HomeHow To39 Things People Didn’t Know About Bulletproof Vests

39 Things People Didn’t Know About Bulletproof Vests

Bulletproof vests are a vital piece of equipment for police officers, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of body armor to uncover the truth behind its effectiveness. We explore the science of bullet-resistant materials, debunk the myth of absolute protection, and reveal why it’s crucial to wear your vest at all times. From understanding how different calibers can penetrate armor to learning proper care and maintenance, this comprehensive guide aims to empower officers with the knowledge they need to stay safe in the line of duty.

Why Are Bulletproof Vests Actually Not Bulletproof?

The term “bulletproof vests” is actually a misnomer. The vests are bullet resistant, not bulletproof. The reality is that bullet resistant vests don’t protect the wearer from every threat. Nothing is bulletproof, not even a manhole cover. In an 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.

Body armor is meant to absorb impact of the projectile. Depending on the vest’s rating it may have stronger absorption than other vests. This does not make it bulletproof. Most manufacturers avoid the term when naming vests, even when the vest is up to the highest standard.

How Does Bulletproof Fabric Stop Bullets?

Body armor is comprised of very strong non-woven and/or woven ballistic fibers. The ballistic 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.

What Are the Main Differences Between Soft Ballistics and Hard Ballistics?

Soft ballistics are typically made from high-strength, elastic textiles like para-aramid and high-performance polyethylene. They offer protection against handgun bullets and can provide additional protection against stabbing and impacts. Hard ballistics, on the other hand, consist of rigid panels made from materials like ceramics, steel, or high-density plastics. They are designed to stop high-velocity rifle rounds and can be used in combination with soft ballistics for enhanced protection.

How Are Covert Vests Designed to Maintain Discretion?

Covert vests are designed to be worn under clothing, making them invisible to others and maintaining the wearer’s discretion. They are typically thin and lightweight, which provides greater flexibility, mobility, and comfort. These vests are often made from moisture-absorbing materials for better breathability and usually protect against smaller-caliber firearms and stab attacks.

Can Bulletproof Vests Stop Rounds From Shotguns?

The shells of a shotgun are very dangerous to bulletproof vests wearers because ballistic vests are not rated for these kinds of rounds. The reason? Shotgun shells and rifle slugs do not have a consistent velocity. We can state however that a NIJ level IIIA bulletproof vest can stop certain shotgun loads. The movie below shows a 12 GA 1.25oz Slug that was successfully stopped by the ballistic panel.

What Is A Bulletproof Vests’ Lifespan?

The majority of the certified body armor by the National Institute of Justice has a 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.

What Upgrades Are Available to Enhance the Protection of Ballistic Vests?

Ballistic vests can be upgraded with several accessories to enhance their protection level. Upgrades include replacement covers, carrying bags, additional ballistic panels, stab-and-impact protection inserts, and shock absorbers. These upgrades can raise the vest’s protection class and offer added safety features like protection for the neck, shoulders, upper arms, thighs, and groin.

Should You Send In Your Body Armor Warranty Card?

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

How Many Body Armor Carriers Should You Have?

It’s important to 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 to ten years.

What Features Make Overt Vests Suitable for High-Risk Situations?

Overt vests are designed for visibility and high-risk situations, often worn over uniforms or duty gear. They typically feature a waistcoat-style design with front zippers for easy access. These vests can be equipped with attachments for police equipment, such as radio pouches and MOLLE/PALS systems. Military and special forces’ overt vests have larger protective surfaces, non-openable fronts, and flame-retardant materials to provide maximum protection against various weapons.

What Should Users Consider When Choosing a Ballistic Vest for Comfort?

When choosing a ballistic vest, users should consider the weight, cut, and freedom of movement the vest allows. A vest that is too heavy or poorly designed can cause discomfort and strain during prolonged wear. Therefore, it is essential to find a balance between adequate protection and comfort. The vest should fit well, offer enough mobility for the user’s duties, and be made from materials that enhance comfort, such as breathable fabrics.

Can You Use A Sponge To Clean Your 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.

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.

Can You Get Your 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. But in general, you should avoid getting your vest wet.

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.

What Are the Key Standards for Bulletproof Vest Protection Levels?

