Why buy a rifle Plate?
In an increasingly dangerous world, the need for body armor has become established. Yet, the question remains, what type of bulletproof plates should I be running in my carrier?
The first parameter that needs to be determined is what ballistic rating is necessary for the situations that the vest will be used for. Like everything in the tactical world, there is a compromise to be made between capability and mobility. Everyone would like to be running around in armor that will stop the 30mm depleted uranium rounds fired from an A-10, but that just is not practical. The compromise between toughness and mobility is the primary discriminating factor between bulletproof vests and the various materials that they are constructed from.
Why do the Police use Kevlar?
The Kevlar vests utilized by police forces around the world represent the greatest such compromise in the market today. Kevlar vests are light, flexible and easy to wear all day without hindering movement all that much, though they have a fatal flaw. Even the lightest rifle rounds and even some fast moving pistol calibers easily defeat Kevlar vests. Therefore, while they may be called ‘bulletproof’ vests, in reality they are vulnerable to a large percentage of all firearms ever made. Yet, Kevlar makes sense for police departments. Most of the work that they do involves chasing down criminals and having to be ready at a moment’s notice to respond to anything. In such a scenario, having a light comfortable vest that can easily be worn all day makes more sense than a heavier more rigid rifle rated vest. Especially considering police forces are overwhelmingly faced with pistol fire and are often at the tip of a first response spear that includes medical teams that can deal with the physical trauma associated with being shot in a soft vest.
Rifle plate has its own very important niche, both for its protective ability, and some other attributes that you may not be aware of. The most obvious benefit in buying and wearing rifle plate is the advanced, acute-trauma free, protection against all varieties of handguns as well as protection against common rifle fire, including the world’s most popular assault rifles and intermediate sniper fire. Having a solid steel or ceramic plate as opposed to a soft Kevlar reduces the internal damage caused by stopping a bullet in its tracks. A hard plate distributes the force across the entire chest instead of a few inch diameter area. This makes taking hits a much less serious issue. Often times those shot while wearing soft vests still require medical attention to address their broken ribs or even internal hemorrhaging caused by the impact of even minor pistol calibers like 9mm and 380ACP. Should a person be hit with a 44 magnum or similar large-bore hunting pistol round, they still might die from the immense blunt force trauma even if the round is stopped.
The most important attribute of solid-state rifle plate for civilian use however is its longevity. Many are not aware that the Kevlar in soft vests has an expiration date of only a few years, and must be replaced every time it is shot. AR500 plates on the other hand, as long as they retain their protective coating and do not rust can last indefinitely. This makes them much more economical for a prepping solution as they do not have to be replaced, while providing the maximum ballistic protection available. Should they ever need to be used, their additional weight and in-flexibility will likely be a minor annoyance compared to whatever threats they are being brought out against.
AR500 Rifle Plate POU
POU, or Philosophy of Use, is a piece of gear’s possible reasonable applications and a short description of how it should be used in those “philosophies”. Coined by YouTuber Nutnfancy, the term POU is useful for cutting through the marketing hype that surrounds the tactical gear market and community as a whole. As an example, a small .380 chambered pocket pistol might be great for summer EDC, but as a home-defense weapon there are better alternatives and while the pocket pistol may be “capable” of doing the job, it has features specifically optimized against the needs of the home-defense scenario. Therefore, while Walther’s marketing department may herald the PPK as a great home-defense pistol, such a claim does not hold up in a POU discussion. It was designed to be a carry-gun; therefore, it cannot also be optimized for home-defense.
The same discussions can be had of bulletproof vests and ballistic plates. Not only are different ballistic resistant materials better for certain applications, plates often vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Of the three commonly used materials in ballistic plates (Kevlar/fiber, AR500, and Ceramic) AR500 steel is the heaviest but also the sturdiest. AR500 steel, at the end of the day, is steel, and can take a beating as a result. Unlike soft Kevlar/ballistic fiber panels, AR500 plates are typically rated at NIJ III or above, meaning they are rated to reliably stop multiple impacts of major rifle calibers 308 Win/7.62x51mm at point-blank range after being torture tested in a lab for a week. Unlike Kevlar or Ceramic plates, AR-500 steel does not deteriorate significantly after medium threat level hits, and only weakens locally after serious impacts toward its performance limit. As a result, a Level III+ AR 500 plate will be able to stop entire magazines from an AK-47 whereas a similarly, or even greater rated Ceramic plate may be seriously compromised after the first impact.
Due to its weight, AR500 is best used in situations where a degree of mobility can be sacrificed or where there will be little natural cover available. Vehicle based operations, checkpoints, and home defense are all scenarios where AR-500 would excel. All of these near stationary areas of operation are also magnets for large volume, serious fire. In a WROL situation, these places where ambushes would be the most likely to occur and staged assaults would take place. In the everyday world, having rifle protection may seem like overkill, but that is true of most vests. AR500 doesn’t make sense for undercover operations or even most plain-clothes duties like nightclub bouncing due to its weight and bulk, though some manufactures have been developing carriers that better conceal the hard plates, so that may be subject to change. AR-500 also makes sense for replacement plates for those who would already be wearing an overt plate carrier like police officers, other law enforcement, or bounty hunters handling dangerous targets.
