Brief History of Body Armor
Types of Body Armor
Soft Body Armor
Hard Body Armor
Stab/Spike Resistant Armor
Types of Body Armor Vests
Concealed Body Armor & Tactical Body Armor
Female-Specific Body Armor Vests
Body Armor Threat Levels
NIJ 01.01.07 Standards
Body Armor Plate Materials & Types
AR500 and AR600 Steel Body Armor
Steel Armor Weight
Steel Armor Cost
Steel Armor Protection Level
Bullet Fragmentation and Spall
Pros of Steel Body Armor
Cons of Steel Body Armor
Ceramic Composite Body Armor
Ceramic Body Armor Materials
Ceramic Body Armor Weight
Ceramic Body Armor Cost
Ceramic Body Armor Threat Levels
Pros of Ceramic Body Armor
Cons of Ceramic Body Armor
UHMWPE Body Armor
The exceptional weight-to-protection ratio of UHMWPE body armor makes it a preferred choice for those who aren’t worried about armor piercing or steel core rounds.
UHMWPE Body Armor Cost
The cost of UHMWPE body armor reflects its advanced materials and performance. While it’s true that UHMWPE is relatively more expensive than other materials used in body armor, it’s important to consider the value it offers in terms of weight reduction.
A pure UHMWPE Level III hard armor plate typically falls in the price range of $300 to $500 or more, depending on factors such as size, thickness, and specific manufacturer features. While this may seem like a significant investment, remember UHMWPE plates are not only incredibly lightweight but also offer exceptional ballistic resistance.
When it comes to soft armor panels for bulletproof vests, UHMWPE continues to shine. These soft panels can be found in the price range of $200 to $250 or more, depending on the vest’s specific design and the level of protection it offers. UHMWPE soft armor is incredibly popular despite being more expensive than Kevlar.
While UHMWPE body armor may have a relatively higher upfront cost, it brings a host of advantages that justify the expense. The lightweight nature of UHMWPE materials, coupled with their remarkable ballistic performance, makes them a valuable choice.
UHMWPE Body Armor Threat Levels
Pure UHMWPE has limitations because it lacks a hard strike face. As a result, it cannot achieve a rating higher than NIJ level III, making it ineffective against armor piercing rounds or steel penetrator rounds like M855. However, UHMWPE excels in soft armor applications where it’s used to manufacture level IIIA rated armor.
Additionally, UHMWPE is employed in the creation of level IIIA hard pistol plates for use in a plate carrier.
Most UHMWPE body armor comes with a warranty period similar to ceramic plates of around 5 years. Exposure to excessive heat or corrosive substances, oils, etc. accelerate wear and tear on the material, reducing the plates lifespan. Additionally, how the armor is handled particularly when it comes to folding or storing impacts the life span of soft armor. Therefore, it’s advisable to follow manufacturer guidelines for proper care and maintenance to so your UHMWPE body armor remains in good condition.
Pros of UHMWPE Body Armor
- Lightweight: UHMWPE body armor is incredibly lightweight, allowing the user to add more gear, move more quickly, and be more comfortable overall.
- Durability: UHMWPE body armor is very durable, it will not crack like ceramic can if abused. The only real threats to UHMWPE are chemicals and heat. And bullets….
- Buoyancy: UHMWPE’s natural buoyancy makes it ideal for waterborne operations. This property helps individuals stay afloat while wearing body armor, rather than it acting as an anchor.
- Versatile Rifle Threat Protection: UHMWPE body armor can stop a wide range of threats, assuming they are neither armor piercing or steel core.
- Lighter Than Kevlar: UHMWPE’s soft armor is even lighter than traditional Kevlar, which is one of the many reasons law enforcement has gravitated towards it.
Cons of UHMWPE Body Armor
- Susceptible to Certain Rifle Rounds: UHMWPE body armor is effective against a wide range of threats, but vulnerable to steel core ammunition such as M855 and 7.62x39mm MSC, as well as armor piercing rounds. Users must consider the types of ammunition they may encounter in their specific environments.
- Cost Considerations: UHMWPE body armor can be relatively costly compared to some alternatives.
- Increased Thickness: Level III UHMWPE plates are thicker than other materials, often exceeding 1-1.5 inch in thickness. This added thickness may affect user mobility, and limit plate carrier choices and sizes.
- Heat and UV Sensitivity: UHMWPE body armor can be sensitive to heat and UV exposure. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures or direct sunlight, such as leaving it in a car, may impact its ballistic performance over time. Users should store and maintain their UHMWPE armor appropriately to ensure its effectiveness.
Kevlar and Aramid/Para-Aramid Body Armor
Aramid fibers and their derivatives are the fundamental components of modern body armor, and origin of the bulletproof vests. Aramid fibers are a class of synthetic fibers known for their exceptional strength and heat-resistant properties. The term “aramid” is derived from “aromatic polyamide,” which describes the chemical structure of these fibers. Aramid fibers are created through a process that involves spinning long-chain polymers into fibers. The term “para” in para-aramid refers to the specific orientation of the aromatic rings in the polymer chains.
In para-aramids, the rings are aligned parallel to each other, which contributes to their high tensile strength. Both Aramids and Para-Aramids have remarkable tensile strength, making them extremely resistant to stretching or breaking when subjected to force.
Aramid fibers, including Kevlar are synthetic, heat-resistant, and exceptionally strong materials. These fibers have become a popular choice for soft body armor due to their inherent durability and impressive tensile strength. Para-aramid fibers, like Kevlar, are part of the broader aramid family, distinguished by their exceptional resistance to impact, making them ideal for protecting against ballistic threats. To learn more, check out our Aramid vs Kevlar article.
