When it comes to selecting body armor many factors need to be considered to ensure it meets your unique safety needs. The protection level, durability, and fit of the armor are among the most crucial considerations. However, one aspect that gets overlooked from time to time, but plays a significant role in the selection process is the weight of the body armor.
Body armor can range from lightweight vests designed for maneuverability and comfort to heavy duty hard armor for armor piercing protection. The weight of the body armor can greatly impact the wearer’s mobility, fatigue levels, and overall performance, particularly during extended wear in high stress situations. Hence, it’s important to strike a balance between the level of protection needed and the weight one can comfortably bear.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has established standard levels for body armor. Levels (IIA, II, IIIA, III, and IV) are indicative of the protection offered by the armor against specific ballistic threats, with Level IIA offering the least protection and Level IV offering the highest.
Each level corresponds to different types of body armor, varying in their materials and construction, and therefore weight. For instance, soft body armor like Level II and IIIA vests made of Kevlar or similar materials like UHMWPE, are lighter but offer protection primarily against handguns. On the other hand, hard body armor like Level III and IV plates are made from materials like steel, ceramic, or polyethylene, are heavier but offer protection against rifle rounds, Level IV even protecting against armor piercing rounds.
In the sections below, we will delve deeper into the weights of different types of body armor and how they align with the NIJ protection levels. By understanding these dynamics, you can make a more informed decision when selecting the body armor that best fits your safety needs and comfort level.
Understanding Body Armor Weight
Body armor serves as an invaluable piece of equipment designed to protect the wearer from potential threats, including firearms, sharp objects, and explosive fragments. The type of body armor chosen depends largely on the nature of the threat one expects to encounter.
There are several types of body armor available, ranging from soft armor like bulletproof vests and carriers to hard armor like steel, ceramic, and Polyethylene (UHMWPE) plates. But what’s the biggest complaint about body armor? For many its weight. Body armor can be heavy and uncomfortable to wear, kind of like shoulder pads and a football helmet. Let’s get into the weight differences between different armor designs and types.
Soft Body Armor Weight
Soft body armor typically refers to bulletproof vests made from multiple layers of woven or laminated fibers. These offer protection against handguns and shotgun ammunition but are unable to stop rifle rounds. The average weight of soft body armor can range from about 2 to 5 pounds, varying based on the size, material, and the protection level it provides.
Kevlar Body Armor Weight
Kevlar is a type of soft body armor material known for its high tensile strength-to-weight ratio about five times stronger than steel. Due to its lightweight nature, Kevlar vests typically weigh less than other armor types, often coming in at 3 to 5 pounds. With their design and light weight, Kevlar can stop bullets from most handguns and shotguns.
Hard Body Armor Weight
Hard body armor utilizes solid armor plates designed to stop specific rifle rounds. These plates can be made from steel, ceramic, or UHMWPE and can significantly differ in weight. To note- hard armor plates are worn inside a plate carrier, the plates themselves providing all the ballistic protection.
Armor Plates Weight
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) provides a standardized rating system for body armor protection levels. With Rifle armor the NIJ rates plates as either Level III, which is designed to stop 7.62×51, and Level IV which is designed to stop 30-06 armor piercing rounds.
The NIJ tests body armor sent to them for certification by testing several plates, and retesting certified plates often. Depending on the material and protection level, the weight of hard armor plates can vary significantly. Typically, armor plates can range from 4 to 10 pounds per plate.
Polyethylene Armor Weight
Polyethylene, or UHMWPE is a type of thermoplastic material commonly used in lightweight body armor plates. PE plates are the lightest among hard armor options, generally weighing between 2 to 4 pounds, depending on the size, and manufacturer. At Tacticon our Level III UHMWPE plate weighs 2.95 pounds.
Ceramic Armor Weight
Ceramic plates are constructed from various materials like silicon carbide, boron carbide, and Alumina, weight is highly contingent on the type of ceramic used, with Alumina being the heaviest. As such, these plates can range from 4.1-10 pounds depending on ceramic used, threat level, and manufacturer.