For those who might never encounter a rifle in their life, wearing protection for one might seem ridiculous, but there are other benefits of rifle plates that carry over in to handgun performance, namely trauma reduction. While Level IIIA soft Kevlar vests can stop a 44 Magnum from penetrating, all of that energy (up to 1500 ft./lbs.) is transferred into the targets torso in an area the size of a fist. So roughly equivalent to taking a 400mph fastball to the heart. Hard plates help to distribute the force of the impact over a greater area, ideally the entire torso, so internal trauma and organ damage is significantly reduced. Hard armor thereby provides not only penetration protection, but also trauma protection. This is crucial for up-close engagements where more than one hit can be expected. If you are lying on the ground because of the impact of the bullet, your assailant will have an easy time making the second one land in an unprotected area if they are intent on killing you. With a hard plate, taking a round results in less time “out of the fight” so to speak and a greater likelihood that you will survive the internal trauma that comes with being struck by a bullet.
Whenever picking out any piece of gear, be sure to select the right tool for the job. Our Level III+ rifle vests are the toughest on the market, they will never be a Level IIA bulletproof T-shirt.
Which bulletproof vest for bugging-out vs bugging-in?
In developing prepping plans, it becomes important to focus on multiple options of preparedness. Some choose to prepare for being mobile, to get to another, safer, location. While others choose to hunker in and prepare their permanent dwelling for any potential issues. Often, it is best to develop both plans simultaneously so one has options and is therefore more prepared for a wider variety of scenarios. In each plan, the need for personal ballistic protection is ever present. However, the particular challenges and needs differ depending on whether mobility or protection is the primary objective. In this article I hope to present options for body armor that fit multiple scenarios so you and your family can be best prepared in event of a crisis.
The first scenario to cover is the most common, the “Bugging-out” plan. The premise behind this method of prepping is rather straightforward. Have supplies and gear focused on mobility to safely get to a more secure, less precarious location. This method of prepping is favored in urban population centers and suburbs where securing locations is more difficult given the higher population density. It makes sense then to relocate out of one’s apartment in the city or suburban home to a more isolated location like a cabin or rural relative’s home. The key to this kind of prepping is making it to the target as quickly and safely as possible. If the plan entails going on foot through possible dangerous terrain, weight is the primary concern. In this case a light Kevlar vest is probably the way to go. However, if one is simply driving to the target location, heavier, more protective armor is feasible. The best armor for the vehicle ex-fil is AR-500 steel plate because of its extensive protection against the vast majority of rifle fire, including the most popular assault rifles like the AR-15/10 and AK-47/74. Even mid-range sniper rifles, typically chambered in .308 Win, are ineffective against AR-500 plates. AR-500 beats more advanced ceramics for prepping because of its toughness and longevity. Ceramic plates can crack and break even when just tossed around, and with supply lines non-existent in prepping scenario, you can’t replace your plates every time you hit the deck a little too hard.
The second scenario is quite a bit different. Fortifying your present, permanent home, sometimes jokingly referred to in the prepping community as “Bugging-in” presents different challenges and opportunities. When it comes to choosing a bulletproof vest, mobility is secondary to protection. More than likely you will be in your home or on your defensed property when a threat presents itself, so the best course of action is to dig in and fight from your current position. Here the additional weight of AR-500 steel vests is no longer nearly as detrimental as in the bugging out by foot scenario presented early. Here, the added rifle protection and increased trauma protection over Kevlar can be life-saving and it costs very little in utility. As an added bonus, because AR-500 vests are extremely inexpensive compared to their ceramic counterparts, it is more economical to equip the entire family(provided they are grown enough to handle the weight) thereby multiplying force response and taking steps to ensure the safety of non-offensive family members from stray rounds.
For Prepping scenarios, AR-500 steel bulletproof vests make tons of sense in either bugging out or bugging in scenarios. Due to their maximum economy, protection, durability, longevity and ease of repair, AR-500 steel plates are ideal for prepping scenarios where replacing Kevlar or Ceramic plates after every hit would be highly impractical. So in both the short run and long run, AR500 is the ideal material for personal ballistic protection in a survival plan.
Flaws in the NIJ Level Rating System
For years, the NIJ published standards have been adopted by manufactures to categorize their product and put authority behind a vest that is otherwise yet unproven.
In achieving their objective, testing different models of ballistic armor under standard conditions to determine pass/fail, the NIJ has certainly succeeded. Most people in the armor market typically shop by NIJ level first and then by individual model. While this simplifies the buying process for the consumer, it creates many holes in the armor market and sometimes provides dis-incentives for manufacturers to produce the most effective armor possible.
