I’ve been putting off this review for sometime now. I suppose I’ve put it off mostly because I don’t know much about plate carriers or body armor. The AR500 Armor Testudo Gen 2 plate carrier is my first plate carrier which I loaded up with some Level III+ multi-curve steel plates, trauma pads, a universal holster, and mag pouches. As typical of my “first impressions” reviews, I’ll provide my honest opinion of the gear as well as my decision making process.
I’m sure there is a reader out there wondering why I picked up some body armor. Heck, my wife and close friends pretty much gave the same “you’re crazy” look when I mentioned it to them. My reasoning was aligned with the reasons I make most emergency equipment purchases: just in case I need it. But, that reasoning was also fueled by Trump’s ban on bump stocks and several politicians (most notably Schumer) calling for a ban on body armor. So there was that.
Why the Testudo plate carrier specifically? Honest truth is that this plate carrier was the one I had heard about the most on popular YouTube gun channels with consistently good reviews. Those reviews may have been biased due to channel sponsorships, but I didn’t give that much thought. Especially when I came across a coupon code on social media that knocked off a little over 20%. Looking back on it, this purchase seems to be a pretty lucky one given I’ve met several folks which way more subject matter expertise that run this same carrier in their kits.
Why Level III+ 10×12″ steel plates? There was no logic behind this decision other than it was what was included in the package and aligned with what I could afford when I made the purchase. I had the option of downgrading to plates with a lower impact rating to save a few bucks. But I wanted the armor with the highest rating that I could afford. I do wish I would have put up a few bucks to do a few upgrades on the Level III+ plates now, I’ll get to more details on that in a bit.
Why the holster and mag pouches? There was also no other logic behind this part of the decision other than they were already included in the package and I didn’t have other MOLLE attachable holsters or magazine pouches that I could use with the plate carrier at the time I placed my order. I did have the option of omitting them to save a few bucks and now wish that I would have, but I didn’t give it much thought at the time of the purchase.
So there is the background. Now let’s talk about the gear.
I really like the plate carrier. It’s comfortable with padding in all the right places. It breathes well, which is a welcome feature in a hot Texas summer day. It’s adjustable in all the right places to get a proper fit. A proper fit meaning the chest and back plates correctly cover the center of mass thoracic organs. It is a bit of a workout to put it on, check the fit, take it off, make adjustments, and repeat until the fit is proper. But once it’s adjusted properly, it’s easy to put on and take off. No rubbing in weird places. No shifting or slipping around as I move around.
The primary material is Cordura nylon. Everything is stitched well. There is plenty of MOLLE webbing to customize it however one needs to customize it. Hook and loop material is plentiful as well. I did notice the carrier didn’t include any additional nylon loops for cable management like some other plate carriers offer, but in my inexperience that wasn’t something I was looking for to begin with. Perhaps I’m showing my ignorance in saying this, but I figure cable management can be accomplished with the available MOLLE webbing, some zip ties, and a bit of duct/electrical tape.
Having worn this carrier loaded with the armor and loaded pistol and AR-15 magazines for several hours while attending a pistol and rifle course last November, I’ve developed a few opinions. Again, the carrier met all of my expectations. However, the plates left a little to be desired.
First things first. There is an old saying that says “ounces are pounds, and pounds are pain.” The fact is these plates weigh approximately 8.5 lbs each. That’s almost an extra 20 lbs in addition to the weight of the extra ammo, side arm, rifle, and anything else you are carrying. That extra weight doesn’t go unnoticed for very long. While I’m sure I can benefit from the extra workout, I do wish I would have put up the extra money purchasing the light weight plates instead (which weigh in at an approximate 6.5 lbs each).
Additionally, I think I would have liked to have upgraded the cut to the advanced lightweight shooter’s cut (ALSC). While the ALSC cut has a narrower profile along the shoulder line (and therefore offers a little less protection, but also shaves an extra pound off each plate), I think the increased mobility from that cut would make shouldering and manipulating firearms feel more natural. Or rather more similar to firearm manipulations without body armor which is how I regularly train. Perhaps this thought will dissipate over time as I train more while wearing the body armor and the firearm manipulations become less foreign.
