An Introduction To Body Armour
An item or clothing article that offers the wearer protection against physical threats, body armour can either focus on stopping a particular type of attack, (such as knife, ballistic object, or spike) or protect against a combination of threats.
Body armour comes in two basic varieties: hard armour and soft body armour. The latter is employed in standard stab- and bullet-proof vests, while the former is a reinforced and rigid material most commonly worn by military personnel in combat situations and by law enforcement tactical units that may encounter high-risk situations.
Traditionally, the body armour piece is crafted of two distinct sections: a carrier component on the outside and an inner set of protective soft armour panels. Keep in mind that a carrier by itself, without protective panels inserted, offers minimal protection against bullet, spike, or stab attack.
The body armour’s outer carrier can be manufactured from a diverse number of materials and may be one of several colours, depending on the wearer’s needs. Generally flexible and lightweight, the soft armour protective panels are inserted into the pockets of the outer carrier. These panels may be designed to one of a number of protective levels and can safeguard the wearer against specific types of threat.
In situations where the user’s profession warrants extremely high levels of protection, hard armour is combined with soft armour panels. The hard armour can either be housed in specially designed outer carrier pockets, or may be worn in hard armour carriers.
Body Armour Designs
Bullet and stab proof vests are typically designed with either overt or covert usage in mind. Made to be worn on top of clothes, overt body armour is usually of a dark colour and is produced from durable and rugged materials. Pockets and straps on the outside of the vest can be utilized by the wearer to attach or hold accessories. Thinner than overt vests, covert body armour is designed to be undetectable under clothes and is usually sold in a lighter colour. A hybrid type of body armour, the covert / overt vest functions equally well under or on-top-of clothing.
Bullet proof vest carriers are manufactured in a large variety of styles, as well as for different use requirements. Combat soldiers frequently add groin, arm, and neck protective attachments, while ambulance staff require high visibility body armour that allows them to be clearly identified in low-light situations. With a large variety of covers and accessories available, bullet and stab proof vests can be customized to meet almost any specification.
Protection standards associated with body armour vary widely depending on the country in which they are sold and developed. That said, UK HOSDB (Home Office Scientific Development Branch) and U.S. NIJ (National Institute of Justice) tests have emerged as a widely accepted source of body armour standards. The majority of countries around the world recognize any piece of body armour rated by either of the two major certifying bodies.
Despite their similarities, NIJ and HOSB are distinct. NIJ is seen as employing superior ballistics testing methodologies, while HOSDB’s work in spike and stab testing is recognized as the best in the world. HOSDB and NIJ coordinate their testing efforts and any body armour item that exceeds HOSDB standards will also exceed the equivalent NIJ guideline.
The three general types of attack body armor protects against are stab, ballistic, and spike, with the level of protection offered in each category depending heavily on design and manufacture. Many protective vests are effective against only one or two types of threat, while some are designed specifically to withstand stab, spike, and bullet attacks.
You will find an easy-to-read label on every quality body armour piece, describing the type and level of protection it affords. The higher the number on the label, the more protection it offers. As an example, an NIJ Level IIIa rated bullet proof vest will offer the wearer higher levels of ballistic resistance than a vest rated at NIJ Level IIt. To learn more about body armour protection levels, visit our protection levels section.
Body Armour Sizing
Body armour ranges in size from small to 5XL, with the larger bullet proof vest sizes featuring wider protective panels. Body armour also comes in three distinct lengths of long, regular, and short. A standard protective vest is engineered to cover only the user’s vital organs, with the piece generally reaching the navel. We recommend that anyone over 6' purchase a long vest, anyone between 5'6 to 5'11 purchase a regular length vest, and anyone under 5'5 purchase a short vest.
Body armour sizes are determined in the same as regular pieces of clothes. A man 5'10 in height, with a 32-34 inch waist and a 38-40 inch chest, is ideally suited for a both a medium sized t-shirt and a regular-length, medium sized piece of bullet proof body armour.