Trailblazers of Kevlar
Kevlar is synonymous with two people in particular whose ingenuity led to modern body armor. First Stephanie Kwolek found the compound during an experiment at DuPont. She created a crystalline liquid that becomes incredibly strong once woven into fibers.
Richard Davis is the inventor of the bulletproof vest, and his larger-than-life story is actually true. After leaving the U.S. Marine Corps he became the owner and delivery driver of a pizza joint in Detroit. After being robbed several times at gunpoint he set out to create body armor in the event someone actually pulled the trigger.
During his experimentation, he discovered several layers of Kevlar actually made an effective vest against most handgun rounds. It was also flexible, which armor hadn’t been up to this point. He founded Second Chance Body Armor in 1970, and the stories are true. He took the show around the country and would shoot himself in the chest to demonstrate the effectiveness of Kevlar vests. By the 1980’s Second Chance Body Armor was one of the largest bulletproof vest providers to law enforcement.
Kevlar is rated to have a tensile strength of about 5 times that of steel which allows the armor to distribute the force of an impact across a large surface area. This is highly effective because of the unilateral weave found in the material sheets.
Kevlar Body Armor Weight
Kevlar body armor is slightly heavier than newer UHMWPE, weighing 2-4 pounds for the soft armor panels used in bulletproof vests. Overall, this was a complete revolution in body armor when it first came out, and for years to come.
Kevlar Body Armor Cost
The cost of Kevlar body armor can vary widely based on several factors. These factors include the manufacturer’s reputation, the production methods employed, protection level (such as Level II or Level IIIA), certifications like NIJ approval, market demand fluctuations, additional accessories, and the extent of warranty and support provided. Depending on these factors, Kevlar body armor can range in price from approximately $250 to $500 or more for a bulletproof vest.
The warranty period for Kevlar body armor typically spans five years, aligning with the warranty provided by the materials manufacturer and the expected lifespan of Kevlar or aramid fibers. Kevlar body armor is often worn underneath clothing and used regularly, making it more susceptible to exposure to sweat and body oils. As a result, adhering to this recommended warranty period is more important to ensure the armor’s continued reliability and performance.
This recommendation holds true not only for Kevlar but also for soft body armor in general, given the similar usage and environmental conditions it encounters during daily wear. Regularly following the warranty guidelines can help maintain the protective qualities of Kevlar body armor, ensuring it remains effective and reliable throughout its service life.
Kevlar Body Armor Threat Levels
Aramid materials like Kevlar are primarily utilized in the production of soft body armor due to their flexible and lightweight properties. The most prevalent level of soft body armor available today is Level IIIA, offering protection against a variety of handgun rounds.
Kevlar has been used to manufacture Level IIA and Level II soft body armor variants as well. Level IIA armor provides a lower level of protection against handgun threats, making it suitable for situations where reduced bulk and greater mobility are desired. Level II armor offers greater protection against a broader range of handgun rounds. This flexibility in threat level options makes Kevlar a versatile choice for soft body armor.
Pros of Kevlar and Aramid Body Armor
- Proven Track Record: Kevlar and aramid fibers have a well established history of use in soft body armor, making them a trusted choice. These fibers have consistently demonstrated their effectiveness in providing protection.
- Affordability: Body armor constructed from aramid fibers is relatively affordable compared to some other materials, ensuring that individuals with varying budgets can access quality protection.
- Lightweight: Aramid fibers are known for their lightweight properties, making body armor comfortable to wear for extended periods. This lightweight feature enhances maneuverability and reduces fatigue during use.
- High Temperature Resistance: Aramid fibers exhibit high-temperature resistance, which is advantageous in situations where heat or fire may be a concern, ensuring that the armor maintains its integrity.
- Effective Protection: Level IIIA body armor, made from aramid fibers, provides protection against common handgun threats, covering the vast majority of gun-related crimes. This level of protection ensures the wearer is shielded from various firearm projectiles.
- Shotgun Round Stopping: In addition to handgun threats, aramid-based body armor can stop most shotgun rounds, adding versatility to its protective capabilities.
Cons of Kevlar and Aramid Body Armor
- Comparatively Lower Tensile Strength: While aramid fibers offer a lower tensile strength than materials like UHMWPE, which is approximately 15 times stronger than steel.
- Heavier Than UHMWPE: Aramid body armor tends to be heavier than modern UHMWPE armor. This added weight can impact wearer comfort and agility, particularly during prolonged use or in situations that require increased mobility.
- Limited Protection: One of the drawbacks of aramid-based body armor is its limitation in stopping rifle threats or armor piercing rounds. These materials are used for soft body armor that is primarily designed to protect against handgun and shotgun threats.
- Moisture Sensitivity: Aramid fibers can absorb moisture over time, which can affect their ballistic performance. Prolonged exposure to humidity or moisture can lead to a decrease in the material’s protective capabilities.
- Degradation Over Time: Like many materials, aramid fibers can degrade with prolonged use and exposure to environmental factors. This degradation can impact the effectiveness of the armor over time, making it essential to follow manufacturer recommendations for replacement.
