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How to Choose the Right Hard Armor Side Plates

How to Choose the Right Hard Armor Side Plates

We all know that the right hard armor side plates can be the difference between a close call and a direct threat to your safety. The importance of choosing high-quality body armor cannot be overstated.

Side plates, often overlooked in favor of more prominent pieces of body armor, play a crucial role in safeguarding the vital organs located at the sides of the human body. Yet, selecting the right type of side plates for your needs requires more than just a passing knowledge of body armor.

It demands a clear understanding of the different types of body armor, the various side plate options available, and the significance of a proper fit and customization. Let's dive in and discover how you can enhance your safety with the right choice of hard armor side plates.

The Basics of Body Armor: An Overview

There are several types of body armor, each tailored to protect against specific threats. The two main categories are soft armor and hard armor.

Soft armor is made from layers of woven or laminated fibers that can stop bullets from handguns by catching the bullet and spreading its force over a larger area of the fabric. This type is more flexible and suitable for everyday wear by police officers and security personnel.

Hard armor, on the other hand, includes rigid plates made from materials like:

  • Ceramics
  • Polyethylene
  • Steel

These plates can stop rifle bullets and are often used in high-risk situations. Hard armor can be worn in conjunction with soft armor for additional protection, or it can be used alone for specific threat scenarios.

Side plates are smaller armor plates specifically designed to protect the sides of the torso, covering areas that might be left vulnerable by the main front and back plates.

The human body's side regions house critical organs that are left exposed with only front and back plates, including the:

  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Spleen
  • Parts of the lungs and heart

Types of Side Plates: Knowing Your Options

It's essential to familiarize yourself with the various options available, each distinguished by its material and protective capabilities. This knowledge enables you to tailor your armor to meet specific threats, ensuring optimal safety in diverse scenarios.

Ceramic Plates

Ceramic side plates stand out for their proficiency in halting high-velocity rifle rounds. They are lighter than their steel counterparts, which makes them more comfortable for prolonged use.

Ceramic plates feature a ceramic strike face in front of a backer, often made of a layered material like polyethylene, aramid, or Kevlar. The design allows the ceramic to absorb and disperse energy from bullet impacts, with the backer minimizing the risk of blunt-force trauma. However, ceramic plates come with higher price tags and are susceptible to drop damage and cracks, necessitating a replacement even if the damage isn't immediately apparent.

PE Plates

Polyethylene (PE) plates are celebrated for their ultra-lightweight nature, significantly reducing the burden of armor without compromising protection. These plates also excel in stopping high-velocity rifle threats, but not the select steel core or "penetrator" rounds their ceramic counterparts might, like M855 or M855A1.

They are more durable than ceramic plates and are often buoyant and more tolerant of different environmental conditions. However, PE plates tend to be bulkier, so it's important for the wearer to ensure the carrier will accept the plate.

Steel Plates

Steel side plates offer durability and the ability to withstand multiple hits without the need for immediate replacement. They're typically the most economical choice, providing a solid balance between cost and protection.

Capable of stopping rifle rounds and protecting against sharp objects, steel plates do come with their downsides. Their weight is a significant factor, potentially reducing mobility and increasing wearers' fatigue over time.

Additionally, steel's high risk of spalling, where bullet fragments and plate material can cause secondary injuries, necessitates the use of spall liners or coatings for safety.

We highly advised that if you are to purchase steel plates, that they come from a reputable manufacturer and are covered either with a spall liner or coating.  

The Significance of Proper Fit and Customization

The effectiveness of body armor is significantly influenced by how well it fits the wearer. A proper fit is not just about comfort. It's critical for ensuring the armor can provide the level of protection it's designed to offer.

Ill-fitting armor can:

  • Leave gaps in protection
  • Expose vulnerable areas
  • Impair the wearer's mobility and ability to respond to threats

Fitted armor conforms closely to the wearer's body shape, covering vital areas without restricting movement. This snug fit distributes the impact of a ballistic threat across the armor's surface, maximizing its protective capabilities.

Well-fitted armor reduces the risk of the plates shifting during movement, which can expose critical areas to potential threats. Comfort, while sometimes considered secondary to protection, is essential for operational effectiveness. Discomfort can distract the wearer or limit their ability to remain agile and responsive.

Tips to Find the Proper Fit

Before purchasing armor, take precise measurements of the torso. This includes the width of the area just under the armpits and along the sides of the torso where the plates will sit.

Everyone's body is different, and considering these differences when selecting side plates can improve fit. For instance, individuals with a more athletic build might require different plate shapes compared to those with a broader waist.

Look for plate carriers, cummerbunds, and side plate pouches that offer adjustability. Features like adjustable straps or modular components can help achieve a more personalized fit, accommodating changes in body size or the need for additional layers of clothing underneath.

If possible, consult with a professional who can provide advice based on your specific body type and protection needs. They can recommend the best type of side plate and fitting techniques. The most common side plate size in the body armor industry is 6x6 (inches). The majority of people will be well-suited with this size. For some, especially taller users, a 6x8 side plate might be more fitting. This allows for a couple extra inches of vertical protection if necessary. 

6x6 vs 6x8 Side Plates

After fitting the side plates, it's crucial to test the armor's impact on mobility. Wear the armor and perform a series of movements you're likely to encounter in your operational environment. This can include bending, twisting, and reaching to ensure the plates stay in place and don't restrict movement.

Choosing High-Quality Side Plates: What to Look For

The choice of material directly impacts the plate's effectiveness against specific threats. The construction of the plate, including how materials are layered or treated, can also affect its durability and performance under fire.

Look for side plates that come from reputable manufacturers that hold multiple NIJ Certifications, preferably perform testing in-house, and have a positive track record with the NIJ. With ceramic plates being one of the more difficult materials to craft a high performing plate from, it's a plus if the manufacturer has NIJ Certified ceramic models. NIJ Certification provides validity to the manufacturer's testing claims. Plates that meet or exceed these standards are generally considered to be of high quality.

High quality doesn't always mean heavier or thicker. Advances in material science have made it possible to reduce the weight and thickness of plates without compromising protection. Consider the balance between the protection level and the plate's weight and thickness, as this will affect overall comfort and mobility.

The best side plates are those that can be easily integrated into your existing armor system. This includes compatibility with the carrier or vest and the ability to add or remove plates as needed for different threat environments.

Trustworthy manufacturers with a track record of supplying reliable body armor to military, law enforcement, and security professionals are more likely to offer high-quality plates. Research the:

  • Manufacturer's history
  • Manufacturer's track record and product standing with the NIJ
  • Customer reviews
  • Any reported issues with their products

Making an Informed Decision

Making an informed decision on side plates requires a thoughtful approach. Start by assessing the level of threat you're likely to face, as this will guide you in choosing the appropriate material and protection level.

It's crucial to balance the protection offered by the plates with the need for comfort and mobility, especially if you'll be wearing them for extended periods.  Lastly, consider how your needs might evolve, ensuring that the plates you choose can be upgraded or integrated into different armor systems if necessary. 

Secure Your Safety With Side Plates

Selecting the right side plates is a crucial decision that enhances your protection and safety.

Top Armor understands this importance and is committed to offering fast, seamless, and affordable access to the highest quality side plates and tactical gear. Our partnership with LTC and HighCom Armor allows us to provide an extensive selection of different hard armor, guaranteeing that you never settle on your safety.

If you're seeking side plates that combine quality, durability, and trust, turn to Top Armor.  Shop our side plate collection today.

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