When you need to choose body armor it is important not to over-focus on a single attribute. While protection level or weight might be essential in your case, it is never the only feature you should look for.
If you want to find the best value in your protective gear, you will need to optimize between your needs and capabilities, as well as those required by the mission or job.
There are four aspects to consider at any point:
- NIJ level of protection
- Additional Gear
Not every job will favor these attributes equally, and in the end, it will be up to you to make a decision.
There is a possible math formula if you really need to rationalize your choice and are not certain what you might need:
- Rank these four attributes from 1 to 4
- Grade every armor type you find with grades from 1 to 10 in each category
- Multiply the grade with the rank
Each armor piece will then have a rating from 1 to 100 and you will know which ones are the best for your case.
Choosing Body Armor by Protective Capability
The cutaway here is simple. You want soft armor between NIJ Level IIa and IIIa if you are in danger from handguns, or an NIJ Level III or IV if you know you might encounter rifles.
While you can never know exactly what someone trying to shoot at you will carry, there are some stats that you can use. In domestic situations, an overwhelming majority of firearm assaults are done with handguns, and usually a 9mm semi.
So, if you want to protect yourself from these assailants, it is much better to wear soft and covert armor. There is a Universal Concealable Vest from UARM that has a wide protection area and can fit nicely under a shirt or a light jacket.
But, if there is a significant chance that your attacker will have any sort of rifles, especially semi-automatics and automatics, then you need a plate. Only NIJ Level III or IV are certified to stop this kind of rounds.
Assessing Your Weight Limit
While almost everyone will be able to pick up even the heaviest NIJ Level IV hard plate, carrying them around is a different story. Even those who are at their top physical fitness shouldn’t wear hard plate armor for long.
If you have a short mission that is high-risk, there are no options but a hard plate. By using ICW4S Silicone Carbide plates you can reduce the weight slightly, but it will still be substantial. Act quickly and resolve the mission before fatigue kicks in.
Staying Mobile and Agile
Finally, for most jobs, you will need to stay mobile and active at all times. Modern combat is much more urban, and it is more important to move quickly from cover to cover than to have a lot of armor.
Being well-rested is half of the deal, but your bulletproof vest needs to be flexible as well. Hard plates, especially if you include side panels, will make it very hard to twist, turn, jump and climb. You will just be a walking fortress.
Being slow just makes you an easier target. So, you need to test your agility in your armor before anything happens. Give it a few rolls, crouches, and jumps. If it feels too heavy to handle, opt for a lighter model.