Tradecraft

Body Armor For The Laymen: Part 4

Application of Body Armor

In our previous three articles, SSE covered the various types of body armor, the National Institute of Justice, and the materials used in the production of body armor. The purpose of this, the fourth and final writing in a series of publications on body armor, is to introduce to the reader to the various applications of body armor, characteristics of usage, and the advantages/disadvantages to each.  

1. Backpacks

As previously noted, backpacks capable of carrying body armor have increasingly gained in popularity for parents since the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in 2012. The idea being that non-descript backpacks have an enclosed slot or sleeve in which parents can place a flat body armor panel. This would give the student the ability to shield themselves (more importantly their head and upper torso) against incoming fire from an active shooter. To date the premise of backpack body armor remains unproven, but it is more a measure of reassurance than application.

Source: ABC News

Backpack body armor is traditionally ceramic or Kevlar in order to maintain a light overall weight, while still providing up to IIIA level protection. Again the protective profile of the backpack body armor varies by manufacturer, with more protective plates often being heavier and costlier. The downside to backpack body armor is that it can be unfeasible for younger children to carry, who already struggle under the weight of backpacks burdened with every book needed for a full day of class. Moreover, the student is not always necessarily going to have the backpack with them at all times, thus totally negating its protective body armor. Thus some education on the part of the student or user may be necessary if backpack armor is something being considered.

2. Armor and Plate Carriers

Plate carriers are traditionally the means in which to carry hard plates. These carriers help distribute the load of the plate and mounted accessories along the upper torso and across the shoulders. It is important to not only choose a plate carrier that is comfortable, but appropriately sized for the body armor and body type. During the COVID quarantine, SSE provided an in-depth series on plate carriers, its design and features, and proper wear. The main advantage in utilizing a plate carrier is it enables the user to carrier a thicker plate or one of higher threat rating, specifically rifle-rated body armor plates. The twin of a plate carrier would be a soft-armor vest or carrier that enables for the soft armor to securely be enclosed, while still providing full coverage. Soft armor carriers tend to be the preferred amongst law enforcement given its lower profile and less threatening appearance. 

The downside to hard armor plate carriers is it is very apparent. There is simply little means in which to conceal a plate carrier with hard armor plates, and even low-profile plate carriers still have to struggle with the plates themselves being apparent simply because of its overall bulk. Furthermore, many plate carrier manufacturers still utilize traditional materials and designs in nylon and/or Cordura that, in contrast to more modern materials, are heavy and cumbersome. Likewise, while soft armor vests are lighter and more concealable, the invariable tradeoff is a much less substantial protection rating, with most soft armor having only a IIIA protection rating. 

3. Helmets 

Helmets are another one of those areas within body armor that is rife with unsavory manufacturers and products. With so much of the body armor market utilizing materials (Kevlar, ceramics, and even steel) made in China, it’s difficult to properly determine which helmets offer legitimate protection. Ultimately, in the U.S. market the two dominant companies that emerge are Team Wendy and Ops Core (Gentex). Both hold multiple government and overseas contracts, and have been in the PPE market for considerable time. Generally speaking, helmet features can be divided up between the shell, padding, and harness system. Each of these play an integral part in the overall helmet’s effectiveness, as well as ability to keep the end-user safe and unharmed—even when struck.  

The downside to helmets is that they put considerable strain on the head and neck muscles (all the more why a proper padding and harness system are critical). This can be exacerbated depending on the weight of the material used, with lightweight and cutting edge materials resulting in a drastically lighter helmet, but exponentially adding to the overall cost. When worn for excessive periods, users will experience headaches as well as fatigue that are just par the norm when wearing body armor. 

But still…worth it if you take a bullet to your brain bucket. 

Disclaimer: The purpose of this PPE series is strictly informational, much like our COVID Chronicles on plate carriers, this series is not intended by SSE to sway or convince the reader that one specific brand of body armor is superior to all the others. In the end, this series is intended to provide the reader with a condensed and focused resource—nothing more. As always, check with your local laws as some states have regulations on ownership of body armor by civilians.

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