Do you need body armor?

One question that I have gotten much more frequently in the last couple years is whether body armor is a good preparation. I think this has come more to the forefront because of the social violence we are seeing in many parts of the world.  A few years ago, I might have dissuaded someone from including this in their planning unless they had most other items covered and possibly had extenuating circumstances.  While I value the safely body armor can provide, I always hope most will need things like warm blankets more than it in a disaster.

With the current state of the world, I am now more of the mindset that some people may need to procure body armor. Visions of news footage from Bosnia in the early 1990s seem all too familiar when viewed alongside some of the violence that has happened in major U.S. cities recently.  This rampant violence can happen quickly and may mean you are caught in close proximity to it. This could happen when bugging out to a new location or when trying to get back to your home location from work. If the violence is widespread and long term, it could be needed to make runs for extra supplies. At any of these times you could be targeted or even just be caught in the crossfire. Which it is will not matter if you get shot.

The first thing that a potential buyer needs to do is understand how body armor is rated.  Not all body armor is the same level of protection.  The higher the number, the more powerful of a round it will protect you from.

  • Level IIA – Tested to stop 9mm and .40 S&W ammunition fired from short barrel handguns. No rife ammunition protection.
  • Level II – Tested to stop 9mm and .357 Magnum ammunition fired from short barrel handguns. No rife ammunition protection.
  • Level IIIA – Tested to stop .357 SIG and .44 Magnum ammunition fired from longer barrel handguns. No rifle ammunition protection.
  • Level III – Tested to stop 7.62mm FMJ lead core rife ammunition.
  • Level IV – Tested to stop .30 caliber steel core armor
    piercing rife ammunition.

There is no way for me to tell you what level of protection you need but there are some criteria I can offer to evaluate it. The first is obviously the calibers you want protection from. The first knee-jerk reaction would be to say all, but realistically most people will not be facing .30 caliber armor piercing rounds unless things have fully gone off the deep end. If you live in a typical suburb setting, you would probably be more likely to encounter pistol fire. In a rural setting that has a high population of big game hunters, you might encounter more deer rifle caliber fire.

The second criteria to look at is weight. The most common consumer armor is made up of steel plates. Extra protection generally means heavier plates. The average person is not some gung ho operator, so wearing an extra 25 pounds or more of armor is going to wear on them. This might be a reason to go for a lower level of protection or lighter armor as a compromise. There are other options besides steel plates for armor too. There are ceramic and soft body armor. These each have their own pros and cons. Ceramic armor is typically lighter and protects better, but can be damaged with rough handling. It also has a shorter suggested life span due to it possible degrading over time. Soft body armor is the lightest of all, but does not come in the higher protection levels. It also costs more than the same level steel plates.

The third criteria is cost. The better protection armor provides, generally the more it costs. That is understandable. Plus, the lighter options of the same protection level will cost more. Each person has to evaluate how much you can afford to budget to preparation as a whole and what subset of that can be put aside for body armor, if any. It may not serve you well if you have armor, but only a single day’s worth of food on hand.

Another thought to keep in mind when buying body armor is how you want to present yourself. Are you going for a gray man look where you can move about mostly unnoticed, or are you more worried about having your body armor set up with magazine pouches and such to assist you in a firefight? There is no right answer here, but it is a consideration. A fully loaded out set of body armor is not going to hide easily under even the largest coat. Plus, it is going to get you much more scrutiny from law enforcement in a middle level emergency.  In a full blown SHTF scenario though, it might be very useful. On the other hand, armor meant for concealment or even just a slimmer type that can be covered by a heavy sweatshirt or such, might allow you to go about your business without anyone batting an eye. Well, since the armor is not COMPLETELY invisible, your neighbors might ask if you have gained weight, but you can always tell them you are feeling cold.

So how do I evaluate who is more likely to need  body armor even in less that SHTF emergency? My thought process is a sliding scale based on population density. I feel that the denser the population where you live, the more chance you will need body armor. Why? Well this is simply based on the fact that you have a much higher possibility to encounter other people while moving around. Each  encounter raises your chance that one will involve violence toward you or others around you. It is about odds. I know that you might live in the middle of nowhere and only come across one person and still get shot at, but it is much less likely. Another part that increases your odds in a denser population is that you have many more people seeking resources and that can cause anger and desperation.  Angry and  desperate people often act irrationally. This mode of evaluation is by no means scientific, but I feel it is a good rule of thumb to go by.

I have just covered the tip of the iceberg in this post, but I hope it gives you the information to begin researching and making your own decisions about body armor.  While I hope you never need it, if you do, very little can be used in its place.

Special Note: When researching armor also please review the legality of body armor in your area. I am not a legal expert and laws vary widely across the U. S. and world. 

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