Taking the Hit: Is Body Armor Really Worth the Weight and Expense for Civilians? - ITS Tactical

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Taking the Hit: Is Body Armor Really Worth the Weight and Expense for Civilians?

By Jordan Jones

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Many people find themselves mulling over the idea of purchasing body armor and I’d like to discuss some information that will hopefully help your purchasing decisions. You know, just in case you’re up late at night staring at the computer screen and wondering if you should just bite the bullet.

I’ll be discussing the trade off in wearing protective armor vs. the mobility you’ll gain without it. In certain settings, a high level of armor definitely makes sense when protection is paramount, but many times the greater mobility offered without it makes more sense.

Grab your popcorn, open your mind and let’s get down to ‘bidness.

Weight vs. Rate

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Some obvious negatives with body armor are first the high cost of owning a quality set, as well as the additional weight you’ll be carrying around. Good armor costs good money, but like most things, more expensive armor offers some benefits over cheaper options. One big advantage of more expensive ceramic plates is the lower risk of spalling (fragmentation of the round impacting the plate) that some users have experienced when using steel plates.

The second advantage of ceramic plates comes from their lighter weight. When it comes to weight, certain situations make carrying the armor “worth it” and some don’t. Let’s start by examining a few occasions when it’s good to have armor with you.

Good Times

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Some military situations where it would be advantageous to wear ballistic protection would be things like sentry details, vehicle checkpoints, MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain), Close Quarters Battle and Quick Reaction Force missions. A common theme in most of these situations is that you’re mostly an overt target.

It makes a lot of sense to want the most protection available when your squad/fire team/buddy is rushing toward an objective with live rounds whizzing past you from people you met the day before. However, as a civilian, you’re hopefully not faced with these situations during a normal day.

I’d estimate 99% of your rifle plate usage would be in training and very little would come in real world situations you encounter. The application for most of us would be a “bump in the night,” or disaster-type scenario.

CQB

Civilians as a whole don’t participate very much in direct action missions, hence the title “civilian” and there aren’t many scenarios where it would be a good idea for anyone to strap on some ESAPI plates and clear a building. It obviously can be done, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea.

It would be a better idea to wear them if you needed to barricade yourself or loved ones in a room during a home invasion. Using the plates to augment existing cover/concealment (ideally both) would be ideal when indoors, as you’ll most likely know the threat’s avenue of approach. (If your local gang bangers are placing breaching charges, armor probably isn’t going to help anyway.)

Urban

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This is where plates are really worth their weight. When moving through dangerous urban areas (not dangerous like the local Piggly Wiggly after 8pm, but two-way range dangerous) the benefits of wearing full body armor are highlighted.

It’s impossible to clear buildings while keeping eyes on every danger area and movement through urban areas is mostly limited to roadways near buildings, making ambushes more likely. The insurance policy offered by plates is a great idea in that type of situation.

Bad Times for Armor

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One of the worst times for heavy plates is when covering long distances on foot over difficult terrain when a resupply isn’t possible. The increased calorie expenditure, combined with the added weight of plates is more of a hindrance than a help, due to the need to augment that additional output with input (more food and water) which in turn adds more weight. This compounding weight issue can be especially bothersome if a substantial amount of your time is spent changing elevation on the move (woodland vines, boulders, logs, fences etc.)

Rural

For those transitioning from urban to rural areas, it’s probably a good idea to dump your plates, as they’ll provide a lot less value in this environment. Camouflage and moving slowly are going to offer better protection than hard armor.

The danger areas in these locations are more limited. Not because there’s less of a danger, but because there are less places for a person to be physically located, as opposed to a metropolitan area. In rural environments, your options for travel increase, helping you avoid danger areas that would make visual detection more of an issue.

Just The Tip: Tips For Wearing Armor

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Nerf Football

When riding in a vehicle for extended periods of time in armor, it’s a good idea to pick up a large Nerf football and use that to take the weight off of your back plate to help relieve the tension in your lower back.

Running in Armor

If you need to “book it” for long distances in armor, it’s a good idea is using one hand to hold the yoke portion (collar area) of the armor to stop the weight from slapping against your chest and interrupting your breathing. Your other hand would obviously be used to control your rifle.

Wear It High

This should go without saying; the top portion of a front chest plate should be even with your collar bone. Your armor is the same size as your heart and lungs for a reason; it should be used to cover that area.

Square Up

Plates are less effective if you’re bladed to your threat. One of the worst things is taking a shot from the side while wearing armor. The bullet could ricochet off the front or back plate and into the middle (your innards). Present the greatest surface area of your protection towards the threat.

The added bulk of armor will also limit your range of motion, especially when shouldering a rifle and maintaining a cheek weld. Squaring up will improve your range of motion from side to side in relation to your target.

Final Experiment

One last thing I’d like to mention is a test I ran on how much armor reduced my cardiovascular endurance. For this test, I ran one mile three separate times; once without any plates, once with the approximate weight of level IV ceramic plates (~10 lbs) and once with the approximate weight of heavier steel plates (~20 lbs).

