Bulletproof vests and armor plates are crucial investments that protect you anywhere. Law enforcement, security guards, first responders and more rely on these protective elements to keep them safe on the job. When selecting a vest, you want to consider your well-being while ensuring you get the most value for money.
While the prices of body armor are subject to market forces and obey the laws of demand and supply just like any other product, many people cannot help but wonder what the rationale behind the pricing of bulletproof vests is. A lot of time goes into designing, manufacturing and testing these bulletproof vests, aiming to produce vests that offer the utmost strength and durability. This time makes bulletproof vests significant investments, and it is only fair that you understand exactly what you are paying for.
We outline the variables that affect the cost of bulletproof vests, including type, quality standards, durability, concealability and more, giving you the information you need to make an educated decision.
Soft vs. Hard Body Armor
Throughout your search for body armor, you'll find two popular options — soft and hard armor.
Soft armor is flexible, made primarily from fabrics like Kevlar or UHMWPE (the same as our PEAD and polyethylene), and provides high-strength, reliable performance. These vests usually come in single or stand-alone panels, typically worn beneath clothing and other gear. External soft vests are available at a higher price, offering a vest with more features like pockets, velcro and Molle.
Hard armor comes in multiple components, including a soft armor shell, plate carrier and armor plate inserts. These vests are highly customizable, as you usually purchase each part separately, allowing you to mix and match. You will have three options for plates — steel, ceramic and polyethylene — all affecting what you can do and the price you'll pay.
Steel plates are the heaviest, cheapest and least effective body armor, costing around $100 to $600 depending on the NIJ level. Steel doesn't conform to your body and results in heavy spalling, which can cause fragmentation and injury.
Ceramic and polyethylene (UHMWPE/PEAD) plates utilize innovative technology to be lighter in weight while still being high strength. These options cost more, ranging from $120 and above depending on the NIJ level.
NIJ Standards of Bulletproof Vests
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) classifies personal body armor into five categories, signifying different levels of protection. NIJ standards determine a bulletproof vest's effectiveness, improving the level of strength and safety as the rating increase. These enhancements also play a vital role in the anticipated cost, which often increases with the NIJ level.
NIJ Level of Body Armor prices are as follows:
- Level 2A (PEAD/Kevlar) — Soft: Protection from 9mm Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) and .40 S&W FMJ rounds. Prices range between $250 and $600.
- Level 2 (PEAD/Kevlar) — Soft: Protection from 9mm FMJ RN and .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point bullets. Prices range from $250 to $600.
- Level 3A (PEAD/Kevlar) — Soft/Hard: Available in both soft and hard configurations, these armor types offer protection up to .22, .25 ACP, 40, 45, 38 SPC, .380, .44 Magnum and 9 mm FMJ firearms. This level's prices are between $250 and $600.
- Level 3A (Steel) — Hard: This body armor type costs around $100 and supplies you with solid protection. It can handle multiple hits from firearms shooting .44 Magnum, 9 mm, .40 caliber, 12-gauge slug and buckshot, .45 caliber and more.
- Level 3A (Ceramic) — Hard: While only weighing around one pound, level 3A ceramic plates have the strength to absorb the impact from traditional pistol rounds, including 44 Magnum, 9 mm, .40 caliber, 12-gauge slug and buckshot, .45 caliber. You can purchase these plates for $100 to $250.
- Level 3 (Steel)— Hard: This type of steel plate provides protection against shots from 7.62 mm FMJ, 30 carbine FMJ and 12 gauge rifle slugs. For an average ten-pound level three armor plate, you should prepare to pay $200 to $400. By default, the NIJ requirement for level III plates do not stop 5.56 calibers (common in AR-15), but Atomic Defense's level III+ plates are tested to stop them.
- Level 3 (Ceramic) — Hard: This plate type is constructed with a durable ceramic strike face and reinforced with fiber to break up and catch ammunition, including 7.62x39mm, 9mm, .45cal, .40cal, .38 special and more. Prices range between $400 and over $800. By default, the NIJ requirement for level III plates do not stop 5.56 calibers (common in AR-15), but Atomic Defense's level III+ plates are tested to stop them.
- Level 3 (PEAD/Kevlar) — Hard: Lightweight body armor options include enhanced bullet-stopping capabilities. They typically cost around $250 or more per plate and are tested to stand up to various calibers like 9mm, 10mm, .45cal, .40cal, .380, 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm FMJ, lead core and hollow point rifle ammunition.
- Level 4 (Steel) — Hard: A durable option offering protection against all rounds protected lower ratings, plus .30-06, .308, 30-30 and more caliber armor piercing (AP) rifle rounds. You can find these vests between $200 and $600.
- Level 4 (Ceramic) — Hard: Weighing around six pounds, level four ceramic plates absorb and disperse armor-piercing bullets such as 7.62x51mm NATO, .308 Winchester, 5.56x45mm M855, .300 Winchester Magnum, .338 Lapua Magnum, and more. Depending on the ceramic type and number of plates you purchase, you can expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $1500 or more.
Other Factors Influencing the Cost of Bulletproof Vests
Here are some factors that will cause subtle differences in the prices of two bulletproof vests, which, to your eyes, might seem quite similar.
For a full breakdown of the pros and cons of various common body armor materials, check out our comprehensive comparison here.
