Body armor has become a hot item in the last few years. There are huge numbers of manufacturers producing a variety of items, and it can be very confusing trying to decide what type best suits you. Luckily, I’ve just tested a great set up for anyone. Keep reading to see our thoughts on body armor, setup, and the Spartan Armor plates in the Banshee Plate carrier
This article will cover the basics of body armor usage, the protection levels, as well as how to set it up appropriately, depending on your specific needs. The important thing that you need to understand is that body armor is all about threat mitigation. It’s not about trying to become a human tank.
There are numerous level’s of armor protection, but recently I’ve seen a trend to carry much more body armor than is actually needed. Many agencies, as well as private purchasers, have started to opt for Level IV armor, which is rated to stop armor piercing 30-06 ammunition.
Let’s be realistic folks, even in active war zones this type of threat round is very rare. Likewise, these same folks are carrying level IV side plates. Let me tell you, I carried this setup in Afghanistan, and my plate carrier with nothing on it was over 26lbs with all four plates. It was definitely way too heavy.
Focusing on the US, you are incredibly unlikely to encounter these types of armor piercing threats. So if we don’t need this level of protection then what do we actually need?
Body Armor Threat Protection Levels
The National Institute of Justice is responsible for establishing all testing and threat protection protocols. They decide what levels stop which types of threats, and for the most part, the industry adhere’s fairly strictly to these standards. Check this chart out for a quick run down of the level’s
You can see that really there are only a few types of rounds that are tested at various velocities, but we know that there are literally thousands of different types of bullets: hollow points, steel core penetrators, frangible etc. This leads us to ask if these types of rounds will also be stopped. The answer is generally yes.
In this rating system, anything up to level IIIA is soft body armor that will stop the vast majority of pistol threat rounds. Anything above IIIA is going to be hard plates, either metal or ceramic.
Its also important to note that soft body armor is designed to stop bullets, not defeat edged weapons. Many manufacturers do make stab armor, but don’t think just because your vest will stop a 44 mag that you can’t be hurt by a 3 in knife.
Hard Armor Plates
Recently the industry has adopted a sort of in between standard called level III+. Now this standard is not regulated by NIJ. In simple terms it is whatever that manufacturer want’s to call it.
Generally speaking III+ is designed to stop M855 ammunition, which is 5.56mm green tip, with a steel core penetrator, as well as common 308 caliber rounds. Many folks erroneously think this is armor piercing, which it is not. It is designed to penetrate light barriers like wood, glass, and heavy clothing, not armor plating.
I generally think this III+ standard is much better than a normal level III, which is not rated to stop steel core ammo, which is very common. Level IV is much thicker and heavier and as we discussed above is generally not necessary.
Now that we know the different levels of armor, we can get to the part you’ve all been waiting for, the review of the Spartan Armor Plates, and the Banshee Plate carrier.
Spartan Armor Plates
If the name sounds familiar to you it should. Their ceramic plates were featured in a previous article that covered the lightest tactical equipment that you could buy.
There was a lot of interest in their plates, so I contacted them to see if they would like us to test out some of their other armor systems, which they graciously agreed too. They shipped a set of their plates, padded backers, as well as the very popular Shellback Tactical Banshee plate carrier.
The plates appear to be very high quality, and because they are made of AR550 steel they are also very thin, much thinner than equivalent ceramic plate. The anti frag coating is very grippy which limits plate movement once it’s mounted in the carrier.
This coating is very important because without it you face the real possibility of being seriously injured by metal fragments caused by the bullet striking bare metal. Get that coating.
The trauma pads are a nice to have as they fill the carrier out a little more, but they are not strictly speaking necessary, as they don’t provide any ballistic protection.
The plate carrier appears to be very well made, with excellent quality stitching. It comes standard with a front kangaroo pouch, as well as tube/cord routing elastic bands on the shoulder straps. It has the option of running a cummerbund with molle webbing, or a simple nylon strap on the sides. I chose to use the cummerbund because, tactical bro.
Plate Carrier Setup
The first step is to place the plates and the trauma pad in the plate pockets of the carrier, and secure them with the flap. The next step is to adjust the shoulder straps to place the plates over your vital organs
Your front plate should sit within one inch of the notch where your neck meets your rib cage. The easiest way to check is to cinch the straps where you think they should be, put the carrier on, and place two fingers in the notch of your chest right under your neck and if you can feel the top part of the plate, then it is set at the correct height.
The rear plate should be at the same height as the front if you look at your self in the mirror. It’s ok if it is a little different, but significant differences mean you probably have the shoulder straps mounted too low.
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If there’s one thing that drives me nuts, it’s seeing a plate carrier with way to much crap on it. When contemplating your setup, you need to think about becoming more effective with less equipment. If you are carrying something ,that when taken away does not affect mission accomplishment, then you need to ditch that item. It’s a nice to have, not a need to have.
With this in mind, I chose the bare minimum of equipment for this setup. This rig is something I plan on keeping at my house for home defense purposes, and occasionally using it for police work when needed. Here are the main pieces of equipment, which we will talk about in more detail below.
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These are the bare minimum pouches that I would require for this dual use setup. This setup allows me to carry all the types of ammo I would likely use for home defense or on a weapons call.
This is the first time I’ve used the helium whisper pouches, and so far I’m a huge fan. They are flexible elastic which allows you to carry nearly any magazine. They also are very quiet to move magazines in and out of, and low profile as well
I mounted the shotgun ammo carrier because it allows me to carry different types of rounds which are very common in a police setting, as we routinely use lethal and nonlethal shotgun rounds.
The knife is mounted on my strong side as a self defense option for situations where you might be actively fighting hand to hand with someone, and don’t have space to use your rifle.
The medkit is mounted weak side, and has only the bare bones equipment. Inside there is a CAT tourniquet, combat gauze, and a pressure dressing (Amazon Affiliate Links). Now this is much different than what I carried in Afghanistan, for a reason.
I live in an urban area where I’m only a few minutes from an ambulance and a 5 minute flight to a level 3 trauma center, so I can get away with carrying less.
If I lived in rural Montana, you can bet I’d have some more advanced equipment, but you can handle almost anything life threatening with what I’m carrying now.
Home Defense Only Setup
Remember that this is something that I would use for home defense and police work as well, so it’s going to have a few more items than might be required for home defense only.
If I was only going to use this for home defense, I would probably only buy the triple rifle magazine pouch. Currently my AR15 is my home defense weapon, and I would only need one spare magazine in the carrier. I would use the other two sections for my medkit, and for my phone.
You can do this because of the great flexibility in the pouches. Just because it says they are for rifle magazines, doesn’t mean you can’t fit other items in there. This setup up would be very slick, and much more low profile than the dual use setup I currently use.
Remember, you’ve got to keep it realistic. I promise that if you get into a self defense shooting that you will never need three full rifle magazines. This isn’t a movie folks, you aren’t likely to reload at all, and one extra magazine will be fine for malfunctions etc.
So far I’m very happy with this setup, and I have great confidence in the armor provided by Spartan Armor Systems should I ever need to put it to the test. The important thing to remember, is to take a good hard look at what you are likely to use your armor for, and plan your equipment around that, so you’re not paying for and lugging around things you don’t need.