Hard and Soft Armor: Which Works Best?
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Hard and Soft Armor: Which Works Best?

14 Apr 2020
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There is an ongoing debate, mostly online, about hard and soft armor, and which one is better. Some keep to the idea that bigger is better and that you can’t go wrong with a Level IV. Others prefer mobility and not even testing the armor at all, but still being safe under layers of fabric.

The problem with this debate is that both sides are correct. 

Hard armor is Better because:

  1. Hard plates are tougher
  2. The carrier usually gives more utility
  3. You will look more imposing

But, soft armor is better because:

  1. The soft fabric is lighter
  2. You will have a lot more mobility
  3. It can be discreet

You will notice that these benefits mirror each other and that you can’t have both at the same time. And that is a good thing because you will want different results from your body armor overall depending on the situation.

In some cases, it is necessary to have good hard-plate armor that can protect you from rifle ammo and stronger handgun rounds. While they are heavy, it is a small price to pay for saving your life.

But, in most domestic situations you would fare much better by staying agile and well-rested. An adequate response to a situation is often a superior strategy to pure defense or offense. 

What Is the Difference between Hard and Soft Armor?

Terms are quite relative in this case. While soft body armor is very soft and flexible compared to any type of hard plate, it can be still a stiff external carrier. This is especially the case with something like Level IIIa armor that can’t be concealed under anything but a very loose jacket.

The main difference is the protective material used to dissipate the impact from a ballistic round. In the cases of soft armor, this will be done with layers of fabric that are meant to wrap around the bullet and spread the impact to a much wider area.

And, when you are using a hard plate you will be carrying around a thick sheet of composite ceramics that are meant to fall upon each other, blocking the round and spreading the impact to the whole armor.

When it comes to the thinnest armors, mostly Level IIa and II, it is quite possible to jump and turn inside the vest. They would be more akin to a thick leather vest than any hard material.

But, if you have a plate inside your carrier than that area will be as firm as it gets.

These differences all bring different benefits and drawbacks, depending on the situation. And, they all have the same two objectives. First, don’t get shot. Second, survive if you do get shot.

Main Questions

There are five questions that would if answered, solve almost every problem in life. The same goes for body armor.

To quote the author of the ‘Art of War’, Sun Tzu: ‘’He who knows himself and his enemy will win every battle.’’ If you know exactly in which situation you will find yourself, there will be no issues when it comes to weapon and armor choice.

But, there are always uncertainties and special circumstances where we can't guarantee how things will play out. In these cases, we need to refer back to some protocols. Your goal is to be as safe as possible while still being able to live your life as you normally do.

Why?

Why do you need to have body armor at all?

While some people have legitimate concerns because of their job or location, there are also people who wear body armor just as a fashion statement. For those the answer is obvious, it is Level IIIa external carrier with a camouflage print, but if you need it for a job or personal protection it becomes a tad trickier.

Over two thirds of attacks in the US are committed with a .9mm handgun. If you live in a rough neighborhood or work security, you will want a concealed Level II vest. This can even come as a T-shirt and it will protect you from almost everything a regular perpetrator might have.

Soft armor is best in civilian situations where you don't want to cause suspicion. If that is already out of the question than IIIa external carriers will bring enough protection for the utility and maneuverability they can offer.

Who?

Who might shoot at you? This is a question even when you are in the armed forces, let alone as a civilian or member of a citizen militia.

If they have handguns than soft armor is the best idea, because you can patrol for a long time without stress on your feet and ankles. But, if there are rifles involved there is no other option but going with hard body armor with Level III plates or higher.

Where?

There are five states in this great union where open carry of a handgun is strictly forbidden and more than a dozen where it requires a license. While this doesn’t apply to body armor, it talks volumes about how people in those states perceive external carriers.

You won’t be able to use your external carrier to attach a holster, and even wearing it will probably end up with some exchange of pleasantries and information with the local police department.

If you see people carrying external hard armor around, you may do so if you can manage the weight.

But, if you don’t want to be bothered in places where external carriers are not common, go with soft armor and wear it concealed.

When?

In this case, soft armor comes in two phases depending if you are wearing it concealed. If you plan on carrying it for the whole day and have no issues with that, use a Level II or IIa vest under your shirt. 

If you want to stay protected on the job during an urgent mission, then you will need a soft IIIa armor with MOLLE attachments that you can take on and off quickly and where you can carry your gear.

But, if there is a special issue when you know you will be fired upon by rifles, always go with III or IV. Make sure you are not marching with that armor, as it will get heavy. But, when push comes to shove, you will want a hard plate between you and the person shooting at you.

(Against) What?

This is the final and most important question that permeates all others. What will be endangering you?

Thankfully, it is the easiest one to answer and it is the sole reason why the NIJ standard even exists.

If they have .9mm or .40cal handguns, take a Level II soft armor. Level IIIa is against magnums, and it often comes with a pocket for a plate, so it might be more versatile.

If there are rifles involved, you will need a full Level III hard body armor. This will protect you against 7.62 NATO ammo for up to six shots. While IIIa might stop a weaker rifle, you don't want to guess if that long barrel is a hunting carbine or an AR.

Finally, Level IV hard armor is for armor-piercing snipers. Outside of all-out war, there are few situations where you might need it. But when those situations arise, you will be happy to have it. As we know, a well regulated militia is necessary for the security of a free State, and every red-blooded patriot should be prepared to participate in that militia if such time arises.

Even though it doesn’t happen often, everyone should have a high-quality, high-grade bulletproof vest at the ready, just in case you might once need it.

Conclusion

There is a good reason why both hard and soft armor exists on the market. There are different situations where each will perform best. Your goal is to know which type of situation you will find yourself.

For the everyday grind against doggy individuals, you will want something you will wear easily and in what you can act quickly. But, if there is a special situation it is much better to suffer those extra pounds and be safe than to risk a rifle going through your armor.

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