Maximise the efficiency of your body armour

“Self-defense is not only our right, it is our duty.” – Ronald Reagan

Thousands of men and women echo these words by preparing to protect themselves from threats in their daily lives, employment and chosen professions.

But owning body armour is not enough. You need to understand its capabilities and maintenance to ensure you’ve made the right choice and are looking after it.

Understand it.

Modern body armour has a relatively short history. Soldiers fighting in World War 1 used little body armour. By the end of the war, medical personnel concluded that the majority of casualties could have been avoided if the soldiers had worn protective armour.

Great Britain and other world leaders immediately began investing in the development of body armour. Twenty-one years later war came again, but this time infantrymen wore lightweight armour while fighter pilots and bomb squads who would be facing machine gun and anti-aircraft fire donned heavier armour.

These early forms of body armour evolved into the sophisticated body armour that we have today. Today’s armour can be divided into two categories:

Soft Body Armour

Sometimes referred to as “covert armour” because it is worn under your clothes, soft body armour is the lightest, most flexible and comfortable of all body armour. Composed of multiple layers of bullet-resistant fibres, soft body armour protects its wearer by catching the bullet, dispersing its energy over a wide area and deforming the tip so that it rapidly comes to a stop.

Some styles of soft body armour come with the option to attach or insert a ballistic plate. This transforms the soft ballistic vest into a hard or plate vest.

Hard Body Armour

Typically worn over top of clothing, hard or plate body armour is also called “overt armour”. It can be separated into two parts: The vest or carrier which may or may not be made of bullet-resistant material and the ballistic plates which fit into it on the front, back and sides.

Ballistic plates used to be made from metal, but modern manufacturers generally make them from lighter and more effective ceramics or composite plastics. Each plate has a strike face which slows and flattens the bullet, as well as a back panel that absorbs impact and minimises trauma.

Most ballistic plates come with their strike face clearly marked. If yours is unmarked be sure to mark it and always insert it into the carrier facing outward. Putting a ballistic plate in backwards can be a fatal mistake.

The UK Centre for Applied Science and Technology and the US National Institute of Justice routinely test body armour and categorise it according to the protection that it gives. Before you purchase armour, consider the level of threats that you may face and then buy armour that is effective against those threats.

Soft armour (and most hard armour) protects against most pistols and shotgun rounds. Its standardised NIJ levels are as follows:

  • Level IIA – About 4mm thick; protects against .22mm short, .9mm, .45mm, .380mm and .38mm bullets
  • Level II – About 5mm thick; protects against everything included in Level IIA as well as .22mm long bullets
  • Level IIIA – About 6 mm thick; protects against everything included in Level II as well as .44 Magnum bullets

The muzzle velocity of rifles ranges from 365 to 1,500 meters per second. Only hard armour can effectively stop rifle rounds. The two standardised levels for hard armour are:

  • Level IV – About 15mm thick; protects against everything Level IIIA soft armour covers along with .30 Carbine, 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO bullets
  • Level V – About 20mm thick; protects against everything included in Level IV as well as .30 armour piercing bullets

Your chest is the largest target area on your body and thus all hard armour plates are designed to cover this area and protect your vital organs. Body armour can save your life by protecting this vulnerable area from bullets. Interestingly, body armour also offers some protection against stabbing and slashing weapons, as well as from projectiles which may be released in car crashes or building collapses.

Don’t Just Buy It, Wear It!

Every year a number of men and women suffer life-threatening injuries because they didn’t think they’d need their body armour. Generally this is because older designs offer some drawbacks, specifically;

  • Weight – Soft body armour usually weighs between 1-3 kilos, while the ballistic plates in hard armour weigh anywhere from 1-5 kilos apiece.
  • Temperature – Body armour limits the circulation of air around your body causing you to feel hot and sweat even if your environment is cool.
  • Flexibility – The weight and thickness of body armour will change your ease and range of movement, affect your shooting stance and make breathing slightly harder during physical exertion.

Thankfully advances in technology and design have made it possible to lessen these adverse effects thus encouraging body armour owners to wear their protective vests all the time.

