Plate Carrier vs Chest Rig? - My Thoughts on Load Bearing Gear
Apparently people like my brutally honest opinions on things, so I thought I'd write out another one. This one probably won't trigger anyone, as I think my opinions on this are much more reasonable and I generally won't go on about specific types of player nearly as much.
Load bearing gear is a central part of our loadouts. Whether it's for pure aesthetics as you try to perfectly recreate the kit of a real world military unit or for your own personal setup, a very large percentage of us airsofters will shell out money on various types of tactical gear and accessories. Some airsofters will put more effort into the dress up part than they will the actual game. I'm looking at you, US Vietnam airsofters...
I know I said I wouldn't rag on about certain types of airsofters.
But remember that it's all in good humour. As I said in my article about sniping, you should partake in this wonderful hobby however you choose. I love the dress up part too and will often run around the field pretending (silently) to be whatever it is I am trying to recreate and I'll run certain narratives (silently) through my head throughout a normal skirmish day because I'm a roleplay nerd.
Anyway, I won't waffle any longer and get into the meat of the article. Plate carrier or chest rig?
Ah, the plate carrier. A very common sight on an airsoft field and a very immersive choice for a lot of builds. A plate carrier is designed to hold ballistic plates and carry all the equipment a soldier will need on their person, nice and close to their body so it isn't swinging around all over the place. The plates are designed to protect your vital organs so if you get shot you at least won't take it through something immediately vital. Probably. Look, go watch a video by someone who actually knows what they're talking about to learn about the real steel plate carrier stuff. I can recommend Garand Thumb and Warrior Poet Society on youtube for that kind of stuff. I'm a subscriber to both and I find them very informative. However, I'm here to talk about plate carriers in the context of BB toy gun fights where protecting vital organs from gunshot wounds really shouldn't be a concern. If it is at your local site, I suggest calling the police...
What are the plus sides of using a plate carrier? Well, as I eluded to above it's a very immersive choice. A lot of modern militaries use plate carriers as they are fantastic pieces of kit. They provide protection at the same time as being load bearing. Also, due to having a front, back and sometimes side molle loops, you have a lot of real estate to put whatever pouches you want. You can usually get a pack that straps onto the back too that will hold extra gear such as gas, BBs or a hydration bladder, however this is both a positive and a negative. In my opinion, these are, and should be, the typical go-to load bearing equipment for your tpical airsofter with a full auto AEG. It's thematic, it does what you need and it holds those plates for you frontline types more likely to get shot at.
Negatives? Well, as I said above, the pack strapped to the back is a double edged sword. While it will carry all that extra gear and generally won't swing about too much as it's tightly fitted to the back of the carrier, you will need a friend to get stuff out of it for you. Another is that typically plate carriers are more expensive than other load bearing alternatives. Also, plate carriers tend to be very, very warm, especially the cheaper ones, as you've got that coverage front and back (and on the sides if you have pouches or plates there too). Those sleeves, even without plates in, are thick and will make you feel very warm as you run around. Also, due to how insulation works, those pouches where you put the plates will act as a sort of radiator as the air gets trapped inside and warms up, creating a nice, insulated, warm air pocket. Some more expensive carriers do combat this heat issue, but by comparison to other options they are still very warm and heavy. After all, why use a plate carrier if you're not going to put at least training plates in them?
Overall, I think plate carriers are okay. I think they are a great choice for most airsofters, especially those of us who skirmish in colder climates, but they are certainly not a "must have". Personally, I have one but I never use it; the only reason I have it is because there was a January sale on Patrolbase and it only cost me £25 or something. I use the other option, the chest rig.
My personal preference, the chest rig is another piece of load bearing equipment designed purely to hold gear on your front and sides. There are no plates and I believe in real world applications they are often used over some form of lower profile body armour. Again, I'm no soldier, I'm a total weekend warrior who plays with toy guns a lot, so I'm not the best person to go to for real steel applications of chest rigs. I can merely comment on their uses in airsoft. Speaking of which, let's get onto that.
Positives? As I already said, the chest rig is my personal preference over the plate carrier. It's lighter and has far better ventilation than a plate carrier as the entire back is clear. They are far more affordable, with the base rig costing a fraction of the price of its equivalent plate carrier in most cases. They are still thematic for certain loadouts and, very importantly for me, they work better alongside a ghillie suit, as there's less bulk to them, allowing you to go prone lower to the ground and far more comfortably. Also, you can just wear a backpack with a chest rig to ensure you can carry everything you need and it's much easier to access than a pack on the back of a plate carrier, as you can just sling it off your back and dig around for what you need.
The negatives of the chest rig come in the form of carrying less than a plate carrier. As you only have the front and sides to play with, you're missing out on all the space the back gives you. Even the sides are not quite as expansive as the sides of a plate carrier, so you'll be carrying less. Also, while they are still thematic, they're thematic in far more niche loadouts than a plate carrier. I find it fits well with me, because I typically go for lightweight scout sniper loadouts, however if I was going for a more normal AEG rifleman loadout, I would want a plate carrier.
I can't remember who said it to me, but someone I respected enough to remember this line said "ballistic plates are great if you're going to be involved in firefights or expect to get shot at." This makes a lot of sense to me and is why I don't use one. In a sniper role, if you're getting shot at you've usually done something wrong or been put in a bad position. For me, if I'm being shot at I haven't been stealthy enough.