Body Armor Cut Types
When it comes to body armor, one size or shape doesn’t fit all. The diversity in body armor cuts and styles serves to optimize protection and accommodate user preferences. Body armor cuts refer to the different patterns or designs used in manufacturing of body armor, such as bulletproof vests. These cuts determine the coverage and fit of the armor, and they are tailored to meet various needs and preferences of users. Understanding the various cuts is important in finding the best personal balance between maneuverability and coverage. Let’s now explore the nuances and advantages of each.
Soft Armor Cuts
What sets soft armor apart is its adaptability, not only in terms of materials but also in dimensions and designs. Manufacturers craft soft armor with various cuts due to how easy the materials are to work with. These cuts dictate the coverage and fit of the armor, allowing individuals to choose the style that best aligns with their specific requirements. Here are some common soft armor cut types:
Panel Design: This is perhaps the most popular design for soft body armor used in bulletproof vests. Panels are crafted to provide extensive front, back, and side protection. The additional material wrapping around the sides under the arms ensures comprehensive coverage.
Shooters Cut Panel: While this design follows the traditional 10×12″ rifle plate pattern with an angled cut at the top for better arm movement, it sacrifices some coverage for increased concealability. The slim profile makes it an excellent choice for those prioritizing discretion.
Hard Armor Cuts
Hard armor is made of rigid rifle plates designed to stop rounds soft armor can’t. The cut of the plate impacts the users shoulder mobility, weight of the plates, and coverage.
SAPI vs. Shooter Cut Body Armor: SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert) plates were initially designed for the U.S. Military. SAPI plates come in various sizes, setting a standard for military use and civilian armor.
Although similar in design, shooter cut plates have some distinctions shaving off material from the plate’s lower corners to enhance mobility and save weight. The standard shooter’s cut plate measures 10×12″, while SAPI plates have specific sizes, catering to different body types.
Swimmer Cut: Swimmer cut plates prioritize mobility and weight reduction. They feature a more gradual angle of cut for the upper corners, making the plate lighter and more comfortable for dynamic movement. Swimmer cut plates are ideal for those seeking enhanced agility and are willing to sacrifice coverage.
Hybrid Cut: Exclusive to steel armor, hybrid cut plates combine the shooter’s cut on the non-dominant side and the swimmer’s cut on the dominant side where the rifle stock is shouldered. This clever design, unique to steel armor, optimizes maneuverability without sacrificing protection.
Backpack Armor: Rectangular in shape and typically measuring 10×12″ or 12×15″, backpack armor is designed to maximize coverage while fitting seamlessly into various backpacks, ensuring protection without compromising the bag’s structure.
Body Armor Manufacturing
In our ongoing exploration of body armor, we turn our attention to manufacturing. In this next section we will shed light on the manufacturing processes behind different types of body armor, from the robustness of steel to the cutting-edge technology of ceramics, the versatility of UHMWPE, and the trusted reliability of Kevlar. We’ll also share the crucial aspects of mitigating fragmentation and spalling risks to ensure comprehensive protection.
Steel Armor Manufacturing
Diving into steel armor production takes us on a journey through the hands-on methods and specialized steps that craft this formidable protective gear. Let’s get started.
- Material Selection: The process begins with the selection of high-quality steel. This steel is treated to achieve the desired hardness and durability required for body armor use. The specific type of steel and its unique properties play a crucial role in the final product’s effectiveness.
- Cutting and Shaping: Once the steel is acquired, it’s cut into the desired shape and dimensions. Commonly, steel armor plates are designed to fit standard sizes such as 10×12 inches. Precision cutting ensures that the final product meets the required standards for protection and comfort, without leaving rough edges.
- Treatment: The cut steel pieces then undergo a treatment process to remove all dirt, oils, debris from the surface of the plate.
- Coating Application: After treatment, a protective coating is applied to the steel plates. This coating serves multiple purposes, including corrosion resistance and minimizing the risk of spall and fragmentation upon impact.
- Quality Control: Quality control is a critical aspect of steel armor manufacturing. Each plate is carefully inspected to ensure it meets the specified standards. This involves thorough examination for defects, proper sizing, and adherence to weight requirements.
- Testing: Randomly selected plates from the production batch undergo rigorous testing to evaluate their ballistic performance. This testing helps verify that the armor can effectively stop projectiles and meet the required safety standards.
Manufacturing steel body armor is a combination of precision engineering and metallurgical expertise. The process is designed to produce armor that offers superior protection while being durable and reliable in various situations.
Ceramic Armor Manufacturing
Creating ceramic body armor involves a specialized manufacturing process that harnesses the unique properties of ceramics to provide life-saving protection. These plates employ advanced ceramics like alumina or silicon carbide as their core materials, chosen for their exceptional hardness and ability to withstand high veocity impacts.
- Material Selection: The journey to crafting ceramic body armor plates commences with the careful selection of materials. Alumina is a popular choice for its remarkable hardness and affordability. Silicon carbide is another that offers exceptional toughness and lighter weight. These ceramics provide the rigid structure and ability to shatter incoming rounds.
- Formation: Once the appropriate ceramic material is chosen, it’s meticulously processed into the desired plate shape. The shaping process involves precise cutting, grinding, and pressing to achieve the required dimensions and curvature. This initial phase sets the foundation for the plate’s ability to absorb and disperse the energy of incoming projectiles.
- Sintering: The formed ceramic then undergo a foundational step called sintering. This process involves subjecting the plates to extremely high temperatures, often exceeding 2,000 degrees Celsius. During sintering, the ceramic particles bond together, creating a dense, solid structure. This transformation enhances the ceramic’s hardness and strength, making it capable of withstanding the intense forces generated by ballistic impacts.
