What armor plates should I buy for my plate carrier? Level III, Level III+ C, Level IV or RF1 Elite?

What armor plates should I buy for my plate carrier? Level III, Level III+ C, Level IV or RF1 Elite?

BLUF: Level III+ C is sufficient for the vast majority of threats faced by civilian law enforcement and prepared citizens. In fact, Level III is sufficient for many military threats too and was worn by a number of our team members (both SMU Veterans) down range when they were deployed.  Level III+ C hard armor plates are the optimal balance of weight, threat level, and cost for most people. Level IV adds lots of protection that isn't used most of the time, but the weight penalty is permanent. 

With civil unrest and general instability on the rise since mid-2020, plate carriers have taken on increasing importance in the modern western household. Individuals and families alike are more concerned than ever with taking responsibility for their own safety. This movement has introduced a huge number of new people into the plate carrier/body armor market, most of whom do not have any formal military or law enforcement training where we are typically taught about body armor, threat analysis and the use of force. Inevitably, people ask: “What armor plates should I buy?” 

We’re here to help.

We see a super high volume of this question with customers who are looking to purchase ICEPLATE EXO®, IMS Combo, IMS Pro Combo or IMS Versa Combo. This makes a ton of sense because if you are looking at any of those four products, you are concerned about metabolic capacity, endurance and mobility. Nothing on our kit impacts those three things more than the armor plates you select for your plate carrier because they represent the highest concentration of static weight in our kit (that static part is important). 

So, what armor plates should I buy for my plate carrier? Level III+ CLevel IV or the RF1 Elite? We’re going to dive into that question and help you answer it…right now.

Our first day of weapons training at the police academy didn’t start off with weapons. It actually started off with body armor. More specifically, we started off by talking about threats: statistically, what are the greatest threats we’ll face on the street as law enforcement? The answer may surprise you…

If you guessed .22LR, you are off to a far better start than I was more than ten years ago since you are correct. It has been a little while since I was a cadet at the academy in my Dickie pants and white academy t-shirt, so data may have changed since, but back then, .22LR killed more cops in the line of duty than any other caliber. 

In short, what our instructors were telling us was that we needed to equip ourselves with armor, weapons and training to handle the behavior we were most likely to encounter on the street. We have to let the behavior (this includes both how they act and what tools they use to commit their crimes) of the bad guys drive our decisions on what threat level armor we should use and what weapons we need to deal with said threats. 

Here is how Level III+ CLevel IV and RF1 Elite armor plates stack up against each other in terms of specifications:





Hesco Level III 

Hesco Level IV





3402 $370, 3800C $455, 3800 $580

4400 $220, 4601 $630, 4800 $1490





3800 2.2lbs, 3800C 2.4lbs, 3402 3.2lbs

4800 4.9lbs, 4601 6.4lbs, 4400 7.9lbs

Ammo Defeats

.308, 7.62x51, 7.62x39 PS Ball Russian, 7.62x39 Mild Steel Core Chinese, 5.56x45

7.62x63 AP M2, 7.62x63 JSP, 7.62x54 R-L, 7.62x54 R-LPS, 7.62x54 R-B-32 API, 7.62x51 Steel Jacket M80, 7.62x39 API, 7.62x39 PS, 7.62x39 MSC, 7.62x39 Ball, 5.56x45 M193, 5.56x45 M855/SS109

.308, 7.62x51, 7.62x39 PS Ball Russian, 7.62x39 Mild Steel Core Chinese, 5.56x45, 7.62x51mm M80 Ball

5.56x45 M193, 7.62x39 M67, 7.62x51 M80, 7.62x39 m43. 3800 and 3402 also stop 7.62x63 JSP

5.56x45 M193, 5.56x45 M855/SS109, 7.62x39 M67, 7.62x51 M80, 7.62x39 m43, 7.62x63 JSP, 7.62x54R LPS, 7.62x39 API, 7.62x54R B-32 API, 7.62x51 M61, 7.62x63 AP M2. 4601 and 4800 also stop M855A1 and M80A1





3402 1.22”, 3800C .95”, 3800 1.05”

4400 .83”, 4601 1.18”, 4800 1.04”


Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber

Crystalline Ceramic Strike Face, proprietary System Structural Reinforcement technology, ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber

Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber, Spall-Tek

Ceramic Composite

Ceramic Composite

It should be noted that all of these plates stop nearly all pistol calibers and pistol calibers constitute two of the top three best selling calibers in the United States.

A set of top of the line Level IV plates will cost the same as an entry PVS14 and significantly more than a solid reliable fighting optic (Vortex Razor, EoTech Vudu, Trijicon VCOG, Nightforce ATACR/NX8),

According to Ammo.com between February 23, 2020 and August 23, 2021:

  1. Demand for 9mm increased by up to 1800% across the country, .223 and 5.56 increased by up to 3378% across the country, .45 increased by up to 5000% across the country, and .40 S&W increased by up to 53000% in some areas.
  2. Highest selling casings across the top ten states over the course of the pandemic were; 9mm ,5.56/.223, .45, and .308
  3. Guns.com reporting on top handgun ammo sold between August 2019 and April 2020; 69.64% 9mm, 13.35% .45 ACP, 8.98% .380 Auto, 8.02% .40S&W

Top Ammo sold based on Lucky Gunner’s 2013 ammo sales:

best selling firearm calibers in the United States

Granted, this data is basically a decade old, but it is unlikely that there are any meaningful differences in the rank order. If anything, 9mm and 223/5.56 NATO have become more popular lately, despite the bump in demand for .40 S&W during 2020-2021.

While Level IV armor plates obviously bring the greatest peace of mind, knowing that they will stop just about everything out there, that peace of mind comes at great cost not just in terms of real dollars, but more importantly in terms of weight. Weight has a huge impact on how hard you have to work and how much you sweat, which drives hydration and calorie requirements, complicating your survival situation in the field. Meanwhile, the math clearly shows that Level III+ C is not only up to the job to protect against most threats, it does so with significant weight savings which will help boost your endurance while also saving you some hard-earned money that can be spent on other capabilities. Our newest offering, the RF1 Elite meets defeats an increased range of threats over the Level III+ C, while weighing a scant 2.09 Ibs per plate.

1 comment

  • Jesse

    What would an estimated NIJ rating of a level 3 plate in a level 3a carrier be?

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.