Figuring out body armor when you’re in the military is pretty easy.
You’re issued something and in short order figure out what you don’t like about it. Either you’re in a unit where you can make a change, or you just deal with it.
As a civilian, figuring out the best body armor is a bit more complicated given the opposite problem: too many options!
Don’t worry, we’re going to break it down for you.
Before we cover specific products designed for your protection, we need to define exactly what kind of protection you’re going to be getting.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has been the agency in charge of the development and testing of body armor for law enforcement officials, and this rating is used for the civilian market as well.
The military uses its own rating system, but it’s pretty analogous to the NIJ’s.
(For more history on the NIJ’s rating system, check this article on Modern Advancements In Military Body Armor.)
Level II and level IIA armor are outdated, having been surpassed in protection without sacrificing concealability.
Level IIIA protects against common handgun rounds, and is rated to stop .357 Sig and .44 Magnum. Level IIIA is usually a soft plate, but can be made into a more rigid board as well.
Level III is designed to protect against more powerful rounds commonly found in rifles. If your plate is Level III rated, it will stop a 7.62x51 (.308 Winchester) full metal jacket round. These are hard plates.
Level IV will stop .30 caliber rounds that are specifically designed to penetrate armor.
As a side note, some companies offer a Level IIIA+ or Level III+. This isn’t a NIJ recognized standard but can be used to indicate that the level of protection offered exceeds Level IIIA or III testing specifications.
Sadly there are more scenarios than ever in the US where a thin sheet of protection could make the difference between a bruised rib and a body bag. If you are safety conscious, make sure you get the best body armor for civilians.
Whether it’s a late night run to the 7-11, school shooter or disgruntled ex-employee coming to work, it’s not hard to conjure a why, or even to recognize that most people who end up being shot at never thought they’d be in danger that day.
The bottom line is that “Fate Favors The Bold”, and the proactive too.
BallisticBoard IIIA Bulletproof Backpack Insert
Our engineers have conjured up an extremely impressive Level IIIA protective sheet, measuring in at 10”x12” and a scant .26” thickness. Best of all, this sheet of life-saving material weighs only 1.2 lbs, meaning there’s no excuse not to bring it with you.
Not only did the Backpack Insert survive the NIJ’s testing against 240gr .44 Magnum rounds traveling at 1400+ ft/sec, TFB TV’s testing showed one of these inserts surviving multiple strikes from a 10mm handgun.
One of the coolest features? We offer this in both a rigid plate and a soft plate, giving you a choice that helps customize how your insert will carry in your backpack. This is definitely solid protection against the most likely threat faced by civilians.
ShotStop Duritium III+PS Level III+ Plates
The Duritium III+PS plates come in three sizes, and two cuts.
- Small: 8”x10”
- Medium 10”x12”
- Large 11”x14”
SAPI cut: Traditional military cut armor, largest protection zone, moderate range of motion.
Shooter cut: Top corners near the shoulders are rounded off a little, increasing range of motion.
Weight ranges from 2.1lbs to 4.3lbs depending on size and cut, and these plates are buoyancy positive in case you’re pro-swimming and anti-sinking.
That’s less than half the weight of the ceramic plates in the Ranger Body Armor (RBA) I was issued. Yep, the civilian market is offering better protection than what I went to war with.
These Duritium plates are made from a remarkable material called polyethylene. Probably the most common plastic in use today, polyethylene is used in everything from shampoo bottles to buckets, all the way to body armor.
The reason? One form of this material is Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene, or UHMWPE. Essentially tiny strands of plastic “rope”, UHMWPE has a higher tensile strength than steel.
UHMWPE is resistant to most chemicals, abrasion, and has a high impact strength.
All of this leads to a material well suited to body armor, giving a low-maintenance, highly durable alternative to traditional ceramics or steel plates.
If you were ever issued ceramic plates, you were likely warned “DO NOT DROP”. Not exactly confidence inspiring right?
Have you watched the videos of bullets shattering on a steel plate, sending fragments in every direction (including the face of the mannequin wearing the armor)?
Duritium® is far more durable than either, giving you lightweight protection that won’t crack if you look at it sideways, or blow bullet fragments up toward your eyes. Just how durable is it though?
Remember near the top where I mentioned Level III+? Here it is. Not only did these Duritium plates stop 7.62x51 M80, 7.62x39 123gr PS ball, and 5.56 M193 rounds in NIJ testing, but they also passed German VPAM Level 6 and NATO STANAG Level B4.
What does all that mean? Tougher than nails. We link to all the independent lab results if you like poring over the technical details.
But if you’re visually oriented like I am, enjoy this video of one plate defeating 30 rounds of .223 FMJ.
It’s a terrible thing to imagine you might be shot at while going about your daily business, but in some parts of the country, it’s a distinct possibility, especially if your line of work puts you in harm's way.
Make sure you have the best protection you can get, your life isn’t worth risking on cheap steel or old ceramics.