Body Armor/Plate Carrier Profile/Tactical Considerations!!

In the comments section to my Body Armor/Plate carrier post (followed up by supplentary posts on gear HERE and HERE), Matt Bracken left an excellent comment. I am reposting it here with the aim of kicking off a debate on the subject matter. Matt actually states that he’s not trying to start off a debate, but it seems like a topic for a mature discussion, which will hopefully inform peoples opinions and lead to the growth of tactical knowledge.

Matt Bracken’s comments are here:

I should have posted this reply here on this thread first, so here goes.

I have some reservations about hard plates for post SHTF. Soft concealed armor will be important for visiting the local shop-and-robs that might still be in business, but hard exterior body armor for civilians makes me wonder.

Modern soldiers wear it, but they are making a “deal” as soldiers. “I will follow orders and assault hard targets with people shooting at me. My chain of command will give me the best armor, and immediate advanced medical treatment in case I’m shot.”

Little of this applies to civilians pere or post SHTF. First, you should avoid assaulting hard targets unless absolutely forced to by circumstance. You are not Superman, and there is no field hospital a short helo ride away. As a post SHTF civilian, if you get shot with a rifle bullet one inch outside the hard plate, you are a dead man, and your family just lost their #1 defender and provider.

To the extent that a hard plate makes you feel “bullet proof,” they may actually cause you to take more risks than are necessary. Soldiers have medics leading all the way to hospitals to take care of that sucking chest wound: you do not. You must adapt the tactics of stealth and avoidance. Travel light, travel at night. Sneakypete is the way to go. Not Rambo, weighed down like a modern soldier.

The most dangerous enemy will be the guy with a scoped rifle you never saw. You must not be seen to avoid his fire. If you are walking in the open wearing top-heavy body armor, it will be obvious, and the sniper will make a head or pelvis shot.

To survive SHTF, don’t try to load out like Rambo. Be like the VC in black pajamas, moving like a ninja, in the shadows, in the treelines and gullies, never seen. Even wearing hard body armor, to be seen is to be shot, in a USA with tens of millions of scoped rifles floating around.

I’m not trying to start a debate, but merely to point out that there are differing views on armor’s usefulness, pros and cons. My training was from VN-era SEALs, and it was all about stealth. The body armor of that era (1980s) was too heavy and not rifle-proof, so we didn’t wear armor at all. Plus, we were often in a watery environment, or around water, and a water escape or infil/exfil route was always a consideration.

In general, we tried to be light and streamlined, more like a slippery unseen VC than the modern Robocop soldier coming down the street in a vehicle. That philosophy is still ingrained in this “old-timer.” (I’m 55, but I still run.)

Max Velocity’s comments: Matt’s comments are very well informed and well taken. Give it some serious consideration.

I will add my two cents, in the spirit of adding value rather than arguing. Matt’s approach is excellent. I have banged on at great length in my writings, including my books, about the need to AVOID trouble as a first strategy. I have also banged on about the differences in profile, or posture, between high and low profiles, which you could also call covert or overt posture. You need to consider your posture and how appropriate it is in the circumstances.

However, I feel strongly that if you are potentially going to get into a gunfight, then you would be well served with ballistic rifle plates. As is often the case, it comes down to “METT-TC’ which is just a military way of saying that the approach depends on the situation and circumstances in which you find yourself. The stealthy approach is good, but you may not always be able to dictate the circumstances in such a way, and therefore it may be useful to have the body armor.

Military body armor is often bulky in a way that civilian body armor is not always. I would rather be wearing a plate carrier with ballistic rifle plates, including perhaps side plates, than a fully concealable soft vest, which maybe only NIJ level II or III and therefore only stopping handgun rounds.

Full body armor with soft armor  and plates can be bulky, but I personally have a set that I often wore under shirts. An approach that I have taken on mission is to adapt the profile to the mission and circumstances. With either a full set of armor or a plate carrier that is not too bulky, you can hide it under a shirt, at least to a certain extent. You can then carry a man-bag and/or day pack for your ammo load.

Body armor gets bulky once you add the pouches to turn it into a full tactical load vest. Once you do that, it gets so it is not concealable, and moves into the realm of Matt Bracken’s description. Such armor however would be useful for tactical operations and things such as defense, including movement in vehicles. Also the tactical body armor covers, even without pouches, tend to  be bulky, covered with MOLLE webbing etc. A way to get around this is to have the pouches mounted on an over armor tactical vest or alternative such as a chest rig and/or battle belt. This makes your gear modular and allows you to wear the body armor alone, in a soft fabric civilian cover, or to put the tactical vest on over top and go fully tactical.

I would question the utility of wearing just soft armor which is only protected against handgun calibers. The bigger threat is rifle, including the scoped rifles that Matt refers to. I would rather, if going low profile, wear a slimline plate carrier  or full set of body armor that would fit nicely under a shirt. This would protect against rifle and handgun rounds, and can still be relatively low profile. It would not give you that soldier appearance that Matt refers to.

Back when I joined the army in the early 90s, body armor was not the thing. It has now reached a technical and price point where it is a real option. You don’t have to be a soldier attacking hard targets to find a use with body armor. I have worn it on high risk missions where the plan was to run away from enemy contact. Those were both high and low profile. For the low profile, full body armor was concealed under shirts and grab bags were carried for ammo. High profile, the full tactical vest was put on over top to make the full combat load.

If you do get a PC or full set of armor that you attach pouches to, you do limit your potential to go covert, and you are effectively showing a high profile. You can still disguise that to an extent with a shirt or jacket inside a vehicle. If you want to be fully covert, then you are either not wearing body armor or you are wearing a slim set of level II or II stuff. But that may be appropriate.

Rather than feeling bullet proof while wearing armor, I rather take the approach that I am mitigating my chances of receiving a penetrating  gunshot wound to the torso. Be aware of this, wearing armor does not make you invincible. It may also make you a target if you are cutting about in a full battle rattle in open view.

Overall, I feel that anytime I am going to be carrying my battle rifle, for whatever reason, I want to be wearing at least a plate carrier with load out to carry my first line ammo scales plus IFAK and ancillaries. I could be wearing that in the low profile way I described, or openly in a tactical way. If I am doing something else that required more of a low profile, where I may be only carrying a handgun, then I am either not wearing  body armor or I have it concealed under a shirt or jacket.

I think the key lesson here is to not ‘situate yourself’ too much with your gear. Make yourself flexible to the circumstances, and make your gear so it can adapt. The most flexible approach is to have a full set of body armor (soft armor plus plates) in a soft civilian cover. You can then use it with or without the plates. Then have your tactical load in an over armor vest or chest rig/battle belt that can be worn with or without the armor. You have a system then, to work with.

Having said that, I have a fully loaded tactical plate carrier in the basement, the plates salvaged from my full set of body armor with soft cover….Oops.


BTW, here is one of Matt Brackens books, Castigo Cay.

Or: Enemies Foregn and Domestic

Matt Brackens Website