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Backpack Body Armor – Everything You Need to Know
June 6, 2018
Backpack Body Armor
Backpack body armor has been marketed to the public for quite a few years now. Before that,
there were people just buying soft or hard armor and putting them in their backpacks.
Purchasing purpose made backpacks and armor or just buying the armor and putting it in your
current backpack are both viable options.
Making the decision to buy backpack armor is pretty much a no-brainer. Whether it’s for your
daughter’s school backpack or for your briefcase that you carry to work every day, it makes
sense to spend the money just in case.
How are you supposed to use backpack body armor?
The real decision is figuring out what kind of body armor you need. What do the different levels
mean? How heavy is it? How are you supposed to use backpack body armor? The questions
go on and on.
Keep reading and we’ll answer all those questions and more!
Related Reading: Should You Use an AR-15 for Home Defense?
Body Armor Ratings Explained
Body armor is rated based on a standard put out by the National Institute of Justice. These
ratings are often referred to as NIJ Ratings.
These ratings are based on the stopping power of the body armor and the amount of
protection you get from the blunt force of the bullet. (The NIJ considers less than 1.7″ of blunt
trauma to be passing.)
Armor for our purposes is divided into soft and hard varieties.
We’re interested in soft armor rated at II-A, II, and III-A. These are rated to stop various
calibers of handgun ammo.
Soft armor is made up of many layers of aramid. Kevlar is the best-known brand.
Additional things to consider are the fact that soft body armor can be used to defend against
slashing knife attacks but not penetrating/ stabbing attacks.
Soft body armor can also protect against frag from things like IEDs. I had a piece of frag from a
130mm projectile used in an IED get stopped by soft body armor I was wearing in Iraq.
Body Armor Level
Effective Against These Calibers
9 mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) at ~1,090 fps
.40 S&W Full Metal Jacket at 1,025 fps
9 mm FMJ, at ~1,175 fps
.357 JSP at ~1,400 fps
9 mm FMJ at ~1,400 fps
.44 Magnum Semi-Jacketed Hollow Point at ~1,400 fps
Hard armor that we’re looking at is level III and level IV. These are designed to
stop rifle caliber ammo.
Hard armor for civilian use is normally made of hardened steel specifically designed to stop
projectiles. Ceramic plates are also available.
Body Armor Level
Effective Against These Calibers
.308 Winchester Full Metal Jacket =
7.62 X 51 mm NATO6 rounds at ~ 2,750 fps
.30 M2 APOne round at ~ 2,850 fps
Hard and soft body armor come with different pros and cons that we’ll discuss below.
Pros and Cons of Different Body Armor Types
Soft Body Armor
Pros: Soft armor has two main advantages. It’s very light and it can flex. This makessoft armor
the most concealable type of armor.
Soft armor is much more concealable than hard armor.
Cons: Soft body armor has a major drawback…it doesn’t protect as well as a heavy steel plate.
This is fine if your main threat is handgun rounds. If you believe that your main threat is from
someone with a rifle, then soft armor isn’t going to do much to help in that situation.
Soft armor deteriorates much faster than hard armor. (Shelf life is normally around 5 years.)
This degradation is even faster if it’s getting wet or sweaty on a regular basis.
Hard Body Armor
Pros: Hard body armor provides that best protection that you can get. Shelf life is normally
around 20 years for steel plates. (It’s likely much longer than that.)
Hard armor can have a shelf life of over 20 years!
Steel armor can usually take many rounds of the rated caliber before showing any signs of
wear. Even then, it retains most of its protective capabilities.
Cons: By being able to stop nearly every threat, most hard body armor needs to be heavy. It is
also less concealable than soft armor.
There are different hard armor plates that are made of composite materials like plastic or
ceramic. These counter the main disadvantage of weight but they normally degrade faster and
cannot reliably take more than one round. They’re also thicker than steel plates.
Selecting Backpack Body Armor
The first thing you will want to do is figure out what your most likely threat is. Like we said
earlier, if you expect to encounter rifle fire then soft armor isn’t really going to do much for you.
The second thing you should consider is weight. Level III and IV plates are heavy while soft
armor panels weigh in at right around a pound.
If I was sending a kid to school every day I would give them a level III-A panel to put into the
back of their backpack.
They’d never notice it and it would give them some protection if it ever came down to that.
Some companies are making purpose built backpacks that have special pockets to hold armor
panels and plates. AR 500 Armor and Bullet Blocker are both good places to find these
backpacks. I found Bullet Blocker to be really interesting because they offer a full range of
backpacks from little girly teal backpacks to tactical packs.
If you’re looking for something that in no way says body armor to anyone looking on, then
you’ll probably want to buy the bag and plates separately. Any backpack with a bladder pouch
makes a good candidate for armor. Just make sure you measure well before you order the
plates so you’re sure you’re getting the right size.
Something like this CamelBak BFM Mil Spec Antidote is great for sliding a plate into and no
one would really think your Camelbak can actually double as body armor.
If you decide you need level III armor, you can find some lightweight plates from
AR500Armor.com. They’re about 5 lbs. You can find level III armor at around 3 lbs but the
composites are expensive and they’re about 6 times the cost of lightweight steel plates!
How Do You Use Backpack Armor?
Backpack armor has three logical uses in my mind.
1. Wear the body armor like a backpack so it protects your vital organs as you run from the
gunman. This is the thing that makes me believe that backpack armor has a practical
purpose for children.
2. Hold the backpack (or briefcase, etc.) as a shield as you retreat from the gunman. Make
sure you’re covering vital organs as much as you can as you’re retreating.
3. Wear the backpack on the front of your torso (or hold the briefcase/backpack in front of
you) so your vital organs are protected as you advance on the gunman.
Whatever you do to get the armor between you and the incoming rounds is fine!
Related Reading: What Do You Do If You’re Caught In a Riot? – 12 Tips to Survive Social
Traveling with Body Armor
Body armor is allowed in both checked bags and carry on bags.
Straight from the TSA website: “Generally, body armor is allowed in carry-on or checked bags.
Please note however that even if an item is generally allowed, our officers make the final
decision on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.”
If you plan on purchasing body armor, make sure you check the laws in your area before you
do. Some places in the US have restrictions on body armor and many countries outside the
US restrict body armor in one way or another.
If you’ve never considered the practical uses of backpack body armor hopefully this article has
opened your eyes about the possibilities that are out there to add an extra layer of protection
for you or a loved one.
A simple 1 lb panel in a backpack has the chance to mean the difference between life and
Check out our other defense and tactical articles.