Body Armor Sucks: Is it Worth the Weight?

Body Armor Sucks: Is it Worth the Weight?

Body Armor Sucks

If you are one of the tens of thousands of citizens who owns and carries a firearm for personal protection you’ve likely accepted the fact that bad things can, and do, happen to good people.  You’ve adjusted your manner of dress and lifestyle to accommodate toting your chosen type of hardware. Carrying a gun every day definitely takes some adjustment.

As someone who has worn armor, both concealed and external for over thirty years, I can tell you one thing: wearing armor sucks. Armor makes you sweat, even in cold weather, it’s heavy and constantly rubs you the wrong way. Granted, it doesn’t suck as bad as it did when I was a USMC Private or a rookie police officer. Armor technology and carriers have definitely improved over the last couple of decades.

Paul Markel in Body Armor

Comfort, however, is relative. When I was with the 6th Marines laying in a  shallow ditch with artillery shells screaming overhead and incoming mortars exploding far too closely, my flak jacket and helmet were pretty darn comforting. Later in life, while searching a darkened building for possible suspects, I felt a bit more comfort in knowing that my Level IIIA armor vest with a hard plate covering my heart was under my polyester uniform shirt. Armor, like insurance or your gun, is an item that you are glad to have “just in case” things don’t go your way.

Paranoid or Prepared? 

I can think of myriad reasons why a citizen might want the extra bit of comfort that soft body armor provides. Any merchant who deals in cash or valuables like gold or jewelry is, by profession, in a precarious occupation. A home invasion, where the police are fifteen minutes away but the gang-bangers at your front door are seconds away, is another reason for armor. We also have the ugly but very realistic scenarios of civil unrest after a storm, during a riot, etc.

We can’t always predict what tomorrow might bring. It’s easy to talk yourself out of being prepared to face evil because evil isn’t always in your face. However, evil is always present, like it or not.

Choices: Hard Body Armor vs. Soft Body Armor

First of all, there is no such thing as a “bullet-proof” vest. For every type and style of armor available, there is a projectile that will penetrate it. However, there are multiple levels or layers of bullet-resistant armor. The National Institute of Justice  created a “Level” rating for armor. Soft armor is rated from Level IIA up to IIIA and hard armor is either Level III or IV. 

What’s more important is to discuss what armor is available to you. When it comes to wearable armor you have hard and soft as well as concealable and external. Soft body armor is generally a panel of some shape made from a pliable, flexible material. DuPont’s Kevlar® is the most commonly used material, though there are others.

Hard armor takes the form of inflexible plates, again, made in various shapes and sizes. The material used to make hard armor plates varies from hardened steel covered in nylon or rubber to some type of hardened/reinforced ceramic.

Soft armor is relatively light and, because it is flexible, can be wrapped around a human torso.  Hard armor is strategically placed over the front and back of the torso to shield vital organs.

The rub is that soft armor is only capable of stopping low velocity projectiles to include handgun bullets, shotgun pellets, and fragmentation from explosions. Hard armor is capable of stopping all the aforementioned threats, but it can also defeat high velocity projectiles from rifles and shotgun slugs. Yes, there are projectiles with steel/tungsten cores that will penetrate hard armor, but let’s stick to the basics here.


Concealable Plate Carriers or External Plate Carriers

Both hard and soft armor can be concealed or worn in covert or external carriers. The benefit of concealable armor, naturally, is that it doesn’t stand out or draw attention to the wearer. The downside is that it requires some effort to don and can be less than comfortable.

External armor carriers, for both hard and soft armor, are obvious, but also far more utilitarian.  Overt carriers can be outfitted with a variety of pouches to tote myriad gear including spare ammunition, medical gear, a handgun, phone or radio, etc. Overt armor carriers generally are easy to don and can be put on quickly in an emergency. 

Which armor carry method is the best? It depends on your circumstance. A gold dealer walking around in a big city would naturally be better served by a concealed vest. The homeowner who wants armor they can throw over their body in an emergency isn’t worried about being discreet.

Concealable Armor Carriers

External Armor Carriers


How valuable is your life?

Much of the push-back from our side of the aisle when it comes to citizen ownership of soft body armor stems from the “reasonableness disease”. I’ve been part of conversations with gun owners where the topic of body armor came up. One person opined, “Civilians don’t need that (armor), it’s best left for police and the military. I mean, how paranoid are you?”

That statement says that the speaker believes three (3) things: 1) the life of someone in a uniform is more valuable than that of a citizen 2) working for a government agency bestows special rights not afforded to the citizenry 3) the person making the statement has no understanding of what a violent assault entails.

At the end of the day, you need to decide what is best for you and your family. Is owning body armor “too much” or “paranoid”? Or, is armor just one more prudent step toward self-preservation? The choice is up to you. Choose wisely.


Paul Markel © 2022

About the Author

Mr. Markel became a United States Marine in 1987. He has been a professional bodyguard and a full-time Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Paul has dozens of books and a thousand articles to his credit.  He is the host and founder of Student of the Gun.


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