Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Body Armor / Plate Carriers

I was asked a question about body armor, what type to get. It seemed like a good topic for a post:

I am a fan of body armor. In any kind of 'kinetic' situation when receiving incoming small arms fire, it will significantly reduce the chances of sustaining a penetrating wound to the torso. Such wounds are often not survivable. Refer to the post on Combat Lifesaving Procedures (TC3) for more discussion on wounds and treatment, plus extremity bleeding etc.

One thing you need to do is research the 'NIJ' levels for protection, and decide what you want to get. Here is a useful link to a document to get the detail on the NIJ levels.
 
In basic terms, you have the 'soft armor' portion and the 'plates" that insert front and rear. If you have a plate carrier, you only use the plates. This gives you less protection than if you include the soft armor, but the soft armor does not protect against high velocity (rifle) rounds.
 
So its a balance, between levels of protection, weight, bulk and heat retention. The levels of protection are:
 
Soft Armor:
Type IIA (9 mm; .40 S&W)
Type II (9 mm; .357 Magnum)
Type IIIA (.357 SIG; .44 Magnum)

Plates:
Type III (Rifles)
Type IV (Armor Piercing Rifle)

The calibers listed are the rounds that this level will protect up to, inclusive of lesser calibers.


Personally, I have a set that I had for working in the Middle East. It was a 'low profile' set that still had front and rear plates. The soft armor portion is level IIIA and the plates are level III. You don't actually need level IV plates, unless you feel the need to protect against armor piercing rounds. Military armor has level IV plates. This set of body armor simply came in a soft cover, no pouches attached. It meant that I could wear it under a shirt, or more operationally I used to wear my gear over the top of it, depending on the low or high profile nature of the mission. In the photos you see of me on my site, I am wearing it under a 'Spec Ops Brand' 'Over Armor Vest' with all my tactical pouches on. So that is a useful way to go, lots of flexibility.

What I have now, on the civilian side, is a battle belt, an assortment of 'low profile' 'man bags' that can carry magazines, and I have taken the soft armor and plates out of the cover and put them into a plate carrier that I bought online. It mirrors the military gear I used to wear. So it is no longer low profile, unless I replace the armor in the original soft cover. I have a full tactical vest set up. If I wanted to go low profile, I can replace the armor in the soft cover, wear it under a shirt, and carry a 'man bag' with spare magazines in. With the tactical vest, you can get ones that take soft armor (level IIIA stops powerful handgun/shrapnel) and/or plates. So you can get a plate carrier, or a full set with soft armor. A simple plate carrier will be lighter and cooler, but offers less protection. The soft armor gives you greater protection, just not against high velocity rounds.

So what? Decide what sort of rig you are looking to set up. Research the NIJ levels that you want. You can buy the stuff in a civilian style soft cover and put it into a tactical vest if you want. You definitely want the plates, and you need to decide if you also want the soft armor too. You can buy plates on their own, and the plate carrier such as this amazon example.

Body armor can be heavy, hot and sweaty. If you have a 'MOLLE' style tactical cover you can set up a full tactical vest by attaching ammo pouches and the like to the body armor cover. This makes it heavier, but it allows you to carry your gear. If you are contemplating being involved in any kind of tactical kinetic situations, you need to get over the whole hot, heavy and sweaty thing. Suck it up and drive on. Do more PT/drink more water. You will benefit from the protection and you need to carry your ammo and IFAK anyway, plus ancillary gear.

If you are working in the heat, and you want to compromise, use a plate carrier. This gives you the same high velocity rifle round protection but without the greater soft armor torso coverage that will protect against handgun rounds and shrapnel.

Don't go the other way and simply wear the soft armor, like cops do under their shirts. This provides protection against handgun rounds and some can be anti-stab vests also. But there is no protection from high velocity rifle rounds. You can still wear a set with plates under a shirt if you need to be a little more low profile, for instance if driving through a hostile environment trying to remain low key.

And there we have my two cents on body armor....




 

14 comments:

  1. I have the vest you linked to on Amazon. Inside it sit some soft armor pieces cut and re-sewn to match the compartment's shape, and level 4 Ceradyne plates. I got the whole package in a barter trade.

    It wears some mag pouches and a bladder carrier. I wear it for bodyweight PT and when playing airsoft with my kids.

    Good stuff.

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    1. AR500armor.com sells steel plates that are heavier than ceramic plate but far cheaper and allegedly (I say this as I am no expert and have not tested them, but others have and agree) better at handling multiple close hits from rifles and maintaining their integrity than ceramic. A 10" x 12" "shooters cut" plate comes in at 7.5 lbs each and can be had in flat ($65, for the back) or curved ($90), and bundling lowers the costs for side plates (6" x 6" or 6" x 8", $25-30 each). This puts the total weight of four steel plates (not counting carrier) at 20 lbs, at an approximate cost of $205 total. They also are much thinner than comparable ceramics, and more robust regarding impact damage/breakage.

