I get this question sometimes from students in my classes, and by e-mail from people who read this blog. So, as an average prepper (if there is such a thing) should you spend the money and effort to get body armor, and if so, what kind? For those who have not been trained in body armor use, there are a lot of misconceptions about this subject.
First of all, there is no such thing as a “bullet proof vest”. Body armor is categorized according to the level of protection that is based on the type of ammunition they will protect against. I read a lot from armchair generals who insist that you must have the highest level of body armor protection available, I.E. will stop 5.56mm and 7.62mm. armor-piercing or why waste the time. Evidently none of these heroes have ever worn this type of armor anywhere other than the dressing room of their local police supply shop. I have. I am not going to go into the large variety of body armor available. I want to discuss concepts so you can understand what you may or may not need/want.
Up to level IIIA, body armor is generally made of woven Kevlar panels. Higher levels will consist of insertable plates made of steel or ceramic.
Level IIA: Will protect against most handguns (not 44 magnums and larger). It is the thinnest and lightest armor.
Level IIIA will stop all handgun rounds, even if fired out of sub machine guns .Will stop shotguns with buckshot.
Level III is when you start the ability to stop rifle bullets and are traditionally hard body armor. Level III armor will stop military 5.56, 7.62 , and 308 . Basically Level III will stop most rifle rounds that are not armor piercing.
Level IV armor will stop armor-piercing bullets.
For more detailed information, check out the National Institute of Justice website. You can download a pdf document that will tell you more about body armor than you probably want to know.
Keep in mind, when we are talking protection, we are talking penetration. Bullets will not bounce off of your armor like you were Superman. Getting a solid torso hit with a high-caliber round, even when wearing a vest rated to stop it, is going to hurt. A lot. And may cause internal damage.
So, should you consider body armor in your preps? What threats are you expecting? Are you anticipating a sustained shoot out with heavily armed opponents? Does your prep plan include the weight of this type of armor ?
While contracting in Afghanistan , the Department of State issued us level IIIA vests and Level IV plate inserts. Protection up to 7.62mm armor piercing. I wore my own IIIA vest and had a local taylor reinforce the bottom seams of the carrier so I could insert the hard plates. The whole set weighed at least 25lbs. Trust me, with all of the other gear I was also carrying, I was sweating like a harlot at a Baptist convention. This level of armor is heavy. Do you really need that? And are you prepared for the limitations of speed of movement it carries? Have you thought about the amount of attention that this level of body armor would bring you? Body armor is like most things in your kit. If you don’t have it with you when you need it, you wasted your time.
If you are planning on staying in a fixed, fortified bug out location, then heavy armor might be useful if you wanted to spend the money on it. But for most preppers, this level of protection is neither needed nor feasible. A more practical approach might be a IIA or IIIA panel set that you could wear under your clothes to be inconspicuous or outside your clothing if you were not worried about people noticing.
If you decide that body armor should be part of your preps, then do your research and buy wisely.