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A few months ago, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of various types of load-bearing equipment in our article, Front Toward Enemy: Survival Plate Carriers & Chest Rigs. However, that article was primarily intended to provide an overview of armor plate carriers, vests (with and without body armor), and chest rigs. We didn't have an opportunity to delve into how to set up these load-bearing systems as part of a cohesive gear loadout, so today we'll be doing just that. We took one of the previously-featured plate carriers — the TYR Tactical PICO-DS — and built a plate carrier setup using a variety of upgrades to carry necessary survival equipment. This included a TYR Tactical clip-on chest rig, drop-down armor panel, abdominal pouch, zip-on backpack, and the company's all-new PICO-DSX quick-disconnect cummerbund.
Like any gear loadout from on-body EDC items to bug-out bags, plate carrier setup will vary from person to person and environment to environment. Your plate carrier might be prepped for short-term mass-casualty events, long-term disaster scenarios, shooting competitions, or professional military or law enforcement roles. Some will require more gear and some will require less; all setups should be tailored to the user's weapon system and activity type.
In other words, this article is not a one-size-fits-all guide to building the perfect plate carrier setup, but it should give you some ideas to consider.
I set out to build a plate carrier setup that was modular for a variety of situations, from spending a few hours at a shooting class to trekking around in the desert for a day or more. This meant that my setup required the ability to add and subtract gear quickly. For this reason, I went with a plate carrier and chest rig combination, pairing the TYR Tactical PICO-DS carrier with the TYR Tactical Combat Adjustable Chest Rack. In situations where lightweight mobility is a higher priority than ballistic protection, such as the Guerrilla Mentor Rural Recon class I'll be writing an article about soon, I can wear just the chest rig with its included H-harness. For all other cases, I can easily clip the Chest Rack onto the front of the plate carrier via four Quick Attach Surface Mount (QASM) buckles.
In addition to carrying rifle plates and spare magazines (the two most basic functions of a plate carrier), this combined setup provides organized storage for other gear. The TYR Tactical Chest Rack contains the following items:
Abdominal pouches, such as the popular Spiritus Systems SACK and Ferro Concepts Dangler, are being seen on an increasing number of plate carrier setups lately. In our OFFGRID Live discussion of plate carriers, several contributors were using pouches like these to carry additional small items. They're often used for medical gear, but I already have that covered on the Chest Rack. Instead, I picked up a TYR Tactical DSX Lower Ab Pouch and loaded it with a few survival items:
The abdominal pouch offers overflow storage for other small items from my plate carrier setup that I might need on the move, like snack food or sight adjustment tools.
Immediately behind the drop-down abdominal pouch is a TYR Tactical Ballistic Lower Abdomen Platform. This lightweight panel attaches to two buckles on the base of the front plate carrier, and provides an additional coverage area of NIJ Level II soft body armor. It's not designed to stop rifle rounds, but serves as additional protection against small-caliber handgun rounds or fragments. Nestled behind the lower ab pouch, it's barely even noticeable.
Aside from the chest rig and abdominal pouch, some additional gear is present on the plate carrier itself. A Zero Tolerance aluminum pen with glass-breaker and a 5.11 Tactical pen light are attached to webbing on either side of the front plate. The left side of the cummerbund (pictured below) contains a Gerber Strongarm fixed-blade knife, an emergency chemlight, and a Baofeng UV-5R radio inside a Blue Force Gear Ten-Speed M4 elastic pouch. The radio is fitted with a hand mic clipped to the left shoulder strap, and a 3.5mm audio cable routed around the back of the carrier to the right shoulder strap. This cable can be connected to the aux in port on electronic ear pro, allowing me to hear radio calls from friends or monitor the airwaves while I'm shooting in the desert.
The right side of the cummerbund (pictured below) features another Blue Force Gear Ten-Speed M4 mag pouch with a fifth AR mag, as well as an extra C-A-T tourniquet in a Blue Force Gear Tourniquet NOW! holder. These items are less accessible than those on my chest rig, so they're intended as secondary backup items — if you ever need one more mag or an additional TQ, you'll be glad to have them.
The standard PICO-DS plate carrier comes with a cummerbund that attaches to the front of the carrier via Velcro. This is a tried-and-true method of attachment and adjustment, but it's not so easy to remove if a Chest Rack or other front flap is already covering the front of the carrier. A newer plate carrier setup trend is to replace the hook-and-loop flaps with quick-detach buckles or clips, such as the commonly-known First Spear Tubes. This permits the wearer to disconnect one or both sides of the cummerbund instantly, rather than fussing with peeling off Velcro.
TYR Tactical recently released an updated version of the PICO-DS plate carrier known as the PICO-DSX. Among other updates, it features a pair of new Taktic buckles on the cummerbund, which clip together and can be disconnected with one hand by pulling a tab on each buckle.
I reached out to TYR Tactical to see if the standard PICO-DS plate carrier setup could be upgraded with a PICO-DSX quick-detach cummerbund, and was pleased to hear that it can. So, I ordered a DSX cummerbund and installed it on the plate carrier. The buckles occupy the width of about two columns of PALS webbing, so a small amount of attachment real estate is lost due to this modification, but I'd say the benefit far outweighs this issue. My PICO-DS is now much easier to put on and take off with the Chest Rack in place.
The final piece of my plate carrier setup was a compact storage solution for the back panel. For multi-day events, I can always wear a 72-hour pack over the top of the plate carrier, so I wanted something much smaller to house a hydration bladder and a few other basic items. The TYR Tactical Huron Direct Action Assaulter's Pack, or DAAP, fits the bill perfectly.
This small backpack features approximately 9L of capacity out of the box, but can be expanded up to 13L via a collapsible zippered section. It includes simple shoulder straps and a top carry handle for standalone use (or use with the TYR Tactical chest rig). It's also compatible with the TYR Tactical zip-on system, so it can be attached directly to the back of the PICO-DS plate carrier.
For now, I keep a mil-spec Camelbak Crux 3L short reservoir stashed in the main compartment of the pack, with the hydration tube routed over the right shoulder and retained with a Velcro loop on the front of the carrier. This covers my water needs for range trips, classes, and workouts while wearing the carrier. I also keep the H-harness for the Chest Rack inside the Huron pack. To adjust my plate carrier setup to a longer-duration event, I might add extra food, batteries, comms gear, or other supplies to the pack.
Again, this plate carrier setup is certainly not ideal for every application, but it fits my needs well. I especially like that it can be stripped down to a lightweight daypack and chest rig for hikes or observational events such as the aforementioned Rural Recon class. If armor becomes necessary, I just need to clip four buckles onto the chest rig, then zip the Huron pack onto the back panel, and I'm good to go in less than a minute.
For your own plate carrier setup, consider the range of activities you participate in, then determine what you really need for those activities. If you're expecting a sustained fight, you might want 7 or more mags and as much armor as possible. If you're hiking or running frequently in your gear, you might want a lightweight loadout and/or one that features a detachable chest rig. Above all, choose a good-quality plate carrier and rifle plates that fit your body and provide plenty of expansion capabilities.
For more info on the TYR Tactical PICO-DS plate carrier, Chest Rack, Huron assault pack, and other accessories, go to tyrtactical.com.