The Various Types of Body Armor

Ballistics vs. Edged-Blade Protection

The phrase ‘Body Armor’ is often used interchangeably with ‘Bullet Proof Vest’, or a number of other terms. It can be very difficult to know therefore exactly what specific pieces of Body Armor can protect against. For example, not many people are aware that vests designed to stop bullets are not the same as vests designed to protect against knives. It is also important to understand that a stab proof vest will not protect against spiked weapons unless it is specifically designed to do so.  The following articles will explain the differences between Ballistics and Knives, as well as any relevant information.

Stab and Spike Protection

Many are under the impression that a bullet proof vest is suitable for protection against knives and other similar weapons. However, the way a bullet impacts on body armor is very different to the impact of edged and spiked weapons. This is why edged blade proof vests are separate to bullet proof vests, but there is also spike protection to consider. Many use the words stab, spike and edged blade interchangeably, referring to any armor that protects against something other than ballistics. The preferred terms are edged blade and spike, which are different threats respectively. Nevertheless, many will refer to spike protection as stab protection, and vice versa.

Just as ballistic protection will not protect against edged weapons, so too will edged blade protection not protect against spiked weapons. An edged blade, like a knife, cuts through the protective fabric instead of getting trapped within the fibers like a bullet does. While stab proof vests still utilise Kevlar® or similar materials like a bullet resistant vest, they also require added materials like chainmail or laminate to stop edged weapons from cutting the protective fibers.

These both have their advantages and disadvantages; chainmail is much stronger than laminate, and for some offers a psychological benefit. Laminate on the other hand is much lighter, and will still offer stab protection. The added benefit of Laminate is that is can protect against spiked weapons. Spike weapons pass through the minute spaces between the Kevlar® fibers, rendering the vest useless against weapons like needles or stilettos for example. This is still true where vests utilise chainmail, and so the most common method of adding spike protection is by laminating the layers of Kevlar® used to make edged or ballistic protection, adding an extremely thin layer of plastic film to create a tough surface designed to dramatically slow a spiked weapon. Armors with a plastic film are still tested to NIJ and CAST standards for both spiked protection and edged or ballistic protection.

Multi-threat Armor

There are different levels of protection offered by Body Armor, and vests do not always provide protection against different types of weapon or attack. However, it is possible to purchase multi-threat armor that provides protection against different types of weapon. For example, it is possible to have the Kevlar® plates in stab proof vests laminated to make them spike proof. This is particularly helpful for those who will be facing multiple threats, or who may not know what weapons their attackers will have. For those working in close quarters or dealing with large groups of people a spiked weapon can be just as deadly as a knife, particularly if that weapon is a needle that may carry infectious and potentially fatal viruses. For Law Enforcement it is necessary to have complete protection against a wide variety of threats, and so a multi-threat vest is absolutely necessary.

Hard Armor and Soft Armor

As well as understanding the distinction between ballistic, stab, and spike proof vests, there is also a wide range of ballistic armor available that needs to b explained. Bullet proof vests will stop different calibers of ammunition depending on the level they are graded at, yet these levels also come in ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ form. Levels I-IIIa are most commonly found in soft form, whereas Levels III and IV are only available by using hard ballistic plates. The difference between soft and hard armor is in their bullet resistant materials. Soft armors utilise flexible yet strong materials like Kevlar® that are also bullet resistant. These are light and soft and as such can be used for covert or overt vests. Those who will be wearing their body armor for long periods or in hot temperatures will benefit from having a light and thin material that is also bullet resistant.

Hard armor on the other hand utilises ceramic, steel or titanium plates to stop higher caliber ammunition. These are very similar in design to soft armors, but are naturally much thicker and heavier due to their increased protection levels. This extra protection makes for unwieldy armor that will be difficult to wear for extended periods and in harsh environments. Ballistic plates can be added to certain vests to provide Level III and IV protection, meaning even hard armor can be worn in a covert style. Nevertheless, these plates are still heavier and thicker, and are usually reserved only for those with a strong likelihood of facing high caliber weapons. This is why this information is key to choosing body armor; proper preparation means that you will be comfortable and secure in your choice of protection.