Body Armor 101
We want you to make an educated decision when you purchase your body armor. Most people don't know the basics, even many police officers and military veterans who wear armor everyday don't know. Read on and learn so you can shop smartly.
You need to purchase both armor and a way to carry the armor. That means you will need a plate carrier or a backpack capable of holding an armor plate as well as the armor. If you have neither armor nor a carrier, then you can purchase a combo that includes both (you get a discount by purchasing them together).
Different levels of armor.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the governing body over the standards and levels of body armor for the United States. Basically, there are two types of ballistic armor categories. One is designed to only stop bullets from pistols and the other will stop bullets from pistols and rifles. You should purchase armor for what you believe you are most-likely to encounter.
- Level IIIa (3a) will stop traditional pistol rounds and is rated to stop a 357magnum. I say traditional because there are rifle cartridges that can be fired from pistols. Level IIIa will stop 9mm, 40cal, 45cal, etc. Our Level IIIa will also stop knives (both slashing and jabbing). It's very lightweight (~1lbs/square foot) and flexible.
- Level III (3) is rated to stop six .308 rifle bullets. However not all level III armor is created equally. Some plates, like "pure poly" UHDPE are very lightweight and pass the NIJ's test for level III, but will not stop .556 rounds. ALL of our armor is additionally tested to ensure they will stop 5.56 and 7.62x39 rounds. This includes full metal jacket (FMJ), hollow point (HP), etc. Level III will not stop a direct hit from an 30 caliber Armor Piercing (AP) bullet. However, our AR550 armor has been tested by the US Army and has been proven to stop AP bullets when they strike at a 30 degree angle. Sometimes level III that can stop the additional rounds is refered to as level III+, but that is not an official NIJ rating.
- Level IV (4) is the highest rating of personal body armor. Level IV will stop pistol rounds and rifle rounds, including a direct shot from a 30 caliber AP bullet. This bullet is the same size that is fired from a 30-06. NIJ only requires one test shot per plate with an Armor Piercing (AP) round. We've conducted additional threat tests against our level 4 plates to ensure optimal protection.
What level armor should you buy? Most customers purchase the level III or level IV because they believe that in the day they will need to wear body armor, they won't be facing pistol threats any longer. However, the fact is that today you are 100x's more likely to be shot with a pistol in an armed encounter in America, which is why professionals (like police officers) usually wear level IIIa on a day-to-day basis. Weight is another factor. If you are not physically fit or strong enough to carry a ~20 pound nap sack for a few hours, you might consider the level IIIa or purchasing the level III or IV and begin working out to reach the fitness level you desire. Our level III+ lightweight plates are only 4.4 pounds each and represents the lightest plates available that can stop the 5.56 M855 greentip and M193.
Ceramic or Steel?
- Our level 3 plates are made from AR550 Ballistic Steel that is made in the USA. This is the same type of steel that is used to up-armor military HUMVEEs and other vehicles. It is 1/4" thick. Steel is harder than the lead and copper bullets that are fired at it and it causes the bullets to explode/shatter on impact. We coat it with a high density rubber material called poly-urea. That rubber traps the bullet fragments and helps to prevent secondary injury from bullet shrapnel. Level III plates can take a LOT of hits (100s) before failing.
- Our Level III+ Lightweight Plates are a hybrid of Ceramic Composite, Kevlar, and Ultra High Density Polyethelyne. They are laboratory tested to stop hits from the M855 and M193 rounds (as well as the .308). These rounds are among the most common in the US and often the even lighter "PE" plates that our competitors sell will not stop those rounds. We believe that our plates represent the best protection/weight combination.
- Our Level IV plates are made of a Ceramic Composite with an Ultra High Density Poly-Ethylene (UHDPE) backing and then covered in 500 denier fabric (thick). Ceramic works by slowing and trapping the bullet between the ceramic (which becomes shattered) and the UHDPE. Because of the way Ceramic works to stop the bullet, it is limited in the number of bullets it can stop. While most other ceramics can only stop a handful of bullets before failing, ours can stop up to 30 rounds from an AR-15.
