While most people would consider a bulletproof vest a piece of equipment used solely by law enforcement, body armour can be purchased for anyone who has a concern for their safety.
These vests are also often referred to as ballistic vests and have been around since the creation of the first SWAT team in the 1960s.
What type you’ll choose will depend entirely upon your desired level of protection and factors such as price, comfort, and intended use.
Difference Between Soft and Hard Bulletproof Vests
Bulletproof vests come in both soft and hard body styles and each type is designed with a different purpose in mind.
Soft bulletproof vests or armor are constructed of several layers of different materials such as Twaron, Kevlar, Spectra, and Dyneema and are most often used by security guards and police officers. They can be relied upon to stop the average shot from a shotgun or handgun and
Hard bulletproof vests, on the other hand, are constructed with ceramic, steel, polythene, or other metal plate. They are used by soldiers and SWAT team members, and can usually manage a shotgun slug or bullet from a rifle. They must be transported carefully as they may be damaged by sharp blows along their edges but are extremely impact resistant on the face of their plates.
Levels of Protection
Vests are rated by level of protection and use a rating system which correlates to the impact or blunt force that the bulletproof vest is able to stop. While velocity and range may affect their stopping power, the following provides a generally accurate protection guide:
Level I – This level was good for use against .22 Long Rifle Lead Round Nose bullets but is no longer a contender in the standard system.
Level II-A – This vest is thin and soft, provides great mobility, and can be worn comfortably for long periods of time. It is only 4mm thick but is good for use against .45 ACP, .40 S&W, and 9mm.
Level II – Provides protection against .357 Magnum rounds and projectiles of slightly higher velocity. This vest is most commonly used by patrol offers and is approximately 5mm thick.
Level III-A – This bulletproof vest is a bit thicker at about 8 to 10mm thick but provides more protection. It is suitable for rapid-fire 9mm submachine guns, .44 Magnum, .357 SIG, and rapid-fire attacks.
Level III – This type, unlike softer body armor, is constructed with the use of armor plates. It is quite thin at .5 to ¾ inches thick but is at a thickness that is no longer concealable. This type reduces range of motion and is generally worn over clothing but provides protection against 7.62x51mm NATO M80 ball.
Level IV – If you’re looking for the best bulletproof vest which provides protection against armor-piercing rounds, this level is similar to the Level III type as far as construction, mobility, and visibility, but protects against .30-06 Springfield M2 armor-piercing rounds.
Stab-Resistant Vests – This type of vest is most commonly used by prison guards and is designed to protect against knife attacks. There are three levels of protection available, armor plates similar to Level 3 and 4 are used in its construction, and ratings reflect the amount of stab pressure they are able to resist.
Visibility and Functionality
Visibility of your bulletproof vest may play a role in your purchasing decision. You’ll have to ask yourself whether you want the vest to be visible to bystanders and whether you’re willing to drop your level of protection to have it remain concealed.
The more concealable a vest is, the less protection it tends to offer. Manufacturers try to keep concealment in mind and vests worn under your clothes are often white, making them look like you’re wearing a standard undershirt. Bulk can be hidden by wearing loose fitting clothing, a thick sweater, or a suit jacket.
If concealment is not one of your concerns, higher level bulletproof vests are usually worn over clothing and often feature storage options like pockets and compartments to store other gear.
Choose a vest that fits you
The material your body armor is constructed with should also be considered before making your purchase as should the location and number of pockets or pouches.
Some vest have pouches which can be added or removed while others are fixed and not really open to customization.
Vests which use nylon close to the body may become uncomfortable after wearing them for a while, may cause skin rashes, and can trap body heat making them hot and sweaty. You’ll want to try to find the best bulletproof vest which reduce discomfort and is ventilated wherever possible.
If this is not an option, be sure to wear a t-shirt or undershirt which will wick sweat away from the body and reduce any friction or pressure points.
Be sure to try on the bulletproof vest before purchase as an ill-fitting vest may leave vital organs exposed or otherwise reduce their safety.
Do they really work?
It is important to keep in mind that no bulletproof vest is guaranteed to stop everything that comes its way and these items are not so much bulletproof as they are bullet resistant.
Injuries such as broken ribs, bruising, and internal damage may still occur depending on the type of round fired, velocity, and distance the projectile has been fired from.
That being said, the right type of bulletproof vest is a great addition to your hunting or protective gear and will provide protection against its intended round.
While many places allow the purchase and use of bulletproof vests or other body armor, it is important to familiarize yourself with the laws surrounding them in your jurisdiction, as certain jurisdictions prohibit the purchase of bulletproof vests by civilians entirely.
It is extremely important to check with both your destination place and any airline you may wish to travel with if you plan on wearing your body armor or transporting it as many countries prohibit the use of body armor in flight.
If you’ve ever been convicted of a felony offence, most places will prohibit you from buying any body armor, including bulletproof vests.
How much should you spend?
It is probably not much of a surprise that body armor price is affected by the level of protection it provides, the materials used, and the ability to customize to suit your needs.
Purchase of a vest which is low in price is not necessarily cost effective as you may find that it doesn’t adapt to your specific needs very well and you’ll find yourself just buying another one.
Paying a little more for adaptability will mean you can use your bulletproof vest for various purposes instead of filling your closet with several vests, each with a different purpose. Add-ons are available for many bulletproof vest types which will add extra protection by offering side protection, groin flap, neck guard, or shoulder guards.
Care and Cleaning
In order to keep your bulletproof vest or body armor working at its best, it is important to know how to care for it.
It is always advised to avoid heat-drying your vest or the use of strong cleaning chemicals such as bleach. A simple mild soap or detergent will prevent fabric damage and keep your vest clean and performing at its best.
Wear a layer of clothing under your vest which helps to pull perspiration away from your body. This will make wearing the vest more comfortable but will also prevent friction and make your vest more comfortable to wear for long durations.
What to look for in a good bulletproof vest
Choosing the right body armor for the task will determine its functionality, comfort, and duration of wear.
While price is definitely a factor, opt for vests which allow a level of customization if you intend on using it for varied tasks and for many years.
More expensive body armor tends to allow more options when it comes to adaptability, comfort, and level of protection, but this will depend entirely on what you plan to use it for and how long you plan to wear it.
Heavier, less concealing vests offer more protection but tend to be less comfortable and may cause fatigue, especially if you’re not used to wearing one. Bulletproof vests have many uses and are a great addition to your hunting or personal protection gear.
In short, be sure to choose the best bulletproof vest which suits the task at hand, provides you with adequate protection, and is within your price range.