- Finishing: After sintering the plates receive meticulous finishing touches. This includes grinding and polishing to achieve the desired thickness, surface smoothness, and curvature. The level of precision and attention to detail in this phase is vital, as it directly impacts the plate’s ballistic performance.
- Additional Components: Composite backings made from materials like UHMWPE (Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) or aramid fibers are bonded to the ceramic to provide support, trauma reduction, and enhance the plate’s overall performance.
The creation of ceramic body armor plates involves a meticulous process that begins with material selection, progresses through shaping and sintering, and culminates in precise finishing. Additional components like composite backings and coatings are integrated to enhance the plate’s ballistic capabilities. The result is a formidable piece of armor designed to protect those who wear it from a variety of ballistic threats.
UHMWPE (Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) is a modern marvel of body armor materials when you consider its material structure, light weight, and ability to stop bullets.
- Material Extrusion: The journey begins with the production of UHMWPE sheets. This material is created through a complex extrusion process. It involves melting the UHMWPE resin and then pushing it through a specialized die to form a continuous sheet. The result is a sheet of UHMWPE that possesses incredible molecular weight and density, making it incredibly strong.
- Layering and Lamination: Once the UHMWPE sheets are produced, they undergo a layering and lamination process. Multiple layers of UHMWPE are stacked together, with each layer oriented in a different direction. This cross-ply configuration enhances the material’s ability to disperse the energy of incoming projectiles, a crucial feature for effective ballistic protection.
- Thermoplastic Pressing (Hard armor only): The layered UHMWPE sheets are subjected to extreme heat and pressure, a process known as thermoplastic pressing. This step further fuses the layers together, creating a solid and durable composite material. The pressing process ensures that the UHMWPE retains its exceptional strength while gaining the necessary rigidity for ballistic applications.
- Cutting and Shaping: With the composite material prepared, it is then cut and shaped into the desired form. This involves precision cutting to create panels of various sizes and shapes, depending on the specific body armor design. Additionally, the panels may be curved or contoured to ensure a comfortable fit for the wearer.
- Optional Additions: Manufacturers may choose to enhance UHMWPE body armor with optional components. These can include specialized coatings for improved resistance against abrasion and environmental factors, as well as additional backings or layers for enhanced performance.
The production of UHMWPE body armor involves a series of intricate steps, from material extrusion and layering to thermoplastic pressing and final shaping. The result is an incredibly lightweight option for modern body armor.
Kevlar is a staple in the world of body armor for its long use and pioneering the bulletproof vest.
- Polymerization: The journey of Kevlar body armor starts with a process called polymerization. In this step raw materials known as monomers derived from petroleum, are transformed into long chains of polymeric molecules. These chains form the basis of Kevlar’s exceptional strength. The resulting polymeric material is then spun into fibers.
- Spinning Process: Once the polymeric material is ready, it undergoes a spinning process. During spinning, the polymer chains are stretched and aligned, further enhancing their strength. This process is akin to stretching a rubber band to maximize its elasticity. The result is a bundle of incredibly strong and stiff Kevlar fibers.
- Weaving and Layering: After spinning, Kevlar fibers are woven into sheets or fabrics. These sheets can be layered to increase their protective capabilities. The weaving and layering process is a critical step, as it determines the structure and density of the Kevlar material, which ultimately affects its ability to stop bullets and other ballistic threats.
- Impregnation and Coating: To optimize its ballistic performance, Kevlar is often impregnated with a specialized resin. This resin further reinforces the material, making it more resistant to penetration. Additionally, some Kevlar body armor may receive a protective coating to enhance its durability and resistance to environmental factors.
- Cutting and Shaping: Once the Kevlar material is prepared, it is cut and shaped into panels of various sizes and configurations. Precision cutting ensures that the panels fit seamlessly into body armor designs. These panels may be curved or contoured to offer both protection and comfort to the wearer.
Fragmentation and Spalling
Protection goes beyond merely stopping projectiles. Understanding the phenomenon of fragmentation and spalling is important for appreciating the full spectrum of ballistic defense and understanding how it relates to the safety of individuals wearing body armor.
What is Fragmentation?
Fragmentation refers to the process of a bullet or projectile breaking apart upon impact with a target. This fragmentation results in the formation of high velocity fragments or splinters that disperse in various directions from the point of impact. These fragments can travel at significant speeds and pose a severe threat to anyone in their path.
Fragmentation is a concern because it can lead to secondary injuries to the wearer of body armor. While the armor effectively stop the primary projectile, the high energy fragments created upon impact can still cause injury to the wearer’s extremities.
Implications for Body Armor
Body armor isn’t just about stopping bullets; it must also minimize the risk of secondary injuries caused by fragments. To achieve this, various strategies and materials are employed in armor design.
Spall and Spall Coating
In addition to fragmentation, another critical consideration is spalling. Spalling occurs when a projectile strikes the surface of hard armor, such as steel or ceramic plates. The impact can cause the outer layer of the armor to fracture or chip. These spall fragments can injure the wearer.
To mitigate spalling, manufacturers often apply a spall coating to the front face of hard armor plates. This coating serves as a protective layer that traps and contains any fragments that may result from an impact. By doing so, it minimizes the risk of spalling related injuries to the wearer.
Exploring the Craftsmanship of Body Armor
Understanding how these life saving products are manufactured is not only fascinating fundamental to appreciating the technology that keeps us safe. To discover more about the intricate world of body armor manufacturing, we invite you to explore our article on “How is Body Armor Made“.
