What To Do with Old Ballistic Vest Panels? Here's a Few Options - ITS Tactical

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What To Do with Old Ballistic Vest Panels? Here’s a Few Options

By Eric S.

So what do you with your old ballistic vest panels? If you have been in law enforcement or other occupation where you get a new vest roughly every 5 years, you probably have a couple of sets sitting around.

A few years ago I figured there had to be a way to use the panels I’d accumulated, as mine were sitting in the closet collecting dust.

Around that time I came across a video and photos of a Schertz Texas Police cruiser that had taken a bunch of rounds to the front from a AK-47. The article showed forensics photos of the trajectory the rounds took and had the officer been in the front seat he would have been killed.

While attempting to defeat rifle rounds would only be accomplished by an armored vehicle, it doesn’t take much to send pistol rounds through the windshield, windows and doors. I came up with a simple solution that got my vest panels out of the closet and into my cruiser. We’ll also talk about other ways you could use this concept in the civilian world. The photos presented here are older, but the concept remains the same and I still carry this system with me today.

About “old” Vests

Let’s talk about “used” vest panels before we go any further. What were talking about here are your vest panels that you have cared for, cleaned properly, and maintained like you’re life depended on it (because well, your life did depend on it). I’m not advocating running out to the nearest surplus store and buying panels out of a pile of Vietnam web gear. If that is the route you want to go because you don’t have your own panels then you do so at your own risk.

Body Armor

Properly cared for ballistic panels will last for years if maintained correctly. I’ll give two examples: A few years ago one of our firearms instructors took his old issued vest (from the mid 80’s) to the range and it stopped everything it was rated against. Our training section also had an old vest they used during knife defense classes that they tried to sick a ice pick through. The old vest stopped it every time.

The Concept

Body Armor UsesAll we’re doing is making a bag to hold the ballistic panels. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be fancy or made out of 10,000 Denier Cordura with quadruple stitching.

It should at the very least have handles to make it easy to carry and stitched well enough that it wont fall apart if you need to use it. As you can see in the photos of the bag I have, there isn’t much to it.

This bag was made by a local Sailmaker. I took my ballistic panels in and gave them a basic idea of what I wanted done.

I lucked out as they did a fantastic job with a heavy Cordura type material and heavy stitching. I had two sets of handles made; one set for the top and one set to hold like a shield. The top is secured with heavy Velcro to keep it closed. As you can see in the photos I have both my panels in the bag. Two panels might be an overkill but in this case more might be better because having to deploy it means the crap has hit the fan.


Body Armor UsesThis idea is pretty simple and can be used in multiple ways. From throwing it up on the dashboard, holding it against a door, or tossing it to someone pinned down. I keep mine on the passenger seat in my cruiser or take it with me when doing surveillance.

You could keep it at the office or classroom (if you’re a teacher). During the Virginia Tech shooting, students and teachers attempted to hold the doors shut with their bodies.

Cho shot through the doors because he knew victims were behind them. If I were to design one for a school setting I would have two separate panels that folded out to give you extra height protection; in effect, a soft shield.

Body Armor UsesThere is no reason you couldn’t apply those same ideas at home. Also look at the news footage of the recent tornadoes. You could use this as added protection against flying debris for you or your family while your in your safe room. Think outside the box.

Make one with adjustable handles and you could hang it behind the seat of your cruiser for extra protection. Yes, officers miss guns on prisoners and yes prisoners can slip their cuffs to the front.

You could also keep it in your TFDV (tactical family deployment vehicle) to help protect your family if the need ever arises. Everyone else has a swagger wagon right? Looking at the recent article on SSG Peoples who confronted the bank robber in Sarasota Florida, he surely could have used something like this.

Bad things tend to happen quickly and without warning. You may not have time to deploy this concept in certain circumstances, but having something like this at your disposal could come in handy. It surely beats having your ballistic panels siting in your closet or garage doing nothing for you.

Please leave us your thoughts and feedback in the comments below. Stay safe out there!

