Some Basics About Armor
We are starting to see more and more students wearing armor at classes. As with everything else firearms related, there are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation surrounding armor. Enough students have asked questions regarding armor that I felt it warranted a brief primer on the subject. This is by no means an exhaustive study, it is only intended to lay out the rough basics of armor for the individual seeking to purchase their own.
Students frequently ask “Do I need armor?” My answer is a resounding “Yes”. Besides the obvious role of armor for personal protection, it is also safety equipment. You wouldn’t shoot without eye pro or ear pro, and armor is no different in my opinion. We are fortunate enough to live in an era where armor is prolific and relatively inexpensive. To me there is no excuse not to have armor available for wear at the range – in fact, most of our more advanced classes require it. As a serious student of the gun, whether you are a responsible armed citizen, a police officer, or a soldier, you should have all the necessary support equipment for that firearm. And let’s be honest – armor is probably a far better use of funds than your 6th M4 build or 4th carry pistol.
The first thing you need to ask yourself is what threats you need to defeat. There are two basic types of body armor – soft armor and hard armor. Soft armor stops pistol rounds, and hard armor stops rifle rounds. Yes, I am aware there is hard armor which is pistol threat, but this article is mostly concerned with generalities and I’m trying to avoid going down the rabbit hole of hyper-specialized products. We’ll save that for another day.
When we talk about soft armor, we are talking about the classic “bulletproof vest” like police officers wear daily. Made from tightly woven Kevlar (and similar materials) soft armor does a great job of stopping most pistol and shotgun rounds. Soft armor is relatively thin and flexible which enables them to be easily concealed. They also cover a larger area of your torso compared to hard armor.
Hard armor are plates typically made from ceramic, polyethylene, or steel designed to stop rifle rounds. They cover a limited portion of the torso, usually front and rear protection of the heart and lungs. You can add side plates (which come in various sizes) but I think most people would agree that is a task-specific piece of protection. I would *STRONGLY* advise against purchasing steel armor for a variety of reasons. As I said earlier, this is intended to be a primer on armor so I’ll save that topic for another article. I’ll simply say this there are no professional organizations using steel plates to my knowledge. Ceramics are the world standard for good reason.
So, which to get? Each has a different role. Soft vests cover more, but that coverage will affect mobility. Soft vests also trap more body heat, especially when worn concealed under a shirt. Uncomfortable to be sure, but a better choice than getting shot. While rifle-rated armor allows more range of motion than soft armor, rifle plates are heavier than soft armor. How much heavier depends on how much you are willing to spend. Armor is like anything else – you can get the performance you want, but it will cost you. I recommend getting the lightest plates or vest you can afford. Your back and joints will thank you later. I have a soft vest which I can either wear under a shirt for low visibility operations or wear overtly in a tactical carrier with all the required equipment for uniformed street enforcement. I have a plate carrier with side plates, with comms, medical, ammunition, and breaching support for tactical operations. With time an experience you will find an 80% solution for most things, but no one solution can cover every scenario. While plate carriers are the “sexy” choice due to their high visibility use overseas, the bulk of the threats in the US come from pistol rounds. So as a private armed citizen, you may find a concealable soft vest more suitable to your needs than a jocked up plate carrier, set up for a direct action role. Figuring out what works, and what your needs are comes with experience and training. Hopefully this article answered some of the more commonly asked questions regarding armor. Look for more articles on this subject in the future. See you on the range.
Thanks for reading,