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Body Armor for Civilians VS Military - Atomic Defense

Body Armor for Civilians VS Military

Comparing Civilian and Military Body Armor

Body armor refers to all kinds of protective clothing that is designed to protect your body from penetration or impact caused by weapon attacks. In most instances, body armor is used to protect oneself against attacks by bullets and crude weapons. Traditionally body armor has been a preserve of military personnel and law enforcement officers. However, body armor is being used by private citizens and private guards to protect themselves nowadays.

Various Jobs that require body armorThere is a big difference in the threats faced by military personnel and those faced by any of the other parties mentioned above. Also, there are regulations that govern the use of body armor by private citizens. These regulations, at times and in some jurisdictions, go as far as determining the kind of body armor a private citizen can use.

Certain body armor types are preserved for the military or law enforcement officers in certain locations, and cannot be used by private citizens. Below, we explore the various differences in body armor for civilians and the military.

Are Civilians Allowed to Wear Body Armor?

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about who is allowed by law to own and wear body armor. While the laws and regulations might differ from one jurisdiction or state to another, civilians are legally able to buy and use body armor. Can citizens buy bulletproof vests? Bulletproof vests are some of the most commonly used body armor by civilians. In most states, you are unable to buy or use body armor if you have been convicted of a felony.

As a civilian, you may feel the need to wear body armor if you work or live in environments that put you at the risk of attack. Examples of civilians who might feel the need to wear a bulletproof vest on daily basis include; jewelry store owners, pawn shop owners, ATM repairman, couriers, judges and attorneys, politicians, ems, firefighters, and many others.

Civilian body armorDo civilians need body armor? The bottom line is that civilians need access to body armor when they feel their personal safety is at risk.  Regardless of how much law enforcement officers might try to reassure you of your safety. Your personal safety is your responsibility. It is, therefore, only logical that you own and wear a bulletproof vest whenever you feel like your safety is at risk.

Different types of body armor provide different levels of protection.  As such, before you purchase any body armor you need to assess and understand the level of protection that you need. The national institute of justice (NIJ) has set world-class standards for the manufacture of body armor. You can use the NIJ standards to check the level of protection offered by the various bulletproof vests available to you.

Body Armor Protection Levels

Body armor protection levels and standards are generally structured by the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the UK Centre for Applied Science and Technology. These two bodies have continually shared testing techniques and developed standards for body armor. Threats are divided into three categories. They are ballistic, edged blades, and spike threats. There are different tiers of protection under each of these categories.

Ballistic Threats

Ballistic threats refer to all threats related to gunfire. Firearms range from small handguns that shoot small bullets to large machine guns that fire large rounds that would kill in an instant. Bulletproof vests are designed to slow down and stop bullets as they attempt to pierce through them. 

Ballistic threats

There are two types of bulletproof vests. Soft and hard armor. Soft armor is used to protect against small firearms, while hard armor is used against high caliber firearms and large piercing rounds.  Ballistic armors are classified in the following levels depending on the level of protection they can offer.

  • Level IIA - Level IIA is the lowest level and normally protects against 9mm rounds. Body armor in this level has a thickness of 4mm and area density of 3.5 kg/m.
  • Level II - Level II armor is a bit more protective than level IIA, although it still cannot handle any rounds that are larger than 9mm. The body armor in this level has a thickness of 5mm and an area density of 4.2 kg/m.
  • Level IIIA - Level IIIA body armor will protect against anything up to .44 magnum rounds and anything else below that. The armor has a thickness of 6 mm and an area density of 5.9 kg/m.
  • Level III - Level III consists of high caliber body armor that can protect against rounds as large as 7.62 mm shot by NATO classified firearms. Body armor in this level is as thick as 15mm and has an area density of up to 25.9 kg/m. Level III armor is normally used by military personnel and law enforcement officers. This body armor level is currently always hard and in the form of ballistic plates that can be inserted into vests or carriers. 
  • Level IV - Level IV armor provides the highest level of protection against ballistic attacks and like level III, is hardened. Body armor in this category is as thick as 20mm and has an area density of 32.5 kg/m.

    Edged Blade and Spike Threats

    Many people tend to assume that if body armor can stop bullets, it can also protect against a knife stab. That is not the case though. However, it is possible to have body armor that can protect against both ballistic and edged blade threats. Body armor still needs to be classified according to the level of protection it can offer against stab by edged blades.

    Spike threat is an extension of the threats posed by edged blades. These are the threats posed by spike weapons, such as a thrown knife or an arrow. The classification of spike protection levels is done similarly to that of edged blades. Spike protection body armor can be looked at as edged body armor with additional protection against spike attack.

    Difference Between Civilian and Military Body Armor

    It is important to keep in mind that military personnel might not have the option of avoiding dangerous situations like civilians might. As such, their body armor is made to ensure it can protect them from more deadly situations. For instance, a military man might have to deal with a fire. Under such circumstances, a light covert bulletproof vest that would normally protect against handgun bullets would not be sufficient.

