How to Setup Your Body Armor
Whether you are a professional body armor wearer or a mall ninja here are a few tips, and just tips, to help you perform better with your armor on… or at least look a little less goofy. 😉
1. “How do I set up my gear?”
So you’ve already got armor in hand that you need to prepare for use. Just like the question “Which type of vehicle should I buy” the answer is “Depends on how you want to use it”.
First principle to remember when setting up your armor is that your armor is alive* and thus always growing and changing to new tactics, training, gear, environments etc. So don’t stress out. Nothin here is permanent yet, and when you DO figure out your gear setup, a better term to use rather than “This is the way I wear my gear” is “This is my current setup”.
Another thing to keep in mind, that I can’t go too deep on, is that motherfucker “Policy”… Long story short, read your agencies’ policy about your gear and be prepared to BREAK your policy where it makes sense. And when your command gives you shit about it tell them that they are more than welcomed to step out from behind their desks into the real world and try those shitty policies on for size themselves…. Or you can be more tactful than me… either way in the professional operational setting the top three trifecta of priorities in this country for EVERY operator should be “Don’t Die, Don’t Get Fired, Don’t Violate Anybody’s Rights”. Knowing your policy (and how and when to break it) helps with the not getting fired part. I will gladly earn myself two or three days off, unpaid, after a successful mission where I wore the wrong gear but was comfortable and therefore performed at a higher level.
Let’s dive a little deeper.
2. Fitting and Trimming.
Two main parts here to be concerned with… fit and trim.
Both the BACK and the FRONT plates should be high up on your torso for a few reasons; and the fitting around your upper torso should be tight enough that you don’t flop around when you turn left-right-left like a washing machine, but not too tight that you can’t take like a 80-90% deep breath. I DO often recommend that you go a little more snug than what a normal relaxed deep breath allows. The purpose of hard armor is to protect your lungs/heart and other high-up central organs. Make sure your front AND back plates are high enough to protect what they are designed to protect, and make sure that your armor doest shift left and right while you run or bend or twist.
The height of the bottom of your armor carrier should also be high enough that not only does it not cover, or ride on your gunbelt, but it should also be high enough that you can still access the gear that you carry on your belt. If you fix this first issue “Fitting” than you are wayyy ahead of the game as far as not looking like a doofus.
(Seriously, even people with 10+ years of Military or LE experience can’t seem to get this right, and they either transition from a desk to a field-supervisor and have NO clue why they wear armor, or they just coast from day one and have no interest in self-preservation and are more concerned with their retirement paycheck than not getting shot… I swear to God, can’t make this shit up.)
Visually checking how your side wings meet your front velcro can help you in the field to make sure your rear plates aren’t sagging too low. Don’t let your plate carrier rest on your gun belt and don’t let your plate carrier ride OVER your gun belt either. You need to be able to access your gear and for the long operation or for spinal longevity a low hanging rear plate will REALLY fuck your back up. Not to mention, try running with that rear plate swinging around freely and stabbing you in the mid-spine…. some people…
There is a good chance that if you are engaged in operations then you are in an ALIVE environment that, at times, is a fucking dirty, cramped, smelly, mess with sharp objects all around. Tuck, Tape, Cut, or fucking TRIM all your little straps and loops on your gear. If you are cutting fabric don’t forge to run a lighter across the fray to keep the material from ripping farther, and if you really don’t want to (or aren’t “allowed” to) cut your useless straps or fitted straps then at least use some good electrical tape to seriously secure your hanging straps. Most importantly you don’t want to look like a walking frayed flagpole. Also important, you don’t want to get snagged on any object that you walk past AND you don’t want to give any badguy something to not only grab on to but also nothing to use against you as either a handle or a freaking NOOSE. (heads up: radio coils, rifle slings, etc.)
***If you carry a gun and wear armor and do more than carry a bag of cash for Wells Fargo, then you need to be a TACTICAL ATHLETE***
I’m a little older now, and a little wiser, and I understand that you don’t need to be a crossfit olympian to be a cop or a military grunt, BUT you should at least be able to go up a flight of steps without being winded, and you shouldn’t take up TWO fucking seats in coach on an airplane. Your armor (and everything else) should fit you just like professional sports players clothing and gear fit them… like athletes.
