Body Armor Basics, by Raskolnikov

It’s always struck me as odd that we often think of defensive preps almost exclusively as involving firearms. Don’t get me wrong, I love guns. I’ve taken courses and train regularly so I can use them effectively if the need should ever arise. But in a gunfight, the bullets don’t just go in one direction. Often, they come back at you as well.

Today, we’re going to talk about how we can protect ourselves with various types of body armor or ballistic protection. We’ll talk about some of the basics of body armor, how it works, what options are available, and a few considerations when buying your first armor set. Unfortunately, if you see ads for body armor online, the comments reveal that many folks believe misinformation about body armor. I’m hoping to provide you accurate, verifiable information to help you get started. I’m not an expert by any means, so do your homework and verify what I say (after all, your life is at stake, so take this seriously). In this article, I may also mention specific companies, but that’s just because they’re the ones I know. I’m not affiliated with any of them, I don’t benefit from sending business to them, and I don’t have any specific inside-the-industry knowledge. I’m just a regular guy hoping to share a bit about one of his interests, and hopefully help out those who feel overwhelmed by all the options.

One additional disclaimer: Some jurisdictions restrict use and possession of body armor, so know and follow your local laws (and consider moving to a free state!).

The Basics

Body armor usually comes in the form of a vest, with either a flexible material like Kevlar or a hard material like steel or ceramic serving to absorb the force of an incoming round. By distributing the force over a wider area, the vest lowers the likelihood that the round penetrates the chest area. Today’s ballistic vests are just the latest iteration of the armor worn by combatants for thousands of years, except that instead of protecting yourself from the swords of the Huns, you’re protecting yourself from the guns of the lawless. It’s tested and rated according to a scale from the National Institute of Justice, which rates body armor based on the rounds it’s capable of stopping.

When body armor is “soft,” it’s flexible and usually covers more of your chest; however, it’s limited to protecting you from pistol rounds and some shotgun shells. “Hard” body armor comes in the form of plates that are inserted either into a plate carrier or into a pocket in a soft vest. They cover less of your chest, and cover from fewer angles, but can provide higher levels of protection to the most essential areas.

At the outset, you have to recognize that buying body armor is about tradeoffs. You can exchange coverage area for flexibility, protection level for weight, and so on. No armor system can protect all of your body from every round you might face, so you have to identify the threats you’re likely to face, the activities you’ll need to perform while in armor, and the amount of time you expect to be in your armor. Armor that doesn’t protect against the threats you expect to face is useless. Armor that doesn’t allow you to perform tactical activities readily is useless. And armor that you’re not wearing when you’re faced with a threat is useless.

Twin myths surround body armor: That it renders you invincible from the golden horde darkening the skies with lead aimed your way, and, conversely, that it’s useless because even if it can stop incoming rounds, it can’t stop the blunt force trauma bullets bring with them. As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Commercially-available body armor doesn’t cover all of your body. It primarily protects your upper chest (and the vital organs located there), which means you’ll still be vulnerable to being shot in the arms, legs, pelvis, and head (I won’t delve into ballistic helmets in this article, but it may be a topic of a future article if readers enjoy this one). And while body armor panels are tested to survive multiple hits, if rounds start impacting in the same spots, the vest will be less effective and can fail. Body armor is not a substitute for proper use of cover and concealment, and it’s not a talisman that wards off all incoming rounds.

However, that doesn’t mean body armor is useless. I’ve lost count of the number of unintelligent internet comments that the blunt force trauma will kill you. It always seemed to me that I’d rather take a broken rib or two than a couple rounds in my chest. These critics also don’t understand backface deformation testing. When body armor is tested by the NIJ, that testing doesn’t just include whether the round penetrated, but also the ability of the vest to spread the force around the body to minimize injury. When the round impacts a test vest, it creates a dent in the clay backing material behind the vest. The shallower the dent, the more effectively the vest absorbed and spread the blunt force of the impacting round. For the vest to pass, this dent (the backface deformation) must be within acceptable levels. Most armor systems go even further by making trauma pads available for purchase. As the name implies, they are an extra layer of padding that helps to absorb and diffuse the force even more to avoid blunt force trauma. Now, would it be fun to be shot while wearing a ballistic vest? No. Most compare it being hit with a hammer or a hard-thrown baseball. But I’ll take that over the alternative.

