on belts:
Pictured Above: AWS Light Assault Belt (LAB), bare ($60) - https://www.awsin.com/products.asp?id=164
Pictured Below: Ronin model, highly modified (Belt alone, $200+) - https://www.ronintactics.com/store/c12/Belts.html
Before continuing, take a moment to read the Load Bearing Equipment, Clothing, and Armor guide if you haven't already done so, I'm going to be skipping over a lot of the material already covered in the Plate Carrier and Chest Rig section of that guide for the sake of brevity.
Done reading? Good. It is generally agreed upon by experts that you should acquire ballistic plates first. Here is what you need to know to start shopping for your own set of plates.
I can get really nerdy with the details that make up quality, so I will stash them at the end of this section.
Plate Shape: Cut & Curvature
Cut: The shape or outline of a plate is referred to as the “cut.”
Swimmers Cut vs Shooters Cut
The terms have become relatively interchangeable depending on manufacturer. Generally, it means there has been a profile change in width. Whether that width reduction is mid plate (typically swimmers) or high on the plate (typically shooters; again, depending on manufacturer) its purpose is to gain more ability for movement in the shoulders' rotary radius which, in turn, sacrifices some frontal strike face surface area.
In short, a smaller shield for easier movement.
Sometimes a large swimmer’s plate can fit in a medium sapi cut plate carrier and vice versa.
Pictured Above: A shooter's cut plate manufactured by Hesco
Pictured Below: A swimmer's cut plate
Small Arms Protective Inserts. This is the "mil-spec" cut. They tend to be slightly taller, with no width sacrificing, which means the correct size is even more stressed and important, lest your plate be constantly in the way of your rifle stock, impacting the rifle's seat in your shoulder pocket, which affects your stock weld, which affects your speed on getting your sight picture correct and on target, which means you're slower and clumsier in a gunfight. It will impede you if too big, and not protect your vitals if too small.
In short, a bigger and proper shield:
Picture Above: A set of SAPI cut plates
With armor plates, more is not always more.
The human torso requires curvature of any garment or object in order for that worn item to fit properly. And yet, manufacturers produce flat plates, single curve plates, and multicurve plates. Each level adds effort in the production process, which translates to higher cost. It also has a huge performance value. Multi curve plates will make heavier options far more bearable. Compromise could be acceptable if on a severe budget and/or if plates are under 6lbs a piece, as weight could compensate in some manner. See the “plate quality” section below for additional information.
There are almost an infinite number of metrics by which the quality of a plate can be measured, but the primary considerations for you as the end user should be:
Origin of make
Keep in mind that no plate can excel in every single one of these areas, and that exceptional performance in one area often comes at the cost of performance in another.
Most modern ballistic armor material can be categroized into one of four categories: steel, kevlar, UHMWPE, (Ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyetherene) and ceramic. Each has tradeoffs, and some are worse than others. Some designs use multiple of these materials in their design to increase certain efficiencies. For example, ceramic is always used in conjunction with a kevlar “soft armor” backer, in order to properly perform as designed.
The cheapest and arguably worst of the materials. Armor utilizing steel is generally much heavier than designs using other materials. However, steel can be highly durable, and thus more reusable. Steel can retain it's base level of effectiveness even after repeated impacts while armor made of higher quality materials are generally considered no longer effective after a few impacts. With steel, you are trading mobility and weight for durability. In short, you are trading your ability to move away from an area where you are getting shot for the ability to get shot more. Not a good trade-off.
If the durability (and cheaper cost) still seems appealing to you, consider that bullets fired at steel armor have a tendency to deflect, richochet, and spall. This means that the plate can be more of a hazard than a safety measure, should your ally beside you get hit by the ricochet that was meant for you, or should you suffer a jugular injury due to spall that deflected upwards towards your throat. Fitness of the plate can help or hinder this based on gut size, primarily. A heavier individual with a more prominent gut will have a plate angled toward his neck and head, encouraging ricochet and spall toward said areas.
Companies have made and marketed heavily “anti-spall coatings” but results have been too varied for most people to trust entirely. More on popular steel: https://www.reddit.com/r/tacticalgear/comments/er513n/a_serious_discussion_on_ar500_and_steel_body_armor/fg4lmbp/?context=3
Simply a type of fabric that is laminated (glued) and pressed together in layers to become a solid object, or left soft in order to serve less stiff purposes. Kevlar works very well on lower velocity projectiles, like most pistol and shotgun ammunition. “Soft armor” is merely kevlar layers, and most ballistic helmets are laminated kevlar shells.
is a mouthful I refer to as simply ultra dense plastic. It IS a plastic. It's one of the most expensive materials because it is highly resistant to most rounds that are not designed to be armor penetrating, and is half the weight of it’s ceramic competitors. It’s new tech, and in high demand, and therefore, the Tesla luxury of modern armor materials.
