Understanding Body Armor Essentials for Everyday Safety

Body Armor

We get vivid images when we think about body armor – law enforcement, military, Batman.

(Please don’t wear the last with any expectation other than Cosplay)

But, the reality of body armor is quite different, and there are tons that regular people don’t know. Why would we? How often have we thought to ourselves – I could use some heavy-ass body armor?

Maybe never, maybe every day. 

Let’s get into the layers of body armor by dispelling myths and learning facts. So we can make a sound decision about why body armor might be worth it for normies.

Body Armor Basics

The simple definition of Body Armor is any protective clothing that someone wears meant to absorb or deflect an attack.

You might hear body armor referred to as different things.

Soft and hard body armor are the two primary categories. You will get tons of information about both, so you can decide what best suits you and your body armor needs.

What Body Armor Is Not

Body armor is not bulletproof. Bulletproof is just a hyperbolic term for saying it is likely bullet-resistant (similar to security window marketing or bulletproof glass). Stopping a bullet is not an easy task. Even the best body armor plates will not stop a bullet 100% of the time.

What it will do is absorb some of the energy, deflect some of the metal, buy you time, and maybe save your life. It is no replacement for self-defense skills and basic weapons.

Types of Body Armor

Body Armor Vests and Plates

Bulletproof vest, Tactical body armor bulletproof vests hidden with additional pockets, camouflage

Also called ballistic or bulletproof vets, a body armor vest absorbs and will reduce the impact of any projectile fragmentation from explosions or firearms.

Those that most commonly wear body armor vests include:

  • Law enforcement officers
  • Correctional officers
  • Security Guards
  • Military
  • And regular, everyday folks who just feel safer with it on.

Soft Armor Plates

They are the most common protective clothing. It is because soft armor plates are flexible, soft, and light enough that you won’t feel like you’re in the gym by just wearing one. Yet, it is durable and has pretty good protective qualities.

People typically wear a soft armor plate as concealed ballistic armor vest or plate carrier.

Hard Armor Plates

Hard armor plates offer you some of the best protection out there. But, be prepared; they aren’t easy to wear. 

You would use hard armor plates in a carrier or vest.

Concealed Vests

Concealed body armor vets are purposefully designed for you to wear under uniforms or regular old street clothes. Soft ballistic armor panels offer protection to your front, back, and both sides of your torso.

Full-Body Tactical Armor

If you’re going for legit Batman-level armor, full-body tactical is the way to do it. But, unless you’re ready to get in shape fast and then invest a gazillion dollars, you might just want to leave full-body ballistic armor to the military.

The first component is a vest with front, side, and back protection. You can then join it with protective armor that covers your body, which can range from helmets to arm and thigh greaves.

And, you can’t just hide full-body tactical armor under clothes. 

Bulletproof Military Plate Carrier

We mentioned carriers once or twice. A military plate carrier is just a lighter and more comfortable bulletproof vest. Depending on the level of protection you’re trying to achieve, you can put hard or soft plates in.

Law enforcement commonly uses plate carriers because they are lightweight but offer ample protection. They can also wear their uniforms over it. 


DuPont started developing Kevlar® in 1965. Its mission is to improve officer and soldier safety and make sure they go home at the end of the day.

Pros of Kevlar®

  • Insanely lightweight.
  • Comfortable.
  • Improves mobility.
  • Reduces fatigue in the field.
  • Kevlar® is 5x stronger than steel (on the exact weight basis).
  • It offers optimal protection against ballistic threats.
  • Flame resistant.
  • Thermal protection.

Stab Vests

Ballistic body armor may absorb the power of a bullet, but pointy objects are another thing altogether. Stabbings are not too terrible behind shootings as the leading cost of homicide.

  • An edge-blade is any commercial knife that doesn’t come to a point. Slashing damage is most common with edge blades. Though, stabbing is stabbing.
  • A spike weapon is a spiked weapon, meaning it comes to a point. Nearly anything can be turned into one, from a syringe to a sharpened stick.

A stab vest is specifically designed to take on sharp objects, Stab vests are woven together tighter than a bulletproof vest and have more layers, but not every vest protects from both edge-blade and spike weapons.

Multi-Armor Solution

All it means is that it is an armor option that protects against various types of damage.

Law enforcement tends to use a combination of body armor because they have no clue what threat they may face—for example, using a two-in-one stab vest along with body armor plates.

