26 Things People Didn’t Know About Bulletproof Vests

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Bulletproof Vests
Wear Your Bullet Proof Vest

Twenty-six Things You Did not Know About Bullet Proof Vests

Bulletproof vests … it’s the one item in a police officer’s job that they take for granted. The problem with this is that it’s helpful in saving their lives. However, if more law enforcement knew a little more about body armor, they wouldn’t be so gun-shy about using it in the line of duty.

1 – It’s Not Actually Bulletproof

The reality about bulletproof vests is that they’re not bulletproof, they’re actually bullet resistant. The reality is that bullet resistant vests don’t protect the wearer from every threat. Nothing is bulletproof, not even a manhole cover. In extremely minute percentage of cases, a bullet can get through a vest that’s been rated to stop them. The bullet could have a serrated edge or something similar to it. Bulletproof vests do not make the wearer become Superman.

2 – Understanding How The Fabric Stops Bullets

Body armor is comprised of very strong non-woven and/or woven fibers. The material will stop a bullet similar to how a net will stop a tennis ball or volleyball. It causes the bullet to turn, slow it down and send its energy through the whole panel. The bullet mushrooms, which helps in the process. Keep in mind that the slower the bullet is, the better off the wearer is going to be. Bullets that have a hard tip or fired at a high velocity will get through the fibers and right through the bullet proof vest.

3 – Every Single Gun Is Deadly

Many gun enthusiasts disregard the deadly potential some kinds of handgun calibers have. However, any bullet – small or large – that travels at a high rate of speed will get through body armor. Huge handgun rounds such as .44 Magnum and .45 ACP will travel at slower speeds, which allows the body armor to stop them. However, .357 SIG and 9mm guns travel at a quicker speed and can’t stop them as easily.

Important: The shells of a shotgun are very dangerous to bulletproof vests wearers because vests are not rated for these kinds of bullets. The reason? Shot shells do not have a consistent velocity.

4 – Bulletproof vests’ Lifespan

The majority of the United States’ body armor has a standard National Institute of Justice five-year service rating. When a vest is worn each day, it loses the protective capability quicker than one that sits on a shelf. It doesn’t matter how short or long the body armor is worn, the vest should be carefully looked over for any signs of damage – creases, tears, smells and burns. If properly taken care of, the vest should last five years. Be sure to follow the care instructions. Read more about the lifespan of a bullet proof vest here.

5 – Send In The Warranty Card

Make sure that the agency fills out the warranty card to register the vest. If they don’t, be sure that you do. The reason is that during e.g. a Zylon vest recall, many companies will have a difficult time getting in touch with customers because they failed to send the warranty cards back.

6 – Wash The Bulletproof Vests Carrier, Keep A Carrier Spare

It’s important that you have a minimum of two carriers – one to wash, another to wear. Keep it clean and dry to ensure the ballistic panels will lasts for the entire five years.

7 – Use A Sponge To Clean The Ballistic Panels

When you need to clean the vest’s ballistic panels, use a damp sponge and a mild soap. If you want, you can also use Febreeze on them. Never, toss them into the washer and/or dryer. Never iron them either, as irons will cause the fiber to burn or melt.

8 – Put Your Bulletproof Vests Up In A Closet

Don’t forget that ballistic panels comprise of several layers of bullet resistant fibers. If they become bent or are out of shape, you cannot straighten them out or iron them out. So, if you lay your sweat vest on the floor in a crumpled mess, it’ll dry like that.

9 – Don’t Get The Bullet Proof Vest Wet

The worst idea you can do is go swimming with your body armor on. The reason is that some bulletproof vests lose their ballistic performance because the water acts as a lubricant. When this happens, it makes it susceptible to bullet penetration. Keep in mind though… there are some manufacturers that have treated their vests with water resistant materials, which then allows them to be used in water.

10 – View Your Vest As Clothing

The majority of vest American law enforcement wear are similar to clothing in how they’re made. They have tack stitches, quilt stitches and various other techniques. Veteran garment workers will inspect the bulletproof vest just like the underwear you’re wearing today. They’re looking for any kind of sewing defect that will cause the vest to become inefficient and ineffective.

