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Selection Considerations When Buying Body Armor

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Body armor saves thousands of lives every day. From Police officers, Military, and Law enforcement of First responders and even civilians, millions of people use body armor every day.

Body armor technology has improved dramatically, and these days, selecting the right kind of armor can be quite challenging. There are loads of choices and different factors that need to be considered when you are buying body armor. So, stay tuned and we will tell you everything you need to know to buy the ideal body armor for your protection.

Selecting the Appropriate Level of Protection

First of all, you need to understand what level and what type of body armor you need. In general, body armor can be divided into two types, that are Ballistic armor and stab armor.

Difference between a ballistic vest and a stab vest:

As the name applies, ballistic body armor is designed to stop bullets, whereas stab vests are made to protect the wearer from stabbing and knife attacks.

Contrary to popular belief, Ballistic vests can’t actually stop knives and spikes from penetrating the body. When the bullet is deformed on impact with a bulletproof vest, knives and spikes can get through the fibers of the Kevlar used to make ballistic vests. Therefore, specific stab-resistant armor is also available in the market.

So, to make the right choice between Ballistic vests and Stab-proof body armor, you need to understand the kind of threats you will face. For instance, if you are a police officer, or Law enforcement official who is constantly at the risk of being shot at, Ballistic armor is the way to go. Moreover, if you are buying armor for self-defense, ballistic armor is better because, in the US, guns are more commonly used in robberies and home invasions than knives.

However, in some situations, people are more likely to be stabbed rather than shot. For instance, correctional officers in the US regularly use stab-proof armor, since, inside the confined environment of a prison or correctional facility, officers are more likely to be attacked by improvised weapons rather than guns. Moreover, in countries like the UK, police officers use stab vests rather than bulletproof vests, since knife attacks are much more common.

If you feel like you need protection from both threats, then you can also opt for dual protection body armor, which offers both stab and ballistic protection.

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Different levels of ballistic protection:

Now, when it comes to Ballistic armor, there are different levels of protection that you can choose. In the US, the levels of protection for ballistic armor are set by the National Institute of Justice.

Level II body armor is the lowest level of protection and can stop pistol caliber including 9mm, 45 ACP, and up to .357 magnum. It is made from Kevlar and is usually used to make concealable armor, ballistic protective clothing, and bullet proof vests that are lightweight and comfortable.

Therefore, if you are more worried about pistol threats, and want concealable armor then level II body armor is the way to go.

Level IIIa body armor is also made from soft Kevlar and is used in Bullet proof vests. It offers a higher level of ballistic protection and can stop almost all common handgun rounds, up to .45 magnum. Level IIa body armor is very popular and is used in overt and concealed bullet proof vests. Police officers wear it under their uniform, and in some cases in the form of overt vests as well. During their normal duty, police officers mostly face pistol threats, therefore, these bullet proof vests are very useful, however, in tactical situations, special police units like SWAT may use higher-level Armor. If you are looking for body armor for self-defense, a level IIIa bulletproof vest is an excellent option.

Soft armor that may be used in a bulletproof vest only offers protection against handgun rounds. High-speed rifle rounds can easily penetrate them, therefore, for protection against rifle calibers, Hard body armor plates are used.

Selection Considerations When Buying Body Armor
NIJ Levels of Protection.

These plates can be made from different materials, like steel, ceramics, or in more modern cases Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene as well, all having their distinct advantages and disadvantages.

The first level of protection that can offer ballistic protection against rifle calibers is Level III. a level III plate can stop rifle rounds including 5.56×45 AR-15 or M4 rounds and 7.62x 39 AK rounds, up to 7.62×51 NATO or .308 rounds. Level three plates can be quite light since they can be made entirely from UHMWPE, however, you can also get steel and ceramic level III plates, which might be cheaper.

For a higher protection level, You can get Level IV ballistic protection plates. These plates can stop most popular assault rifle rounds, and some bigger rounds as well, up to a 30.06 armor-penetrating round. Level IV armor is the heaviest and is usually made by combining layers of either ceramic and steel, or ceramic and UHMWPE. Level IV and Level III body armor plates are mostly used by Military personnel, however, civilians can also buy them.

An armor plate needs to be carried in a plate carrier. Plate carriers have inserts to carry armor plates in the front and the back, and they also have Molle Webbing and other load-bearing systems to mount additional tactical gear.

Male, Female, or Gender Neutral?

Most body armor manufacturers tend to design their armor with male users in mind, whereas there is a significant difference between the way body armor fits on men and women. Though women can wear normal plate carriers and bulletproof vests that are designed for men, they don’t fit as well, especially for women with bigger chests and small statues.

Anatomically, women are shorter than men, and they also have shorter torsos. This is why most bulletproof vests or plate carriers can be too long for them and this can cause a lot of problems,

Firstly, when women move around or simply bend down the vest can hit them in the neck. Body armor that doesn’t have the ideal length can also be very uncomfortable for women when they sit down.

Secondly, the bottom of a bulletproof vest or plate carrier should sit a couple of inches above your belly button. This allows you to carry your sidearms, and other tactical gear on your duty belt, without it interfering with your armor. Since women usually don’t get the right size of armor, this can be quite problematic for them.