Because the NIJ rating system is so widely used and accepted, it became inevitable that manufacturers would design products specifically around passing a certain Level of certification. The NIJ rating system is not simply rough categories for various levels of protection, rather it is a published, meticulously tuned routine of ballistic testing that serves as the “rulebook” for manufacturers. Each certification level has specific ballistic and “other” (Environmental, physical shock, abrasion, ect.) requirements that a vest must endure in order to pass. Just as in NASCAR, Formula One, the NFL, or any other competitive environment it is in the specificity of the rules and procedures that one can find advantage in. While it may be unfair to claim that manufacturers’ “game” the testing procedures in order to maximize the certification level per cost of manufacture. However, it is only rational to assume that most manufacturers make plates to minimally pass a certain NIJ level using the least, cheapest material possible.
The NIJ does not officially recognize the Level III+ designation, but it is common in the industry because there exists a need for such a level. Makers of rifle plates were not satisfied with the large gap between Level III and Level IV, which necessitates defeating 30-06 AP rounds. AR500 steel based armor, regardless of its thickness or extraneous coatings cannot defeat such a round due to a limitation in the material itself. However, AR500 steel is extremely effective in defeating even large caliber standard loadings and an almost infinite number of lesser rounds. Just making an AR500 plate capable of passing Level III is certainly doable, but such a thin plate does not have the same level of protection as a thicker plate, thus, manufacturers came up with Level III+. Just like +P loadings of ammunition, III+ is not officially sanctioned, however it is industry recognized. Level III+ designates a plate that is designed to perform above and beyond the bare minimum of Level III, but due to the nature of the material, cannot be made capable of defeating AP rounds.
Issues also arise in the Level IV market for similar reasons. The current NIJ testing protocol allows for manufacturers to send in tons of plates so that each plate only has to endure a single round. Granted, this is a serious AP threat, but it creates a minimum that does not reward exceeding. Some manufacturers of advanced ceramic plates make plates that are capable of surviving several AP threats, but these advanced plates are still only labeled Level IV, just like their lesser counterparts. This places the burden of proof on the manufacturer to prove that their plates are capable of surviving multiple hits, and regardless of how well they perform such a test, there will always be naysayers that would be silenced by an official NIJ “Multi-hit” designation.
The most important take-away from this discussion would be just to look into what the plates you plan to purchase were designed for. Were they designed to pass a single test? Or where they designed to exceed that minimum and provide the greatest balance of practicality, performance, and cost?
Who needs a bulletproof vest?
The reasons for choosing to purchase and own a bulletproof vest are varied and widespread, but they all typically boil down to the decision to protect oneself. After all, body armor is just that, armor. It is an insurance policy that you wear over your vital organs to save your life from an otherwise lethal event. The vast majority of people will go their entire life without ever getting shot, and that is generally a good thing. Yet, just like other catastrophic events, it does happen, and it is better to be prepared beforehand rather than after.
There is the small but growing number of people, particularly in the United States, that are choosing to be prepared for the worst. Prepping is an increasingly popular cultural phenomenon and while it may seem silly to some, it never hurts to be over prepared should anything bad happen. From natural disasters to collapses of rule of law and governmental turmoil, danger does exist, especially in the hypothetical future where anything might happen. While many focus almost blindly on offensive weaponry for self-defense with the proliferation of Concealed Carry programs and home defense planning, almost no consideration is typically placed in actual defensive measures. The best laid bug out plan or prepping strategy can easily be scrapped by a single stray round when not wearing armor capable of defeating it. With the variety and customizability of ballistic armor today, and the ever-falling price tag, there remains few excuses to refuse to integrate it into a self-defense strategy. Steel rifle rated bulletproof vests often seem to be overkill for the average civilian, but these too have their specific advantages that make them perfect for certain applications. Compared to Kevlar soft vests, AR500 steel plates do not degrade with light and heat, and thus have a theoretically infinite shelf life so long as they do not rust. This allows them to be purchased once and stored until they are needed.
The most surprise purchasers of high-grade rifle rated NIJ Level III+ AR500 plates are actually those already issued body armor. Law Enforcement and first responders looking to upgrade from their standard issue soft vests typically move up to AR500 steel rifle plates as opposed to the flimsy Kevlar vests they are issued. Contrary to popular belief, the soft Kevlar vests issued to police units across the country and the world are extremely vulnerable to rifle cartridges, offering little to no resistance against anything not fired out of pistol. With the growing threat of domestic terrorism and police targeted violence, the likelihood of an officer being faced with a rifle threat is greater than it has ever been and many feel justifiably under protected by their standard issue vests.
Bulletproof Vests on their own are simply pieces of gear designed to protect their user from harm. They are protective in the same way that a motorcycle helmet protects its wearer from potential harm. No one has ever been killed or injured from an attack from a Kevlar vest as far as the records show. Bulletproof Vests often receive negative press because they are found in stashes of weapons recovered by the police when they raid drug cartels and other nefarious organizations. Bulletproof vests as a result have acquired a stigma of being owned by those looking or expecting to be in conflict with the authorities, yet this is not their only role. Many own bulletproof vests and other ballistic armor to protect themselves in everyday situations and have their critical place in any good home-defense or prepping strategy.