One of the most frequently asked questions in the civilian body armor community is which is better: soft armor or hard plates? Regretfully, the most often given answer is also the worst advice, and that is hard armor because it is tougher.
The truth is that both soft and hard armor have their place and time. What would be a better option completely depends on the situation you find yourself in.
There are three aspects to consider when choosing the correct one for you:
And the last one is something proponents of heavy-armor setups don’t often consider. Even though an NIJ Level IV setup will protect you the most, if you need to wear it for 8 or 10 hours you will have a huge issue with fatigue from the weight.
Finding the optimal solution will always be about balance. You need to weigh the risks, benefits, and downsides of every option to know if your idea will be something beneficial or detrimental to your survivability.
Adapt to Possible Risks
Because of the reduction in price for hard plates, there are now plenty of civilians wearing plate carriers as if they are backpacks. Especially when it comes to some heavier plates like Aluminum Oxide, such a choice is not only unnecessary but can actually be damaging.
If you need something for personal protection as a civilian, going with soft and covert armor will always be the best choice. It is something that you can wear every day, that has no medical detriments to your knees and feet, and which will stop 98.7% of firearm attacks in the US.
But, if you know that you will be going somewhere where people will have rifles and know how to use them you will need those hard plates. These are used to protect your vitals from fatal injury and it will often be the same if you are wearing soft armor or nothing.
For instance, a lot of apprehensions of known armed criminals and criminal organizations will need only the PC with Level III+ or IV plates, as everything else will encumber you. And time is not relevant because such missions rarely last more than an hour.
Finally, if you know you might be dealing with explosives there is no option but to go all in. Modular systems like the FAS Full Armor System are by far your best bet, even if it is all soft armor.
When dealing with explosives being maneuverable is not an issue because you can’t outrun the speed of sound. But, shrapnel is nowhere near as penetrative as bullets, and you can use soft armor to stop it.
Soft Armor in Law Enforcement
There is one exception to the examples listed above, and that is for LEO that aims to apprehend unstable suspects, which is a frightening percentage of suspects in the last few years.
The problem here is that you can’t mark off a suspect before they even notice you and that most deranged gunmen won’t even aim but empty their magazine aimlessly in your general direction.
For such situations, it is best to have a FAS System with something like the SA3U Plates in the PC.
Yes, a shot to the shoulder or thigh might not be lethal, but you really don’t want to spend the next few weeks in the hospital stacking bills and losing overtime hours if that is not absolutely necessary.