Without plates, my one mile time came in at around 6:03 and once I finished, I felt that I  would have been comfortable continuing for approximately 2-3 more miles without really “draining” myself. However, with plates (both ceramic and steel) I found that while my time increased only 15-30 seconds, my endurance suffered tremendously and I was much more spent. This equated to an 8.5% loss of efficiency, which may not sound like much but can make a large difference stretched out over multiple hours and multiple miles.

Feel free to add any tips you might have for wearing body armor to the comments below. I hope this article has shed a little light on some things you might want to consider when making the decision to purchase armor.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: During his time in the Marine Corps, Jordan deployed overseas for 3 years and has experience as a member of FAST, PSD and FMTU teams. These days, he spends his time roaming around the ITS warehouse, packing and shipping customer orders. Jordan enjoys working out, shooting, bushcraft and Kali. He likes staying active and visiting with friends, family and his lovely lady.

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Discussion

  • Robert Harper

    Well, as a former IDC I would say that armor is a good thing, and if you’re worried about the weight than just go with IIIa soft armor or hit the gym more and train for the extra weight and the extra heat retention. I get the whole plate carrier save weight thing that’s been so popular, (smaller plates, stand alone plates with no soft armor covering anything else, ect), but I’ve seen the wounds that can happen in a gun fight. You have to do a proper threat assessment, if you’re in an urban enviroment and will run into mostly pistol fire, then good coverage soft armor is the way to go, (With the abbility to toss on plates as needed), but you don’t have to run around with plates all the time unless the crap really hits the fan. Just my 2 cents, there’s a lot that can be said on this topic.

  • Sean Zarella

    Weight ? Go with dkx lvl iiia. Less than. A pound a piece and floats I have front rear and side plates all lvl 3a weight less than 4 pounds for all

  • Buck Whittenberg

    “Is armor worth the weight” Jee I think a chance of surviving a b ullet to the chest is worth the weight. Kind of a no brainer there.

  • Mark Furman

    As a big fat guy who can’t get out of the way very quickly, I would prefer to wear armor. Thanks. 🙂

    • Jonathan Lapolice

      Or lose weight …

    • Mark Furman

      Yep, any second now. Wait, there goes a couple ounces…

  • Bob Becker

    Soft armor is worth it. Heavy armor is unrealistic for civilians, in a WROL/SHTF scenario, you can’t afford the trade off of heavy armor vs food/water/first aide. Imagine an extra 12+ lbs of it. That’s an additional week of food.

  • Jp Roth

    Ive had the opportunity to talk to a few people who lived in countries that have collapsed. Concealable armor like what the police wear seem to be completely worth it.

  • John Collins

    I work security for a living and in my opinion it’s worth it. I’m saying this after having to work a posts in body armor with the uniform Black longsleeved shirts and pants in Texas summers time in the afternoon.

  • Kevin Honikel

    One technique I use and recommend is to at least occasionally do PT in whatever armor you wear. It really acclimates you to the mobility restrictions, added weight and heat buildup you will encounter with exertion. Just be mindful not to bang around your ceramic plates if you use them – unlike steel they can crack from what I understand (I use coated steel). Train as you fight certainly applies here.

    • Jordan Jones

      I have used a gold’s gym weight vest for a long time. It is a pretty good investment and avoids the damage and crazy looks/police calls you could get P.T.ing around the neighborhood.

  • stincky1

    One advantage steel has over ceramic is durability.  Ceramics can crack if, for instance, they’re abused in a moving truck.  Steel will hold up pretty well on the long haul.  Up to the end user if that enhanced durability is worth the lbs, though.

  • Tom Stange

    I would wear hard armor on duty if it was feasible especially nowadays.

    • Michael Garcia

      What’s your departments uniform policy and carrier policy my Paraclete III ICJ plates are about a quarter inch thick and completely doable over soft armor with most uniforms.

    • Tom Stange

      I work nights and have no SGT on my shift so I could probably get away with it. We run solo and backup is far and few between where I am.

    • Jordan Jones

      I agree.

  • Nick Holcomb

    Maybe soft armor. A p.c. isn’t really worth it without frequent training and conditioning

  • Parker

    How about a link to buy armor? Or the different types of armor? I’m about to buy some hard plate through a group buy with SKDTac, and had to do a lot of research. What about single curve vs multi curve? Or price range?

  • Ariel Banagan

    I think a similar article on soft armor would be highly appreciated, ITS Tactical.

  • Brody Washburn

    It depends on where you’re fighting

  • bmallen18

    DFNDR Armor (www.dfndrarmor.com) seems to be a good option for soft armor.  Aaron Cowen from Sage Dynamics just did a great review on his youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbpzSpQgmsg)

  • Ben Loth

    To me in a civilian role armor is good if you are in a situation like a potential for a riot to come your way or anytime you might run into a close fight and the other guy might have a knife. Both times you might get un lucky and be struck in the plate. Spending 3k on a plate is useless as a civilian but paying something under 500 is completely do able. I personally if I we an armed security guard would wear some sort of hard level IIIA+ and the reason is for most threats(pistol/Knife) it will work quite well. If a sniper or a high powered rifle comes into play then well its just your time to go.

