A Simple Guide to Efficient Tactical Vest Setup

A Simple Guide to Efficient Tactical Vest Setup


Mathew R Reed
January 27, 2022

Military tactical vests are useful life-saving tools that work as body armor and carrier for all the equipment and tools you need.

High-quality tac vests are made to last for many years of comfortable use.

However, when you buy a new tactical vest, you are faced with the complex problem of setting it up properly.

If you don’t know where to begin, you’re in the right place. This is a comprehensive guide for tactical vest setup, and it has everything you need to know to put all the components together.

Let’s get started!

What Are Tactical Vests?

What Are Tactical Vests?

Tactical vests are heavy-duty vests used by law enforcement, military, and private security personnel.

In recent years, civilians have also begun to use them for hunting, fishing, trekking, CS games, cosplay, and more.

These functional vests can easily be worn over regular clothing. They have multiple pockets in different sizes for carrying all kinds of gear and equipment you may need. Some vests come with pockets for bulletproof plates.

Tactical vests are made of a lightweight, breathable, yet sturdy material that will hold all your gear without weighing you down.

If you need to carry a weapon, modern tactical vests have right- and left-hand holsters that can comfortably hold pistols and medium to large handguns.

Most tactical vests have a Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) or Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS). These are webbing pouch attachment systems to carry additional tactical gear.

Some people mistake tactical vests for plate carriers and vice versa. While some tactical vests come with plate-carrying pockets, they are not entirely bulletproof.

A zipper runs down the middle to divide the vest into two zones for each hand to easily reach into. Tac vests are meant to be used even in hot weather, so they are made of lightweight, breathable material.

In contrast, plate carriers are heavy, stiff vests that hold bulletproof plates on the front and back. They are the body armor of choice for military personnel and law enforcement.

Fitness enthusiasts also incorporate plate carriers into their workouts for added weight and resistance.

Read Also: Top Tactical Vest Accessories

What Is the Best Tactical Vest Setup?

What Is the Best Tactical Vest Setup?

Let us begin by addressing a major misconception: there is no one standard or perfect way to set up your tactical vest.

Just as everyone has their own ways of wearing and using clothing, the same goes for tactical vests.

The configuration of your tactical vest is a matter of personal preference and maximum utility for what you’re going to use it for.

For example, if you will be carrying firearms, you must load your tactical vest so that you can easily reach for your weapons.

If you’re using a tac vest for fishing, it’s up to you to set up the different pockets that will contain the equipment and tools you need on your trip.

If the thought of creating your own tactical vest setup overwhelms you, worry not. This guide will take you through all the important points to consider to find the perfect configuration for you.

Picking the Right Size

Begin by choosing the correct vest size. Try on multiple fits and closely evaluate how they sit on your shoulders and chest.

When you’re getting measured or finding the perfect fit, make sure to remove the ballistic plates and other attachments. Your vest should cover all of your torso and allow you to move freely.

Our tip? Think of what you will be doing while wearing the vest and how long you will be wearing it. This should help clarify your preferred level of comfort and mobility as you try on different sizes.

Most tactical vests come with waist and shoulder straps to fit any body size. However, these straps should only be for very minor adjustments.

If the straps break or malfunction during your tactical activity, you wouldn’t want to be left with an ill-fitting vest.

What does a good tactical vest fit look like? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Set the shoulder pads in a comfortable position on your shoulders.
  • Adjust the top of your front plate, so it sits two finger-widths below your collarbone. The vest should push against your body when you breathe in but not obstruct or cut off your breathing.
  • The back of the vest should sit at level with the front.
  • Adjust any side panels to sit comfortably on your body.

Don’t just stand still when testing your vest’s fit. Stretch your body in different directions, and bend forward, backward, and sideways. Walk around or jog in place to see how the vest will move with your body.

If the vest restricts your movement in any way, you need a larger size. If the vest remains comfortable as you move around, you’ve found the perfect fit.

How to Configure Your Items

How do you arrange all the items you want to put in your tactical vest?

Loading different tools willy-nilly will make your things very difficult to find when you need them later. You don’t want to be stuck turning out all your pockets when you’re looking for something.

Here’s what you should do instead.

