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The market for plate carriers, chest rigs, and modular plate carrier placards has seen unprecedented growth in the last 10 years. We still remember when things like bandoleers and chest rigs were being custom-sewn for special operators by their parachute riggers. Now there is an ever-expanding playing field of plates, plate carriers, chest rigs, and accessories that nearly guarantees an off-the-shelf solution for any use case. However, this huge variety of choices comes with some drawbacks.
One of the side of effects of this tactical nylon renaissance is something we call “kit glut”. There are so many options to choose from, that we wind up choosing separate options for individual use cases.
It’s frighteningly easy to wind up with a row of plastic tubs or cardboard boxes in your attic or garage containing:
Some of this could be driven by professional requirements. For example, if you are a patrol officer who serves on your department’s SWAT team as a collateral duty, you may have different armor carriers for patrol use and entry-team use. If you are in a military unit with varied mission sets, you may fall into the “recon vs assault” conundrum and have a kit for each. If you are a civilian running multiple weapon systems (a shotgun or pistol-caliber carbine for home defense, but an AR or AK for SHTF use) you may have a carrier or chest rig dedicated to each system.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong about building a handful of chest rig and plate carrier setups for different tasks, it costs a significant amount of time, money, storage space, and potentially heartache. This is why the advent of modular plate carriers with interchangeable front panels (or placards) is so appealing.
Above: This Dynamic Principles Laser-cut MOLLE Placard served as our direct-attachment setup. Stay tuned for a full list of its features and components in Part 2.
While there are a myriad of variations available, you’re likely familiar with the basic layout of a modular plate carrier: slick front with loop-side Velcro and a pair of quick-release “pinch” buckles, sometimes known as SRBs (Side-Release Buckles) or QASM buckles (Quick Attach Surface Mount). The placards then attach to the carrier with both Velcro and buckle.
Above: These buckles on the plate carrier support the weight of the placard, and prevent it from peeling off the Velcro unexpectedly.
Some carriers will come with a basic MOLLE-loop-covered placard as a standard offering. Other companies offer the plate carrier as a standalone purchase, with a suite of different placards available a la carte. But the true beauty of a QASM-placard-based system is that you are not confined to the manufacturer you purchased your carrier from.
The plate carrier you see here is a Arbor Arms CAS 2.0—Communicator Armor System—loaded with Level III+ plates from Prime Armor. These plates weigh less than 5 pounds each while still being able to stop 7.62x39mm Armor-Piercing ammo out of an AK-47, or the military’s new M855A1 round in 5.56mm.
Like many modern plate carriers, the Arbor Arms CAS is a testament to modularity. To prove our point, none of the front placards showcased here are from Arbor Arms. Only their carrier is used. If you purchase your own CAS 2.0, Arbor does have their own placard options, and they are good. But we want to showcase the vast compatibility across brands. The following overview is a sampling of different placards from different companies, with a variety of unique features. This list is not even remotely inclusive of what’s available in the market-at-large. But we hope to give you a starting point to plan out a survival armor carrier, or perhaps streamline your existing setup.
The HRT Tactical Maximus is an excellent plac-of-all-trades (see what we did there?) that offers well-rounded load carriage for a variety of jobs while still bringing some modularity. The Maximus is built off a velcro-lined “kangaroo” pocket that can accept a variety of elastic inserts, which are included, for different magazine types.
There is a 3-mag AR-15 style mag insert, a 2-mag insert that accepts AR-10 or similar mags, and a 5-mag insert for subgun/PCC sticks. There is even a full-length zipper-top that can used if you don’t want/need to carry any rifle mags at all. In that case, the kangaroo pouch would be ideal for everything from food to maps to medical gear.
Each end of the Maximus has a pistol mag pouch. These pouches have full cover flaps that are removeable, as well as S-shaped polymer inserts that provide mag retention without the flap. The polymer retention inserts are also removeable, allowing the end pouches to hold other miscellaneous items like flashlights, multi-tools, folding knives, small OC spray cans or a bundle of chem lights. The front of the placard has two square general-purpose pouches hard sewn in place. The square zippered GP pouches have elastic loops inside to retain an assortment of gear.
