Body Armor for Dummies

No doubt, the vast majority of you are aware of the fact that our federal government seems intent on violating our inalienable right to self-defense, among others. It is entirely possible that we will cross the line where “from my cold, dead hands” ceases to be a metaphor.

Body armor is a necessity for those who wish to initiate or survive being a party to a two-way range. The discussion following is intended to be a simple primer on body armor for those less familiar with the actual product and guide you in selecting proper armor for yourself.

a brown plate carrier with plates
a brown plate carrier with plates

Should I Get Body Armor?

I recommend it, but with several caveats. In a WROL or SHTF situation, a bullet wound will likely be a death sentence.

Aside from a clean flesh wound, it is HIGHLY unlikely that the majority of individuals would posses the skills or implements required.

Bullet fragments, bone, organs and muscle tissue would need to be removed or repaired to prevent sepsis or death from hemorrhaging, let alone restore function to an organ or limb.

Slow moving ammunition (think .22LR, .00, .0, birdshot ect.) tends to tear clothing and bring it into the wound, further increasing chances of infection.

How many people own a shotgun with a few shells? Add that to the fact that the guy treating you may be your buddy with limited first-aid knowledge who may miss a few of those hundred or so birdshot pellets in you.

Lead is NOT on your list of daily vitamins you need for increased brain function. All of the above are ample reason to obtain armor if financially feasible.

I do not recommend obtaining armor before buying food, ammunitions, firearms and medical supplies. Square those areas away, and then invest your money on quality armor only after achieving your goals in that area.

Armor might be a wise investment before you reach your goal of 100k rounds of ammunition, but not before you obtain ample amounts of the essentials.

Keep your priorities straight. You cannot eat Kevlar, nor does it make very good bandages. Armor falls into the category of a peripheral goal that reinforces the main goals of survival.

Kevlar is easily worn by women, children, the elderly and those wishing to avoid strapping an extra 20lb. on their body. It can be bought for $150-$300+ depending on the manufacturer, and what type of carrier it comes in. All used Kevlar should be checked to determine when the date of manufacture was.

MOLLE plate carrier with pouch attached and mags
MOLLE plate carrier with pouch attached and mags

Hard armor allows the more physically robust to carry serious protection, and most carriers have MOLLE webbing. Ceramic plates run approximately $200/plate, making a set of them $400+ in addition to the cost of the armor carrier, which runs $75 and up.

NIJ certified steel armor runs generally around $100/plate, making them about half of the cost of ceramic. The majority of those sold do not have spalling protection.

Body armor comes in a wide range of products, including bullet proof vests, stab proof and spike vests, and even these vary based on the level of protection and the style in which it is worn.

It is most likely that firearms will be the major threat to any survivalist, as they will be the first weapon anyone will look for.

However, bullet proof vests are graded according to the ammunition they can protect against, and so it is important that you pick a level of vest that can stop the right ammunition.

Bullet Proof Vests

It is usually recommended that survivalists carry a handgun, because of its relative ease of use. This is exactly the logic many others will follow, and even where society has broken down a handgun is the easiest type of gun to get your hands on.

Therefore, it is important that your bullet proof vest can stop handgun ammunition. The National Institute of Justice tests and standardises bullet proof vests (NIJ Levels), and vests from Level I-IIIa are capable of stopping the vast majority of handgun ammunition.

Of course, some avoid body armor because of its perceived weight and bulk. However, bullet proof vests are increasingly lightweight and flexible, and can even be worn underneath clothing.

These ‘covert’ vests are designed to be worn comfortably for extended periods, and some even include breathable materials that can help regulate your temperature.

Covert vests have the advantage of being very discreet without sacrificing protection, making them ideal to be worn at all times, even before the collapse of society.

On the other hand, there are benefits to vests that are worn over clothing, in an ‘overt’ style. Some feel that displaying body armor in this manner can help deter potential attackers, and act as a statement of authority.

These overt vests are just as protective, lightweight and flexible as their covert counterparts, and so it is a matter of personal choice as to which is most appropriate.

