No matter how carefully and thoroughly you have prepped for a SHTF situation, if you get shot you will probably die. That is why you need to think about some sort of body armor to protect you. We covered some options in the Tactical Vest post recently, but that was more about preparedness and having quick access to your essentials. This post is about physical protection.

Body Armor Level

There are many different types of body armor, defined by the type of bullets they protect against. Here is a table that displays the levels:

Armor LevelProtectionMaterial
Type IPistol – .22 LR, .380 ACPPara Aramid Fibers (Kevlar and Twaron)
Type IIAPistol – 9x19mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACPPara Aramid Fibers (Kevlar and Twaron)
Type IIPistol – 9mm +P, .357 MagnumPara Aramid Fibers (Kevlar and Twaron)
Type IIIAPistol – .357 SIG, .44 Magnum, 10mm Auto, 7H21Para Aramid Fibers (Kevlar and Twaron), Ballistic Steel Core
Type IIIRifles – 7.62×39mm, 7.62×51mm NATOBallistic Steel Core, Polyethylene, Ceramics
Type IVArmor Piercing Rifles – .30-06 SpringfieldCeramics

Deciding what level of protection you want to invest in is tough. Body armor is expensive and if you want to protect multiple people the investment grows exponentially.

Bullet Proof Body Armor Material


Would you believe the first bullet proof vest was actually made of silk? In the 1800’s, Japan and Korea both used silk (30 layers) as protection from the black powder weapons of the time. Even in recent history the U.S. Army has asked for testing of a new material called Dragon Silk, produced by Kraig Biocraft Laboratories Inc, which uses genetically modified silk worms to create silk that is stronger than regular silk.

Kevlar Armor and Twaron Armor

When I think of a bullet-proof vest the material that pops into my head is Kevlar, developed by Stephanie Kwolek at DuPont in 1965. In the early 1970s Kevlar — and a little later Twaron (by the Dutch company now called Akzo Industrial Fibers) — became the industry standard material used. Both are known as a para-aramid fibers that are heat-resistant, thin, and very strong. These fibers are woven and layered in different directions to maximize the effectiveness. Body armor made of this material is light and flexible and can absorb multiple hits until the overall structure is damaged. Type I all the way up to Type IIIA armor can be made with Kevlar. The level of protection depends on the number of layers used.

Ballistic Steel Core Armor

These steel plates are made of an advanced ballistic grade steel core that is much harder than traditional steel. Though they are a little heavier than some of the other options, ballistic steel core plates are relatively inexpensive and can take multiple hits.

Polyethylene Armor

Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) plates are made of fibers similar to the Kevlar process. Fibers are woven together and layered in different directions. But instead of a flexible fabric like material, the plates are layered together with a gel material that hardens to a solid end product. The plates are more expensive than the steel ones, but they take multiple hits and are much lighter than their steel counterparts.

Ceramics Armor

These ceramic plates are the only Type IV protection available. Made of made of boron carbide or silicon carbide ceramic. The weight is between the steel and the Polyethylene plates. Ceramic plates break the bullet into smaller pieces and reduce the feet per second of the fragments, then a backer made of steel or Kevlar catches the pieces. The theory is a single bullet flying at 2,900 feet per second is harder to stop than several pieces at twenty five percent of the original feet per second. Unlike the other plates each hit on this plate degrades its effectiveness. They need to be replaced after each hit.

Other Possible Armor Materials

Carbon fiber armor is a common question. If you do a Kevlar vs carbon fiber comparison you will find that strength and heat-resistance is better in carbon fiber. But you just don’t see carbon fiber body armor or carbon fiber plates. The reason for this is that it tends to be too brittle and expensive. One shot would destroy the integrity of the material. The material is better suited for car panels and motorcross armor, where stopping bullets are not the purpose.

Graphene body armor is a future possibility. Graphene is an atomic-scale hexagonal lattice made of carbon atoms, which means it is a extremely thin sheet of incredibly strong material. A million layers of graphene is only one millimeter thick. Tests have been done with a hundred layers of the material and it was able to outperform Kevlar and Ballistic Steel Core. But for now there are no Graphene body armor available. It is still too new of a material to work its way into the commercial market.

Standardized Plate Sizes

When you look at the sizes of plates sold on Amazon it looks like everything is 10″ x 12″ and this works for most people. But the United States Military required five different size so that it would fit better for individuals of different sizes. These Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) sizes are listed in the table below:

Extra SmallFront and Back7¼ x 11½184 x 292 mm
SmallFront and Back8¾ x 11¾222 x 298 mm
MediumFront and Back9½ x 12½241 x 318 mm
LargeFront and Back10⅛ x 13¼260 x 337 mm
Extra LargeFront and Back11 x 14280 x 356 mm
Torso side plate6 x 8150 x 200 mm

Obviously there are bound to be other sizes. You will need to verify the size of compatible plates that fit your plate carrier.

Concealable Body Armor

You can buy concealable plate carriers and just “plain” bulletproof vests. These are very minimal vests held in place by Velcro. Often they are just soft armor carriers. Worn by important business men/women and political people.
Concealable Body Armor

Tactical Vest Plate Carriers

In a prior post I spent some time showing you different tactical vests. They have a lot of versatility. You are able to add accessories to them to customize for your needs. Worn on top of your clothes they are not meant to be concealed.
Tactical Vest Plate Carrier

Backpack Plate Carriers

Another option is to have a backpack that has a plate carrier compartment. Obviously there is only one side of protection provided from a back pack. But a backpack is better than nothing. This is a great option for a EDC bag. Additionally if you have children in school, you can send them out the door every morning knowing that they have a little bit of protection. Some schools have metal detectors at doors. But Kevlar armor is still available for this environment.
backpack plate carrier

Owning Multiple Panels

Since there is no way of knowing for sure what kind of emergency to play for, you may want to have more than one type of panel. If you are in a situation where you need to move fast and weight is an issue, having the light Kevlar Type IIA panel may be enough.

If you’re going to be wearing a bug out bag on your back, you may have a heavier panel on your chest and the lighter soft one on your back. Assuming that your items in the back pack may absorb some of the bullet energy.

If you are going into a situation where you are completely screwed, an easy way to increase protection is to use two panels. The lighter soft panels made of Kevlar are thin enough so that you can usually have one underneath a solid panel. Yes it adds weight, but it also adds a lot of protection.

Body Armor Links