On the Utility of Body Armor...

Body armor suffers from a bit of an issue in the civilian world. Amongst gun guys and girls, they see it as an expensive luxury, and non-gun-owning civilians wonder just what it is that you are up to if you own or wish to own it. Of course, other peoples’ opinions have never stopped me from purchasing an item, so I took the dip and ventured into the world of body armor…

It started innocently enough. I had considered it in the past, but having a set of plates and a carrier, or a single-piece vest with soft armor, had never worked it’s way up into my “top ten gun-related items I need” purchase list. I vaguely figured I needed it, but it just never really popped up on my radar often.

That changed on my past birthday oddly enough. My fiancé purchased me a Condor MOPC plate carrier for the occasion. Hey, if she buys you gun stuff for your birthday, she’s a keeper. So, with that in mind, I figured I needed a set of plates to go along with it. Of course, there’s a world of options, even for a regular guy.

The basic set of standards for body armor are the NIJ Threat Levels, ranging from Type IIA (there was a Type I but it is no longer part of the standard), all the way up to Type IV.

Body Armor Type Classifications

That’s a fairly bewildering array of classifications, as it were. The biggest question I asked myself was, what am I going to be using this for?
My basic guideline was Colion Noir’s video on body armor use from a few weeks prior.

Noir gives an overview of 5 reasons to own body armor. Pardon his product placement.

5 Reasons to own body armor

Home Defense

This is a given, of course. The tricky part is getting the whole kit on and ready before an assailant enters your vicinity. You do not want to get hung up if there’s someone in the room who’s looking to do you harm. With practice, you can be speedy, but if you aren’t confident, in my opinion you should probably leave it aside in this situation. Get your firearm ready and deployed. The best defense is a good offense. If he’s in your home without your permission, fire. Pardon my bluntness. Standard disclaimer of being aware of who your target is and what is beyond it. In most states, self-defense within the home is an open-and-shut matter. The judicial system won’t waste much time on it. Rest confidently that the law is your side.

Active Shooter

OK, in this bit he demonstrates having a soft plate in his backpack. Pretty ingenious. I might do it myself. Again, it takes practice. Don’t worry about it if you can’t do it properly. Cover, concealment, and evasion could be your best friend. If you fiddle with your backpack too long, it could be you who is next on the assailant’s list. Note, requires a soft plate. Hard plates could be cumbersome.

SHTF

Yes, of course. If the excrement hits the air movement device, plates will be your best friend. Some may argue that you’ll be making yourself a target with plates on, but that’s debatable. I have a comments section if you want to debate. This is the main reason you should probably have a set. Things are fine now, for the most part, but even on a local level, things can go south in a hurry.

Road trip

This one was a bit of a stretch for me envisioning. I can see it happening, but again, you’re wasting time on deployment, and could perhaps draw fire whilst fiddling in your trunk for your plate carrier. Practice remedies that. On a road trip? Might want to bring it.

Because you hate guns

Can’t argue with him there - if you hate guns so much, maybe get some plates to defend against them.

Those are fairly reasonable use cases for a regular guy. We aren’t law enforcement, and we aren’t serving military. Body armor is useful for emergencies.

So, what type to get?

Initially I thought to get Type IIIA. It’s available in soft plate form, thus it isn’t too heavy, and it’ll stop most pistol rounds from producing an incapacitating hit. My intelligence estimated that the most likely threat was from someone wielding a pistol. Which is accurate, for my area. But, as always, there is a “but”…

I consulted the experts. Well, two, whom both had an identical assessment. My friend (name redacted til I’m cleared to use it), who trains regular guys like myself and non-regular guys (military and LE) in the whole spectrum of firearms usage, and the kind people at Armour Wear, who at the time of my purchase, were in the lead to be the supplying party for my body armor needs.

