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Body Armor 101: Getting Started

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With increases in violence and civil unrest this year, we’ve seen many newcomers to the world of body armor. The purpose of this article is to help bring those you up to speed so that you can make informed decisions when buying body armor. We’ll cover the basics, but also provide some resources to expand upon the general information provided here. While most body armor setups can be boiled down to a plate carrier and a set of body armor plates, there’s some important decisions that need to be made in order to ensure that you buy the body armor that’s right for you. If you would prefer to watch videos about our products, click this link.

What are Body Armor Plates?

As the name suggest, a body armor “plate” is a flat piece of bulletproof material designed to fit inside a vest commonly known as a plate carrier. There are many different types of materials that are used to create body armor plates, but the most common are steel and ceramic. There are tradeoffs with each type of material, which we will discuss later in this article. In some cases, smaller body armor plates known as “side plates” can be inserted into the sides of a plate carrier to provide additional protection in the event the wearer is shot in the side of the stomach. Many body armor plates typically have a slight curvature to make them more comfortable. In some cases you may have the option of upgrading to a multicurve design to make the body armor plates even more comfortable and ergonomic. For example, all of our steel core body plates are available in our patented Advanced Triple Curve™ (ATC) design which significantly increases comfort, especially when wearing body armor for extended periods of time.

Steel Core Body Armor: This popular type of armor is typically made from AR500 or AR550 steel. Note that the term “AR500” is the hardness rating of the steel. The higher the number, the harder the steel. For example, AR550 steel is rated to stop bullets with more penetrating power such as M855 a.k.a. “Green Tips”, where AR500 steel is best suited for slower moving bullets such as 7.62 x 51 M80 BALL (308 rounds). Steel core body armor can also withstand numerous hits and absorb significantly more punishment than most other types of body armor. It’s important to note that steel core body armor is susceptible to spall/fragmentation. We always suggest buying steel core body armor with a full coat of our Encapsaloc™ fragmentation mitigation coating or buying a Spall Containment Sleeve. You can learn more about fragmentation in the article Spall and Fragmentation: Myth vs Reality .

Ceramic Composite Armor: There are multiple types of ceramics and plastic composites used to make body armor. Due to the composition of these materials, it’s possible to make thin and flexible body armor such as our IIIA Flex Fused Core™ or more dense body armor such as our Level IV Ceramic which is designed to stop armor piercing rounds from high power rifles. However, ceramic body armor is more prone to cracking which makes it less effective when hit with multiple rounds in comparison to steel core body armor.

What are Plate Carriers?

Most commonly called a “bulletproof vest”, plate carriers are designed to hold body armor in the proper position to protect vital organs. Most plate carriers can fit a variety of body armor plate types so long as the size of plate can be accommodated. For example, the greater majority of the population would be best suited for 10” x 12” plates and most modern plate carriers are built to fit this plate size. If you need help determining the right size of body armor, please see this article. Aside from the size of body armor plate being placed in the plate carrier, it’s important to understand the purpose for different types of plate carriers. To simplify things a bit, most carriers fit into one of three categories: Tactical, Wraparound or Active Shooter Response carriers. To learn more about each type of carrier, we suggest reading our article on Choosing the Right Body Armor Platform.

What is NIJ Certification?

When researching the best body armor to buy, you’ll inevitably run into the abbreviation “NIJ” which stands for National Institute of Justice. The NIJ is the government agency that sets body armor standards for the law enforcement community. While not all body armor is certified by the NIJ, the standards set by the NIJ are used by body armor manufacturers to inform consumers as to the capabilities of body armor products. Below are the current NIJ protection levels. Spartan Armor Systems™ carries a large selection of NIJ Certified body armor which can be found here. To learn more about NIJ Certification please see the articles NIJ Certification vs “Meets NIJ Standards” and Body Armor Protection Levels Simplified .

NIJ Protection Levels

Level IIA

Tested to stop 9mm and .40 S&W ammunition fired from short barrel handguns. No rifle ammunition protection.

Level II

Tested to stop 9mm and .357 Magnum ammunition fired from short barrel handguns. No rifle 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 rifle ammunition.

Level IV

Tested to stop .30cal steel core armor piercing rifle ammunition.

What to Expect When You Place Your Order

Body armor typically has a “lead time” until the order is shipped. This lead time fluctuates based on current demand and material availability. Spartan Armor Systems™ typically has some of the lowest lead times in the industry. With the amount of turmoil seen in recent years it’s important to place your order for body armor sooner rather than later, these days you never know when you’ll need your body armor. Lead times always increase when there is panic or tragedy in the news headlines, the recent riots are a good example. You can find our estimated lead time at the top of our website and in the terms and conditions listed during the checkout process. It’s important to note that the lead time is an average, so while many orders ship faster than the listed lead time, it is also possible for an order to take longer. When you place an order for body armor on our website, you will receive a confirmation email with your order number. Once your order ships we will send you an email containing tracking information. Note that we do not send order status emails in-between as there is no new information to provide. We ship most orders via USPS flat rate, but we do use UPS on occasion. We find that most orders typically arrive at their destination in about 3-5 business days.

When you Receive Your Order

When you receive your order, please take a moment to try on your plate carrier and ensure it fits properly. We have a 10 day return policy for most products, so it’s important to let us know if there’s a problem ASAP. If you have questions on how to assemble your plate carrier you can reach us by phone, email or social media using the contact info below. You can learn more about our return policy here. There’s a break-in period for most plate carriers to allow the material time to relax and conform to the shape of your body, so you should expect that your plate carrier will become more comfortable the more often you wear it. Body armor is a very big topic, far too big to cover in one article. We suggest reading our other blog articles for additional information. If you have questions regarding our body armor products and tactical gear, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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