Let’s face it; plate carriers suck. They’re heavy, cumbersome, hinder our range of motion, and can be prohibitively expensive for some people. Why do we wear them? Because as much as they suck, being shot in your vital organs sucks even more.
The first plate carrier I ever wore was the US Army issue RBA. They were shaped like car doors and were just about as heavy. They were terrible, but we knew why they were necessary. From there it was the IBA, which was a big improvement over the RBA, but it always felt like I was wearing a manhole cover strapped to my chest. With the soft and hard armor combination, it was a heavy beast and the edge seams appeared to be designed with the sole intent of rubbing my neck raw.
Then along came the IOTV, which was a marked improvement in the comfort arena and while providing better coverage, it also severely compromised range of motion. With the advent of the jousting armor we were supposed to attach to it, it felt like it did more harm than good. For those of us that have bigger necks and arms, the yoke and bicep armor was far from comfortable and was removed as soon as I could do so. Of course, it did save lives. So there’s that little detail.
After my last deployment, I began searching the civilian market for a new armor option. I did my research and spoke to friends (and did some soul-searching) and decided to forego the soft armor option and stick with a simple plate carrier. I also wanted side plate protection, so that helped narrow down the search a bit. I was also interested in MultiCam; because that seemed to be the direction the Army was going in and may become our standard camo pattern soon. That also helped to narrow my decision.
My search led me to several manufacturers and after some trial and error, and not a little money spent, I ended up at First Spear. I wanted something lightweight and their laser cut 6/9 technology caught my eye. With the addition of the Tubes system, I really liked what I saw. I ordered the Strandhögg SAPI Cut Plate Carrier. The carrier is also available in the more traditional MBAV cut if you prefer the extra real estate and/or the option to add soft armor.
When the vest arrived, I was dumbfounded at how light it was. Knowing that adding pouches and plates would increase the weight significantly, I started my search for those and settled on the Taco pouches from High Speed Gear Inc. With the addition of the First Spear admin pocket with the requisite 6/9 tabs and a lumbar med pouch from OSOE Gear, I was ready for some field testing.
After “assembling” my vest, I loaded the pouches with mags and tried it on fully loaded. I was pleasantly surprised at the comfort and breathability of the carrier, as well as the lack of shifting typically found in most carriers. The shoulder straps were very comfortable and provided ample padding after a day at the range. Range of motion was very good and nearly unimpeded. Upon removing the vest after 8 hours in the sun, I noticed that I had very little sweat on my shirt; a testament to the breathable mesh padding inside the front and rear of the vest, cummerbund sides, and shoulder straps.
The 6/9 webbing system took some getting used to and although it doesn’t require removal of the plates to use, it makes things much easier. Overall I found it easy to use and a lot stronger than I thought it’d be. First Spear makes a selection of pouches for the 6/9 system and I grabbed their admin pocket to see how I liked it. Attaching was easy and it felt secure and even though I was apprehensive about how secure the attachment system was. To date it hasn’t failed, despite many rigorous attempts to dislodge it. The 6/9 system also brings the pouch a lot closer to the vest since the attachment materials are much thinner, and the vest doesn’t have the typical webbing. To attach, you simply weave the multiple flaps through the laser cut slot on the carrier and press them to the inside surface. The vest itself can use either the 6/9 system or traditional MOLLE equipped pouches.
The Tubes system is ingenious. Easy to use and pretty damn strong. I hate releasable body armor. Well, I hate reassembling said body armor when the cable routing comes undone. First Spear has really got something here. It’s fast and easy, but most importantly – it’s secure. Donning the vest is easy and fast and requires no special maneuvering or adjusting each time you put it on. Adjust the thick shock cord in the rear of the cummerbund once, and the Tubes put it back in the same place every time. By pulling down and out with the pull cord attached to the female half of the tube, you disconnect the attachment. Simply reversing the process allows you to secure the tubes again. This is of particularly convenient use with casualty care. Medics can disconnect the tubes and assess a wound or check a dressing, and then simply slide the tubes back together. Donning and doffing the vest in your day-to-days creates the muscle memory needed to remove it in an emergency as well.
I ran the Strandhögg through the paces at the range in grass, sand, gravel, dirt, and mud and I found it more than up to the task of being ground into the earth by a low-crawling, heavy-drop like myself. Through all the abuse, the comfort level was apparent. Rifle butt placement is typical of plate carriers and no better or worse than average. The carrier integrates well with my sustainment pack and leaves little to be desired overall. My one gripe is that the cable/hydration hose routing system on the top of the shoulder straps. While it works well as designed, it doesn’t feel as strong as others I have used with the more traditional webbing.
While there are a ton of carrier offerings out there, from the low-end vests that seem to be meant for one time use to the higher end models like the Strandhögg, I have found that First Spear has done something truly unique and it well warrants the cost. If you place comfort anywhere on your list when looking for a plate carrier, you can’t go wrong with the First Spear Strandhögg SAPI Cut Plate Carrier. In addition to the MultiCam, they offer the Strandhögg SAPI Cut Plate Carrier in Black, Ranger Green, and Coyote. It is also available in sizes Small through Extra Large. For more information on First Spear, you can visit their website or check them on Facebook.