What plate carrier should you buy? Most customers will be perfectly happy with the Viper Modular Operator Plate Carrier. The Viper is inexpensive and adjusts to fit most body shapes and sizes from medium to XXL. It has adjustable shoulder straps and an adjustable cumberbun. It is recommended by the National Tactical Officer Association (NTOA); however it is manufactured in China. If you want to purchase a more robust plate carrier, then you may consider our specially designed Bellator. The Bellator is 100% made in the USA and is made to military standards in every regard. Top of the line materials and construction. It does not fit XXL very well, but we do have youth and women's models. If you are a Big and Tall man (6 feet or taller and 220+) then you may consider the Defender. The benefit to the Defender is that it fits large people very well and it can accommodate the BALCS armor (which is two large panels of level IIIa that go from your neck to your waist and under your arm pits).
Colors? Many people like black because it looks cool (it does) and it may match their uniform or other equipment. However, black is not commonly found in nature; so, if you think you may have to hide or want to blend in with your environment (including crowds), you might consider a different color. I always recommend camouflage (in any variety) since it works to break up the visual pattern (that's why the military and hunters use it). If you want to go with a solid color (it's cheaper) I'd recommend Olive Drab (OD) green or Coyote Tan. These are colors that are found in nature and you can always add camouflage Molle gear to dress it up (more on that below).
MOLLE? The carriers we sell are covered in Molle webbing (pronounced 'Molly'). Molle webbing is a strap system that allows you to attach pouches like first aid kits, magazine pouches, holsters, and more. I recommend that everyone carry an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) and at least four extra magazines for the rifle they will carry. There's a tendency to go overboard with attachments, and I urge you to keep it as minimalist as possible. You can add a hydration bladder, canteen(s), knives, holsters, flashlights, food pouches, gloves, cleaning kits, mess kits, and more. If you need to carry more stuff, use a backpack.
Side Plates? There is a study by the Department of Defense that said that between 60-80% of Marine fatalities could have been avoided had they been wearing side plates. 6 months after that report, every deployed Marine was issued side plates. My personal opinion is that it's better to have them available than to not have them at all. Assess the situation and make the decision to wear them when the time comes.
What about other companies' armor? They say that 'Imitation is the best form of flattery'. We were among the first to commercially coat level III steel plates with anti-spall/ anti-shrapnel poly-urea over 2 years ago. Since then, a lot of competition has sprung up with cheaper alternatives. Consider the source of the metal: is theirs made in China or elsewhere? Others use the same metal as us but often lack in their application skills of the poly-urea causing premature wear of the carrier and unreliable results when shot. Lastly, ask if they warranty their plates. We warranty our plates for life! When purchasing armor, it might not be the best practice to go with the lowest bidder.
How fast will I get it? Unless noted otherwise on the product description page, it will ship via UPS or USPS the next business day. We ship ground from Dallas Texas, so it will reach most parts of the country within 3-5 business days. We'll send you the tracking number as soon as we process it so you can track it the whole way in.
So, now that you know the difference in the levels of armor, the differences in the plate carriers, what accessories you should add and why you should buy from us, where do you go now? Begin by clicking on Carriers & Armor in the menu to the top left and then select the plate carrier you want to purchase. In the drop down selections, you can pick the level of armor you want. However, if you want us to assemble you a plate carrier with all the fixn's you can carry (or just a harness with no plates with Molle Attachments ), then click here.
Training? For training on use of firearms and armor in a combat role, you'll need to search out qualified instructors not commonly found at your local gun range. You'll want to find teachers that have been in Special Operations, like Green Berets, Rangers, SEALS, etc. I highly recommend you go to www.TrainingAlliedGroup.com to see what instructors are available in your area.
More questions? Try our FAQ.