Tactical preps are both some of the most exciting and most terrifying to consider. Having to prepare for a scenario where you may have to actively engage in combat with attackers, looters, or other bad actors to protect your family isn’t one we like having to consider.
If worst should come to worst, having effective modern body armor can be a significant force multiplier to help keep you and your family safe.
We considered some of the most popular and well-known names in the police and military armor world and generated our shortlist of real winners. Many of the body armor choices below serve different purposes, but all provide excellent value and protection.
1. Safe Life Defense Enhanced Multi-Threat Vest (Level IIIA+)
The Safe Lite Defense Enhanced Multi-Threat Vest is a Level IIIA+ concealable bulletproof vest. It’s made from advanced soft armor fibers combined with a highly effective stab/spike/slash resistant cover. It provides one of the best and most adjustable fits for modern body armor and even includes pockets on the front and back to add optional Level IV rifle plates.
Why we like it: The Enhanced Multi-Threat Vest is one of the most comfortable and comprehensive soft vests you’ll find. It fits close to your body and offers a greater range of protection for your sides and upper chest than many other vests. It’s snug enough to disappear under most loose clothes yet robust enough to stop even the heaviest pistol rounds and even includes knife countermeasures.
Flaws: The Multi-Threat Vest is one of those very few products with almost no noticeable physical or performance flaws. The only real downside is its price, about 30-50% more than comparable vests with similar levels of protection.
2. US Armor Enforcer 6000 (Level IIIA)
The US Armor Enforcer 6000 is a Level IIIA bulletproof vest designed for covert or overt wear from a company long known as a major supplier of police and security services armor. It uses six adjustable hook and loop straps that allow you to adjust the fit in every direction for the most comfort and coverage. The interior fabric was specially designed to protect against heat buildup, rash, and other negative skin and body reactions that can occur from using less well-made armor.
Why we like it: The Enforcer 6000 is the ultimate in concealable Level IIIA protection. It’s the thinnest and lightest vest of its protection level that still offers effective wing protection of your sides. It was designed to fit comfortably close to your body in order to be as concealable as possible.
Flaws: The Enforcer 6000 is professional gear, but it sports a professional price as well. You’ll pay substantially more for the lighter and more comfortable fit than you would for less advanced yet still as protective armor.
3. Citizen Armor Civvy Covert Female Vest
The Citizen Armor Civvy Covert Female Vest is a concealable Level IIIA vest designed specifically for female users. It’s made from the same high-strength fibers capable of stopping up to powerful .44 magnum rounds yet fits much better and more comfortably on the female form.
Why we like it: One of the biggest complaints body armor manufacturers have heard for years is that there isn’t any armor designed for women. The Civvy is one of the only types of body armor that really accounts for the proportions and shape of the female body and provides protection that’s just as good for women as the best vests are for men.
Flaws: Because of the unique shaped design of the armor it isn’t nearly as adjustable once you get it. You’ll need to perform exact measurements before you place your order for a good fit, and it isn’t at all forgiving of any weight gain or weight loss.
4. Safe Life Defense Concealable Flexible Rifle Armor (FRAS)
The Safe Lite Defense Concealable Flexible Rifle Armor (FRAS) is a specialized soft armor designed to stop the bulk of modern rifle rounds. It isn’t rated for most heavier steel-core armor-piercing rounds but is quite capable of handling the kind of .223 or even 7.62×39 you’re likely to encounter in everyday life. It does this through a
Why we like it: The FRAS is one of the only systems out there that protect against rifle rounds without the need for hard ceramic or steel plates. It’s rated to stop the bulk of modern .223/5.56 rounds plus lead-core 7.62×39. That gives you substantial protection against most threats a prepper will face without having to wear bulky, movement restriction hard plates.
Flaws: The FRAS armor system is innovative, but you definitely pay a premium for the comfort benefits it provides. Expect to pay substantially more than hard armor with the same level of protection.
5. Israel Catalog Bulletproof Suit Jacket (Level IIIA)
Attacks don’t only come when you’re armed and ready. The Israel Catalog Bulletproof Suit Jacket is a Level IIIA bulletproof garment tailored to match a stylish suit jacket. It slips on like a traditional blazer yet offers comparable protection to a close-fitting vest. It’s been used widely by security services personnel and close protection officers around the world.
Why we like it: The Bulletproof Suit Jacket is the ultimate in concealable protection in a business setting. It doesn’t add bulk and doesn’t show a potential attacker that you’re even wearing body armor. It’s an excellent option if you frequently do business in parts of the world where an attack on a foreign businessman is a serious concern, or if you’re worried about an office shooting event at your place of work.
