How to buy body armor

Armor has been essential to those with dangerous jobs for as long as there have been weapons. In ancient times, warriors who needed to protect themselves from arrows, spears, and swords found armor to be a necessity. Though the weapons are different today, the importance of body armor for the modern "warrior" has not decreased. According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the lives of more than 3,000 officers have been saved by body armor since the 1970s.

If you still have not bought concealable armor or are thinking about replacing your current armor, here are a few things to help you make you decision:

1. Carriers: These are made of either nylon or cloth and each have their pros and cons. Your mission will decide what kind of carrier will work best for you. The two different materials vary in how they absorb water from perspiration, their comfort levels, cost and even what kind of maintenance they require.

Also take note on what you will be wearing under your armor and how long you’ll be wearing it, for some vests can cause light skin abrasions from rubbing on the skin.

2. Stop Plates: These are either hard or soft panels that slide into the front of the carrier to offer the officer additional protection. Make sure the panels that hold the plates are heat-sealed -- this protects the ballistic materials and panels themselves from humidity and moisture.

3. Shoulder straps: Most common vests have two sleeves that connect or close by using Velcro to secure into place. Some shoulder straps are cloth or elastic and, like carriers, each has its own pros and cons. When assessing the vest’s straps, check to see:

• How much do the straps move when you’re wearing it? If the straps move around a lot, you could be left with abrasions on your skin.
• How flexible are they?
• How much do they move when you’re grabbed, in case you’re in a close-combat situation?
• How secure are the straps when the two Velcro pieces are connected?

4. Maintenance: Body armor can be a serious investment and you want to make the most of it. Make sure to set a regular schedule for cleaning your armor. Also, check the care and cleaning instructions, though they should all say, “Avoid machine washing and drying.”

Check out this NIJ Web site for more information about vests, federal standards and various threat levels to armor.

Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing and evaluating concealable armor? Please leave a comment below or email with your feedback.

PoliceOne Columnist Dave Young, of Red Man Training, contributed to this report.

About the author

PoliceOne Staff Reports feature contributions from our vast universe of subject matter experts. These sources include our own cadre of columnists as well as industry analysts, educators, and other noted specialists in their fields. P1 Staff Reports focus on an array of subjects including product reviews, product round-up features, “How to Buy” articles, and when necessary, product recalls and safety alerts. If you want to join our panel of experts, or have suggestions for topics we should cover here, please e-mail with your feedback.

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