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Things to Consider Before Buying a Bullet Proof Vest by Derek Smith

When I was a federal agent, one of the most critical tools I had was my bulletproof vest. It was important because it could save my life. ou have probably seen police officers wearing vests. For them, they could wear a nice thick vest. For me, I had to wear mine under my clothing, and it had to be unnoticeable. This concerned me because I wanted to ensure my thinner vest could still protect me against most rounds.

I went through about four of these vests during my years as an agent. I was quite disappointed when I lost my last vest. I took it with me when I was call back to active duty with the Army Criminal Investigations Division where I performed protective services for Donald Rumsfeld, and I left it by mistake when I returned. That was in 2004. In this article, I want to give you some vital information about vests in case you are looking to purchase one.


Former police officer Brian Murphy was shot 15 times at the Sikh temple massacre in Wisconsin in 2012. He was shot ten times in the appendages. Three of the shots hit his torso and would have been fatal, but they were stopped by his bulletproof vest.

A Bulletproof vest is body-armor that is worn to protect the torso from the penetration of bullets. They are classified by the levels of protection they offer. And since there are a lot of bulletproof vests available on the market today, I recommend that you first determine why you need one and how and where you are going to use it before you buy it.

How does a bulletproof vest work?

It is crucial that you understand how vests work, especially if you are going to depend on one to save your life. A bulletproof vest is considered soft body armor. Hard body armor is made of metal or ceramic plates, while a bulletproof vest is usually made of Kevlar. How does something soft actually stop a bullet, though? A vest made of Kevlar or Gold Flex is essentially a very strong (but light) ballistic net of fiber that resists the force of a bullet. When a bullet hits the “net,” the strands of netting material stretch enough to absorb and disperse the bullet’s energy, keeping it from penetrating straight through the material.

However, a vest has to do more than just protect you against penetration by a bullet as merely keeping the bullet from going through the vest is not enough. Blunt force trauma is also a concern. The force of the bullet is enough to cause severe injuries even though the vest keeps the bullet from going through. A modern vest can protect you from this threat, allowing you to return fire or escape.

The way the vest stops blunt force trauma is much the same as how it stops the velocity of a bullet. It dissipates that energy through the netting material. However, this requires that the fibers of the material be twisted very tightly, and woven together correctly. Resin and plastic film are also used to help give a vest more resistance to blunt force trauma. The impact is still felt, but the force is spread out over the entire surface of the vest.

Bulletproof vest designs are designated into one of seven categories by the National Institute of Justice. Each of these categories has a specific protection rating (the caliber of bullet they can stop). Hard armor ballistic plates can also be added to increase the protection threat level of the vest to Level III and Level IV which are designed to take hits from high caliber rifle rounds. Therefore, you must choose the right category of a bulletproof vest for the threats that you will face before making a purchase decision.

What are the types of bulletproof vests?

There are two types of bulletproof vests, concealable and tactical. I have worn both in the past. Concealable as an agent and tactical in the military. I will discuss each.

1. Concealable Vest

During my time in law enforcement I wore a concealable vest. It is lightweight because it is made from tightly woven, flexible synthetic fibers. You can wear it under a jacket and it won’t show. I even wore mine under my dress shirt. Unfortunately, it can only protect the body from small-caliber guns. This is because when the vest becomes lighter and less obvious, the protection it gives decreases. There are some brands that offer better protection with less weight, as well as providing better body coverage which is very important.

Two places people get shot when wearing a vest is under their arms (armpit) as they are firing their own weapon and exposing their armpit, in the lower back or abdomen, or the side. You want to make sure that your chosen vest covers these areas because this will help protect your liver and kidneys. Mine did not.

2. Tactical Vest

I work tactical vests while in uniform in the military. A tactical vest provides the most protection because it can protect you from high-caliber guns like military rifles. And since a tactical bulletproof vest is usually worn and used by the military and the police, they must pass and meet the ratings of Type III or IV. I will cover the ratings in a moment. Unlike the concealable vest, this vest is made from a thick fiber called Kevlar, and it is fitted with ceramic armor plates.

How and where to buy a bulletproof vest?

In case you are wondering, civilians are legally able to buy body armor such as bulletproof vests. As long as you haven’t had a felony conviction, you can purchase a bulletproof vest online or in a store. That is, unless you live in Connecticut. In Connecticut, body armor purchases must be made face-to-face.

Before buying any particular type of body armor, you should understand the laws on this matter. Although it’s mostly legal to wear body armor for civilians across the US, there might be some locations with certain restrictions. The US government, as well as local state governments, has set particular limitations on body armor purchased for specific persons. Therefore, take time to find out if you are allowed to buy body armor in your particular area. Make sure to do your homework, because you’ll be the one responsible for possessing and wearing body armor. The best way to do it is by talking to your local authority on the subject.

Some states are considering passing laws that make it harder for civilians to buy bulletproof vests. Because of this, I recommend buying your bulletproof vest sooner rather than later. If you feel you require the protection a bulletproof vest provides, it is wise to get one while they are readily available and inexpensive. Here is what you can do.

  1. Go online and check the websites that sell bulletproof vests or find a local dealer.
  2. Make sure you have accurate measurements done. It is very crucial that the bulletproof vest fits perfectly, or else you will feel uncomfortable the entire time you are wearing it, and it may not protect you adequately. Each time I got a new vest, professionals from the company came in to measure me.
  3. Before you but your vest you must have in mind what type of vest you want. This will save you time in choosing which model to buy.
  4. You must be aware of the different levels of protection that body armor is classified into: Level I, Level II, Level II-A, and Level III-A, which is the highest level for law enforcement.
  5. You may want to buy a protective second cover to protect your vest from dirt and dust, so it would be easier to wash. It keeps it tidy and discreet.

