Plate Carriers and Tactical Vests - Real deal vs. Airsoft Replica

Plate Carriers and Tactical Vests - Real deal vs. Airsoft Replica

Build quality - 500D Nylon VS 1000D Cordura

One of the most noticeable differences between replica kit intended for Airsoft skirmishing and the real stuff, designed for soldiers to use in real combat situations is the materials chosen for the construction of the rig. The vast majority of Airsoft kit is made from lighter weight materials with lower stitch density than a real plate carrier or tactical vest, primarily to reduce the cost and keep the weight low for sporting, rather than survival purposes. 

Airsoft rigs are manufactured entirely for Airsoft Skirmishing, and the designers conceived these rigs assuming they will never be used when lives are on the line, allowing them to make compromises to ensure their kit remains affordable to hobbyists and sportsmen worldwide.

Real tactical gear such as plate carriers, chest rigs and tactical vests are designed in the full knowledge that someone's life may depend on this equipment performing when it needs to, and as such are made from dense material with high strength (1000D Cordura, for example), suitable for carrying ammunition, armour plates and other equipment which is heavier than any Airsoft equivalent by many orders of magnitude.

Weight of plates - 50g Plastic replica plates VS 2.8KG NIJ Level III/IV Ceramic plate

Replica plate carriers designed for Airsoft are intended to carry either foam or plastic plates, weighing practically nothing whilst having the look of a fully-loaded body armour vest. Replica manufacturers have become quite good at this, and replica plates can be quite a convincing substitute for the real thing, and look quite convincing if worn correctly.

This leads us on to another glaring difference between a real plate carrier and an Airsoft replica - the intended role. A plate carrier made by Paraclete or Eagle was designed from the start to hold real plates (weighing around 2.8 KG each!), and have been thoroughly tested to ensure they are easily capable of not only holding that kind of weight but distributing it properly to prevent injury. 

The consequences of trying to repurpose Airsoft equipment to hold real plates practically make wearing the plates at all pointless, as plate carriers often rely on high strength buckles and velcro to hold the plates in the correct position, and the carrier onto the wearer's body. Given that the Airsoft vests use lower grade buckles and velcro it is highly likely that they will fail during heavy use, or sit in a manner which does not provide the protection the plate was designed for. 

IRR Treatment - Glows like a firefly VS Dissapears into the darkness!

One of the biggest reasons to NEVER take an Airsoft tactical vest or plate carrier into a real combat zone is the IRR (Infra Red Reflective) treatment that real plate carriers and tactical gear undergo. This means that when viewed under night vision, the vest reflects IR light away, making the wearer more difficult to see. When put to the test under night vision, any real kit, including most modern combat clothing has a dull signature, and whilst visible it does not glow like civilian garments or replica combat gear does. 

The contrast with a replica tactical vest is enormous. The replica will glow like a bonfire under night vision, and this really cannot be overstated. With night operations being a big part of any real conflict, and night vision devices becoming more and more widely issued, wearing a replica tactical vest is akin to painting a target on your back, and those of your fellow combatants. 

Quick release mechanisms - Works sometimes VS Works every time

The quick release mechanism of a plate carrier is an essential part of the rig, and its reliable function can be a matter of life or death. The quick release mech is intended to be used when the plate carrier needs to come off immediately, whether it is to apply first aid or in the event that the carrier is inhibiting the user's movement and endangering them more than it is protecting them. 

An example such a scenario is sudden emersion in water, whether it be a swamp or river, where a failed quick release mechanism can result in the wearer drowning. Another example would be if the wearer is trying to escape a dangerous area (disabled vehicle, etc.) and the carrier gets snagged, or the escape route is too small to move through whilst wearing the carrier. If the quick release mechanism fails, the wearer may find themselves trapped and in greater danger wearing the carrier than not. 

Plate carriers manufactured for combat by companies specialising in such products have been rigorously tested, both in development and in the hands of soldiers in combat, and are known to be reliable and dependable. Plate carriers made in China or Taiwan with the expressed purpose of Airsoft skirmishing or Cosplay may be put together by a worker on a low wage, with a non-existent quality control process, and often the quick release mechanism is present but is assembled incorrectly, or made from substandard materials. Obviously, for Airsoft, this is fine, as for us the quick release function is only ever used to mess with your mate by making his carrier fall off at an inopportune moment! For combat this is not in any way suitable, and cannot be relied upon to perform when lives are on the line. 

Design parameters - What did the designers have in mind?

The most basic thing to consider when comparing these two similar looking but absolutely distinct garments is what the designers had in mind when they were conceived. It would be unwise to attempt to cut a steak with a butter knife, even outright dangerous, but a steak knife will see you enjoying your steak with little effort, cutting it safely and effectively before every bite. 

The same is true for tactical vests; if it wasn't designed for the particular job of being used in real combat then it is not worth the risk of entrusting lives to. Those with charitable hearts and genuinely good intentions may inadvertently put others at risk by providing such equipment, and as such we advise if you have the intention of purchasing replica combat gear for use in a real conflict that you instead purchase army surplus gear that has been issued in the past, and is designed for combat load-bearing, and not looking snazzy in front of your mates on the Airsoft field!