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  • Eric,

    Excellent article! I’ve mentioned doing similar things to others, and I’m glad others are thinking this way also. I have several old vests that I keep around for similar reasons.

    Another thought is keeping an old one in your personal car or truck in case you have to take action off-duty. Normally, being a good witness is the best course of action, but if people are dying we have to take action. Having an old vest that you can grab quickly can offer you some protection. Also, attaching “POLICE” or “SHERIFF” patches to the vest can help ID you when the uniforms show up.

    Stay safe!


  • The Captain

    Outstanding! I got a locker half full with old vests and I’m due to be issued a new one. Time to make some mobile shields.

  • Pingback: Used Body Armor :: Blue Sheepdog()

  • Tk

    If you can find an officer who wears smaller vests and is willing to give you some old panels, you can actually fit some panels fairly easily into a backpack. Worst case scenario, flip your backpack to your front if you’re engaging a threat and you at least have a bit of armor.
    Also, some cars have room in the doors if you’re able to take the door panels off and fit a panel in there… I’ve also heard of cops with desks putting panels into the desk or cubicle.

  • Tyler

    Great article Eric and even better idea. The only thing I think is missing, is you may want to really remind people to be aware of the threat level armor they are using. I know you make slight mention of it but people, even some cops and military, think armor is armor and it should stop anything. I’m going to forward this article to a few LE buddies though, who are in the process of upgrading vests to the new NIJ 06 standards.

  • Terry

    That is pretty tight, I could see how something like that would serve a patrolman on the streets. I think something like that should have been made along time ago. North Hollywood would have been less of a SNAFU for officers if they had those. Maybe use ceramic trama panels or layer them more in the next attempt and let us know how they work.

  • Enzo

    Many back packs have a foam insert that can be easily replaced with an old panel or two.

  • quicksaber

    I keep one in my POV and two hanging in my front room closet next to the front door. I have it set up if some one gets through my front door before I can get there because how the the closet sits I can use it for cover. If it really goes bad I can kneel down low and shoot through the closet below the hanging vest. Got that idea from a SWAT team raid that went bad. The bad guy shot though the wall as the team was stacking at the door and hit the team from the side. Just my 2 cents

  • What a great idea. It’s so stupidly simple, once you know about it 🙂 Definitely one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” type of ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  • Joel

    My panels go in my kids backpacks. They go to a private Christian school…


    You need to market that bag! Awesome idea.

    • Agreed! Eric, I would like to place an order for 2 of those. Hahaha, but really man, great stuff!

  • Frank Delgado

    Another idea would be to purchase an old helmet bag. Looks to be about the same size and would be easily modifiable. Great idea. I too carry old panels in my back packs. Gives them a little rigidity for simple day packs and you can always wear it on your front (or back if running away).

  • I planned on adding my panels that expire this year to a couple of backpacks, but this is a much better idea! Fowarding it to my old partners as well.

  • Rich

    Great use for old panels. We have been advising officers for a few years now to put them inside thier go bags. This at lest provides a bit more protection. Thanks for the article and great job.


  • D

    so when, who and how, can i get a bag like this?

    • The flight bag idea sounds like a good cheap way to go. It would be more bulky than the bag in the photos but should be a good alternative.

  • Nick Marcus

    Excuse my ignorance but in pic 4 what is the backing you are using under the vest. Thanks for the help

  • lpd5408

    Great idea. Thought it was such a great idea that I found a custom gear maker on LF who is going to make one for me. Just got a new vest so this will be good use for the panels instead of just sitting in my gear cave.

    Question, could you tell me what case is pictured in the squad car? Looks like a pelican.

  • Repton Brepcount

    Until the very end of the article I thought the idea was to take the inside of the door off and put the panels in there. Would there be space in there for them?

