Tactical vests are the soldiers most critical first defense in protecting vital organs. Tactical vests today are combined plate carriers, and load bearing vests. Vests integrate lots of modern materials making them both user friendly and unit integral. All militaries today, and all security forces are equipping their troops with tactical vests for many reasons.
Operators on the ground need tactical vests to carry body armor such as SAPI plates, and steel plates. These plates are critical to stop enemy rounds from penetrating the vest and entering the body. Projectiles are usually stopped immediately when the appropriate plate is carried within the tactical vest. The vest is responsible for ensuring that the plates don’t move around while the soldier is moving quickly and can keep the soldier protected as he is on patrol conducting his duties.
Spread loading magazines and tools on the vest is also beneficial for the operator. The vests of today are designed with ripstop cordura nylon, and come in all camo patterns. Typical trends today include all Kryptek patterns, and slowly transitioning into urban grey patterns, that help people blend in with city structures. The Kryptek patterns are popular because they allow shooters to blend in with good vegetation and even desert environments.
The Vietnam era is where load bearing vests (LBV’s) really came into existence. Back in ‘Nam, there were troops that only wore their LBV’s because it was cooler than their flak jackets that were also required to be worn. The troops on the ground preferred to carry only what was necessary because the heat was to intense. Flash forward to the early OIF and OEF combat theaters and again you have troops on the ground that have very thick body armor and the intense desert heat that prevents the torso from cooling down quickly. LBV’s again were worn however the new leadership required that troops wear their full vests because of the threats of improvised explosive devices.
Today’s materials are mostly synthetic to help deal with the harsh environments in which they will be exposed to. Nylon material along with multiple stitching patterns are built solid to ensure the gear that is supposed to be on people’s backs is not going to be dropping or falling apart anytime soon. The pouches and slings that operators wear while using their vests are also made of the same nylon materials because they are very sturdy and dependable.
Must haves for tactical vests today are:
- Molle webbing
- Quick release clips
- Plate carrier accessibility
- Camo for the user’s environment
- Hydration compatibility
- Pouches for magazines
- Side plate cumberbund
Side plates are critical to protect organs from sideways directional fire. Since tactical vests are modular the end user can customize their pouch placement anyway they wish. Some operators like all pouches up front while some prefer to stagger their pouches closer to their non dominant shooting hand.
Without further ado, here are our favorites when looking for the best tactical vest.
Best Load Bearing Vests and Chest Rigs
As the tactical community has come to expect from Condor, this chest rig is great quality for the price.
This is an ideal practical vest for people that don’t need the body armor. It’s perfect for competitions, hiking, or training. The setup has capacity for 6 rifle mags and 6 pistol mags.
This vest is less modular than others, as the pouches come sewn to the vest. However, the default setup very practical and gives you the option to add more kit to the rig if you need to.
5.11 has an outstanding reputation in the military and law enforcement community, and it is products like this one that make it easy to understand why that is. The LBE vest from 5.11 has a great construction. The design really allows you to make the most of the MOLLE system. That is, the PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) webbing is spaced properly for the attachment of plenty of gear. The spacing is also nice for airflow and really nice in warm environments.
The YKK zippers and double and triple stitching also testify to this vests high quality construction. Also, the durability in this vest does not sacrifice comfort. The vest allows a wide range of motion, and stays in place when on the move.
If you want to build out a vest over time, this is a great foundation that will allow you to add to and revise the system as you go, this is the vest for you.
This chest rig is for the AK lovers out there. If you run an AK style rifle, you’ll know that tactical load bearing equipment designed for AR platforms doesn’t always work well with AK magazines. The hooks get stuck and the magazine shape is fundamentally different than that of AR magazines. Basically, if you typically run an AK, get a rig that will allow you to carry gear for that weapon system.
This chest rig has three magazine pouches designed to carry two 30 round AK magazines each, giving the vest a total capacity of six standard style AK magazines. The magazines are sturdily held in place with hook and loop fasteners and bungee retention cords. There are also two pouches on either side of the magazine compartments for medical kits or additional gear. There is also an administrative chest storage pocket behind the primary magazine pockets.
This VISM kit is available in black, OD green, digital camouflage, tan, and woodland camo.
Travis Haley, after serving as a Force Recon Marine, has built up a tremendous reputation in the tactical industry. His training classes and the gear he designs seem to always be fan favorites. This rig is low profile, and can be paired with other plate carriers and accessories. The Disruptive Environments rig comes in black, ranger green, coyote brown, and is pictured hear in multicam.
The biggest complaint of this vest is the fact that it doesn’t come in different sizes. Be warned, this is a barrel shaped tactical vest, and if you don’t fit those proportions, you’re not going to have a good time. However, if it does fit you well, you’re in luck. The MOLLE is dense enough to not allow for as much flexibility as some other vests, but it does have the benefit of more options around modularity. The build quality is very good and the pouch can hold a decent sized water bladder. Note that this vest is not armor compatible.
And, finally, if it’s good enough for Stallone, it’s good enough for you (this part is a joke in case you can’t tell- please don’t sent hate mail)!
This rig is an updated version of the Eagle Universal Chest Rig. Both designed by Paul Howe, the rig is lightweight, functional, and is made very well. The rig is 500D nylon, which is without question tough enough but also saves significant weight. The rig is versatile in the type of magazines it holds. The UCR will fit 2x M4 mags (USGI, PMAG, Lancer, etc) or 1 AK style mag or .308 mag in each of the 4 magazine pouches. There are also 4 pistol mag pouches in front of the rifle magazine pouches. The pistol mag pouches accommodate double stack magazines (up to Glock 20/21), as well as flashlights, or other tools or items of a similar size.
