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.
Keep reading and we’ll answer all those questions and more!
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|
|II-A||9 mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) at ~1,090 fps
.40 S&W Full Metal Jacket at 1,025 fps
|II||9 mm FMJ, at ~1,175 fps
.357 JSP at ~1,400 fps
|III-A||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|
|III||.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 makes soft armor the most concealable type of 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.)
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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 death!
Check out our other defense and tactical articles.