Flaws: While it’s certainly effective and comfortable, it does have some inherent limitations. The physical design of suit jackets creates a gap at the front where you have no protection at all. It can also be tempting to leave it unbuttoned, creating even more risks of unshielded areas.
6. TuffyPacks Patriotic Themed Ballistic Backpack Shield (Level IIIA)
The TuffyPacks Patriotic Themed Ballistic Backpack Shield is a Level IIIA 11×14 inch ballistic shield that slips into a backpack. It’s specifically designed to protect your children against school shooters and other potential threats they may face while they’re out of your presence. They aren’t materially changed much from traditional ballistic plates, yet they weigh only 19 oz and are comfortable enough that they probably won’t notice them after getting used to wearing them.
Why we like it: If there’s one thing you can always count on your children to have with them in school it’s their backpack. Should the unthinkable happen the TuffyPacks Ballistic Backpack Shield offers them substantial protection against the rounds they’re likely to face from a school shooter. It’s also bright and colorful enough not to frighten them from having it in their backpack.
Flaws: At the end of the day, this is only as effective as your children’s willingness to carry and use it. It’s not a vest that will be on their body at all times, and there’s no guarantee they’ll have their backpack with them when it counts. It’s definitely a good option, but it isn’t perfect.
7. Armored Republic AR500 Level III+ ASC Body Armor (Level III+)
The Armored Republic AR500 ASC Body Armor is a 10×12 inch Level III+ hard armor panel. It’s designed to slip into lower-level body armor or dedicated plate carriers and provide effective protection against all pistol ammo and the majority of non-steel-core rifle rounds.
Why we like it: Made out of high-strength AR500 steel, the ASC Body Armor panel is cheaper, thinner, and offers a much longer lifespan than comparable ceramic or polymer hard plates. It has an anti-spalling spray coating to protect against shrapnel from destroyed rounds and can handle multiple impacts from high-powered rifle and pistol rounds effectively.
Flaws: Ballistic steel plates like the ASC Body Armor are heavier than comparable ceramic plates. They will be thinner, which can impact comfort and usability, but you will notice the weight difference when carrying them all day long.
8. Israel Catalog Lightweight Bulletproof Vest for Children (Level IIIA)
The Israel Catalog Lightweight Bulletproof Vest for Children is an Israeli made Level IIIA vest designed to fit children as young as 6. It offers protection against all pistol rounds and gives the younger members of your family substantial levels of security against stray shots or purposeful assault. We don’t like to have to think about it, but there are ‘people’ in the world who would willingly target a child.
Why we like it: The world can be a dangerous place even for the youngest members of your family. The Lightweight Bulletproof Vest for Children offers every member of your family effective ballistic protection and safety against attack. If you have to evacuate from civil unrest or another dangerous situation with your family it’s a good idea that everyone is protected.
Flaws: Any parent knows that kids outgrow clothes rapidly. That becomes more of a problem when the clothing in question is a multi-hundred dollar bulletproof vest. You can go up a size, but then you risk the vest not fitting correctly and providing lower levels of protection.
9. Armored Republic AR500 Body Armor Plate(Level IV)
The Armored Republic AR500 Body Armor Plate is a Level IV contoured ceramic ballistic plate. It’s rated to stop all pistol and rifle rounds up to and including .30 cal steel core armor-piercing rounds. They’re lighter and easier to wear than comparable steel plates but are noticeably thicker.
Why we like it: The AR500 Level IV Body Armor plate offers protection against military-grade armor-piercing rounds and other high-level threats. The monolithic ceramic and polyethylene used in its construction are rated to take multiple impacts at the same point and still provide protection.
Flaws: The added protection from a Level IV ballistic plate isn’t worth the tradeoff of expense and loss of flexibility for most preppers. In the vast majority of situations where your average prepper requires body armor, armor-piercing ammunition is unlikely to come into the mix.
10. Tactical Baby Gear Bulletproof Diaper Bag Panel (Level IIIA)
When we first saw the Tactical Baby Gear Bulletproof Diaper Bag Panel we really, really hoped it was a gag item. The thought that you might require a body armor system to protect your infant from stray gunfire was one we found extremely unsettling, but also one that we were forced to admit was necessary. The panel is designed to slip into Tactical Baby Gear’s ‘tactical’ diaper bag and provide Level IIIA protection for both you or your baby if you place them inside.
