I met Dan Lounsbury of Tactical Products Group a couple of days before the 2013 SHOT Show, while waiting for my luggage in the Las Vegas airport. He told me a little about his company, who supplies tactical gear for government agencies and businesses. I got on the TacProGear email list. The gear in the emails looks well-made, and is usually priced very competitively. I was especially interested when I got an email listing their “Active Shooter Defense Kit“, which includes a plate carrier and two Level IV “stand alone” plates for under $400, shipped. This was a terrific deal.
Plate carriers can be used in one of two ways. They can be used as primary armor for individuals for whom speed and maneuverability are more important than the more extensive coverage traditional body armor offers, or they can be used as reinforcement over soft body armor for the proverbial really bad day. I have seen plate carriers used mostly the first way, by some combatants while on combat deployments, but I know some police officers carry plate carriers in the trunks of their squad cars for situations where there is a known threat of taking fire from heavier calibers than their soft body armor can handle.
The Active Shooter Defense Kit came with the Rapid Assault Plate Carrier and two Level IV stand alone plates. In practical terms, this means that without any additional reinforcement, one of these plates should be able to stop any rifle round smaller than the really big magnums. (Detailed explanation of the NIJ standards can be found here.) I emailed Dan about getting one of the Active Shooter Defense Kits to review. Most US military reserve members’ field gear is issued by their units, so if a service member goes to another unit that is not immediately deploying, he may be waiting for months before receiving his gear. (In my current unit, I am advised that the delay is usually six months, and I am in a “frequent deployment” specialty!) This means that I have had to borrow gear to do some unit training, such as fire on qualification ranges. The RAPC would let me have a plate carrier and magazine-mounting system I could use while waiting for my issued load-bearing gear and IOTV body armor to arrive, and I could use it for my own personal training after I received my “TA-50″.
The RAPC comes in black, OD green, coyote, and MultiCam. It’s covered with MOLLE/PALS webbing on the front and back, with hook and look (“Velcro”) patches to put identifying name or unit tape. The 10×12″ plate carrier pockets are secured at the bottom with a hook and loop tab.
The shoulders are padded, and the insides have a textured surface that allows for more air circulation.
The sides are open, and secured by adjustable straps with Fastex buckles and an elastic keeper to hold the excess length after the strap is tightened.
The shoulders are secured by adjustable straps with hook and loop tabs on the end.
The front of the RAPC has an additional large pocket in front of the plate carrier pocket. This pocket has a zipper on both right and left sides, and the rear wall of the pocket is lined with “loop” material.
My immediate impression on receiving the RAPC, was that it seemed well made It was very lightweight, and when I put it on, it was comfortable. After installing the plates, the carrier was still very comfortable and allowed almost full mobility. The RAPC is much less bulky than standard full coverage body armor with rifle trauma plates, so I decided to try it under a cover garment.
While it might not be obvious at night, from a distance, the plates in the carrier add a significant amount of bulk that will be obvious under most circumstances. I did wear it around the neighborhood a few times during low traffic times of the day, and moving with it reinforced how comfortable the vest was.
I took the RAPC with me to my unit, and had several Soldiers look at it and try it on. One of the Soldiers has put on a lot of extra weight after seeing several of his troops blown apart on his most recent deployment. His extra width forced the RAPC to ride higher than it should, even with the shoulder straps at full extension. I determined to find other body types that were large but not fat to test the RAPC on.
I wanted to set the RAPC up as I might use it in combat, so I purchased two commercial M16 magazine carriers. I then encountered another issue. The RAPC is just a little too thin to fully hold some three-wide M16 magazine carriers.
I have Army-issued three-mag carriers with three MOLLE straps on the back, and I purchased a six magazine carrier with six loops on the back. A single loop wider would be enough for the carriers that have two straps per magazine compartment, or the two partial loops on each side of the front could be consolidated into a single full loop- this should give the exact same amount of frontal area, but it would be more usable.
I also attempted to mount my typical duty knife in its usual position, high on my non-dominant side. I immediately discovered that there was not enough room to mount my knife without it interfering with my rifle magazines.
A mounted knife should be in a position where it can be immediately drawn and used, so I mounted an Ontario Knives EOD Karambit to the front of my magazine pouch. Since there is only so much room on a compact carrier like this, I was not upset at not being able to use my usual knife and mounting preferences.
When I had Sam Owens try the RAPC on, it reinforced my idea that more adjustment room in the straps was needed.
A standard trauma plate is 10×12″, and obviously that is not going to cover all of a large person. What it should cover, though, are the most vital organs.
My natural tendency is to want to cover lower on my abdomen than very high, if I have to choose. This was “fact checked”. A radiologic technologist provided me with images from a fine slice CT scan which demonstrate the difficulties in covering abdominal organs without leaving vital vessels in the chest exposed, when the length of the plate is 12″. I am forced to conclude that leaving the plate riding high, protecting the aortic arch at the top of the heart and the connecting arteries, is the best of the bad options if a large person happened to be wearing this or any other standard plate.
I called Dan and discussed my impressions with him, and especially described the need for more adjustment length in the shoulder straps. He said TacProGear would work to make the change in the next RAPC generation. Dan also asked how I liked the Universal Pistol Wheel.
I had not received the pistol wheel. Dan had one sent out. The pistol wheel is a disk backed with “hook” material that mates with the “loop” material in the front pocket.
The Pistol Wheel has a hook and loop strap that can be adjusted to fit a wide variety of handguns.
Once adjusted to hold your handgun, the wheel can be placed in the front pocket, positioned for a right or left-hand draw. The picture shows a full-sized duty handgun, which was held very securely.
I took the RAPC with me for a couple of weeks of active duty at Fort Story, and wore it on a march, along with an assault pack. This would be the exact amount of gear certain small US military units use when out on missions. Worn with a fully loaded assault pack, the RAPC was still very comfortable, and stayed relatively cool in the humid Virginia summer.
There are some things I like about this carrier. It is extremely reasonably priced, and very comfortable. It allows a high degree of mobility. The Fastex side buckles make putting the RAPC on very quick and easy. The Universal Pistol Wheel allows a convenient way to carry a sidearm.
There are some thing I don’t like about this carrier. I think the side straps could be a designed a little better- just adding another elastic gather on each side would control the extra tongue left dangling on smaller people. The plate carrier pocket would be better if it opened at the top instead of the bottom. All hook and loop fasteners eventually fail, and a pocket that opened at the top would prevent spontaneous ejection of the trauma plate when this happens. The front MOLLE loops can easily be reconfigured to make the best use of the width that is there, and allow six full rows of usable loops. My initial conclusion was that the absolutely most important change to be made to the RAPC was making the shoulder adjustment straps longer, to allow the plates to cover “center mass” for shooters who are wider or taller than average. After much discussion and looking at x-rays, I don’t believe this any more.
I think the Rapid Assault Plate Carrier as it is now could be a good choice for someone of small to average build who wants a plate carrier for occasional use. Even without plates, it works fine to mount a carrier for six M16 magazines, if a military-issue carrier with three anchoring straps is chosen. It definitely allows carriers with less than six straps to mount securely. The Universal Pistol Wheel would allow someone who keeps a plate carrier in a squad car or locker to quickly access armor, ammunition, and a sidearm, in a form that can be put on in just a couple of seconds. I think anyone who is much larger than average build would be better advised to choose a carrier that will allow mounting a larger plate.
Available for a little over $100 from sites such as Optics Planet, with MultiCam about $10 more.