Thinking about buying a bulletproof vest but don't know where to begin? We get it. There are lots of choices to make when it comes to a ballistic vest: concealable or overt? Vest or plate carrier? What about protection level, material, and cost?
You're investing in your safety when buying a piece of body armor. Your choice could be the difference between life and death, so you need to know the answers to these and other questions.
That's what Bulletproof Zone is here for. In this article, we'll set you up with all the information necessary to buy the best bulletproof vest for your needs!
- BULLETPROOF VESTS - THE BASICS
- Who uses bulletproof vests?
- How do bulletproof vests work?
- What types of bulletproof vests are there?
- How do you use a bulletproof vest?
- How do you care for a bulletproof vest?
- What kind of hanger do I need for my bulletproof vest?
- BODY ARMOR - LEGALITY
- GUIDE TO BUYING A BULLETPROOF VEST
- BULLETPROOF VESTS - ADDITIONAL GEAR
- HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT BULLETPROOF VEST FOR ME?
Bulletproof Vests - The Basics
A bulletproof vest is a piece of protective equipment made with ballistic (bullet) resistant materials such as Kevlar, ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), ceramic, or steel.
These materials allow a bullet or other projectile to hit the vest but not penetrate into the wearer's body.
The gear essentially fits like a typical vest - hence the name - by covering the front, sides, and back of the wearer's torso region.
Think this familiar shape...
...but with the serious business vibes of this:
Who uses bulletproof vests?
Most people who use bulletproof vests are in high-risk occupations - military personnel, law enforcement, security personnel, and the like. These people run the risk of exposure to gunfire on a regular basis.
But civilians can and do use bulletproof vests, too. You'll find bullet-resistant vests for children, adults, and even animals that work with law enforcement or the military!
There are a number of reasons regular people use bullet-resistant gear, though it all boils down to the same motivation: protection against bullets.
How do bulletproof vests work?
Generally speaking, bulletproof vests work by:
- changing the shape of the impacting bullet
- slowing it down
- spreading the energy from the hit across the whole vest instead of keeping it focused at the impact area, OR deflecting that energy away from the user
Different materials have different ways of accomplishing this.
Compare the mechanics behind two of the most common materials used in bulletproof vest armors: Kevlar or Twaron, and ceramic.
How do Kevlar or Twaron vests work?
Kevlar (pictured above) and Twaron are highly durable synthetic fibers in the Aramid family. They're both 5 X stronger than steel on an equal weight basis and heat-resistant. When used in bulletproof vests, the fibers are interwoven and layered many times to create a web-like framework of many "nets."
When a bullet impacts a Kevlar or Twaron vest, each layer of that "net" works to slow the bullet more and more until it's stopped moving. The resistant fiber layers end up deforming, but they also deform the bullet until it's shaped like a mushroom, which makes it even less penetrative.
Which shape is scarier?
So if you're hit while wearing a Kevlar vest, you'll feel the impact across your whole body as opposed to only in the strike zone - the spot where you would have a bullet hole in your flesh if the vest wasn't there.
How do ceramic body armor vests work?
The ceramic used in bulletproof vest armor has a different chemistry from the ceramic that knick-knacks or bathroom tiles are made of.
Body armor ceramic works by being harder than the bullet itself. Ceramic armor shatters when the bullet hits it instead of deforming like Kevlar or Twaron armors do.
The shattering pieces of ceramic armor then absorb the incredible force behind the impacting bullet, which also shatters, deflecting all that force from the body.
What types of bulletproof vests are there?
At the most basic level, you're either looking at soft armor vests or hard armor vests. There are several things to consider when deciding whether soft or hard body armor is best for you, but here's a quick rundown of the two types, plus examples of the kinds of vests available that are made with them.