If you want maximum ammo storage, we’d suggest looking elsewhere. But that’s not the point of LBX’s Variable Assaulter Panel. An offshoot of London Bridge Trading, a company doing custom nylon gear for elite professionals long before anyone was paying attention to such things, LBX brings the same ingenuity and verified design experience to a more commercial-facing market. The Variable Assaulter Panel features a single sewn-on rifle mag pouch with a double-pistol-mag pouch layered over that. The rifle magazine is retained by shock cord, the two pistol mags by a single large Velcro flap. The one hybrid ammo pouch is flanked on either side by two rows of sewn-on MOLLE webbing.
Could you use said webbing to add more mag pouches? Absolutely. But we think that’s sort of missing the point. There are plenty of other front panels purpose-built to hold more ammo. We see this as an option for someone who 1. Does not use a carbine as their primary weapon, and 2. Does not expect a protracted gunfight. Plainclothes LEOs who use plate carriers for warrant service or fugitive recovery could find the Variable Assaulter Panel an excellent fit. To that end, we adorned this panel with an open-top handcuff pouch and radio pouch from Sentry Tactical.
Of course, this placard is hardly cop-specific. We set up an alternate loadout featuring a pair of civilian-legal flashbang devices from IWA international, in Longship Design Frag Pouches from Unobtanium Gear. We also added a Quick Open Sled IFAK from Wilde Custom Gear, which features a removable tray for your med supplies.
For the prepared citizen, 30 rounds of 5.56mm and 30 rounds of 9mm—plus whatever is in your weapons—ought be enough to solve just about any problem you’re likely to encounter, short of a full-blown foreign invasion. Which is why we like the Variable Assaulter Panel’s stripped-down design. It keeps a modest amount of ammunition front-and-center on your loadout, while allowing proper space for other items, from radios or med kits to fire-starting tools or meal replacement bars.
If your go-to gun is a submachine gun or PCC, this Wilde Custom Gear placard is a straightforward choice to maximize firepower. There is a caveat to this. There are some important dimensional differences between magazines, depending on which PCC platform you’re running. Whether you’re running curved mags like a Scorpion EVO or MPX, or straight ones like B&T, Colt SMG or Glock-pattern “happy sticks” will make a difference as to which pouches or placards you need.
In this case, Wilde specifically states this placard is for CZ and SIG magazines. Whichever you’re running, the Wilde placard will hold four magazines in individual pouches with shock-cord retention. Each pouch as a column of laser-cut slots for attaching additional pouches, so you can carry more than just bullets on board this placard.
Like the Wilde Custom Gear PCC placard, the HRT Tactical Shotgun Placard is a very straightforward solution for ammo management, and perhaps the least-complicated design of all the placards featured here. What you see is what you get here – 21 elastic loops in three columns with just enough space between them to hold 2-¾ or 3-inch 12-gauge shotgun shells. That’s enough to completely fill a standard Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 three times, with a 6- or 7-shot tube. More if you’re using a shorter pistol-grip or breacher model. It’s also exactly 10.5 reloads for a double-barrel, if you ascribe to the current President’s philosophy of home defense.
Our only gripe is that it that the loops are just too big for 20-gauge shells. Having said that, if we were facing a problem that we felt would require almost 30 rounds from a shotgun to fix, we’d probably be bringing a 12-gauge anyway. Covering the entire front placard with elastic loops does preclude any other type of load carriage on the front of your kit, but this placard was made for one purpose and one purpose only – making a whole lot of shotshells available in a hurry. If that’s a niche you need to fill in your preparedness plan, we think this is one of the better ways to do it.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, which will contain info about direct-attachment MOLLE placards, a placard-compatible chest rig from Javlin Concepts, and tips for getting your placard of choice to fit your plate carrier.