The key standards for ballistic vest protection levels include the U.S. standards NIJ 0101.04, 0101.06 and 0101.07, the British CAST standard, the European VPAM standard, and the German Police Technical Guideline for Protective Vests (SK). These standards define the protection levels based on testing requirements, taking into account the type of ammunition and trauma impact, ensuring that the vests meet rigorous safety criteria.

How Do Shock Absorbers Enhance the Protection of Ballistic Vests?

Shock absorbers in ballistic vests help to mitigate blunt trauma and reduce associated injuries by quickly absorbing and dispersing the energy from an impact. They can be made from materials like composite panels, plastic sheeting, or metal, and are available in partial or full-coverage designs. These absorbers can be integrated into concealed or overt vests to protect specific areas such as the cardiac and spinal regions.

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.

How Can You Keep Ballistic 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 your carriers. The majority of bulletproof vests are sold with a couple of carriers, although it’s best to have three you should have at least two. When the carriers are rotated, it keeps the Velcro straps from wearing out and stop the wear of the fabric.

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.

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.

What Bullets Does A Level IIIA Vest Stop?

Bulletproof vests that have been tested according to NIJ Level IIIA stop most handgun rounds, up to .44 Magnum ammunition. However some fast traveling 5.7mm rounds can penetrate Level IIIA body armor.

What Bullets Does A Level III Plate Stop?

In comparison with Level IV plates Level III plates are usually much lighter in weight. However a Level III plate is not designed to stop armor piercing rounds such as 30-06 AP rounds. Level III plates are tested to halt six consecutive impacts from 7.62X51mm NATO (Full Metal Jacket) rounds, each traveling at an average velocity of 2,780 feet per second (847 m/s).

Do Bullet Proof Vests Have Plates?

Tactical bullet proof vests have two additional plates that give protection against rifle rounds. These plates generally measure 10″ x 12″ (25cm x 30cm) and are placed in front of the soft armor panels.

Bullet proof vests that give protection against handgun rounds generally consist of a set of two soft armor panels. A front and back panel that cover a large part of the chest including the sides.

Can Small Handgun Rounds Penetrate Body Armor?

Many gun enthusiasts disregard the deadly potential some kind of handgun calibers have. Any bullet, small or large, that travels at a very high speed can penetrate body armor. Huge handgun rounds such as .44 Magnum and .45 ACP travel at slower speeds, which allows the body armor to stop them. However, .357 SIG and 9mm rounds could travel at much higher velocities so the ballistic panel cannot stop them as easily. In the video below you can see that even some 5.7mm rounds can penetrate body armor.

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.

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.

How Can Stab-and-Impact Protection Be Integrated into Ballistic Vests?

Stab-and-impact protection can be integrated into ballistic vests using specialized inserts. These inserts are made from materials like sheet steel, titanium foil, segmented metal panels, or specially treated aramid fabric. They fit in front of the ballistic panels and are tailored to the vest’s shape. This integration provides comprehensive protection against stabbing, slashing, and impact injuries, especially when combined with soft or hard ballistic panels.

Can Bulletproof Vests 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.

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.

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.

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 buy a new one. After all, the fibers have been ruined by the bullet and cannot be repaired.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 vest as well and it should last longer.

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.

They should stop rounds from your own firearm

In the dangerous, unpredictable environment you will be entering, there’s only one threat you can anticipate: Your own firearm.

A surprising number of law enforcement and security professionals are shot with their own weapons after their gun has been grabbed or accidentally discharged. There is always the chance of getting hit by a round fired by their own colleagues during a fire exchange. It is important to ensure that your body armour can defeat the rounds used by you and the other officers in your agency.

Kevlar® is not the only ballistic material

The first viable bullet resistant material was Kevlar® made by DuPont. For a long time, people even called bullet resistant vests, ‘Kevlar Vests’.  While, today, Kevlar® is still a popular bullet resistant material, there are several other high performance ballistic materials on the market, and many body armour manufacturers even use ‘systems’ that incorporate more than one single material in the same vest.

Currently, the most popular ballistic materials for body armor are Kevlar®, Twaron®, Goldflex®, Spectra Shield® and Dyneema®.  Some of these belong to the family of aramid fibres and some to the family of polyethylene fibre, each offering unique advantages.

The international standard for body armor

Many countries e.g. Germany and the UK have their own ‘body armor standard’ but the one that is more or less accepted around the world is the ‘NIJ Standard 0101.06’.

