Body Armor Basics

Several months ago, I started wondering about Body Armor. Let’s face it, one of the things you can expect in a post-collapse society is people willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want. Or to have a bit of “fun”.

Having Body Armor would give you a valuable edge in such a situation, and I think we can all agree, we want every edge we can get. So I started shopping around online, looking for bullet proof vests. When I started to find them, they were the full chin-to-shin set ups for buku duckies, and quite frankly, not what I was looking for.

Then there were the ones called “carriers”, priced anywhere from $50-$150, and I thought “there’s no way it’s that cheap”. I finally realized that these were nothing more than vests with pockets that you can put armor plates into.

I was disappointed.

I was looking for just a basic bullet proof vest, and no-one seemed to carry them (I have found some since, but I’ll discuss later why they got a thumbs down). Then I got a belated Christmas present from my dad. He had pre-ordered the Survival Summit webinar, a copy for himself, and one for me. I highly recommend this resource, it’s put out by The Prepper Project, at

One of the topics discussed was Body Armor!

This is where I got my basic understanding of modern Body Armor, and I’ve managed to expand my knowledge somewhat since.

Turns out, vests are pretty much a thing of the past. The ones you can get are, by necessity, constructed of flexible materiel, such as Kevlar or something similar.

This gives the vest the ability to move with the wearer, but limits it somewhat in stopping power.

I haven’t found any soft armor vests that are rated above a IIIA, and those are precious few and pricey. Most of them tend to be level II, and I wanted at least level III. Ok, let’s back up.

What does Level IIIA mean?

These are ballistic ratings, established by the National Institute of Justice. The following link is to the NIJ publication on Ballistic Resistance Standards. They start at the lowest rating, IIA, and progress through II, IIIA, III and IV.

Basically, to be a IIA, the armor has to stop 9mm, and .40 caliber, Level II has to stop 9mm and .357 magnum. IIIA has to stop all the above and up to .44 magnum. So far, these are all pistol rounds. To make the jump to the higher velocities of rifle cartridges, you have to go to Level III, which is rated to stop anything up to and including 7.62mm (rough equivalent to .308) FMJ rounds. Level IV is rated for .30 caliber Armor Piercing rounds. Now you start to see why I passed over the Level II vests earlier in my search.

My understanding of things thus far, is that there are very few Level IV plates capable of stopping multiple hits, and they are very expensive. We’re talking $250 for one plate, at the lowest price I’ve found. And so, I was left debating between a plate that can take multiple hits of *almost anything you throw at it, or something that will stand up to an AP round, then be pretty well worthless. I decided the probability of facing an AP round was fairly low, so I looked at Level III armor.

There are basically three types of armor out there, steel, ceramic, and flexible. There’s lots of different flexible plates out there, and not all are created equal. I happen to think the one’s offered by AR500 armor (my supplier) are not only an excellent value, but at the forefront of the industry.



When it comes to steel vs. ceramic, there are several things to consider. First in my mind, ceramic plates have a shelf life. That’s right, even if they never take a hit they eventually wear out. This has mostly to do with the material used to contain the ceramic tiles that make up the plate, and bind them together. T

hey also are susceptible to high temperatures. So if you’re a police officer who keeps an “active shooter vest” in the trunk of his squad car just in case, you may need to check it every once in a while, or there’s a good chance it could fail you when you need it. The other big problem with ceramic plates is cost. I have not been able to find a ceramic level III plate the falls under $200.

Maybe that’s no big deal for you, but for me, it’s definitely a factor.

Oh, one more thing about ceramics. Remember I said they were made up of tiles? Well, that’s how they dissipate the energy from the round. The specific tile hit shatters, resulting in spent energy absorbed from the bullet. So now you have a vest with a spot approximately 2″ square that is unprotected. Maybe you’re not concerned with multiple hits, but for me that’s a problem. The plus side to ceramic is that it’s extremely light.

I’m talking, floats in water kinda light.

*Edit – since publishing this article, I am informed that the floating plates I saw were not ceramic, they were a modern type of polyethylene. This is a new type of armor to me, and I am currently researching it. Ceramic plates usually run about 5lbs*

Ask any LEO you know, wearing armor gets hot and heavy, so for you, it may be worth it to have a vest that won’t weigh you down. On to Steel. ar500 is not just the name of the company for whom I am a certified dealer, it’s a quality rating of steel.

When people go to the range and shoot steel targets, they are made of ar500 steel. This steel is crafted and tempered to such a high strength that a bullet cannot penetrate it. (Ok, not all bullets. See the balistic ratings above). It is multi-hit capable.

The only times I’ve seen penetration by anything short of an AP round was when a test placed two .308 round virtually on top of each other at 20 yards, which just isn’t a likely real life scenario.

There are two major drawbacks to steel armor.

One is the weight. Where ceramic plates are light enough to float, steel plates usually weigh around 8-9 pounds each.

The other big problem they have is called Spalling, or Fragmentation. Essentially, when the bullet hits a plate harder than itself, the energy of that projectile is spent by the bullet itself exploding, and turning into shrapnel flying out in a 360 degree pattern, roughly on the plane of the plate it struck. Now, take a moment, stand up from your computer and take a stance like you’re holding a rifle. Or pistol.

Doesn’t matter.

Think about what is in the plane of your chest plate.There’s the major arteries in your biceps (remember your first aid class where you found that pressure point to stop the bleeding? It can work the other way too). Also, and maybe even more important, your neck (if you have good shooting form) may be forward of your chest.

That’s scary. Needless to say, the problem of spalling as a BIG problem. This is what a box looks like when you shoot a bare steel plate inside of it.


Enter modern technology. There have been many attempts to mitigate the spalling effect off of a steel plate.

Some of the more basic ones are nothing more than trying to beef up the construction of your plate carrier, in the hopes that it will contain it. I even saw one guy that puts a light gauge metal plate over the top of his steel plate. The theory was that the fragments will lack the energy to pierce the sheet metal, since they will have less energy than the whole round. Seemed to work well enough. But there are a few companies that have moved to a type of plastic coating.

Really more of a really stiff rubber. The coating is strong enough to catch and contain all bullet fragments from multiple hits, effectively dealing with the spalling.

In my opinion.


You can see the bulges where the coating contained the fragments of all the bullets. And so, these are some of the basics of Body Armor, along with some of my reasoning about what I shop for and what I sell.


  1. Rusty Shakleford

Add Comment