Soft Body Armor: The Pros and Cons

March 10, 2023

Guest post by Andrew Schuler

Soft body armor is a popular way for discreet wearable armor and off-body carry. In this article, we'll give you a full run-down, including size, stopping power, its practicality, and why you should use it for protection.

What is Soft Body Armor

Soft body armor is a type of protective gear designed to absorb and dissipate the energy of projectiles, such as bullets or shrapnel. Law enforcement officers, military personnel, and civilians wear it for personal protection.

Materials

Soft body armor is designed to protect the wearer from bullets and other projectiles while remaining lightweight. It is also the most flexible type of body armor. Manufacturers typically use advanced materials that absorb and dispel energy to achieve this balance of protection and mobility.

One of the most commonly used materials is Kevlar®, a synthetic fiber developed by DuPont in the 1960s. Kevlar® is five times stronger than steel by weight, making it an excellent choice for body armor. Another popular material is Dyneema, a high-strength polyethylene fiber that is even lighter than Kevlar®.

kevlar body armor for personal protection

The materials used in soft armor are constantly evolving as new technologies and materials are developed. However, the goal remains the same: to provide effective protection while allowing the wearer to move freely and stay safe in dangerous situations.

Soft body armor & Berry Compliance

Berry Compliance and "Made in the USA" standards are closely connected as they both focus on ensuring that personal protective equipment (PPE) used by military and law enforcement personnel and civilians is high quality and domestically sourced.

Berry Compliance specifically mandates that certain PPE, including body armor, must be made from US materials and manufactured within the US. This helps to ensure that the PPE meets strict quality control measures and is made from high-quality, domestically sourced materials. All of Premier Body Armor's ballistics are made in the USA, and all materials used are sourced domestically.

Premier Body Armor manufactured in the USA

Similarly, the "Made in the USA" standard indicates that a product was manufactured domestically and meets certain standards for quality and reliability. When looking for the best soft armor, or any body armor for that matter, it's critical to consider where its materials come from. It's also critical to consider who made it and who distributed it.

 

The difference between soft body armor and hard body armor

The choice between soft and hard ballistic protection depends on the wearer's needs. Law enforcement officers and military personnel who must move quickly and remain agile in high-pressure situations often use soft body armor. Hard body armor is typically reserved for situations with higher threat levels, such as during a military operation or hostage rescue mission. 

Civilians may wear soft body armor instead of hard body armor for concealment purposes. Generally, soft armor is made from flexible materials that can conform to the wearer's body shape, making it easier to wear under regular clothing without drawing attention. 

best concealable body armor vest with level IIIA protection

Overall, the key difference between soft and hard body armor is the materials used and their protection level. Level 3 body armor and higher is typically hard. Level 3A and below are usually soft.

Soft ballistics are the lightest body armor, as well as the most comfortable and easily concealable kind of body armor. Hard body armor is heavier and more rigid but offers greater protection against high-powered weapons.

 

What does soft body armor stop?

Certified armor is rated according to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standards, which classify body armor according to its ability to stop different types of ammunition. For example, Level II soft body armor is designed to stop the most common handgun rounds. In contrast, Level IIIA soft body armor is designed to protect against even higher-velocity handgun rounds and some lower-velocity shotgun rounds.

To give you an idea, here's a list of rounds Level 3A armor will protect against:

  • 9mm
  • .40, .45, .44 Magnum
  • 12 gauge buckshot & slug
  • Liberty Civil Defense 9mm 
  • FN 5.7×28 (SS197SR)

 

nij ratings for level iiia body armor

For more in-depth information, read our blog about understanding the NIJ rating system

 

Benefits of soft body armor

Soft body armor is the most concealable body armor on the market, making it easily integrated into civilian life. It's also the most flexible, the lightest, and arguably the most comfortable. Soft body armor is also versatile, and comes in more styles than just your conventional bulletproof or ballistic vest.

Lightweight body armor

Premier Body Armor's backpack panels, whether you're a student, a commuter, or a traveler, provide easy, discreet protection from ballistic threats. This is done without adding extra weight or bulk to your backpack.

lightweight level iiia backpack panel perfect for bookbags

These level 3A soft body armor inserts will be your best bet if you're shopping for lightweight body armor—they only weigh 1 lb. Still, we don't compromise protection for a lighter weight. These panels are level IIIA concealable body armor, protecting against the vast majority of threats faced in day-to-day life.

 

body armor panels for backpack

 

Concealable body armor

If you want to maximize concealability, the best concealable body armor is the Everyday Armor T-shirt. Like our backpack panels, the Everyday Armor T-shirt is light, discreet, and comfortable. Tested to the NIJ level 3A standard, it's the best soft armor vest carrier to protect against all small to middle rounds. 

 concealable armor tshirt with front and back panel protection

The flexible body armor used in our Everyday Armor T-shirts makes it the best ultra-low visibility concealable body armor you'll find on the market.

