Take a tour of the gun cabinets of most hunters or recreational firearm owners. You’ll likely find optics configured carefully on their upper receivers in certain way. And you’re likely to see spare parts, tools, and magazines. But will you see body armor?
Unless you’re offering professional security services, a member of law enforcement, or military facing dynamic tactical conditions, you may not require body armor. However, when the target is sending rounds of terminal projectiles in your direction, wearing body armor will often help prevent serious injury or death.
In these situations, understanding what body armor will or will not work for you doesn’t need to be an agonizing ordeal.
Several organizations and the National Institute of Justice have already done most of the investigative work for you. Still, choosing the proper body armor is a tough personal choice, so you’ll want to do your very own level of research.
To help you with your decision, here are a few things to keep in mind when you start your search for the proper body armor.
Purchase With the Threat in Mind
Understanding the type of threat you’ll often experience is one of the essential things to note when picking the proper body armor. Choosing the right body armor is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
If the threat you’re about to experience is packing rifles and firing high-volume ammunition, wearing body armor that’s rated to handle pistol fire won’t help much.
Many SWAT agencies today fit their team members with rifle-rated hard armor to prevent significant injury or death and purchase body armor which will sufficiently protect the SWAT team against pistol rounds as well.
When you’re going to buy body armor, at the very least, ensure that it’s pistol-rated to prevent injury or death from various pistol calibers.
In the heat of a dynamic tactical situation, you’re not likely to know the exact caliber of round the target is firing back at you so picking body armor with a wide range of calibers will be a good decision.
Paired Protection or Stand Alone
There are many body armor options on the market today and several instances of stand-alone armor or types of armor that provide the proper protection when paired together. Conjunction body armor is typically a union of both soft and hard armor that offers a higher level of NIJ-rated protection when paired together.
Conversely, stand-alone armor is typically hard armor that provides the same NIJ-rated protection when worn by itself.
One of the key factors when picking either type requires a couple of decisions you’ll need to consider.
Combining soft and hard body armor often means you’ll have more comfortable wear with less weight. Conjunction body armor allows you to customize how the body armor fits and gives you better mobility in certain instances.
Stand-alone hard armor can be a bit bulky and take a little time to get used to, and most times requires a carrier vest for convenience’s sake. With either body armor solution you choose, a critical aspect is that you continue to wear it when tactically deployed.
Give Your Armor a Wear Test
While it may seem awkward at first, you’ll need to wear-test your body armor and get a sense of how it feels and operates when in the field. After donning your body armor, mount all your accessories, strap on your gear, and shoulder your rifle.
Move around and test your armor to see how well it moves with your body.
Does your entire suite of body armor chafe or hamper arm movement or prevent a positive grip and deployment of your weapons?
Comfortability aside, body armor that prevents rapid deployment or access to essential things you’ll need to protect yourself is critical. You should adequately test your newly acquired armor to ensure things won’t go sideways in a hurry during a dynamic situation.
Soft Versus Hard
It’s best to understand how both types of body armor work when choosing between soft or hard body armor or a combination of the two. Soft body armor is multiple layers of engaged fibers that absorb and disperse the energy of a bullet upon impact. As the projectile passes through the outermost layers of the soft armor, it typically mushrooms and slows its trajectory through the layers of fiber, continuing to disperse energy until finally stopping.
On the other hand, hard armor deflects and sometimes shatters the projectile, which is known as the spalling effect, and pushes against the bullet with the same amount of energy as the projectile impacting the armor. Hard armor typically stops the shot from penetrating.
Although hard armor reacts much better at protecting vital organs, it can be cumbersome to wear, and unless it has excellent anti-spalling treatment, it can result in fragment injuries.
The net result of wearing hard armor is that the bullet won’t have sufficient energy to pierce the plate and shatters on impact. Unless properly coated with anti-spalling treatment, these fragments shift directions at high speeds and can hit you in the neck, head, or lower body.
Spalling is a unique name for a simple bit of physics when a bullet impacts a steel core piece of body armor. When selecting hard body armor, take care to ensure the manufacturer offers hard body armor with full anti-spalling coating.
One thing to understand is that hard body armor, even with proper treatment of anti-spalling coating, may produce fragmentation.
However, many quality body armor manufacturers make their armor with treatments that encapsulate the fragments and significantly reduce or eliminate fragmentation injuries.
Remember that fragmentation may occur with any hard armor with a full anti-spalling coating when the armor takes a significant number of rounds in or near the exact location and the armor suddenly delaminates. On this type of armor, it typically takes upwards of twenty or more rounds for the coating to delaminate and for spalling to take place.
That said, it’s a given that very few wearers of hard body armor will expose themselves to that kind of continued fire.
It’s Probably Going to Hurt
With all the things you’ll need to check on when picking out the correct type of body armor, making the right choice will most assuredly save your life or prevent serious injury. There is, however, one thing you need to remember.
Being on the receiving end of a center mass shot against your chest body armor is going to hurt.
Yes, your hard or choice may have deflected the bullet, or the soft armor may have absorbed it, but beneath all that armor, your body will still take a considerable amount of the force as well.
You will experience significant bruising, perhaps a few broken ribs, and in some instances, even internal bleeding.
On the plus side, wearing either soft or hard body armor means that you’ll live to engage another day, but you’ll still want to seek medical attention to have yourself checked out before you head out into the field again.