When you work in a high-risk environment, having the appropriate body armor between your torso and a bullet or blade can make all the difference in how you fare during an altercation.
There are different types of bulletproof vests offering protection from a range of weapons and ammunition. Some vests are designed with concealability in mind, while others are not.
A good rule of thumb is that the higher the level of protection offered by a piece of body armor, the less concealable it will be.
However, concealable vests, although weaker in protection, make up for this in terms of better wearability and discretion, both crucial factors for wearers in certain law enforcement fields.
Aggressors in firearm incidents tend to aim for the largest target possible—the torso. If body armor is at all visible around this vital area, an attacker may instead choose to aim for an unprotected area such as the head. Because a concealable bulletproof vest is one of the most important purchases you’ll ever make, it’s crucial to know exactly what to look for when examining all the options.
When choosing concealable body armor, key factors are protection level, weight, mobility, and comfort.
For full protection, the vest must cover all sides of the wearer and fit properly. Bulletproof vests are concealable up to Level IIIA, which protects from up to a .44 MAG (but not knife attack).
In this article, we’ll look in more detail at how to choose the best type of concealable body armor for whatever threat you’re most likely to encounter.
Since fit and sizing also play key roles in protective gear’s effectiveness, these topics will also be covered. The aim is for you to find equipment that perfectly suits your needs and ensures optimum confidence, protection, and comfort on the job, so we’ll end by taking a look at some of Bulletproof Zone's top bulletproof, stab resistant, and multi threat vests.
Table of Contents
- ABOUT BODY ARMOR
- HOW BODY ARMOR WORKS
- CHOOSING CONCEALABLE ARMOR
- CAN A BULLETPROOF VEST STOP AN AK 47?
- CAN CIVILIANS OWN LEVEL 4 BODY ARMOR?
- WHY IS WEARING A BULLETPROOF VEST ILLEGAL?
- STAB-PROOF VESTS—CLASSIFICATIONS
- WEIGHT, MOBILITY, AND COMFORT
- HOW SHOULD BODY ARMOR FIT?
- HOW TO MEASURE FOR SIZE
- CARING FOR CONCEALABLE BODY ARMOR
- HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU PAY FOR BODY ARMOR?
- WHAT IS THE BEST CONCEALABLE BODY ARMOR?
- FINAL THOUGHTS
ABOUT BODY ARMOR
Body armor is a vest-like garment intended to protect the wearer’s torso area from ballistic impact (bullets) or blades. Body armor can be either concealable and worn beneath clothing (covert) or tactical and worn over clothing (overt).
Body armor consists of a protective panel that contains many layers of ballistic or stab resistant materials, and a fabric carrier into which the protective panel is inserted.
Some concealable body armor comes with special pouches in the front and sometimes rear that can hold extra armor panels known as trauma packs. These armor panels provide extra protection against ballistic threats. They can be either hard or soft.
HOW BODY ARMOR WORKS
What makes body armor so strong?
In general, body armor provides protection by way of a web-like system of extremely strong fibers working together across the entire garment to absorb and disperse the energy from a ballistic impact.
The principle behind stab resistant body armor is essentially the same as that for bullet resistant armor: with stab resistant vests, multiple layers of material composed of very strong fibers deflect the threat or spread the force of the impact across a larger area of the vest by “stretching.”
What's the difference between a bullet resistant and stab resistant vest?
The key difference between a ballistic resistant vest and a stab resistant vest is that the latter is made of extremely tightly woven fabric or laminated layers spaced very close together. This is to counter the fact that pointed weapons like knives or ice picks create very high initial contact forces different from those of bullets.
It is important to understand that a vest which is bulletproof but not stab resistant does not protect the wearer against weapons such as knives.
However, vests which offer ballistic protection also provide some protection in incidents involving blunt trauma and abrasion.
In fact, a number of police officers have survived vehicular accidents or physical assaults that would otherwise have claimed their lives if it weren’t for the blunt force resistance of their bulletproof body armor.
CHOOSING CONCEALABLE ARMOR
The first factor to consider when you are choosing concealable armor is the level of protection you need. This means knowing what kind of weapon you are most likely to encounter in a threat.Bulletproof Vest NIJ Level Armor Types
Armor Type I: .22 LR; .380 ACP; light; minimum protection for on-duty police officers; not commonly used currently in favor of higher protection.
Type IIA: Type I threats + 9mm; .40 S&W; heavier than Type 1 but suitable for full-time use.
Type II: Type I and II A threats + 9mm; .357 Magnum; heavier and bulkier than Types 1 and II A but suitable for full-time use.
Type IIIA: Type I-II threats + most handguns + High Velocity 9mm; .44 Magnum; Highest level of concealable protection. Suitable for routine wear generally. May need evaluation for hot, humid climates.
Type III: Type I-III A threats + 7.62mm (FMJ) rifles (U.S. military designation M80); Suitable only for tactical situations requiring high protection level.
Type IV: Type I-III threats (single shot) + .30 caliber (AP) rifles; Highest protection possible; often ceramic material. Suitable only for tactical situations requiring high protection level.
