The Plate Carrier Setup Guide

The Complete Plate Carrier Setup Guide

Plate Carrier Setup

In this article, I am going to be talking about the plate carrier setup. I will give you a detailed and in-depth guide on how to set up a plate carrier and the complete loadout list with detailed descriptions.

There is almost an infinity of different ways to set up a plate carrier. Every veteran, shooter or tactical enthusiast will have their preferences and opinions on it. Also, it varies from armed forces to armed forces.

Truthfully, there isn’t one definite or one right way or even the best plate carrier setup. How you set up your carrier very dependent on what you are going to use the rig for. But before we get to the setup part of this guide let’s take a look at what plate carriers are and why you should use one.

What Are Plate Carriers & Why Should You Use One?

Plate carriers, just like the name suggests are carriers, rigs or vests that carry ballistic plates inside them. The idea behind them is that they will protect your vital areas.

The degree of protection plate carriers offer varies on the plates they use and on the carrier itself. For example, there are softer and harder plates and different plate carriers can carry different plates. Usually, plate carriers have a ballistic plate in front of them and on the back of them. Some carriers come with side plate inserts as well.

The obvious reason why you should use a plate carrier is that they offer you an adequate layer of protection while still leaving you with enough of mobility (because they are quite lightweight compared to some other methods of protection).

Now the second benefit is that they act as a tactical vest, allowing you to carry all of your necessary tactical gear, equipment, pouches and panels on the plate carrier setup.

How To Setup a Plate Carrier?

Plate Carrier Setup
Plate Carrier Setup

So how do you setup a plate carrier? Well, there are some guidelines, truths and plate carrier setup tips you should follow or at least consider when planning your setup. And there is some equipment that every plate carrier loadout should include. In this article, we are going to take an in-depth look at the basics of the plate carrier setup and the loadout.

Choosing The Right Plate Carrier For Your Setup

Let’s start with the most important part of the plate carrier setup, the carrier itself. There are a lot of different kinds of plate carriers out there. There are small and minimalist rigs that are as large as the plate that goes into the carrier. Then there are plate carriers that are larger and act as a tactical vest and a plate carrier mix. Some carriers come with options to add side plates, crotch protection, and even neck protection. And then there are large heavy plate carriers that have an inbuilt layer for shrapnel.

There is a large variety of different types of carriers out there. So witch one should you choose? Here comes to play the most important rule in tactical gear: ALWAYS CONSIDER THE TASK/ MISSION AT HAND!

Consider Your Task/ Mission!

When it comes to tactical gear in general always consider your task or mission. Think about what you are going to be using the plate carrier setup for and for what task you need to set up your plate carrier. Before you start choosing a plate carrier or starting to compile your carrier’s loadout you should do a mission/ task assessment.

Ask yourself what you are going to be using the plate carrier setup for. What task do you need to be able to complete? In what environment are you going to be working in? Figure everything out!

After that start thinking about what do you need to be able to complete your task. Do you need extra protection? To you need a lighter carrier and setup? What specific gear or equipment you need to complete the task?`And so on. When you have done a mission assessment then choosing the right kind of plate carrier and planning your carrier’s loadout (or at least planning the equipment you need) should be a breeze.

Plate Carrier Size And Fitting

Now for the sizing itself. Well, plate carriers are meant to protect your vital areas, which is your chest area (your lungs and heart). So always make sure the carrier’s plates are large enough to cover your vital areas. Remember this when fitting the carrier on yourself as well. Make sure the plates sit so they offer your vital organs the most protection.

Also, make sure the plate carrier isn’t too large itself and it fits your size. If the carrier is too large it might start to interfere with your shooting when you change positions. For example, if the carrier is too loose and big and you drop down into a prone position, the carrier can move up. That would mean there will be a gap between your shoulder area and the plate carrier which is not ideal for shooting.

The Loadout For The Plate Carrier Setup

Let’s get to the most important part of the plate carrier setup, the plate carrier loadout. Let’s answer the question of what gear and pouches should go on a plate carrier and where to place them.

Before we get to the plate carrier loadout list itself, here are some gear placement basics for your plate carrier setup:

Always Keep The Plate Carrier’s Shoulder Area Clean!

You should keep your front shoulder area of the plate carrier always clean. That means you shouldn’t place any gear, equipment on the front shoulders.

And yes, you should keep BOTH of the shoulders clean. This is for a simple reason. Junk on the shoulder area will affect your shooting! Plus they will most definitely make carrying a backpack very uncomfortable.