Available Levels of Armor

The NIJ armor scale runs from level IIA up to level IV. Levels IIA, II, and IIIA are available in soft armor, while levels III and IV (required for rifle protection) come as hard steel or ceramic plates. The ones you’re likely to see are levels IIIA, III, and IV.

Level IIIA will stop most pistol rounds. A vest rated IIIA by the NIJ has been tested to stop 6 rounds of .357 SIG at 1470 ft/s or 6 rounds of .44 Magnum at 1430 ft/s. IIIA vests can also stop 9mm rounds fired from longer barrels (think 9mm AR-pattern modern sporting rifles or an MP5 submachine gun) and most 12 gauge shotshells and some slugs. If you’re concerned primarily with pistol threats, a level IIIA is usually your best bet. (Lower ratings, like level II, can also stop many common pistol rounds, but they’re not easy to find anymore, since ballistic technology has progressed to the point that those vests are nearing obsolescence.) The NIJ doesn’t rate vests as IIIA+, but some companies (most notably Safe Life Defense) market vests as having this rating to indicate that they provide additional protection against special penetrating rounds like Liberty Civil Defense or the FN 5.7.

Level III rifle plates can be worn either alone in a plate carrier or in combination with a level IIIA soft vest. They’re rated for up to 6 rounds of 7.62×51 NATO/.308 Win. at 2780 ft/s. They’ll usually stop 7.62×39, but caveat emptor! Because the NIJ rating doesn’t test 7.62×39, if you’re concerned about your neighbors with AKs, read the manufacturer’s specifications. Better safe than dead because you didn’t read the fine print. Cheaper level III plates are often made of steel, while lighter and more expensive plates are usually made from ceramic or sometimes polyethylene. As before, some companies market vests as level III+. Because this isn’t an NIJ rating, what it means depends on the company. For some, it means that it will protect against common military surplus/contract overrun 5.56 rounds, like XM855 and XM193 rounds (an example here is AR 500 Armor). For others, it means the plate was tested with 7.62×51/.308, but at a velocity higher than 2780 ft/s. You’ll need to read the fine print to be sure what you’re getting.

Finally, level IV plates are rated for 1 round of M2 armor piercing .30-06 ammunition. Some manufacturers have their plates tested with more than one round, but the NIJ rating only requires 1 round, so you’ll need to read the fine print to be sure.

Considerations When Choosing Armor

When deciding the level of body armor you need, consider your threat environment and your intended use for the armor. Do you plan to wear it as part of your EDC kit? You probably want level IIIA soft armor for maximum comfort and concealability. Do you only plan to use it for training and if things Schumerize? You can probably trade a bit of comfort and concealability for the greater protection of hard rifle plates. Does everyone near your farm have rifles? You definitely want some rifle plates. As part of this, consider the firearms that are part of your defensive plan, since they’re probably a part of someone else’s too. Consider working your way up to having protection against the firearms you’d use to protect yourself. (Personally, with AR pattern modern sporting rifles being nearly ubiquitous, I’d look for rifle plates that can stop XM855 and XM193 rounds.)

The level of protection you need will dictate whether you purchase soft body armor or hard rifle plates. Remember, soft body armor will generally give you more coverage, but hard rifle plates protect against more threats, at least within their coverage area. Soft body armor weighs less and allows you to move more easily than a heavy steel plate carrier system, so consider the degree of activity you plan to do when defending your homestead: Soft armor might be better suited to bugging out on foot, while a stationary defense plan suits plate carriers far better.

It’s also worth noting that soft body armor is much easier to conceal (at least if it’s not too tropical where you live), while a full plate carrier is nearly impossible to conceal except under a winter coat. While this debate largely mirrors the arguments of the open or concealed carry debate, I try to avoid openly wearing armor for a couple reasons. First, it’s provocative and can make you a target for aggression that would otherwise go elsewhere, when the entire point of armor is to protect you from armed aggression. Second, it mitigates a big advantage armor gives you, and that’s protection your adversary isn’t expecting. If someone who intends you harm knows you’re wearing a ballistic vest, they can just aim for your head instead of wasting time shooting at your chest. In normal times, be the gray man. That said, external wear of plate carriers in a true without-rule-of-law situation will likely be more expedient, since it will give you access to whatever MOLLE equipment you’ve attached to your plate carrier, including spare magazines for your favorite carbine or battle rifle.

Ceramic, or Steel?

