Body Armor / Plate Carriers

I was asked a question about body armor, what type to get. It seemed like a good topic for a post:

I am a fan of body armor. In any kind of ‘kinetic’ situation when receiving incoming small arms fire, it will significantly reduce the chances of sustaining a penetrating wound to the torso. Such wounds are often not survivable. Refer to the post on Combat Lifesaving Procedures (TC3) for more discussion on wounds and treatment, plus extremity bleeding etc.

One thing you need to do is research the ‘NIJ’ levels for protection, and decide what you want to get. Here is a useful link to a document to get the detail on the NIJ levels.
In basic terms, you have the ‘soft armor’ portion and the ‘plates” that insert front and rear. If you have a plate carrier, you only use the plates. This gives you less protection than if you include the soft armor, but the soft armor does not protect against high velocity (rifle) rounds.
So its a balance, between levels of protection, weight, bulk and heat retention. The levels of protection are:
Soft Armor:
Type IIA (9 mm; .40 S&W)
Type II (9 mm; .357 Magnum)
Type IIIA (.357 SIG; .44 Magnum)

Type III (Rifles)
Type IV (Armor Piercing Rifle)

The calibers listed are the rounds that this level will protect up to, inclusive of lesser calibers.

Personally, I have a set that I had for working in the Middle East. It was a ‘low profile’ set that still had front and rear plates. The soft armor portion is level IIIA and the plates are level III. You don’t actually need level IV plates, unless you feel the need to protect against armor piercing rounds. Military armor has level IV plates. This set of body armor simply came in a soft cover, no pouches attached. It meant that I could wear it under a shirt, or more operationally I used to wear my gear over the top of it, depending on the low or high profile nature of the mission. In the photos you see of me on my site, I am wearing it under a ‘Spec Ops Brand’ ‘Over Armor Vest’ with all my tactical pouches on. So that is a useful way to go, lots of flexibility.

What I have now, on the civilian side, is a battle belt, an assortment of ‘low profile’ ‘man bags’ that can carry magazines, and I have taken the soft armor and plates out of the cover and put them into a plate carrier that I bought online. It mirrors the military gear I used to wear. So it is no longer low profile, unless I replace the armor in the original soft cover. I have a full tactical vest set up. If I wanted to go low profile, I can replace the armor in the soft cover, wear it under a shirt, and carry a ‘man bag’ with spare magazines in. With the tactical vest, you can get ones that take soft armor (level IIIA stops powerful handgun/shrapnel) and/or plates. So you can get a plate carrier, or a full set with soft armor. A simple plate carrier will be lighter and cooler, but offers less protection. The soft armor gives you greater protection, just not against high velocity rounds.

So what? Decide what sort of rig you are looking to set up. Research the NIJ levels that you want. You can buy the stuff in a civilian style soft cover and put it into a tactical vest if you want. You definitely want the plates, and you need to decide if you also want the soft armor too. You can buy plates on their own, and the plate carrier such as this amazon example.

Body armor can be heavy, hot and sweaty. If you have a ‘MOLLE’ style tactical cover you can set up a full tactical vest by attaching ammo pouches and the like to the body armor cover. This makes it heavier, but it allows you to carry your gear. If you are contemplating being involved in any kind of tactical kinetic situations, you need to get over the whole hot, heavy and sweaty thing. Suck it up and drive on. Do more PT/drink more water. You will benefit from the protection and you need to carry your ammo and IFAK anyway, plus ancillary gear.

If you are working in the heat, and you want to compromise, use a plate carrier. This gives you the same high velocity rifle round protection but without the greater soft armor torso coverage that will protect against handgun rounds and shrapnel.

Don’t go the other way and simply wear the soft armor, like cops do under their shirts. This provides protection against handgun rounds and some can be anti-stab vests also. But there is no protection from high velocity rifle rounds. You can still wear a set with plates under a shirt if you need to be a little more low profile, for instance if driving through a hostile environment trying to remain low key.

And there we have my two cents on body armor….