How Does Body Armour Work?
Bullet proof vests
Designed to prevent ballistic projectiles from penetrating them, bullet proof vests offer protection to the wearer’s body. Their superior protective capacities come from a tight weave of many layers of extremely strong fibre. Each of these layers essentially functions as a net, catching the bullet and halting its progress. As the bullet passes through the initial layers of the vest it is twisted, and eventually brought to a complete halt. A deformation process also occurs, flattening the bullet into a broad dish shape, and radiating the impact of the bullet over a wide area of the vest.
The impact of any high velocity object is tremendous, and while the bullet proof vest effectively stops the bullet’s forward journey, the wearer and the piece of body armour will absorb a major impact. This reflects the fact that the vest does not immediately stop the bullet, but progressively slows its progress, deforming the metal and preventing its penetration. The ballistic impact of the bullet can cause "blunt force trauma," which causes severe bruising but is not fatal.
Engineered to resist common law handgun rounds of medium energy, bullet proof vests are available in a number of protection levels. For those requiring protection against rifle rounds, hard armour can be combined with soft armour vests. Typically constructed from metal, ceramics, or a combination of the two materials, hard armour is positioned in front of the bullet proof vest panels. The use of hard plate protection is generally confined to high threat situations, as they add significantly to the bulk and weight of the vest.
It is important to remember that a bullet proof vest without ballistic panels does not afford significant protection. Without any armour panels, the piece of body armour is just a normal vest, providing outer cover but failing to prevent bullets from penetrating.
The actual construction of ballistic panels varies widely according to manufacturer. Some products such as DuPont™ Kevlar® utilize one material type, while others employ several materials. Bullet proof vests with increased protective properties weigh more, as they contain a greater number of layers of ballistic material. Manufacturers may even add non-ballistic material layers, which reduce the amount of blunt force trauma exerted by a bullet. Owing to the wide range of materials and construction methods employed, it is difficult to compare ballistic panels from different manufacturers. However, all ballistic panels must pass identical NIJ and HOSB requirements in order to meet specific certification thresholds.
Stab and spike proof vests
With fibers constructed to catch a ballistic projectile, the traditional bullet proof vest is ineffectual against the dispersed energy present in stabbing attacks. The knife point can penetrate ballistic fabric, allowing the blade to rip through the fibres. Leaving the fabric intact, a thin-pointed spike, needle, or syringe simply pushes through the vest’s weave, allowing the instrument to reach its intended target.
Providing resistance against knife and needle attacks, stab and spike proof vests utilize distinct design principals. A feature of all stab and spike proof vests is an extremely tight laminated weave, which keeps weapons from penetrating the fabric surface and causing serious injury. While stab and spike proof vests may employ heavy-duty, tight weave nylon construction, multi-threat Kevlar® vests have recently become popular. Some models offer ballistic and knife protection, while others are designed to resist bullet, spike, and stab threats.
When selecting a piece of body armour, keep in mind that not every vest with stab resistance has comparable levels of spike protection. If your position puts you in situations with spike-based attack threats present, make sure and select a vest with additional spike resistance properties.
Body Armour User Guide
What your body armour is NOT!
No piece of body armour provides infallible protection in every possible threat situation. Always make sure that you select a body piece armour rated to the level of protection you require, as the protective vest will not ensure adequate protection for threats beyond its stated level.
Body armour maintenance
Always clean your protective vest directly after use, using a combination of warm water and a mild liquid detergent. Do not immerse the body armour in water, which can damage the panels, but sponge the outside of the vest. Do not dry the vest in direct sunlight.
Keeping the body armour stored in a flat position prevents the formation of wrinkles and creasing to the ballistic material.
The DuPont™ Kevlar® panels should never be washed, as this can exert damage on the woven ballistic fibres. If some cleaning is necessary, sponge the panels with soapy, warm water. Covers are constructed of diverse materials, each of which comes with specific washing instructions.
