5.11’s Low Profile ABR Plate Carrier

Few doubt that police officers, deputy sheriffs, and the rest of the police world as well as those in the military need body armor capable of stopping various threats. Recently, a fellow instructor told me about a group of federal criminal investigators whose office was shot at often enough; they kept a striped down vest with soft armor and plates in their workplace. Others need those same types of protection – firefighters and emergency medical providers, protective details for people or places, and decent, normal humans, aka – the public. However, unlike the cops and military, they cannot always go about their daily life wearing that armor.

Pretty low profile, 5.11’s ABR plate carrier all zipped up

We will touch on body armor and a lower-profile way to have that lifesaving protection with you.

There are two basic types of armor – soft and hard. Each is rated by what it will stop. The National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) has established set standards for the performance of body armor. Those standards, currently identified as NIJ 0101.06, address bullet type, speed, and weight; the locations and number of hits that must be stopped; and environmental concerns. For the past few years, a newer NIJ standard has been pending introduction. Before my retirement a few years ago, I provided comments and feedback, as did others. I reached out to NIJ and asked about the delay in introducing it, but I have not yet heard back from them.

Currently, soft armor must meet the specifications for levels II and IIIA. Level IIIA special threat plates are designed to stop some handgun rounds. Hard armor, rifled-rated plates, and shields have level III and IV specifications. Some manufacturers have what they call III+ plates that specifically address certain 5.56mm rounds that have not been tested for under the current standards.

The ABR carrier closed-up with stand-alone plates from Hesco inside.

Diving into rifle plates, aside from the threat levels, there are two categories. One is a stand-alone plate, meaning that the plate by itself will defeat whatever it is rated to stop. The other is an In-Conjunction With (ICW) plate; these require a soft armor backing to assist the plate in defeating incoming rounds. While some users will add any soft armor to a plate, to comply with the certification, the plate and that backer must have been successfully tested together.

During my career, depending on the assignment, I wore ICW plates and soft armor that were issued together after testing and certification, ICW plates in a carrier that would go over already worn soft armor, and stand-alone plates without any soft armor. For the record, I prefer the first two as I like the extra protection for areas not covered by the plates.

The above is a wave top overview; I encourage you to review the current and pending NIJ standards or reach out to reputable armor manufacturers and retailers for more information.

If it is impractical for you, regardless of profession, to go about your life always wearing armor, what can you do? Is there a way to have armor readily available in your car or office space without attracting unwanted attention?

Why, yes, yes, there is.

I met with the folks from 5.11 Tactical at this year’s SHOT Show. Full disclosure, I wore the original 5.11 trousers back when Royal Robbins and company made them out of canvas for climbers.

One of the new products from 5.11 is the A, a low-profile armor carrier that converts into a plate carrier.

They shipped the ABR to me just before a recent trip down to Gunsite.

The front panel with MOLLE for attaching pouches along with the side-release buckles.

When I unboxed it, it struck me as looking like a small briefcase or a large organizer with two webbing loop handles. The outer fabric appears to be 1000 denier Cordura nylon with YKK zippers. There is one large exterior pocket as well. While the outside has a 5.11 label, it is muted and maybe 3/8″ by a ½”.

When you unzip it, you get front and back halves joined by shoulder straps. Each of those straps has a smaller side release buckle on it. The underside is padded with open mesh for airflow. There are side straps that secure with large side-release buckles. The front panel has both laser-cut and sewn loops for attaching MOLLE-type pouches.

Inside the plate pocket – plenty of room for stand-alone plate or ICW armor packages.

The plate pockets are generous in size and secure with half-an-inch wide hook and loop tape. Inside the plate pockets are adjustable straps to get the plates high up in the pocket. They will readily take either stand-alone plates or ICW plates with a backer. While I had stand-alone plates with me on the trip, I did not have any ICW plates/backers.

You open up by unzipping it all the way around.

So, how does this thing work?

The carrier is now unzipped and opened up for wear.

Find the zipper tab and run it around the carrier’s circumference. Next, open the carrier up – if you staged it by opening one of the two side straps and leaving the other closed, slide one arm and your head into the opening. Pull the carrier down onto your shoulders, fasten the side release buckles, and tighten the straps.

Once unzipped, up, and over your head.

While the ABR would not be my primary armor carrier, it is not designed for that role. Its role is to conceal the presence of ballistic protection until there is an emergency. Then allow the user to don that armor and escape from the danger area. It sure looks like the ABR meets that role.

Fastening and tightening the side release buckles.

The ABR is now listed on the 5.11 website for $155.00, armor not included.