The above video should have an accompanying note: the round used was a soft metal that is absolutely not armor piercing in design. Also, should a human have been subjugated to such conditions, the shock of impact would definitely cause internal injury and should be lethal anyway. The video is just a testament to the viability of the plastic.
The gold standard of typical high performance body armor. Scientifically, it is a hard material, and the harder a material, the more brittle it is. It’s hardness allows it to face the kinetic energy of an incoming bullet, and its brittleness causes it to transfer the energy across itself, cracking so that it destroys itself with the force of the round, instead of letting all the energy pass through. Whatever slowed fragments make their way through the ceramic strike face are to be caught by a soft armor backer made of kevlar. There are many ratings which designs and ballistic ratings within the ratio and quality of ceramic material. This is due to the plethora of ammunition in production today, with different materials, velocities, and terminal ballistic designs to bypass certain armors. Ratings vary through level IIIA, Level III, III+, III++, Special Threat, and level IV. (III+ and III++ are not NIJ ratings)
A con about ceramics is that they are “used up” after being shot a certain amount, which all depends on the design science and tech behind each plate, but we will get to that later. This is accepted as the safest armor, completely negating the widest array of ammunition, depending on the model.
Now that we are out of one of the biggest factors, we can take a breather with a simple one. Simply put, the more design tech put into a plate in terms of weight reduction, the more the value of the plate. The difference in value can be staggering between a lightweight ceramic plate and a not-so-light ceramic plate of the same ballistic rating.
A deep nerdy study of weight and armor and its impact on survivability https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6150857-Paying-for-Weight-in-Blood-MORS-Brief-Capt.html#document/p1
The same goes for thickness, nearly the same as weight, but both more simple and more complex at the same time. Plate thickness is always within 1.25 inches, so given such a small window, differences aren’t as dramatically noticeable as weight but both may play big parts in their “counterparts”.
Typically, the National Institute of Justice (rating levels IIa, II, IIIa, III, and IV) sets out a rigorous set of testing standards that are to be maintained through each batch of produced plates, keeping the safety of the consumer as a priority. However, NIJ ratings need not be followed in order to sell a ballistic plate, which is why it’s very important to keep in mind who the manufacturer is of the product, and consequently how your life may very well be at risk by wearing certain plates. This makes a company’s reputation exponentially more important than other industries. Certain car manufacturers may make cars that won’t drive well and although potentially hazardous, is not guaranteed to end up in loss of life., But if an armor manufacturer makes plates that don’t stop bullets well…. Loss of life is all but certain when the product fails. Don’t risk it; buy from reputable sources.
NIJ reference: https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/body-armor-performance-standards
Single curve plates are dramatically cheaper than multicurve plates, and no curve plates are even cheaper! However, the fewer the curves, the less comfortable, properly fitting, and ergonomic the plate is. No curve / flat plates are highly discouraged for wearing purposes. Even between single and multi curve plates, if worn for more than 15 minutes, the difference is immediately recognized. The ergonomics and fit can drastically hinder comfortable and natural movement and protection from angles, and the tech and time it takes to form a well made multi curve plate costs the manufacturer, which in turn costs the consumer.
Origin of make
Something unique, but also common sense, about the armor industry in the modern age, is that a 3rd world product and a 1st world product are incredibly different. By and large, US made armor is superior to chinese made armor, and there aren’t too many inbetween. If a plate is made in the US, they will proudly market it. Others may mimic the advertisement but will never outright claim it. It’s a legal word game, and there is value in armor made in the New World. Pay close attention to this as you shop.
Because the science of armor is so complex, small changes to design can have noticeable impact in performance. From density of a material, to ribbing or grooves in a plate to localize damage and protect the rest of the strike face (known as “multihit” plates), to compounding layers of other materials for desired effects, tech and designs are always changing and trying to break the current barriers on the market. There is a lot that goes into each product, and all should be weighed separately on the scale of many factors. Every aspect has value, and the values add up quickly.
A Note On Price
At the end of the day, the truth is that a better plate costs more. Be wary of budget / cheaply marketed plates. Chances are, they aren’t up to par with the modern standard. A beginners set of Lvl IV plates are around $500, but could cost you up to 2 grand for the best rated, lightest, thinnest, most badass product in the market. Know your needs, and watch for deals. But you get what you pay for.
Pro-tip: There are many known contacts who “deal” in plates, which means they have a business account and the knowhow on how to acquire the best deals within their chosen manufacturer for whom to distribute. Ask around.
