About a year ago, I decided I wanted to buy my first set of body armor. I was brand new to body armor and had no idea what I was looking for, I just knew it was all so expensive. After days of research, I started to come to a realization that there are cheaper options, and cheap doesn’t always mean low quality. Actually, when it comes to body armor, cheap typically means heavier and more uncomfortable, not any less effective.
Before we begin, it’s important to note that there are different kinds of body armor. Specifically, soft body armor is what you probably think of when you hear “bulletproof vest” and is commonly worn under your shirt. In contrast, plate carrier body armor is a bulletproof plate placed inside a vest typically put on top of your clothing. Think SWAT-team-style body armor where you can see it on the outside of their clothing.
The cheapest option for getting into body armor is by far the pate with plate carrier type, which is what we get into in the below article. The plates specifically are what we will break down, but plate carriers can be purchased extremely cheap if needed, so the overall cheapest price will still be the plate/plate carrier style armor.
Not all body armor is made the same, and even when buying cheaper options, you need to make sure they actually provide the needed protection. In the below video, you can see a demonstration of some cheaper options that are actually scams and do not provide the protection promised.
1. AR500 Freeman Plate Carrier – Cost: $175
The Freeman Plate Carrier, in my opinion, is the best value starter set. After all my research, I settled on this plate carrier combo and purchased it myself. I’ve owned this for over a year and while I don’t typically wear it, the times I have, I’ve had no complaints. In addition, this carrier set goes on sale frequently and you can get it for as low as $99. I’ve included a link below to the page I’ve found the best discounts on.
This body armor is rated to level III (you can learn about body armor levels here) Level III can stop all major handgun ammunition up to the .357 SIG and the .44 MAG as well as rifle rounds up to 5.56.
This is a plate carrier style, so the package comes with 2 removable plates and a carrier (vest) for the plates to go into. These plates are on the smaller side coming in at 9″x9″ but cover the major zones, like the heart and lungs, that you’d want to be protected at all costs.
This plate is simple and serves the purpose of body armor. Don’t be mistaken, there is higher quality armor out there, soft armor that doesn’t spall, lighter armor, etc… This is an entry-level unit for those that want the main benefit of body armor (the ability to stop a bullet) at the best entry-level price.
The shelf life of this unit is 20 years. Just like food, body armor is required to have an expiration date. Also, like food, just because something passes that date doesn’t mean it’s automatically gone bad. AR500 steel plates are not likely to “go bad” 20 years in if they have been cared for.
Comfort is where plate carrier body armor falls short. It’s heavy, can dig into your shoulders, is not flexible, and makes it difficult to forget you are wearing it. This particular carrier doesn’t have extra padding built into the shoulders, back, or chest like some carriers simply due to the price point of this armor.
Since the plates are only 9×9, they still give freedom of movement and weigh significantly less than the 10×12 or 11×14 plates.
The AR500 Freeman Plate Carrier was designed as an entry-level solution for people just wanting to own body armor. This specific carrier was named “Freeman” because AR500 believes ever free man should own body armor.
If you are looking for something to keep long-term that won’t break the bank and can be used in the event of an emergency, this is the combo for you.
2. AR500 Heritage Plate – Cost: $65
The Level 3 Heritage Plate by AR500 is our pick for cheapest quality built plate if you want to go else where to purchase a carrier. For example, you can pickup a cheap plate carrier that can fit this size plate on Amazon for $20. If you want just a chest plate and to purchase a cheaper carrier elsewhere, this is going to be the best bang for your buck.
The reason the Freeman isn’t here is that the Freeman comes only as a kit since the plates are custom sized for the carrier. This plate is a standard size of 10×12 and can fit in most standard carriers across the market.
Stopping power is not something you’ll need to worry about with this particular plate. Since this armor is a level III, it will have no trouble stopping typical handgun ammunition such as .380, 9mm, .45 ACP, .40, and even .357 MAG.