Soft body armor
- NIJ Level IIA to IIIA: protects against handgun rounds and up to .44 Magnum
- made with lightweight, ultra-strong materials like Kevlar, Twaron, or Dyneema (UHMWPE)
- concealable and discrete (can be worn under clothing)
- easier to move in due to lighter weight
Soft armor bulletproof vests ("composite body armor")
This is one of the most common types of vests made with soft armor: the composite body armor vest.
Remember that "net" analogy we used to describe those ultra-strong fibers like Kevlar? In a soft armor vest like this, the entire garment is composed of that super material, so the net-like protection is spread across the whole vest: front, back, and sides.
These vests protect against low-caliber weapons like handguns. In fact, the vest above, the Israel Catalog Level IIIA Light Concealed Bulletproof Vest, can actually protect from up to .44 Magnum rounds, a power that any NIJ Level IIIA vest has.
Carrier vests with soft armor plates ("plate carrier vest")
Soft armor can also be found in a different type of bulletproof gear - the carrier vest.
You can already see the biggest difference between carrier vests and composite vests in the above pic of the Spartan Armor Level IIIA Soft Body Armor and DL Concealed Plate Carrier. Those two flat, six-sided objects sitting in front of the carrier vest are soft armor plates. You insert one into the front pocket of your carrier and the other in the back.
The big difference between this and the composite armor vest is that, with a composite soft armor vest, there are no armor plates that you insert and remove into a carrier.
Keep in mind that carriers themselves aren't bullet resistant. The plates are what give them their protective quality.
Hard body armor
- NIJ Level III to IV: body armor that protects against advanced threat levels like rifle fire and armor-piercing rounds
- usually made of AR500 steel, polyethylene, or ceramic hard armor plates
- typically used in overt tactical armor (not concealable - worn over clothing)
- not as lightweight as soft armor due to heavier steel or ceramic plates, so mobility is affected
Plate carrier vests with hard armor plates
If you think this Spartan Armor Systems Omega Level III AR500 Armor and Shooter's Cut Plate Carrier looks a little reminiscent in design to the soft armor carrier vest you saw above, good eye!
Hard armor plate carriers function in pretty much the same way as soft armor carrier vests: you insert armor plates into the front and back pockets (and sometimes sides) of the vest.
But with hard armor carrier vests, you're looking at much more advanced protection than soft armor provides.
This added protection makes hard armor carriers much heavier than their soft armor counterparts (we've touched on the topic of why hard armor is so heavy if you're interested).
Another attraction of hard armor carrier vests is that they're modular and scalable. That means you can usually attach other gear to them and carry extra tactical equipment in their pockets, and you can choose the armor plates with the protection level you need for your situation.
Should I get a plate carrier vest or a soft armor vest?
Go for a soft body armor vest if your most likely threats are handguns AND you need the vest to basically be like a second skin - wearable for extended work shifts, concealable beneath clothes, and light enough not to hamper your mobility in case you need to run, jump, roll, etc.
But remember: soft armor vests provide very little ballistic protection against rifle fire.
Choose a hard armor plate carrier vest if there's more chance of you facing rifle rounds (hint: if you're carrying a rifle yourself, you need hard armor!) and don't need to wear the vest for extended work shift periods.
Plate carriers are also the ticket if you need to attach extra gear to yourself with a MOLLE system (Haven't met MOLLE? We'll introduce you!) OR if you need the flexibility to customize your protection level for different tactical situations with higher or lower level plates.
How do you use a bulletproof vest?
A bullet resistant vest is easy to use - you just put it on and go.
But for the vest to do its job if it ever meets a bullet, three factors need to come into play. Otherwise, you'll be leaving yourself open to gunshot wounds:
- The vest has to have the right NIJ armor rating level for that particular threat.
- It needs to be worn correctly and fit properly.
- It must be the right size for your body.
Armor Rating Levels: NIJ Level I, IIA, II, IIIA, III, and IV
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) provides the official ratings for bulletproof vests and body armor.
Each bulletproof vest or piece of body armor is classified under 5 protection levels. These levels have an "A" alternate that cycle upwards to Level IV, the highest protection level.
