This discussion is probably the closest thing to a fandom clash in the personal security community. Almost daily there are discussions about hard and soft armor and if being light is preferable to be protected against rifles.
But, the truth, as is often the case, is somewhere in the middle. Depending on the risks we are facing, as well as our own situation, we might choose one or the other, or even both at the same time.
There are three questions that everyone must ask before opting for either soft or hard armor:
- What are you facing?
- For how long will you be wearing the armor?
- Do you need to be covert?
And the last question, especially for those who are used to being around armed and armored people, can seem strange. Some jobs and some missions demand that the public isn’t aware that you are even an operator, reducing your options when it comes to firearms and body armor.
As always, your mind is your best offensive and defensive weapon and if you invest only a bit into research and consideration it will pay back dividends.
Advantages of Soft Armor
Soft armor is light and flexible. Especially now with aramid fabrics, it is very easy to conceal such armor under any regular clothes. There is now even the category of armor known as armored clothing where the ballistic protection is installed inside the clothes themselves.
Some options, like the AH™ Armored Hoodie, are visually indistinguishable from casual attire in both the way they look and how they drop and sway over the body.
Additionally, soft armor can be worn virtually indefinitely without any concerns for health. Because it falls softly on the body and has a low weight, it won’t ever be too much for anyone to bear.
Finally, we should always remember that soft armor is only good against pistols and explosives, it won’t stop a rifle round. But, if we know that an overwhelming majority of gun crimes in the US are done with a handgun this should be enough.
Advantages of Hard Plates
The main advantage of a hard plate is the fact that it can stop a rifle round. And this might not sound as much all until the point where you are at risk from a rifle round.
Contrary to popular belief, hard plates don’t need to be heavy. Plates made from UHMWPE that are NIJ Level III are about twice as heavy as soft armor, which is still not a lot. You may wear these plates for an entire day without any issue.
But, plates are not flexible and you will usually only cover your vitals with them. The point of the plate isn’t that you end up unharmed, but rather alive.
Using Auxiliary Armor
Finally, there is a point where you will need both hard plates and soft armor, and that is in a complex field with multiple risks. In this case, the plates will be there to protect you from ballistic rounds and soft armor will protect you from explosives.
Thankfully, there are modular systems like the FAS™ Full Body Armor System that are fairly light and won’t limit your mobility considerably while offering protection for all of the important parts of the body that can be affected by explosive shrapnel.
Finally, the best thing about modular armor is that you don’t have to wear the modules you don’t need and thus optimize your setup. This will make the best possible balance between your protection in the field and how much weight you would need to carry.