Hard Armor Vs. Soft Armor
With all of the craziness that is going on in the world and our own country, the need to be prepared to protect your family and yourself is at a higher demand than ever. The way everything is going, you never know if walking out your door may be your last time. With this said, a truly good investment in your family security would be a bulletproof vest, which in my opinion is just as vital as yet another case of ammunition. You can prepare for the worst all you want but you won’t be able to fire all of that ammo or eat all that stored-up food, if you get shot and wounded because you didn’t have body armor to protect you and your loved ones. In the same amount of time it would take you to reach into your gun locker and grab your weapon, you could have thrown on a vest. I believe it’s a sensible and necessary piece of equipment for any home defense plans.
Types of Armor
There are two majorly distributed types of body armor. The first is known as “Soft Armor” and is what most police officers wear under their uniform shirts. This armor is reasonably light-weight and flexible, most soft armor is made of multiply layers of Kevlar. But other synthetic materials like Spectra Shield is also used in soft armor. This type of armor is classified by threat level (the type of bullets they protect consumer against). Current NIJ threat levels are (in order from least protection available to most protection available) Level IIA, Level II, and Level IIIA. These levels of vests can stop pistol and shotgun rounds reliably, but they generally won’t stop centerfire rifle rounds. It’s a velocity issue. The faster the bullet, the harder it is to stop.
You wear your soft body armor when you’re on duty; But what if you must respond to a school shooting or other incident that might involve rounds your armor isn’t rated to stop? This brings us to our second class of armor, hard plate armor. The hard armor plates that fit inside the front and back pockets in armor carriers offer protection against rifle rounds, and some protect against armor-piercing rounds. But should you have them? And if so, how do you know which kind to choose? As opposed to ‘soft armor’, hard armor is only available in an overt style due to its extra weight and bulk. This however has the advantage of protecting against high caliber and armor-piercing rounds. These vest function in the same way as vests of Kevlar or Dyneme, but utilize Ceramics, Steel or Titanium. Hard armor is available in two levels; a Level III vest protects against 7.62mm Full Metal Jacketed Bullets, or M80 as they are designated by the Military, and a Level IV vest protects against .30 caliber armor piercing rounds (Military designation M2 AP).
While these armors offer the maximum protection, and can often defend against explosives and fragmentation, they are naturally very heavy because of the materials used, and so are not recommended to be worn for extended periods. They are reserved only for the most extreme situations, but are certainly suitable in these scenarios. Furthermore, because of the way the materials protect against ammunition, certain hard armors are not suitable use after taking a bullet, and should be replaced immediately.
Who uses bulletproof vests?
The reasons for choosing to purchase and own a bulletproof vest are varied and widespread, but they all typically boil down to the decision to protect oneself. After all, body armor is just that, armor. It is an insurance policy that you wear over your vital organs to save your life from an otherwise lethal event. The vast majority of people will go their entire life without ever getting shot. Yet, just like other catastrophic events, it does happen, and it is better to be prepared beforehand rather than after.
There is the small but growing number of people, particularly in the United States, that are choosing to be prepared for the worst. Prepping is an increasingly popular cultural phenomenon and while it may seem silly to some, it never hurts to be over prepared should anything bad happen. From natural disasters to collapses of rule of law and governmental turmoil, danger does exist, especially in the hypothetical future where anything might happen. While many focus almost blindly on offensive weaponry for self-defense with the proliferation of concealed carry programs and home defense planning, almost no consideration is typically placed in actual defensive measures. The best laid bug out plan or prepping strategy can easily be scrapped by a single stray round when not wearing armor capable of defeating it. With the variety and customizability of ballistic armor today, and the ever-falling price tag, there remains few excuses to refuse to integrate it into a self-defense strategy. Steel rifle rated bulletproof vests often seem to be overkill for the average civilian, but these too have their specific advantages that make them perfect for certain applications. Compared to Kevlar soft vests, AR500 steel plates do not degrade with light and heat, and thus have a theoretically infinite shelf life so long as they do not rust. This allows them to be purchased once and stored until they are needed.
