Body Armour Protection Types

Soldier walking with a bulletproof vest and helmet.

Body armour  does not simply refer to bullet proof vests, as all protection equipment can be classed as body armour if it is worn, including stab and spike proof vests. Vests that are designed to protect against bullets will not be able to protect against edged and spiked weapons, such as knives, bottles or needles. Similarly, a vest that is resistant to edged blades may not be able to protect against spiked weapons. The following articles will explain the differences between ballistic, knife and spike protection.

The Difference Between Stab and Spike Protection

A bullet proof vest works by trapping and flattening a bullet within protective fibres, dispersing the energy across the vest. An edged weapon like a knife will impact in the same way, but will cut these protective fibres, rendering the vest useless. Similarly, a spiked weapon will pass through the minute gaps in the fabric, again rendering it purposeless. Therefore, a bullet proof vest will not protect against edged or spiked weapons. ‘Edged’ and ‘spiked’ weapons refers to ‘stab’ and ‘spike’, and though the terms are often used interchangeably, edged weapons (referring to knives, bottles, etc.) and spiked weapons (referring to syringes, ice picks, stilettos, etc.) are the preferred terms.

Stab proof vests protect against edged blade weapons, and still utilise Aramid fiber or Dyneema like a bullet proof vest does. However, to protect against edged weapons these vests will need to use either chainmail or laminate. Both of these materials have their own advantages and disadvantages; chainmail, for example, is heavier than laminate, but will offer increased protection against edged weapons. Laminate, on the other hand, will protect against spiked weapons.

Spike proof vests differ to stab proof vests because they require a tough and solid surface to prevent spiked weapons from penetrating. Therefore, a spiked proof vest has to have layers of laminate added to Aramid fibre to make it truly protective. This tough layer of plastic will prevent penetration and will slow a spiked weapon. Whether you require a stab proof or spike proof vest, it is important to ensure that it meets the appropriate standards as outlined by the NIJ and CAST.

Multi-Threat Armour

As has already been noted in other articles, a stab proof vest differs to bullet and spike proof vests in its protective capacity and manufacture; it will only protect against edged weapons. This means it will not protect against spiked weapons. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the threats you will likely face so as to be able to choose the appropriate armour. However, there are many who cannot accurately determine what threats they will be facing- conversely, some may know they will be facing multiple threats involving different types of weapons. For these people, choosing between a ballistic or stab vest would leave them inadequately protected, and so armour that can protect against different types of threats is necessary.

This is available in the form of multi-threat vests, which use a tighter Aramid fiber/Dyneema weave and either chainmail or laminate to offer protection against stab and spike weapons respectively. For many, a multi-threat vest is ideal, as Police or Prison Officers, for example, may face a wide range of threats, all of which can prove deadly without proper protective clothing.

‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ Armour

Just as there is diversity within body armour, so too does the term ‘bullet proof vest’ incorporate a number of different things, namely ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ armour. Hard and soft armour refers to the materials used to create protective clothing, with hard armour naturally using harder materials than soft armour. These are usually split along the lines of their protection, with hard armour offering more protection than soft armour. Of course, all armour is tested and graded accordingly, and you should ensure your vest meets the appropriate standard.

Body armour can be split into two parts; the carrier and the plates. The carrier refers to the vest itself, which carries the plates which make it protective. These protective plates differ depending on whether they are ‘soft’ or ‘hard’. Soft armour uses plates of Aramid fiber or Dyneema, a flexible and light plastic-based fabric that is made from plastic and can protect against much firearm ammunition and impact trauma. Hard armour, on the other hand, has plates of ceramics, steel or titanium. The main difference between these two types of armour is the size and weight, with hard armour naturally being much heavier and bulkier. This makes any vest with these plates more uncomfortable, and it is not recommended that hard armour is worn for long periods.  However, if the situation calls for it then it will offer unparalleled protection.

One of the other problems of hard armour is temperature control, which is a common problem with body armour in general. However, the thicker and heavier it is, the more it increases temperature. One of the main complaints of Police Officers, for example, is that body armour is simply too uncomfortable to wear for extended periods, and this is especially true of hard armour at a higher level of protection. This is why it is important that you aware of the most likely threats so that you can utilise appropriate armour.