11 – After Being Shot In The Armor, You Can Still Fight

There have been a significant number of cases where officers have been shot wearing their body armor. The majority of them equate the feeling of being hit with a bullet with the feeling of being hit with a hammer. The result of being struck by a bullet wearing the body armor is a nasty-looking bruise, which is caused by the backface deformation.

To date, no one has died because of this and it’s not likely that the wearer will be incapacitated by it. Many law enforcement officers who have been shot in the armor have responded back, in the attempt to neutralize the threat. And, this is even before the use of the latest vest materials, which have been designed to reduce the effects of a blunt impact.

12 – How The Wearer Can Keep Panel Sag From Happening

When the ballistic panels sag, the bulletproof vest isn’t very comfortable to wear. Worst of all, it doesn’t provide the protection the wearer wants or needs. The way to deal with the issue is to rotate the carriers. The majority of bulletproof vests are sold with a couple of carriers, although it’s best to have three. When the carriers are rotated, it keeps the Velcro straps from wearing out and stop the wear of the fabric.

13 – Stay Fit or Attain A New Body Armor

It’s important that body armor wearers don’t gain more than 10 percent body weight. If a person gains more than five to 10 percent of their body weight – after being fitted for a vest – they need a new one. If a person loses weight, they also may require being fitted for a new vest.

14 – The Carrier Doesn’t Offer Any Kind Of Ballistic Protection

No law enforcement officer should wear their carrier as the only protection from bullets. After all, it doesn’t provide any ballistic protection; it’s just like wearing a t-shirt.

15 – Place The Ballistic Panels In The Right Way

Ballistic panels have been created to fit into the carrier in a certain way. If the wearer puts them in wrong, it can lead to tragic results. The panel’s strike face is created to slow and disperse the energy of the bullet. The backside of the panel is created to reduce the trauma. If the panel is flipped, there’s no promise of the vest stopping the bullet.

16 – Bulletproof Vests Are Not Knife Resistant Vests

Bulletproof vest wearers need to understand that bulletproof vests are not knife resistant vests. Stab vests are made of another kind of fiber and weave than bulletproof vests. There are multi-threat vests on the market; but, these are generally heavier and costs more money.

17 – Bulletproof Vests Can Keep The Wearer Safe Even In Vehicle Accidents

Each year, during the International Association of Chiefs of Police, DuPont has a ceremony for officers who have been saved by the Kevlar body armor. Numerous officers recognized during this ceremony were saved from the impact of their patrol car’s steering column after an accident, not just from bullets.

18 – Bulletproof Vests Are Not Body Suits

Body armor isn’t a high-tech body/running suit. When a person is being fitted for their vest, they need to take and hold a deep breath. This is the gap wanted between the body and the armor panels. The gap will help in reducing trauma should a bullet be experienced. It also makes it easier for officers to run and fight. Simply put, the functions of the bulletproof vests do better when it moves. The straps need to be pulled on and tension felt. Many new officers try strapping on their vest like it’s a girdle or corset; but, doing this can make them feel like someone is sitting on their chest when they have to give chase on foot.

19 – Duct Tape Should Never Be Used As Replacements For Vest Straps

Many officers will use duct tape to secure the vest to their body. But, this is not a good idea for a number of reasons. One reason is that duct tape will tape the vest down so it cannot move with the body correctly. And, this means a coverage problems can occur during a ballistic event. A second reason is that duct tape does not provide additional ballistic protection.

20 – Get A New Vest After The Old One Has Been Pierced By A Bullet

It’s important to understand that once a law enforcement officer has been shot in the bulletproof vest, he/she needs to attain a new one. After all, the fibers have been ruined by the bullet and cannot be repaired.

21 – Protection Must Be Found In Both The Front and Back

It does not matter what time of year it is, law enforcement officers must use both their front and back panels to protect themselves. Too often, many cops will use just their front panels during the summer. Thugs don’t care if it’s the summer or not; if they can get a clean shot at an officer, they’ll shoot at whatever they can… Including at an officer’s back.

22 – Use The Trauma Pad On The Bulletproof Vest

Many cops like the back pocket in their carrier that holds the trauma pad. Too often, cops will place their backup gun holster or cell phone in it. Don’t do that! Use it for the trauma pad, as it has been designed for. If the wearer is shot in the vest, the trauma pads will reduce the bruising that occurs.