    Military body armor always has additional protective features which make it more resistant to weapon attacks or enable it to cover more areas of the body. Ballistic protection can be added to a bulletproof vest to cover the neck, throat, groin and upper arms.  Also, ballistic SAPI protective plates can be inserted into special pockets on the bulletproof vest to provide additional protection against penetration.

    Hard armor plates are used to reinforce bulletproof vests when large rounds of gunfire are expected. Hard armor plates are usually used to protect against level III and level IV threats.

    Military body armor

    Military armor with all these additional protection tends to be cumbersome and is only used when it's very necessary.  It is, therefore, highly unlikely that civilians would need to use such kind of body armor.  Civilian body armor is in most cases just ordinary bulletproof vests with ballistic plates that are made of Kevlar, ceramic, steel and para-aramid materials. Civilian body armor also differs in the level of protection it offers, but mainly ranges between level IIA and level III. However, civilians can purchase level III and IV plates online. 

    Some states have laws and regulations that limit the level of protection one can wear. The logic behind these laws and regulations is that some protective gear can be used for criminal activities. For instance, in Connecticut, you cannot buy body armor online. You have to buy body armor face-to-face so what you need for protection is ascertained, and the seller can judge who they are selling to. Many other states are currently having conversations around regulating the purchase and use of body armor by civilians.

    Materials Used to Make Body Armor

    While developing body armor, manufacturers aim to produce armor that is light, durable, and as protective as possible. The weight of body armor is a very significant aspect of its suitability. For military personnel, a difference of 1 kg in a vest can be the difference between life and death.

    Manufacturers go for materials that are tough but lightweight. As mentioned earlier, there isn't a big difference between the materials used to make civilian body armor and military body armor, if at all. The materials used differ from manufacturer to manufacturer but all the body armor must pass specific tests before it is sold. Some of the commonly used materials include.


    Aramids are a form of synthetic fiber that is incredibly strong and heat resistant. These fibers were introduced in the manufacture of body armor in the 1960s. The 1960-aramids were hard and rather heavy. In the 1970s para-aramids and meta-aramids were introduced into the manufacture of body armor.

    In particular, synthetic materials known as Normax and Kevlar were used early on. These materials brought flexibility to body armor and significantly reduced their weight from the previous steel and heavy materials. This ensured that the armor was comfortable for a person to wear yet tough enough to be protective against bullets and knife stabs.  Kevlar and PE (polyethylene) are the most commonly used pyramids in the manufacture of body armor today. It has been used for decades to make bulletproof vests.

    The Kevlar material has seen a lot of improvements over the decades. All the improvements concentrate on making the material more protective against bullets and knives, as well as more comfortable for the wearer. The latest version of the Kevlar material was released in 1995. This material enabled the manufacture of multi-threat vests. You can now purchase a vest that protects against both bullets and knives.


    Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight-Polythene (UHMWPE) is yet another material that is used to manufacture body armor. The material has characteristics similar to those of para-aramids. UHMWPE is a compound of long hydrocarbon chains. UHMWPE is associated with high-end models of body armor.

    Both para-aramids and UHMWPE are used to manufacture soft body armor. UHMWPE (aka PE) is also being used in Atomic Defense's level III and Level IV hard armor plates. 

    The Parts of Body Armor

    A bulletproof vest does not come as a complete single piece. Many of the bulletproof vests come as two protective panels and the vest itself. A vest without panels does not offer any kind of protection. It is just a piece of clothing like any other vest. Instead, it has pockets in which the protective panels are inserted both at the front and at the back.


    Both military and civilian bulletproof vests come in the same 3-piece design. The cover vest can be made of cotton, Cordura, or Gore-Tex depending on the manufacturer. The three-piece design allows one to upgrade the level of protection without necessarily purchasing another vest. For instance, you could substitute protective panels of level II protection with panels of level IIIA protection if they are the same size. 

    The other important aspect of body armor is the sizing. You have to wear body armor that fits you properly for it to be able to offer optimum protection. In the case of military personnel, their body armor has to fit properly in order for them to be able to maneuver easily. For instance, if a bulletproof vest does not fit, or has not been worn properly, one may not be able to lift or rest their hands freely. That might not be much of a concern for some civilians, but nobody wants to wear a vest that keeps them uncomfortable all day long.

    Military body armor will always need higher protection levels. As mentioned earlier, in some states civilians may not be allowed to purchase such body armor at all, if they have a felony. Normally, it is quite easy to purchase body armor of all protective levels mentioned above. The bottom line is there is no specific body armor that only belongs to the military. The appropriate body armor for you as a civilian depends on the level of threat you are facing.



    Purchasing body armor is not a hassle though. Refer to the NIJ threat levels above, and determine what level of protection you need, then send your specific body measurements our team via the email You can purchase body armor online in many states. You may want to purchase your body armor soon as there are murmurs of possible tightening of the laws regarding the purchase of body armor by civilians.








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