Why we like it: The Bulletproof Diaper Bag Panel is lightweight, just over ⅕ an inch thick, and offers substantial protection from even high-powered pistol rounds. It slips easily into a slot on your diaper bag and covers a lot more space than you’d think. If you find yourself with your baby in an active shooter or other dangerous situation this could be the difference between life or death.
Flaws: One obvious downside is that the panel only covers one side of the diaper bag. You can certainly hug it close to your body to protect against shots from the other side, but we wouldn’t have minded the ability to place them on either side.
What’s new with body armor
Who should buy body armor?
Body armor is one of those items of kit that many preppers either prioritize or avoid completely. It certainly isn’t a tier-one need for most preppers, but it does have its place in the preps of the right kind of prepper.
Preppers concerned with potential civil unrest – One of the threats many preppers focus many of their preps around is the breakdown of law and order near their home. As the events of the first half of 2020 have shown us, this is a far more present threat than we may have hoped (1).
Scenes of rioters and looters clashing with police have appeared from cities all over America, and it isn’t well understood what can make peaceful protests flare up into violence and arson (2). Body armor paired with self-defense tools and effective training put you in a much stronger position to keep your family safe in the event law and order breaks down temporarily or permanently near your home.
Preppers who live or work in areas with very high crime rates – If you live or work in areas with high rates of violent crime covert body armor may literally save your life. In 2018 alone it’s estimated that nearly 100,000 people were robbed at gunpoint while going about their everyday lives (3). The last thing you want is for some thug to take you away from your family for the petty cash in your pocket.
Wearing a concealed bulletproof vest can protect you from the pistol rounds they’re likely to employ and get you home safe.
Preppers who run their own small businesses – According to the insurance giant Insureon, nearly 1 in 10 small business owners deal with a robbery or theft from their business every year. If you own your own business, and especially one that deals with cash, there’s a very real chance that you’ll have to deal with a robbery at gunpoint.
If you’re anything like us, you have no desire to have your life and your family’s future put into the hands of the kind of person willing to threaten or kill others to steal a few hundred dollars. Consistently wearing concealed body armor can protect you from most pistol rounds that small-time robbers are likely to use against you.
Preppers living or working abroad – Depending on what industry you’re in, you may find yourself faced with opportunities to make great money while working abroad. Oil and gas workers in particular often find excellent opportunities in the kinds of places where unrest and even full-scale civil war is, unfortunately, common (4).
As preppers, we can’t imagine a more terrifying situation than being trapped in a foreign country while major unrest occurs. Having high-quality military-grade body armor puts you in a much better position to get out and get home safely.
Preppers concerned about their children’s safety at school – It’s an uncomfortable topic to think about, but in many of America’s schools children may not be safe. Over the past decade, there have been over 100 shootings in schools and universities, resulting in the death of hundreds of innocent school children (5).
As preppers, we face head-on the hard realities that others shy away from, and one of those is taking steps to prepare and protect your children in the event of a shooting at their school. Thankfully there are several very viable options to help.
You can choose from both child-sized body armor vests and ballistic plates designed to slip covertly into your child’s backpack to protect them should the worst happen.
Hunters – We don’t know about you, but we’ve known some hunters who probably never should have been allowed access to a firearm. Most hunters are responsible and trustworthy people, but there are bad apples in every bunch.
It may surprise you to learn that nearly 1,000 people are shot in hunting accidents every year, with 75 of them actually dying from their wounds. If you’re planning to go out hunting with your friends or family, it’s not a bad idea at all to pick up some body armor capable of protecting you from the lead core rifle rounds commonly used (6).
How we ranked
We used six key metrics when putting together our list of the best body armor. These were covert vs overt, threat level, soft vs hard body armor, wearability, affordability, and build quality/accessories.
Covert vs overt – The two biggest categories of body armor are overt and covert units. Covert body armor, commonly referred to as bulletproof vests, are designed to be worn under your clothes and have a low profile design.
They usually have comfort-enhancing features like cloth backing and increased breathability to make wearing them close to your skin more tolerable. They’re also softer and easier to conceal.
Overt body armor looks much more ‘tactical’ and is designed to be functional, comfortable, and intimidating. Think SWAT armor or military body armor.
Threat level – Modern body armor is ranked by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and comes in five primary levels. For the needs of preppers, we mostly considered two levels of protection.
These were Level IIIA and Level III/III+. Level IIA and Level II armor provides almost no comfort/mobility benefits over more protective armor at this point and so really shouldn’t be considered.
We also looked for armor capable of protecting against additional threats such as slashing or stabbing attacks.