For the military operators out there it is more likely that you will be wearing your heavy armor for the duration of your operations, as part of your SOP and normal wear. For the LEO’s out there it is more likely that you will use your heavy armor (or TacVest) as sort of a “Throw On” vest; as a patrol officer it is likely this may be in the trunk of your cruiser, if you are a plain clothes officer or on a specialty unit you are likely, as well, to not wear your heavier vest for the duration of a standard 10 or 12 hour shift. Keep this in mind for the following.
“Do you always wear your heavy armor alone or do you always wear it over your present setup (including soft body armor)?”
Patrol Officers, do you use your armor as a throw on vest? If so, you need to put your ACTUAL under shirt on, and standard soft-vest, and actual uniform shirt, and badge, and pens, etc. AND THEN throw your heavy-armor ontop to figure out your fit. If you fit your vest as a “Cool guy” vest in front of the mirror while taking selfies and then throw it in your cruiser, your GONNA HAVE A BAD TIME when a call goes out and you try to stretch that shit around your body with your vest and uniform underneath. Not only will an improper fitting affect the tightness of your wrap around fit but it will also affect your height of your front and back plates.
Military guys, while I personally prefer to have my vest high and tight I have found that giving yourself a little breathing room around your torso will sacrifice some of your athletic acute turns and movements but over the length of a standard patrol or standard shift it will allow you to breath more normally and therefore fatigue much less quickly. The trade off is your call.
Fit and Trim… Tactical Athletes wear their gear in it’s proper position to cover it’s intended target, they stay flexible, they don’t let shit hang off of their gear to be snagged or pulled, and they also (besides maybe NFL linemen) don’t weigh 300+ pounds. If you are worried about getting shot but can’t find body armor that fits you, maybe you don’t need to be worrying about your body armor just yet, might want to re-prioritize…
3. Meat and Potatoes – Accessories
Where do I put my magazine pouches? Where do I put my radio? Do I need to double up on magazines? And all that cool shit.
*Most Important. Where do I put shit? Ergonomics. You have to decide personally (whether you stick to your policy or break it) where to balance two big issues…
most important items accessible vs. most used accessible
The biggest example of this is your weapon magazine pouches and your administrative pouch/or radio.
Here’s the easiest way that I explain to others on how to iron out this issue (weighing accessibility for prime real estate), If you don’t carry a long gun then there’s a good chance you can keep a few pistol mags on your belt (see where policy starts to HURT operators instead of HELP them? Commanders take note…) So if your back up mags are only for your pistol and they’re on your belt, and you have shit that you use a lot like a radio and a notepad, put that shit up front. If you are a long gun carrier then without a doubt one of the best primary locations for your rifle mags (usually) is right up front baby. (I have also tried some ideas from some other operators for rifle mags on one side wing of my plate carrier and on a drop leg pouch. Everything has a pro and a con though).
Do I double up on magazine pouches? Like we said above, it depends on what you’re going to use it for. At my former Federal unit it was routine for us to hit a target with heavy armor and a pistol and a long gun, and after our initial and secondary clear we shifted to a more administrative role for evidence collection etc and we would secure or remove any suspects and take our hardplates off and secure our long guns off site and continue the mission in a minimal gun belt with a pistol, maybe some nick-knacks and our soft body armor. In this case it was routine to have rifle mag pouches on our heavy armor and pistol mags on our belt only so that it was an easy set up with putting heavy armor on and off without switching where we kept our pistol mags.
If you have a tiny waist and you wear your heavy armor for your entire operation then you may want to keep some weight and some space free on your gun belt and move as much as you can to your upper armor.
What about water??? My first question, do you need it at all? If you are a street cop and you are not way out rural and not responding to SWAT call outs where you sit behind a breaching shotgun or a sniper rifle for hours on end, there’s a good chance that you are already hydrated and if you’re not then someone will come and bring you water. YOU make that call, just like every other topic here. If you leave your home base for hours and hours then you need to consider water. Depending on how likely it is that you can have water delivered to you, or you can retrieve it yourself I recommend two main options. A CamelPak or something similar is great for constant hydration on extended patrols, a bottle pouch is good when you know your operations are not prolonged hits on a target or patrol but rather stop and go with break in between (think european soccer v. american football).