      Please note that spalling is a potential issue with plain steel plates, so a lot of folks using these have been testing different types of laminates on them to address that. A favorite seems to be one to two layers of Kevlar bonded to the plate....


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    2. i have steel defender plates they are really heavy but come with a good plate carrier i would say they would be useful for vehicle operations but on foot you would end up leaving them at camp because they are so heavy and it rides low on your body when you have 9 mags on the front it dips down and doesnt protect your heart or top of your lungs.
      if i could have afforded it i would have gotten ceramic plates and a concealable vest. but if you cant i would recommend getting something rather than nothing now that i have this body armor they cant take it from me if i had to save up to get more expensive stuff tptb could have banned it by then. a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

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    3. Be aware that the besides the weight, another downside of steel plates is spalling. Rounds will impact the plate, and throw high velocity fragments in all directions. By comparison, the ceramic plates will allow the round to embed in the ceramic a bit, and "catch" most of the fragments.

      You might be able to do something like coat your steel plates in Rhino Lining thick plastic bedliner to help reduce the spalling. Something to consider.

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  2. Diamondback Tactical also sells good products.

    https://www.diamondbacktactical.com/products/

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  3. Just to add over the whole soft armor and plates or just plate carrier debate: the vest that I linked to on Amazon, the one by Condor in the post, is a good bit of affordable gear. You can put soft armor and plates in it, or just plates. I do notice that it advertises that it has pouches for the side plates. That is another way to go. The military added side plates to body armor to reduce penetrating side wounds to the torso - important if you are driving in a vehicle and ambushed from the side of the road, if you think about it - if you are a 'plate carrier only' fan and looking for an economical way to increase your personal protection, get a vest like the Condor one, use it as a plate carrier only with front and rear plates, and when you can shell out and buy the side plates, fitting them into the side pouches.
    Front, rear and side plates is considerably better protection from rifle rounds(and therefore also handgun) than just front and rear plates, or even front and rear plates and soft armor, which does cover the side portion of the torso.

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  4. Just a heads-up on the Condor kit, while it is made of 1000 denier Cordura, it DOES NOT use bonded nylon thread, making it highly susceptible to UV deterioration when used day in and day out in the field. It's worth a few extra dollars to get kit that is made to mil-spec and avoid the "coming apart at the seams" issues from hard daily field use. As always, Max, your comments and insight is most appreciated.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the heads up on that. I thought initally it was the same vest that I have at home for the civilian side, but its not. I have another brand that I can no longer find on Amazon. Based on all this talk of gear, I'm starting to put together a post with useful links to gear, to get people thinking/buying/putting an operational set together (if not done already).
      It will just be some suggestions/options. Comments will be most welcome on that post, with critiques or additional suggestions.
      Any input on body armor and ballistic plate sources would be good, I have not had to purchase those, so feedback on good sources would be helpful.

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  5. Thanks for a great post. I'm a newb to this and visiting the ar500armor and condor sites have left my head spinning. The original post helped tremendously but there's still a curve to climb.

    Daniel

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  6. I should have posted this reply here on this thread first, so here goes.

    I have some reservations about hard plates for post SHTF. Soft concealed armor will be important for visiting the local shop-and-robs that might still be in business, but hard exterior body armor for civilians makes me wonder.

    Modern soldiers wear it, but they are making a "deal" as soldiers. "I will follow orders and assault hard targets with people shooting at me. My chain of command will give me the best armor, and immediate advanced medical treatment in case I'm shot."

    Little of this applies to civilians pere or post SHTF. First, you should avoid assaulting hard targets unless absolutely forced to by circumstance. You are not Superman, and there is no field hospital a short helo ride away. As a post SHTF civilian, if you get shot with a rifle bullet one inch outside the hard plate, you are a dead man, and your family just lost their #1 defender and provider.

    To the extent that a hard plate makes you feel "bullet proof," they may actually cause you to take more risks than are necessary. Soldiers have medics leading all the way to hospitals to take care of that sucking chest wound: you do not. You must adapt the tactics of stealth and avoidance. Travel light, travel at night. Sneakypete is the way to go. Not Rambo, weighed down like a modern soldier.

    The most dangerous enemy will be the guy with a scoped rifle you never saw. You must not be seen to avoid his fire. If you are walking in the open wearing top-heavy body armor, it will be obvious, and the sniper will make a head or pelvis shot.

    To survive SHTF, don't try to load out like Rambo. Be like the VC in black pajamas, moving like a ninja, in the shadows, in the treelines and gullies, never seen. Even wearing hard body armor, to be seen is to be shot, in a USA with tens of millions of scoped rifles floating around.