Yet, the journey doesn’t end here. The importance of body armor goes beyond its mere creation; it’s about how these body armor products perform under fire. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the effects of ballistics on body armor, and the phenomenon known as fragmentation, continue your exploration with our in-depth What is Fragmentation article. Together, these insights offer a profound glimpse into the science, technology, and craftsmanship behind the armor that safeguards those who wear it.
Body Armor Maintenance
Ensuring the reliability of your body armor should be a priority for those who trust their life to it. In this next section, we will explore various aspects of body armor maintenance, including best practices for storage, valuable tips and tricks for upkeep, and general care guidelines. Your armor is your lifeline, and it deserves the utmost care and attention.
Body Armor Storage
Body armor storage is an essential part of maintaining gear that is frequently overlooked. Without proper armor storage, plates can become weakened due to material stress, the environment, or improper care. Maintaining the protective capabilities of armor is important to ensure its life saving abilities.
Soft Armor Storage
Preserving the integrity of your soft body armor is essential for its long-term effectiveness. From keeping it flat to shield it from UV light, and ensuring it’s thoroughly dry, we’ll explore the best practices that will help your armor maintain its protective capabilities over time. Your safety depends on the condition of your gear, and proper storage is a key element in ensuring its reliability.
- Keep it flat: Soft armor should be stored flat or in the vest/carrier it is worn in. Folding panels during storage causes premature wear along the folds resulting in weakened fibers. Moisture can also lead to the weakening of fibers, lowering the effectiveness over time.
- Avoid UV light: UV light is harmful to soft armor fibers. Exposure to direct sunlight for long periods of time causes fiber degradation. Maintain the armor’s integrity by avoiding UV light.
- Drying time: In the event that armor becomes wet, air dries the armor completely and fully before storage or reinsertion. Damp armor will mold and accelerate fiber breakdown.
Following these basic guidelines will ensure the armor will prevent early wear and decreased effectiveness.
Hard Armor Storage
Hard armor follows many of the same general rules as soft armor. However, since hard armor plates are rigid they are inherently more fragile. The dangers of cracking and breaking with a hard impact must be taken into account during storage.
- Careful hanging armor: Hanging armor in a plate carrier will stretch the shoulders of the carrier itself. Further unless a heavy-duty, body armor specific hanger is used then it may break, resulting in the plates falling and potentially cracking.
- Keep it flat: Hard armor can be stored flat, or still in the plate carrier propped against a wall ready to go.
- Avoid UV light: Hard armor should still be kept out of direct sunlight for prolonged periods as this can cause delamination in UHMWPE plates and damage the bond between UHMWPE and ceramic for composite plates.
- Avoid dropping plates: While they are rigid and hard by nature, the harder something is the more brittle it is as well.
Cleaning & Care Tips
Throughout its use body armor will get dirty, and it should be cleaned but there are specific steps to follow.
- Never machine wash: Never wash armor in a laundry machine. It has happened. The same goes for plate carriers, they use Velcro and hot water can destroy Velcro. The best way to wash carriers is to spot clean with mild soap, use room temperature water, and air dry.
- Use mild wash with water: You can use mild soap and cool water to wash panels and plates if need be, allow to completely air dry.
- Never use harsh chemicals: Don’t use harsh chemicals that can interfere with materials or cause degradation or corrosion.
- Inspect regularly: Body armor should be inspected often for tears, cracks, or other signs of damage, and replaced immediately if shot.
- Use caution: Don’t drop, mistreat, or otherwise abuse body armor.
- Follow manufacturer instructions: Above all else, always follow your specific manufacturer instructions.
When it comes to cleaning less is more. In general plate carriers are made to be dirty and that’s alright, they shouldn’t need to be washed. Mild cleaning methods prevent damage to ballistic materials that could be incurred in more intrusive ways. Knowing how to clean body armor is just as important as knowing how to wear it.
Body Armor Warranty and Expiration
It is important to understand the difference between a warranty period and actual expiration. The warranty period on body armor is not actually from the manufacturer of the armor, rather it is from the manufacturer of the raw materials. The original material manufacturer is warrantying the raw materials to do what they are expected to do for a certain period of time.
Generally, soft armor comes with a warranty period of 5 years. This is also typical of ceramic composite and UHMWPE rifle plates. Steel body armor is the outlier, coming with a warranty of 20 years.
You may have come across videos on YouTube of body armor stopping the rounds it is rated for well after the warranty period has expired. There is not a hard and fast expiration with these materials like there is with poultry at the grocery store. This is why there are many ESAPI plates at surplus stores, at high prices still.
Materials do break down over time, fibers degrade, and bonding separates. This happens quicker with abuse and maltreatment, but generally, it takes a long time for body armor to be no longer viable.
General principles to live by: Take care of your body armor and it will take care of you. Treat your gear as if your life depended on it functioning as designed.
Don’t abuse gear designed to save your life. Don’t drop plates, don’t throw them. Don’t leave your gear out, and avoid the old saying “Run hard and put away wet”. Remember, always consult your specific manufacturer regarding warranty, usage, care, maintenance, questions, and concerns.
How to Choose The Right Body Armor
Clearly, there are a lot of options out there for body armor, all of which have drawbacks and advantages. It can be quite overwhelming to choose what body armor will work for you, so let’s look at this critically.
Level of Protection
Let’s start with the level of protection that is necessary. Will you need rifle protection because you are likely to face rifle threats? Or will pistol protection suffice? If pistol threats are all you expect to face then we can disregard hard armor (and vice versa).