If you opt for hard rifle plates, consider whether you want ceramic or steel. Steel is usually the choice for the more budget-conscious (AR 500 Armor regularly has BOGO sales), and it’s more likely to withstand multiple hits. However, it’s much heavier (8-10 pounds per plate). Additionally, it can be prone to spalling, which is essentially shrapnel from a round impacting the steel and breaking apart. That’s a major problem if you’re wearing the plate, so look for plates with an anti-spall coating (Infidel Body Armor was a pioneer on this design feature, though most major manufacturers now offer anti-spall coatings). Ceramic plates are lighter weight (3.5-6 pounds per plate, depending on the manufacturer) and very unlikely to spall, but they’re usually thicker and more easily damaged by rough handling. They can also get much pricier than steel very quickly.

For those on an extremely tight budget, companies like Bulletproof Me offer police surplus soft vests for substantial discounts. While I’d obviously suggest buying new if you can afford it, an old vest seems better to me than no vest, as long as you know the risks.

Body armor can be a big investment, but if you do your research and only buy something when you understand what it does, it can save your life. It deserves to be a part of your defensive plan. Without it, you’re only accounting for outgoing fire, not incoming fire.

What body armor have you decided best suits your preps? How did you reach that conclusion? Please share your thoughts in the comments.




37 Comments

  1. “Body armor is not a substitute for proper use of cover and concealment, and it’s not a talisman that wards off all incoming rounds”
    Say it again and again and again
    I see very little of folks getting into “cover and concealment” in classes. The teaching focus on being “first and fast” and part of the OA_ Nation which most aren’t even after the class.
    There are times for BOTH. If your child is being abducted or worse at the other end of the house then blow through but if your at the grocery store seek cover or more likely concealment, evaluate and act. Putting on armor and standing wide open in the streets is what everyone is doing these days cause “we are making statements”. Yes you are but not the ones you think.
    No one likes to teach it because folks are lazy and hate getting up and down and moving. Standing flat footed and doing a sidestep is much cooler looking with all that armor and useless patches. No one likes to wash their gear after doing up-downs all day after it’s rained the last few hours so instructors forego it so students will return and spend more money.
    The idea is not to get shot in the first place so cover and concealment then removal of the threat even if your wearing armor.

  2. A bit off-topic, but I have a few surplus reloading equipment items that I’m looking to sell. Where would the SB readers recommend using?

    I know there are mixed opinions on reloading, but I’ve been involved in reloading since I was a child and find it economical and a good way to “tailor” ammo to my firearm. I have acquired some other items that I don’t have particular use for that I’m sure would be of great benefit to someone else. Thanks for any input.

    1. There was a section here on SB for that kind of thing, for a while. I’m not sure when or why it went away but I thought it was great while it lasted. Armslist might be a possibility but my thoughts are that there are scammers and thieves that prowl that site, and post there.

  3. I found it very interesting that the NFAC protesters did not have body armor or firearms training/discipline of any kind.

    Out of maybe 200-300 of them at the Texas and Louisville demonstrations I think I saw 4 people using it.

    Everyone else had black tshirts or sweaters.

    There seemed to be more people with soft armor at the Seattle and Portland protests.

    Also I urge readers to order armor for their families NOW as you will find that plate carriers and plates take around 10 weeks for delivery.

    Pray for our Country.

    1. You raise a good point on the long lead times. I’d imagine sales have been going up since the pandemic and social unrest hit. (Maybe an insider knows more about the sales data than my speculation?) Ordering so you have what you need before the election is a good idea — body armor has long been a target of Democrats.

      1. Body armor sales are unprecedented.

        For what we are experiencing in the rush of orders is multiples of what we saw in the summer of 2016 when we were in Idaho. During the summer of 2016, there was the night club in Florida that was shot up and then following that, the 4 officers in Texas that were gunned down/ambushed. This drove strong sales into the fall pending the election Trump v. Clinton. At the time leading up to the summer shootings with steady sales, the shootings turned the sales to 3-4x normal.

        Fast forward to wear we’re at now. Take that same normal monthly sales and at the onset of COVID, particularly March 2020 was 8x normal. With a leveling out for a monthly 4x normal in sales.

        We expect to see more spikes as November approaches, with “fallout”(even more of an increase) happening either way the election goes.

        IF they give it to Trump, right and left will be buying. If it goes to Joe, the right and left will be buying.