Soft vs hard body armor – Within threat levels, there is also soft body armor and hard body armor. For the purposes of our list, we included both, though for the threats most preppers will face we think soft body armor is the way to go.
A good compromise is to purchase soft body armor that has the ability to accept ballistic plates should your threat environment change.
Wearability – There’s a saying in the preparedness community that the best self-defense gun is the one you’ll actually carry with you. This is a very apt statement when talking about body armor.
It doesn’t matter how effective your body armor is if it’s too heavy or uncomfortable to wear consistently. The ‘best’ body armor for your average prepper is the one that you’ll wear when it counts.
With this in mind, we looked at things like adjustable straps and body armor designed specifically for women’s bodies to provide a better and safer fit.
Build quality and accessories- Other than the actual ballistic elements of body armor we also considered the general build quality. Stitching, straps, velcro/snap placement, overall durability, and UV resistance were all taken into account.
We also took into account the additional features and options available for different vests. Some offer things like shoulder pads, cummerbunds, and groin plate carriers.
Affordability – While body armor is a major expense when you look at it on its own, it’s actually very affordable compared to the potential benefit it can provide. When ranking body armor on affordability we looked at how the price compared to other vests that offered similar levels of protection and comfort.
Brands we trust – While making our list two brands really stood out. These were Safe Life Defense and US Armor. Both produce high-quality products with advanced features that aren’t available from your run of the mill manufacturer. They each offer products that stand out from the crowd and really impressed us with their combination of utility and longevity.
Things to avoid – By far the biggest thing we recommend you avoid doing is purchasing used or military surplus body armor. Kevlar and other para-aramids have finite shelf lives and begin to lose their effectiveness over time. With surplus armor, you have no idea what storage or use conditions it has experienced before reaching you.
We weighted these factors in order of their importance and ranked the different body armor accordingly. Our list above includes some of the best and most effective body armor available to modern preppers.
Concealable body armor can protect you from surprise attacks – By far the biggest benefit of covert body armor is that your assailant doesn’t know you’re wearing it. For decades every shooter has been trained to aim for center mass.
It’s a hard habit to break, especially when you don’t know that there’s a reason to do so. Concealed body armor can protect you from the initial shots you don’t know are coming and give you the chance to fire back to defend yourself.
Body armor makes you more effective in a sudden combat environment – If you’re in a situation where combat is possible at any moment, body armor becomes a true necessity. Overt or covert body armor allows you to survive the initial shots that someone with the drop on you gets in and still stay in fighting shape.
Body armor has long been recognized in military circles as a major force enhancement and survivability tool. It
Body armor makes the most extreme situations more survivable – Body armor is one of those pieces of kit that are truly essential if you ever need them. If you’re in a situation where you find yourself wishing you had body armor, it’s probably going to be a true life or death scenario.
Given that prices of body armor have become more and more attainable over the years it’s a very good idea to seriously consider adding effective modern body armor to your preps.
Body armor is available for the whole family – Body armor for children has some terrifying implications, but it’s an unfortunate threat we as preppers have to face. Thankfully body armor has been made for children and even infants that can protect them from stray shots and shrapnel.
Child-sized bulletproof vests are available all the way up to Level IIIA and some even have the ability to accept Level IV rifle plates for older children.
Q: How does body armor work?
A: Modern body armor fulfills the same role armor has throughout history but in a much different way. Soft armor is a densely woven fabric made of high-strength synthetic fibers such as Kevlar. When a bullet hits these fibers they work together to diffuse the impact force and capture the round before it can penetrate (7).
Once you get up to military body armor it really is comparable to traditional armor. Hard steel, ceramic, and polymer plates are used to rapidly stop the impact of high-powered rifle rounds and project the force away from your organs.
Q: Is body armor legal?
A: Yes. In the U.S.A. anyone who is not a convicted felon may own and wear body armor. Depending on what state you’re located in there may be a few restrictions on where armor can be worn or how it can be purchased, but in general anyone without a felony conviction may own and use them (8). Wearing body armor during the commission of a crime is in itself often an additional crime, but that doesn’t really affect preppers.
Q: Can body armor stop a rifle round?
A: Under the right conditions, and with the right armor, absolutely. There are several different levels of body armor available with the top two levels, Level III/III+ and Level IV, capable of stopping high-powered armor-piercing rifle rounds. Depending on the setup of lower-level armor it’s possible you could survive a shot from a lead-core rifle round from a civilian rifle.
Q: How many threat levels of body armor are there?