I will say now that my best is buried at the bottom of my airsoft gear bag. I never use my vest, however I will admit that these have both positives and negatives as well. In terms of real world usage, I see this more on law enforcement. They're designed to be lightweight and carry all the equipment the person would need, much like a plate carrier or chest rig. These can be bought in molle patterns, but a lot of what you'll find are pre-set vests, like the South African Assault Vest.
The benefits of this setup are, like the chest rig, it is lightweight and breathable. It will also carry everything you will need in a skirmish, with more than enough magazine pouches that will usually fit your magazines well, unless you use a niche replica. Also, perhaps one of the greatest advantages of these, is the price. Typically, pre-set vests can be picked up from your local army surplus store or online for very little. That's why I have one at all, I picked it up from my local army surplus shop when I was a teenager for something like £10 and used it for about a year before trading up to a chest rig.
Downsides? Well, the pre-set ones can't be customised, meaning you're stuck with what you have. Furthermore, they are even more niche than the chest rig when it comes to playing dress up, outside of law enforcement where it is prevalently used. I'm sure they can fit into some of the older loadouts, but modern kit tends more towards the plate carrier.
But wait! There's more. There's one piece of kit that may be overlooked by a lot of people. It's a wonderful piece of kit that will change your life!
Okay, maybe it won't be life changing, but don't sleep on the last item I will talk about...
The belt kit is a fantastic piece of load bearing equipment that I often see completely absent from kit. They're used all over the world by militaries at all levels and can realistically hold everything you need when set up correctly. For example, the British army PLCE webbing can hold everything you will need in a skirmish across the mag pouches and larger utility pouches.
So what are the upsides? Incredibly lightweight and incredibly well ventilated, as it leaves your entire torso clear. As I said above, you can fit all the gear you need onto a belt kit, whether it's a specific type of belt kit like the PLCE webbing or a molle platform. Like the tactical vest, these are often very affordable as well, even the good quality molle ones are fairly affordable.
In the interest of balance, I will also say these downsides. While you can fit everything you need on them, you will struggle with single stack magazine pouches to fit all magazines you need for both your primary and secondary. Well, you can fit everything, but you will end up with magazine pouches in awful positions if you want any semblance of a fast reload. Also, if you're putting a lot of weight on them, you will generally need to pick up a harness to avoid it slipping down and not every belt kit is designed for this. Also, morale patches generally aren't as visible. Patches are a very important part of your kit!
Personally, I love my belt kit and use it with no other load bearing gear when using my VSR, as those magazines fit in pistol mag pouches and I don't need too many of them. Also, using just the belt kit leaves my torso completely unencumbered, meaning that when I'm crawling around in the dirt I'm not having magazine pouches digging into my chest and stomach; it's far more comfortable.
I almost forgot about leg rigs! That should probably tell you my opinions on them. Yes, I know I said that belt kits would be the last item I was talking about, but you should already know from earlier in the article that I'm a total liar. Leg rigs are not the best thing in the world. They have uses, for sure, however I also think they have some extreme limitations. Leg rigs are used to carry extra gear not on your torso or belt kit, giving you some extra real estate to mount pouches.
Positives of these are just that; they give you more real estate for pouches in a fairly out of the way location. That's about all I have.
Clearly one negative is you cannot just rely on leg rigs. While the other items I have covered can be used exclusively, the leg rig cannot. Unless you have an incredibly minimalist loadout, you will not have enough slots on just leg rigs to fit everything. Also, they tend to flap about a bit as you move, because they're mounted on your legs and naturally your legs move quite a lot in airsoft. If you load them up with too much as well, it makes movement awkward and can pull your belt that you have it attached to down, which can lead to some embarrassing situations involving everyone seeing your underwear.
I think I would only use mine to hold grenades on my left leg. I don't think I would do anything else, as my pistol is on my other hip or thigh, depending on the pistol and holster used.
Originally I was going to write this article about tactical gear in its entirety, but when I saw how long this was just including my views on plate carriers and chest rigs, I decided to cut this one at load bearing equipment. Personally, I use my belt kit all the time, as it is great for holding my pistol magazines and holster, as well as a water canteen because hydration is important in life, especially when I'm running around sweating buckets. This is all I will carry when using my VSR, as I can carry three VSR magazines (two in the pouches, one in the gun) and three m1911 magazines (again, two in pouches and one in the gun), which is more than enough ammo, plus as I said earlier it frees up my torso, making crawling easier. When using my m14 or 416, I will pair it with a chest rig to carry the magazines for my primary, as fitting m4 or m14 magazines onto my belt kit makes them or my pistol magazines hard to reach, and I like being able to reload quickly. In the event that I do use my chest rig, the magazine pouches that I use are single stack so I can get lower to the ground and make crawling around on my belly not too uncomfortable. I will also sometimes pair these with a small backpack, so that I can bring more BBs or gas into the field, however this is situational as I can always head back to the safe zone to re-ammo and re-gas.
Am I saying the other items are useless? No. Everything has its place in airsoft, and as I said with the plate carrier, I would use one if I was doing a more frontline style of play. As I am sneaking about with a sniper rifle, whether a bolt action VSR or semi-auto m14, I find the need for ballistic plates to be totally absent, but the lighter weight and superior ventilation of a chest rig and belt kit pays dividends.