3 Steps To Determine Your Protection Needs
- Threat prevalence: What threats are there and how prevalent are they? If you only expect pistol threats then soft armor may be ideal. However, if rifle threats are prevalent enough to be a concern then hard armor will most likely be the best course of action.
- Armor level: What rifle plate will be the most beneficial? Using the same metric, are armor piercing rounds prevalent and a concern? If so level IV will be required. If not then SRT, level III, level III+ plates should do the job. In a rural setting where hunting rifles and other high caliber rifles are present level III plates are the minimum level of protection recommended.
- Weight/Mobility trade-off: How much weight do you realistically want to carry? The heavier the armor the more quickly exhaustion sets in under stressful conditions. If intermediate cartridges like 5.56 are common, and larger calibers are uncommon such as in an urban setting then SRT plates may be an ideal balance.
Size, Fit & Color
Once the threat level is identified it is time to look at the carrier that will be used, how should body armor fit, and the best color options for the area.
Finding The Right Size
- Measure Yourself: Start by measuring your own size accurately. This includes your height and weight, which will help you choose the right armor and carriers.
- Consider Standard Sizes: Soft armor typically comes in standard sizes like small, medium, and large. These sizes can help you narrow down your options.
- Hard Armor Plate Sizes: For hard armor plates most people who are between 5’3″ and 6’3″ tend to use 10×12-inch plates. If you’re taller than 6’3″ it’s recommended to consider 11×14-inch plates.
- Choose the Cut: If you’re looking at hard armor, decide whether you prefer a shooter’s cut or a swimmer’s cut. A swimmer’s cut offers a better range of motion and can make it easier to shoulder a rifle while wearing the armor, at the expense of coverage.
- Plate Carrier Compatibility: Keep in mind that certain plate carriers are designed specifically for swimmers cut plates. However, swimmers cut plates can usually fit in standard carriers without any issues.
Finding The Right Fit
The fitment of the armor, soft or hard should be roughly 1 or so inches below the collarbone at the top of the armor. For hard armor plates, it will generally be about 3 inches above the navel, soft armor will generally extend farther down the torso.
Shoulder straps should be adjusted so that the armor fits evenly on both sides, and the front and rear plates ride the same height. The cummerbund should be snug so that the armor will not move when you begin running, crouching, or doing any dynamic movement.
However, the cummerbund should not be tight to the point that it begins to restrict breathing if you begin breathing heavily. A little trick, after the plates are inserted and the carrier is snug, jump a few times to ensure the plate carrier remains in place.
Finding The Right Color
The color of your carrier isn’t just about style; it’s about blending in. If you’re opting for concealed soft armor, you can skim through this section. But if you’re going with an overt vest or plate carrier, it’s time to dive into the world of colors.
- Know Your Environment: Think about where you’ll be wearing your gear. Will it be the arid desert? If so, lean towards earthy tones like FDE or coyote brown. Surrounded by foliage? Go for OD or ranger green. Navigating urban landscapes? Stick with neutral shades like greys and black. Remember, the best camouflage is one that matches your most likely surroundings.
- Match or Mismatch: Consider how important blending in is to you. Even the best camo carrier won’t help if you’re pairing it with bright blue jeans. Camouflage patterns work by breaking up outlines, making it harder to spot you in the wild. So, unless you’re rocking camo from head to toe, think about how your outfit complements your carrier’s colors.
There’s no one-size-fits-all to camouflage, but by assessing your environment you can get a solid idea of what works for you.
What is Your Mission and Intended Use?
Now, let’s talk about the heart of the matter: what kind of armor suits what you will be using it for?
Option 1: Conceal and Conquer
If you’re all about staying incognito, concealable armor is your go to choice. It’s like a secret superhero suit, offering protection without turning heads. And if you want to take it up a notch, backpack armor is your ace in the hole—armor on the down-low, no one will suspect a thing.
Option 2: Prepared for Anything
Are you the “just in case” or “SHTF” kind of prepper? Steel armor might be your trusty sidekick. It’s like the Iron Man suit of armor, built for the long haul. If your gear’s more for show than action, save some bucks with steel or other hefty materials.
Option 3: Agile and Ready
Now, if you’re all about training hard or on-duty action, ceramics or UHMWPE plates are your workout buddies. They’re the lightweight champs, letting you move swiftly and stay nimble. Whether it’s drills or the daily grind, they’ve got your back.
Your mission and intent will shape your armor choice. Whether it’s blending in discreetly, gearing up for the unknown, or staying agile on the move, your armor is your trusted companion. So, find the one that suits your mission, and embark on your mission with confidence.
Weight is More Than a Number
When it comes to body armor, weight isn’t just a number; it’s a game changer. Think about your entire loadout and your physical fitness level. Those hefty plates might seem like a great way to save a buck, but if you’re not in peak shape and have a full combat load of magazines, you’re in for a grueling experience.
Picture this: you might need to move fast, cover long distances, or hike with your gear. Remember, as the saying goes, “ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.”
Are you planning to customize your carrier for extended use? A minimalist plate carrier could be the answer, but keep in mind they might not distribute weight as effectively as a fully designed vest.
If you’re aiming for a low-profile, sleek look, minimalist carriers shine. However, they offer less overall support. So, before you decide on something as simple as the plate armor weight, consider your mission, your gear, and your comfort because the right body armor can make all the difference.
