Body Armor

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May 22, 2011
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This topic has been broached tangentially in other threads over the past while and a recent, pointed inquiry led me to think it needed it's own dedicated thread.

Hopefully those with body armor will post some pictures or descriptions of their gear and help those that are curious or "on the fence" about acquisition better make informed decisions.

(for the purposes of this gun forum I will be limiting all of my references to "bullet resistant body armor" only, and exclude armor that is effective against stabbing or slashing instruments.... yes, these types of armor are NOT interchangeable, believe it or not!)

Body armor is rated/ranked by effectiveness against penetration of bullets. This rating goes from Level 1 to Level 4 and, as the number increases, so does the effectiveness, always at a trade-off of expense and bulk. The levels are as follows.

Level 1
Level 2A
Level 2
Level 3A
Level 3
Level 4

The "A" in these ratings means "ALMOST"... so a 2A vest is ALMOST a Level 2 and is really a 1.5



Levels 1 through 3A are the most common ratings that I've seen for concealable wear. Almost all of the police you see are wearing either a Level 2 or Level 3A concealable vest. Whenever there is any sort of tactical response (i.e. Active Shooter) many officers have a Level IV Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) that they keep in the trunk and put on prior to responding to the threat.


In this picture you see two uniformed police officers. Each officer is wearing a concealable bullet resistant vest likely in 2A. One of the officers has also added his Level 4 vest for this Active Shooter scenario.

The most common types of armor that are readily availably on Armslist, AR15.com and every other gun forum, to include E-Bay, Craiglist and other sites, are usually Level 3 Improved Outer Tactical Vests (IOTV), Level 3 Improved Ballistic Armor (IBA) and a mixed-bag of concealable level 2A vests from various manufacturers. The IBA can usually be had for around $350 and is a good starting point, since these military vests have MOLLE straps and you can attach magazine pouches, etc.

Once you have an Outer Tactical Vest you can begin pricing and shopping around for Rifle Plates. These additions to your Kevlar vest are usually a composite material that is designed to stop RIFLE rounds. There is something awesome about being able to absorb half a dozen .30-06 rounds before the effectiveness is gone.

This is a Medium sized IBA that began as a Level 3 but became a Level 4 once I added rifle plates to the front and rear.

This armor is to be used by one of my children and, as such, is not set up for "combat" but rather a "mule" to carry a few "extra" things for my wife and I should we need to wear body armor and leave the house for any reason. The extra items are EMT shears, Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) with all included goodies, Glock magazines, multi-tool, universal cleaning kit and some other items.

I had a left-over groin protector (hey, it's level 3 Kevlar, might as well be USED somewhere) so I attached it over the top of the rear of this vest. It is sloppy but it adds another layer of comfort for my mind.


This is an IBA that also began as a Level 3 but became a Level 4 with the addition of rifle plates.



As you can see this one is set up for someone that will be armed with an AR-15 and Glock 9mm, with multiple reloads for both primary and secondary weapons. In this case, an AR-15 SBR, as my wife doesn't like full-sized carbines. It has magazine pouches on the front and a cleaning kit, utility knife and canteen on the rear.

Lastly, my armor is an IOTV with front and rear plates as well as side Kevlar.




I don't have any pictures of how it is configured with regards to magazine pouches, et al. because I am transitioning from using an AK as my platform to an AR so that the wife and I have absolute magazine compatability (both 9mm Glocks, both 5.56 ARs) for logistical reasons.

As a personal aside, I recommend that if you purchase body armor that you buy a used, but good condition IBA or IOTV and ask about the manufacture date of the Kevlar panels. Kevlar begins degrading over time, like Tritium gas inside weapon night sights. If the Kevlar is from 1990 then it likely won't be as effective as if it were made in 2010. Another thing to be aware of is that if a rifle plate has cracked then it is not going to be as effective as rated. The only way to determine if a plate is cracked is with an X-ray, so if you don't have access to an X-Ray machine, I suggest you do NOT purchase composite rifle plates used! Buy them brand new for absolute peace of mind. Your life isn't worth saving $500 buying something that is effectively a worthless 8 pound weight you strapped to your chest.
 

11B3XCIB

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I went with a plate carrier versus a vest that includes soft panels like an IBA or IOTV. Mainly, I had it left over from military service before they made wearing non-issue gear illegal. I couldn't find an IBA type of vest for sale that wasn't stolen military property, so I just stuck with the plate carrier. Note, plate carriers (unless specified) do not come with soft panel armor. You can usually tell by the price...something $100 or less will NOT have soft panel armor. Here is my plate carrier made by Condor:




It doesn't have soft panels, but I did get Level 4 front, rear, and side hard plates. I have pouches arranged on it for 8 rifle magazines, 4 pistol magazines, a first aid kit, and one multi-purpose pouch. It makes for some weight, so I also have a chest rig I can put on if I need to go light.