We've already got and in-depth blog post on Body Armor Protection Levels that you really should check out. Knowing the protection level you need is crucial because everything from your vest's cost, size, weight, and fit will be determined by this.
How should bulletproof vests fit?
The vest you choose must fit your body snugly without squeezing you too tightly.
A loose-fitting vest may feel more comfortable, but the level of protection it provides is much lower than a vest that fits properly.
Your sides, front, and back should be covered by the vest for the best possible ballistic protection. Some bulletproof vests for sale provide only front torso coverage, but this isn't ideal; a bullet could come from any direction.
To get the best protection along your sides, make sure the front panel is wide enough to overlap the back panel by 2 inches.
When adjusting the height of your bulletproof vest on your torso, leave space at the top and bottom edge of the front ballistic panel so that it doesn't push into your throat when you sit down.
When standing, the panel top shouldn't reach beyond the second button of a uniform shirt, and there should be 2 to 2.5 inches from the panel bottom to the top edge of the gun belt if you're wearing one.
With the back panel, you don't want the vest to shift upward when standing up from a seated position, so leave ¼ to ¾ an inch between the panel's bottom edge and the top edge of your gun belt.
The sides of the vest should be high enough to protect the armpit region but not so high that you experience chafing or irritation when moving your arms.
How do I find my bulletproof vest size?
To find your size for a ballistic vest, you'll need someone who can take measurements of your torso with a soft tape measure.
- shoulder to shoulder ("A" in the below image)
- across the front chest ("B")
- across the front waist ("C)
- torso height ("D")
Using sizing guides for bulletproof vests
Different body armor manufacturers tend to have their own sizing suggestions.
Like the table below, some vest manufacturers' sizing guides list sizes based solely on the waist or chest measurement. Other brands' guides include some or all the other above measurements - shoulder, torso height, etc.
When you've found the bulletproof vest you want to buy, compare your measurements to their specific sizing guide. And if you have any questions about it, don’t hesitate to contact us! Remember: if your vest doesn't fit right, it can't do its job properly!
How do you care for a bulletproof vest?
Bulletproof vests must be cleaned regularly with the right kind of cleaning agents and stored properly afterward. Both these measures will help the vest maintain its protective qualities.
Cleaning and storing your bulletproof vest - Beyond the Instruction Label
The Number One rule is to always follow the manufacturer's instruction label for cleaning. Each NIJ-compliant vest has this label, so find it, read it, and follow it to maintain your gear's ballistic resistant properties longer.
If you do something to your vest that the instruction label warns against, you're not only voiding your warranty but risking your safety by diminishing the ballistic resistance of your vest's panels or plates.
As a general guideline, here are some Dos and Don'ts for cleaning and storing bullet resistant vests and their components:
Soft armor carrier vests
- DO remove all plates, inserts, pouches, removable fasteners, etc.
- DO soak carrier in warm water with a mild dish or laundry detergent.
- DO rub the vest fabric together to loosen dirt particles while the carrier is soaking.
- DO rinse all soap residue from the carrier when done.
- DO lay flat indoors to air dry, avoiding direct sunlight.
- DO NOT use bleach, fabric softener, or color brightening products.
- DO read manufacturer's label. The safest option, in general, is to lay it flat.
Soft body armor (composite body armor)
- DO wipe inserts with a damp cloth and mild laundry detergent.
- DO hand wash panels in cold water with the same materials and detergent as inserts
- Do NOT use bleach or solvents.
- Do NOT machine wash, machine dry, or dry clean.
- Do NOT submerge in water
- Do NOT expose to direct sunlight
- DO store flat in a dry place.
- DO avoid excessive heat or cold.
- Do NOT fold or roll-up.
Hard body armor with ceramic plates
- DO be careful when cleaning ceramic plates, as they're very fragile.
- DO wipe with a soft damp cloth and mild detergent
- DO keep in a cool, dry place - stored inside plate carrier vest on a proper hanger is OK.