What are the different levels of a bulletproof vest?

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has been setting voluntary body armor standards since 1972. The NIJ standard is the only nationally accepted standard for the body armor worn by law enforcement and corrections officers. NIJ also administers a program to test commercially available armor for compliance with the standards to determine whether the vests meet NIJ’s minimum performance standards.

The NIJ ballistic resistance standard classifies body armor by levels of ballistic performance. For any performance level, NIJ’s test protocol requires that the bullet does not perforate the vest and that the vest protects against blunt trauma. The level classification of bulletproof vests is determined by the level of protection they provide.

1. Level I

The vest can protect you from .22 long rifle lead round nose bullets.

2. Levels II and II-A

The vest can protect you from 9mm and.357 Magnum full metal jacket round nose bullets and.22 long rifle lead round nose bullets.

3. Levels III and III-A

The vest can protect you from 7.62mm full metal jacket bullets, 9mm and.357 Magnum full metal jacket round nose bullets and.22 long rifle lead round nose bullets.

4. Level IV

The vest can protect you from.30 caliber armor-piercing bullets, 7.62mm full metal jacket bullets, 9mm and.357 Magnum full metal jacket round nose bullets and.22 long rifle lead round nose bullets.

Understanding the Difference in Vests

I mentioned this before, but you should consider a vest with side protection. A side protective vest differs from standard options. Many vests only protect the front and back of the body, leaving much of the side unprotected. This can leave you exposed to threats that do not come from the front or the back. While a side shot might not cause serious harm, there is the potential for it to be deadly.

Therefore, you must consider your options in a vest with side protection. In case of hand to hand confrontation, this vest will add additional protection from a side thrust that would generally cause you to drop your guard for a few seconds which could allow the assailant to get the upper hand. Having this additional protection will keep you protected. You could also add inserts. These inserts can be used in your vest, and can also be used in a brief case to protect you from an active shooter at work or a back pack or book bag to protect your child in case of a school shooting.

Weight Considerations

When you purchase a bulletproof vest with additional protection, it’s essential to understand that you will be adding weight. The type of material used will determine just how much weight you add to the vest. With this style of vest, you have several options in material, including metal, ceramic, Kevlar (or the equivalent of Kevlar). Just be aware that added plates means added weight.

You can get metal plates, but they are really heavy. Ceramic, Aramid, and Dyneema plates are a better option, as they provide the same protection as metal, but offer far lower weight. Woven side panels can be a good solution, depending on the amount of protection you want in that area (woven panels are not as resistant as ceramic or metal plates, but they’re more flexible and comfortable). You have to consider the threat levels you may encounter every day in your specific area to find the right vest for you.

Design Considerations

You will be able to find a vest with protective fiber options in several different styles. For instance, woven panels can be used for a concealable bulletproof vest with this choice of protection. You will also find designs that allow you to add side protection to executive bulletproof vests, too. The standard, exterior-worn bulletproof vest is perhaps the most widely available, though. Choosing the right combination of weight, protection, and flexibility for your bulletproof vest with side protection is essential, so choose carefully. I hope that my experience and my research helps you to choose the correct vest.

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15 thoughts on “Things to Consider Before Buying a Bullet Proof Vest by Derek Smith”

  1. Excellent advise in that article! I’ve got mine from working as an armored car driver! Measurements are of upmost importance, especially if you are going to be seated for any period of time, the weight should not fall on your legs but continue to be supported by the shoulder straps! The ceramic plates also protect against stabbing threats which is great for close action protection! Fortunately I’ve never been shot or stabbed, but sure felt better wearing the vest when out and about, so to speak.

  2. A good insight into protective gear, interesting. Unfortunately in Australia they are under “weapons” classification which effectively means Joe Citizen can’t legally obtain.

  3. The information that is given, is very useful on what you should be looking for when you want to buy good body armor.

  4. As a police officer wearing a city issued vest with out a plate, I walked into a “domestic” when the husband pointed a .270 high powered rifle at me. Learned that his wife was having an affair with neighboring jurisdiction police officer.
    He was going to punish her by shooting me and make her watch as swat cut him down. Vests don’t cover every thing.!
    Fortunately for me I was able to talk him out of it by telling him that his wife would probably be hit by stray bullets and there would be no one left to raise his kids.

  5. Greetings, informative piece.
    I worked undercover back in the day.
    I got shot in my “second chance” brand of ballistic vest on the side Velcro patch.
    Side protection is very important.
    I wear a vest every day at work.
    My most important piece of equipment.
    Thanks for the great article.
    Sincerely,.
    Alec Pearce

  6. Interesting how felons are deprived of the ability to defend themselves from attack, even passive protection such as vests. The vast majority of felons are from non-violent offenses usually white collar single offense crime later in life. There is definitely no equal protection under the Constitution. I would not want my family members to be more killable for a crime that does not carry the death penalty. This is a ridiculous denial of equal protection.

  7. The one thing you are not taking in consideration is a female cannot just pick a vest or just any vest and it will fit. I had to go to a gun shop and get measured. I was measured at several critical points, to ensure my vest would properly cover me and I would be protected and comfortable.If it doesn’t fit good , you are going to be miserable and not want to wear it. And it won’t help you if it’s not on your body! I drove an Armored Truck for many years and I wore my vest out! After 7 years, I had to go back to the shop and get measured again. You change over the years and it’s better not to take anything for granted and just assume it will fit just like the old one. Guess what! Good thing I got remeasured. You do change after 7 years or even less. Please encourage the Women that need a vest to please do it the right way to ensure their safety and and that if they do face the worst thing that could happen, such as a shoot out, that they will survive! Thank you for the work you do, CAS