Body Armor Accessories
Most body armor carriers are designed to be modular, meaning they go beyond just holding body armor and can have accessories attached and detached to fit the needs of the moment. MOLLE/PALS serves as the current universal mounting solution, and many MOLLE pouches are on the market for a variety of specific uses.
There are also other accessories such as packs and belts that can be used with body armor to carry more gear and better distribute weight. Many other accessories are available to reduce the force of impact and make wearing armor more comfortable, such as trauma pads. Let’s discuss some of the more common accessories for your consideration.
The PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) was developed in 1997 and adopted immediately for use with MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Loadbearing Equipment) attachments. A little-known fact is what is commonly referred to as ‘MOLLE’ or ‘MOLLE loops’ on plate carriers, belts, backpacks, etc. are actually PALS, as MOLLE refers to the straps on accessories (hence the term “MOLLE accessories”) which are woven in and out of the PALS “Ladder” to create a strong and resilient attachment between the pouch and the carrier. To learn more about these two, check out a detailed explanation in our PALS vs MOLLE article.
When it comes to tactical gear magazine pouches are an essential accessories, offering you the means to efficiently carry and access ammunition. Magazine pouches come in various forms, each tailored to specific needs.
What Is a Magazine Pouch?
A magazine pouch is a specialized accessory designed to securely hold firearm magazines. These pouches are crafted from durable materials and are equipped with attachment points that usually adhere to the PALS/MOLLE system. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate different magazine types, including those for rifles and pistols.
Benefits of Magazine Pouches:
- Swift and Convenient Access: Magazine pouches keep your spare magazines within easy reach, enabling quick reloads, and convenient storage.
- Enhanced Organization: They help you stay organized by neatly storing your magazines, preventing fumbling or dropping rounds when it matters most.
- Tailored Loadout: The adaptability of magazine pouches allows you to customize your plate carrier to match your specific needs. You can mix and match pouches to cater to various scenarios.
- Added Weight: Carrying multiple fully loaded magazines can increase the overall weight of your plate carrier, potentially affecting your mobility and endurance.
Magazine pouches have a range of applications, especially in civilian contexts:
- Home Defense: For home protection magazine pouches ensure you have quick access to additional ammunition.
- Competitive Shooting: In competitive shooting sports, such as IDPA or USPSA matches, magazine pouches are essential to facilitate efficient reloads and maintain a competitive edge.
- Hunting: Hunters often use magazine pouches to carry spare rounds for quick reloading when pursuing game.
Remember there’s a diverse array of pouches available, from single mag pouches designed for pistols and rifles to versatile double pouches (or even triple), often referred to as kangaroo pouches, capable of holding both pistol and rifle mags. Additionally, you can fine-tune your gear further with various specialized pouches, like dump pouches for additional ammo storage or misc. gear, admin pouches for organizing essential notes and tools, and even side plate pouches for more armor protection.
By understanding the nuances of these pouches, you can ensure that every element of your loadout aligns with your unique needs, maximizing your preparedness and efficiency in any scenario.
Tactical belts have been referred to as MOLLE belts, duty belts, and even battle belts, and serve as a versatile and strategic addition to your gear ensemble. These tactical belts are designed to offer a convenient platform for essential equipment, all within arm’s reach. There’s a multitude of compelling reasons to include a tactical belt in your kit, such as the option to mount a holster for quick firearm access or carrying a compact Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) for immediate medical needs.
What sets tactical belts apart is their ability to expand your loadout without encroaching on the limited real estate of a plate carrier. By utilizing MOLLE attachments, you can easily configure your tactical belt to accommodate a range of accessories. Common setups involve attaching pouches for rapid storage, securing an IFAK for immediate medical attention, and positioning spare magazines for swift reloads. Tactical belts provides a customizable and accessible solution to meet your specific needs in the field.
Medical and IFAK
An Individual First Aid Kit, or IFAK is more than just a collection of medical supplies; it’s a beacon of hope in dire situations. This compact yet powerful kit contains essential tools and materials designed to provide immediate care for injuries, ranging from minor wounds to life-threatening traumas. IFAKS have a place on the battlefield, the outdoors, or the challenges of everyday life. An IFAK offers the assurance that you can respond effectively to medical emergencies.
Its compact size and carefully curated contents make it a versatile and vital addition to any preparedness kit. The importance of an IFAK cannot be overstated – it’s not just gear; it’s peace of mind, confidence in the face of adversity, and the potential to save lives, including your own.
An IFAK typically contains a comprehensive array of medical supplies, ranging from bandages and gauze to tourniquets and chest seals. These components are thoughtfully chosen to address various injuries effectively. Additionally, many IFAKs are designed with versatility in mind. They often feature MOLLE or PALS attachments, allowing them to be securely fastened to tactical belts, plate carriers, backpacks, or any gear equipped with webbing.
This adaptability ensures that your IFAK is readily accessible, regardless of your specific loadout or mission. Its ability to seamlessly integrate with your gear makes it an indispensable tool, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. So, when the unexpected occurs, you’re never far from the potentially life saving contents of your IFAK. Medical gear may not be as sexy as tactical gear, but it is arguably more important.
Trauma pads are crafted from specialized non-ballistic foam. While not designed to stop bullets, they excel at absorbing and dispersing the impact energy generated upon impact. Trauma pads are placed between your hard armor plates and your body, acting as a cushioning layer to absorb and disperse the impact energy of a potential bullet strike. They help with comfort and go along way to mitigate the potentially dangerous effects of back face deformation.
