Disclaimer: Airsofter, not professional user.
A decade of fighting overseas revolutionized the armor carrier market, bringing us from SPEAR vests and OTVs to 6094s and JPCs. Following the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, we've seen a dramatic reduction in the size of the tactical gear market, as well as the number of new and innovative designs being brought to market. The products that have been recently introduced seem to be focused on different markets--specifically low-vis, minimalistic equipment for police officers and range shooters. Others have introduced radical changes while exploring new ideas, such as the AVS, Strandhogg, and now Airlite SPC. Inevitably, some of the features of these new designs will become industry standards, while others will fade into obscurity. But what about the things that we already know work?
It seems to me that there are certain improvements that could be immediately made to the plate carrier as it currently stands, improvements already proven in other designs. The bulk of the designs on the market are approaching a decade in age now--the 6094 and its many derivatives date back to 2009, the JPC to 2011. Even the 2.0, one of the most modern carriers on the market, just takes a 2011 carrier and adds AVS features. I understand that the demand is not as high as it once was, but that isn't an excuse for the industry to rest on its laurels and ignore the lessons of yesteryear until another conflict pops up. The experimentation with new ideas is great and will doubtless lead to new breakthroughs, but there are things we can change right now to make the run-of-the-mill plate carrier better than it is today.
Here are a few things I'd like to see become standard:
-Intelligent use of materials. There's no reason for the back of a plate bag to be 500d cordura, for example, as it won't receive much wear. The use of high-strength laminates in applications where their strength is unneeded is another example. Anywhere that doesn't experience a bunch of wear should be experimenting with stuff like 330d, pack cloth, stretch, and mesh.
-Fewer layers. It isn't just plates that make things thick. Without proper care, you can end up with an 8-layer sandwich of velcro and cordura between you and the ground. Reduce layers of fabric whenever possible.
-Unobstructed shoulder pockets. 15 years of guys bitching about buckles and fabric in their shoulders and this is still a thing? Do it like the JPC, with super-thin straps, or like the 6094, where the angle is such that the stock only sits on your shoulder, and not on the vest.
-Dedicated sizes. If we're trying to reduce bulk, there's no reason to have a small plate floating around in a medium carrier, or a medium SAPI in a "10x12 shooter cut" plate bag. S/M/L SAPI cut with room for plates of varying thicknesses.
-Integrated admin pouches. They make life so much easier and prevent your mags from getting obstructed by the outward bulge of an pals-mounted admin.
-Integrated capabilities for cable management. Personally, I like the velcro loops and slanted webbing loops of the 6094. They make managing hydro and comms a breeze. Some of the newer carriers forgo them to save on bulk, which is cool, but when you need that extra shit it's nice to be able to have it organized and out of the way.
-No kangaroo pockets. If you don't end up using them they just add more bulk. I like the way the AVS and 2.0 handle this problem.
-No metal. There's little reason to still be using metal tri-glides, button snaps, and metal grommets when there are better alternatives and they add no value, only additional weight and points of failure. A slight aside, but no reason for pouches with natick straps or malice clips now, either.
-Ventilation. This is a big one. I'd like to see plate carriers come with 3d spacer mesh on the inside of the plate bags, with channels to aid in airflow--think like the back of a backpack. The way the Russians have been dealing with some of the problems with these is by making them removable, allowing for panels of varying thicknesses, as well as washing or replacement. Ventilation panels reduce body heat and sweating (and thereby water intake), aid in comfort, and protect from back face deformation.
-Standard cummerbund pass-through. The Crye system is a pain in the ass, doesn't save bulk where it matters, makes adding pouches on the back needlessly difficult, and is slow to change out. Having a standard pass-through would have prevented the creation of an entire genre of products designed to offer alternatives to the three-band, as existing solutions could have been dropped in with ease. Also makes modifying the load easier (adding support for side armor and grenades, or slimming down to an elastic).
I think a modified JPC 2.0 (qore icevents, m4 triple front flap, kydex insert, different cbund if you want) gets us as close to an ideal setup as is currently possible, but it's a costly and labor-intensive approach. Mayflower could release a newgen APC with all of these features tomorrow and it would completely change the game. I get that the targeted user base is different than it was five or ten years ago, but it's still troubling to see rigs being peddled that don't even have webbing for a hydro bladder on the back, or encourage users to put admin stuff and pistol mags between themselves and the ground. There's still room for improvement in the realm of the military plate carrier.
In what areas do you think current plate carriers are lacking? If some company was to announce a new plate carrier tomorrow, what would it have to do differently to incentivize you to switch? Lightfighter is a gold mine of experience--I'd like to hear your thoughts.