AR500 Armor also offers a “build up” coat, which is an additional LINE-X coating that provides improved protection against spalling. I go back and forth on wanting this feature as the extra coating will add a bit more weight.
At the end of day, I don’t regret purchasing the plates that I did. While I do think I would like the plates more with a few of the upgrades I’ve mentioned, I’m not chomping at the bits for a new set of plates.
I don’t have much to say about the blunt force trauma pads other than I’m glad they were included in the kit. Given they only weigh about 6 ounces each, it’s easy to forget about them and not give them a second thought.
Frankly, I think the pistol holster and mag pouches are trash. Okay, maybe that was a little harsh, but I honestly don’t care for them. Sure, they are better than nothing and the do what they were designed to do (hold magazines and a pistol). If I recall correctly they accounted for less than 10% of the total cost of the purchase. Separately, I’m talking about a $24 multi-caliber universal holster, a $10 double pistol magazine pouch, and a $15 double AR-15/M4 magazine pouch. I included them in my purchase because I didn’t have any other holsters or magazine pouches in my inventory that I could use with the plate carrier. Given that premium custom holsters and magazine pouches will run anywhere from five to ten times as much, I opted to keep them due to the low price point and the “it’s better than nothing” mentality. Replacing them is the first thing on my list in terms of improving my plate carrier set up after adding an IFAK to it.
I feel like I owe an explanation after giving the holster and magazine pouches a negative review. So, I’ll start by saying that this opinion may be coming from a place of ignorance given I don’t know much about body armor and best practices for setting up a chest rig. However, I’ve run pistols and rifles long enough to have developed some strong opinions about holsters, slings, and magazine pouches. From my perspective, two of the most important qualities I look for in both a holster and a magazine pouch are safe retention and ease of deployment. In the case of the holster and magazine pouches I found both of these qualities leaving something to be desired.
For the most part retention is achieved by securing the items held with a secondary strap. In the case of the holster, it was a back strap with a snap button. The magazine pouches it was an over the top flap of material that is held in place by velcro. When engaged, these straps do provide decent retention. However, they both require an extra motion to disengage them in order to be able to deploy the pistol or an extra magazine which makes the deployment slower and more difficult than I would like it to be. Once the retention mechanisms are disengaged, the retention isn’t very good so leaving the retention mechanisms disengaged is not a good option. Another characteristic I look for in my gear is the ability to maintain low noise discipline. While it’s not as important as the other two qualities to me, I’m sure it is super important for other folks. In this department, velcro and snap buttons leave a lot to be desired as well.
Overall, it’s my opinion that the carrier and the body armor is well worth the money and a good option for anyone looking for a plate carrier and body armor. Along with that opinion, comes the caveat that I’m just an average armed citizen with very limited experience and knowledge on plate carriers and body armor.
September 4, 2021 Update: It’s been a year since this acquisition and my opinion has evolved. The Testudo carrier continues to work fine. Granted, use has been limited to wearing it during a tactical carbine/pistol course and occasional larping activities. However, I replaced the magazine carriers with some Esstac Kywi carriers and tossed the holster in the trash. As far as the plates go, I’ve spent a bit of time talking with folks who wear body armor regularly due to their professions and the consensus is ceramic and polyethylene armor is the way to go for two reasons. The first reason is that ceramic and polyethylene plates significantly reduce the likelihood of injury from spalling compared to steel plates (even when compared to steel plates with anti-spall coatings). The second reason is that a ceramic and polyethylene plate can weigh up to half of an equivalent protection level steel plate; which is a pretty big deal. The downsides to these types of plates is they tend to be more expensive and have a shelf life of five years (compared the 25 year shelf life of steel plates). The same folks who have educated me on body armor overwhelmingly recommend body armor manufactured by Hesco and Hoplite.