Plate carriers come in all shapes and sizes, from huge vests that also support all sorts of additional armor to cut-down, minimalist plate carriers. There is nothing wrong with either approach, as long as it is tailored to the mission. This article will discuss the minimalist plate carrier, what it’s for, and how to set it up. We will also discuss armor plates and inserts, and Qore Performance’s ICEPLATE EXO®, one of the leading minimalist plate carriers on the market.
What is a Minimalist Plate Carrier
So, what is a minimalist plate carrier, anyway? In our opinion, it’s a plate rack that carries exactly what you need for the mission and nothing more. Not only that, it’s not meant for protracted missions – it’s meant to be used to hit fast, light, and get off the “X”. Most minimalist plate carrier setups reflect this school of thought. There just isn’t a ton of room for gear on a minimalist plate carrier setup.
Not only is there a lack of gear and accessories, that very lack of accoutrements is necessary. Minimalist plate carriers generally only have about four components: a pocket for the front plate, a pocket for the backplate, a set of shoulder straps, and some sort of cummerbund or waist strap(s). This doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for add-ons, pouches, pockets, and accessories.
The minimalist approach makes the overall package lighter. Less material equals less weight, and more importantly, less “stuff” strapped onto the carrier equals way less weight. The minimalist format also streamlines the profile of the carrier and the operator wearing it. This makes him or her faster, more agile, and provides more freedom of movement through tight quarters, and within the vest.
Many manufacturers make a “minimalist” plate carrier that is basically their old plate carrier with a bunch of material missing. Not Qore Performance; our ICEPLATE EXO® is designed from the ground up as a plate carrier that is not only small, lightweight, and agile, but also sufficient to handle whatever you can throw at it…and be comfortable. That’s a hard combination to find elsewhere on the body armor market. That’s what a minimalist plate carrier is…but why would you want one, and what is it appropriate for?
When to Use a Minimalist Plate Carrier
Minimalist plate carriers aren’t for everyone. They just don’t have the real estate for a ton of gear. These plate carriers still have applications for several sets of users.
Law enforcement: Minimalist setups are pretty much ideal for most law enforcement officers. SWAT operators and others needing a lot of gear may be better served by a more robust setup. The average cop, however, who needs some hard armor in the trunk in the event of an active shooter would be served perfectly by a minimalist plate carrier. Toss it over your existing soft body armor and you now have rifle protection. Add a handful of magazines and some first aid gear would be about all that is needed for this scenario.
Special operators: Military special operators have also made excellent use of the minimalist setup. A streamlined rig lightens one’s load, conserving the energy you burn just getting the target. It also increases maneuverability. This is important not only in the close quarters battle environment, but also on insert platforms like Strikers and helicopters. The rig can be loaded with the tactical gear for that mission, and reconfigured for the next, if necessary.
Low visibility operations: Some minimalist plate carriers can also be scaled way back to use as a concealable plate carrier. This allows the ultimate in flexibility, especially when used with a chest rig like the Rapid Assault Sling. One day, you can have an overt outfit setup and ready to go. The next you can drop the chest rig and be ready to do personal security detail or other low profile, low viz work. This lets you keep body armor on for protection without calling attention to yourself.
Home defense: in the home-defense scenario you really don’t need all that much stuff. You don’t have radios or GPS units or pyrotechnic devices… really all you need is some hard armor to get behind and maybe a spare magazine or two. It wouldn’t hurt to have a less-lethal option, and a phone would be a good thing to have, too. Even the most minimalist of plate carriers can accommodate all of this and more. A minimalist plate carrier setup would allow you to jump up in the middle of the night, throw it over your head, buckled the side straps, and have everything you need to defend your home.
Minimalist Plate Carrier Setup
Most plate carriers come with a front plate bag and a rear plate bag. This is the main structure of the carrier. The front plate bag holds the front plate. It is where most items are placed that need to be instantly available, like magazine pouches, medical gear, and other tactical gear. The rear plate bag holds the back plate, and is where less-frequently accessed items live, like radios. Soft armor can be worn underneath a minimalist plate carrier, but it doesn’t have to be.
The combination of pouches you put on your front plate bag is up to your mission requirements. This is typically going to be dominated by rifle magazines. Of course, medical gear (which should always be visible and accessible with either hand) should be on the front, too. Again, these items may attach directly to the carrier, or they may be worn on a chest rig that slides on over the armor plates.
There are plenty of accessories that you can add to a minimalist plate carrier to improve its functionality while still making it more comfortable. Qore Performance’s ICEVENTS® shoulder pads and body armor supports allow airflow between your body and your armor, keeping you cool and comfortable. You can also attach any pouches you find necessary with our MOLLE Placard.
Minimalist Plate Carrier Fitting
One of the most important aspects of setting up a minimalist plate carrier is fit. The armor plates should sit high on the chest and back to protect the vital organs. They shouldn’t be down around your belly; they should be nice and high, protecting your heart, lungs, and great vessels (aorta and vena cava). You want your plate carrier to fit tightly to the body so your equipment isn’t bouncing around while running, climbing, or jumping. You also don’t want it so tight that it constricts you or slows you down. It’s important to have some adjustability up and down, so you can tighten or loosen as you adapt your gear to different climates.
Armor Plates & Inserts
Obviously one of the most important functions of a plate carrier is to provide ballistic protection. The plate bag holds an armor plate. There are all sorts of plates out there from steel plates to soft-armor panels, but the best plate you can have is an NIJ-rated Level III or Level IV hard plate. Level III plates will stand up to rifle-calibers up to 7.62x51 full metal jacket and 5.56x45 55-grain FMJ. Level IV plates are quite a bit strong and will stop .30-06 armor piercing and 5.56x45 M855 (green tip).
The choice of Level III or IV is up to you, your mission, and the threats you face. If armor-piercing ammo is a credible threat, then you need Level IV plates. In the continental U.S., Level III plates will stop the credible threats that law enforcement and civilian defenders face. Level III plates are also only half as heavy, and cost quite a bit less. It is really important to base your selection around what is realistic in your operating environment. Otherwise, you likely aren’t getting any return on the extra money spent, or the weight carried around on every mission.
Plate Carriers and Accessories from Qore Performance
As previously mentioned, the Qore Performance ICEPLATE EXO® is one of the leading minimalist plate carriers on the market. It’s not a redesigned, full-featured bulletproof vest, it was designed with minimalism in mind. If your mission requires a minimalist plate carrier, you owe it to yourself to check out the ICEPLATE EXO®.
And of course, there is Qore Performance’s innovative, completely one-of-a-kind ICEPLATE®. The ICEPLATE® is shaped like a SAPI plate, but holds water. This water can be hot or frozen to keep you warm, or cool, depending on your need. Hydration hoses also allow you to drink this water. This means you aren’t just hauling water round for future use; you’re harnessing its thermal power in the meantime to keep yourself more comfortable, more focused, and more energetic. The ICEPLATE EXO® is compatible with the ICEPLATE®, of course.