Body armor is an essential piece of defense and safety equipment to protect against various threats, such as penetrating attacks with weapons, resistance to slashing, bludgeoning, and ballistics. If you're a private citizen looking to invest in body armor for personal protection, you may find it a bit confusing at first. Having a better understanding of body armor before you invest in it will help ensure you have the ideal armor for the situations you'll be using it.

We'll provide you with the relevant information you should have on hand about body armor before you decide to purchase one, so you can choose the appropriate type for your needs.

How Body Armor Works

In its most basic principle, body armor works by the transferal of energy. Body armor plates are designed to spread the energy and deform the bullet when struck by a bullet or weapon, significantly reducing blunt force trauma to vital organs. These armor plates are made up of strong fibers that are tightly woven in perpendicular weaves to create a solid sheet of material and twisted to increase strength, density, and thickness. Then, to make it even stronger, the body armor plates are coated with resin, plastic, or other materials. When bullets or weapons hit a surface created from this strengthened webbing, the energy from the impact is then transferred along the entire surface area, meaning the impact isn't felt in one particular spot. The wearer of the body armor still experiences the bullet or the weapon's impact, but over a larger area, reducing the chances of serious injury.

As each layer of interwoven material in the armor plate absorbs the energy, and all the fibers are intertwined, reinforcing each other within that layer, the webbing then slows the bullet down a bit more until it is stopped completely. This is also what causes a bullet to deform and 'mushroom.' In general, the more layers of ballistic material in your body armor, the more protection it will provide.

Ballistic Body Armor

The most common type of body armor you'll encounter is ballistic protection—this type of armor is popularly known as either a bulletproof vest or bullet-resistant. While this armor protects from bullets, there are several different types of bullets to resist, meaning that ballistics body armor comes with different categorized levels. These assigned levels are based on the ammunition type a body armor can stop. The higher the level, the more capable of stopping more powerful ammunition.

Body armor categories are created and certified in the US by the National Institute of Justice, or NIJ. The NIJ test standard is called the Ballistic Resistance of Boy Armor NIH Standard-0101.06 and is what determines the threat levels along with the caliber and velocities each level can protect against.

Bulletproof armors can be categorized as:

  • Level IIA
  • Level II
  • Level IIIA
  • Level III
  • Level IV

Levels IIA to IIA is designed to offer protection against the most common firearms such as 9mm, .357 magnum, and .44 magnum firearms. Bulletproof vests at this level are made of softer materials such as Kevlar, which is strong enough to trap and slow bullets to a complete stop, and you'll see them often referred to as 'soft armors.'

The higher ballistic levels of III and IV are designed to protect against large, high-velocity bullets such as from rifles and submachine guns. These body armors feature hard, rigid plats made from ceramic, polyethylene, steel, or even titanium. These are referred to as 'hard armors' or 'hard plated armor,' and you'll more than likely find them incorporated in vests or plate carriers.

When beginning your search to choose which ballistic body armor you want to purchase, you'll need to determine the ammunition threat level you might find yourself encountering. If you aren't actively part of the military, an LEO, or faced with going to dangerous places such as in a war zone, it's likely unnecessary to need a higher-level armor.

On the other hand, if you are in the military, any special action units, or a member of law enforcement, anything lower will not be appropriate for you either. You'll want the higher levels for optimal protection.

Edged Blades and Spike Protection

More commonly known as stabbing protection or stab-proof armor, this is a type of body armor that resists attacks against cutting tools or weapons like knives, swords, axes, broken bottles, and so on. Body armor that repels edged weapons are entirely different than body armor that repels bullets. You'd assume that an armor that can slow and stop a bullet would be able to do the same to a bladed weapon, but that isn't true. Knives or edges weapons can cut through the protective fibers and fabric of a vest instead of getting trapped in the fibers like a bullet would, so there's still a chance that a blade will get through when wearing a bulletproof armor piece.

In addition to materials like Kevlar and materials similar to those found in bulletproof vests, body armor that protects against bladed weapons has chain mail or laminate applied to stop blades from cutting protective fibers.

A spike weapon can be used to stab. Unlike swords or knives, they don't have an edge. Their deadliness remains in the sharp tip. For example, objects like long nails, needles, ice picks, screwdrivers, and stilettoes can penetrate or pierce through the tiny spaces between the threads of fabric on body armor.


As you can see, the specific vests listed above provide protection only against particular weapons. A bulletproof vest does not guarantee resistance against spike or edges weapons, and a stab-proof vest cannot protect against bullets. Fortunately, thanks to innovation and technology, it is now possible to purchase what is called Multi-Threat body armor that incorporates aspects of each kind of protective material to safeguard from ballistics, edged weapons, and spike damage. Many body armor brands now provide options such as Kevlar plates in stab-proof vests laminated to make them spike resistant.

Multi-Threat body armor is most beneficial to those serving in the military and law enforcement as they often face dangerous situations that require complete protection against a wide variety of threats.

Now that you understand the basics of body armor and its different types, you've got a great foundation that will help lead you to the right kind of protection well suited for the tasks and dangers you face.