I want to get another plate carrier and dress it out for my wife...I've got some left over ballistic plates for her.
 

dreamerofdreams

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I've got police surplus stuff with an insert. I believe we may be upgrading, but I'm leaving that to my other half to figure out at the moment.

Gotta say, the stuff I have is supposedly designed for women but I don't believe it. It's crazy uncomfortable.
 

MCA

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A very informative and educational post. I enjoyed it. It's really nice having the pictures to go along with it as well. Thanks for taking the time to do so Avtomat-Acolyte, 11B and dreamerofdreams.
 
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11B3XCIB said:
I went with a plate carrier versus a vest that includes soft panels like an IBA or IOTV. Mainly, I had it left over from military service before they made wearing non-issue gear illegal. I couldn't find an IBA type of vest for sale that wasn't stolen military property, so I just stuck with the plate carrier. Note, plate carriers (unless specified) do not come with soft panel armor. You can usually tell by the price...something $100 or less will NOT have soft panel armor. Here is my plate carrier made by Condor:




It doesn't have soft panels, but I did get Level 4 front, rear, and side hard plates. I have pouches arranged on it for 8 rifle magazines, 4 pistol magazines, a first aid kit, and one multi-purpose pouch. It makes for some weight, so I also have a chest rig I can put on if I need to go light.

I want to get another plate carrier and dress it out for my wife...I've got some left over ballistic plates for her.
I was about to do a section on stand-alone plate carriers but my 2 year old starting acting afool! I was glad to see you step in and take up my slack!
 

kg4kpg

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Mar 3, 2010
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I still have my Intercepted I was issued in '05 but no front and back plates for it. I'll have it until they decide to let me turn it in.
 

armaborealis

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Dec 27, 2011
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Good post!

I understand a lot of people are on a budget so wanted to throw out some "ok, better, best" options for each category. I think that if you have firearms for defensive purposes but no body armor your priorities are out of whack. A good defensive weapon plus armor is much, much better than two weapons in, say, a home invasion scenario.

So, I figured I'd expand on the good work done above by showing what a given amount of money will get you in each category so that folks can see what kind of impact armor has on the budget and have some specific names to go research.

SOFT ARMOR
PROS: Most concealable, lightest weight, may be less expensive
CONS: Retains heat, only protects against pistols/shotguns/frag, usually no option to mount pouches for mags/radios/lights/etc
Preferred Vendor(s): BulletProofMe, hands down, especially for used or surplus stuff.

OK OPTION: $65+ Expired Panels
- Expired ballistic test panels from BulletProofMe.com ($45 for two)
- Soft armor carrier from BulletProofMe or Ebay (~$20 for one)
- Optional: Ballistic Trauma Plate & Soft Pack ($25) or Level IIIA Insert ($40)
The test panels are not for protection of life or property. However, most test well and protect against handgun rounds. There are obviously no guarantees at this price point. Adding a new level IIIA insert will provide more credible, reliable protection over a 5x8" area center mass for forty bucks.

The PASGT vests are running >$100 now. They are old Kevlar surplus. They have no NIJ rating and were designed for frag, not bullets. Based on informal testing you can probably get level II protection out of one. That may be an option, but I'd skip them. They are bulkier, more expensive, and just as questionable as the expired test panels.

GOOD OPTION: ~$220 Police Surplus
- Good condition police surplus vest from BPM ($195 per vest with carrier)
- Ballistic Trauma Plate & Soft Pack ($25)
Unless you have a need for extreme concealability, go with 3A for the most protection. If you sit and wear armor a lot, get the shorter cut. If you work in the heat then get a gap on the sides, otherwise, ask for a "full wrap" for maximum protection. The good folks at BPM are great about answering questions on the phone.