- Do NOT put other items on top of ceramic plates if not stored in a hanging carrier vest.
Hard body armor with steel core plates (AR500 steel)
- DO wipe steel plates with a soft damp cloth (don't worry about rusting - they've been treated).
- DO store laying flat or hanging in plate carrier on a heavy-duty hanger.
What kind of hanger do I need for my bulletproof vest?
Depending on how heavy your tactical loadout is, you may need a hanger designed to hold heavy loads, like the The Original Tough Hook Hanger , which supports up to 150 lbs.
If you're storing a plate carrier vest with the plates inside, then a conventional hanger likely isn't strong enough to hold that weight, especially not with extra tactical accessories attached to the carrier.
Also keep in mind that hanging a plate carrier vest with the plates for extended periods will cause the armor inserts on the vest to sag which can cause the plates to move around when worn. This makes it harder for the vest to do its most important job - protecting you!
Body armor - Legality
Is it legal to buy a bulletproof vest?
Yes, it is. At the time of this writing, buying any type of body armor (and that includes Level IV hard armor plates) either in-person or through e-commerce is completely legal on the federal level for any US citizen or legal resident over 18 who isn't a convicted felon.
States have their own laws for body armor, though. Any of you in Connecticut, for instance, can't buy your ballistic protective gear through e-commerce; it's got to be a face-to-face transaction.
Can I buy a bulletproof vest overseas and bring it home?
No. US law dictates that any kind of body armor cannot be bought overseas and then brought into the country.
Similarly, ballistic vests cannot be bought in the U.S.A and taken abroad.
Basically, buy it and keep it on American soil.
What are the laws for shipping bulletproof vests overseas?
Generally, it's okay to ship soft armor overseas, but hard armor shipping is prohibited by the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR).
What if you're traveling abroad and want your armor shipped to you? Take a look at our article on shipping body armor internationally.
Can I bring a bulletproof vest on an airplane?
In general, yes, you can. The TSA website states that body armor can be carried past security and onto an aircraft, if the body armor is packed away in either checked or carry-on baggage.
But here's the thing: the TSA has the right to refuse to allow a passenger's body armor past security for any reason. If that happens, you have to remove the body armor from your bag. What happens to it next is your responsibility.
To head off any inconvenience, we suggest always calling the airport ahead of time to double-check that your packed body armor will be okay that day.
And even if you get an OK over the phone, have a backup plan for what to do with your ballistic vest just in case you find it can't travel with you after you've arrived at the airport.
Can civilians buy the same bulletproof vest the military uses?
Not if that kind of vest is still in service. Different branches of the U.S. Armed Forces use different kinds of tactical gear, but one thing is true across the board -while a model of military body armor is currently in service, it's not legal to sell to civilians.
But civilians can purchase and wear body armor that was used by the military when that model of armor goes out of service.
For example, can you currently purchase an IOTV vest like the one pictured above? Not legally. They're still being issued to U.S. Army ground troops stationed overseas.
On the other hand, if you can find them in army surplus stores, the Interceptor vest (part of the Interceptor Body Armor System (IBA) used by the U.S. Armed Forces until the 2010s) pictured below, is legal to purchase.
(Photo by Lance Corporal Roberto Torres, United States Marine Corps)
There are a few downsides to buying out of service gear, though.
If you wanted the full IBA, for instance, you'd likely have to buy all the components separately due to differences in expiration dates among the different pieces, though you can often find pieces that were issued back in the 2000s but stored for decades.
And while it would be pretty cool to own an IBA for history purposes, it's a body armor system designed for a level of conflict most civilians or private security operators will never encounter.
That means it's a relatively heavy and bulky tactical loadout that would unnecessarily restrict mobility.
There are plenty of options better suited to a civilian needing rifle fire protection and a MOLLE system, like the Spartan Armor Systems Level III+ AR550 and Legion XL Plate Carrier Package that we'll talk more about in the section below.