Cleaning and Storage

Keeping body armour clean and storing it properly is critical to its efficiency. Lack of cleaning or incorrect cleaning, as well as sloppy storage can decrease armour’s bullet-resistant properties and keep it from fitting adequately.

Most body armour comes with care instructions from the manufacturer. If you have those instructions, be sure to follow them carefully. If you do not have the instructions, it is generally considered safe to hand wash soft body armour and the vest of hard armour with water and a gentle detergent. Rinse them well because soap residues can damage fibres within the armour.

Lay your freshly washed armour out flat to air dry. Keep it away from any form of heat and UV light (including sunlight) since they degrade the protective properties of many fabrics.

Ballistic plates can generally be cleaned with a damp cloth. Never submerge them in water and always wait until they are completely dry before using them again.

Once your body armour is dry, store it correctly so that it does not become creased or crumpled which would compromise its fit. Body armour can be laid out flat on a shelf or in the bottom of a drawer, but be careful to never stack anything on top of it. You can also hang your body armour on specific hangers and stands that will preserve its shape.

Life Expectancy

Body armour should be replaced if hit or damaged in any way. Whilst certified body armour has been tested against multiple hits that doesn’t mean you can continue to wear it safely after a strike. It is vital you check your body armour for wear and tear on a daily basis.

Almost all body armour has an expiration date (usually 5 years after its date of manufacture), because its components degrade with time, use and heat. Some specific types of armour do not expire due to the makeup of their protection and so it is recommended you replace them after 10 years.

Most body armour, however, lasts well past its expiration date since the most important factor is not its age, but how much “mileage” has been put on it. If you intend to use your armour past its expiration date, be aware of the following signs that it is aging and replace it when necessary:

  • Fabric that is thinning or fraying
  • Tears in the waterproof covering
  • Straps that are loose
  • Deformity of the vest or plates

It is also advisable to replace your body armour if you gain or lose weight, build muscles or do anything else that keeps it from fitting properly.

In conclusion, body armour can save the life of the wearer and the people that he or she is defending. It is essential, though, that you understand it, use it, care for it appropriately and replace it when necessary.

Buying a stab vest vest, also known as a stab proof vest

Stab Proof Vests are worn to protect against increasing knife crime
Stab Proof Vests are worn to protect against increasing knife crime
A stab vest, commonly known as a “stab proof vest”, is a piece of body armour designed to protect the wearer against knife attacks.

Most stab vests are made from flexible materials like Kevlar and are classified as “soft body armour”, offering little or no protection against ballistic threats but have the benefit of being thinner and more flexible than ballistic level body armour which can be useful if you are often in physical altercations.

Various tests have been developed around the World to classify something as “stab proof”, however it is worth noting nothing is completely impenetrable and so a better term would be “stab resistant”. In the mid 1980’s the state of California Department of Corrections issued a requirement for a body armour using a commercial ice pick as the test penetrator. The test specified 109 joules (81ft-lbf) of energy and a 7.3kg (16lb) drop mass with a drop height of 153cm (60 inches) and an ice pick with a 4mm (0.16 inch) diameter with a sharp tip with a 5.4m/s (17ft/s) terminal velocity in the test.

Today the US has the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) set of standards which is based on the UK’s and offers tests for various threat levels – 1 = 24 joules, 2 = 33 joules and 3 = 43 joules. The PSDB standard in the UK was replaced with the current Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB) test specifications which introduced a more stringent testing procedure with more drops than the previous standard plus the introduction of the P1/B blade which is more aggressive than the P1/A blade.

Other tests can be conducted to check for spike and hypodermic needle protection as this is unfortunately a new threat. Some stab vests can protect against thick knife blades but a needle will penetrate easily. Some wearers therefore opt for hard body armour as it generally stops knife, spike and needle attacks as well as gun ammunition.

It is important to ensure whatever stab vest you choose that it is BRAND NEW and not re-conditioned or second hand and that there is INDEPENDENT certification showing it has been tested and passed the threat level you require.