The most surprising purchasers of high-grade rifle rated NIJ Level III+ AR500 plates are actually those already issued body armor. Law enforcement and first responders looking to upgrade from their standard issue soft vests typically move up to AR500 steel rifle plates as opposed to the flimsy Kevlar vests they are issued. Contrary to popular belief, the soft Kevlar vests issued to police units across the country and the world are extremely vulnerable to rifle cartridges, offering little to no resistance against anything not fired out of pistol. With the growing threat of domestic terrorism and police targeted violence, the likelihood of an officer being faced with a rifle threat is greater than it has ever been and many feel justifiably under protected by their standard issue vests.
Bulletproof vests on their own are simply pieces of gear designed to protect their user from harm. They are protective in the same way that a motorcycle helmet protects its wearer from potential harm. No one has ever been killed or injured from an attack from a Kevlar vest as far as the records show. Bulletproof Vests often receive negative press because they are found in stashes of weapons recovered by the police when they raid drug cartels and other nefarious organizations. Bulletproof vests as a result have acquired a stigma of being owned by those looking or expecting to be in conflict with the authorities, yet this is not their only role. Many own bulletproof vests and other ballistic armor to protect themselves in everyday situations and have their critical place in any good home-defense or prepping strategy.
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When it comes to bulletproof vests, Kevlar is the most widely used material in the US. However, Kevlar isn’t the most effective material on the market anymore. Soft Kevlar vests are only effective against pistol rounds. No Kevlar vest on the market today reliably passes NIJ Level III certification and therefore is not effective against rifle calibers. Kevlar is susceptible to the high speed, small diameter projectiles used in modern rifle calibers. The small, fast rounds slip right in between the fibers and pass through the vest barely slowed down. Steel on the other hand is a homogeneous material; it is one solid piece of material of constant composition. With advances in steel hardening, less steel is required to make a vest bulletproof. As a result, bulletproof vests made with steel ballistic plates are now light enough to wear while offering superior protection to Kevlar.
The AR-500 steel used in hard bulletproof vests is also used at gun ranges for steel targets. AR-500 armor is capable of withstanding thousands upon thousands of pistol rounds even at short range. The soft lead and low energy of pistol rounds does not cause the steel to deform or deteriorate. Kevlar vests are not capable of withstanding a lot of rounds, especially in the same areas. With each shot, the fibers around the area of impact are stretched and oftentimes break. As this occurs, the effectiveness of the vest overall is reduced. This is why Kevlar vests must be replaced every time they are shot.
A Kevlar vest will never last a lifetime. The ballistic Kevlar used in soft vests only has a shelf life of about five years, and that decreases dramatically when actually worn, exposed to heat, or UV radiation. While this is not an issue for large police departments or military units, for the individual, replacing an overt vest that is likely sitting in a closet as insurance every five years is not only tedious but also expensive. Coated AR-500 ballistic steel will last indefinitely and retain its effectiveness.
Soft Kevlar vests have a major disadvantage compared to hard vests in preventing trauma. While a soft Kevlar vest will stop some bullets, it still transfers most of the energy of the projectile into the wearer’s body in a localized area around the point of impact. This energy causes the Kevlar to deform and push into the wearer, affecting his or her internal organs. In the best-case scenario, this energy transfer does not do any harm. At the worst case, being shot results in broken ribs, internal organ damage, and possibly even internal bleeding and trauma that can still result in death or hospitalization. Steel vests, due to their rigid nature, spread out the force of bullet impact over the entire surface area of the plate and is therefore much less likely to cause serious internal damage to the user.
Rifle-rated Level III+ steel vests are no longer much more expensive than their Kevlar counterparts. Adding in their longer shelf life and repeated hit abilities reducing their need to be replaced, a one-time purchase of an AR500 steel vest can offer decades of rifle protection whereas a Kevlar vest will only last 5 years even unused while offering minimal protection. While steel vests are still slightly heavier than Kevlar vests, their enhanced protective capabilities and rugged durability more than make up for their slight weight disadvantage.
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