Guide to buying a bulletproof vest
Now that you're up to speed on the basics of bulletproof vests, let's talk about how to find the right one for you!
What are the best brands of bulletproof vests?
There are many manufacturers of ballistic body armor. The big question is: which ones are worth your time?
Here are some of the major brands we work with at Bulletproof Zone, plus a customer favorite or two from each one.
Spartan Armor Systems
Why it's a favorite:
- protective - NIJ Level III+ certified
- durable - 1000 denier; can withstand long periods of wear and tear
- customizable - fully adjustable from a 2XL-4XL; can upgrade to Advanced Triple Curved™ and full coat for fragmentation mitigation on the package
- convenient - removable cummerbund
- comfortable - breathable; anti-slip shoulder padding
Why it's a favorite:
- comfortable - only 3 lbs., so it's much more wearable than men's armor; breathable netted interior
- protective - NIJ Level IIIA; full-coverage front and rear panels; extended side wings give wrap-around protection and maximum coverage
- adjustable- independent attachment points (shoulders and sides)
- convenient - washable, heavy-duty nylon/cotton carrier; removable ballistic panels for easy cleaning
Why it's a favorite:
- protective - NIJ Level IIIA; also IIIA+ (also offers protection from stabbing, knives, and slash protection)
- customizable -includes front and rear plate pockets; can upgrade to include front carrier to convert from concealable to tactical vest
- comfortable - recently upgraded design for even more comfort
Why it's a favorite:
- protective -Dual Threat: NIJ Level IIIA certified + E1 Spike Threat Protection (all hand stab threats)
- upgradeable -comes with front panel; optional back and sides panels
- lightweight - NIJ IIIA front panel is 1.25 lbs. With front, back, and sides, armor is under 5 lbs.
Protection Group Denmark
Why it's a favorite:
- protective - NIJ Level IIIA + stab protection
- customizable - your choice of Bravo or Delta ballistic insert
- comfortable - made with Outlast® technology that holds and releases heat, keeping you cooler for longer
North American Rescue
Why it's a favorite:
- protective - NIJ Level IIIA protection front, back, and sides; rear drag strap for emergency extraction
- customizable - adjustable armored cummerbund expandable up to 62 in.; can add supplemental soft armor coverage and hard armor plates (not included)
- comfortable - shooters cut; padded shoulder attachments with spacer mesh provide extra comfort and better weight distribution
Why it's a favorite:
- customizable - NIJ Level II or IIIA ballistic protection; side panels for extra protection; can upgrade to include protection against edged blade and/or spiked weapons
- comfortable - lightweight at only 5.5 lbs.; breathable CoolMax® technology lining
What should I keep in mind when buying a bulletproof vest?
The main considerations to keep in mind when shopping for a piece of life-saving equipment are:
- concealable or overt?
- ballistic protection level
- quality and warranties
Let's break each one down and look at some examples from our extensive collection of bulletproof vests that are standouts for that particular quality.
Your budget will often be the deciding factor in which vest or type of armor you end up purchasing.
Quality ballistic gear doesn't come cheap, but at Bulletproof Zone, we do our sincere best to get our prices as reasonable as possible.
We're so serious about this that we offer a price match guarantee if you bought a vest from us and found it at a cheaper price elsewhere within six months of your purchase.
Make sure to evaluate all your options within your budget range. Then consider whether or not investing in a slightly higher quality bulletproof vest could be worth it.
At the end of the day, you can’t put a price on your life and coming back home safely to your family.
Factors that influence the price of bulletproof vests:
Body armor that's been tested to NIJ standards and given an official rating costs more than armor that has not. Buying an uncertified vest means there's no guarantee it's able to resist the ammunition its manufacturer says it can.
NIJ certification is basically such an industry standard now that any uncertified vest you come across is suspicious.
NIJ protection level/threat capabilities
Generally, an NIJ IIIA vest is pricier than an NIJ IIA vest. A ballistic vest that is multi-threat, designed to resist both stabbing and bullets, is pricier than a vest that only handles firearm threats.
