As a former military and police tactical officer, I want to write a bit about armor, why consider using it, what are the types, and best choices for various budgets.
Many Preppers do not believe that armor is a needed part of their preparations. However, after spending a combined 30 years in the military and in police work, I can assure you that when things break down people will act badly. People will take your stuff, rape your family, and kill you and your family. Weapons and armor will be vital. Armor is expensive. However, if you or a family member are shot, stabbed, or slashed in an attack in a TEOTWAWKI situation when you may not have access to an emergency room and a trauma surgeon, the injury could be life ending. Armor also gives you the ability, if shot while in the armor, to stay in the fight and provide additional firepower to aid your teammates or family. In addition, armor is an important force multiplier. If an enemy has to try and shoot you where there is no armor, it makes it that much harder for them to take you out of the fight.
Armor is rated at different levels. As the protection of the armor goes up, the weight goes up along with cost. Ballistic body armor is rated by the Department of Justice to stop different bullets. Basic ballistic soft body armor will not stop penetration from ice pick-type stabs, but it will stop thick-bladed stabs and help protect from slashing. A vest saved a friend of mine from a razor slash to his chest. The razor slashed through several layers of the armor, but he was not injured. You can buy ballistic and stab proof vests, but they are more expensive. When it comes to bullets, pistol bullets are easier to stop than rifle bullets, because they are going slower. You need hard plates or dragon skin to stop most rifle bullets.
The basic levels start with Level IIA. (There was a level I, but it is not in production anymore.) Level IIA thru IIIA are traditionally soft body armor.
Level IIA will stop most handguns (not 44 magnums and larger). It is the thinnest and lightest armor. Detectives will wear 2A armor because it’s easy to hide. The thicker the soft armor, the less soft tissue damage is done by the blunt force trauma from the hit of the bullet. Level II armor will stop even more handgun rounds.
Level IIIA will stop all handgun rounds, even if fired out of sub machine guns. All of the above will stop shotguns with buckshot. Level IIIA will give you the best all around protection, but it is more bulky than the other two.
Level III is when you start the ability to stop rifle bullets and are traditionally hard body armor. Level III armor will stop military 5.56 (AR-15 bullets), 7.62 (AK-47), and 308 (AR-10). Basically Level III will stop most rifle rounds that are not armor piercing. Level III plates can weigh 12 pounds to 3.5 pounds. Weight is dependent on size and what they are made of. Off course, the lighter the plate the more it costs. Plates are made out of steel, ceramic, plastic, and a composition of all three substances. The normal size is 10×12; however, there are 11×14 and everything in between. There are also side armor plates that are normally 6×6 or 6×8. Some companies make upper arm plates.
Level IV armor will stop armor-piercing bullets. (NIJ) For a more detailed on ballistic ratings check out this web site.
The question is what armor should the prepper buy for himself and his family? To this question I would say that it depends on the threat they face, their physical capabilities, and their budget. You have to balance mobility versus protection. A slow target is easy to hit. You can get soft body armor that covers your neck, face, upper arms, lower arms, groin, torso, lower back, thighs, and lower legs. You can get hard armor that protects your chest, back, sides, and upper arms. Even if you buy top of the line armor, it will be very cumbersome if you cover all the areas described above. Even a very fit person would struggle wearing that much armor.
In a TEOTWAWKI situation, I would contend that you will see a full spectrum of firearms– handguns, shotguns, and rifles. You will see blunt force weapons and edged weapons. You may see armor-piercing ammo, but it will be unlikely.
I would say that if you are in fairly good shape, a level IIIA vest with level III plates, level IIIA upper arm protection, and level IIIA groin protects would be adequate protection. I would also suggest a surplus Kevlar helmet with the new pad system inside, not the suspension harness system. This level of armor will protect your vital organs while still allowing you to be mobile. However, this level of armor would not be ideal if you are moving a distance cross country. Nevertheless, you can easily remove the upper arm armor and groin armor for greater mobility on foot patrols et cetera. Most helmets are rated at a level of II at least, and surplus helmets can be found easily at flea markets or surplus stores. With the new pad systems they will protect you from blunt force trauma as well as from most handgun or glancing rifle bullets.
A big trend today is people just wearing plate armor front and back. This works okay and will stop rifle and pistol rounds. If you do this, you need to make sure you have stand-alone plates and not plates that are rated as level III In-Conjunction with a level IIIA vest. This means you have to have soft level IIIA armor behind the plates to stop level III threats.