The first type of material bulletproof vests are commonly made of is UHMWPE (ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene). UHMWPE is a thermoplastic polymer with unique properties. The material has a strong physical and mechanical structure and has high chemical inertness. It is self-lubricating and has high abrasion and impact resistance. These properties make it one of the best materials body armor manufacturing.
The UHMWPE fibers used to make ballistic fabric are produced through a process known as gel-spinning, involving the extrusion of a low-concentration solution of UHMWPE to create gel precursor fibers. These fibers are heated to produce a molecular structure with high orientation, which gives UHMWPE its very desirable properties. UHMWPE body armor is often the most expensive for NIJ levels III and IV and will set you back between $300 and $1,000, depending on the level of protection you need. Lower levels (NIJ IIA, II, and IIIA) will cost between $100 and $300.
Kevlar is the other renowned material in the manufacturing of body armor. It is made by taking the chemical solution known as Polyparaphenylene Terephthalamide through a process known as a condensation reaction. Basically, the process converts the solution into long, highly tensile and strong fibers, called polyamides which are then spun to create a soft and flexible material.
This process ensures they are usable as textile fibers, used to weave Kevlar fabrics of different thicknesses. The thicker a Kevlar fabric is, the more protective it is. Kevlar is made of a highly tensile synthetic aramid fiber, offering heat resistance, high strength and the ability to absorb impact.
When hit by a bullet with high velocity and energy, the Kevlar material stretches back instead of disintegrating. This action subdues the bullet and stops it from penetrating through. Kevlar bulletproof vests are quite popular because they are more affordable. UHMWPE vests are more protective than Kevlar vests, but that does not imply Kevlar vests are ineffective. Kevlar vests cost between $150 and $800, depending on their design and level of protection.
Concealability and Comfort
Comfort and concealability are major issues when it comes to bulletproof vests. They also, to some extent, determine how safe you are with them on. For instance, civilians and police departments in most cases prefer a concealable bulletproof vest. The fact that your vest is visible means anyone seeking to harm you will try to aim at areas of your body that are not covered. A lot of custom modifications and sizing have to be done to ensure proper fitting and concealability — that means concealable vests might cost more.
Either way, manufacturers still have to strive to eliminate as much weight as possible. In a combat zone, a difference of one pound in load weight can be the difference between life and death. Manufacturers have to go an extra mile in ensuring the body armor produced is the lightest it can be without compromising on their level of protection.
Comfort is also an essential factor. Regardless of who you are, you don't want to have to walk around wearing a hefty bulletproof vest. In some cases, such as those of military men involved in conflict areas, it is inevitable that they'll have to wear bulky vests. In most cases, they have to wear carrier vests that have heavy ballistic plates inside that are typically NIJ level IV ceramic.
There are many manufacturers of bulletproof vests in the world. The vests sold in the U.S. have to be certified as protective after being tested against NIJ standards. Even then, they cannot all be of the same quality. The quality of bulletproof vests is just as essential as with any other product you would want to purchase. As mentioned earlier, a bulletproof vest is a significant investment, and you need a durable product when you pay for one.
Obviously, quality and durable bulletproof vests will have a price tag that is on the higher end. Cheap body armor is often low quality, meaning the bulletproof vest will wear faster, and you’ll be back to the shop sooner than you want. New vests will often cost more than used ones of the same NIJ level and material. When you buy a new bulletproof vest vs buying a used one, you don't have to worry about how the vest was stored or maintained which can have a big impact on the vest's overall effectiveness. If you intend to use your vest in the field, it's best not to leave the prior care and storage to chance. Buying a new vest will provide complete peace of mind knowing that it will function exactly as intended when you need it most.
Our Body Armor Financing Options
At Atomic Defense, we believe that all body armor should be affordable, ensuring you have the protection you want. To guarantee this happens, we are in partnership with PayPal and other payment p, which allows our customers to acquire bulletproof vests even when they do not have enough money readily available.
You need to first apply for PayPal credit and get approved, which will largely depend on your credit score. Once approved, you will then agree to repay through agreed minimum monthly payments, accruing zero interest for any purchases over $99 that are paid in full within six months. These flexible terms will enable you to stay safe and protected, even when you're on a tight budget.
We also offer other impressive offerings to make our body armor options as economical as possible. With our 30-day guarantee, you can return any product you've purchased on Atomic Defense within 30 days and receive your money back. Our First Responder Discount gives a 10% discount on all purchases to all law enforcement and first responders. You can get in touch via Responder@AtomicDefense.com, and you'll be guided on how to set up your account for instant discounts.
Find Your Body Armor at Atomic Defense
When purchasing bulletproof vests, take time to compare reviews from different people and compare the prices so that you can find the vest that is best suited for your needs. Recently, some companies providing bulletproof armor have increased their prices following shooting incidents to take advantage of their customers - not Atomic Defense. Atomic Defense stocks only the best body armor products at fair and competitive prices, giving you the peace of mind you deserve.
We believe that the best way to save money while purchasing body armor is not choosing the cheapest option but ensuring you do not have to come back for another purchase too soon. We aren't saying this just because we want you to spend more with us, but because we want you to get the best value for the money you spend. To help you do this, we go for high-quality brands while making our prices as affordable as possible — giving you confidence in your protection.
Visit www.atomicdefense.com and explore the various types of body armor that we have. If you have any queries or concerns regarding the performance or the cost of bulletproof vests, get in touch with us via email at email@example.com or call 1-507-400-0490.