Quality and comfort
It takes careful design and testing to make a bullet resistant vest both comfortable, durable, and protective. This gets reflected in the price.
Featured budget-friendly vests
The Legacy IIIA Vest is quality tactical gear for a reasonable price, even if you opt to add on side and back plates.
You'd normally end up paying a lot more for a IIIA vest of this caliber, comfort, and breathability. Luckily, Protection Group Denmark usually sells these vests to companies and law enforcement organizations in bulk, so they can afford to let the surplus go at a price that suits the budget of the everyday buyer.
Even though a plate carrier or bulletproof vest won't feel like a cashmere sweater, it must be comfortable for the amount of time you need to wear it. Otherwise, it can distract you, putting you in danger.
Sizing is the most vital factor as far as comfort is concerned. Look for the vest that fits you best. Get the size as close to your measurements as possible.
Also, consider the amount of time you'll be wearing the gear. Will you wear it every day, all day? If so, you may need to look into vests designed to be as light and cool as possible.
Featured vest for best comfort
The Safeguard Ghost is one of the thinnest, lightest carriers you'll ever wear. It's made with CoolMax technology that keeps breathability up and heat down.
Through the years, carriers and body armor plates have become notably lighter and much more effective. Still, be aware of how much weight you can take when wearing your vest for its intended purpose.
If you're a woman, you may want to look into getting a vest specially made for the female anatomy. They're much more common today than they were in the bygone days when women's only options for ballistic gear were vests designed for male measurements.
And if you're buying for a child, be sure it's not a vest or plate they can only wear for 5 minutes before fatiguing! The kid may be pretty enthusiastic and confident about their ability to bear that load, but you make the final call on whether it's a realistic fit.
It's also worth mentioning that plate carriers can be quite lightweight on their own, but once you get the steel plates or ceramics in there, the weight's obviously going to be higher. Make sure you have at least a ballpark estimate of your total loadout weight before investing.
Always remember that the weight of the equipment you select will have an effect on your fatigue levels.
If you plan on wearing the vest for long periods of time, narrow your search to lighter gear such as soft armor vests.
Featured lightweight vests
In the modern world of lightweight body armor, which vest to feature here was a tough call for us. The Talos Ballistics won the honors for its light, thin, flexible protection that weighs less than 3.5 lbs. with Kevlar panels inside.
The BulletBlocker vest for women is much more appropriately weighted for women than a man's vest at 3 lbs. Popular with female law enforcement and security.
Your vest must allow for an optimum level of movement; you shouldn't find it hard to rotate your torso or arms normally.
During tactical situations, it's crucial to be able to react and move quickly. Can you enter or exit vehicles without being inhibited? Your ballistic vest must be comfortable enough to ensure this. A split-second delay in these types of situations can prove fatal.
Featured vest for mobility
Swimmers cut plate carriers give you a better range of motion and mobility due to the larger cut in the shoulder, which also helps make them lighter. This Spartan Armor package comes with everything you need: carrier + front, back, and side plates.
Concealable or Overt?
Depending on your specific situation, it matters a lot whether or not your ballistic protection is visible.
In some tactical situations, when your assailant sees your vest, they may target the areas of your body that are not protected. Otherwise, shooters tend to go for the torso - the biggest target.
Other times, you just may prefer that people not know you're wearing ballistic protection. Concealable vests or carriers are for you, in that case.
But in some situations, the higher level of protection provided only by overt vests and plate carriers may be exactly what you need.
It's also important to keep in mind that tactical plate carriers allow you to carry other gear and equipment. If you need that feature, a concealable vest isn't for you.
For a more detailed take on this, check out our article on the difference between concealable and overt body armor.