  • derrick

    something so simple yet ive never thought of it.
    considering im not law enforcement and the army likes to take back their body armor, i’ll be going to my local surplus store and grabbing the old stuff. something is better than nothing right?
    may even use the cheaper ones they have to bring to the range and test how many layers will stop what and whats really practical. i have a .45 and an SKS, both should show some helpful results

  • TGugs

    Tactics….first LEO to the donuts!!!! Seriously though great idea

  • Tom

    I have found conveyor belt to stop most everything,drill holes in it for wire to hang it from.Inside a door,outside ect.Glad to see people thinking!

  • great article! Also, the reason armor companies only offer a 5 year life span is mostly to get agencies to buy more armor. Though it could also be due to any adhesives and/or coatings that may be used. That being said, I have to caution you to always follow the manufacturers warranties and advisories. Also, too, be aware of the armor levels. Not all armor is the same. Know what your armor will and will not stop. Do your homework! Your armor manufacturer should be able and willing to answer all of your armor questions. Also verify all the information you get regarding body armor; there’s a lot of misinformation around and even some armor companies and salesman give incorrect information.
    Stay Safe!

  • KSPJarhead

    Thanks a bunch for this post.  Your idea and info is definately out-of-the-box worthy.  Who’d ever thunk about such a proactive/protective-recycling of expired plates?   I think my sewing machine may get some work this weekend.  Sweet!

  • rugercat45

    Great info, I have also thought about taking your old panels and making a shield like this, BUT, you can also keep it in your backpack, luggage, “tac loadout bag” or whatever you carry, even your childs school backpack (if God forbid you worried about school shootings happening at their school, ‘course, you never know where they can happen. Better to be prepared, and CARRY that shield with you, even IF you wear a vest- I would rather have all the stuff possible between me and those bullets coming your way! You may also hang it in your window at night or behind your head when you sleep, and when you travel. In Vietnam, chopper pilots pilots used to fly with body armor on the ground under their feet and under their seats ” Five on the floor” I believe they called it. The AK rounds would go thru the aluminum skin like hot butter. I remember one guy saying you could see the body armor jump and hop when the rounds hit it, and if you weren’t expecting it, it would scare the crap outta you, as you could hear the round until after it hit, if you heard it at all above the rotor blades and at that height. Take care and keep it up.

  • tnh723

    I just wanted to say thank you sir for the good idea.
    How would society be affected if everybody had access to affordable bullet-proof protection such as this?

  • 1608NNJ

    Does anyone know of any department that use old ballistic vests for door protective panels? Pros and cons of it…

  • ballistic engineer

    What ignorance, trying to get someone killed, there is a reason they are only good for 5 years…..

    • Cory

      They didn’t want to do long term testing and putting an expiration date results in more future sales. NIJ has done the testing and they found all of 10% difference on the vests used in high usage/temp/humidity areas, and they couldn’t be sure if that was mostly statistical error from testing so few vests or better woven cloth from the weave pattern of a decade previous.
      IE, if you have a aramid (kevlar) vest, chances are it’s just as good as when it was first made, easily decades later.
      Zylon fiber vests actually do deteriorate and can no longer be used in armor, they deteriorated faster than was safe, even considering any 5 year expiration date.
      UHMD/UHMW (ultra-high molecular weight/density fibers; dyneema/spectra) fibers deteriorate under high usage/temps/humidity such that after 5 years or so the have up to almost 37% less stopping power (based on the worst cases over that time frame). So they should not be main material in soft armor. But they’re still good for stab prevention (outer layers of otherwise aramid vest) and solid armor (new military helmets) since solid builds don’t have those issues.
      We’ll do it your way and we’ll play the idiot game and bug out about sale-by dates on the groceries and confuse those with use-by dates, and pretend all those mean more than basic guidelines where each individual case should be considered. We’ll even throw in the packaged date and pretend that matters.
      So the actual testing says you’re more than a little wrong, and ignores the whole something is better than nothing reality. But oh well, panic you demand. OMG!! There’s an incompetent Ballistic Engineer touching our body armor, we must hunt him down and demand he quits for the good of us all… Err, wait. That wasn’t the right type of panic you wanted. Shit… Wait, let me try again…. No?

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