Women Want Body Armor Too

Obviously, this is a fact. However, until recently, no one cared that body armor options protected women far less than their male counterparts.

Every human body is different, and that means different protection. Companies out there developing body armor for women still only use cup size to get a gauge on fit.

Custom Body Armor

If you can afford it, it’s the best option out there. You can combine protective clothing and gear and get it all sized to fit you the way it was meant to.

Poor-fitting ballistic armor, or any misfitting gear, will not protect you as something meant for your measurements.

It isn’t just women that benefit from custom-sized body armor. 

Performance Levels of Body Armor

The US National Institute of Justice developed a performance rating system for body armor. Please do not invest in any protective clothing without knowing that it meets the standards.

We are not going to go into physics or a complicated explanation. You likely only need to know a couple of things.

The Performance LevelWhat It’s Meant
to Take
Level II & Level IIA

Handgun rounds
Up to and including .357 magnum
Jacketed soft point

Level IIIA

.44 MAG
.357 MAG

Level III+

Up to 6 shots
7.62×51 NATO round

Level IV 

One-shot from 7.62MM
Armor-piercing rifle bullet 

Level V

Hopefully, one day!

The Reasons a Regular Human Would Want Body Armor That Isn’t Bullets.

We’ve covered that body armor’s primary goal is to protect from bullets and sharp things. But, protective clothing can come in handy for a number of reasons.

1. Blunt Objects

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Blunt objects can be dangerous and destructive. The scariest part is that anyone can grab a blunt object and turn it into a weapon.

  • Hammer
  • Baseball bats.
  • Martial Arts weapons.
  • 2×4
  • Log
  • Cane
  • Umbrella

2. Sharp Things That Aren’t Knives

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You can sharpen nearly anything to make it a weapon. What’s worse is when an ordinary object is turned into a knife or blade.

  • Razors
  • Scissors
  • Screwdriver
  • Chisel
  • Nail file
  • Keys
  • Pen or pencil
  • Umbrella

Yep, an umbrella made two lists. 

3. Tasers

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Now, don’t get too excited because taser protection depends on where you’re wearing protective gear. But, a lot of  Level IIIA bullet-resistant vests will offer your protection from most tasers. (Again, if it doesn’t hit armor, you’re shocked.)

4. More Non-Ballistic Protection

Car accidents are far more likely than a shoot-out, even for law enforcement agencies.

Let me tell you about a situation where body armor came in handy.

A police officer just doing a routine patrol ran off the pavement at high speed. Long story short, he fishtailed, went airborne, crashing head-on with a hillside. He ended up suffering a fractured sternum, a sprained thumb, had a likely concussion, and experienced severe neck pain.

It is reasonable to say his body armor protected him from fatal injuries.

Caring About the Comfort of Body Armor

Now, do you think Batman could fight crime all night without some extra something something under his body armor to keep it from chafing?

Trauma Pads Reduces the Trauma of Body Armor

If you don’t know what trauma pads are, they are just pads you wear with or behind your body armor. It reduces the energy transfer to your body through your ballistic plates, which addresses all sorts of uncomfortable issues.

Trauma pads DO NOT ADD ANY PROTECTION. Just because it is a layer doesn’t mean it acts as anything other than a layer of clothing.

Soft Armor Panels

Level IIIA soft armor panels are what happens when trauma pads level up. Soft armor pads go between you and your armor plates.

You may have heard them referred to as ballistic trauma pads because they do add an additional layer of protection. 

Dry Vests

You were correct; they are precisely what you thought. Something to help you from dying of a heat stroke when you’re in your body armor.

What they do is put enough space between you and your vest or carrier that ventilation is let in to keep you cool.

Manufacturers develop dry vests using a mesh that doesn’t retain moisture, is incredibly lightweight, and is anti-microbial.

Curve Plates

Without question, regular people aren’t going to be able to afford a complete set of custom-designed full-Body tactical armor, along with the trauma pads needed to make it even wearable.

You can purchase single curve plates or multi-curve plates to improve the fit of your body armor. It enhances the way the plates conform to the body and increases the comfort level.

But, if you’re indeed Bruce Wayne (I apologize if you are, and hi), customizing will always be the optimal way to secure protection and comfort.