NIJ=National Institute of Justice; LR= long rifle; ACP=Automatic Colt Pistol; S&W= Smith and Wesson; FMJ=Full Metal Jacket; AP=Armor Piercing
Soft vs. Hard
Ballistic vests are either soft or hard. Soft vests provide NIJ level II to IIIA protection. These vests are typically used by law enforcement officers and security personnel requiring protection against a shotgun or handgun. Common materials include Kevlar, Twaron, and Spectra. Hard armor vests use NIJ level armor types III and IV and are mostly used by military and SWAT teams. They are much heavier and bulkier than soft vests because they utilize ceramics, steel, or metal to protect against shotgun slugs or rifles.
Can a bulletproof vest stop an AK 47?
The short answer to this is no—at least, not covert vests (concealable vests). Soft body vests with armor type IIIA and below would not protect against the 7.62 mm FMJ steel round from an AK-47.
Protection against the AK-47 would require NIJ level III or IV hard armor since these are the levels designed to protect against a rifle.
Can civilians own Level 4 body armor?
As a civilian in the United States, you generally have the right to purchase and wear body armor. This includes Level IV hard armor plates, although civilian armor tends to range from level IIA to level IIIA.
However, the legality of body armor purchase and wear varies from state to state, and it is the civilian’s responsibility to be fully aware of the laws regarding body armor in whatever state he or she plans to buy and wear their protective vest.
Some commonalities do exist between states, though. In many states, citizens who have been convicted of a violent felony (or even violent misdemeanor) are prohibited from purchasing and wearing body armor. It is also a crime in itself in most states to wear body armor during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, with varying penalties.
Why is wearing a bulletproof vest illegal?
Many people wonder why body armor, which is intended for protection and cannot in itself cause harm, is subject to so many laws on the state level in the USA. Not to mention the fact that owning body armor without a license is illegal nationwide in some places, including Australia and Thailand.
One idea behind such laws and prohibitions is that the wearing of body armor during the commission of a crime is evidence of the wearer’s expectation of (and possibly intention to cause) violence.
For people more likely to face the threat of a sharp weapon than a gun, a stab resistant vest is the right choice. There are two classes for stab resistant vests:
“Edged Blade” Class: protect against engineered, high-quality blades, e.g. kitchen knives, sporting good knives: “street” threats. Typical wearers are civilians, police officers, and security personnel.
“Spike” Class: Protect against improvised weapons, lower-quality materials sharpened on rough surfaces like concrete: “correctional facility” threats. Typical wearers are correctional officers.
There are three stab proof levels for stab resistant vests.
Level 1: able to be concealed beneath clothing and thus suitable for covert vests.
Levels 2 and 3: bulkier, utilizing armor plates comparable to types III and IV and thus are predominantly used as overt vests. Level 3 is used in the highest risk areas for stab attacks, such as prisons.
WEIGHT, MOBILITY, AND COMFORT
If you’ve never put on a piece of body armor or worn one for long periods of time, you might not realize how important comfort and mobility are when choosing a bullet resistant or stab resistant vest.
A vest that doesn't fit or is too heavy and hot for the climate can be incredibly uncomfortable, and no matter the protection level of your body armor, it provides zero help if it’s been taken off and put in the backseat because it’s too unpleasant to wear or too heavy to use on a full-time basis.
Furthermore, an ill-fitting vest may not provide adequate coverage and protection. Obviously this is true of a vest which is too small for the wearer, but the reverse is also true: a vest which is larger than the torso of the wearer is equally not advisable.
HOW SHOULD BODY ARMOR FIT?
First is the question of coverage. There are bulletproof vests on the market that cover only the front torso, but fatality statistics for law enforcement officers show that a vest needs to cover the wearer’s front, back, and sides in order to provide optimal ballistic protection during a firearm incident.
We really never know for sure what direction a threat will come from, so it’s best to be prepared.
Front panel fit
In terms of length, the front panel must not be too long, or else it runs the risk of pushing into the wearer’s throat when he or she sits down. To avoid this, space should be left around the top and bottom edge of the ballistic panel.
When in a standing position, the panel should reach no higher than the second button of the uniform shirt, and there should be 2 to 2.5 inches from the panel bottom to the top edge of the gun belt.
Back panel fit
When assessing the fit of the back panel, the aim is to ensure the body armor does not shift up when the wearer rises from a seated position.
To achieve this, the back panel’s bottom edge should be ¼ to ¾ an inch from the gun belt’s top edge when standing in a natural manner.
The top of the back panel should come up to no more than 4 inches from the seam of the uniform’s shirt collar.
Side panel fit
The front panel of a vest should have enough width to overlap the back panel by 2 inches for increased protection.
Meanwhile, it is also important that the sides are high enough to provide protection to the armpit areas, but not so high that the panels chafe and rub the area during arm movement.
How to measure for size
To know what size vest you should order, stand and have an assistant measure your dimensions using a soft tape measure.
- Shoulder to shoulder
- Across the front chest
- Across the front waist
- Torso height
Once these measurements have been taken, they can be compared to the manufacturer’s vest sizing chart.
