In the first part of the series, I presented the purpose of body armor, and the civilian variants which are available to the public. As previously noted, body armor comes in two choices, Soft Body Armor which is concealable and designed for pistol caliber protection, and Hard Body Armor which is heavier, visible, and designed to defeat rifle caliber rounds. Be aware that the body armor system is comprised of a carrier and the actual armor itself are the inserts which are placed inside the carrier. All the movie body armor you see actors wearing is just the carrier portion with foam inserts to keep the shape. Real systems are hot, heavy, and inhibit mobility from manageable , to a lot.
So one way to choose what is best for you is to decide what threat you are defending against. If you are more likely to face handgun threats, Soft Body Armor is what you should select. On the other hand, if rifle fire is your biggest threat, Hard Body Armor is the correct choice. With that out of the way, you need to check your local laws to ensure you are in legal compliance. Every state and municipality has its own set of regulations. For the most part, civilian ownership is not an issue. However, here is a link to look at as a reference.
Assuming you have confirmed you are legal to own body armor, and you have made a decision on what meets your threat assessment, the next question I’m most frequently asked is what brand should I get. That’s like asking me what kind of car should I get? Unless you are buying used body armor that is compromised by age or having been shot at before, brands have less to do with choice than the threat level, and the material of the armor.
Some brands have more choices in the way they fit a certain build. Some are cut differently for males and female users. Some are basic and some are complex in choices. Again, you would be purchasing both a carrier and the inserts, and there are too many variables and brands to discuss. And I haven’t combat tested my own gear, or have been hit by a bullet in my gear, so making a suggestion for you would be irresponsible on my part. I can only tell you it’s hot, heavy, and uncomfortable from my own personal experience. But at the end of the day, steel is steel, Kevlar is Kevlar, and ceramic is ceramic. The same is true of the materials used for the carriers. The more durable the material, the higher the cost. This link will help you with an overall summary of some common questions, and cover some items we have already mentioned.
As with any item you are purchasing, just ask yourself what you intend it to do. Are you going to be deployed in a battle zone? If so, you will want to have military tested and proven systems which are costly. Or are you looking at something to have in case of an emergency, which means you will not need it to be capable of surviving a 30,000 ft jump from an airplane or daily wear and tear of a combat soldier putting hard use on the system 24/7 for weeks at a time.
Try to purchase from a reputable dealer face to face. You need to know how to get the correct fit for maximum comfort, mobility, and effective coverage. Improper fitting is a big issue. Not only will you experience discomfort, it will be useless if the proper vital areas are not covered. As well, you will need professional advice on how to properly maintain and clean your gear. Body Armor will make you sweat no matter which brand you buy.
In the last part of this series, I will discuss the effectiveness of body armor, and whether or not you may think it’s worth it.