NIJ Standard 0101.06 establishes minimum performance requirements and test methods for the ballistic resistance of personal body armour intended to protect against gunfire. This is a technical document that specifies the minimum performance requirements that equipment must meet to satisfy the requirements of criminal justice agencies around the world.

The highest possible level of ballistic protection possible for soft body armour is Level IIIA. Higher levels of protection from rifle ammo is only possible with aid of additional ballistic plates.

How does it feel to get shot in a bulletproof vest?

Most officers shot in bulletproof vests will end up with a nasty-looking bruise caused by blunt force trauma. But it is unlikely that it will even incapacitate you. Many officers shot in their armour have been able to shoot back at their attacker, and in many cases they have been able to neutralise the threat.

Getting shot by a 9mm or .44Mag round fuels an extremely sharp, stingy and pointed pain, which will most likely wind you for a couple of seconds. Due to the kinetic energy and deformation of the ‘bullet’ within a fraction of a second, the heat will also potentially leave a small burn mark on your skin at the point of impact.

If you have suffered from such assault you must seek immediate medical help and get checked out in case of any internal bleeding suffered due to rupture of any organs.

Why do bulletproof vests only cover the chest?

The ballistic panels inside a bulletproof vest are designed to protect the vital organs. Extending the ballistic protection below the waist line would make it impossible to perform certain tasks such as driving a car.

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, to use their bulletproof vests.

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.

Wear your bulletproof vest today, so you can go home tonight!

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  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…

    • And all criminals who intend to rob you of salt you rob anyone near you or take your life. Did you know more people are murdered with hands than they are with the AR-15 or any type of modern sporting firearm you know more people are murdered by drunk drivers then those by anyone using a modern sporting rifle. But they don’t blame the car now do they

  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 😉

      • Certain velocities may indeed penetrate armor of certain ratings, but heavier rounds bring more blunt force trauma. The more mass a round has, the more blunt force trauma. In particular if it is moving quickly like a .44 mag. The .44 mag is moving at similar velocity as a 9mm +P and pushing a bullet 2 to 4 times heavier. A 240 gn .44 mag will run at 1300-1500 fps. A 9mm +P 114 gn bullet is only pushing 1300-1400 ish fps while a non +P is subsonic, moving at 1050 to 1200 fps.
        So no, a 9mm of any kind is not a threat to body armor of any rating, even old school IIa armor. A .44 mag will penetrate almost all soft armor 10 years or older. It’s only recently that soft armor has been rated to stop a .44 mag. Most modern soft armor is not rated to stop a .454 cas, .500 magnum or similar rounds however.

        The 5.7×28mm is more of a rifle round than handgun round, though it’s fired primarily from handguns. It will run at around 2,000 fps, thus the reputation for punching through body armor. It is a rather weak round, and the penetration after passing through soft body armor is questionable. TBH if I had to be shot with something, I think I’d rather be hit with a 5.7×28 and suffer a small shallow wound than cope with the blunt force impact of a .44 mag. Neither are going to be fun, and both could kill you even with armor, but the .44 mag is more likely to kill you I feel than the 5.7.

        Rifle rounds will punch through soft armor with no problem. One can easily fire .300 blackout, 7.62×39 or .223 from a pistol configuration. These rounds have sufficient velocity that soft armor does not offer much protection. It’s better than nothing, but not that much.

    • 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.

      • This is a fantastic and criminally under rated post, perhaps the most thorough and well argued i’ve read on the web.

        It is obvious you know this subject well.

  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.

      • Speaking of military were the flack jackets from the Vietnam era any good at stopping what was being shot at you. We were told just to leave them behind.

  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.

    • Exactly. What world is the author living in where .44 Magnum is “slow”? .45 Auto may be called slow and fat, but .44 Magnum is FAST and fat, and more of a threat to penetrate body armor (especially with hard-cast bullets) than nearly any other handgun caliber.

  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.

    • Incorrect: the sale of body armor is legal in all 50 US states. However, Connecticut only permits face-to-face sales. In other words, you must physically go to a store or dealer for purchasing; you may not do so through online vendors.

  16. I may be a bit late in this thread, but I cringe at the term “bullet proof” vest. Not trying to be picky here, but you address the issue in your very first item yet still refer to it as “bullet proof” through out the rest of the article?