An additional, arguably better written armor guide: https://www.reddit.com/r/QualityTacticalGear/comments/cmkton/armor_purchasing_guide/
Quick deals on plates
The options below are an inexpensive, slightly heavy option, but are well rated in terms of reliability. The only difference is the "cut" of the plate which means the surface area's shape and a miniscule weight impact. Plate bags may be specifically shaped for different cuts, so keep that in mind while shopping around. Always compare dimensions of plate carriers plate bag to the size of your plates for a correct fit, that they may sit correctly on your body to do its job well.
Swimmer plates: https://www.hoplitearmor.com/products/two-swimmer-plates-10x12-triple-curve-level-iv-stand-alone
SAPI plates: https://www.hoplitearmor.com/collections/sapi-plates-level-iv/products/two-sapi-plate-nij-level-iv
Now, for a Plate Carrier. Things to consider:
Strap preference: Does it have a quick disconnect/emergency doffing system? Do I like wide straps or narrow? Do I like the straps to sit wide on my shoulders of more centered and closer to the neck? What angle do the straps utilize to anchor to the plate bag?
Overt or Covert: Do I want to make certain sacrifices in features in order to wear this beneath clothing? How much webbing real estate do I intend to have and use?
Budget: Although the listed options are generally entry level price, do I have more money I am willing to spend to get a better product than the entry level options listed below, or do I want multiple carriers and therefore should invest in the less expensive models?
Accessories: How many features does a carrier come with stock and how much am I willing to invest in it to modify it to fit my needs?
Quality Entry Level Carriers
Models are many, and found in many places, in many colors and sizes, but I will rate some of the most popular bang-for-your-buck options below.
Here is another list of ratings from another group for a second opinion, along with another equipment guide in the same list: https://www.reddit.com/r/QualityTacticalGear/comments/c6sao4/equipment_purchasing_guide/
Ferro Concepts Slickster: MSRP - $150
Capable of some overt and covert use. Swift clip placard recommended for magazine mounting, which nearly evens out the lower price of the carrier to its competitors. Limited load bearing capability, and modifications to increase capacity add much cost. If more than magazines, armor, radio, and Medical are needed, other options will serve you better.
https://www.skdtac.com/Ferro-Concepts-The-Slickster-p/fer.107.htm - Sale below MSRP!
Picture Above: unmodified Slickster
Pictured Above: Slickster, moderately modified (Advanced slickster with Ferro Concepts components)
Crye JPC 1.0: MSRP - $220
Lightweight go-to option. Comes with an integrated tri-mag pouch system. Skeletal cummerbunds. (2.0 option available for placard use, about $60-70 and quick doffing systems standard.)
Pictured Above: Crye JPC, unmodified (Ranger Green)
Pictured Below, slightly modified JPC (Multicam)
First Spear STT: MSRP - $200
Longer torso option. Comes with their patented quick release “tubes”. Laser cut webbing.
Pictured Above: First Spear STT (Multicam), unmodified
Velocity Systems/Mayflower APC: MSRP: $ 250
Well put together at a competitive price.
Pictured Above: Velocity Systems Mayflower APC
Pictured Below: Mayflower APC, modified (with Spiritus Systems Micro Fight and SACK)
Esstac Daeodon - MSRP: 250
Esstac makes great gear, from pouches to PCs. Highly customizable starting from the website.
Higher Price Point Carriers (Over $300)
LBT 6094 (outdated)
Ferro Concepts FCPC V5
Crye Precision AVS
Crye Precision CPC
Velocity Systems Scarab
Spiritus Systems LV119
First spear Strandhogg
Color choice isn’t worth the amount of stress given by some people, but I would recommend staying away from certain patterns and colors in general. Solid neutral colors are a perfectly good choice for a kit and can work as well as camouflage with added benefits (Black being an exception). The current standard colors are:
Dull greens: Olive Drab, Foliage Green, Ranger Green
Tans and browns: Coyote brown, Khaki tan, Flat Dark Earth
A certain range of greys: MAS gray at the top. (Beware of “blue greys,” e.g. Wolf Gray, which do not blend well even in entirely urban environments. Here is a good article on greys: https://www.milspecmonkey.com/articles-page/63-articles/454-a-real-urban-grey
Examples of certain colors below
To give a feel for a few different shades of nylon (Camo 483 is close to Ranger Green)
Ranger green kits work well enough in browner environments (above) as well as more lush green ones. (below)
Black is an exception because it stands out, and science behind how the brain uses light to identify things does not leave black in a good standing as a utilizable color. No it doesn’t blend in better in the dark, it provides contrast between yourself decked out in black, and the natural colors around you as a more distinguishable silhouette. It also can be reflective of infrared/UV light against a night vision using threat. Cheaper materials from budget brands also have this effect:
In addition to black nylons, most cheaper nylons from budget manufacturers (Condor, Blackhawk, 5.11, or airsoft brands) have this similar effect.