        Plate carriers are sold out from CONDOR a month ago, pending restock sometime in AUGUST.

        There is a major strain on supply chains/covid related situations as to how reliable restocking will be moving forward from right now.

        We’re currently 10-14 days on plates only orders and have plenty of armor plate(right now). But carriers are difficult to keep in stock.

        Amplify these numbers by adding in, say 8 other steel armor companies market share, and it’s quite possible that we could deplete raw material supply before election day. We saw plate hard to get in 2016 and this is much more than that.

  4. Good article. Learn the difference between cover and concealment and teach iy to your family. Your armor should be rated to protect you from at least the caliber you use.

  5. There are primarily 3 main considerations a person goes through when buying body armor, and to balance that equation purchasers weigh out Cost, Capability and Comfort. To add to that, they are then faced with shelf life, multi-hit capability and an optimal “kit” design for their particular use. With so many available options and perceptions provided “Hollywood” and the LARPING social media crowd, it is best to learn from folks that have been there done that. Not just looking cool.

    Through our experience and processing information from many experts. We find that a multi-layered approach is what most people should be looking at, but not all. That multi-layered system will be composed of first, your pistol on your hip always attached to your body (or attached to battle belt). Followed by a combination of a 3A wrap around soft armor, a plate carrier with your trauma plates to cover your vitals and a battle belt with H harness (IFAK, Mag Pouches, canteen, etc). This seems to be the most logical “layered” approach based on what your daily situation and threat levels will dictate. We do not advise attaching your entire loadout to your plate carrier.

    To balance the equation of Cost, Capability, and Comfort. You first have to decide your budget, and threat level. Composite plates made from a ceramic tile and a ballistic fabric are most common place in the LEO/MIL community (most expensive and generally a single impact plate), but steel has grown quite popular in the last 8 years with these outfits (least expensive and multiple impact plate). Solid choices in the composite marketplace are HESCO armor plates, and most companies that sell composites are a HESCO private label. Another solid choice and probably fits the equation a little better is RMA Armament out of IOWA. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting the owners of RMA at our shop and are stand up guys! They produce an affordable by measure solid composite armor and are now offering a multi-curve forming for comfort in their 3+ and level IV.

    A note of concern for preppers and concerned citizens is the shelf life of composite armor. Most composites and soft armor solutions are only guaranteed for 5 years from in-service date. While this is likely a business method for repeat sales, it holds true that glues and other materials when vacuum forming will break down over time. For steel armor, the shelf life and in-service are almost indefinite. Companies manufacturing steel armor will coat their plates in a polyurea high-temp application to seal the steel plate from elements and offer an extra coat for spall/splatter mitigation. (Spall coat was actually pioneered by LINE-X in 2005-2006 and Armored Mobility AMI was the first to offer a spall coat back at the same time, JUNE 2006, LIGHTFIGHTER.NET, ARFCOM) Spall coat only seemed to become popular around late 2012-2013 by Spartan Armor, Infidel Body Armor, Ar500 Armor, and CATI Armor.

    Capability is summed up by the NIJ testing protocols. Currently under the NIJ 101.06 testing protocols when considering rifle threat levels, there are only Level 3 (.308 M80 ball) and Level 4 (.30-06 AP Black Tip). Under the new testing protocols, they will add an in-between level and change the names and velocities in which they conduct testing. RF1 will be similar to the current Level 3, and RF3 will be similar to the current Level 4, while the new category RF2 (M855 @ 3100fps, M193 at 3250fps) will be what in the industry is considered a Level 3+. It will be a breath of fresh air to have this in place as, many of the 3+ plates in steel are gliding around on the ignorance of the consumers. You do need to do your due diligence! Of the 3+ offerings in the market place, you should look at only a 3+ plate with a ¼” armor core. The armor gliding around made from .210 steel will not test to the new standards by the NIJ. LEGIT 3+ ¼” can be found from Spartan, CATI Armor and AR500 Armor. IF looking at composites either go with a Level 4 or a 3+ that is tested against both M193 and M855 at velocities in the 3100fps range. HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) plates want to sell you on how light or buoyant they are, while they will stop M193, they fail at M855. For steel Level 3 ¼’ AR500 steel plates, the inverse is true. They will stop M855, but not M193 at higher velocities above 3000fps in general.