The rig also allows for MOLLE attachments on the side. Finally, there is an internal map pocket with velcro closure which is easy to access. The rig also comes in a variety of colors to match most environments (multicam, ranger green, coyote, and black).
All in, this rig is a simple and well made piece of kit that has been made from the experience of tier 1 operators. It is also made in the United States, and the company has a good record of serving their loyal customers well.
Best Armor Plate Carriers
This contoured rig from Condor is extremely comfortable. In fact, this could be the most comfortable vest we’ve ever put on. If you’ve ever worn armor, you know exactly just how important that is. This thing is outstanding for that reason alone. This plate carrier is constructed from 500D Cordura nylon. The nylon is of a quality level that is great given the price range. There may be a slightly higher quality material out there, but you will pay several times the price for it. The 500D weight feels extremely durable and makes this plate carrier significantly lighter than if it were made with 1000D or greater weight material as well. This vest fits a large range of ceramic and soft plates. I’m not sure what you plan on using, but both the soft plates and ceramic options fit great, making the vest versatile. If your armor needs change this vest makes it easy to grow with your needs. The armor also stays where it is supposed to. Stability is great for this rig, as the armor fit snugly and didn’t move about in the rig.
The one complaint we’ve heard repeatedly about this system is that it can take some time to get on and off. Quick release is not available on this plate carrier, so if you are in a position where you need to be able to quickly be able to put it on and take it off, you need to consider a different vest, but be prepared to pay a premium for that option.
In summary, load it up with ceramic plates, a water bladder, and you will be ready for almost anything. The construction and durability of this vest are outstanding. We have no doubts that this vest would hold up to extremely tough conditions.
The Crye Precision Jumpable Plate Carrier is the minimal vest designed for mobility and to be lightweight. Even in the largest size available, the plate carrier comes in at one and a half pounds. It features a minimal cumberbund, which Crye Precision calls “Skeletal”, and the great thing is it saves weight and keeps you cooler by providing ventilation. The JPC has integrated magazine patches on the front, but features plenty of webbing to make it customizable. The JPC is made in the United States from US materials.
Unsurprisingly, this rig is exceptionally popular among military operators worldwide. In the modern battle environment where operations can last days or weeks and where the terrain offers challenges like mountains with massive elevation changes, it is no surprise the need for a minimalistic plate carrier arose. Crye Precision delivered, and the JPC is definitely a winner.
Warrior Assault Systems is based in the UK but is used by military and law enforcement all around the world. They have worked with special operations communities to develop the 901 Bravo, and it shows.
The vest comes in high quality 500D nylon and color options include Crye multicam, coyote, A-TACS AU, A-TACS FG, Black, Ranger Green, and Olive Green. The fabric hardware has even been treated to have the lowest possible infrared signature. The rig is comfortable and great in all weather because of the 3D spacer mesh lining.
The front opening mechanism allows you to put on the rig without assistance. This is because of a heavy duty zipper, three snap closure and velcro that is accessible from the front of the plate carrier. The rig accommodates a 10×12” armor plate, and comes with 4x M4 style mag pouches, 2x medium MOLLE utility pouches, 1 large admin pouch with 2 pockets and flashlight pouch, 1 single pistol mag pouch.
For those that want additional protection, the system is comparable with the Warrior’s Back Panel if you need.
Mayflower Assault Plate Carrier
The Assault Plate Carrier (APC) by Mayflower puts mobility first. You will immediately note that the cut of the upper portion of the plate carrier leaves the arms free for maximum mobility. Aside from the fitting the standard size plates in the front, back, and side pockets, this carrier has plenty of webbing to attach virtually anything you could dream of. Ultimately, this is a great carrier focused on mobility and ergonomics that is made out of outstanding materials.
Mayflower has earned a great reputation in the tactical community, and have 100% made in the USA materials and craftsmanship.
ATS is a company that makes amazing products, and the Aegis is no exception. Names after Zeus’ shield, the Aegis V2 is a full plate carrier that also manages to stay small enough and out of the way. The Aegis will hold small, medium, large and XL ESAPI plates, as well as the 10×12 inch plate common to law enforcement. Additionally, the side pockets will carry straight or curved plates. Much like the others on this list, the PALS webbing allows for a customizable setup, and as you can see, there is no shortage of webbing and attachment points on this carrier, which is planned our well. One thing worth mentioning is that this webbing does have velcro on it, which you may or may not like, that somewhat differentiates it from its peers. The shoulder pads are removable, and the plate carrier and features a “Aero Spacer” layer of foam that helps keep you cool. The cummerbund pouches accommodates 6×6 inch plates.
The Aegis is Made in the US of A in Hopkinsville, KY. The workmanship is excellent and uses great quality materials, which are backed by a lifetime warranty.
US Palm Ronin Tactical Vest
If you are looking for a seriously heavy duty tactical vest that can be configured to handle different configurations of body armor, look to US Palm. US Palm has a great reputation, and deservedly so. It is made of PV500 material in key areas, which US Palm says has 7-19 times the abrasions resistance of 500d Cordura nylon. The Ronin first standard SAPi and eSAPi Plates in the armor pockets, and includes a four piece IIIA standard soft armor solution on the front, back, and sides. The mesh lining and comfortable shoulder pads are great for keeping you comfortable and cool. Finally, PALS webbing will help you make this your own with a customizable MOLLE attachment capability.
Shop wisely and check your gear for any tears, rips, or broken seams. Nothing can be worse than getting all geared up and ready to train and having important gear start falling off as the training or mission kicks off. Happy hunting!