When considering almost any form of self defense with a firearm, the focus and training is on your skills to get the first round fired.
But there is a real threat that you might not be the first to get the shot off, so will probably start thinking about protection from a round. Images from the media can make it look bulky, and ultimately very heavy.
So how much does a bulletproof vest weigh?
A typical bulletproof vest weighs between 5 to 8 pounds. Lightweight armor can go to around 3 lbs but that is more expensive. A bulletproof vest is rated to a protection level out of 5, and at certain levels plates are needed. These plates can be an additional 8 pounds on their own, and are added as an extra weight to carry.
The fact is domestic threats can happen at any time, so considering body armor, even as a civilian is entirely rational. Who wants to confront an intruder in a rural area without some.
In recent years there have been many advances in materials for impact absorption technology, the fact is the term ‘bulletproof’ does not translate to every vest with every bullet style.
Even those worn by law enforcement are not designed to stop uncommon and larger calibers.
BulletProof Vests – Basic Guide
Bulletproof vest covers the terms ‘ballistics vest’, ‘body armor’, and ‘bullet-resistant vests’.
The term vest obviously refers to an item of protection that is designed to stop a bullet to the torso, while body armor suggests the protection of other extremities like helmets, so is more associated with either law enforcement and the military.
There’s no doubt it saves lives.
You can get two styles of body armor. Soft armor is materially based like kevlar weave, and hard is designed, possibly with metal plates, to stop a rifle round, rather than a pistol.
The US National Institute of Justice classifies body armor into 5 different levels, namely Level IIA, Level II, Level IIIA, Level III and Level IV.
Level IIA – Very soft and composed of woven fibers, typically kevlar. Designed to stop a 9mm FMJ or a .40 FMJ. It’s light, flexible and very concealable.
Level II – Upgraded soft body protection. Stops a 9mm FMJ and a 357 magnum. It’s light but slightly stiffer.
Level IIIA – Designed to stop rounds traveling at just under 1500 ft/s. Will stop a 357 magnum and a 44 magnum. Still soft body protection but ballistic shields can be found. These are around 5lbs in weight.
Level III – The body armor now requires plates to stop rounds, even those from a rifle. Will stop 7.62 ammunition travelling at 2800 ft/s.
Level IV – The highest rated level and designed to take a single hit from an armor piercing round. These can weigh up to 8lbs, heavier if cheap steel is used.
So for common handgun threats you may encounter, like a 9mm or the better powered 44 magnum, Levels II and IIIa are what you need.
Factors That Affect Weight
So given the level for threats and the rounds that each level is designed to stop, a few factors determine how much an individual’s body protection will weigh.
Size – An obvious one. A 6ft 5” male is going to need more protection around his torso than a 5ft 2” female.
Bullet stop level – As you increase the power of the fired round a bulletproof vest is designed to stop the need for stiffer weave and plate shields might be necessary, Stiffer weave for a 44 magnum protection is heavier than that needed to protect against 22 short.
Plate material – When a bulletproof vest starts needing plates, then it can start to add quite a bit of weight. The cheapest plate is steel but is also heavy. Ceramic is lighter but more expensive. Steel plates can be around 10 lbs, and the lightest ceramics 3 lbs in weight.
What Are The Common Materials
Early on, ballistic nylon was used, but then the industry moved on to Kevlar, Twaron, Spectra or manufactured polyethylene fibers as the base material. The vests are then typically additionally reinforced with plates made from steel, fibreglass, ceramic, titanium, doron, or a composite to achieve lightness and strength.
Bulletproof vests are made out of interwoven fibers, much like hessian. It works on the same principle as lamination.
The interweaving creates layers to absorb the impact with greater efficiency.
The modern material to do this is called Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE).
It’s lightweight, durable, and flexible enough to make as clothing. Laminated together it provides solid protection when struck by a round.
It’s so tough that a Level IIIA vest can protect you from any known handgun.
How Much Do Concealed Bulletproof Vests Weigh
What I did was make a list of common concealed bulletproof vests and put them into a table to have a look at the weight disparity.
I selected medium as the option for size to get a similar comparison and level 3A protection as a default.
So, here’s the table.
|Israel Bullet Proof and Stab Proof Vest Concealed Level IIIA SP1||6.4 lbs (2.9 kgs)|
|Protection Group Denmark Level 3a Alpha Concealable Bullet And Stab Proof Vest||3.2 lbs (1.352 kgs) – large size|
|Engarde Deluxe Concealable Carrier + Level L111a Bulletproof And Stab Proof Mt-pro Panel||4.0 lbs (1.82 kgs)|
|BulletSafe Bulletproof Vest – Level IIIA||5.7 lbs (2.6 kgs)|
|SafeGuard Armor Stealth Concealable Bullet Proof Vest Body||5.2 lbs (2.36 kgs)|
|Safeguard Armor Hybrid Concealed Bullet Proof Vest||5.5 lbs (2.5 kgs)|
Manufacturers have been competing for a while now to balance protection against weight.
It seems that you can get very lightweight armor protection that would stop a 44 magnum for under 2kgs in weight, that is designed to be concealable.
The range tended to be from 3 pounds to 6 for concealable body armor though.
How Much Does Level 3 Body Armor Weigh
Level 3 body armor is pretty much the same level as the concealed body vests in the table above, so the quick answer is between 3 to 6 pounds in weight.
AR500 Body armor is typical of the type designed and used and in medium size will weigh around 3.3 lbs (1.5kgs).
It’s manufactured in the USA is made from Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE), is lightweight and concealable.
The additional weight comes when you add plates to the bulletproof vest.
Should you really be expecting rifle shots, then you can easily add another 8 to 10lbs per plate.
How Much Does Level 4 Body Armor Weigh
Well, Level 4 body armor is more about the plate than the vest. So in addition to the vest you will need to add the plate, which ranges in weight.
I did another table so you could get an idea and picked a typical medium sized plate
|Level IV Spartan Body Armor Multi Hit Rifle Ceramic Body Armor||7 lbs. (3.17 kg)|
|DFNDR Level IV Rifle Rated Body Armor||6.6 lbs. (3 kg)|
|Tactical Scorpion Gear – Level IV Polyethylene Curve Body Armor 10×12 Modified||6.3 lbs. (2.9 kg)|
|RTS Tactical Body Armor Level IV Ceramic||6.3 lbs. (2.9 kg)|
|AR500 Armor® Level IV Body Armor 10″ x 12″||7.6 lbs. (3.4 kg)|
So between 6 to 8 lbs for a reasonably decent 10 x 12 “ plate to take your protection up to Level 4 seems about right.
As you can see there are plenty of nuances when talking about weight and bulletproof vests.
Size, material and level of protection all come into play. It all depends upon your situation and why you might need it. Level 4 is capable of stopping rifle rounds of 7.62mm traveling at 2800 ft/s.
Do you really need that level?
There’s no point dressing up like a Navy Seal if you don’t need to. It’s extra weight and cost. So identify why you need a vest and match your protection to the anticipatable threat.
For most people concealable body armor would be fine, as it still concealable and stops a 44 magnum round. It’s a good compromise between need and realistic protection.
So make sure your budget fits, and evaluate carefully. Mobility is sometimes just as important.