    Comfort is summed up by how well your fully loaded kit wears on your body. Load distribution can mean, you being good with wearing your kit, or dreading it. Since 2012 there have been two main forming shapes of armor available, whether steel or composite, those are flat plates and single curve plates. Flat plates do not conform whatsoever to your torso and they will wear you down from your carrier bouncing all over the place. Single curve plates, do conform to your abdomen, but the protrude at the clavicle and they will bust into your chin when kneeling, sitting, standing and almost every other position you can find yourself in. Upper tier armor plates, always are going to be form fitting and multi-curve in nature. The multi-curve will have two main bends, one at the abdomen and another in the upper chest area. This is a natural fit for the human torso, and the most comfortable.

    You can find affordable, capable and comfortable plates from RMA Armament, Spartan Armor and CATI Armor in their multi-curve designs and forming.

    Long time SurvivalBlog reader and a person in this arena.

    Brian

    -CATI ARMOR

    1. Thanks for the inside insights! Glad to hear there will be increased standardization coming with the updated NIJ protocols. And it’s definitely good to note the flat v. curve choice.

      I’ll have to check out CATI at some point. I’m always happy to support fellow SB followers when I can.

  6. Body armor depends on your threats or combat situation
    Urban is extremely fluid and body armor is a layered approach to that problem
    Ammo , grenades , water and the body armor puts you 50 + pounds
    Weather plays a role rain puts weight on you with clothes
    Snow Ice slows you to a crawl
    Most combat is conducted by young people that have no clue how quickly you can die
    Cool gear , nice weapons just makes you a nice fat target with a scoped version of a 30-06 deer rifle with an old man sitting in a tree line or a bombed out building shooting your carcass
    You are a payday for them
    I like this blog but combat veteran’s are a very quiet bunch
    Push their buttons then you are in the suck with them when we explode at fools
    Body armor has it place but it is a tool and tools do fail when you are weighed down with the weight

    1. You make so many important points, CC. Looking at the larger picture…there is no substitute for big picture perspective. Getting realistic about the situation.

      Some folks say if you are fighting with firearms, esp. with more than one opponent, your chances are near nil.

      When we talk about cover and concealment, let us also examine prevention and deterrence. Body armor is a brute force solution. We have many soft and clever options to misdirect our opponent(s), to slow them, to cripple them. Direct confrontation is an option that holds great risk.

      Carry on in grace

  7. At my age I have learned to compromise, my M14 E2, and a level II vest in case someone gets close with a pistol. Anything heavier and I won’t be moving around very well. I can keep most away to about 800 yards.

  8. I believe that unless the primary threat are handguns in a urban setting that can be handled by level 2, the weight of body armor in addition to web gear is prohibitive for most. One must be in their prime and extremely fit to handle the weight.

    As for level 3+, there are other hyper velocity magnum rifles that might defeat it, making level 4 necessary. Until certified against heavier rounds in excess of 3,100 fps, I would have my doubts about the effectiveness of level 3+ (RF2). 7mm Remington Magnum, and .300 Winchester Magnum are popular rifles in my area. And a few have Weatherby’s and other modern short magnums. Magnum rifles are fortunately not common in general, but more so than is M2AP (black tipped armor piecing). Should the bad guys show up around here, their level 3, 3+, or 4, may not be adequate.

    1. A lot of what needs to be considered, needs to be taken outside the context of what we “tongue in cheek” call the YouTube test (the NIJ Test).

      In this situation many folks are predisposed to view armor being tested from straight perpendicular shot from 50feet to show how well the coating works or if it stops the projectile. No angles of incidence are considered for deflection, etc.

      That being said, you fire that same M193 that goes through a level 3 plate and zero obliquity 3100fps, it will glance at an increased angle and not penetrate.

      We have field tested our 3+ over 3250fps, and have NIJ data to back it up as RF2. A recent video by a well known North Idaho homesteader fired a .300 RUM at our 3+ and it stopped it clean. One heck of a wallop however. We’ve fired .300 win mag 190grn SMK all day long(not really, but enough) at 3+ from 50 yards, nothing but dents. We do not own a 7mm, but all being around 3000 FPS. It’s not heavier rounds persay that penetrate steel, but velocity on a smaller surface area. If you were to have some 30-06 SABOT 55grn rounds at 4000 out of the muzzle and your direct shot into the RF2 at less than 50 yards, I think you may have a chance and penetrating. The way steel is penetrated is the mass “loadup” in a small area(it’s a eraser sized core that is pushed through), that’s why the M855 doesn’t go through level 3, it partially deflects the energy because the penetrator will not allow “load up”.