Steel Armor Weight
Steel armor plates from a reputable manufacturer are made from ballistic grade steel. These are the heaviest of the three armor materials. Despite their weight, which can range from 6 to 10 pounds, they offer robust protection against many rifle threats. Steel hardness is measured on the Brinell hardness scale, the higher the hardness the lighter the plate can be made. For example, the Tacticon Armament Level III+ AR600 plate weighs 6.6 pounds as a 10×12.
Weight By Body Armor Level
NIJ threat levels play a lot into the overall weight of the armor. In general, the stronger the armor the more it weights. Below we will look at the average weight of the most common armor levels, Level IIIA, Level III, Level III+, and Level IV.
Please note that the weights given below are approximations and can vary based on size, manufacturer, and specific model.
Level IIIA Body Armor Weight
Level IIIA body armor is generally made of UHMWPE or Kevlar and is designed to protect against .357 SIG FMJ and .44 Magnum SJHP rounds. The average weight for this level of protection is usually between 3 to 5 pounds depending on the overall size of the armor.
Level III Body Armor Weight
Level III armor can be made from ceramic, steel, or UHMWPE. The NIJ tests Level III to stop six shots of 7.62×51. Depending on the material used the weight can vary. UHMWPE plates will generally be 2.90-4 pounds. Steel can range from 6-10 pounds. Ceramic can weigh between 3.9-7 Pounds for a level III plate.
Level III+ Body Armor Weight
Level III+ armor will be made of either steel or ceramic composite. While not an official NIJ level at this time, the “+” is used to denote an industry standard that the plate can withstand M855, which pure UHMWPE cannot. Therefore, the weight range for ceramic and steel will be about 4.1–7 pounds, and 6.5-10 pounds for a 10×12 plate, respectively.
Level IV Body Armor Weight
Ceramic plates are the only armor type able to achieve Level IV body armor. The ceramic strike face of the plate is backed by UHMWPE, generally bonded to the ceramic itself. There is a lot of variance in overall weight due to ceramics used, and overall price point of the plate itself.
On average, Level IV ceramic plates can weigh between 6 to 9 pounds per plate, making them one of the heavier body armor options available. This weight can affect mobility and wearer comfort, especially during extended use.
There is a notable variance in weight among ceramic plates depending on their specific construction and materials. Heavier ceramics, often the most affordable option, lean towards the upper end of this weight range. Conversely, higher end ceramic plates incorporate advanced materials and design techniques to reduce weight without compromising protection. These premium options can weigh as little as 5 to 6 pounds per plate, but cost significantly more.
Body Armor Weight FAQs
The weight of body armor varies widely depending on its type and the protection level it provides. Soft armor, like Kevlar vests, can weigh between 3 to 5 pounds. Hard armor, which includes steel, ceramic, or Polyethylene (PE) plates, can weigh between 2 to 10 pounds per plate, depending on the material and protection level.
Armor plates can vary significantly in weight. Polyethylene (PE) plates are the lightest, typically weighing between 2 to 4 pounds. Ceramic plates generally weigh between 5 to 8 pounds, while steel plates are the heaviest, weighing between 6 to 10 pounds.
Level III body armor typically comprises heavier ceramic or AR500 steel plates and can weigh between 5 to 8 pounds. Please note that this weight can vary based on the size, manufacturer, and specific model of the armor.
Level IV body armor is designed to withstand armor piercing rounds. It utilizes ceramics with a UHMWPE backer. The weight of a Level IV armor plate can range from 5 to 10 pounds.
The heaviest body armor typically involves Level IV plates, which can weigh up to 10 pounds per plate. Larger size steel plates like 11×14 can weigh 12 pounds per plate. This does not include the additional weight of the carrier and other accessories.
The weight of body armor is an important consideration when selecting the right protection for your needs. While higher protection levels generally equate to heavier weight, technological advancements have allowed for increasingly lightweight materials with high protection levels. It’s essential to assess your personal safety needs, evaluate the available options, and make an informed decision when choosing your body armor. Regardless of the choice, remember that the best armor is the one that offers the right balance between protection, weight, and comfort.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Tacticon Armament.