A reputable test company who independently certifies body armour would conduct multiple attacks on the same stab vest to ensure it protects against a repetitive attack. An example would be 5 or more strikes on different areas and at different angles using an increased force. An example is below…

Stab Vest Test Results

Choosing the correct body armour vest

Selecting the best vest for your body armour is a decision not to be taken lightly. After all, body armour is a life saving investment and can be expensive depending on your preferences, so getting it right first time is top priority.

Discretion or Not

Overt Body Armour is worn on top of clothing
Covert Body Armour is worn underneath clothing
Covert or Overt, two terms common with body armour. If you want to be discreet and wear your armour under clothing then covert body armour is for you.

Generally covert armour is made from soft materials like Kevlar and offers small arms protection. The benefit is that covert armour generally covers your entire torso as the material is flexible and can be wrapped around you.

Overt Body Armour is worn on top of clothing[/caption]Overt Body Armour is worn on top of clothing[/caption]If you’d prefer for your armour to be seen, or for it to be used as a holster for other tactical items, then overt armour is for you. Overt armour is generally made from hard, non flexible materials like ballistic steel and protects against larger threats. Most military personnel wear overt armour in tactical carriers which can be used for holding other items like a radio. Furthermore tactical carriers sometimes have a rear pull cord for dragging an injured party away quickly.

Combination Vests

Covert Body Armour is worn underneath clothing
Covert Body Armour is worn underneath clothing
Covert vests can be worn overtly and vice versa. Just because the armour comes in a particular style or with a particular carrier doesn’t mean you cannot wear it how you wish. Some individuals want higher protection and so opt for hard armour but wear it covertly under a shift. The choice is yours, as long as you’re staying safe!

Nowadays some companies offer combination vests, with front and rear protection using both hard and soft armour to cover the vital organs but side protection made from only soft armour for flexibility. These combination body armour packages are typically the most expensive and can be the heaviest as they’re two types of armour in one.

Your Job…

Bar or Nightclub Security

Drunks can be happy, but they can also be irrational and aggressive. In most countries the most dangerous weapon used against private security is glassware or possible a knife. Our first recommendation would be to opt for body armour with knife protection. However, gun crime in particular areas is on the rise and it may be worthwhile upgrading to body armour that can sustain small arms fire.

Maritime Security

Armed personnel on vessels have increased over the past decade with the increasing number of threats from heavily armed pirate groups who often demand ransoms for the release and return of the ship and crew. Without a doubt it is imperative that you have body armour that can sustain larger arms fire as evidence has suggested the most common weapon used is an AK47.

Police and Prison Officers

Most government personnel are given body armour but some opt to wear their own underneath for additional protection. Usually the armour given will stop knife and spike threats as they are common however nowadays the police are generally equipped with ballistic protection from small arms fire. We’d recommend a vest that offers stab, spike and ballistic protection for these roles.


Military grade body armour is generally the safest and most advanced available due to the high threat level faced by armed soldiers. We would recommend body armour that can sustain high caliber arms fire, such as those from assault rifles.

Soft body armour versus hard body armour

Chosing between soft and hard body armour can be complicated as the threat level you are faced with may vary, as well as the environment and other factors. Therefore, it is of significant importance to understand the working mechanisms of both hard and soft armour systems.

There has to be a significant amount of vetting of armour systems when you’re putting your life on the line. In order to make the best choice you need to be presented with the right information on different body armour systems.

Soft Armour Composition

Kevlar Soft Body Armour
Kevlar Soft Body Armour
Although soft armour can feel like weighty cloth fabric, it is actually composed of materials which are significantly stronger than metals like steel! As the name suggests, soft armour is less rigid and often lighter than hard armour but is generally limited to stopping small arms firm like handgun rounds. There are two main designs of soft armour. One where an armour can be inserted into a carrier or an integrated system which incorporates the protection into the vest or clothing.