In addition, level III body armor is also rated to stop some rifle rounds such as the widely used 5.56 M855. The exception to this is that level III is not rated for 5.56 M193, or .223
The material for this armor is Steel. While there are lighter options on the market, in the “cheapest available” category, we won’t be seeing any of them. The benefit of steel, however, is its increased capacity for taking multi-round hits as opposed to polyethylene or ceramic body armor.
This plate has the ar500’s proprietary FragLock coating that will protect the plate’s integrity for years to come. The manufacturer claims a 20-year shelf life. Given this is the cheapest option, it is amazing that it comes with a FragLock coating, given even higher-end armors can come with lesser-quality ceramic coatings.
On the cheaper end of body armor. comfort is going to be a spot where you’ll begin to notice a difference compared to higher-end plates.
The Level III Body Armor comes in at a whopping 8lbs in the 10″x12″ variation. Spend $25 to upgrade to the 11″x14″ and you are looking at over 10lbs. While that weight is noticeable, it can be compensated for with a well-fitted plate carrier.
While weight is higher, the profile of this plate is surprisingly small coming in at only 0.26″ thick. The plate can be used on the chest or back.
This plate does come with shoulder cutouts with an elongated cutout on your dominant side to make shooting with a rifle stock more comfortable without sacrificing too much surface area on the plate itself.
The Level III Body Armor by AR500 is the choice for those that want the best in stopping power at the lowest price. Period. This is not the lightest plate or the most comfortable, but when SHTF, this is the plate you want. A potential use case for this plate is an “in case of an emergency” vest. Something that can be thrown on for a short period to serve one purpose; protect your life at all costs.
If you are looking for something to wear daily, or to throw in a briefcase/backpack, this armor is probably not the best fit on the list.
3. Level IIIA Body Armor by AR500 – Cost $75
The third cheapest body armor on the list comes in at $10 more but serves a different purpose. It is likely that users wanting to wear armor more regularly would prefer this plate as opposed to the first one.
This plate is rated at 3A (IIIA) meaning it has slightly less stopping power than a typical level III plate. This plate can stop nearly all handgun ammunitions and is also rated higher caliber handgun ammunition such as the .357 SIG and the .44 MAG. As for rifle rounds, this plate is not rated for any. This plate has a steel core, in addition, to being rated for stabbing and slashing.
The quality of the Level IIIA Body Armor is on par with the Levell III. It has the FragLock coating giving it an extra-long shelf life that will keep it looking and functioning as expected for years to come.
Comfort is the area this plate really stands above the others on this page. Body armor has a tendency to be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and at times, just a nuisance. So, any way to limit those problems is a win.
This body armor wins by coming in a curved shape to fit better with the wearer and having a slim profile of only 0.20″ thickness. In addition, we are looking at 3lbs lighter in weight as compared to the previous plate. The Level IIIA Body Armor by AR500 weighs only 5lbs.
The dual shoulder cutouts with the extended cutout on the dominant side is also a feature of this armor making it even more comfortable to move and shoot with.
The Level IIIA Body Armor by AR500 is an excellent choice for those that intend to wear regularly and want a long-lasting armor that can stand up to multi-shot scenarios without skimping on comfort and daily wearability.
My Recommended Plate Carriers
OneTigris Multicam Tactical Vest
The vests in this line are designed with an ergonomic pocket system that makes it comfortable to carry a heavy load. The vest is constructed of lightweight materials and can be worn during hot temperatures without compromising on comfort or agility, allowing you to breathe easily while wearing the tactical pouches filled with your equipment.
GFIRE Tactical Vest Modular Vest Breathable Combat Training Vest
The MOLLE vest is made of high-grade, high strength materials that are lightweight and sturdy. The stitches on the straps were reinforced to make them more solid so you can comfortably wear it for a long time without feeling weighed down or uncomfortable from shifting material around in your pack. There’s ample room for all accessories because there are large loops with webbing attached to this design which makes it easy pick up items off the ground such as weapons when needed in battle situations. With adjustable shoulder straps, users will be able to adjust their fit depending on if they’re carrying heavy gear or not – perfect for use during tactical operations where one needs quick access to certain tools but may have less weight than usual due other missions requiring only smaller packs!
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