I personally like soft armor with hard armor. If you have ever been shot at, once lead starts flying I guarantee you will wish you had more body armor on. When I was shot at before body armor was issued in the military, I wanted to crawl inside my helmet, but the only option I had was to get as flat as possible. In addition, when bullets fly they hit things other than just people and throw up fragments of everything they hit. Soft body armor and protective clothing helps to protect from these fragments.
Just two level III rifle plates can be heavy. With most plates weighing around nine pounds each, you are talking about 20 pounds extra on your body. Adding level IIIA soft body armor adds about five or six pounds. If an individual is not physically capable of moving easily with 25 pounds strapped to their upper body, then you may want to go with just a front plate or just soft body armor.
Unless you are independently wealthy, money is always an issue. The good thing is you can start small and build up. Any armor is better than no armor. If you can buy only one vest, fight the urge to put it on your spouse or child, and put it on you or whoever is the primary defender. If the primary defender goes down, the whole family unit or team is in jeopardy. You can hide the unarmored family members behind hard cover that will stop bullets.
There is nothing wrong with used body armor! Most police departments replace armor after five years. I had mine replaced every three. There is no real evidence that armor taken care of degrades. Yes, if it was left outside in the sun and elements, then it would degrade. This is not the case; my armor rode around in an air-conditioned and heated car and only had brief periods where it was exposed to the elements. If you can afford new, then that is great; however, if you can get armor used from a reputable source, like Bullet Proof Me.com, then go for it.
There are two basic kinds of vests– tactical body armor and concealable. Tactical is what SWAT and military people wear. Concealable is what police officers wear under their shirts. Tactical vests cover more area, but they are more bulky and heavy. Concealable vests don’t cover as much and are lighter. Tactical vests cost more. If you are really on a tight budget, I would recommend used level II concealable vests from Bullet Proof Me.com and steel plates from either Infidel Body Armor or AR 500 Armor. Here are the links to these two those two companies. (http://infidelbodyarmor.com/) (http://www.ar500armor.com/). You will need a good plate carrier. Carriers sold by either Infidel, AR 500, or Bullet Proof me are good quality carriers. Condor carriers are good and Beez Combat Systems carriers are even better. When buying a plate carrier, be sure to get good, thick shoulder pads and a cummerbund with side plate pockets, so you can upgrade to side plates without adding an exterior pouch. The cummerbund keeps the plates centered on your chest. A concealable vest and plate carrier with plates are a versatile combination, because you can wear the vest concealed and then, when necessary, throw the plate carrier on over the concealable vest to increase your protection to include stopping rifle rounds. Most plate carriers and tactical vests have MOLLE on them and allow you to attach magazine pouches and other items. This is a great advantage, but be careful of adding even more weight to the vest.
If you have more money, I would recommend buying a BALCS cut level IIIA vest. BALCS is a tactical cut originally used by US Special Forces. BALCS vests are a good combination of protection and mobility in a tactical cut vest. BALCS vests come in medium, large, and extra large sizes. They are available from many sources, but the best I have found are Bullet Proof Me.com, Infidel Body Armor, and Operationally Proven Tactical Gear (http://www.optactical.com/). At these sites and Beez you can buy a BALCS vest carrier. There are many types; I would suggest one that has front and back plate pockets to fit the plates you are going to use along with side plate pockets. Plate carriers and vests come in many colors. I like Multicam, but it can be expensive. Coyote is a good basic color and can be used in almost any terrain. ATACS FG is good for heavily wooded areas. When it comes to which plates to buy, steel plates are the most affordable and most durable. However, if you can afford it, Armor Express Delta In-Conjunction level III plates are outstanding. They weigh 4.4 pounds in 10 x 12 inches and are a durable composite plate. I wore them on patrol in a plate carrier when I needed extra protection.
I was once on a perimeter with several other officers, and they were wearing heavy 8-pound plates. I was very comfortable, and you could see their discomfort when they kept leaning on stuff or adjusting their vests. I also called the manufacture; they tested the plates, and they did stop the army green tip armor-piercing round. (http://www.armorexpress.com/) You can buy the Delta Plates at Galls Public Safely Store. (http://www.galls.com/) I would only buy level IV plates, if you know you have an armor-piercing rifle bullet threat in your area; they are very heavy and expensive.
Body Armor is an important part of any Preppers arsenal. It will protect you and your family from serious injury and give the force multiplier to be able to stay in the fight despite being hit center mass. How much is your or your families’ lives worth?
Bibliography NIJ. (n.d.). NIJ Ballistic Testing Standard. Retrieved November 27, 2014, from Interarmer: http://www.interamer.com/Ballisticthreatlevels.aspx