Since the first months of the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we’ve faced one of the most unwanted problems: availability of the protection elements. Of course, we had “pre-invasion” reserves, but it was really hard to find any reserves for the new hundreds of thousands recruits. Many soldiers didn’t even dream about the best body armor – they needed to have it at least.
Right after all the ballistic plates had vanished from the Ukrainian online shops (and from the Poland shops a few months later), people started with the “self-made manufacturing” of the ballistic plates. As you may assume, it was a nightmare. Some people made armor plates from the car leaf springs (!!!), welding them all together.
Here’s how this ridiculous shit looks like (anticipating your question – no, this isn’t the medieval armor made in the gnomes forge in the High Hrothgar):
Just imagine how it’s like to go to war, when you have to protect yourself with the self-made armor plates that can barely protect you from the small fragments, but any bullet becomes lethal… But again: it’s funny now, until YOU should put it on to protect yourself.
Fortunately, a few months after the invasion started, we got decent and professional body armor plates. Soldiers replaced the shit mentioned above with real protection, and these self-made plates became a part of history.
Today I’m going to tell you what is the best body armor. How to choose the plates you won’t complain about. And what plates would protect you on the highest possible level.
What’s The Best Body Armor?
Quick answer: the best body armor is ceramic armor plates with the protection level III/IV.
Full answer: totally depends on your goals and missions. Let me ask the counter question: what do you mean by “the best body armor”? The cheaper one? Or an armor that provides the highest level of protection? Or most lightweight?
If we talking about the best body armor for all purposes, then here’s the list, starting from the best:
- Ceramic Armor Plates with the level protection NIJ IV – the best overall. May be and should be used for all kinds of warfare, providing the highest level of protection;
- Ceramic Armor Plates with the level protection NIJ IIIA – the best for the most tactical tasks, where you don’t have to protect yourself from the higher impact;
- UHMWPE Armor Plates (NIJ III or IIIA). The same thing as the ceramic plates with same level of protection (excluding the IV lvl of the protection), but quite cheaper;
- Steel body armor plates (including level 4 body armor) – cheap, but heavy. Your spine and joints definitely won’t thank you, if you decided to use it more than 5 hours/day (in other words, be careful – don’t shit your back bones out of your ass from the weights you’ll drag on yourself).
- Soft armor, including concealed body armor – this all falls behind the level protection NIJ IIIA, created for the light level of protection.
Ceramic Armor Plates (Level NIJ III/IV) – The Best Plate Carrier Plates Overall
Yes, I really love ceramic body armor. But why do I love it? Simple:
- Lightweight: provides the same level of protection as steel plates, but weighs at least 50% less than steel.
- Good for your health: if you’re going to buy ceramic armor plates just for the brutal Instagram photos – don’t overpay, save your money, take that made of steel. But if you’re going to wear it for hours, be merciful to your joints and spine. Tactical gear, helmet, rifle, plate carrier, additional gear, backpack – all that shit pressing on your frail, untrained legs and puny body for hours… Say “Hi” to the herniated discs, or choose the ceramic armor plates instead.
How Ceramic Armor Plates Are Made?
Let’s start from the very beginning: ceramic armor plates aren’t just about ceramic, and there’s nothing about the ceramic in common sense (isn’t like a bathroom sink). Speaking correctly, it’s not a “ceramic plate”, it’s a ceramic polymer composite armor. There are three types of this armor:
- Made of SiC (silicon carbide);
- Made of Al2O3 (aka ceramic aluminium or aluminium oxide);
- Made of B4C (aka boron carbide).
As I stated above, it’s composite armor. It means that ready-made armor plates you can buy from the store aren’t just made of the mentioned types of ceramic polymers only. Instead, they’re looks like a layered pie inside:
- Front Side: ceramic (SiC, Al2O3, B4C);
- Mid Layer: PU adhesive/glue;
- Back Side: multi-layered UHMWPE, para-aramid fiber, or 30% PALF + 70% epoxy composite.
Simplifying the process to the ground, all of these layers would be sticking together under the high pressure, and after that get wrapped in the cover.
Schematically, it may looks like the next:
And here is my photos of the ceramic plate I personally tested – you may see the layered structure as is:
Steel Armor Plates – The OG Protection
Made and enchanted deep inside the gnomes forge… Speaking seriously, steel armor plates are a pretty decent option for self protection. You don’t even have to choose around the thousands of options – all of them are just made of steel, and provide the level protection as it’s certified by the NIJ standards.
The main problem you can face is the heavy weight of these plates. You’ve already seen what I wrote above about the health problems you can face with, so my personal opinion – if you have the budget, look at the ceramic plates first.
What’s really good, is that the price for the steel plates is usually way under the price of the ceramic/composite body armor.
Also, I recommend you to pay attention to the steel plates made of the next steel marks:
- Swedish Swebor Armor 500, 550, 560 and 600;
- Finnish Miilux Protection 500 or 600;
- Belgium ArcelorMittal Industeel 500, 600, 650
Or, if you don’t want to dig so deep, and just want to buy the plates, I’d recommend you to look at the next brands/manufacturers:
- Shellback Tactical;
- Spartan Armor Systems;
What Is NIJ And Their Standards?
NIJ is the abbreviation of the National Institute of Justice of the US. One of the goals of this organization is to establish and update voluntary minimum performance standards for body armor, conduct testing against these standards to ensure that body armor complies with the standards, and sponsor research to improve body armor.
What Is NIJ Level of Protection?
This is a classification of the protection levels of body armor. NIJ classifies ballistic protection into five levels, depending on the ability to stop specified bullets, with all the specified requirements (calibers, distance, velocity, etc.). If you’d like to check the official document, read the official PDF version of the NIJ STANDARD–0101.06 FOR BALLISTIC RESISTANCE OF BODY ARMOR.
What Kind Of The Body Armor Used In Different Military Forces?
By default, Ukrainian soldiers use composite (steel + silicon carbide, or just silicon carbide) ballistic plates made by the TEMP-3000. Here you can check the list of all the products made by this manufacturer – there are many options of the ballistic plates, starting from the IIA level, to level IV protection.
Before 2005, the US army used ceramic SAPI plates. Since 2005, they’ve been replaced by the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert (ESAPI). All the plates are made of boron carbide (B4C) or silicon carbide (SiC).
Don’t have any information about the Virtus ballistic plates, but in Osprey body armor system (prev gen) using the same plates (technologically) as it used in the US army.
First of all, don’t think that russians using the “Ratnik” equipment only. There are many other plates and plate carriers used in the army, and again – all of them have different levels of protection, from IIA to IV.
Trophy hard body armor plates from the 6B23:
Conclusion: What’s The Best Body Armor to Buy?
The best body armor is ceramic armor plates with the level protection III-IV. As a cheaper alternative you can buy steel armor plates, which are heavier, but provide the same level of the protection.
Speaking about the best body armor, I’d recommend you to pay attention to the level of protection, rather than brand. All the brands selling in the US have the NIJ certification (or else they just couldn’t sell them), so the most correct way to choose the best option – pick the best option by price in the same category.