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What is The Best Body Armor?

What is The Best Body Armor? 

There are an estimated 393,347,000 registered firearms in the U.S. that is about 1.2 firearms per person, more than any other country. You should add some unregistered firearms to that number, but those are rookie numbers we can pump those numbers up. 

If all these weapons ever combine with an increasing number of politically radically charged people, odds are when the poo hits the fan you might get shot. 

Choosing which body armor to purchase could very well be a choice between your life or death. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be wrong on this choice, don’t rush your choice, take some time to learn what to consider with body armor. 

It should go without saying that you don’t want to skimp out on body armor. Can’t be cheap on this one, but you don’t have to buy the most expensive thing either. You just have to buy what makes logical sense to you. 

Also, If you happen to buy the wrong body armor good luck trying to return it. For reasons of liability and safety, you can’t ever return your purchase if you’re displeased with it. So, get it right the first time. Keep reading and we’ll help you understand what to consider. 

Types of Body Armor

Body Armor can be classified into two types: soft and hard. 

Hard Body armor is made of plates such as steel, titanium, ceramics, or even plastic  (ultra high molecular weight polyethylene plastic,UHMWPE). 

Soft Body armor is most commonly made of kevlar, sometimes made of spectra or twaron. This type of armor you see worn by police officers since they wear the entire day. 

Let me list out the advantages of Hard Body vs the advantages of soft body armor. Now these advantages are typical and not always the case, manufactures create all types of body armor to meet different purposes. 

Hard Body Armor advantages

  • Stronger than soft
  • Less flexible
  • Uncomfortable (heavy and gets hot)

Soft Armor 

  • Generally not as strong
  • More comfortable (not as heavy or rigid)

Soft vs Hard Body Armor which is better? 

Well the best type of body armor when it comes to stopping a bullet saving your life and allowing you to get right back into battle is a multi-layered body armor of both soft and hard. The military united states military uses SAPI plates (Small Arms Protective Inserts) which are mult-layered plates made of ceramic covered in strong composite material that add extra protection. 

Typically, they insert SAPI plates into Kevlar vest, thereby getting the benefits of both soft and hard armor. The hard plate blocking the bullet, with the kevlar backing of these vests to help block some of the blunt force felt by the bullet. 

Hard Body Armor Materials 

Steel Plate: Body armor made out of a AR500 is extremely durable and holds its integrity several years later. Range targets are often made out of AR500. This type of body armor is also fairly inexpensive for something that saves your life, usually around $70-100 per plate. 

However the one drawback to this type of armor is it is heavy. Each Plate weighs about 8+ pounds. It is also rigid and inflexible. 

Also, some fast moving high velocity rounds can pierce this type of armor. 

Another drawback is metal plates are rigid, inflexible when hit they cause spalling which happens when the bullet peels sending out hot fragments. 

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Sharp metal hitting your face isn’t going to leave you with a good day. 

However, this really isn’t a concern anymore as most metal plates are covered in Paxcon. Paxcon is the material used by Line-X when they spray a truck bed liner. You’ve probably seen the bed of a pick-up truck covered in this liner material. 

Paxcon helps contain the metal fragments by contracting and catching the metal fragments that spray out. 

Yet another drawback is ricochets. A bullet that hits a steel plate at an angle will hit and slide diverting over to penetrating your arm or leg.  

The last drawback of this type of armor is the blunt force felt by a round hit. Steel is a rigid hard material when struck by a high velocity rifle round there is a tremendous amount of energy behind this bullet. When struck a lot of this energy will transfer straight through causing bones to break and internal bleeding. Too many shots to the chest may even cause your heart to stop. 

This armor could save your life but if ricocheting or an overpowering blunt force trauma occur you may not be able to continue the fight. 

To summarize the pros and cons

Pros: 

  • Multiple Hits
  • Inexpensive

Cons: 

  • Heavy
  • Uncomfortable
  • Ricochets
  • Blunt Force Trauma 
  • Spalling (not a concern when covered in paxcon)

Ceramic Plate: Ceramic plates are about half the weight of a steel plate body armor. They are also capable of stopping some serious firepower such as a 30.06 armor piercing round. Normally, they are rated at a level IV body armor, the highest level. Later, we’ll talk more about the level ratings.

Ceramic Plates works like a net catching the bullet and helping divert out some of the kinetic energy thus reducing the blunt force trauma caused by the bullet. 

Ceramic plates have two drawbacks: 

one, they get brittle after a few shots, so they’re not designed to take multiple shots in the same area. In fact a shot in one area does affect the strength in another area to some degree. 