High Caliber Protection

Even protection at higher levels is available in both covert and overt styles. It may be that handguns are not the only or even the main weapons you will face, and the threat of rifle fire and high-caliber ammunition is far greater.

In these cases you will need armor at Level III or IV, which utilises rigid panels of ceramics or polyethylene. While these are still relatively lightweight, they will increase the weight and bulk of your vest, while decreasing its flexibility, and so should only be worn when absolutely necessary.

Stab and Spike Protection

It may be that firearms are not the only weapon you will be facing, whatever the caliber, and in a world where your attackers may use whatever they can get their hands on, edged and spiked weapons may be more of a threat.

As time passes and ammunition becomes scarcer and scarcer, your attackers will likely use knives or spiked weapons, which a bullet proof vest will not protect against.

Bullet proof vests use protective fibers that can ‘trap’ and slow a bullet, flattening and slowing it to a complete halt. However, an edged weapon will simply cut through these fibers, while a spiked weapon can pass through the minute gaps between them.

As a result, for complete protection you need to ensure that your bullet proof vest comes with stab and spike protection in the form of chainmail and/or a layer of laminate.

Body armor is a necessary part of any survivalist’s equipment, and yet it is not only suitable for the end of the world. Covert armor allows for discreet and lightweight protection that can be worn anywhere and everywhere.

This is useful for everybody, and such a simple solution to an otherwise deadly situation that can occur at any time should be utilized by all.

What armor should I get?

No magic armor exists that turns you into a bulletproof killing machine. The ideal body armor is one which maximizes your resistance to incoming fire, while enabling you to move and return fire as quickly as possible. Consider the area in which you live and the likely firearms that could be encountered.

In urban areas one may choose to wear soft armor for the concealability and mobility of it, where the risk of being shot at with a larger caliber rifle is minimal. In a rural area where a large hunting population exists, the likelihood of larger calibers and rifles being used increases may make hard armor a better option.

I would recommend it for stationary security or a firefight in which you are unable to disengage. Reconnaissance over flat terrain or in a hostile environment would also make hard armor ideal.

Generally, body armor is made from three materials: Kevlar, ceramic, and steel. The various levels of commonly available protection range from level IIA-IVA and are rated by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

The NIJ standard rates armor by its ability to stop certain rounds (generally of a standard grain and ft/s) from penetrating the armor.


Dupont created Kevlar in 1965, and it is the most commonly used material for soft armor. It is an aramid, which is a polymer chain that orients parallel to the fiber.

The extremely strong chemical bonds allow the fiber to have incredible tensile strength to weight ratio. The fibers are woven into a dense cloth, which create the layers used in modern Kevlar vests.

What Kevlar does

Stop bullets…most of the time. Kevlar is much lighter than any other bulletproof material and excels at stopping handgun rounds.

Available IIIA armor can stop up to a .44 Magnum round from penetrating it. Kevlar is bendable and can essentially conform to your body when worn. The armor is fairly concealable and can be worn on a regular basis.

What Kevlar does not do

Kevlar does degrade with age. The majority of manufactures recommend that the vest be replaced every five years. The fibers are sensitive to UV rays and extended exposure to them will cause degradation faster.

Kevlar will NOT perform as intended while wet, and care should be taken that the vest remains dry, and that it is kept in as low humidity environment as possible when not being worn. Kevlar can be defeated using rifle rounds and AP rounds.

Kevlar can also be cut. Bullet-resistant does NOT mean you are stab resistant. Inserts to exist that have a stab-resistant component to the vest, but Kevlar alone does not provide sufficient protection against stab wounds.

Aside from your own ventilation by a high-speed projectile, the major concern of wearing a soft vest is blunt trauma. The transfer of energy by the bullet can severely impact the wearer of a soft vest. While not as bad as ventilation, the impact can break bones, create severe contusions, and possible organ damage.

Results may vary, but the consensus is that while soft armor may save your life, it by no means makes you invulnerable, not do bullets go pinging off your body.

Getting shot still sucks and possible life threatening injuries can result even if the projectile fails to penetrate the Kevlar.