BEST OPTION: $420-570+ New Promax
- New promax vest from BPM or other vendor ($420+)
- Ballistic Trauma Plate & Soft Pack ($25)
This will get you the thinnest and lightest coverage, at a price.
 

armaborealis

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RIFLE PLATES
PROS: Provides level III or IV rifle protection
CONS: Heavy, must be combined with a PLATE CARRIER or ARMOR CARRIER (see below!)
Preferred Vendor(s): TheTargetMan, BulletProofMe, Midwest Armor and Strategic Solutions (MASS)

OK OPTION: $165+ Steel Plates with some sort of frag protection
- Rhino-Coated Steel Plates from The Target Man ($166 for two plates -- he does run sales for less than this)
- Optional: Coated Side plates for maximum protection ($43 for two side plates as an add-on)
Steel plates provide level III coverage. This will cover most non-armor piercing threats, including 7.62x39 (AK-47), .308 win (M1A), and even 30-06 (non-AP; AP is available in this caliber). 5.56/.223 (AR-15) is dicier. The plates are not rated or required to be rated against the 5.56 threat for Level III. Informal testing has shown that outside of 50 yards, many steel plates will stop most 55gr M193 ball ammo (and some will stop it at 50 feet or closer). The SS109 green tip is harder to stop, especially inside 100 yards. Steel plates are heavy, but they are not affected by being dropped or in varying temperatures. Finally, if a steel plate will stop a round, it will likely stop it all day long. The steel plates you may have shot at the range are an example of how much abuse steel can take.
WARNING: Steel plates MUST be combined with frag protection. When you shoot a steel plate, the bullet fragments and goes all over, and it will shred your plate carrier and YOU, sending frag into your groin and neck. You must coat the plate to prevent this. You can "DIY" with Kevlar wrap & truck bed liner. Alternatively, the Target Man offers pre-coated plates for a reasonable price that have been tested (but not in a lab setting).

For the ultra-cheap, one layer of Ceramic Industrial Floor Tile (Grade 5) should stop pistol rounds. Two layers of tile bonded with industrial glue has been reported to stop one shot of 5.56 and multiple .22 LR. The "DIY" approach would be to bond the two plates together, back them with plywood or HDPE cutting board, then coat with bedliner (Herculiner). Floor tile costs about $1.50 per 12x12" square at Lowes. This is a super ghetto option that I would not suggest, and there are ZERO guarantees with such a home-brew armor solution. It could be good for improvised vehicle armor, or for laying against a window in lieu of sandbags, though.

GOOD OPTION: $290+ Ceramic Level IV Plates
- Level IV Ceramic Plates from BulletProofMe ($145 each) or other vendors
- Level IV Ceramic Side Plates ($280+ for a pair)
Ceramic is the military standard these days. Level IV protection is excellent as described above. The downsides to ceramic include weight, expense, and fragility. If dropped the plate can crack which compromises its protection. Multihit protection may cost more.

BEST OPTION: $1000+ MASS III or MASS III+ Composite Level III Plates
- Level III Composite Plates from MASS ($490/plate)

The MASS III plate weighs in at about 1/3 the weight of the steel or ceramic plates and provides similar performance to the steel. The III PLUS plate protects against the M855 green-tip 5.56 round at the expense of greater weight. If the ceramic plates are too heavy for you and cost is no option, and you're willing to give up level IV, I think it would be hard to beat something like the MASS product.

The other option at this price point would be SAPI or ESAPI plates, which are milspec and provide good protection with lighter weight.
 

armaborealis

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ARMOR CARRIERS
PROS: Provides best all-around protection when loaded with soft armor and a rifle plate, most models offer lots of MOLLE space to mount pouches
CONS: Heavy, mobility restricting, hot
Preferred Vendor(s): RedCatTactical (Ebay), Beez Combat Systems, or many many others

OK OPTION: $30+ DBT Carrier from Red Cat Tactical
Red Cat Tactical bought out inventory from a company named DBT. DBT made top-tier stuff used by the .mil. You can now get the old DBT stuff for pennies on the dollar. If you are good at EBAY or wait for a sale you can get a carrier for thirty bucks. It is hard to beat that. The downside to the DBT carriers is that the soft-armor inserts were a proprietary cut. For thirty bucks you will not get the soft armor, and it may be hard to find. The carriers will accept hard rifle plates, though, and you may be able to jury-rig soft armor.

GOOD OPTION: $100 BCS NIJ Carrier
http://www.beezcombatsystems.com/BCS-NI ... CS-NIJ.htm
This carrier is designed to fit the police surplus NIJ vest panels. If you already have a police surplus vest that makes this a good option; add rifle plates and you have full protection.