By providing a cushioning layer between your body and the armor, these pads make extended wear significantly more bearable, ensuring that your protection doesn’t come at the expense of your comfort. So, while they may not stop bullets, trauma pads are essential components that enhance both the safety and comfort of your body armor setup.
Beyond their protective abilities, trauma pads also bring comfort to the forefront, particularly when dealing with single-curve plates and plate carriers lacking internal padding.
Frequently Asked Questions About Body Armor
Yes, there are no federal laws preventing the purchase of body armor, except for convicted felons. New York state prevents the purchase of body armor for citizens, and Connecticut prevents the purchase of body armor except for in-person transactions.
Yes and no, as there are no federal laws preventing citizens from wearing body armor in public. However, there may be state laws, or local ordinances that restrict this in some way shape, or form. Be sure to check your specific area, but also exercise rationality.
Yes, certain levels of body armor such as SRT plates, level III, III+, and level IV plates can stop rounds from an AR15. Level IV body armor will most certainly stop AR15 rounds. Level III body armor will stop certain rounds depending on their velocity, bullet design, and material used in the armor. Many special threat plates are on the market made primarily to stop rounds from an AR15.
No. Contrary to the misnomer no body armor is truly “Bulletproof,” hence the NIJ rating system that details the rounds that a certain piece of armor is capable of stopping. A more apt way of looking at this would be against what calibers is the armor resistant to penetration under certain conditions.
Back face deformation occurs as a result of a bullet striking armor. The energy, ‘mass x velocity’ of the rounds is imparted into the armor, resulting in the armor bulging, deforming inward as it absorbs the energy. The NIJ accepts up to 44mm of back face deformation as acceptable.
Many bulletproof vests are multi-threat vests, meaning they are designed to stop both bullets and sharp objects. For those that are not, it is because knives present a different threat than bullets in the sense that they have a smaller surface area, and different consistency of propulsion leading to them being able to slip between fibers.
Yes, body armor can break. Breaking can be defined in different ways. Hard armor can physically break due to drops and mishandling. Soft armor is more prone to breaking by degrading from harsh treatment.
Yes, but not in the same manner as perishable goods from a grocery store. There is a warranty period on body armor, which applies to the guaranteed life of the raw materials used. These materials often last much longer, and armor is often still effective outside of the warranty period. However, for liability reasons, the warranty period is often treated as an expiration as effectiveness is not guaranteed past this.
Body armor should fit snugly so there is no shifting while moving/running/jumping, but not so snug that it restricts movement or breathing. The top of the coverage should begin 1″ below the clavicle, and continue until about 3” above the navel for hard armor, farther for soft armor.
NIJ certified body armor means that the armor has undergone, and passed repeated testing from NIJ labs, as well as further compliance testing to ensure the armor will stop the threats it is rated for with an acceptable measure of back face deformation, and zero penetration.
NIJ Level IV (Soon to be RF3) is the strongest armor on the market, rated to stop 30-06 M2 armor piercing rounds.
Current levels under NIJ 0.06:
Level IIA: Rated to stop 9mm and 40 S&W
Level II: Rated to stop 357 JSP
Level IIIA: Rated to stop 357 Sig FMJ, and 44 Magnum JHP
Level III: Rated to stop six shots of 7.62×51 with less than 44mm of backface deformation from the first two rounds
Level IV: Rated to stop 1 rounds of 30-06 M2 armor piercing
*Each level is capable of stopping threats defeated by lower-level armor.
AR500 and AR600 are hardness ratings of abrasion resistance on the Brinell hardness scale. AR600 is harder than AR500, meaning it can be made lighter and still offer greater ballistic resistance against faster rounds and higher calibers than AR500.
Body armor plates can be made from either steel, UHMWPE, or a ceramic composite incorporating ceramic and backing material.
Yes, to some degree. Body armor often incorporates an outer protective wrapping/coating to prevent excess moisture from affecting the ballistic materials. If body armor gets wet it should be allowed to air dry before storage or being put back into the carrier. Soaking body armor will damage it in the long run.
5 years. The generally accepted shelf life for soft body armor is five years, based on the warranty period of the raw materials. However because soft body armor is generally worn daily, and close to the skin, body oils, and sweat it is best to observe this metric and follow manufacturer recommendations.
This becomes a matter of personal choice. Manufacturers designate a warranty period on body armor of 5, 10, and 20 years depending on the material and type of armor. It is generally recommended to follow this metric to ensure protection. This metric is also used to protect manufacturers as the ballistic capabilities cannot be guaranteed past this. However, there are many stories of armor decades out of warranty still holding up beyond what it was tested to. The military does not cycle out armor after the warranty period, they will stability check the armor, and if it is still sound it continues to serve.
Wrapping it Up
Congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated the intricate world of body armor, armed with valuable insights and expertise. As you emerge from this comprehensive guide, you’re not just informed; you’re empowered to make informed choices about your personal safety.
At Tacticon Armament, we understand the significance of body armor in today’s ever-changing landscape. As a leader in the industry, we’ve witnessed firsthand the vital role body armor plays in protecting lives. From understanding the various types of armor and vests to deciphering threat levels and plate materials, this body armor guide has provided you with the knowledge needed to select the right body armor for your unique needs.
Remember, quality matters when it comes to life-saving gear. Don’t settle for anything less than the best. As you embark on your journey to find the perfect body armor solution, we invite you to explore our best-in-class products at Tacticon Armament. With our commitment to excellence and your newfound understanding, you’ll be geared up with the ultimate protection. Stay safe, stay informed, and make the best choices for your individual needs.