Whether you are a tactical instructor, a retail associate at a local gun shop or a member of the military, this is probably a question you have heard a lot. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy question to answer, as there is a lot that goes into defining “best”. This information can change month to month, or on your desired application for your kit. We are going to break down the key factors that you need to look for to determine what the “Best body armor package” is for your desired application.
The first thing we are going to get out of the way is budget. If you are truly looking for the “best” of any product, you need to eliminate the phrase “what does it cost” from your list of criteria. Now, this doesn’t mean that you will have to buy the most expensive kit on the market. The best gear isn’t cheap, and if you are looking for cheap gear, you will not find the best equipment. If you actually want the perfect kit for your desired application, you need to be prepared to spend the money to get it.
Application, application, application. This is by far the most important factor when starting your search for “the best armor package”.
What is best for a low profile executive security officer will not be the best for a SWAT team or a quick reaction force.
You need to identify what the kit will be used for most and what you want it to be capable of accomplishing. If you are looking for something that is easily concealable, and only needs to stop pistol calibers, then a soft armor vest will probably be what you need to look for.
If you are a SWAT team leader trying to find a replacement for outdated gear and you need rifle protection with the ability to add pouches and side plates, then a full plate carrier might be more suited for your needs.
Once you define your application you can start to narrow down your search. Make sure to consult professionals within that field for the most up to date knowledge. Your average gun shop clerk is not going to give you accurate and reliable information.
What to include in your Kit
For a package to be complete it’s going to need a few different items.
First, it is going to need an actual carrier. This can be a plate carrier or just a soft armor vest.
Carriers range in features and quality. You want one that has enough material to be durable and hold the armor in place, without excess material that could get in the way or rub you raw when worn for extended periods of time.
Excess material in the carrier adds bulk that could get in the way for weapons manipulations or when trying to access gear.
Quality Body Armor
Next, your package actually has to come with quality body armor. This needs to be rated at or above the desired protection level for your application. This can be soft armor, hard plates, or a combination of the two.
Fragmentation protection is next on the list. This is for if you are using hard plates. No matter if it’s ceramic, steel or some other material, if it stops the projectile with a denser material it will create shrapnel. This can cause nasty secondary wounds and must be addressed. The package needs to include soft armor, Kevlar sleeves, or some type of coating on the plates that prevents shrapnel from leaving. Your carrier will add an additional layer of protection, but it should not be relied on as the primary source of fragmentation protection.
Now we have hit all the main boxes that need to be checked, our next level of scrutiny is the features that may be available for the package.
Padded shoulder pieces are a great addition if you will be wearing the kit for extended periods of time. They greatly reduce shoulder fatigue and soreness from wearing a heavy kit. A rip cord is a sometimes overlooked feature that could make or break the kit depending on what you need. The downside to any armor kit is the weight, normally this is just an inconvenience, but if you add deep water to the mix, it becomes deadly. If you are in an area with a lot of water (pools, lakes, creaks, the ocean etc.) a rip cord could literally save your life. It is essentially a cord that when pulled, removes or disassembles most of the armor making it easy to remove in the event it is dragging you under water. Some plate carriers may have an internal pouch for medical supplies or radio antennae that could be useful to some people.
Quality is the last aspect we are going to discuss. This is a difficult point to evaluate because you have to trust the opinions of other individuals. Don’t just trust any old YouTube reviewer when trying to determine a product's quality. You want to talk to someone who has used it regularly for a long period of time. This will give you a much better idea of the product's quality than someone who just pulls it out of the box and uses it one time. This is the aspect that protects your long term investment into an armor package.
We have covered all of the main aspects that you need to be aware of and look for when determining what is the “best armor package” to fit your needs and application. This is not going to be an easy question to answer and will most likely take a fair amount of time and research to ascertain.
Purchasing personal body armor is a big decision and investment and should be treated as such. Making the right decision is almost as important as the training that should follow your purchase. An armor set is useless if you do not train with it, and even though it will help prevent you from being killed they are not force fields and quality medical training should also be completed. Now, get out and shoot.