Front side for magazines and critical gear!

The front side of your plate carrier setups should be reserved for the gear and equipment you need the most and the gear you have to have the quickest access to.

A good example here would be your rifle magazines/ magazine pouches. These are probably your most critical and essential pieces of gear! And they should be the most accessible. Every millisecond you spend on your reloads in a firefight puts your life at extra risk.

All of your essential and critical gear should be easily accessible!

If you cant access your gear it becomes useless! All of that essential or critical gear should be placed so it could be accessed easily and fast, preferably with both of your hands. Different pieces of equipment and pouches shouldn’t interfere with accessing other gear.

Keep Your Sidearm Off the Plate Carrier Setup!

I don’t recommend carrying your sidearm or your pistol on the plate carrier setup. The ideal place for your pistol and all of its magazines is on your beltline. Whether it is on your battle belt, duty belt or just your belt. But keep it off the carrier. The space on your carrier is already very limited and the sidearm with its mags will take a huge chunk of space.

Also if you do carry a pistol and for any reason, you might take the plate carrier off. Then, if you keep the sidearm on your beltline, you would still be able to use the pistol when needed.

Think about the weight!

Keep in mind that every pouch or piece of equipment adds weight to the overall plate carrier setup. This is important for two reasons. First, the most logical reason is that plate carriers are already quite heavy with plates (of course this depends a lot on the plate carrier you are using). Adding extra weight will put a larger toll on your body and can start to affect your performance.

Secondly, you should try to balance the weight out a little. So the carrier wouldn’t be heavier on one side than the other. Otherwise, it will start to put more pressure on one of your sides. Making it harder and more uncomfortable to wear.

The space on your plate carrier is limited!

For the last thing always keep in mind that the space you have on the plate carrier is limited. So think carefully what you really do need on the carrier and what not.

In conclusion, whenever your planning your plate carrier setup’s loadout list and gear placement then don’t forget the basics :

  • Always Keep The Plate Carrier’s Shoulder Area Clean!
  • Front side for magazines and critical gear!
  • All of your essential and critical gear should be easily accessible!
  • Keep Your Sidearm Off the Plate Carrier Setup!
  • Think about the weight!
  • The space on your plate carrier is limited!

Plate Carrier Setup’s Loadout List

Loadout List For The Plate Carrier Setup
Loadout List For The Plate Carrier Setup

Now let’s dwell into what your plate carrier setup should include. I have divided this section of the article into two. One would be the basic equipment or your more essential gear for the loadout. These would be the equipment you just can’t go without and pretty much every plate carrier setup should have them. Such as:

And second is the more optional or task-oriented gear. That means this is the gear that depends hugely on your personal needs/ preferences and your task/ mission. Gear like:

The list of possible equipment to add to your plate carrier setup keeps going and going but I have listed the more common pieces of equipment.

Now, let’s take a detailed look at the plate carrier loadout list. Let’s look at what should a basic plate carrier setup include and why. And where and why should the equipment be placed on the carrier.

Rifle Magazines

How many magazines you need on your plate carrier setup depends a lot on what you are going to be doing with it. Everything considering tactical gear is mission dependent. Just like your magazine count on your plate carrier loadout. There is a huge difference whether you are using it in an actual combat area or a shooting range.

I won’t go into too much detail about choosing the right magazine count here, but you can check out my article about helpful tips to consider for your plate carrier mag count. In that article, you can find a detailed and in-depth look at how to figure out your plate carrier mag count. But let’s get back on track now! So long story short, I recommend anywhere from 3 to 6 rifle magazines on the plate carrier setup.

Your rifle magazines are the most important gear on your plate carrier. They should be always placed so you could almost instantly get to them. The magazine pouches should be placed on the center panel of the plate carrier. Keeping the mags in the center of the plate carrier will let you access them faster and more easily. Also, it’s important that you can access the magazines with both of your arms.

For the magazine pouches themselves, I like to use open-top magazine pouches. There are many different kinds of mag pouches like that. When choosing the right mag pouch you should opt for ones that have plastic or reinforced sides. That will allow the magazine pouch to retain its shape when you take the magazine out. This will make it easier to do tactical reloads and overall, will make the mags more accessible.

You can use double mag pouches as well. Or have a few rows of open-top mag pouches. I like to keep 6 mags on the front center panel of the plate carrier. I do this b having 3 double open top mag pouches on the front panel. If you feel like you need an extra mag or two on the plate carrier you can add a pouch to your right side as well.