23 – Use The Vest, Don’t Leave It In The Locker or Trunk

There have been many cases where law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty did not have their bulletproof vest on. Rather, they refused to wear it and left the vest in their locker or trunk. It’s vitally important that all law enforcement use their bulletproof vests at all times!

24 – Women Officers Should Have Body Armor That Caters To Them

Women must have additional trauma security for their chest, and for that, their vests should have real bra style cups…similar to what’s on a one-piece swimming suit.

25 – You Need to Check Your Vest for Wear & Tear

Most bulletproof vests issued to law enforcement in the U.S. come with a 5-year warranty, which is the NIJ standard. This is how long your body armor is expected to hold its rating. Your vests true rating and how much protection its actually providing is affected by how often it’s used. If you are wearing it every day on the job it is getting far more “wear and tear” than if you only use it occasionally, and this weakens it.

You should inspect your vest’s ballistic panels after you’ve owned it for several years. Look for any damage at all, like tears, creases, burns or even a suspicious smelling odor. Follow the instructions on how to care for your ballistic armor as well and it should last longer.

26 – Bulletproof Vests Must Be Rigorously Tested

According to a tenacious rumor throughout the police community, bulletproof manufacturers reinforce spots the NIJ shoots at before certifying the vests. However, testing protocol doesn’t allow body armor manufacturers to do this.

As you see, there’s much you did not know about body armor and you can also see why it’s vitally important every law enforcement officer in the nation, and world, use their bulletproof vests. Wear yours today and you can go home tonight!

If you have any comments or a question please do not hesitate to leave a quick message in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

40 COMMENTS

  1. If shot or a partner is shot while wearing a vest go to the emergency room and be examined for blunt force trauma. Take the vest to the hospital (regardless of trail of evidence) to ensure the doctor(s) can determine the potential types of injuries to bones, organs, and tissues.

  2. My pal G Lang, an extremely qualified ballistics analyst, says that every single time you are struck in the gullet proof vest, your ribs get cracked. Every. Single. Time.

  3. There’s a GI store selling brand new level 3 vests that’s manufactured in 2005, and it’s 2016. SMH…

  4. You have made a fundamental error in section 2 where you state: “Keep in mind that the heavier and slower the bullet is, the better off the wearer is going to be” — this is not correct, two bullets travelling at the same speed, but of different weight, the heavier bullet will have more energy and therefore greater potential to perforate the armour. Of course other factors come into play including the cross sectional area of the bullet.

    • Thanks for your comment!
      We erased the “heavier” part in order to prevent any misunderstanding.
      We wanted to state that small and very fast rounds (e.g. FN 5.7×28mm) could be much more dangerous then slow and fat rounds (.44 Magnum) as they have a higher chance to penetrate the vest.

      • I have no personal experience being shot with or without a vest, but my best guess would be that if somebody was hit by a .44 Mag FMJ, then they probably would suffer serious injury or death either from penetration or from blunt force trama stopping their heart. I don’t buy the argument that the vest is more likely to stop a .44 Mag than a .357 Sig.

        • If a .44 magnum penetrates the vest, it can be quite lethal, but if the armor stops the bullet there is virtually no chance it will cause life threatening injury. Even a rifle round (with two or three times as much energy as a .44 magnum) is unlikely to inflict a lethal wound if stopped by adequate body armor (e.g. Level III, or preferably higher). Of course there may be massive bruising, broken ribs, etc., but with proper medical care there is little risk of life threatening injury. Now if you’re talking about .50 BMG, you might have a case 😉

    • No in general terms the author is correct. You are adding in a third component energy and making the blind assumption that a heavier bullet traveling slower will have more energy just because its heavier. Even if loaded to the same chamber pressures. That is not always or even the majority of the time correct. It is very well proven that of a given bullet construction impact vel is the most deciding factor in armor penetration. Further many bullets of same caliber have more energy when they are lighter versus their heavier brethren. Beyond that loads are developed for bullet perf not max vel for a given bullet. They may also change bullet construction or a combo of both. Point being heavier in pistol ammo rarely means more energy.at handgun combat ranges.