Camouflage patterns are useful, but can be very restricting. Certain patterns can be too niche and will stick out if not in the intended environment, while others could really enhance your efforts to remain undetected. Similar to black, if you are running down the street and don’t want to be immediately noticed, a camouflage pattern sticks out in those settings. That said, take note of a pattern’s primary colors (“base”) which become apparent from a distance where the details of the pattern are blended into a general shade.
As for specific patterns, the list is endless, but I can comment on the common ones:
Modern standards, and you have seen plenty of it in this document. It tends to work well in lush or arid environments, having a browner base with green features.(MC also has greener or browner varients. ie. Tropic and Arid)
(Above) Multicam, standard --- (Below) Mulicam tropic (left) and CADPAT(right)
- UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern)
The army’s now retired pattern. It is a blue grey, which are the greys to stay away from. Scientifically it’s very ineffective at blending in to most any environment, and that is part of the reason the army has retired it as the official pattern.
Pictured Above: UCP standard
That said, it is found everywhere and for cheap, and there are projects who dye the pattern to be a more useful shade, which I find genius.
There's a reason every shooting range requires some form of eye protection. While a ANSI Z87+ rating is good, a military grade rating of MIL-PRF-31013 is even better (the mil rating is approximately 4 times that of the civilian one.
Secondary to eyepro, gloves are used very often in shooting. Usually for one of the following reasons, heat management, grip, or cold weather.
3rd Line Gear
Pack size is measured in Litres, a 30L-40L pack is the size of your typical jansport or medium ALICE pack and is big enough to get you through a few nights in relative comfort. 60L is a good middle ground that will let you carry enough tacticool shit and sustainment gear to get you through a week. 80L to 100L rucks allow you to become a pack mule on every level but physical.
If you are in the mil, mission essential equipment and kit requirements will have an impact on the size of pack you need. Talk to guys in your unit who know.
How much weight is too much? Depends on the person and their conditioning. A pack that feels light for the first few hours can grind you down over the course of a week. Usually someone who's untrained can get up to 30-40 lbs dry weight (weight of pack sans food/water) before it starts to noticeably slow them down. Consider routinely going through your pack and cutting out shit you never use, or swapping heavy shit for a lighter piece of gear that accomplishes the same task. Infantry in the military are made to carry 80+ lbs in their pack plus full battle rattle and manage it, but their knees wind up shot to shit by the time they hit their mid 30's. Better to keep your pack light if you have the option.
Another thing to keep in mind is comfort, try to get a 60/40 ratio of weight between your hips and shoulders by adjusting the straps. By walking around with the hipbelt unbuckled you will have the weight of the pack resting entirely on your shoulders, which will suck if you're carrying anything heavy. Put on all your gear and then put on your pack and walk around, identify anything on your LBE or armour that interferes with your ruck and fix it as needed before you need to go on a week long trip and suffer from it. I prefer to keep my beltline clear aside from a knife (in a sheath that drops it below my hipbelt) and mount any pouches I need to the hipbelt of the ruck for comfort.
As far as design goes, internal frame unless you are using an 80 Liter + backpack and need to support a ton of weight, in which case you are probably carrying too much shit. Also a rain cover is a must have.
It's important not to fuck your center of balance when packing. Heaviest equipment goes in the middle of the pack against your body, soft and light gear like your sleeping bag clothing etc. goes at the bottom of the pack. Sleeping bag can be gypsy camped underneath your pack if it is too bulky or you just need the extra space, but having it inside the pack is preferred. Important gear you need to access during the day (ammo, snacks, water, tools, medical) should be in the external pockets of the pack, attached to a pouch on the hipbelt or at the top of the pack.
Some pack companies:
Active hearing protection is highly recommended as you can communicate with those around you. The top two makers of active hearing protections are Peltors (manufactured by 3M) and Sordins (manufactured by MSA).
Both systems are battery powered, audio amplifying, loud noise dampening (over a certain decibel level)
Although Sordins tend to run cheaper (not including radios, Push-To-Talk devices, and adapters), there is a considerable amount of feedback indicating that Peltor’s models are superior in fit and sound quality.
On a cheaper note, many people have used the Impact Sport by Howard Leigh. They are considerably cheaper (around $50). There are several differences compared to military headsets. First, the headset cuts off noise at a certain decibel level, instead of audio compression used by Peltors (and presumably sordins). Second, it is not designed for use with radios, although there is a built in 3.5mm jack to input audio.
Pictured to the Right: Peltors Comtac IIIs
Pictured to the Left: MSA Sordins
Please refer to the following for more CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear)
I will be editing this constantly. Please notify me at any time and I will be happy to discuss and correct the information over time.