  • Eric Higgins

    Pretty good article, but it doesn’t really seem to cover the scenario/environment that’s common to many of us in the western US, which is shooting out on BLM land. It can be a bit sketchy out there at times and on more than one occasion I’ve seen folks being incredibly irresponsible with their firearms (muzzling others, firing into the sky, shooting unsafe targets). It’s cases like these where I would have felt a bit more comfortable if I had been wearing a plate.

    • Jordan Jones

      I would give you the advice that its probably a good idea to avoid areas that you feel in danger of being shot. (pandering I know). If you HAVE to be there. I would say if you are going to be working out of a vehicle, armor may be good idea. If you’re hoofing it a good pair of binos and extra water would probably serve you better at the same weight. There are areas all over the US that are enough to make me want armor within arms reach. The old PITA saying applies here. Situation dictates. If you feel that you would have been more comfortable use it. Just be conscious of what your body can take and bring extra water.

  • Robert Street

    Yes it’s worth it!

  • Jackson Dunn

    Screw the MTV

  • David Thomas

    It’s not heavy if you’re not a little bitch.

  • Scott

    The article was quite informative of the why’s, where and the practicality of wearing body armor.  My question is how extensive is the trauma caused beneath the plates.   The kinetic energy has to be transferred somewhere.   Any help with this???  Thanks

    • KenJones1

      @Scott The amount of back face deformation will determine the trauma.  On a purely energy transfer stand point without back face deformation the energy transfer is going to be roughly that of the recoil of the weapon, i.e. not very much, as it is spread over a large area.  Plus a steal plate is not light, so the bullet has to move that.

      I think the biggest advantage of hard amour versus soft is the back face deformation.  Have you ever seen a 1oz foster slug hit soft body armor? No penetration of the armor, but the back face deformation is so much that it can still kill you.

    • TF ODIN

      @Scott

  • Brokenpixelz

    What about the next generation of polymer armor? Rifle plate that weighs just over a pound per and doesn’t spall. This seems like the best there is because it’s super light .

    • Brokenpixelz

      Sorry, just over 2 pounds

  • Deeja Smith

    Good info. Thanks for sharing.

  • Protection you don’t have with you is of no use.  Body armor is not only heavy, worn in your day-to-day activities, it leaves the impression you’re paranoid.

    One alternative are Kevlar shields that can be inserted into a backpack or briefcase. A quick look on Amazon only turned up one, but at 2.6 pounds and $85, it or something like it might be worth considering.

    https://www.amazon.com/SHIELD-PACK-Rated-Insert-16x12in/dp/B00DZXRDLS/

    Given the growing number of shoot-as-many-as-possible killers, this might make sense. Unless you’re the first to be targeted, you’ll probably have time to bring it up and use it for protection as you rush the killer or back away.

  • Kaleb Hill

    Gavin Lehman please read the whole thing

  • Matthew Doobay

    Ohhhhh, man. My 2 cents is probably gonna cause some hurt feelings. There are a lot of people who do need hard armor. But a large majority of civilians simply do not need it.

  • Matthew Doobay

    Ohhhhh, man. My 2 cents is probably gonna cause some hurt feelings. There are a lot of people who do need hard armor. But a large majority of civilians simply do not need it.

  • GMS

    I explain to people body armor gets you to the hospital so you can be treated for any of the trauma that follows such as broken ribs, internal bleeding, etc. Criminals don’t have the same concerns. Active killers don’t need light quality armor because they dont need to be highly mobile. Without body armor any civvy, LEO, or military person would be struggling to make an emergency room visit after being hit center mass. Consider this: in any incident involving a weapon, Emergency Medical crews will not enter the area until a LEO has cleared so this drastically increases your wait time if shot. But body armor is only good in receiving incoming reflexive fire, not errant fire or a well aimed headshot or limb sticking out from cover. Its for moving through fatal funnels or through target areas and being able to live afterwards. Thats why as a civilian I incorporated the ESCORT lvl 3 body armor into my active shooter, home def, and SHTF plans and recommend others to too. Hope this helps.

  • DaGhost

    Outstanding information, drive on and Charlie  Mike.

  • Tankrachet86

    When I am work, (Armored Car), we use the soft body armor options for “flexibility” sake. But its a cheaper more concealable option to use with stab plates. Civi’s and former military wont really need .30 protection like overseas. But you can still have a lighter weight 7.62 option to stow away in your gear for just in case options. Can run you 275-450 depending manufacturers in the middle and as high as 600-900 for “high quality” stab plates are a great option for cqb or mout in urban areas and are still light weight.

  • Jordan Jones

    I agree that police in general and security in higher risk areas should wear the best armor that they can wear. The nature of that business, wearing a uniform, driving marked vehicles, makes the people serving in those capacities a target. That along with the inherent increased risk of violent confrontations makes the question of “up armoring” to some degree, more one sided. I’m no expert on departmental policy though. This article is more for the general public. It’s easier to tough it out as a middle aged male or female that’s in good health. A 60 year old with a fused disk in their lower lumbar or bronchitis probably “aint got no time for that” (quoting predator in my head now) in most cases unless they have specific concerns they wish to address.

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