      Lets even look at an extreme and then a closer one.. We can use the luckygunner test results as they were all done with the same gun and testing protocol. https://www.luckygunner.com/labs/self-defense-ammo-ballistic-tests/#9mm First the heavy weight and considered one of the very best loads for the 9mm. All data is from a 3.5″ barrel:

      Federal 147gr HST +p load @ 1008 fps.

      Liberty 50gr Civil Defense +p load @ 2034fps.

      So we have two loads at the same general pressure range of +p one almost 3x heavier then the other short by a mere 3 grs. Using the formula Energy = Bullet Weight x Velocity^2 / 450,437 to calculate ftlb of energy (, the bullet energy (in foot-pounds) is equal to the bullet weight (in grains) times the square of the bullet velocity (in feet per minute) divided by 450,437) .

      Federal 147 gr HST +p @ 1008fps = 332ft/lb
      Liberty 50gr Civil Defense +p load @ 2034fps = 459ft/lb

      So we can see its not even close. The reason for some of this is at a given bullet caliber of a given construction for a bullet to get heavier it must get longer. That longer bullet has more surface area along the body and thus more barrel friction plus there are other factors that effect equal vel for weight increase. This is not some freak comparison either we can look at others even in the same product manf and line of ammo.

      Take the same heavy load compared to its lighter 124 gr +p brother
      Federal 147 gr HST +p @ 1008fps = 332ft/lb
      Federal 124 gr HST +p @ 1168fps = 375ft/lb

      As can be seen even with the exact same bullet design general pressure loading from same manf the lighter faster bullet has more energy.

      Now you may bring up sectional density as a key indicator of bullet penetration depth along with energy. This only really translates for same caliber FMJ with the hightech bullet construction of today you have bullets with more energy penetrate far less and other bullets that are lighter penetrate deeper. Some 115 penetrate far deeper than some 147 gr.

      Fact is of a given bullet diameter and frontal cross section area ( the surface area of the nose of the bullet) the velocity of the bullet is the difference in one penetrating a given level of ballistic protection or not.

      BTW the 50 gr civil defense load has penetrated i.e defeated every level IIa, II, soft and even IIIA plate its been tested against. Its actually a very fragile bullet construction that frags almost immediately upon penetration and usually does not exceed a pen depth of 12″ in calibrated ordnance gel

      Now of course if you take those same bullets of the same designs and run the heavier one very close to the exact same vel yes it will penetrate at a slightly lower vel. But its no where near the ratio of the difference in weight as a percentage. Further its now well shown that heavier bullets of same caliber and cartridge does not mean a higher muzzle energy. A common confusion is when you try to transfer long range impact energy of high power rifle rounds to handguns. In the case of rifle round retained energy is also a factor of ballistic coefficient or more correctly the drag co curve. Hornady has a great paper on it. Its why as a general rule the farther out you want to hit a target for a given bullet design the heavier bullet will usually have a higher BC or better drag curve and thus will not hold onto energy longer thus will have more retained energy. But look at bullets energy at the muzzle when both are loaded to the same psi.
      This is a vey close example as I wanted to try and find a comparison that gave advantage to the heavier bullet as both of these because of differences in construction have close to the same bearing surface area as well as using the lighter bullets as you approach vel over 3000 fps more and more efficiency vel gained for pressure increase of same powder decreases as vel brackets increase. But even here the lighter bullet wins or in this case for practical purposes is the same. But of course go just 100 yards and the higher bc 165gr will take off from the light poor BC bullet. We do not have these issues to deal with with SD handgun ranges and bullets where distances are measured in feet not yards and even only at more in double digit feet where rifle are measured in triple digit yards or even more these days.

      308 Win Barnes load data
      110 TTSX max vel 3539 fps 3054 ft/lb
      165-grain TTSX max vel 2877 fps 3033 ft/lb

      If you check the new 07 NIJ standards you will see they use the lighter 124 gr for sig as well as one with a smaller nose cross sectional area and other rounds not heaviest in class bullets and for good reason speed is the enemy of ballistic protection penetration. You can dev into the science and physics if why this is on your own as it would take more than a post to explain it all and my post here is already obnoxiously long.

      So with all said and done as a rough general statement all things being equal velocity dictates penetration or defeating or not of ballistic armor.