BEST OPTION: MANY!
There are a ton of other options out there from many manufacturers. The IOTV is one of them. The sky is the limit on armor carriers. I have personally used the Interceptor and liked it ok.
 

armaborealis

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PLATE CARRIERS
PROS: Provides rifle plate protection; more mobility and lower profile than a full armor carrier; most models offer MOLLE to mount pouches
CONS: Limited protection to frag or side-threats (even with side plates) due to lack of soft armor under the hard rifle plates

OK OPTION: ~$50-100 Condor Plate Carrier
A cheap entry level plate carrier from a company like Condor or Blackhawk is an "ok" entry level carrier. You get what you pay for. Many are designed for airsoft and will not hold up to long term serious use or abuse. They can be had cheap though.

GOOD OPTION: <$125 Banshee Shellback
http://shellbacktactical.com/bansheerif ... rrier.aspx
The Banshee is a solid middle of the line plate carrier. It is decent quality and does what it is designed for.

BEST OPTION: Many!
Like armor carriers, there are a ton of top-tier plate carriers. The SKD-TAC PIG (~$300) is reccomended by many for whom budget is not a factor, and I've heard good things about the Mayflower Assault Plate Carrier (~$220) for smaller people.
 
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Excellent posts, Armaborealis! Very well put together and really drives the point of my original post: to help those that think they want body armor but don't really know their options or how to begin.
 

PCShogun

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Armaborealis, while I agree that armor is an excellent defensive buy, I am not sure it would be the best for, say, a home invasion scenario. most people do not walk around the living room in their body armor. Once that door bangs open, you are not going to have time to get into that armor either. Therefore, for the sake of conversation, I disagree with your 1 gun, 1 armor idea, and support the idea of two guns instead, as you may be able to reach a weapon quickly but not get into a vest.

Again, this assumes you do not walk through your home in a vest and carrying your weapon. I do not.

I have considered modifying some of the walls in my home with kevlar panels or blankets (even phone books) so that I have a place to stand behind and defend my self and my home. I figure I can get behind a wall quicker than I can get into armor in the situation described.

I'd be interested to see what others think.
 
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PCShogun said:
Armaborealis, while I agree that armor is an excellent defensive buy, I am not sure it would be the best for, say, a home invasion scenario. most people do not walk around the living room in their body armor. Once that door bangs open, you are not going to have time to get into that armor either. Therefore, for the sake of conversation, I disagree with your 1 gun, 1 armor idea, and support the idea of two guns instead, as you may be able to reach a weapon quickly but not get into a vest.

Again, this assumes you do not walk through your home in a vest and carrying your weapon. I do not.

I have considered modifying some of the walls in my home with kevlar panels or blankets (even phone books) so that I have a place to stand behind and defend my self and my home. I figure I can get behind a wall quicker than I can get into armor in the situation described.

I'd be interested to see what others think.
In most likely instances the person or persons invading your home will not know the layout nor be a high-speed, MOUT-qualified squad of asskickers. The liklihood that your home will be immediately overrun by half a dozen people is very little. Frankly, if that event does take place, no single person, regardless of weapons, armor or training will survive.

My family's armor is not for a home invasion scenario anyways. It is more for a "SHTF" type event, such as a hurricane or riot. If we hunker down in the house or if we evacuate we are going to be wearing the armor whenever we are aware of others' presence.

I've experienced lack of "society" several times throughout my life and I know what it is like to be without a 911 to call. If that happens again I would like to be able to repel all threats and having body armor makes me more effective at this.

When I hear noises outside my house at oh-dark-thirty I don't put on armor. I grab a weapon and a light.

When I turn on the tv and see that Charleston has a Cat-5 Hurricane bearing down on it you're god damned right I'm up-armoring and preparing to repel all boarders.
 

rotarymike

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PCShogun said:
I have considered modifying some of the walls in my home with kevlar panels or blankets (even phone books) so that I have a place to stand behind and defend my self and my home. I figure I can get behind a wall quicker than I can get into armor in the situation described.
Google searching for what I'd read about is failing me. In one of my intellectual property classes we were talking about a patent for bulletproof wall panels used to quickly make C3 bunkers etc. Basically, metal wall sections that sort of snap together, with angled bullet traps inside. They were normal wall thickness (~4") and made of 3/16 steel pieces mig welded together.

What google DID show is that if you fill the space in your walls with gravel/sand or concrete (need something like 1/2 ply or OSB under the drywall for either, due to weight) you have bullet resistant walls that will defeat most common calibers. Unless your house collapses because the foundation can't support the weight :)

I used to keep my issued armor in my SHTF closet but I realized that if I need to defend myself against direct shooters while on the move, I've already failed my situational awareness. Better to hide and then shoot from afar.
 

dreamerofdreams

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PCShogun said:
Armaborealis, while I agree that armor is an excellent defensive buy, I am not sure it would be the best for, say, a home invasion scenario. most people do not walk around the living room in their body armor. Once that door bangs open, you are not going to have time to get into that armor either. Therefore, for the sake of conversation, I disagree with your 1 gun, 1 armor idea, and support the idea of two guns instead, as you may be able to reach a weapon quickly but not get into a vest.

