Is Ballistic Body Armor Worth It?

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

Ballistic body armor is becoming more common… at least, if you look at the gun shows and the ads, it seems to be becoming more common. There are even a few lines of clothing out there, for those who can afford it, which are made to be “bulletproof.”

But we need to be clear here; ballistic armor isn’t bulletproof, it’s bullet resistant. Oh, it might be “proof” for some calibers; but that doesn’t mean it is fully bulletproof. There are different levels of armor, rated to be able to stop various “standard” rounds of ammunition. But even the highest level of body armor won’t stop a round from a .50 caliber Barrett.

Most of the body armor that’s sold today is Level IIIA. This is the highest level of flexible body armor you can buy, without a hard plate. Level IIIA is rated to stop 9mm FMJ, fired at 1,175 fps and .44 magnum semi-jacketed hollow point, fired at 1,400 fps. However, it will not stop any rifle rounds or the FN 5.7 round, which is styled along the lines of a rifle round, not a pistol round.

To stop rifle rounds, you need to buy what is called a “plate carrier,” rather than just ballistic armor. Besides having a pocket to hold the hard plate, the plate carrier is designed differently than Level IIIA armor in that it is designed to wear over the clothing, rather than under it. You really can’t get Level IV or higher protection in a concealable body armor.

There are two things that make rifle rounds much harder to stop than pistol rounds. The first, and most obvious, is that a rifle cartridge holds much more powder than a pistol cartridge does, producing a higher muzzle velocity. On top of that, rifle bullets (and the FN 5.7) have a pointier bullet, giving it greater penetration. That penetration will go through any soft armor currently manufactured.

When we say that a particular type of armor is rated at a particular level, it means two things. First, that specific calibers of rounds won’t penetrate through the armor. Secondly, it means that the force of the impact will be spread by the armor, so as to cause minimal deflection of the armor. In this, it is also helping to protect from broken bones, caused by being hit by the round.

Of course, the rating of the body armor assumes that the shooter hits the armor with their shot, rather than hitting the head, an extremity or the lower portion of the abdomen, below the armor. No ballistic armor covers the whole body, which is one more reason why it really isn’t bulletproof.

Let me add a note here, stating that not all armored clothing that is sold today is Level IIIA, although some manufactures say their products are. Even so, depending on the design of the particular article of clothing, it may have ballistic panels inset into the garment, but still leave the center of the chest, where the garment fastens, exposed. This obviously doesn’t do much good, if a criminal shoots you dead center. Before buying any of these garments, be sure to know exactly where the protection is installed.

I’ve made garments like this myself; or rather, I should say that I have modified garments. I have a shooting vest with pockets inside it which allowed me to install flexible ballistic panels, rated at Level IIIA, which I made, inside the garment. However, because the garment doesn’t overlap in the middle, part of my chest is exposed. The only way I can have full protection with this garment, is if I wear a flexible ballistic panel over my chest, also rated at Level IIIA, underneath my shirt.

Of course, any ballistic armor is only going to be functional while it is being worn. That’s the real issue. No body armor is going to do you any good, if it’s sitting at home in the closet. You have to wear it. For most of us, that means wearing it every day.

So that’s the real question. Are you able to wear the body armor all the time or only sometimes? Like carrying concealed, doing it only part time really doesn’t protect you from all the risks out there. Taking it off when you get home at night isn’t going to protect you from a home invasion. It’s only going to do you good, while it is being used.

Granted, there are circumstances which are more dangerous than others. Your situation may be that wearing ballistic armor during those circumstances makes sense, even while not wearing it at other times. But that’s something you’ll have to judge for yourself.

Then there’s the high-risk time that exists in the wake of a disaster. It makes sense to have ballistic armor for such a time, especially if you are going to have to make forays outside your homestead. It would also be useful if your home came under attack and you had to defend it. But as with other times, you may find that it is impractical to wear it all the time. So, unless you face a particular risk where ballistic armor could protect you, I would say that you probably don’t need it. But that’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself. In the mean time, be sure to keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

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