  • Lay out all the items and gear you will be taking on your hike/trip/mission
  • Mark the items in order of priority and frequency of use
  • Familiarize yourself with the pockets on your tactical vest
  • Purchase any additional attachments you may need to store your gear
  • Put on your tactical vest and adjust it to fit perfectly
  • Put the equipment in the pockets and the vest on to see how comfortably and naturally you can reach for what you need

Note: The best setup is one with all your frequently used items on the front of the vest, or at the sides where your dominant hand can reach. The less-used items can go on the back.

  • With a bit of trial and error, you should be able to create a natural setup wherein it will only take a few seconds to grab anything

A dress rehearsal of sorts can help determine your perfect tactical vest configuration. Practice all of your common movements, whether it’s running with your vest on, changing magazines, or other actions on the go.

This way, you can make all the adjustments you need before you take your tactical vest out for a spin.

Tactical vests come with detachable pockets that you can use or remove at will. Be careful not to overload your vest—keep in mind that you will carry everything around for hours at a time.

If you can’t unload some of your gear, arrange them well to maintain a good weight balance throughout the vest.

Essential Items for Your Tactical Vest

Essential Items for Your Tactical Vest

Don’t know what items you can carry on a tactical vest? Depending on the purpose of your trip, here are some essentials you should bring:

  • Flashlight
  • Compass
  • Hydration bladder
  • Notebooks
  • Pepper spray
  • Keys
  • Leatherman multi-tool
  • Medical pouch
  • Radio or GPS holder/pouch

If you are going to be using your tactical vest for combat purposes, then you will need the following:

  • Ballistic plates
  • Pistols
  • Extra magazines
  • Handcuffs
  • Baton
  • Taser
  • Field trauma kit

Read Also: Best Tactical Flashlights

Can You Add a Plate to a Tactical Vest?

Can You Add a Plate to a Tactical Vest?

You can add a plate to a tactical vest if it has the space for one. However, not all tactical vests come with plate carrier pockets.

Tactical vests specifically manufactured for combat have plate insert pockets on the front and back.

But those made for simple cosplaying, CS games, hiking, and trekking purposes will not have plate pockets.

Finding the best plate to protect your body and fit into your vest is a crucial part of the tactical vest setup process.

Read Also: Tactical Vests vs Plate Carriers

Ballistic Plate Cuts

The purpose of ballistic plates is to protect your vital organs from ballistic attacks. The level of protection largely depends on the cut size of the plates.

Here are some varieties of plate cuts found in the market.

  • Full Cut: This is a square or rectangular plate that protects your back from a ballistic attack. It is not the best plate cut if agile movement is your priority.
  • Shooter’s Cut: This has a rectangular shape and gives the wearer more mobility to use firearms.
  • Swimmer’s Cut: A swimmer’s cut is a notch above all the other plates in terms of mobility. It provides more flexibility for the wearer to move around. Unfortunately, it comes with the drawback of less protective coverage.
  • Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI) Cut: This is similar to the swimmer’s cut, as it provides flexibility for the wearer to move their arms. However, the SAPI accomplishes this without compromising the coverage of vital organs, as it has a higher 45-degree cut. The SAPI cut is commonly used by military and law enforcement personnel.
  • Side Plates: Side plates are meant to go on the sides of a vest to provide protection along with front and back ballistic plates. They cover a larger surface area on the torso, but they make a tactical vest setup significantly bulkier and heavier.


With an increasing need for bulletproof protection, the demand for tactical vests has gone up. Learning how to use, configure, and set up your tactical vest is time well spent.

This way, you will be able to carry all of your essential gear without limiting your range of movement.

The perfect tactical vest setup is different for every person, and it may take a bit of trial and error before you can settle on one that will suit all of your needs.

It’s worth the effort—soon, all you’ll have to do is swing your vest on your shoulders and go out the door.

Happy adventuring!


Mathew R Reed

Mathew R Reed is a professional gun seller who runs a dedicated gun store in the suburbs of Oakland, CA. A hardcore hunting enthusiast since childhood, Reed has ample experience with guns and accessories. He is the founder of ArmorHoldings.com and creates some of the most helpful gun-buying guides and explainers. If not in the gun shop, you can find him on the nearest hiking trail or nearby hunting spot.