Do you really need to dress yourself up like a Multicam version of the Staypuff marshmallow man just to defend your home against a few burglars? That could be a bit much, but body armor can actually have a practical place in your home defense plan. This might seem a gross over reaction to you, but consider that the point of your home defense gun is not to kill or punish the bad guys, but to protect you and yours from harm. There is no other piece of equipment that more specifically and dependably achieves that purpose than body armor. It also requires no special training or skill on your part to achieve that task. It need only be worn to prevent harm.
Before we get into the how and why of it, let us take a moment to discuss what body armor really is. In the strictest sense, body armor is a wearable shield designed to protect the wearer from a specific type of harm, or “threat”. Modern body armor can be designed to stop stabbing or slashing attacks, like the armor worn by correctional officers, or ballistic threats, like the bullet resistant vests worn by many law enforcement officers. We will focus on ballistic armor for this article. In the US, ballistic armor is rated by the NIJ for its ability to stop very specific threats and is classified by its threat level. In order of lowest protection level to highest, threat levels IIA, II, and IIIA are typically soft armor that generally conforms to the shape of the wearer and can be worn under clothing without being too obvious.
Soft armor will protect against various handgun and shotgun threats, with Level IIIA being rated to protect against virtually any handgun. Rifle ammunition will cut straight through any soft armor as though it were a T-shirt. Threat levels III and IV are hard plates that do not conceal well but they can stop rifle caliber threats. It is not uncommon for an armor carrier (the fabric vest that holds the armor panels) to be designed to accept both soft armor panels and hard plates to combine the wide coverage area of soft panels with the hard plate’s ability to protect against rifle threats. While ballistic armor may also be designed to include stab or cut protection you should not assume it will protect from those threats unless it is specifically rated for them. That said, Kevlar is some remarkably tough stuff and can often stop things for which it was never designed.
To figure out what type of protection you should purchase, set a budget and decide in what conditions you plan to wear the armor to determine the priorities you should place on comfort, concealability and protection level. If you are not wearing the body armor for work and you do not intend to wear it for long periods or under normal street clothes, comfort can take a back seat to price and protection level. Make no mistake: wearing any armor of any threat level is uncomfortable and hot. Comfort is a relative term when it comes to armor, but better designed armor and better designed carriers can be substantially less uncomfortable than cheap versions of the same protection level. Also, higher threat levels of soft armor are thicker and heavier than lower threat levels made by the same manufacturer in the same product line.
Why bother with armor, though, if an intruder might smash his way into your home and be on you before you could put it on? Armor makes a lot of sense for soldiers and cops who get to prepare for a fight before they go to work, but the homeowner never knows when an attack could come, if it ever does at all. It is not practical to just wear body armor at all times, day or night. So what good is armor if it just means that you spend time getting it on that should have been spent picking up a gun to defend yourself?
It is true that if an intruder gains entry to your home quickly, you may not have time to don a plate carrier. If you find yourself in a situation like that, your safest option is to secure a weapon, call police, and barricade yourself as quickly as possible. You should not allow that circumstance to occur in the first place, though. As discussed in other articles on this blog, home defense should be layered and it should take time, effort, and noise to gain entry into your home. If you are alerted by the sound of a person attempting entry, rather than the possible presence of an intruder already in your home, it takes very little time to slip a carrier over your head.
If you do choose to keep armor handy, it can serve more than just the one purpose, too. There is a significant possibility that an attack could come at o’ dark thirty while you are sound asleep. A plate or vest carrier with MOLLE loops gives you the option to carry a few things that you wouldn’t have in your tightie whities. No need to load it down with GI Joe kit, but you could have a spare magazine, flashlight, and first aid kit. More importantly, you could also attach a cell phone pouch to keep 911 on speaker phone and your hands free if you need to move through your home to protect your loved ones. It is difficult to overstate the value of maintaining communication with first responders and at the same time creating an unimpeachable record of the event. You could even keep a holstered pistol on your armor. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
This all represents a significant investment in addition to your home defense gun. What if you cannot afford to purchase a top of the line carrier, Level IIIA soft panels, and Level IV ceramic rifle plates? It still may be worthwhile to put together the components that you can afford, as you can afford them. You can still reap the benefits of having a phone, magazine, light, and first aid kit without the ballistic protection. Start with a quality carrier. There is an old saying that even if you don’t get what you pay for, you may very well pay for what you get. Add a few pouches. Remember that you are just defending your home, not re-taking Fallujah. You are not doing yourself any favors if you add so much gear that you lose track of where things are located or restrict your mobility. When you can afford it, add some soft armor panels and/or plates. In the meantime, you might even make your own. It sounds crazy, but you can actually make some pretty effective armor from common hardware store materials.
Now, to be very clear, homemade armor is going to be heavier and it is not exhaustively tested and guaranteed to protect you like commercial armor. If you have a choice, you should always choose something with a proper NIJ rating. On the other hand, if your choice is nothing versus a few floor tiles, it is hard to argue that “nothing” is a better option.
No matter what equipment you choose, train with it. Software is vastly more important than hardware so get to the range and use the equipment that you intend to use to defend your home. Take some classes from qualified trainers and wear your equipment in the class. To further acclimate yourself to wearing armor and/or load bearing equipment, do chores and yard work in it whenever feasible. Nothing identifies shortcomings in your gear like a few hours of hard work. As always, you are the only person who can determine the best plan to defend your home.
Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan. Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.