    • Bullet resistant and bullet proof is basically the same. It is still a stubburn myth that the word “bullet proof vest” is incorrect. Same as “water proof jacket”. The proof here can also mean “resistant”.

  17. And what purpose does it defeat??? If i live in a poor, dangerous area thats crime ridden and gang infested and you own a vest common sense says WEAR IT!!!

  18. “Huge handgun rounds such as .44 Magnum and .45 ACP will travel at slower speeds”

    Um, no. While this may be true of the 100+ year old .45 ACP round, .44 Magnum is frequently moving at 1300-1400+ fps, on par with 9mm velocities.

    Perhaps the author was thinking of .44 special, which is a older, slower, low-pressure round.

  19. THE QUESTION regarding the impact lethality of a heavy bullet traveling at lower speeds versus a light bullet traveling at higher speeds has been roundly argued/discussed/fought over for decades, if not centuries, around campfires, in magazines and loading manuals, specialty books, on firearm’s boards and in corporate advertising board rooms without any definitive answers. Yes, many heavy bullets are deadly, and so are some smaller ones. Placement is critical. About the best that can be said is we must do our utmost to protect against whatever might most likely be expected. If you’re a whitetail, keep out of unprotected areas during hunting season!

  20. I remember, during one just for fun testing, of some old military vest, at one shooting range, long time ago, with some friends… we used .357, .38special, 7.62×39, shotgun, 9Para etc. Interesting results came out from the shotgun. Bigger pellets do not pass, few layers are sufficient, but smaller ones – bird shot for quail, is very interesting! Not all, but considering that there are hundreds of pellets inside the cartridge, lat say at least some 25% of pellets pass through/between fibers, because they have extremely small surface (1.2-1.5mm), and at close range still high velocity (350-400+ m/s).. so if we eliminate rifle rounds (7.62×39 etc.), shotgun slugs and big diameter pellets, more dangerous of all handgun calibers tested, was small diameter (birdshot) shotgun pellets! Also, nobody mentioned, but probably rarely used in the US, Soviet 7.62TT cal. (Yugo M-53 “Tetejac” pistol, with PPU Serbia and other ammo producers, that have cartridges of 1.500-1.700fps), it is known in “the area” as extremely good penetrator!

  21. In the past, soldiers had only one body armor option: heavy steel plate. But today, they have the luxury of choosing ceramic, steel, kevlar, and polyethylene. Of these materials, ceramic and steel are the most common. Weight: Ceramic is lighter; steel is heavier. Longevity: Steel lasts longer; ceramic has to be replaced in fewer years. Cost: Steel is less expensive; ceramic is rather pricey.

  22. Very detailed article! Didn’t know that getting armor wet could increase bullet penetration and danger. Learn something new every day.

  23. A bullet resistant vest is of no use if you’re shot in the head!!! If confronted by a bad guy I would aim for the Bridge of the nose.

  24. There are some real experts on this thread so hopefully I’ll get an answer to a couple of questions I haven’t been able to find on the web.

    First, if you have IIa body armor and you get shot by, say a .357 Magnum round that succeeds in penetrating your armor, do you still get some level of protection? In other words, are you more likely to survive (and if so, about how much more) than if you weren’t wearing body armor at all? If I had to guess, I’d guess that even the lower-rated armor dissipates a lot of the energy and that makes the round less lethal.

    The second question is sort of related. Does it matter how far away you are from the shooter? In other words, IIIa armor will protect you from a .357 Magnum round fired from a foot away but will IIA armor protect you from the same round fired, say, 50 feet away. Is that how it works?

    Thanks in advance for any answers anyone might have.

    • Thanks for your comment. Please find our remarks below.
      1) Say that a .357 Magnum round succeeds in penetrating your IIA body armor, chances are that the injury will be even more lethal as the armor panel has already deformed the round. However if a (slow) .357 Magnum has been stopped by the IIA body armor but exceeding the trauma allowed by NIJ it can be less lethal.
      2) In general, the faster a round goes, the more penetration power it will have. So it is about the speed of the bullet on impact. At this page you can find some more details. The muzzle velocity for all .357 rounds is higher than the velocity at e.g. 50 yards.

  25. I absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing such useful info, and again awesome site!


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