Featured concealable vest
The Protection Group Denmark (PGD) Ultra is a stab and ballistic resistant concealable vest that not only can defeat ammunition up to a .44 Magnum but can also protect against a range of sharp objects, including needles and broken bottles. What separates it from the PGD Alpha vest we mentioned earlier is the additional protection it offers against blunt force trauma impacts like baseball bats and police batons.
Ballistic protection levels
This is one factor you don't want to compromise or overcompensate on: don't compromise by getting a lower protection level than you need, and don't overcompensate by getting one too high for you to realistically wear.
If you're wearing a vest that doesn't handle the type of threat most likely to come your way, you're doing yourself no favors even if you saved some money by getting that lower protection level.
But if you just want general protection against gun violence as you go about your daily life, a plate carrier with Level III or IV plates probably isn't the best choice for you.
Sure, it would protect against AR-15 ammunition (the most common active shooter weapon), but not only would the vest be highly visible in an environment where it could draw unwanted attention, that added protection would also be more weight than most civilians are willing or physically able to wear around town all day.
Recommended protection levels
These are the NIJ levels we'd generally recommend based on your reasons for wearing a bulletproof vest.
Again, this is general, so it's not taking into account special circumstances or whatever firearm you may happen to be working with.
For example, if you're a civilian out in the woods with your hunting rifle, the generally recommended protection level of IIIA would be inadequate against your own weapon's ammunition.
So first things first: always get a vest that can protect against your own gun. It's just a standard rule of thumb.
Civilians seeking general protection
We recommend IIIA. This covers you from handgun threats up to .44 Magnum but is still lightweight enough to be concealable and comfortable under most circumstances. Once you get used to the feel of a properly fitting IIIA vest, you'll hardly know it's there.
Featured IIIA vest for adult civilians
This Israel Catalog Civilian vest emphasizes comfort, mobility, and low-profile concealability without compromising protection. IIIA armor protects against .357 SIG, .44 Magnum, 10mm Auto, 7H21, and everything the lower levels can defeat, too.
Featured IIIA vest for children
This children's IIIA vest by Israel Catalog is made to be protective, lightweight (only 4.2 lbs.), waterproof, UV-resistant, and tear-resistant. Kids can be kids in it.
Law enforcement, correctional officers & security personnel needing protective gear on the job
If you're law enforcement, you already know there are many different state and federal agencies. Which one you're a part of and what work you're doing there affects what level of ballistic protection you're required to wear.
The range runs from anywhere between Level II at the minimum and Level III for officers responding to tactical situations such as live active shooters.
For COs and security personnel, because you might face both gun and sharp weapon threats, we suggest a multi-threat ballistic vest with a protection rating between II and IIIA.
Featured Level IIIA vests for law enforcement, correctional officers, & security personnel
A great vest for an officer who needs multi-threat protection, comfort, and customizability. The moisture-wicking fabric diffuses body heat, so you don't end up drenched in sweat even on duty in hot climates.
The Bulletsafe IIIA Vest is one of the best deals you'll find for body armor of this caliber. It's concealable, protects against up to .44 Magnum, and is stab-proof, too. There's also the option of getting an extra tactical front carrier to make it an overt vest with other armor plates.
Featured Level II vest for general duty law enforcement, correctional officers & security personnel
Very lightweight and comfortable under a shirt, this Blade Runner vest provides superb handgun protection and also defeats knives, sharpened instruments, picks, and bottles up to 16 joules -not to mention 100% of slashes. You can also add Blade Runner Level III and III+ hard armor plates to increase the protection level.
Military on tactical missions or working in combat zones
This is preaching to the choir, but if you're wearing anything under Level III in a combat zone, you're in trouble. That and Level IV are probably the level of protection you've been issued, along with soft armor backing, deltoid +groin protectors, headgear, etc.
Featured Level IV armor
These armor plates aren't messing around. Made with a Boron Carbide ceramic core and backed with a high-performance layer of Dyneema, they can defeat multiple hits from a range of rifle ammunition.
Check to see which of the brands you’re considering offer warranties on their products. As a general trend, manufacturers generally offer 5 years warranty on most types of bulletproof vests for sale.