Basically, the concurring opinion was two fold. Think about the most likely threat you will encounter, and also the worst possible threat you will encounter. In my case, and most cases, the answers to those two questions were/are:

The most likely threat

In my case that would be a home invasion by a person or persons wielding pistols. I live in an urban area, and in my specific neighborhood it would be quite challenging to inconspicuously transport and utilize a rifle or shotgun to conduct a home invasion. Too many eyes, both electronic and real, wondering what could be in that bag at 3 AM as you vault the first fenceline. So, pistols it is. I ventured a guess that the guns would be chambered in any common pistol caliber (.380, 9mm, .40, .45) and those threats could be addressed by Type III plates. But I didn’t buy Type III plates in the end, because…

The worst possible threat

In my case, and other regular guy cases as well, the worst possible threat is if the shit hits the fan. SHTF, the stuff of endless debates on every gun forum and survivalist board for the past twenty years. Someone finally has enough and cooks off an EMP. Those stem cell experiments to reanimate the brain-dead do much more than that. Or more realistically there’s weather/geological-related macro-phenomena happening and essential services in the region (power, comms, emergency responses, food, water) are cut off. Or there is mass civil unrest for whatever reason. People get desperate when that happens, as much as if an EMP gets cooked off or if the ZA finally takes place.

And, according to my small cadre of experts, if things go south in a hurry, all niceties go out the window, and anyone on a mission is going to come at you with a rifle. In an SHTF scenario, the law doesn’t matter. The cops aren’t going to follow up on complaints of disaffected youths open-carrying rifles. It’s all up to each and every one of us to protect ourselves and those we care about. So, the final recommendation was for Type IV hard plates. In my area, the AK platform tends to be popular. Robust, low-maintenance and accurate enough, all the bad kids want a “chopper” for their 18th birthday. 7.62x39mm is no joke.

What I got in the end

Based on the recommendations, I picked up a pair of Armour Wear Level IV hard plates in “Shooter’s Cut”. Why Armour Wear? My trusted expert recommended them, plus they are local to me and I love to support local business. And they can take a beating.

I’m well aware the test isn’t scientific, but the real-world footage was sufficient for my needs.

And yes, I paid for the plates. Armour Wear is staffed by great people, but RGG isn’t at the “endorsement level” yet, so I’m paying for everything you see reviewed.

At first, I was reluctant about the purchase. Hard plates had a reputation for being heavy, and every keyboard warrior worth a damn kept saying “ounces turn into pounds” with regards to extended wear. The Armour Wear plates clock in at 7.5 pounds per plate, for a total of 15 pounds. Obviously if you add on magazines and other fun stuff to your carrier, the overall weight can shoot up. Your mileage may vary in that case, what can I say?

Regardless, I purchased them. Once acquired, I of course tried on the whole kit. It was not bad at all, especially considering the purpose of the whole assembly - keeping my regular guy carcass functional. To test wearability, I did some exercises. Push-ups, burpees (I’m not a cross-fit junkie but the Youtube HOWTO videos recommended this), running up and down the stairs, and a short jog (with a large jacket on - let’s not scare the neighbors) in the rain. After three hours of activity I didn’t feel any discomfort.

Of course, for the ultimate test - putting it all together with pistol and rifle…

Pistol is easy enough. Get a good OWB holster. Don’t worry about concealment. If the SHTF, no one is really going to care. Holsterops has a great selection. You can pretty much manipulate your pistol as normal.

Rifle. Uh-oh. Yes, there’s an uh-oh. You will have to adjust your technique, and perhaps your equipment as well. Your fancy MOE or CTR stock? That isn’t going to lie right with your sparkling (well, not really sparkling) new set of plates and carrier. You have to make adjustments. You will shoulder your rifle differently. The stock cannot rest on the plate, for example. You’ll have to find a method by which to get it to rest in the pocket of your shoulder (often lying on the shoulder straps of the carrier) effectively. With standard-sized stocks, this may not work. I haven’t experimented yet, but the general recommendation is that a PDW-style or “K”-sized (smaller) stock can help enormously.

While my Colt doesn’t have a smaller stock, my AK has a Magpul Zhukov-S stock, which has a smaller profile. I shouldered that, and the concept is valid. The rifle was easier to manipulate and move around with. It does take some getting used to.

Next up - shooting with plates, which warrants a separate article.

RGG Rating of the utility of body armour - 5 out of 5. For us regular guys, body armor is a vital part of the emergency preparations kit. You may never wear it outside of a range or practice session, but much like a fire extinguisher, when you need it, you will be glad to know it’s there.