Most ceramic plates (often called trauma plates) are made of a boron-carbide compound. It has a crystalline structure and excels at absorbing the energy from the bullet in addition to being extremely hard.

What Ceramic does

Ceramic plates are generally rated either IIIA or IVA by the NIJ and defeat projectiles ranging from a .308 up to a .3006 (thirty-aught six).

The trauma under the plate is greatly reduced by the armor essentially breaking up and absorbing the impact by fracturing.

Ceramic is not affected by heat or moisture and does not degrade significantly over time. Ceramic is also significantly lighter that steel, and having  ¾ inch plates on adds roughly 10-12 lb. versus 14-16 lb.

What ceramic does not do

Ceramic is relatively brittle. Drop your plates and they can crack or break. When a round impacts the ceramic, the plate fragments slightly.

The fragmentation is due to the absorption of the energy and protects the wearer. Multiple rounds may defeat the armor after it has cracked.

The chief drawback of ceramic plates is that once a plate has been shot, the integrity is gone and you need to discard it (preferably after the shooting has stopped).


Steel needs little introduction, and the only thing worth noting is that vast, vast majority of steel trauma plates are made of AR500 steel.

What steel will do

Steel plates are the most resilient type of hard armor available. Multiple strikes on the plates will not compromise the integrity of the armor. Steel is not brittle and will not crack when dropped or shot. Steel also is cheaper than ceramic and available from a wider range of manufacturers.

What steel will not do

The worst problem with steel is spalling. Spall is created when a round impacts the plate and fragments.[see] Pieces of the bullet and the steel plate create a shrapnel-like effect.

While not truly life-threatening, the spall tears the plate carrier and can cut the wearer on the neck, chin and face. Several methods have been tried to eliminate or reduce spalling, but aside from commercial methods I have yet to discover a satisfactory DIY solution.

Steel is also heavy. While not a huge concern for many, be aware of the fact that it will add 4-6 lb. over comparable ceramic plates. Using ceramic, one could carry an additional 2 Pmags and 100 rounds of 5.56 ammunition with the weight savings.

Wearing your armor

Regardless of your choice, it is paramount that the armor fit correctly. Most carriers or vests are designed to fit slightly below or at your collarbones and end an inch or two above the waist.

The armor you wear should enable you to draw your weapon effectively as well as aim your weapon correctly. The wrong time to find out that your Serpa holster hangs up on your vest is when you need your weapon.

Adjust your carry method accordingly. Hard armor does take some getting used to, not only does it add appreciable weight, it also can effect the firing position you take. Practice shooting with your armor on to ensure that proper techniques and a correct setup can be achieved.

For those getting hard armor, I recommend running in it. As much as that sucks, it works. Train heavy, fight light.

The Romans used rudii, wooden swords, to train with that were DOUBLE the weight of the swords they fought with. Take a cue from the pros. You plan on wearing armor or a load-bearing vest, weight it down in training. Use sand, concrete or extra crap and make it 5-10 lb. heavier than your fighting kit.

Run and train in it, and learn to use it effectively. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to become familiar with and train with any armor you purchase.

What type of carrier should I get?

Kevlar vests almost always come with a carrier. Some are concealable, and feature a design that can be worn under a shirt. Others are designed to be worn over the clothes and feature side panels to protect fire from 00 and 1800 of the wearer.

Some Kevlar vests have trauma plates (foam or steel) to minimize blunt trauma from a round, and others have stab-resistant inserts. Both options add weight and bulk to the vest, as well as increase expense.

Hard armor almost always comes separate from the carrier. Carriers come is a plethora of styles and choosing one is largely a function of individual taste. Blackhawk, Condor, Rothco, and Voodoo Tactical all make affordable, decent quality rigs.

Tactical Tailor, Crye Precision and SKD all make top quality carriers, that will last though hard, everyday use. Expect to pay $75-$100 for decent quality rigs and $250-$1000+ for top quality. I prefer the design utilized by Jumpable Plate Carrier by Crye Precision.

