To Use Body Armor or Not, by J.O.

My father, MDL, was a long-time follower of SurvivalBlog. He spent his life in a constant but relaxed state of preparedness. When he found the website, he found kindred spirits from which he could learn and help learn through several articles he contributed. Often I would find him on his tablet reading old articles at odd hours when he couldn’t sleep. He and I would discuss what he had read and try to apply points not just to preparedness plans but to everyday life as well. I have many fond memories of quality time spent with him gardening, canning, dehydrating, hunting, and shooting, as an investment into our family security and survival plan. Sadly, my father has recently passed away, at 42 years of age, after losing his battle with an aggressive cancer.

So here I sit, lamenting the loss of my father– my friend and my mentor– while wondering how best to honor him. After some serious self-reflection, I’ve decided I’m going to take up the standard and continue his legacy, not just because it’s his but because he opened my eyes, and I can’t “un-see” what I’ve seen. His stores, his firearms, and his various odds and ends are now mine, yet I am not he.

I’m an older teen, mature for my age and well trained by my father (a veteran). I’m sure I’ll find my own way of doing things, but the task is daunting from here at the bottom of the mountain called change. I don’t know how he did it all– worked full time, trained often, helped care for my ill mother, and (worst of all) carried on after the death of my older brother. My father was wise and strong, though like all men, flawed. We had many debates centered on where our differences were. So, I submit to you, the readers, one question. Body Armor: To use or not to use; that is the question. Is it in fact nobler in the mind (or body) to suffer the slings and arrow of outrageous misfortune, or can we really be immune to them?

I was spending some time re-inventorying our stores, motivated by the invasion of our borders by sick illegals and foreign fighters posing as such. It was during one of those sessions that I had taken down the fake wall in our storage area (see below) a few days ago and had been staring at three neat stacks (one for me, my mother, and my father) of our bug out gear.

Three hiker’s backpacks hung from bicycle hooks; they were filled with seasonally appropriate clothes, field medical kits, a sleeping bag, a pup tent with camouflage tarp, water purification tabs and filters, and a few days worth of food. On a raised base on the floor below each respective pack were three waterproof weapons lockers with well-tended combat rifles, sidearms, and ammunition (all standardized, of course).

(As a side note, we stole two feet from a wall with no window to accommodate food, water, and gear storage. We framed it out and sheet-rocked, using cut screws except for the four corners and dead center of each sheet. The garage as a whole was taped and spackled with only one thin layer of spackling, so it was very easy to blend this in by carrying it over to the fake wall. We practiced opening up various sections and redoing them to the point that they’re invisible.)

In between the packs and gun lockers, on a table, are three neat stacks of armor: Kevlar helmets, goggles, Class 3a vests, and reinforced elbow pads, knee pads, and gloves (custom made around brass knuckles, which can really change how you shoot).

It’s that stack in the middle I keep going back to. I don’t always know if it is something I’d use except for special circumstances, which I have discussed numerous times with my dad. He loved his armor; in fact he credited it with his lack of scars from shrapnel. However, I’m on the fence. My concerns stem from whether or not my basic medical training, which I received by paying cash for a “survival medicine course” will prove useful if my mother or I are wounded outside of our area of protection. I’m simply not capable of treating a gunshot wound to an artery on the fly, while in a shoot out.

Plus, what if I do successfully treat a wound temporarily, but then my patient dies from sepsis, organ rupture, or severe trauma because I don’t have access to better care? Would it not be more merciful to let a person die to spare them from suffering, provided they can make that decision with a sound mind? Not to mention that, if you have a group and one person is injured, it compromises the effective fighting ability of the collective through loss of manpower in treating a serious wound during a firefight.

Before I ponder any further, allow me to summarize the different levels or classes of body armor out there. ( These are all surprisingly available at gun shows in friendly states.

Class 1: Offers protection from .22LR, 40gr/1050fps up to .380 ACP FMJ RN 95gr/1025fps. This is very light armor that can be worn all day. It bears mention that .22LR is the most common round in the United States.

Class 2a: Offers protection from 9mm FMJ RN 124gr/1090fps up to .40S&W FMJ 180gr/1025fps in addition to all Class 1 threats. This is also a light vest and can be worn all day without negative issues, except maybe for chafing in warmer weather.

Class 2: Offers protection against 9mm FMJ RN 124gr/1175fps (+P?) and .357Magnum JSP 158gr/1400fps, plus all Class 1 and 2a threats. This is somewhat bulkier and is worn full time by many law enforcement officers.

Class 3a: Offers protection against 9mm FMJ RN 145gr/1400fps and .44Magnum JHP 240gr/1400fps as well as most other handgun threats and class 1 through 2 threats. The aforementioned calibers all being commonplace in many gun collections, class 3a seems to me a reasonable purchase. This level of protection is the highest available, to my knowledge, that can still be concealable. Its bulk can make it an issue for daily usage in warmer climates, which can result in health issues, like heat exhaustion. Some of the newer models can be augmented with steel plates that offer further protection, but this adds to weight and heat.

Class 3: Offers protection against 7.62mm FMJ (M80) 148gr/2750fps as well as class 1 through 3a threats. This armor is heavy and not suitable for daily use. Its benefit comes from tactical use, such as breaching and overcoming barricades. Some of the newer vests, at this level, can be augmented with steel plates. The issues with this level are the same as class 3 but to a somewhat greater extent.

Class 4: Offers protection against .30 Caliber Armor Piercing bullets (M2AP) 166gr/2850fps plus all previous threats. This is the highest level of protection and not suited to daily use. These vests can be reinforced with ceramic plates, which are single use and very heavy.

With all of that mentioned, my father opted to buy us non-concealable armor. He purchased class 3a armor with the ability to accept steel plates for both the torso and the sides. I should mention that the side plates are small but add protection for the lateral torso when you’re in odd shooting positions. My father had determined that other than our initial bug and subsequent guard duty at our retreat, we wouldn’t wear the armor. As well, we would wear it for any and all contact with strangers who may happen upon us. Not just for prudence but for intimidation.

Body armor, though effective, is not an absolute insurance policy against injury or death. While it protects vital organs, it leaves the extremities exposed and provides the wearer with a sense of security greater than what should be. For example, I was trained to shoot a static target wearing armor in the thigh, specifically the femur, so as to sever the femoral artery.

Admittedly, I have no combat experience and remain (thankfully) untested, but there will be many combat veterans who will likely survive the collapse. They will have greater skill than me and can likely make such a shot on a moving target with better accuracy. Even a lucky shot can cause serious injury leading to a slow death or paralysis.

I’m curious to see where you all fall on the issue. For now, I’ll follow my fathers advice and wear my armor in getting to our retreat and while on guard duty, but beyond that I’m not sure. What are the pluses and minuses you’ve considered? Are they worth it? It’s a very personal choice.

Also, the attached article can provide some insight as to my hemming and hawing.

Michael A. Fuoco, “Failure of Officer’s Bulletproof Vest Shakes Confidence,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 19, 2003