If you want to stop:
- Knives and handguns: Kevlar
- Knives, handguns, and assault rifles: UHMWPE
- Standard assault rifles and armor piercing bullets: Ceramics
Body Armor Basics
If you’re looking to find the difference between Kevlar, UHMWPE, and ceramic body armor, you’ve come to the right place. Kevlar, UHMWPE, and ceramic body armor all offer various degrees of protection against knives, armor piercing bullets, and everything in between.
Each of these body armor types are on different tiers of the NIJ body armor standard. National Institute of Justice (or NIJ) body armor standard, is the US government’s list of body armor tiers, each with its own rating. To find out more about the NIJ body armor standard, click here.
Alrighty, let’s start with the type of armor that just about everyone knows about: Kevlar. Kevlar seems to be what everyone is referring to when they say “body armor”, that or a sports drink, but a sports drink won’t stop a bullet, technology hasn’t gotten that far… yet.
Kevlar is a lightweight body armor that, pound for pound, is 5 to 6 times stronger than steel. Kevlar goes up to NIJ level 3A, meaning it will stop handgun bullets and knives or other sharp handheld weapons.
A downside of Kevlar, is that it does lose effectiveness with wear and tear. The more you wear it, the sooner you’ll want to replace it. Kevlar, much like a lot of technology, shouldn’t be left in the heat, or sitting out in the cold. You also need to be careful about being out in the rain, or washing Kevlar, because the material will absorb the water and become damaged.
Next in the list is UHMWPE, or Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. UHMWPE is often shortened to just PE, polyethylene. This handy material is surprisingly low weight for how durable it is. PE seems to be the do it all material, being used for anything from hip and knee replacements to a 30 kilometer space tether for a satellite. Pretty versatile if you ask me.
When PE is used in body armor, its bullet stopping capability goes to NIJ level 3. Technically it can go all the way up to 4, but it would be, arguably, too bulky to decide to use it over ceramic. PE is actually 8 to 15 times stronger than steel per pound. PE body armor is typically a PE plate insert for a vest. Such inserts can stop multiple assault rifle rounds and can stop all common handgun rounds.
PE doesn’t suffer from wear and tear like Kevlar, but you will eventually have to replace the vest that’s carrying it. It can also float, so you won’t sink like a rock if you have to swim while wearing your vest. Another great thing about it, is it’s easy to care for. Cleaning and maintenance is super easy, especially Atomic Defense’s PE armor. You can find the article on how to clean our armor, here.
And finally, ceramics. Ceramics refers to the ceramic hexagons on the inside of the insert. Ceramic inserts consist of ceramic plates interlocked with multiple layers of polyethylene behind it to protect the wearer when the vest gets hit. The biggest downside to ceramic armor is that when a ceramic plate gets hit hard enough to destroy it, that part of the vest has a lot less protection. That spot won’t be able to take another shot of that caliber.
However, the benefits of ceramic armor are many. Ceramic armor is the heaviest of the different types of armor, except for steel armor, boy is that stuff heavy. Good luck running long distance in steel body armor.
But it also offers the most protection, sitting at the top of the NIJ standard with a rating of NIJ level 4, meaning it stops all that PE and Kevlar do, but also, higher caliber handgun rounds, 5.56 AP/API, 7.62 AP/API, and .30-06 AP/API armor piercing rounds.
Higher end ceramic armor can weigh less, but it will typically be more expensive. Atomic Defense’s ceramic armor is lighter than most and provides top tier protection. In comparison, a NIJ level 3 steel plate will weigh 8 to 10 pounds, whereas Atomic Defense’s NIJ level 3 ceramic plate weighs 4.8 pounds. Quite the difference.
Now that you know the pros and cons of different types of body armor, all that comes next is actually determining what kind of body armor you’ll be wearing. Will you run the chance of going against knives and low caliber handguns? Kevlar or PE.
How about assault rifles and higher caliber handguns? PE. Or are you the kind of person that wants to be prepared for an armor piercing bullet to be flying your way? Ceramics are the way to go.
Atomic Defense provides all of these different kinds of body armor, and I’ll leave a bullet point list of the different aspects of each armor type below. I hope this article helped answer a few of the questions you had. And don’t forget discount code: SJ78 for 5% off your purchase at AtomicDefense.com ! Thanks for reading, and take care.
List of Aspects
- Meant to stop knives and low caliber handgun rounds
- NIJ level 2A
- Lightweight and flexible
- Soft body armor
- Pound for pound Kevlar is 5-6 times stronger than steel
- Plate itself doesn’t suffer from wear and tear
- Low weight with high strength
- Hard body armor
- Floats in water
- Easy to take care of
- Ceramic disc breaks upon impact, meaning that spot can’t take another hit for the wearer
- Hard body armor
- Strongest body armor
- Higher end ceramic body armor weighs less than lower end