    I'm not trying to start a debate, but merely to point out that there are differing views on armor's usefulness, pros and cons. My training was from VN-era SEALs, and it was all about stealth. The body armor of that era (1980s) was too heavy and not rifle-proof, so we didn't wear armor at all. Plus, we were often in a watery environment, or around water, and a water escape or infil/exfil route was always a consideration.

    In general, we tried to be light and streamlined, more like a slippery unseen VC than the modern Robocop soldier coming down the street in a vehicle. That philosophy is still ingrained in this "old-timer." (I'm 55, but I still run.)




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    1. Folks who think they're going to set up a carrier, or even decent, full coverage soft armor, just to break it out when the threat becomes elevated, probably won't be willing to wear it when they have to move (anywhere) when it's 95 degrees (F) and humid.
      Armor is amazing. But, only when you're wearing it.

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  7. I should have posted this reply here on this thread first, so here goes.

    I have some reservations about hard plates for post SHTF. Soft concealed armor will be important for visiting the local shop-and-robs that might still be in business, but hard exterior body armor for civilians makes me wonder.

    Modern soldiers wear it, but they are making a "deal" as soldiers. "I will follow orders and assault hard targets with people shooting at me. My chain of command will give me the best armor, and immediate advanced medical treatment in case I'm shot."

    Little of this applies to civilians pere or post SHTF. First, you should avoid assaulting hard targets unless absolutely forced to by circumstance. You are not Superman, and there is no field hospital a short helo ride away. As a post SHTF civilian, if you get shot with a rifle bullet one inch outside the hard plate, you are a dead man, and your family just lost their #1 defender and provider.

    To the extent that a hard plate makes you feel "bullet proof," they may actually cause you to take more risks than are necessary. Soldiers have medics leading all the way to hospitals to take care of that sucking chest wound: you do not. You must adapt the tactics of stealth and avoidance. Travel light, travel at night. Sneakypete is the way to go. Not Rambo, weighed down like a modern soldier.

    The most dangerous enemy will be the guy with a scoped rifle you never saw. You must not be seen to avoid his fire. If you are walking in the open wearing top-heavy body armor, it will be obvious, and the sniper will make a head or pelvis shot.

    To survive SHTF, don't try to load out like Rambo. Be like the VC in black pajamas, moving like a ninja, in the shadows, in the treelines and gullies, never seen. Even wearing hard body armor, to be seen is to be shot, in a USA with tens of millions of scoped rifles floating around.

    I'm not trying to start a debate, but merely to point out that there are differing views on armor's usefulness, pros and cons. My training was from VN-era SEALs, and it was all about stealth. The body armor of that era (1980s) was too heavy and not rifle-proof, so we didn't wear armor at all. Plus, we were often in a watery environment, or around water, and a water escape or infil/exfil route was always a consideration.

    In general, we tried to be light and streamlined, more like a slippery unseen VC than the modern Robocop soldier coming down the street in a vehicle. That philosophy is still ingrained in this "old-timer." (I'm 55, but I still run.)




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  8. There is a mid-course. Like as was mentioned I train (try to anyway) people in stealth. There are also lightweight plates that are stand alone. I have ceramic only lvl 3 plates front and back, with 8 layers of kevlar fabric, plate backing only, for spalling. They weigh 4 lbs each and are very thin. They have minimal impact on my performance and are hard to spot at a distance even using optics (we have tested.) They are only good for one engagement, but being that they are 200 per set, this is no big deal and possibly money well spent.

    I will get a set of polyeth lvl 3 plates that are 3 lbs each stand alone, multi-multi hit. They are nearly 1 inch think unfortunatly and are 500 dollars per set right now.

    Many people are going to try and run nine mags in their vest. If you want to go real light I suggest keeping it to four (maybe 6), no armor, or 3 lb polyeth, and a gallon of water carry for AZ desert ops in the summer. Practicing forced hydration, use of electrolyte salts and using post patrol procedures, like using Ibuprophin, drinking one shot of whiskey (yes whiskey), stretching and a hot shower, if possible, has more than doubled my day to day counter narcotics patrol endurance. Do not do less water in the SW desert for obvious reasons. Carry just two jars of peanut butter or cans of chili if multi day op. Good lightweight boots like Danner TFXs help greatly.

    Use of terrain + stealth training + excellent cammo (multi cam or ATACS BASE!!) with anti IR coating, will serve a person better than armor to start.

    Having dumped three mags (to 6 carried), soft armor, got light-weight plates and boots removed 16 to 17 lbs from my desert patrol get-up. That an I have trained constantly, near every weekend, for two years. An even lighter set up would be 4 mags, no armor and a half gallon water for winter ops.

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  9. Any thoughts on old Flack Jacket designs of steel? Or is that the sort of armor Matt Bracken above is mentioning, too heavy to be truly useful, especially if looking for stealth?

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