A: For the purposes of modern body armor there are five different levels available. The strength and effectiveness go up significantly with each level, but so does the weight and rigidity of it. The levels below are determined by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (9).
Level IIA – Level IIA body armor can protect against 9mm and .40 S&W rounds fired from short-barreled handguns. It offers no rifle round protection at all. This is the epitome of ‘soft armor’ and is usually found in covert body armor, though it has been falling out of favor even then due to its lack of protectiveness. It’s light and comfortable to wear, offering significant flexibility.
Level II – Level II body armor can stop 9mm and .357 Magnum rounds from short barrel pistols but offer no protection against rifle rounds. Mostly found in covert body armor with some lighter police overt armor rated at Level II. The biggest change from Level IIA to Level II is the increased rigidity. It makes it somewhat less comfortable but offers substantially more blunt force trauma protection.
Level IIIA – Level IIIA armor can protect you from .357 SIG and .44 Magnum rounds shot from longer barreled handguns but still offers no rifle protection. Level IIIA armor is still mostly soft armor, but it’s much more structured and rigid than II or IIA armor. Most police issue body armor is Level IIIA.
Level III – Level III body armor is capable of stopping lead core rifle rounds up to 7.62 FMJ. Level III vests are the first level to incorporate ballistic plates as part of their design. They’re mostly Level IIIA vests with included lightweight plates.
Level IV – Level IV body armor is the strongest and offers the most comprehensive protection. Military body armor for soldiers in the field is at Level IV standards, and always includes heavy-duty steel or ceramic rifle plates rated to stop up to .30 Cal armor-piercing rounds. The tradeoff is that Level IV body armor is large, heavy, and impacts your movements.
More recently companies have begun to offer a product called “Level III+” body armor and plates. These aren’t official designations, but for our purposes can be understood to stop more powerful steel core rifle rounds such as .223/5.56 but not heavier rounds such as those from a modern sniper rifle.
Q: How much does body armor weigh?
A: Body armor weight varies significantly depending on its size, type, and protection level. Covert vests are almost always lighter than overt vests as they lack the additional gear loops and mounting systems overt vests often have. Soft armor is also significantly lighter than hard armor, with many military-grade body armor sets weighing upwards of 15 lbs. For most preppers, a soft vest weighing under five lbs will provide ample protection (10).
Q: What body armor does the military use?
A: The different branches of the U.S. military currently use different types of body armor. The U.S. Army employs the Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV), the U.S. Marine Corps uses the Improved Modular Tactical Vest (IMTV) but is beginning deployment of the Plate Carrier Generation III, while the Air Force and Navy currently use the Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor System (IBA) formerly used by the Army, though both are currently fielding bids for more advanced replacements (11)(12)(13).
Q: What is Kevlar?
A: Kevlar is a widely known trademarked name for a type of high-strength, low weight para-aramid fiber commonly used in high-performance applications. Most people recognize Kevlar because of its association with bulletproof vests and other ballistic applications, but many types of body armor use different brand names of para-aramid fiber. Several other high-quality varieties include Twaron, Technora, Heracron, or Alkex (14).
Q: Can body armor stop a knife?
A: Yes and no. Standard body armor will not stop a knife or other stabbing/slashing attack. Kevlar and other aramid fibers are designed to prevent the impact damage of bullets and don’t work well at stopping the thin blade of a knife or spike. There are body armor vests that incorporate a stab-resistant layer.
Our top pick for stab and spike resistant body armor, also our overall number one pick, was the Safe Life Defense Enhanced Multi-Threat Vest (Level IIIA).
Q: Is body armor too hot?
A: There’s no getting around it, wearing a thick layer of non-breathable material like Kevlar and ballistic plates can increase body temperature. This is especially true in hot climates. Wearing body armor consistently is a tradeoff between comfort and protection, with many of the newest vests designed with high-tech ventilation features baked in.
Q: Can women wear body armor?
A: Absolutely! In the past, there were significant problems finding body armor that provided the same level of protection as it did for men. Female police officers and soldiers were told to simply wear smaller versions of male armor, without regard to the significant drop in comfort and protection. Now though, there are several offerings specifically designed with the female body in mind (15).
Our top pick for female body armor is the Citizen Armor Civvy Cover Female Vest.
Body armor is more comfortable, lighter, more effective, and more affordable than ever before. If you’ve already got your essential preps like basic food, water, and protection down it can be a very good idea to pick up some quality body armor for you and your family.
For Survival At Home’s #1 body armor recommendation, click here.
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