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9 Tips for Choosing Soft Body Armor

9 Tips for Choosing Soft Body Armor

You're looking for soft body armor that can protect you while still fitting properly and holding up over time. This can feel like no easy feat. How do you know which type is right and if it's sufficient enough?

Today we're giving you 9 detailed tips for choosing the soft body armor that best meets your needs!

1. Understand Your Protection Needs

Before you make a decision, think about where and how you'll use the armor. Will you wear it daily in a city environment, or do you need it for specific high-risk situations where hard armor may also be worn?

If you're looking for everyday concealable handgun protection, concealable cut panels are your best fit. Concealable panels go in concealable cut vests. It's important to make sure the vest supports the armor in question as sizing may vary slightly between manufacturers. For example, all of HighCom's Concealable cut soft armor fits in the HighCom Trooper C Concealable Vest

If you're using soft armor ICW (in conjunction with) hard armor, the proper style depends on the carrier. For plate carriers, soft plate backer inserts in the size of the hard plates are the right fit. On the other hand, Tactical and overt carriers accept a variety of full size soft panels in Concealable, BALCS/SPEAR, or a manufacturer-specific cut. Police officers commonly wear soft armor in an overt carrier with the ability to add hard armor plates on the fly for upgraded protection specs.

2. Know the Body Armor Standards

When picking soft body armor, consider the threats you are likely to encounter. Soft armor alone is made specifically for handgun protection. NIJ Standards outline the different handgun threats for each threat level. Per NIJ Standard 0101.06 the different threat levels and test rounds are as follows:

  • Level IIA
    • 9mm, .40 S&W
  • Level II
    • 9mm, .357 Magnum
  • Level IIIA
    • 9mm, .357 SIG, .44 Magnum

The NIJ is currently transitioning to an updated standard that drops Level II as a threat level. With Level II and IIIA not being far off in price, most choose IIIA for the maximum handgun threat protection.

As we've discussed in prior articles, it's important to consider NIJ Certified armor. This armor goes through a more extensive process than just standard ballistic testing and is subject to routine follow-up testing by the NIJ.

3. Fit and Mobility

Fit and mobility are a big part of choosing soft body armor. You want the armor you pick to fit properly and be comfortable to wear for long periods in both slow and high pace environments. If your armor doesn't fit properly, you may compromise mobility and worst of all protection.

This is especially important if you need to wear it as part of your daily routine or during active duty where quick movement is essential. 

4. Weight and Thinness of the Armor

The weight and thinness of soft body armor are crucial, and sometimes deciding, factors to consider. Soft armor is generally lightweight as is, so added weight savings comes down to your preference. Do remember that weight is one of the primary drivers of price, so lighter panels will often cost more.

Thinness is another important trait to consider, especially if you're wearing your soft armor with hard armor. You want to make sure that the soft inserts are thin enough to where they and the hard plate will both fit in your carrier.

5. Aramid vs. Polyethylene

Modern day soft armor is made from a variety of materials, and often times, a combination of a few.

Aramid is well-known for its durability and strength, able to absorb and disperse energy from bullets or sharp objects effectively. It's also heat resistant, which adds an extra layer of safety in environments where fire hazards are a concern.

Many may use aramid and Kevlar® synonymously. Aramid is the actual material, Kevlar® is the aramid-based fiber developed by DuPont. Other manufacturers, like Teijin, also make aramid-based fibers for ballistic protection.

On the other hand, polyethylene, or UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) is incredibly light and offers a high level of ballistic protection. It's ideal for those who prioritize mobility and wearability. Manufacturers like Dyneema produce some of the strongest and lightest UHMWPE ballistic materials.

Polyethylene soft armor is often lighter and thinner than aramid, thus demanding a higher price. 

6. Understand Care and Maintenance

Taking care of your soft body armor is essential for ensuring it remains effective and lasts as long as possible. Proper maintenance starts with following the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and storage.

Most soft armor should be kept dry and clean, as moisture and dirt can degrade the materials over time. It's also important to regularly inspect the armor for any signs of wear and tear, such as fraying edges or loose threads.

If your armor has removable panels, take them out and check both the panels and the carrier for damage. Storing your armor flat or on a proper hanger will help maintain its shape and function.

Regular care not only extends the life of your armor but also ensures it will provide the maximum level of protection when you need it.

7. Warranty and Lifespan

Checking the warranty and understanding the product's expected lifespan are important steps. Most reputable manufacturers offer a warranty that covers defects and workmanship for a certain period. This can give you peace of mind, knowing that you are covered if something goes wrong with your armor under normal usage conditions.

And knowing the lifespan of your armor is crucial. Typically, manufacturers will recommend replacing body armor every five to ten years, depending on the material and usage. Make sure you are aware of these timelines to ensure your armor's effectiveness isn't compromised due to age or wear.

However, body armor does not necessarily expire when the warranty is up. The warranty date is only a guarantee by the manufacturer for that time frame and is a recommendation to replace after. Properly maintained body armor can last beyond the end of warranty.

8. Reviews and Testimonials

When you're considering which soft body armor to purchase, don't overlook the importance of reviews and testimonials. These can provide real-world insights into how the armor performs under different conditions.

Reviews often detail the experiences of other users with aspects like comfort, durability, and the protective capabilities of the armor. This feedback can help you understand the pros and cons of each option before making a decision.

It's also a good way to gauge the reliability of the manufacturer and the quality of their customer service. Pay attention to comments about the armor's performance in actual use scenarios. This info is helpful in figuring out whether a particular model will meet your needs.

9. Training and Familiarization

Getting the most out of your armor is also about knowing how to use it effectively. Training and familiarization with your armor are key to ensuring you are protected in the best way possible.

Spend time wearing your armor during training sessions to get used to its weight and feel. This helps you move more naturally and react faster in dangerous situations. Training also allows you to test how the armor handles in various physical activities and conditions.

By understanding the capabilities and limitations of your armor, you can be more confident and effective in using it.

The Right Soft Body Armor for You!

Choosing the right soft body armor is essential for your safety and comfort. Remember, the best soft body armor is one that offers protection while allowing you to move freely and confidently.

At Top Armor, our armor partners LTC and HighCom Armor have been making high quality armor for decades. Their proven track record of performance and reliability has earned the trust of hundreds of government agencies around the globe; and now we're bringing you the same top quality armor.

Get in touch today to find out how we can help with all your body armor needs!

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