Armor is heavy. Ammo is heavy. Batteries are heavy. Handcuffs are heavy. Everything carried on a military or law enforcement duty plate carrier is heavy. The heavy weight of modern military/law enforcement plate carriers and equipment, along with the increasingly complex and physical demands of the job, place new emphasis on the importance of plate carrier shoulder pads.
The market is flooded with plate carrier shoulder pads for military and law enforcement personnel, so how do you pick the right shoulder pad for your application? We put this plate carrier shoulder pad checklist together to help you find the right solution for your mission/application.
Military and Law Enforcement Plate Carrier Shoulder Pad Selection Checklist:
1. Padding material - this is the single most important consideration as it will determine the effectiveness of your plate carrier shoulder pads in reducing strain on your shoulders and musculoskeletal system writ large. Foam and 3D spacer mesh are the two most commonly used materials on the market today. They are cheap, readily available and easy to use in the manufacturing process. Foam is a great insulator. It is used in coolers, homes, cars, sponges and many other products where temperature is important because it retains heat and water so well. While insulation is great for homes, office buildings, cars, and coolers, it is terrible when it comes to managing temperature under body armor. Similarly, foams ability to absorb and retain water is great for making sponges, but foam is sub-optimal when it comes to anything on body armor or a plate carrier, especially those used in an austere environments. Do you want insulation on your body/plate carrier while on duty in the searing heat of the Middle East, South China Sea, Spratly Islands, Africa, or South America? Do you want something that holds in heat while on patrol in the blazing sun of Florida, California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, etc.
Two years ago, we introduced a newer and far more advanced material that is ideal for plate carrier shoulder pads with our IceVents ventilated plate carrier shoulder pads called Stimulite. Stimulate is part of a material family known as Thermoplastic Elastomers or TPEs. Stimulite is a proven high performer and is used in super high-end aerospace applications like the ejection seats on the F/A-18 Super Hornet, V-22 Osprey, 747-8 Intercontinental, and 787 Dreamliner.
IceVents TPE is far superior to traditional materials like foam and spacer mesh for a number of reasons. First, it is anti-microbial at the molecular level making for shoulder pads that are sanitary and practically maintenance-free. Second, IceVents TPE allows us to create pad architecture that ventilates under load (foam and 3D spacer mesh cannot do this at all). Third, IceVents TPE has hydrolysis resistance, meaning IceVents plate ventilated carrier shoulder pads can provide continuous airflow even under load. These features are unmatched by foam and/or spacer mesh.
2. Ventilation - this is one of the most important factors to consider in a plate carrier shoulder pad because of how much body heat is retained by body armor systems. Heat management is critical in the field in every weather condition. It impacts performance and survivability. Look at the types of materials used in the plate carrier shoulder pads you are considering to make sure they ventilate and do not insulate. Next, you want to look at the design architecture and make sure it facilitates airflow under load.
3. Ergonomics, Anatomical optimization - well-designed gear empowers your body naturally. It should flow with your body and not hinder any organic movement. The human body consists of a series of curves, arcs and radii. Flat, straight features (though highly desired) are the exception, not the rule, on the human body. Make sure your plate carrier shoulder pads have design geometry that is both ergonomically and anatomically optimized. Ergonomics "is the study of designing equipment, devices and processes that fit the human body and its cognitive abilities."  Anatomical optimization is design geometry that naturally fits human anatomy. A good example of these two properties can be found in IceVents Aero Contoured Plate Carrier Shoulder Pads.
4. Antimicrobial Properties - ensuring your plate carrier shoulder pads have inherent anti-microbial properties is important for odor control, maintenance and sanitation. Be sure to find out if the plate carrier shoulder pads you are considering have any anti-microbial properties at all and if they do, determine if they are inherent or add-on treatments. For example, many companies in the athletic apparel space will use add-on antimicrobial treatments like Aegis or Silver Shield. However, these treatments will wash off after 20-30 wash cycles, leaving you without protection. Some plate carrier shoulder pads, like IceVents, are antimicrobial at the molecular level, meaning the antimicrobial properties cannot be washed out and are permanent to the pad.
5. Water/sweat retention - you do not want your plate carrier shoulder pads to retain sweat or water. Retaining sweat/water will not only make you cold when you don't want to be, but it will also increase the chances of bacteria buildup and most importantly, force you to carry around extra weight that isn't working for you. IceVents are completely hydrophobic, meaning they will not absorb or retain water. This is sometimes referred to as hydrolysis resistance.
6. Weight - anyone who has ever carried heavy loads in the field knows the age-old wisdom: "Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain." The legendary University of Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman, once told his business partner and Nike co-founder Phil Knight that "removing one ounce (28 g) from a shoe, based on a six-foot gait for a runner, would translate in a reduction of 55 pounds (25 kg) of lift over a one-mile (1.6 km) span." Below is a picture showing how IceVents Classic and IceVents Aero ventilated plate carrier shoulder pads for military and law enforcement stack up against the competition.
7. Attachment mechanism - how do you attach the plate carrier shoulder pads you are considering? Velcro? OneWrap? MOLLE? Some combination of some or all?
8. Communications cord/drink tube management - make sure your plate carrier shoulder pads have an ability to route and contain your commo and hydration drink tubes to prevent snagging/interference with your other kit, but especially your rifle sling.
9. Durability - we can't have our kit break down on us, so make sure the plate carrier shoulder pads you select for your kit are strong, durable and field-grade.
Hopefully this plate carrier shoulder pad guide helps you select the right shoulder pads for your military or law enforcement duty plate carrier. However, if you still have additional questions, don't hesitate to reach out to us here. We'll be happy to help you find the right setup for your kit. We feel (and tens of thousands of customers agree) our IceVents are hands-down the best plate carrier shoulder pad ever created, and not by a small margin either. However, we recognize that our solutions are not right for everyone. Our top priority is your performance and helping everyone who comes in contact with Qore Performance to leave better off than when they came, even if that means we send you to another company to get the best solution for you.