Hard Body Armor and Soft Body Armor – A Guide
Between 2021 and 2028 it is estimated that the body armor industry will grow by over 5%.
There are a lot of reasons why people want body armor and a few hours of watching the news will show you most of them. A big question people have is whether soft body armor or hard body armor is better. If you are about to make a body armor purchase you may want to know as well.
To answer that question, let’s take a look at what soft and hard body armor is and what they can do for you.
Hard Body Armor
What constitutes hard body armor? Hard body armor is commonly known as ballistic plates. You may have heard of AR500 steel, which is also used in practice targets and other bullet proofing applications. Steel, however, is heavy and not recommended for wearing on your body as it will increase fatigue and decrease mobility.
Hard body armor can be used in combination with a soft body armor NIJ IIIA panel underneath the plate (known as In Conjunction With – ICW), or they can be stand along plates. Both versions allow the plates to be inserted into the front and rear of a plate carrier.
Hard body armor is often used in tactical situations by special police units like SWAT and by military forces. They favor it because they expect to go into situations where high caliber weapons could be used against them. In these situations, the goal is maximum protection.
Soft Body Armor
While there are a variety of substances used in the creation of soft body armor, the most famous is the fabric known as Kevlar. Soft body armor is made up of many layers of ballistic material, designed to leach the force and penetration power of an impacting bullet. This reduction is effective against small caliber pistols.
Soft body armor is what most people think of when they think of classic bulletproof vests. Often soft armor can protect against pistol calibers and shotgun rounds (OO Buck). It doesn’t do a good job of protecting its wearers from high caliber rifle rounds unless it is reinforced with ballistic plates.
Soft body armor is rated like hard body armor, with the rating correlating to the maximum protection offered. Soft armor is often used by law enforcement, corrections, customs and border security as well as civilians in urban and rural settings. It is easy to conceal and wear underneath loose clothing and isn’t as difficult to move in as rigid armor.
Why Get Hard Body Armor?
Hard body armor will give superior protection to soft body armor. If you are in a situation where you anticipate rifle rounds, hard armor is the only body armor that makes sense. Soft body armor simply doesn’t have the protection value to stop any rifle rounds.
With modern materials like ceramic plating and polyethylene (PE), there is more flexibility than ever in high quality hard body armor. The protection offered by ballistic plates is much less likely to result in internal injury. This is due to the added rigid protection offered by the plate.
This rigid protection also helps stop other threats like knives.
Why Get Soft Body Armor?
Soft body armor is easy to put on and off, and it doesn’t require you to change your behavior. Soft body armor can stop the most common rounds used in a crime, which is why most people wear it. It is also comfortable and doesn’t interfere with the normal range of motion.
If you live in an area where there is cold weather, soft body armor can be comfortable even in cold temperatures. It will act as another layer of insulation against the wind while keeping you safe from pistols bullets. Soft body armor often wraps around the body as well, protecting the sides as well as front and back.
You can also get bullet proof clothing which incorporates soft body armor. While the protection level isn’t as high, it can stop a lot of threats from causing you serious injury. It also looks better than other types of body armor.
Cons of Hard Body Armor
Hard body armor offers a lot of protection, but often it only protects vital areas. Depending on the manufacturer hard armor plates may be difficult to wear and be comfortable if the plates are thick and heavy.
Hard body armor used to have problems with spaulding, which is where the metal from the plate would break free and act as shrapnel against the wearer. Modern body armor has solved this, but only if you get the right kind of plates.
Cons of Soft Body Armor
Soft body armor doesn’t offer the same level of protection that hard body armor can. The fabric is effective but doesn’t have the strength of ceramic or PE. In warm climates, it can also become stifling to wear soft body armor, so much so that you can expect to sweat quite a bit unless you get a mesh inner lining.
Soft body armor doesn’t always protect against knives and other threats, but some types do. You have to be careful when shopping for soft body armor, make sure you get the level of protection that you need.
Which Is Right For You?
The question of whether or not to use soft body armor or hard body armor comes down to personal choice and the type of threat you have conducted a risk assessment for. For most of the population, soft body armor provides the necessary level of protection while retaining some comfort. For others, hard body armor offers the peace of mind they need.
Analyze your circumstances and determine what you are willing to put up with. No body armor will protect you if you aren’t wearing it when you get shot at. Balance the pros and cons of each type before making your decision to maximize the protection the body armor offers to you.
If you have any questions, please contact us. We’d love to help you find the body armor that you need and want.