By Chris Taylor
Body armor has existed in various forms for many years, yet the past few decades have seen significant improvements made to protective clothing. This has helped make armor thinner, lighter, and stronger. This makes for increased protection, but also much more variety in the available products. So what does it all mean? . . .
Body armor incorporates a wide range of products, but there is certain information you need to know regarding body armor; what weapons is it designed to protect against? What strength of attack can it stop? What is it made from? How can it be worn? Knowing the answers to these questions and understanding why they are so important will help you make the correct decision when choosing body armor.
Body armor is designed to protect you to the best of its ability, but it can only protect against the threats it is designed against. Bullet proof vests made of Kevlar, for example, work by ‘trapping’ a bullet and displacing its energy through tightly woven fabric, slowing it to a complete stop before it can penetrate the vest. However, higher calibre rounds require ‘hard’ armor protection, utilizing plates of ceramic or polyethylene and stopping bullets in the thicker and stronger material.
Soft armor usually uses materials like Kevlar or Dyneema, tightly woven fabrics with an incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio that disperse the energy of a bullet. These soft armors are available in different levels depending on the speed and strength of a bullet they can protect against. Extra layers are needed to increase ‘soft’ protection, and while this will increase size and weight, body armor remains lightweight and comfortable to wear.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) tests and grades bullet proof vests accordingly, and all body armor sold should meet these standards. The Level IIa bullet proof vest can protect against 9mm full metal jacketed round nose and .40 S&W full metal jacketed ammunition, which are commonly found in most handguns. Level II armor offers the same level protection as the IIa, with the added benefit of stopping .357 Magnum jacketed soft points. The highest level of soft armor is the Level IIIa, which not only provides the protection offered by the lower levels, but also protects against high velocity 9mm full metal jacketed round-nose bullets and .44 Magnum jacketed hollow points. All these soft armors are available in covert as well as overt styles, meaning the vest can be worn underneath or over clothing respectively.
Hard armor offers all the protection of soft armor, with hard panels to protect against higher caliber bullets. These bullet proof vests usually use polyethylene, ceramic or a mixture in inserted plates to protect against these types of ammunition. These plates can even be inserted into covert armor, offering the highest level of protection in a discreet style. Hard armors are necessary when facing rifle and armor piercing (AP) rounds; the Level III hard armor protects against 7.62 full metal jacketed rifle rounds, and the Level IV can protect against .30 caliber AP bullets. These are naturally heavier and bulkier than their soft counterparts, but still remain comfortable to wear. In high-risk situations where high caliber ammunition and even armor-piercing rounds are prevalent, hard bullet resistant vests are vital.
In addition to different levels of protection, bullet proof vests are also available in different styles, affecting how they’re worn. This includes covert and overt vests, designed to be worn underneath and over clothing respectively. There are advantages and disadvantages to each style of armor, though both are as lightweight and flexible as possible.
Covert vests are designed to be worn underneath clothing or a uniform, and allow you complete freedom of movement without sacrificing protection. Many are also available with temperature-regulating technologies to help keep the wearer cool. Covert vests are ideal for discreet protection, and some have argued that concealing armor will avoid making you more of a target for potential attackers. Similarly, when dealing with the public or indeed in any situation where discretion is necessary, a covert vest is ideal. However, an overt vest may be the better choice in some environments. Some argue that overt protection, i.e. a vest worn over clothing, can deter potential attackers. It can certainly act as a statement of authority, and with the addition of extra pockets and quick release systems it can form a more complete protective option.
There’s a great deal of choice available to those who need protection; from the style of the vest, to its level of protection, it is important that you understand just what is available to you, and how each suits certain situations. Whatever the choice, provided you have prepared properly, you can ensure you remain as protected as possible without sacrificing comfort and mobility.
Chris Taylor is Communications Director for Safeguard Armor.