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Pros and Cons of Body Armor Shapes and Sizes | Infographic

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Choosing the right body armor is no easy task, and you need to take a lot of different things into consideration. Covert or overt? Soft body armor, ceramic/composite or steel core? What cut and size is best for your needs? Some of these decisions could very well save your life.

Lucky for you, we’ve done the hard work for you and condensed it down to one easy guide for choosing the right body armor type, shape, size, material and much more.

First, How Should Body Armor Fit?

Ballistic body armor plates do not provide coverage to your entire body or torso. Body armor is designed to only cover the vital organs that keep you alive upon impact – which are primarily your heart and lungs, as well as their immediate neighbors. With this in mind, you can use a flexible tape measure to determine your coverage area and find the plate size that most closely matches.

To measure the height, start at the top of your shoulder, above your collarbone. Measure down the center of your torso. Stop 2-3 inches above your navel. If it is too short, the vest won’t provide proper coverage of your vital organs. If it is too long, the vest will rise against your throat when you are moving or performing actions. A vest that is too long can be cumbersome and prevent you from accessing other tactical gear on your kit.

To measure the width, measure across your chest to the outside of your nipples. If the tape begins to wrap around the sides of your chest, you’ve gone too far. Again, if the vest is not wide enough, it may leave your vital organs unprotected and vulnerable. If it is too wide, it may hinder you from reaching other gear. Make sure the vest isn’t too tight. This could restrict your breathing during action or an on-foot pursuit. The gap between your body and front panel should be the same space as when you take a deep breath and exhale. This gap decreases trauma upon impact.

Always wear and test the body armor system in the configuration that you would be using it. Can you move comfortably in different positions and scenarios? Test your body armor in prone position, running, crouching, sitting and kneeling. If you are carrying a weapon or gear, can you access and use them properly? Some people wear body armor plates one size larger than necessary, for the extra coverage area. This is fine as long as they don’t get in your way or cause problems with moving.

What Is a “Normal” Plate Size?

Most manufacturers use a standard of 10”W x 12”H, based of off the SAPI plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) used by the US Military. These plates measure 9.5”W x 12.5”H.

Don’t assume all manufacturers are the same, so before you make a purchase, make sure to check product specifications for dimensions. Find the closest match to the measurements you took of yourself.


Types of Body Armor

Covert Vs Overt

The first real category of body armor is covert or overt. Covert body armor is worn under your uniform or clothes for discretion, while overt body armor is worn on the outside and clearly visible. Covert body armor is mostly used by those who need to keep a low profile, such as detectives, covert law enforcement, high-level security contractors and undercover operators.

On the other hand, overt body armor is built for external wear. Overt body armor is available in higher NIJ-level rated plates like level III, III+ and IV. The added protection adds weight and bulk. Overt body armor is the more commonly used type of body armor worn by law enforcement, first responders, military and prepared civilians.

Pros and Cons: Soft Body Armor Vs. Ceramic/Composite Vs. Steel

Soft Body Armor

The Upside: Light, soft armor provides protection against many handgun rounds. When worn as a backer for a hard body armor system, soft body armor greatly increases protection.

The Downside: Soft body armor is generally only available up to an NIJ Level IIIA rating. That means it is unable to stop rifle rounds, which are among the most common threats in the United States.

Ceramic/Composite Body Armor

The Upside: Ceramic/composite body armor plates are lighter than steel plates, which can increase comfort and maneuverability. Ceramic armor technology continues to advance with better threat protection characteristics, which can meet or exceed protection from steel plates.

The Downside: Due to pricey advancements in technology, ceramic/composite plates are more expensive than steel armor. One drawback to ceramic armor is that it cannot handle precision rounds in the same place. There are specific grades of ammunition that cause more damage to ceramic plates than steel plates; for example, rounds over 7 mm can damage 3-4 square inches of surface area on ceramic plates. Ceramic body armor is typically thicker than steel plates, which means they may not be as comfortable for certain applications.

Steel Body Armor

The Upside: Steel armor has a reputation as the most durable body armor available. Steel plates are one of the most affordable. Steel armor is more affordable than ceramic armor, which makes it a great entry-level armor type.

The Downside: While steel armor technically is a stronger material than ceramic, there are certain types of bullets (particularly AR-15 rounds) that impact steel armor more than ceramic.

At Spartan Armor Systems, we believe that both ceramic/composite body armor plates and steel core body armor plates provide excellent protection for the price. When it comes down to choosing one over the other, it really comes down to personal preference and comfort.

Learn more about finding the right system in our recent blog, “Choosing the Right Body Armor System.”

Swimmer’s Cut Vs. Shooter’s Cut

There are two prominent cuts for steel or ceramic/composite body armor plates to accommodate different body types and operational needs.

Shooters Cut: The shooters cut covers the largest area to help reduce the chances of fatal injury to vital organs. There is a slight cut at the shoulders to increase the range of motion for the wearer. These plates are heavier than the Swimmers Cut due to the larger coverage area.

Swimmers Cut: These plates have a larger cut in the shoulder to increase mobility and range of motion while decreasing the total weight. Body armor plates with a swimmers cut will protect your heart and lungs, but decrease coverage for surrounding organs.

Should You Add Trauma Pads?

Body armor can save your life, but you’ll probably still feel it. It’s much easier to stay in the fight or make your way to safety when you aren’t hindered by pain. Trauma pads are slim, light pads worn behind body armor plates. The pads decrease trauma upon impact. For the price and comfort,trauma pads are always a good idea to add to your body armor system.

Don’t know where to begin? Spartan Armor Systems has taken out a lot of the guesswork for you. We have designed numerouspre-configured body armor systems for optimal performance and comfort.

Spartan Armor Systems Body Armor

Since our creation, Spartan Armor Systems has been trusted by law enforcement, first responders, military and civilians for premium body armor solutions at below standard prices.

Spartan Armor Systems offers custom sizing for all of our body armor plates and carrier systems. For sizing inquiries or help, call (520)396-3335 or email


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