Again, this assumes you do not walk through your home in a vest and carrying your weapon. I do not.

I have considered modifying some of the walls in my home with kevlar panels or blankets (even phone books) so that I have a place to stand behind and defend my self and my home. I figure I can get behind a wall quicker than I can get into armor in the situation described.

I'd be interested to see what others think.
I keep mine right beside my bed. If I get home invaded during the day it won't do me much good, but at night it's quick to roll out of bed and strap it on. Practice is necessary of course, but no more so than practicing a drawstroke.

It's also useful to have around in the event of a tornado or something like that.
 

PCShogun

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As Avtomat-Acolyte, I see body armor as a great piece of defense gear when you have the time to put it on. Just like creating defensive walls within my home, I've been looking at defensive panels for the car. Walls and protective panels have the advantage of always being "On", and hidden in a society that seems to deem being prepared as creepy and wrong.

Kevlar blankets are not heavy and will provide protection from nearly all handgun rounds the typical gang banger car jacker will be carrying in his pocket. Its going to puncture the outward body panels, but should not come through into the passenger compartment.
 

armaborealis

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Dreamer and I are both trained & armed. So our drill is "first one up grabs a firearm and covers the door/window, second one awake grabs a firearm and straps on armor then covers the door, then first one takes a moment to strap on armor." In less than 30 seconds we're both armed up and in armor.

You can throw on a lot of rigs very quickly with a little prep. For example, a standard NIJ soft police vest has velcro straps on the left and the right. You leave the velcro straps on the strong side fastened, and the ones on the weak side open. In less than 10 seconds I can throw my soft armor on and grab my pistol (I just did it three times -- 5, 5, and 6 secs from prone in bed to weaver stance with armor and pistol). The strong side (facing bad guys in a weaver or modified isoceles) is velcro-ed shut so I've got some side protection on the strong side. The weak side is open allowing the armor to get tossed on rapidly. If time allows, I can double back and fasten down the loose velcro on the weak side but it is not critical. In Afghanistan I threw on my IOTV in a matter of seconds for mortar attacks--you may not get every bit of velcro fastened and tight but you can get the 80% solution in seconds.

The other plus is that you can attach useful items to your armor. For example, spare mags, a light, a copy of your identification (so the cops know who is who), a cheap cellphone (911!), an IFAK (first aid kit), even a handgun and so on. That way when you grab the armor and saddle up you have your fighting load ready to go. Those with military experience would think of it as the "second line" gear. I'm not scrambling for my light, mags, cell phone, sidearm, etc. It is all in one familiar place.

Anytime where I KNOW I have a decent probability of going into a fight, I want armor. If I am sweeping the yard for a suspicious noise and suspect a possible burglar (but am not sure enough to just call the cops), I am anticipating contact. I get to choose when I leave my bedroom to start that process and I am not leaving until I am 100% ready for the fight.

You are correct that armor in the bedroom doesn't help for a home invasion at 5:00 PM if you're in the kitchen. Given that I spend 1/3 of my time in the bedroom though and most home invasions happen at night, I feel comfortable with the armor in there, where I am most likely to need it. Really, taking the ten seconds to throw on a police vest sounds much more effective and less expensive than kevlar blankets for the walls.

Taking hostile fire made me a huge appreciative fan of body armor. The survival rate in Iraq/Afghanistan and for cops on the street is very good in part because armor is protecting against fatal center-mass hits. A lot of folks are getting wounded in extremities but their heart, lungs, and other vitals are safe and they survive. Most modern tactical casualty care (first aid for cops and military) is based on the patient being protected by armor. My goal is not just to win the fight -- it is to survive the fight. Armor puts the odds more in your favor. CQB against Jimmy the Methhead with a sawed off Mossberg 500 or a crappy HiPoint at point blank ranges in your house means there is an uncomfortably high probability he will get lucky at least once, even if I have many more hours of training and a gun that costs ten times as much.
 

PCShogun

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But I like my Hi-point! I can shoot 10 rounds and still throw it at you with a reasonable chance of knocking you out.

Some good information, thanks all.
 

beerman

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Apr 9, 2012
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This should be stickied...

Excellent information in the thread, and I will be using it to purchase my first body armor as soon as the funds are available.
 
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