Disclaimer - I see a lot of armor companies approach this topic in a very... condescending manner. They find every opportunity to talk about how much “science” is behind trauma pads and act like it’s this incredibly sophisticated problem they spent months in a lab working to solve and to just trust them on that, and it annoys the hell out of me. While there is in fact some pretty fascinating science behind it, do not let the “S word” intimidate you - it’s high school-level stuff at best, and we are here to help you not only find a solution to a problem, but to understand it.
Myth: If your body armor stops a bullet, you’re safe.
As much as we all want to believe this is the case, it is simply not true. While body armor will do you the ultimate solid of ensuring a bullet does not penetrate your vital organs, it does not guarantee that you won’t be injured or even killed from other effects of the bullet.
We have already discussed, for example, how fragmentation and spalling on steel armor can cause severe bleeding injuries if not sufficiently covered with some form of adequate protection - in the case of Predator Armor, that means several layers of Kevlar – and it does an excellent job at consistently mitigating this threat.
However, there is another potential issue that arises from being shot while wearing body armor, or rather, you could call it a Kinetic issue, haha. (science joke - I’m sorry, I promise it’ll be the only one.)
That issue is Blunt Force Trauma.
What is Blunt Force Trauma?
Known as either blunt trauma, or blunt force trauma, it is physical trauma caused from an impactful blunt force to the body. Simple enough, right?
Blunt trauma frequently occurs from traffic accidents, sports injuries, physical assault, falling, and more. This is contrasted with penetrating trauma, which, as you may expect, occurs when an object pierces the skin and creates an open wound in that manner. Stab wounds are a common example of this - and, of course, getting shot without body armor.
Before we move on, let’s make sure we understand a few simple terms. For the sake of this article, the word “energy” is defined as the capacity to do work, and the term “kinetic” is defined as in motion.
Fact: “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed”
For those not interested in the science behind this, scroll to the bottom of this section for a TLDR - fair warning, you will be missing out on some good stuff.
When Kinetic energy (or “energy in motion” - a moving car, a thrown baseball, a fired bullet, etc.) makes contact with something stationary, that energy does not simply go away. Rather, it is transferred into whatever object it makes contact with - which can often be a large amount of energy. This is why getting t-boned at an intersection causes so much damage to the stationary vehicle, or why getting punched hurts so much.
All of the Kinetic (moving) energy from those actions has to go somewhere.
So how does this relate to body armor?
When a bullet strikes a plate of armor, the energy and force of that bullet making contact also needs to go somewhere – the energy cannot just be destroyed, after all. Some of that force is redirected in other forms (more on that later), but a sizable chunk is absorbed by the plate itself - which is commonly seen as backface deformation on the armor:
Just a little dimple, right?
While the dimple above may appear small and insignificant, it was created by a 300 Winchester Magnum at 25 yards. In other words, it was created by a projectile traveling at about 3,000 feet per second, carrying energy equating to approximately 4,000 foot pounds force (as reported by the bullet manufacturer).
In simpler terms, that’s enough energy to move a 4,000-pound object exactly one foot. Some examples of that include a White Rhinoceros, a Ford Taurus, or a fully-grown Great White Shark.
All that force is within the diameter of about an inch.
It makes sense why bad guys go flying when they get shot in the movies, right?
Those numbers make the assumption that no other factors are at play. This is why science can often be deceiving. “Scientific numbers” generally assume the experiment is taking place in what’s called a vacuum. In other words, an empty space that contains no matter, no forces, nothing. Suffice it to say, that unless you plan on starting a war in outer space, you will never experience a firefight in a vacuum.
With that in mind - our numbers assume that no other factors are at play - air resistance, elevation, angle, temperature, drag coefficient, and so on. While that bullet may have carried nearly 4,000 foot pounds force of energy at some point, it loses a decent amount of it by the time it makes contact with the armor - even at just 25 yards.
With all of the environmental factors taken into account, there are even more factors at play that will reduce the felt impact. Some of that energy, as we mentioned earlier, is redirected in the form of fragmentation. A sizable portion is simply converted to heat.
These factors largely dispel the myth of “knockdown power” in the essence of physically knocking down a target - and it’s why Django sending bad guys flying 10 feet back from a shotgun to the chest is not realistic.
Okay, but there is yet another important kicker here, and it is perhaps the most important of them all.
Different materials transfer energy more efficiently than others.
Steel possesses a nearly 1:1 ratio transfer of energy, meaning that the energy that would be absorbed by the material is either bounced off or transferred straight through to whatever is behind it.
You don’t want that to be you.
What this means is that the backface deformation - no matter how tiny it looks - has the potential to cause major bruising, cracked ribs, even internal bleeding, depending on the round. That small divot can pack a punch. Thankfully, there are simple and affordable ways to help address this issue!
TLDR: When someone shoots your body armor, there is an immense amount of energy carried by the bullet. Some of that energy is redirected in the form of heat, ricochet, and other factors, but a dangerous amount of energy still passes through the plate and to your chest via backface deformation, which can cause blunt force trauma, leading to major bruising, or potentially broken ribs and internal bleeding.
Still with me? I bet you didn't realize just how much actually went into all of this!
Again, our goal is not to overwhelm you with the information. We want to educate people! Feel free to reach out to us personally if you need anything explained further.
So what is the solution?
As mentioned, the solution is simple - Trauma Pads!
Trauma Pads are made with proprietary impact-absorbing materials woven together in a way to effectively accomplish their design, all while remaining extraordinarily thin and lightweight.
The pad is placed in your plate carrier behind your armor, so that when you are wearing your kit, the pad is between your body and the armor itself.
Do NOT place the trauma pad on the outside of the armor, as it provides no ballistic protection and will essentially be rendered useless.
Again, the order should go as follows:
Body, plate carrier (inner layer), trauma pad, armor, plate carrier (outer layer).
A trauma pad has one primary function: It absorbs the energy transferred to your body armor from the bullet, and disperses that energy over a wider area (the area of the pad).
What this means is that if there is backface deformation, you’re still going to feel the shot. You are realistically going to feel any shot. Instead of all that energy being concentrated at the point of impact, which potentially possesses enough power to cause major injuries, it is spread out across a larger surface area and is consequently less harmful to your body.
In simpler terms: Get shot without a trauma pad and experience a “Level 10” pain within a one-inch diameter, or get shot with a trauma pad and experience a “Level 5” pain within a 10x12 area. They both may hurt like hell, but one is much more likely to keep you in the fight - or at least allow you to get to cover safely. Not to mention, it could save you a broken rib or worse
Knowledge is power - So use it.
We hope we’ve been able to explain the “why” behind trauma pads adequately. Remember, none of this is beyond your understanding and you should be wary of anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. The more you’re able to understand the various factors that go into body armor, ballistics, force, and so on, the better equipped your mind will be.
When you're better equipped in the head, you can be better equipped in the field.
That philosophy does not only apply to Trauma Pads either, but the entire tactical world.
We get it... people learn cool things. They want to show that knowledge off.
Just because someone is talking about something you do not fully understand, it doesn’t mean you’re incapable of learning it - and it certainly does not mean you are weak.
So get out there, stay humble, and stay informed!