      Keep firing and moving. Not only will someone not be standing tall taking perpendicular shots to the chest, they’ll likely be shooting back. As a pepper we analyze things to death and do our best to mitigate and find the best outcome we can settle our inner debate. The only thing that you can count on is that nothing will likely play out the way you thought or prepared for.

      M2AP will go through 3/8″ 500 easily. 50bmg will smoke all personnel armor.

      1. Hi Brian Moore,

        We are unlikely to need to mitigate uncommon threats, yet if I’d like to be able to defeat amour, the most common magnum in these parts is the 7mm Remington Magnum. I have an accuracy load using 140 grain that the book states is 3,319.
        The correct balance of meplat (bullet frontal area), and higher velocities may defeat level 3+. There does not appear to be test data available for such a load. Most testing involves standard hunting loads using heavier and slower bullets that I would expect are well below the threshold. My friends have all kinds of magnum rifles, including a 7mm Weatherby that would launch a 140 grain up to 3,353 fps using an generally accurate power with a maximum amount of H4831sc that I have a ton of. Another friend has a .300 Winchester Magnum that can push M2AP at 3,200+ fps with an accurate load using R19. This is a much higher speed than M2AP that generally runs around 2,750 fps out of 22 to 24 inch barrels. This much higher speed will increase the odds of penetration at a 45 degree angle, add approximately 200 to 300 additional meters/yards of effective range, or increase the ability to penetrate thick amour plate. I’d share Brass Fetches data, but unfortunately I cannot not find the video any longer. It may have been removed. BTW, the Army states that .50 API is only good for 400 yards with a perpendicular hit. Get the real AP for best results!

        These are unusual loads few would encounter, and are not likely going to be a threat. Neither would M193 at 3,250 fps as few persons, except old farts like us, would use 20 inch barrels these days. And fewer yet would be able to source the newer Army ammo, M193A1, or M80A2 that is not on the market, except the black market. This ammunition has a perpetrator core in a solid copper bullet. Of course those interested in such loads can now experiment.

      2. Hi Brain,

        I correct my spelling of “amour”, and found the Brass Fetcher video:
        Armor Plate Shootout – 0.5″ thick MIL-A-12560 armor plate
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkVMSj6scxE

        (Note the speed and depth of penetration at that speed, and duplicate it in your rifle. Use reloading data for a 180 grain projectile as it matches the length of the 165 grain AP bullet, and thus the C.O.A.L.)

      3. I would like to see testing on level 3+ using this widely available .300 Winchester Magnum ammunition from Hornady, a 150 grain bullet they advertise at 3,275 fps.
        This a fairly common magnum cartridge that does not need to be hand loaded, and exceeds .300 RUM by about 100 fps. As a hand loader who might push the limits of what is possible, a .300 Weatherby could push a 125 grainer out at over 3,500 fps with most powders at maximum pressures.

        https://www.hornady.com/ammunition/rifle/300-win-mag-150-gr-interlock-sp-american-whitetail

  9. Location and climate are factors to consider. In many places it is hard to conceal IIIA soft armor under lightweight summer clothing, although Hawaiian shirts can help the patterning and some very expensive body armor is not as thick as Kevlar.

    Raskolnikov has a very good point that it is best to conceal body armor if possible in order to not encourage enemies to shoot you in the head.

    1. PS In comparing prices of Level II soft armor, be sure to compare thickness. Some cheaper armor is relatively thick whereas some armor is expensive because it is made with materials to be thinner and more concealable. However, it would be good to check flexibility and long term durability as well.

  10. Well written article – logical, informative, relevant.
    Yes we should prepare for a two way range.
    “Better safe than dead” is a good mantra for more than body armor!

    I’ll share my limited actual experience using body armor.

    In the law enforcement realm, we evolved from concealed under-the-uniform shirt IIIA armor to external IIIA armored vest. It was a big improvement in comfort, mobility, temperature. Plus the external armor becomes the load bearing vest for radio, magazines, cuffs, etc. and has lots of velcro for badge and patches. I think it serves to “project force”/ discourage crime more than the concealed armor.