Carrier Quality Matters

A vast majority of your comfort will come with the plate carrier you invest in. 

It is easy to think to yourself; I won’t be wearing my protective clothing very often. I will just get a $100 plate carrier and all it a day.

Well, that’s not a great plan. Primarily because once normies get a taste of absolute protection, the addiction to body armor becomes real, and you won’t want to ever leave home without it.

Entry-level plate carriers are perfectly fine for emergencies, but extended wear will not be comfortable.

Wear Clothes Under Your Body Armor

  • Don’t skip wearing a shirt under your body armor. You will chafe and blister, and a potential bullet will become the least of your problems.
  • But, don’t wear tons of layers, or you’ll have a heat stroke. Find that middle ground.
  • Also, more clothes do not mean more protection. 

Body Armor Maintenance

Body armor degrades just like everything else, and age is the biggest reason why. But, it is not the only way body armor can lose its effectiveness.

  • You want to stay on top of giving your ballistic armor some tender, loving care so that it can give you back the same thing.
  • Wear and tear from regular use is going to take its toll. The good news is that most body armor comes with a declared warranty period.
  • The okayish news is that the manufacturer decides on that time frame and begins on its testing date.
  • The US National Institute of Justice issues full guidance about everything body armor-related, including how to check yours out for signs of wear and tear.

DIY Body Armor Care


  • Get dry cleaned
  • Use dry-cleaning solvents
  • Use any hard detergent or bleach
  • Use alcohol
  • Let soap residue accumulate
  • Improperly store

I didn’t mean to scream at you, but there are literal surveys about how law enforcement does not do maintenance and care on their body armor. I need to make sure you dote on your ballistic armor to protect your investment.

Then 8 Things You Can Do

  1. Read the instructions. Do it now. You can find them online in PDF form. It is good for your health and the health of ballistic gear. 
  2. Avoid getting it soaking wet. Rain is fine. But, don’t dunk it in a pool, and for all that is holy in this world, do not put it in the washing machine.
  3. Spot-clean the hell out of your body armor. Just get into the habit of checking your gear after any extended wear. 
  4. Use mild soap detergent. Stick to baby wipes, soft sponges, and dish soap. 
  5. Hang up your body armor to dry. Avoid using artificial heat to dry your protective clothing. Hang it up, so it dries and doesn’t lose any of its protection or durability.
  6. Store your body armor flat. It will not keep its form if you toss it around, shove it in chests, or throw it in a drawer. Don’t hang it up to store it, either. 
  7. Clean your vest and plates separately. One of the benefits of a vest is that they are separate. Just follow the cleaning instructions.
  8. Keep up with your body armor warranty. It has your serial number, proof of purchase, and the date you purchased it. You need all this documentation to have it serviced under the warranty agreement. Warranty is typically five years for soft armor and ten years for hard armor.

More Stuff About Body Armor

Okay, so I didn’t want to read all of that. Will bulletproof body armor protect me from bullets 100% of the time?

Absolutely no matter what body armor or combo you decide on will be bulletproof. Sure, it offers spectacular protection and can buy you enough time to run, but essentially it is just layers of clothing.

So, don’t go into bank robbery thinking you will ever get out, even with full ballistic gear.

Soft armor sounds, well, weak. Can it really withstand a bullet?

Soft armor panels are made from specialized and durable fibers. Sometimes it is woven, sometimes no-woven fibers, but most commonly, it is a combo of both.

It is actually quite effective at stopping some bullets because it slows projectiles down and turns them to the side. It disperses across the ballistic panel, which is a literal layer between life and death.

You mentioned Kevlar®. Are there any other companies out there making protective vests?

DSM Dyneema and Teijin Twaron are two top body armor manufacturers behind Kevlar®.

Dyneema Fibers

  • When compared to steel, DuPont Kevlar® is seven times stronger. 
  • Dyneema ballistic fibers are fifteen times stronger than steel. It makes it the stronger fiber on the market.

Teijin Twaron

  • Kevlar® and Teijin are about what and what. Both are about seven times stronger than steel. Which means it can handle high impacts.
  • Both body armor fabrics are heat-resistant, stab-proof, and resistant to chemicals.

Assault rifles are a favorite for active shooters. Will my body armor protect me against a high-velocity round?

An assault rifle will tear through soft armor. Hard armor plates are your best bet of getting out of that situation alive.