Many of my operations included stop and go breaks where I could put a single litre water bottle pouch on the back of my gear that I could have a teammate grab from my back so that I could chug as much of it as I deemed necessary for our current break cycle. I chose that because a CamelPak on my back always hung low, and when I twisted left and right it was added weight that made me feel less athletic in, and it was just ANOTHER long straw tube that had to hang somethwere on my body and my gear. A third option that allowed me even the flexibility of NOT wearing ANY water was a go bag as part of the “Team Carry” bags. My small unit would hit our target with minimal gear (no water, or shooter’s option) and once it was semi-secure we could have basically anything from HQ delivered to us i.e. our backpack with a few dozen water bottles inside of it.
Water is VERY important but also VERY heavy. WEIGH your options carefully (hahah, get it?) ;P
We obviously put our cool guy patches up front right? “Obviously” like almost every other tactical option here “It Depends”.
For Civilian and hobby shooters (including LE and Mil training while not in public), yes, obviously you trick your shit out however the fuck you think it makes you look cool. Not sarcastic, I mean it. This is a semi-free country, trick that shit out.
For Military, in my opinion, this is not so much of a problem mainly because your bosses usually complain about stupid shit like uniform wearing and policy frequently so they’ll set the environment they way they want it. Also there are much less legal implications for military shooters getting hemmed up because of shooting someone whilst wearing a fucking cool-guy-patch. Not to mention, very few military operations take place in the public eye and inside us borders and against US citizens… #possecomitatus
For LEO’s this one is a little more touchy. Nothing says “I am a public servant” like a fucking skull and crossbones on the front of your body armor. Yeah yeah yeah I know, “but I’m going after BAD guys” I know… But you still (out of civilian, militar, and LEO) have the highest responsibility during operations to be the most professional. So there’s that.
And one other note for LEO’s that makes this a little more touchy is this phrase “That is what you were wearing when you shot my client?” And other similar and follow up questions. So let alone looking unprofessional let me leave you with one last note for Law Enforcement patches and insignia: “At 4am when my client had his front door kicked in and you rushed into his home with your assault rifle pointed at him, at which point did you identify yourself as a Police Officer either by speech or visually?”
ESPECIALLY as a note for patrol officers that have a throw-on vest for active shooters… be aware that your vest may cover your star or your shield up. And in you defense a freaking velcro backed badge looks just as cool on body armor as a cool-guy-patch. 🙂
Surprisingly, even in some of the more effective and higher level training I’ve received, ACTUAL handcuffing and restraint application was always just “here, you are handcuffed” in training. We omitted the actual process of handcuffing suspects and detainees… EXCEPT for the basic fucking stupid 31-step process for compliant handcuffing… we worked that one to the fucking bone, for what reason I have no clue.
If you choose to have only one pair of handcuffs and your team ends up having more than one person detained, this could be a problem especially if you are taught and you employ a “Marshaling Area” and you are the fucking marshal. Even if you have more teammates with handcuffs sometimes it’s not as easy as “Hey throw me some cuffs”.
That being said have you ever under stress tried to take a pair of flexcuffs and thread them together while under stress, or while wearing gloves, or while you are holding down a subject????
This may seem trivial, and kind of common sense, but we will really be shining a light on this subject since this is a HUGE gaping hole for professional operators and we are currently putting together some content for restraint application as well as our other escape videos.
…Things to consider.
If you spend most of your time in the seat of a vehicle while you wear your armor, you might want to keep your sides and the back of your armor pretty clear or at least not lumpy. If you are routinely on foot for most of your patrol then you unfortunately need the heaviest things the most like water and ammo. If you routinely use a radio while you are in your gear you need to be careful how you set up your comms system, and be aware of how to access your radio to switch channels or to use your P.T.T. button if your wired system breaks or emergency button if shit hits the fan. Can you properly access and interact with all of your gear and it’s current set up with gloves and a helmet and a gun belt on?
- Your gear load out is always “alive” and should always evolve with new gear and new environments.
- BUT you should ALWAYS test your shit before you blindly take it into the field.
- Wearing body armor, sure, looks fucking cool.
- JUST wearing body armor, even though it hangs off of you like a pile of shit, doesn’t look cool… at all. Make sure it fits in the best possible way.
- Try to maintain flexibility as much as possible. You are a tactical athlete.
- Know your policy and be prepared to break it.
- Decided between weight and flexibility, and preparedness with extra supplies.
- Know your need and accessibility for water.
- Do you double up on mag pouches and ammo or not?
- And try some different sizes too, one of the biggest problems besides your rear plate hanging too low is people wear armor carriers that are one or two sizes to big, period.
More photos below, thanks for checking us out.