Soft armour achieves its protective capabilities through the use of interwoven synthetic fabrics. These fabrics are composed of interwoven high-tensile threads which are capable of stopping bullets. The net that is formed by this interweaving of threads, allows the net to “catch” bullets by dispersing the impact energy of the bullet throughout the entire thread system.

Think of a spider’s web – in order for it to be effective in catching prey a spider must weave a very strong web in a manner that is able to hold an object heavier than itself. A single strand from a spider is very weak but when woven together with other strands the result is a strong yet lightweight mesh. This is exactly how soft body armour works.

The interwoven synthetic fiber systems used in soft body armour replicates a spider’s net system. As such, the fibers rely on, and at the same time, support one another in a high impact energy system. This effectively allows soft body armour the ability to stop small arms ammunition from penetrating. Due to the increased movability and lighter materials, people who require these traits like security and police officers, often choose soft body armour systems.. Another added benefit of soft body armour systems is that they allow for better concealment and can generally be worn under a shirt to avoid attracting attention.

Hard Armour Composition

Hard Body Armour
Hard Body Armour
The other option for body armour is referred to as hard armour. The main difference is that these plates commonly incorporate a ceramic, metal or composite material called poly plating. These denser and harder materials increase the amount of energy deflection and therefore can better prevent larger caliber bullets penetrating, like those from a rifle.

Ballistic steel is the most common choice as it is readily available and cheaper to purchase than ceramics or dense plastics, however as users want lighter or better protection other materials are being offered.

Hard armour is generally worn overtly, i.e over the wearer’s clothing, however it can be worn covertly. If the additional weight is not a problem then hard armour is recommended as it can offer better protection against a wider range of firearms.

The difference between soft and hard body armour

Body armour comes in different protection levels in order to shield the user from physical attacks. If one is looking into defensive body systems, he or she may encounter these two terms related to body armour – “soft” and “hard”.

How are these variations different?

Defining Soft Body Armour

Kevlar Soft Body Armour
Kevlar Soft Body Armour
It is clear in the name that soft body armour refers to a more movable and less rigid armour system, although this does not take away from its incredible component strength. As soft body army is more flexible than hard body armour, this allows for the user to wear in combination with other tools and gear and/or with a preferred style of dress for work. As a way of reinforcing hard body armour, sometimes soft body armour is used as an added layer of protection. When used in conjunction it creates an additional level of safe-guarding.

Usually the underlying composition of soft armour is super-high strength synthetic fibers. The Kevlar vest is still the most frequently used form of soft body armour although other variations do exist.

Soft body armour is credited with being more utilitarian – its movable and more comfortable characteristics are challenged by the overall strength of hard body armour. Simply put, soft body armour is generally rated to stop ballistics from small arms and is not able to defend against higher caliber shots like those from a rifle.

Defining Hard Body Armour

Hard Body Armour
Hard Body Armour
Plates composed of steel, ceramics, or composite materials form the foundation of hard body armour. These plates are then surrounded or covered and interlocked with one another via a more pliable armour shell and form the commonly known vests and other forms of body protection. This internal plate construction and inclusion of these plates in the design, greatly increases the strength of hard body armour.

The U.S. military is attributed with the original design of a layered-plate system. Often made of ceramic, these plates are then coated in different synthetic fibers, depending on the manufacturer, which significantly increase the protective capabilities of these plates. A hard armour system is usually sold in two distinct components, the containing system, like the exterior or shell of a vest and then the actual plates which go inside the vest. This system allows users to choose which options are best suited for their particular situation.

As hard body armour relies on more materials to increase strength, the result is body armour which is less flexible and heavier than its soft counterpart. This is demonstrated by users of these systems stating that hard body armour is more uncomfortable, hotter and more difficult to use for lengthier amounts of time. Although these are clear negatives, these are all offset by the benefits of hard body armour’s strength. As hard body armour is rated for protection for ballistics from high-caliber rifles it is often chosen in higher risk environments.

In other non-ballistic situations, both of these types of armour are usually capable of defending the user against blunt or sharp objects. In order to maintain the highest levels of protection, a combination of both hard and soft body armour is often recommended.