 

everyday armor concealable vest tshirt

Comfortable body armor

Our Discreet & Elite Executive ballistic vests were designed to be comfortable and concealable enough to wear in high-profile situations. The Discreet Executive Vest has an NIJ-certified Level IIIA ballistic rating. The Elite Executive Vest is a NIJ-certified Level II concealable body armor vest and ultra-lightweight.

discreet bulletproof vest

Both vests can be worn by anyone, from an international business traveler to a politician, music artist, or celeb. It can also be worn by someone who is simply concerned about their safety.

With these ballistic vests, the easily removable outer shell is made from a space-age antimicrobial material that wicks away moisture and is breathable. Because you wear it like an undershirt, the Discreet/Executive vests were designed to be near invisible when worn under a button-down shirt.

 

nij certified 3a concealable armor vest

 

Not only are these vests the most comfortable concealable body armor, but they are also Berry Compliant and Made in the USA, so you know they are of the highest quality.

Drawbacks to soft armor

Despite its many strengths, some see features of soft ballistic protection as drawbacks. This includes limited protection against edged weapons or blunt force trauma. Compared to hard armor, it can be less effective at stopping high-powered rifle rounds.

This type of protection can also be limited in terms of how long it lasts. It should be replaced after a certain period of time, and replaced if a projectile hits it.

Threat level of protection

Practically speaking, the strongest soft body armor available is Level IIIA, which stops most ammunition used in handguns. It can also stop some middle-range rounds depending on the velocity of the bullet. 

nij standards for body armor

The NIJ rating of soft body armor with a lower threat protection level than hard armor isn't entirely negative. Soft body armor is the best way to protect yourself on a daily basis. Most gun-related deaths in the US are caused by handguns. 

According to the FBI rifles, sometimes called assault weapons, were involved in just 3% of firearm murders. Shotguns were involved in 1%, with the vast majority of situations involving handguns.

If you're a civilian, soft body armor will suffice in nearly all circumstances. 

Soft body armor expiration

Like other protective gear, soft armor has a lifespan and should be replaced after a certain period or after being hit. The NIJ recommends replacing soft body armor every five years, regardless of whether it's been used. 

concealable body armor vest and body armor vest for women

Protective materials, such as Kevlar or other synthetic fibers, are prone to degradation over time. This is due to exposure to sunlight, moisture, and other environmental factors. This can cause the fibers to become brittle, reducing the armor's ability to absorb and dissipate energy from incoming projectiles.

Taking care of your armor can prolong the lifespan.

Knife-resistant body armor

Soft ballistics are designed to protect against threats such as bullets and shrapnel. However, it may not be as effective against edged weapons such as knives or sharp objects, as they can penetrate the protective material. While some soft body armor may offer knife resistance against slashing attacks, it is not designed to be stab-proof.

Backface deformation

BFD, or backface deformation, is a phenomenon that can occur when a projectile strikes body armor. This happens when the impact force causes the protective material to deform, creating a depression or bulge in the back of the armor. While BFD may not be harmful, it can lead to injury if the deformation is severe enough to cause blunt-force trauma to the wearer's body.

Armor often comes with trauma pads to help lower the risk of injury. Trauma pads are additional layers of protective material that can be placed behind the armor. These pads can help absorb and distribute the impact of a projectile, reducing the risk of injury. 

trauma pads help with back face deformation in body armor

How to use soft body armor

There are many ways to incorporate flexible body armor into your personal protective system:

  • Bulletproof vests
  • Bulletproof gear
  • Bulletproof accessories

Bulletproof Vests

A plate carrier that accepts soft body armor plates is a versatile option that allows for the customization of protection levels, depending on the situation. These vests come in different sizes and shapes, allowing the user to choose the right fit and level of protection for their needs.

A plate carrier that accepts soft armor can provide an added layer of protection against ballistic threats. This type of carrier is ideal for those who require a lightweight and flexible option that won't impede their movement in critical situations. The soft body armor carrier can also be concealed under clothing for covertness, making it a popular choice for those who need to be more discreet.

hybrid tactical vest with level iiia body armor

Our Agile Inserts are soft armor plates that can easily run with your plate carrier. If you want to stay lightweight and agile, these ESAPI cut Level IIIA soft ballistic inserts are the ideal solution. They fit in any standard plate carrier, are thin, and are incredibly comfortable. And if you want to find the best plate carrier to pair with these inserts, check out our Core Plate carrier and Hybrid Tactical Vests.

hybrid tactical vest nij certified iiia armor plate carrier

Bulletproof Gear

For additional gear, consider our Bulletproof Laptop Case. This product functions perfectly as a laptop case and discreetly conceals Level IIIA armor panels. Take this case with you anywhere for discreet protection.

bulletproof laptop case with level 3a body armor

Finally, if you want to give your "beer can the confidence it gives you" take a look at the world's only Bulletproof Can Cooler. If you need something to show off at your next barbecue, this product might be for you.

 

Where to purchase soft body armor products

We delved into the nuances of soft body armor and how it can provide crucial protection in dangerous situations. We also provided a comprehensive guide to finding various protective products, including our popular bulletproof backpack inserts, concealed armor shirts, tactical vests, and other gear.

In short, soft body armor is versatile, concealable, and comes in many styles, making it perfect for civilian use. It's an excellent option for anyone who wants a discreet way of protecting themselves.


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