Level IV hard armor plates will stop armor-piercing rounds. Anything lower is not designed to withstand a full-on assault.

I have my warranty card. But I never called and registered it. Oops.

If you’re a law enforcement officer or in the military, your department likely filled it out and sent it in for you. Check with your uniform requisition department.

But, if you’re reading this, you’re likely a regular person. If there is a recall, you want to be prepared. Send your registration card off right this second.

I have a ballistic panel that is sagging. Halp.

Gravity takes its toll on everything. The weight causes the Velcro and fabric to weaken and stretch. You lose a lot of comfort and some protection when it happens.

The more often you wear it, the more panels tend to sag. It is another reason why having an extra carrier protects you and your investment.

Just out of curiosity, can I keep fighting if my body armor absorbs a bullet?

Sometimes, and it’s going to hurt probably. Many officers recall stories of stand-offs and shoot-outs and how it feels like they’ve been hit by a hammer when hit. 

The bruise will fade, but the story will not.

Should I buy an extra carrier vest?

If you plan on wearing your ballistic armor panels regularly, invest in a spare.

You can’t put wet panels in a vest because they will degrade quickly. An extra carrier vest will ensure you never have to go without your body armor because of general maintenance.

I’ve gained weight. My body armor is tight, but do I really need to get a new one fitted?

  • If your body armor doesn’t fit right, it is not protecting you right, either.
  • If you’ve gained or lost significant weight, you’ll need new armor plates and carriers.
  • Even soft body armor is not meant to stretch ever.
  • Bullet-resistant armor is not supposed to be skin-tight. You should never feel more than a bit of tension when tugging it.

I hear the words bulletproof vest a lot. Are the ballistic panel carriers bullet resistant, too?

Nope, the vest is not an added layer of armor. It is just a piece of clothing that holds the protective component.

A carrier is equivalent to the shirt you wear underneath it in terms of protection.

Don’t Do Dumb Things Thinking It Adds Protection

Duct Tape Doesn’t Protect; Stop Listening to the Internet

YouTube is maddening, and there are plenty of videos out there with people trying to make body armor out of duct tape. Just don’t.

And law enforcement officers have been known to use duct tape to attach their armor to their bodies. Just don’t do that, either.

Double the Vest Does Not Mean Double the Protection

You can create body armor combos, but don’t throw on multiple vests and think you’re multiplying the protection. Going through a certified body armorer is so essential to your defense. They will know what combos are safe and comfortable.

My bulletproof vest took a bullet. What do I need to do with it now?

When your body armor takes a hit, a likely corresponding bulge inside the panel will develop.

It is referred to as a back-faced deformation or BFD. (Because getting shot always is.)

Do you have a list of body armor manufacturers?

Yep, you can find a complete list of body armor manufacturers that make safe body armor. 

If you’re looking for protective clothing, it is the best list to choose from. 

How much does ballistic body armor cost?

You are looking at least investing $250 for a beginner getup. And up to $1500 for heavy-duty concealed gear. And just like with everything else in life, you get what you pay for (ditto for bulletproof windows and drywall).

The least costly models are made from cheaper materials and are just more cumbersome and rigid.

Eventually, you’ll want the most advanced, lightest, and most flexible materials and fibers out there. You may want to begin buying body armor with that in mind.

All Guns Kill

It doesn’t matter the gun or even the shooter. It matters where that bullet decides to go. Yes, body armor gives you the best chance of survival, but don’t only rely on it.

An excellent example of this is shotgun pellets. They are wildly unpredictable because they are wildly inconsistent regarding velocity.

You can only protect what you know.

Consider this – you likely wear a sidearm or have a firearm in your car. At any point, it can get taken and used against you. If your body armor can withstand what you carry, then at least you know that much.

Friendly fire happens, and so do gun-related accidents. Why not be prepared for the worst if you have the means and drive? 

Please make educated decisions when it comes to body armor. Compare prices, quality, and don’t walk away with body armor that doesn’t fit properly. 

You’re making a hefty investment in your safety, and you want to be as safe as body armor allows.

Just do what you can, and always have a plan.

By Anita Brown

Anita Brown is our go-to contributor to our emergency preparedness website. Anita brings a wealth of personal experience and professional expertise to the table, having weathered several awful natural disasters. Anita is currently working towards obtaining her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification.