Just Choose that Body Armor Plate Already. Here is How.

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Selecting good body armor plates is one hell of a business. And you’ve got to learn it quickly now if you don’t want to find out the hard way that your armor plate sucks. So, how do you select a body armor plate? Here are 3 one-line rules of thumb first, and then we’ll cover the issue in more detail.

3 rules of thumb for selecting good armor plates

  1. Assess potential threats

Know your enemy, and pick the body armor plate that can stop corresponding rounds. If you do not know that, select NIJ Level III (see below) as the most universal answer to everything.

  1. Maintain good fit and weight

Surviving a gunfight is half about stopping the threat and another half about remaining maneuverable and flexible. Make sure the armor plate matches your tape measures and does not hinder your movement.

  1. The armor plate also should stop anything you carry 

You never can tell how things will go on a real mission. Make sure your body armor plate can withstand a shot of your own weapon.

How to choose the body armor plate

Select a matching size of the plate

Proper tape-measuring of your body has its specifics, but as a rough approximation, you can base your armor plate selection on just two landmarks: nipple-to-nipple distance determines the width of a plate, and the height of the plate is the distance from one finger below the sternum notch to two fingers above your duty belt.

Determine the threat level

NIJ classifies threats as follows:

  • Level II – pistol rounds such as .22LR, 380, .40, 9mm, .45ACP, and .357 Mag.
  • Level IIIA – pistol rounds at higher velocities: .357 Sig FMG FN and .44 Magnum SJHP rounds.
  • Level III – rifles shots including 7.62x51mm FMJ M80.
  • Level IV – armor-piercing high-velocity bullets such as 30.06.

Knowing the expected threat level you can select the corresponding armor plate that is NIJ-certified accordingly.

Select the type of armor

Overall, there are two distinct armor types: soft armor and hard armor.

Soft armor is lighter, more flexible, and allows for higher maneuverability and better comfort of its wearer. It can only protect against small firearms but is unmatched for concealed wear.

Hard armor is tougher, but also typically weighs more and offers little to no flexibility, thus partially impairing the user’s ability to move, crouch, or bend.

In addition, there is also flexible hard armor. It consists of multiple hard elements flexibly connected together into a single armor plate. Such plates are extremely expensive now, but reliably combine the advantages of both soft and hard armor plates.

In the above classification, Level II and Level IIIA body armor plates are considered soft armor, while Level III and IV would be hard armor plates.

Also, aside from body armor plates there are also inserted armor plates for backpacks.

Select the material

As for the material of body armor plates, here are your best options:

  • Steel. AR500/550 plates are still here, they are cost-effective and are practically eternal. But steel is steel. You’ve got to be ready to bear a tremendous weight on yourself if you opt for steel.
  • Polymer fibers (aramid). Come under dozens of commercial brand names such as Kevlar, Dyneema, Twaron, and others. Modern polymers are used not only in soft armor but in hard armor too. They are relatively lightweight and compact but often lack versatility. For instance, Kevlar is relatively weak against rifle rounds if used alone, without the support of other materials.
  • Polyethylene. Sounds goofy, but this is not mundane polyethylene you can see in every pack around you. It is ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene that can effectively stop even high-velocity bullets. Body armor plates made from this material are lightweight (they can even float!), but bulky. Not for covert operations, certainly.
  • Ceramic. Ceramic armor plates are expensive, weighty, fragile, and have a relatively short shelf-life. But think of it another way: most Level IV armor plates are 100% ceramic or have ceramic as a part.

Does it ring a bell now?

Let’s summarize. Know your threat. Find the body armor plate with the corresponding NIJ level. Tape-measure yourself and select the nearest size of the plate. Among available options, choose the material and armor type that matches your mission priorities best. Got it? And if you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask. BattleSteel consultants are online now.