IFAK is the acronym for individual first aid kit. And that’s exactly what it is. So an IFAK is just a fancy word for a medkit, first aid kit or a trauma kit. A medkit is definitely one of the most important pieces of gear you can carry on your plate carrier setup! I would say it is the second most important thing after your rifle and magazines.

Having a medkit/ IFAK at hand can mean the difference between life and death. You can just never really know what can happen. Accidents and injuries are easy to come on the tactical scenery or on the field. So having something to respond to them is critically important.

For the medkit or IFAK pouch itself, I strongly recommend using a rip away style pouch. These pouches are amazing and make accessing your medical equipment a lot faster. The idea behind these pouches is that you can easily just rip then right off your plate carrier/ battle belt or whatever you have them on. And after that, you can just bring the pouch in front of you and get whatever you need out fast and neatly. And then just easily place it back on your gear.

Now for the placement of the IFAK on your plate carrier setup. Well as for all important and critical gear it should be placed so you could access it fast and easily. Preferably with both of your hands. But I like to keep my rip away med kit right next to my mag pouches, slightly to the right side.

If you want to read more about IFAKs and medkits and how to compile them check out this article called IFAK 101: the complete guide to IFAK’s.


Tourniquets are one of the most important medical tools you can have on a battlefield or in any dangerous/ hazardous situation or environment. They are the best tools to stop massive bleeding. These things can really mean the difference between life and death. And they have proven themselves as lifesavers on various battlefields across the world.

So its a really smart idea to keep a few on you and definitely add one onto your plate carrier setup. Usually, they are part of an IFAK or a medkit, but I like to keep them separated from other medical gear. Because keeping them separate and at an easily accessible place means I can get one out faster when needed.

For the placement itself, it should be kept somewhere where you can access it with both of your hands. It’s for the reason that when one of your arms is injured, you could still get it out. So keep it on the front panel of the plate carrier.

You can either use a specific pouch that is made for tourniquets or just use heavy rubber bands to weave it to the mole of the plate carrier. I tend to go for rubber bands. Its just soo much faster. You can just rip them off your plate carrier when needed. Although using rubber bands carries the risk that they might break and you can lose your tourniquet.

Hydration System

Keeping hydrated on the field is important. Dehydration can cause a lot of problems, and it can hugely affect your performance. Depending on your mission or task you might need to stock up on it. Because you never know when you might get a chance for a refill.

You have two options when it comes to water storage. You can either have a canteen/ water bottle with attached by a molle bottle pouch or use a water bladder/ hydration pack. For your plate carrier setup, a water bladder would be a superior choice.

A water bladder/ hydration pack will allow you to carry much more water. They vary in sizes and capacities. Water packs come anywhere from half a liter to 3 liters. I would recommend having at least two-liter water bladder on your plate carrier.

They come in two different types as well. One would be a Camelbak type that you can attach to your plate carrier. For the second type, we have the basic water bladders. The basic ones need a container pouch that can be applied to the carrier with molle straps. I personally like these more. Its easier to refill them and you can place them in backpacks and other containers as well.

Now for the plate carrier loadout, the hydration pack should be placed on the backside of the carrier. And the drinking tube should either come over your secondary shoulder (not your shooting shoulder) or under your arm (armpit). Running it under your armpit is a better option. Because having it on your shoulder can affect your shooting if you need to change your shoulder. Plus it can start to affect carrying a backpack and make it uncomfortable for longer periods of time.

Other Equipment And Gear To Consider For The Plate Carrier Loadout

We have gone through some of the basic gear and pouches that your plate carrier setup should definitely include. Now let’s take a closer look at other gear and pouches to consider for the plate carrier loadout.

These pouches and pieces of gear are more mission and task-oriented. Meaning these are the gear that depends on what for and where you are using your plate carrier for. Also, some of the gear depends on whether you are using a battle or a duty belt or not.

Tactical Knife

Having a good tactical knife on you is always a decent idea. Having a knife at hand can come useful in many situations. Knives are great tools and they add another layer of defense or offense for you.

For the placement of a knife in the plate carrier setup, I would recommend having it somewhere on the front panel. Keep in mind that you should be able to easily access it and it shouldn’t affect other gear. The best way to attach a knife to a plate carrier would be to use paracord rope to wave it on to the molle of the carrier.