The cut down carrier minimizes weight and still retains the essential function of the armor. Others may prefer to get a large vest with side panels and strap 20+ mags on. Your mileage may vary.

In closing, I highly recommend getting armor for those financially able to. A time is coming where it will become illegal for the serfs (you and I) to purchase or unobtainium because everyone wants it.

Rourke spoke of the Minuteman concept and I think those interested in such an idea absolutely need armor. You do no service for your cause by dying for it, you do service to it by making the other guy die for his.

Make yourself harder to kill. Those with specific questions please shoot me an email and I will do my best to answer it.


Should you decide to look on Amazon/Ebay or other online retailers, make sure you are buying real armor. Many retailers advertise “body armor” that is designed for use in Airsoft. Many of the products are significantly cheaper than actual armor.

Clearly these are NOT suitable for use in combat…unless your enemy is using an Airsoft gun. Even then, why not use real plates? Overkill does not exist in combat. Just read the description of what you are buying, and make sure you are buying the real thing.

updated 05/03/2022

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11 thoughts on “Body Armor for Dummies”

  1. D,
    Ceramic is the way to go. Kevlar and ceramic will cover pretty much all your bases.

    If one keeps an eye on eBay you can get decent deals. It’s also worth noting that kevlar is not super expensive and much better than nothing.

    I disagree. Under normal circumstances, you would be correct. However, if we continue our slide into 3rd world status, I believe we will see an increase in violent activity. Also in a WROL situation, I would wear armor at all times outside my house. Most of the gunshot first-aid techniques taught today are designed to allow the victim to survive 15-30 min. until they can be treated by surgeons. Without that option, a gunshot wound is likely a death sentence. It is also worth noting that Reagan was shot after the round ricocheted and entered in his left armpit, an area that cannot be protected by body armor. For everyday use body armor is impractical for most…for now. In any violent situation, such as riots or a WROL situation, I have no doubt that you increase your survivability in a huge way.

    I agree it is a hotly contested issue. I deferred to the general consensus in that area, simply because the article was designed as a primer. I currently have a spare expired vest and have no doubt it would protect me more than nothing. Spare vests are also excellent for hardening a vehicle in a pinch. Sliding it between the interior and exterior door panels would make it less of a death-trap.

  2. I’m amazed at the % of people with tons of firearms and no armor. Why not have an advantage for the price of a glock?
    Those who are looking right now will find higher prices on the ceramics and the full military type armors, but it’s still worth the investment. Get it while you can.

  3. Don’t waste your money. Unless you are in the military or law enforcement it is very very unlikely that you will have your body armor on when you need it or even be able to get to it. I might also point out that President Reagan had body armor on and was protected by numerous people willing to stand between him and the gun and a lowly 22 came close to taking his life.

  4. Great article. Like stated above body armor is something we forget about. I have 1 vest but need to think about it for the others in our group. The price is high ño matter how you look at it. But then again the ultimate price is higher by not having it. Thank you for bringing it back onto the front burner.

  5. Very good article. I take issue with Gone with the wind as the balloon goes up you put on armor. One issue i do have is the concept of armor degradation. That is a highly controversial issue and heated debate exists. Some say the expiration dates are exaggerated to bilk the govt out of more money. The jury is out. Overall, get your armor now. even if it is expired, it is better than nothing.

  6. I own a Condor plate carrier but currently have no plates for it. I had considered cutting my own steel plates for it and dipping them in vinyl. I understand the concept of ~the value of my life~ and that to me anyway it’s worth more than the cost of store bought plates. But in my favor I have the equipment to do it for practically zero dollars and the thought of experimenting with plate thickness and various calibers and coatings is really starting to intrigue me. Excellent post Jesse……

  7. Fred,

    If you can find Dragon Skin, I would recommend against buying it. The Army did testing for a possible replacement to SAPI plates and found that rifle rounds would pass through some of the weaker parts of the armor and that temperature shifts caused the scales to move. The vest also weighs almost 50 lb., making is retardedly heavy. It’s an awesome idea, but it needs to be improved on before it becomes a viable alternative.


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