With the recent shooting in Buffalo, it’s not just guns that are in the crosshairs of the gun banners, but also body armor. New York has already taken steps to try to ban its citizens from owning some types of body armor, and other states may follow suit. That comes at a bad time for gun owners, many of whom have only recently gotten onto the body armor bandwagon.
More and more gun owners today are realizing that being prepared for what’s coming isn’t just a matter of having plenty of guns and ammo, it’s about having clothing, footwear, gear, night vision, and personal protective equipment including body armor.
If you’re new to the topic of body armor, you may be wondering whether you need to buy some. Like many things, it’s a personal choice and your decision will come down to the possible scenarios you see yourself in. But here’s a beginner’s guide to help you get started in thinking about whether body armor is right for you.
Soft Armor vs. Hard Armor
The first thing you’ll need to think about is soft armor vs. hard armor. When most shooters today are talking about body armor, they’re talking about rifle plates, armor that can protect against rifle rounds. But soft body armor still can be important too.
Much of the body armor on the market today is tested according to standards developed by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). These NIJ standards have resulted in body armor classification, ranging from weakest to strongest, of Types IIA, II, IIIA, III, and IV. Types IIA through IIIA are soft body armor intended to defend against pistol cartridges, while Types III and IV are normally plates intended to protect against rifle cartridges and armor piercing rifle ammunition, respectively.
Type IIA soft body armor is intended to protect against a 124-grain 9mm Luger full metal jacket round nose (FMJ RN) bullet traveling at up to 1,255 feet per second, or a 180-grain 40 S&W FMJ bullet traveling at up to 1,185 feet per second.
Type II soft body armor is intended to protect against a 124-grain 9mm FMJ RN bullet traveling at up to 1,335 feet per second, or a 158-grain .357 Magnum jacketed soft point (JSP) bullet traveling at up to 1,460 feet per second.
Type IIIA soft body armor is intended to protect against a 125-grain .357 SIG FMJ flat nose (FN) bullet traveling at up to 1,500 feet per second, or a 240-grain .44 Magnum semi-jacketed hollow point (SJHP) bullet traveling at up to 1,460 feet per second.
Type III body armor can come in the form of hard armor or flexible armor, but must be able to withstand 147-grain M80 ball from a 7.62x51mm cartridge at a velocity of up to 2,810 feet per second.
Type IV body armor is required to withstand 166-grain M2 armor-piercing bullets from a .30-06 cartridge with a velocity of up to 2,910 feet per second.
You’ll notice that there are a lot of cartridges that aren’t listed here. So what will defend against a 7.62x39, or a 6.5 Grendel? In general, anything IIIA or below isn’t going to stop a rifle round at all. And anything III and IV should stop most rifle cartridges with similar energy levels and bullet construction.
If you’re looking to find the performance of a particular bullet resistant vest or armor plates, YouTube and other social media sites are full of videos of people shooting body armor with numerous different types of cartridges, so you can get a sense of what type of performance to expect.
Soft Armor: The Pros
Let’s start talking about the pros of soft body armor.
Some protection is better than nothing. And if you’re going somewhere where you expect to be shot at, you’re probably going to want to have some sort of protection. Even just a soft body armor vest is better than nothing.
Soft armor is more flexible than hard armor, making it easier to wear. Some types of armor are more flexible than others, so be sure to read up on reviews.
Soft body armor is also easily concealable. Many soft body armor vests are able to be worn under a loose T-shirt or button down shirt. Odds are that you’ve walked past many people wearing soft body armor and haven’t even realized it.
Soft body armor shouldn’t weigh more than about five pounds. You’ll still want to wear it for a bit to figure out how to move with it, but for most people the extra weight shouldn’t get them huffing and puffing.
Soft Armor: The Cons
Soft armor does have some disadvantages though. Here are a few of them.
1. Breaks Down
Soft body armor will break down when exposed to heat, moisture, and UV light. That’s one reason you don’t ever want to buy used body armor, because you don’t know how it has been stored. But it also means that wearing it under clothing, where it will get hot and sweaty, will eventually lessen the ballistic protection you receive from it. And eventually you’ll have to buy a new vest.
Body armor also doesn’t breathe like your shirt or underwear do. So be prepared to be warmer than you expect, especially in summer, and stay properly hydrated when wearing armor, even soft body armor.
3. Alters Movement
Depending on fit, especially around the shoulders, you may find certain movements are less comfortable to make when wearing body armor. This includes putting your hands over your head, reaching for things in your car, or even firing a pistol or rifle.
4. Doesn’t Protect Against Rifles
Finally, soft body armor won’t protect you against rifle cartridges. You’ve probably heard gun control groups talking about armor piercing rifles, but that’s not what they’re really talking about. What they really are talking about is how any rifle cartridge can punch right through soft body armor that is only rated to defend against pistol cartridges.
That’s just basic physics, and because most people don’t understand that, gun control groups try to exploit this to their advantage. But it also means that if you’re looking to protect yourself against anything more than commonly available handgun cartridges, you’re going to want to look into buying hard armor like rifle plates.
In Part 2 of this guide we’ll go into hard armor and rifle plates that are rated to stop rifle cartridges, as well as some of the pros and cons of different types of rifle plates.