    For personal use, I often wear concealed or external armor while engaging in shooting activities, to mitigate ricochet or negligent discharge risk. If I had to make a late night run to the city to retrieve a way-ward loved one, I’d wear concealed armor. Civilians should generally focus on concealed armor, as external armor can raise a lot of unwanted attention.

    Armor is easily worn as part of cold weather clothing, can be very uncomfortable during really hot, sunny weather.

    I have hard ceramic plates in a mil-spec IOTV vest but never wear it, as it weighs at least 30 pounds. While protection from rifle might be desirable in a few circumstances, the mobility penalty is just too great.

    I’ve heard of the concept of having an external vest, laden with critical gear and with or without plates, ready by the bedside to be hurriedly put on while responding to the “bump in the night”. Good theory, never seen it done in practice.

    I would encourage the purchase of armor for the family sooner, rather than later. Availability could be even less or nonexistent in the future.

  11. PPS If you go for Level II armor with just front and back protection but wide open, unprotected sides (to dissipate heat in hot summers) then you may want to adjust
    shooting style from Weaver (which exposes side of body) to Isoceles and pivot to directly face any attacker.

  12. weight vs protection….I went with Defender plates III++, 2 sets cost $2,160. Bot from bulletproofzone.com (i don’t work there) 10″ x 12″ SAPI cut. weigh about 4lbs per plate, so at 63yrs old I can carry extra 8lbs. But don’t forget your also carrying ammo,guns and other equipment. Also make sure all plates are coated or you will take rd in the neck. My vests are Tacprogear rapid assault plate carrier, don’t remember exact cost..think $400 each…..so total cost $3,000 for 2 people protection.

    hope this helps…Jim

  13. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

    12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:11-12 KJV)

  14. I recently heard Dragon Skin is coming back with Gen II flexible armor. Supposed to be much lighter and more flexible than any armor in the world. Have you heard if it’s available again?

  15. Are there systems of layering where instead of swapping out soft body armor vests for full plate carrier setups, you would keep your soft vest on and add additional protection (lighter plate carrier, etc) over the soft protection?

    Seems like this could be less expensive, and have the benefit of providing some protection in areas a rigid carrier would otherwise not be able to cover.

    1. Yes, that is one approach, albeit bulky. It is particularly apropos for someone on a budget. You buy a slightly used Level 2 vest, and then add AR500 steel plates-front and rear. The Level 2 vest acts a great spall liner and by itself will stop mostly pistol rounds and shrapnel.

  16. Thanks, that’s what I was picturing. Is it reasonable to assume that wearing, say, L3 plates over a L2 vest would get a ‘L3+‘ effectiveness in the overlapping areas? Or ‘L3+‘ plates over L2 might get L4 protection?

    I know in a true mix-and-match situation there wouldn’t be any certification, and I’ve never seen any testing that gave me any idea of how effective this approach would be.

    Does any manufacture make a system like this which they certify?

    I looked but haven’t found one, but that doesn’t mean no one uses this approach.

  17. I bought my Level IIIA vest in 2008. It is a non-ballistic carrier with velcro adjustments on both sides and on both ends of the shoulder straps and holds Kevlar ballistic panels front and back that extend fully to the sides so that, if I haven’t gained too many inches in girth, they will overlap on the sides to give double protection under the arms. There is a pocket inside the front of the carrier for an additional kevlar panel to protect the center mass area. The ballistic panels are removable so the carrier can be dropped in with the regular laundry and machine washed to get rid of the funk. It is designed to be worn under a uniform shirt. The price at the time was $700. When I balked at the price, my husband’s response was, “How much is your life worth?”
    The men’s vests ran around the $200 mark at the time. The reason for the huge difference in price was actually pretty simple. Ladies come with more curves in more places so measurements need to be taken in more places and the ballistic panels need to be constructed to fit those upper “bumps” properly so a proper fitting lady’s vest is custom made, hence the additional cost. The men’s vests come in general sizes and the velcro adjustments take care of most of the differences from one guy to the next within each range.

    The upshot of this is…If you are female, get measured, plan to wait longer for your vest to get made and prepare to pay more for your vest than your male counterparts pay for theirs. It will be worth it in the long run.

    And yes, I wore mine every time I wore my uniform (volunteer LE and security) and no, thankfully, I never needed the protection but felt better for having it, no matter how uncomfortable it was. It all comes down to that old mantra: Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

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