  5. Are normal civilians allowed to use bullet resistant vests (as there’s kinda increase in sort hate crimes where other nationals are being shot at with possible mistaken identity) in USA for self protection from crazy shooters, and if so is there a link to purchase them and properly use them?

    • It defeats the purpose for civilians to wear body armor. It should only be worn by Police, paramedics, security or other officials that work in high-risk emergency situations.

      • Defeats the purpose? The purpose is to survive a gunshot. Why would it have to be “officials”… and to answer Sathya, yes they’re available to buy.

  6. So in movies when vest are hit they take it off. Wouldn’t it be better to leave it on even if hit during a gun fight?

  7. if you loaded a 44 magnum bullet yourself with 150 grains of lead or lighter instead of a 200 or 250 grain bullet and a hot load of powder it will go through a bullet proof vest

    • Reloader, your statement is true in principal, but not factually. Not all vests are created equal, while I lighter hotter .44 Mag may penetrate some vests it is not a guarantee, it will not for example, punch it’s way through a $300 vest from AR500 with steel plates.

  8. Thanks for this very informative and interesting article. I was just wondering if there are any side plates also in use to protect lateral aspects of rib cage?

  9. Is there a lightweight bulletproof vest designed specifically for women? I saw one on-line with a weight of 1.3 lbs in the color of white which I believe was called the brand name of Ghost and am now unable to find it again. Are you familiar with this one? Thank you.

  10. The shells of a shotgun are very dangerous to bulletproof vests wearers because vests are not rated for these kinds of bullets. The reason? Shot shells do not have a consistent velocity.

    Pass this sentence by anyone that’s a gun expert for correction.

  11. .44 Magnum travels at nearly 1500 ft per second. That is faster than a 9mm and most other handgun cartridges. That is also about twice as fast as a .45 Auto, there’s really no basis for comparison between these two rounds. Your basic premise is correct in that velocity is the primary factor in defeating a vest but your examples are terrible. I would also love to see one of these serrated edge bullets you mention. Hollow points have that appearance but are the farthest thing from armor piercing.

  12. If a shotgun (ROYAL REMINGTON 870 EXPRESS BREACHING SHOTGUN to be precise) is fired to somebody using a FBI bulletproof vest at a distance of about 1.5 meters away (59.0551 inches away), will it be able to pierce through the vest? And if not, how bad of an impact it would be considering the distance of the shotgun blast?

    • Hi Michael, If the panels have been covered in a waterproof envelope you will still be able to use them. Almost all panels nowadays are covered in waterproof envelopes. Greetings, Scott

  13. Thanks for helping me learn more about bulletproof vests. I actually didn’t know that the ballistic panels should be placed in the carrier a certain way. It sounds important know what each side looks like so you can differentiate between the two.

  14. Actually, some of body armor is effective aga small bullets, some aga armor piercing, some against large. Some against dozens if types. Reputable body armor is specifically tested by against these threats it is supposed to protect against and the best way to know is via test results. While storage, temp, humidity, etc can matter, that is part of the testing.

    Some types of body armor will holds up 100% of the the time force certain bullets in certain situations by both stopping the bullet and having safe amounts of backface deformation. Others will be partly organic never effective against some types in the some situations.

    Generally speaking, the most important factor in the effectiveness of body armor is to knowing what bullet will be hit you in what you situation. Sometimes from police to military, body armor effectiveness can change for the worst if too much information is provided android shooters adapt to the armor. Thus, bodybuilding armor is only effective until shooters find a gun, bullet, and shoot location that works. Some armored piercing can break through. Sometimes, bigger rounds. Sometimes smaller rounds. It depends on the armor. But, in general, the more the power, the smaller the better impact area, and the closer they’ll shooter, the less likely armor is effective.

  15. it depends on the laws in your state, for instance, possessing body armor in Connecticut is illegal.

    However there are many places you can purchase body armor. Keep in mind however that the more lightweight vests (kevlar/ ceramic) are less durable then their heavier counterparts (coated steel) and will stop fewer rounds and of smaller caliber. Steel plates by AR500.com for example are very affordable (a vest with plates can be had for a couple hundred bucks), but quite heavy. Meanwhile other sites like Safelite Defense are much lighter but will cost you more.

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