Wearing body armor and wearing it correctly are two different things. You wouldn’t believe some of the configurations in which I’ve seen people wearing their plates, whether that be in plate carriers or IOTVs, or even how the vest fits on their bodies. Based on the number of times I’ve been asked how to wear body armor is why we’ve decided to do an article on it; hard armored plates in particular.
Proper Wear of Body Armor | Plate Direction
Plate direction is essential in most, but not all cases—I’ll cover the “not all cases” part toward the end of this article.
At first glance, you might think, well, a plate is a plate, does it really matter which direction it’s facing? Truth be told, yes. Most hard plates have a side that says front, this is the strike face, and it’s intended to take the initial hit from a bullet.
COMMON MISTAKE IN BODY ARMOR CONFIGURATION
The common mistake I’ve seen some of my younger troops makes, and by some, I mean more than I’d care to number, is in the direction of their plates. Hopefully, I can draw you a picture of what that looks like to avoid incorrectly wearing yours.
Your plate has a curve to it, which is intended to fit the natural curve of your back and chest. Many troops who don’t know the difference wear the back plate with the concave side of the curve facing out and sitting more in the lower back—because they think it’s more comfortable. This is wrong for a few reasons. One, your vest shouldn’t have all that weight on the lower back (this can cause significant back issues). The second reason this is wrong is because of protection.
If you wear your strike plate backward, then the side specifically built to take the hit isn’t going to be there to protect you. It’s kind of like using your abs. When you constrict your abs, you’re better prepared to take a punch. Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s probably still going to hurt. But, your abs constricting create a hard barrier and help protect you.
However, if your abs aren’t constricted, it doesn’t mean you don’t have any; you’re just not using them to their fullest potential. So, when someone punches you, you’re probably going to be doubled over or lying on the ground until the pain subsides, and you catch your breath. Both hurt, one hurts less.
Body armor, in a way, is similar. You’re still getting shot at, but having the strike face at the front (again, facing away from your body) as it’s intended to do will serve you a lot better, protect you more effectively, and have a greater chance at saving your life—by protecting your vital organs.
Yes, body armor can be uncomfortable, which is why you see a lot of people wearing their armor in different configurations. But only one way has the highest chance of saving your life, and that’s the correct way.
THE CORRECT WAY TO WEAR BODY ARMOR
I’ve already touched on it, but to review, the curve of your body armor should flow with the natural curve of your body—chest and upper back. For ShotStop®, you can easily determine which side is the front band back, since there is a plate information label on the back side of the plate.”
If you have troops as I do, or LE officers who wear body armor, make sure you go over the importance of proper wear. It could save their lives.
Proper Wear of Body Armor | Weight Distribution
Weight distribution is more about comfort and keeping your back from feeling like it’s 90 years old. when you’re barely in your 20s. When you wear a vest—hard plates or soft plate inserts—it needs to be secured to your body. You might not feel the effects in the first few minutes, but trust me, it will catch up to you, especially if you’re wearing heavier plates or if you’re wearing armor for an extended period.
Extra weight, even if it’s only a few pounds, can make a difference in how your body feels at the end of the day, especially if you’re wearing your gear improperly. Pounds equals pain.
Or course, this extra weight and what it can do to your body over time is why ShotStop® is dedicated to providing the right gear at the lightest weight possible.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear, even the lighter stuff, incorrectly. Think of it like hiking or bending over to pick up boxes with your lower back instead of your legs. Initially, the weight of your pack or those boxes might not feel that bad. But eventually, and probably not that far into your hike or box-lifting, will you feel it.
You don’t want a heavy load weighing on your lower back. It can cause pain to your back and knees over time. And once you start experiencing back pain, it’s a challenging body part to fix and also difficult to cope with when it’s injured. Your back (and core) supports your entire body. If you abuse it while you’re young, it will so graciously repay you in pain when you’re older.
Back pain is why fitting your body armor snuggly to your body—not too tightly to cut off circulation or cause unnecessary pain—is so important. You don’t want it moving around if you have to take off on a foot-chase. And even if you don’t foresee yourself running anyone down, it’s still not good for your body.