Thirdly, normal body armor that is designed for men, leads to a lot of defensive drawbacks for female soldiers and law enforcement officers in the field. It can potentially leave lethal gaps at the arm openings for women, and longer ceramic plates can dig into their legs when they sit down and restrict blood flow to the legs. Moreover, the wide armor plates can make it difficult for women to instantly shoulder their rifles, and reduce their reaction time, putting their lives and the lives of their fellow soldiers in danger.

Lastly, typical bullet proof vests that are made for men tend to be too tight in the chest area, while being too loose at the waist for most women. This leads to an uneven fit, and the armor keeps moving and shifting around.

Somebody armor manufacturers do make gender-neutral body armor, which has more adjustability for women, however, even they aren’t that good, because the body shape of women can vary quite a bit from each other.

However, now with the increasing number of female law enforcement officers and female soldiers in the Military, people are taking ballistic protection for women a bit more seriously, in fact, earlier this year, the Military said that they will design specialized body armor for female soldiers.

So, if you are looking to buy body armor as a civilian, you should look for the right body armor according to your gender. This is more of a problem for women, so try to find bullet proof vests and plate carriers that are designed specifically for women.

Other Design Features

There are many other design features that need to be considered when purchasing body armor, these features like the weight, material, thickness, concealability and adjustability can make a lot of difference in the effectiveness of a bulletproof vest or plate carrier.

Weight:

As far as the weight is concerned, obviously, the lighter the armor the better it will be for maneuverability and long term use. Generally the weight of body armor depends a lot on its type. In general soft armor bullet proof vests can weigh around 5-8 pounds. Whereas some lightweight concealable plates can be lighter, however, they are usually a little more expensive.

As the level of protection increases, the weight of the armor also increases. Typical soft armor bullet proof vests can only stop handgun rounds, and if you want protection against rifle calibers, you’ll need to use hard ballistic panels.

These plates are made from different materials and their weight can vary quite a bit depending on that. A single level III plate that can stop most intermediate rifle rounds can weigh around 6-8 pounds, so for a full setup, with a plate carrier the armor setup can go up to 15 pounds, without the additional gear.

You can also get lightweight UHMWPE level III plates, which are considerably lighter and can weigh around 3-4 pounds per plate, however they are more expensive. Ceramic plates are somewhere in the middle, as they are heavier than UHMWPE plates, but lighter than steel plates. A level III ceramic plate can weigh around 6 pounds.

Level IV plates are made by combining ceramics and other materials, they can have a ceramic strikefire, with either a steel or UHMWPE back plate. Depending on the materials, these places can weigh around 8-12 pounds per plate. Level IV plates are the heaviest, but offer the most protection.

So, for self defense, heavy plates aren’t ideal, because it is very unlikely that a robber or home invader will be shooting armor piercing battle rifle calibers. In such cases, pistol threats are much more common, so a light level IIIa ballistic vest is ideal. However if you do went ballistic protection from rifles, you can opt for light UHMWPE level III plates with a plate carrier.

Thickness and concealability:

Another important factor that needs to be considered when buying body armor is its thickness and concealability. The thicker the armor plate, the more difficult it is to conceal.

Soft armor ballistic vests are usually best for concealability. They are thinner, and usually easy to conceal under your clothes. Moreover, if concealability is important to you, you need to look for covert body armor, which does not have any Molle webbing on it. Covert body armor is smooth, and usually carried in a white or skin colored carrier for better concealability.

You can also get a concealable plate carrier, if you want to carry a bullet proof armor plate for better protection against rifle rounds. However, since armor plates have to be thicker, they aren’t the best for concealability, especially if you are only wearing a simple shirt. They are easier to conceal under a jacket, or lose a sweatshirt.

If you want to carry gear on your armor, and make your body armor visibly, you should opt for an overt ballistic vest, or plate carrier.

Adjustability and fastener types:

If you want to get the perfect fit from your armor, you need it to be highly adjustable and have comfortable shoulder straps. When it comes to minimalist body armor, these features are not as prominent, since these vests and carriers aren’t made to be worn for a long time. 

However, body armor manufacturers pay special attention to comfort for overt armor that is designed for soldiers and law enforcement officers, since they need to wear their vests for very long periods of time. These vests have adjustable and padded shoulder straps, and cumber bunds. They may also have padding and moisture wicking mesh on the inside, to make the carriers more comfortable, and help the wearer stay cool in hot environments.

Supplier services

Some body armor suppliers also offer extra services that could make a difference in your purchasing decision. Some offer to take your measurements and make a custom-fitted bulletproof vest, which will be a little expensive, but the most comfortable and easy to use.

You should also look for supplier services like repairs and warranties because most suppliers will offer free repairs or replacements to your bulletproof vest if it is damaged within the warranty limit. Buying body armor that has a warranty is always the better option.

If you are playing to have your ballistic vest as a part of your self defence gear, it is very important that you train with it as well. This will allow you to put on the vest completely, and access all the gear you have mounted on it seamlessly. Some body armor suppliers may also offer training classes that you can take.

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