Two, this might seem odd but ceramic plates are not very durable. It seems odd since they can withstand a 30.06 armor piercing round but the plates are breakable, and can be damaged or even shattered if dropped. A small hairline fracture can easily affect its ability to stop a bullet. 

They have to be handled with extreme care. This is why it is a good idea to have ceramic plates x-rayed once a year looking for any fractures. 

To summarize the pros and cons

Pros: 

  • Capable of stopping armoring piercing rounds
  • Decreases blunt force trauma
  • No Ricochets
  • Spalling not a concern

Cons: 

  • Typically can’t handle more than a few shots
  • Not durable must be handled with care

Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene Plastic, UHMWPE: Plastic plates are even lighter than steel or ceramic plates, its benefits are kind of like a compromise between a steel and ceramic plate. 

They are not capable of stopping high powered rifle rounds like the M193 or an M855. They go straight through. However, lower power rifle ammo and pretty much every kind of hand gun round should not go through this armor. 

Keep in mind when I say this I’m referring to pure polyethylene plastic plates. Other manufacturer make a composite, meaning they mix in other materials to change certain characteristics about the armor.  

For example: Pure Polyethylene plastic’s integrity is said to be effective by extreme temperatures 150 degree F or -15 F. Too hot and the plate becomes soft, too cold and the plate becomes brittle. Composite is sometimes made to cancel out this bad trait. 

UHMWPE: is not as brittle as a ceramic plate but stack a few shots in the same area and a bullet might make its way through. 

It also is not as hard as steel so we don’t have to worry about ricocheting or spalling but it doesn’t quite transfer the kinetic energy as well as a ceramic plate does.  

The other great thing about this type of plate is it isn’t fragile like a ceramic plate. It is has incredible durability just like you might imagine from something made out of a hard durable plastic. You can drop this armor, jump on it, run a car over it and it will not affect the integrity of the plate. 

Lastly this body armor is thicker than a steel plate but can still be concealed. It may just be a little more noticeable. 

To summarize the pros and cons

Pros: 

  • Lightweight
  • Decreases blunt force trauma more than steel plates
  • No Ricochets
  • Spalling not a concern
  • Can handle multiple shots but probably not if stacked in the same area
  • Much more durable than a ceramic armor. No need of handling with care

Cons: 

  • Pure polyethylene plates are influenced by extreme temperatures, but a composite can overcome this. 
  • Cannot stand up to M193 or M188 rounds or 30.06

What kind of bullets will a kevlar vest stop? 

We’ve talked hard armor plates now we’ll talk soft armor. Kevlar is often used in multi-layered vests placed behind the hard plate a means of softening the blow from a bullet. 

However, many bullet proof vests solely use kevlar because it can trap bullets by slowing them down, spreading out the force of the bullet over the extensive network of fibers within the vest. 

Kevlar bullet proof vests are rated at levels I-IIIa. A bullet proof vest at level IIIa can stop the vast majority of ammunition shot by handguns. Higher levels require hard plates made from steel, ceramics or UHMWPE plastics. A kevlar vest isn’t going to be able to stop most bullets that are fired out of a rifle. 

NIJ Rating 

Bulletproof vests have a rating system established by the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice. 

I grabbed the following information from a pdf on ncjrs.gov. Here is a brief chart explaining the different ammo rounds. 

Sizing A Vest

For safety and liability reasons a vest cannot be returned, so make sure you get the size correct. 

A bulletproof vest should cover right above your sternum just below your adam’s apple. As for the width of the vest it should go just past your nipples. There really isn’t an industry standard as far as plate sizes go 10” x 12” is the most common armor plate size, tiny bois 8” x 10” and big bois 11” x 14”. 

Just pay attention to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Usually they’ll recommend different sizes of vest based on your height and or weight. 

Different Vest Shapes

To my knowledge vests are designed in four different ways with different cutouts to allow for propping the stock of a firearm against your shoulder. 

These are the shapes: 

Rectangular: Every back plate has a rectangular shape. This shape offers the most coverage  but the least mobility. 

SAPI: A rectangle shape with the corners removed to allow for a better range of motion

Shooter: Like the SAPI shape but the corners are cut more aggressively to allow for one to prop the stock of the gun against their chest. Sometimes it is only cut more on one side depending whether the shooter is right or left handed. 

Swimmer: These plates are the most aggressively cut down on all corners to allow for more mobility. 

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