Warranties add to the peace of mind that comes with knowing there's support to get your gear fixed if anything should happen to it.
Bulletproof Vests - Additional Gear
What should I wear under a bulletproof vest?
Wear a tight-fitting, moisture-wicking t-shirt under your bulletproof vest. Sweating is unavoidable in most cases, and moisture-wicking material will keep you from getting soaked.
For that reason, avoid wearing a cotton t-shirt under your bulletproof vest, as it will just absorb and hold all your perspiration and give you B.O. that could knock out a horse.
Something like the 221B Tactical Maxx-Dri Silver Elite T-Shirt is just right for the job. It's anti-microbial, keeps you odor-free, and provides UV protection.
Extra ballistic panels
You can often increase protection performance level with extra ballistic plates and inserts that slide into your bulletproof vest.
Soft armor panels can be used in conjunction with (ICW) many hard armor systems, acting as a backer and giving supplemental protection on top of the rifle defeating power of Level III or IV armor.
If it fits your budget and there's even the slightest chance you could take a bullet, more ballistic protection is never a bad idea. Weight and mobility wouldn't be noticeably higher, since soft armor panels like the Spartan Armor Systems Flex Fused Core IIIA panels pictured above are light and flexible.
Trauma pads are non-ballistic pads that fit behind a vest's ballistic panels or plates. Their purpose is to protect the wearer against blunt force injury resulting from back face deformation when a bullet hits a piece of armor.
In other words, just because an impacting bullet doesn't penetrate your flesh doesn't mean you still won't suffer soft tissue injury and major bruising. Even if it's from a 9 mm., that's still a high-velocity projectile sending all its force into your vest.
Trauma pads lessen the injury, bruising, and pain by absorbing and dispersing some of the force from that impact. That's why they're such a popular piece of extra gear.
Do I need a ballistic helmet?
During combat, the head gets over 20% of all hits even though it comprises only 9% of the exposed body area. So for members of the military engaging in warfare, a helmet is a key part of their tactical loadout.
If you're a civilian looking for general protection in your daily life but don't regularly work around guns, you have much less of a chance of encountering gunfire. You'll get some attention wearing a helmet, and it can also be pretty warm in hotter seasons.
That said, plenty of firearm hobbyist civilians make use of tactical helmets when shooting to round out their ballistic gear.
Feeling interested? Check out our Top 9 Ballistic Helmets of 2121!
How do I find the right bulletproof vest for me?
Whether you're a private citizen worried about the rise in mass shootings or you're working directly in the line of duty, it's important to get a bulletproof vest that ticks all of YOUR boxes. It needs to fit your body and protect against the weapons you're most likely to come up against without being so heavy that it keeps you from moving the way you need to.
It also needs to fit your budget. Bulletproof Zone aims to keep prices as reasonable as possible, but we also have a financing plan available for anyone who needs assistance in getting their body armor. Because the truth is, bullets don't wait until your financial situation is optimal.
To get the perfect vest for yourself, assess your specific threat situation and look for armor that can defeat it. Don't go for a vest with a higher or lower NIJ rating than you need because you'll either end up bogged down with unnecessary bulk OR unprotected from the one bullet that could take your life.
The NIJ rating you need dictates what types of vests are available to you. Soft body armor vests run from Level IIA to IIIA, while hard armor carriers at Level III, III+, and IV defeat rifle and armor-piercing rounds.
For the right fit, have a friend or assistant measure your torso with a soft tape measure, and compare your numbers to the sizing guide of the brand you're looking at. If you gain or lose a significant amount of weight, reassess your fit.
Take care of your vest by maintaining it properly per the instruction label, and most important of all...
...wear your vest.
Do you have a bulletproof vest? Tell us about it in the comments below! We like hearing how you're staying safe. For those of you considering body armor but aren't sure, ask one of our Bulletproof Zone support team members, and we'll help you figure out what's best for you.