A multi-tool is a super heavy-duty pocket knife that has all of your essential tools compiled into one. They are incredible and very useful. When it comes to multi-tools you have two good companies that create incredibly durable and good tools. They are Gerber and Leatherman. They are rather pricey but wouldn’t suggest wasting money on any other company’s tools here.

Multi-tools are quite small so they can be just placed inside other pouches on your plate carrier setup such as an admin or an equipment pouch. Of course, there are special multi-tool pouches as well, but I think using one of them is a waste of precious space on the carrier (a pistol mag pouch can be used as a substitute as well).


I have seen quite a few plate carrier articles online saying that you should definitely have a flashlight on your plate carrier setup. I won’t argue that you should always have a flashlight on you. But whether you should have one on your plate carrier or not is quite dependent on your task and what else you need to fit on the carrier. I can’t emphasize more the fact that the space on the carrier is super limited and should be reserved for your critical equipment.

But, that said flashlights come in many sizes and smaller ones can be easily fitted into equipment or admin pouches on your carrier rather than have a separate pouch for them. And that’s the way I would go with them.

Radio Pouch

Radio pouches are 100% mission-oriented gear that depends on if you are going to be using some kind of a coms device like a walkie talkie or not.

And if you are then what kind of a communication device are you using? Because they come in different sizes. It’s pointless to have a pouch for a small coms device on the plate carrier setup when you are going to use a larger device.

If you are using a radio/ walkie-talkie then where should you place it? Well, you have a few choices here. One would be to have it on your shoulder. This isn’t an ideal approach. Because it will start affecting your shooting (if you have to change the shoulder). Plus it will make carrying a backpack nearly impossible (or at least very uncomfortable)

Secondly, you could use something like a shoulder speaker or a remote speaker, or even a headset for your coms. This would let you carry the coms device itself somewhere on your sides or even the back of the plate carrier.

People tend to still place their remote speakers on the shoulder areas. Remember to keep your shoulders always clear! So you should try to avoid that by running the speaker cord under your armpit (or find another way that suits your preferences)

Admin/ Misc Pouch

Depending on your personal needs and mission/ task needs adding an admin, map or a misc equipment pouch might be a good idea. If you have a lot of different knick-knacks and small pieces of different equipment and accessories to carry around they are a must-have. They are great for carrying a notepad, maps, compasses, multi-tools and whatever else you might need to complete your task.

Now, these pouches truly do come in all shapes and sizes. There are hundreds of different pouches to choose from. Just keep in mind your plate carrier setup basics and your task. When attaching it to your plate carrier remember its not an essential piece of equipment. So it can be placed on the sides of the carrier or even at the back. The most important thing here is that it wouldn’t interfere with accessing your more essential and critical equipment and gear.

Dump Pouch

A dump pouch (drop pouch) is a pouch made to contain and store your empty magazines. The idea behind them is that its a lot faster to dump your empty magazine into one of them rather than try to place it back into your magazine pouch.

Now the reason I added the dump pouch into the optional gear section of the plate carrier loadout is that I recommend carrying a dump pouch on your battle belt/ duty belt.

If you do wear a battle belt then adding a dump pouch to your plate carrier setup can start affecting your performance. It will just get in the way of accessing the critical/ essential gear you have placed on your beltline.

But if you don’t have gear on your beltline, or just need one on your plate carrier then the ideal drop pouch for a plate carrier would be roll-up style pouch. You can just hang it below your first line fo gear on the carrier. Now for the placement, it recommends placing it on the backside of the carrier. When it’s on the back, it will allow you to access it with both of your hands.

To read more about drop pouches and why they are good and how to place them continue to my article about drop pouches.

In Conclusion

Remember, when starting to set up a plate carrier always start by doing a mission assessment. Try to get a detailed idea of what you are going to be doing (what your task/ mission is) and what you need to successfully complete it (what gear and equipment you might need).

There really isn’t a one and only best plate carrier setup and the setup depends strongly on what you are using it for. When setting up yours (or reviewing your current setup) just keep in mind the following guidelines:

  • Keep your shoulders free!
  • Front side for mags and critical gear!
  • All of your essential gear on the plate carrier setup has to be easily accessible!
  • Keep the sidearm off your plate carrier!
  • Think about weight and weight distribution!
  • The space on the carrier is limited!

In conclusion, I hope you found some good and interesting things to remember and keep in mind when you start setting your plate carrier up for your next task/ mission! Stay strong and thanks for reading!

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