Weight loss or gain
Due to the importance of only wearing properly fitting body armor, if you’ve recently lost or gained enough weight that your body’s proportions have altered, you should re-evaluate the fit of your ballistic vest using the criteria above.
New body armor may need to be obtained if the armor you are using does not adhere to the measurement suggestions. While this may seem an inconvenience, it is again crucial to remember that properly fitting concealable body armor can make a difference between life and death.
Female body armor fit
Body armor for female wearers should conform to the distinct features of the female anatomy.
Different manufacturers have different methods for accomplishing this. Some make unisex vests in a wide range of sizes with outside dimensions that can be altered to fit the female bust area, like enlarged arm holes.
Most producers of female body armor have methods to cut and stitch the upper torso to create bust cups. When testing female models of armor, the seam resulting from this stitching method is the weakest point on the vest, so test shots are directed there to ensure the armor is effective.
As with all body armor, it is key that there is a minimum 1-inch overlap of joined pieces and that the armor is not too long. Length is often an issue for female wearers, particularly if attempting to adjust a male vest to a female form.
This means it is especially important for female wearers to try on different models of armor to find the right fit.
CARING FOR CONCEALABLE BODY ARMOR
An instruction label can be found on every model of NIJ standard compliant body armor, and the best thing to do to maintain a ballistic vest is to follow the cleaning instructions found on this label for each component of the equipment. There are some generalized tips, though:
Protective panels or inserts
- Hand wash in cold water with sponge or soft cloth.
- Use mild home laundry detergent.
- Avoid submerging in water.
- Never use bleach.
- Never machine wash or machine dry.
- Avoid hanging to dry.
- Avoid direct sun exposure.
- Dry-cleaning is not recommended.
- Can be washed in machine on gentle cycle and machine dried if manufacturer label advises.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU PAY FOR BODY ARMOR?
Sometimes it's good to be frugal and put cost first, but when choosing body armor, it's best to consider your comfort and individual needs above all else.
A bulletproof vest is one of the few purchases you'll ever make that can actually save your life, and no one who ever walked away from a ballistic impact wishes they'd spent less money on the body armor that saved them.
The cost of bullet resistant armor is determined by several factors. More concealable vests cost more because more effort goes into making them as discrete yet effective as possible. If you're someone who needs covert protection, there's no good excuse to opt for a cheap vest that shows through your clothes.
Similarly, lighter and more comfortable vests generally cost more than heavy, cumbersome vests. Someone who is going to be wearing their body armor for an entire shift doesn't want discomfort to get in the way of doing the job.
Finally, the level of protection also impacts the cost: the higher the NIJ level of the armor, the higher the price. Again, nothing good comes of choosing a vest that can't protect against the type of threat you're most likely to come up against.
WHAT IS THE BEST CONCEALABLE BODY ARMOR?
No matter your needs or budget, Bulletproof Zone's collection has the body armor for you. Below are some of the best vests on the market for the best prices so that choosing the right covert protection is easy .
The Ghost is the armor for you if you need the ultimate in lightweight, breathable, discrete protection. At only 5.5 lbs. and utilizing CoolMax® cooling technology, you’ll barely notice you’re wearing this armor.
Upgradeable to Level II or Level IIIA ballistic protection and Level 1 or Level 2 Spike OR Edge protection.
Spartan Armor is always great body armor at a great price, but with our 8% promo code this American-made, pistol-rated IIIA armor is a steal! This soft armor is rated to stop not only .44 mag SJHP, but also is Special Threat Rated to stop .357 SIG FMJ. It can be used on its own or as a backer on any hard armor system.
This vest gives you the quality of any Spartan Armor with a moisture-wicking, antimicrobial liner that keeps you dry and cools you down faster. It also features a low-profile loop for better sleekness and less friction against clothes.
The convenience of this armor is another of its best traits, with fully adjustable shoulder straps that allow fitting without removal of the carrier.
Ballistic + Stab-resistant (Multi threat) vest
One of our most demanded products, this IIIA vest comes with two options for ballistic inserts—Bravo and Delta. And like all soft armor vests from PGD, it features anti-stab protection. Bravo, suggested for males only, stops up to a .44 Magnum and protects from edged blades up to 27 joules.
Delta has incredible flexibility, making it a unisex option. This insert gives the same ballistic protection as Bravo but provides up to 55 joules in stab protection—the highest amount! Outlast™ PCM technology is used in the lining of the vest.
Outlast™ cools you down when you’re too warm and warms you when you’re too cold, whereas traditional lining materials like mesh or foam only absorb sweat. So when it comes to comfort during long periods of wear, the Alpha can’t be beaten.
PPSS Group makes stab-resistant vests that are discrete and comfortable even in hot, humid environments.
This vest offers protection from edged weapons and hypodermic needles. It also protects from attacks using kicks, blows, punches, or blunt objects like chairs or tables.
Concealable body armor is one of the most important purchases you’re ever going to make. Consider whether you’d be best served by a ballistic vest, a stab resistant vest, or a multi threat vest.
To choose the right size, stand naturally and have an assistant take your measurements so that the proper amount of space and overlap is present when wearing the body armor, and the equipment is comfortable and allows mobility. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions when cleaning all components of body armor to maintain effectiveness.