Proper Wear of Body Armor | Size
Contrary to what they might tell you, size does matter. If you’re a bigger person, don’t forgo the larger plates for smalls because they’re lighter. The larger plates are for your body type, to protect your organs. If you’re a bigger person, wearing small plates, your body is at risk for injury. Yes, maybe your heart is safe but do you really want more body exposed than necessary? Getting shot with a vest on may cause some pain, but nothing compared to actual penetration.
Yes, small plates are lighter in weight, but they’re also less likely to save your life if you should be wearing a larger size. So, get the size that’s designated for your body. Do yourself a favor and protect as much of you as possible. Your life is important.
How to Wear Body Armor for Women
While you can’t find a woman’s cut for rifle plates (plenty of soft armor options on the market though), how you wear your armor doesn’t change. The strike face should still face outward, away from the body. The plates should still sit high on your chest and cover your upper/middle back.
No matter who you are, male or female, you wear your body armor in this position because that’s how you protect the most crucial parts of your body—your heart and lungs.
While lawyers don’t like companies stating their body armor is bulletproof—rather bullet-resistant—you stand a much better chance of survival if you’re wearing the gear properly. You might have top of the line body armor, fitting all the requirements put out by the NIJ, but if you aren’t wearing the gear properly, man or woman, it won’t serve its purpose as effectively.
Being a military female veteran, it’s no secret; we’re built differently than men. Unfortunately, finding a company that creates rifle-penetrating, hard armor for women isn’t really a thing—yet. ShotStop® plans to change that in the future. Until then, we do make the lightest and most comfortable cuts available to women on the market. It’s not explicitly cut to a woman’s curves, but it is the superior product on the market. And with that, no matter what armor you wear, as a woman, it should be worn in the same fashion as a man, because that’s what will give you the greatest chance of survival if shot.
Why it’s Important to Wear Body Armor Properly
Think about wearing body armor this way. Every car leaves the manufacturer with a seatbelt meant to save your life by preventing you from flying out the windshield in a wreck. However, this is based on you wearing the seatbelt correctly. If you wreck and fly out the window, but it comes back that you were only wearing the belt across your lap, and the chest strap was behind you (because it’s more comfortable to drive that way), then it’s your fault you flew out the window.
The belt isn’t guaranteed to save your life in all possible scenarios involved in wrecking your car. But properly wearing the belt can significantly change the outcome.
Yes, you might have a nasty bruise, but you’re alive. The same applies to wearing body armor, soft or hard plates, male or female. If you wear the tools given to you correctly, the odds of survival, even if left with a gnarly bruise, are much greater. And I don’t know about you, but I want to go home to my spouse and kids at night. I want to know I’m giving myself the greatest possibility of making it through my shift, even if I do get shot.
How to Properly Wear ShotStop® Body Armor
Now, let’s talk about ShotStop® plates because they are made differently, particularly our level III Polyethylene plates—PA, PS, and ICW. Unlike ceramic plates, which need the strike face of the plate facing forward, the PA, PS, and ICW options from ShotStop® can be faced toward or away from the wearer’s body.
However, we do include the standard set of instructions on our labels, just in case you end up inheriting some ceramic plates somewhere down the road. We put this label on our plates for safety reasons and, of course, to help forge the habit of wearing all plates in the same manner—even if you’re wearing ballistic protection, not needing a preference.
While our PA, PS, and ICW options allow the user some sayso in how they wear their plate, ShotStop® does have a couple of models requiring the strike face to face outward (away from the body). The reason for this is because it’s created to take the initial impact of the round. Models that fall into this category are the GT2 and HS Level IV plates.
So, what happens when a bullet hits the strike face of our GT2 and HS Level IV plates? Glad you asked. The strike face takes the initial impact from the bullet. When this happens, the proprietary strike face is designed to take the bullet and knock it off its spiral spin. This action gets the round to “tumble,” which deforms the projectile. Then, our Duritium® polyethylene system, behind the strike face, finish defeating that bullet.
When our plates are shot, they actually catch the round and make it look kind of like an oblong pancake—impressive, I know!
If you’re interested in learning more about our products, check out our rifle plates or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.