Perform a visual check for excess wear and damage before and after each vest use. Do not wear body armour that has in any way been damaged or degraded.
Inserting protective panels
The ballistic panels in bullet, stab and spike proof vests are designed for insertion in a specific direction. It is critical that you confirm that these protective panels are always facing their intended direction. The bullet impacting the numerous layers of the body armour has its energy absorbed within three nanoseconds, during which time the projectile is caught, deformed, and prevented from passing through the material. This technique of halting a bullet in its path is directional, only functioning when the panels are facing forward. With the panels facing the wrong way, the layers of tightly woven fibres are virtually useless, exposing the wearer to significant danger.
The same principle of correct positioning holds for stab and spike proof vests, which have protective panels not constructed to provide protection from both directions. Positioning the panels in the incorrect direction leaves the wearer exposed to serious threat.
Every piece of body armour has protective panels with clear markings, indicating the direction in which they must be positioned to ensure threat protection. The user should take precautions every time the vest is worn, confirming the panels are facing the correct direction. If you take the panels from the vest when washing the outer carrier, double check the positioning of the panels when reconfiguring the vest and reinserting the panels into the body armour piece.
The majority of body armour pieces allow adjustment at the waist, providing for a comfortable fit. Be sure not to adjust the bullet proof vest too tightly, as this can constrict the full range of body movements, reducing mobility and increasing body heat.
Effects of water and sweat on body armour
The aramid fibres from which our body armour is constructed will lose a certain amount of protective capacity if completely immersed in water for an extended period of time. This effect is temporary, lasting only until the protective armour has had a chance to dry out. SafeGuard ARMOUR™ vest protection capacities are not adversely affected by sweat or rain.
A Brief History Of Body Armour
History has witnessed the development of numerous types of body armour. Soldiers in ancient Greece and Rome made use of body armour, with examples of such protective coverings dating back to 1400 B.C. Chainmail armour was introduced in approximately 500 B.C., offering superior levels of protection against weapons such as swords and spears. Constructed of thousands of tightly linked iron rings, chainmail had a flexible and mesh-like quality that improved range of wearer movement. Over the years, chainmail was redesigned to incorporate solid metal plates that enhanced protection of the body’s vulnerable areas. As these plate metal pieces became larger and more well-constructed, they gradually took the place of chainmail as the primary form of armour utilized by armies.
Firearms necessitated the development of new types of body armour, as traditional plate armour did not adequately protect against high-velocity ballistic projectiles. While new, heavier types of plate armor provided protection against bullets, they made the wearer significantly less mobile. This fact precipitated a significant decline in plate armour production from the 18th century on, as only the heaviest and most costly pieces provided reliable resistance against bullets. During World War I, plate armor witnessed an upsurge in demand, as many armies found that the plates to offer effective protection against shrapnel and fragments generated from exploded ordinance. U.S. ground soldiers notably used traditional plate armour for protection as late as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
In the late 1960s, DuPont™ led a major breakthrough in body armour production through the development of the para-aramid woven fibre Kevlar®. Extremely strong and lightweight, Kevlar® enabled the production of body armour that could be worn for extended lengths of time, with minimal discomfort. The material also offered levels of protection unmatched by traditional solid and chainmail armour. Over time, industry competition generated several new lightweight and effective forms of body armour. For the first time in history, body armour was widely available and relatively inexpensive.
While the traditional purpose of body armour has been to protect members of the military in combat situations, the past quarter century has witnessed an increase in body armour use by people in a wide range of professions. Modern body armour is now utilized by law enforcement officers, security personnel, medical providers, journalists, and door supervisors. The versatility of the materials utilized in modern soft armour makes it ideal for a wide range of covert and overt situations, against a multitude of threats.
The development of lightweight body armor in particular has made bullet proof vests standard in a number of professions that would not previously have employed the technology. For example, many shipping firms have purchased body armour for crew of their vessels, countering a trend of increased acts of sea piracy on the high seas.