Best Body Armor 2021 [Top Picks + Buyer’s Guide]

When the word body armor comes to mind, the options are endless. It can be extremely overwhelming trying to find the best body armor on the market yourself. That is where we come in.

At My Bulletproof Gear, we have done all the hard work for you. Our team have tried and tested many different body armor over the years and have included our personal favorites on this guide.

Contents

The Top 8 Best Body Armor Plates of 2021


Now you are familiar with all the fine print of body armor, here are our picks for the best body armor plates you can purchase. We have included body armor reviews for many different kinds, so you can get a good indication of which armor are the best for each specific purpose.

Related Article: You can check out the Top Level IV Body Armor available online in our guide now.

Top Level IIIA and iii Body Armor - Best Standard Panels for Anyone

  • 10x12 inches
  • Level IIIA Protection
  • Can fit in the majority of plate carriers

This flexible armor panel produced by BulletSafe is a very affordable level IIIA armor panel that can fit inside the majority of standard carriers as well as inside backpacks. It is one of our favorites for the versatility and number of uses it has!

It is 10x12 inches and has a shooter's cut. The level IIIA panel will protect you from handgun rounds up to a .44 magnum. 

This armor panel is only 1.25lbs, and is 0.55 inches thick. The panel comes encased in a polyester carrier which gives a tough and durable outer shell which will not wear out the carrier.

We would recommend this plate for anyone who is looking for protection at a budget. Whether this plate is fit inside your plate carrier or inside another bag like a briefcase or backpack - this is a great level IIIA choice.

The BulletSafe Ballistic Plates offers you level III protection, whilst at a great price. Whilst used in conjunction with BulletSafe’s Bulletproof Vest, you can attain level IV protection against rifle fire.

On its own it will protect against non-armor piercing .223 and 7.62 x 51mm rounds. 

It is a very lightweight ceramic made plate that is priced similarly to heavier steel plates. The plate weighs only 5.65 lbs which is one of the lightest level III plates on the market.                    

This is a great choice if you are looking for a single level III armor plate.

The BulletSafe Alpha Plate is BulletSafe’s ultralight weight plate that is the one for you if getting a lightweight plate is your priority. It is also level III rifle resistant.

The plate only weights 1lb!

It is NIJ certified and will give you level III protection which can stop 6 steel jacketed rounds shot from a 7.62mm M80 with a velocity of 2780 ft per second.

The plate is made from the lightweight polyethylene, which you will find elsewhere on the market for double this price. The plate will fit in most standard sized plate carriers and has a curve which gives it a close fit to your body. 

This is without a double the best value for money lightweight plate on the market, and we definitely think that it is worth purchasing.

At less than $100, the FORTIS level III Plate is a great purchase. 

The plate is tested against a whole range of calibers shot from 15m away.

Tested calibers include: 6 rounds of 7.62x51 M80 Ball (0.308) 2780 fps and 5.56x45 3000 fps and 7.62x39.

The plate is available in a whole range of sizes, and is extremely thin and lightweight with an anti-spall coating.

We also found the delivery time to be extremely fast! Purchase your plate on its own or together in a discounted bundle with the spall lining.

5. STRATIS Rifle Rated Insert

Now this plate is more expensive than the other plates, but that is because the STRATIS Insert is rifle rated.

It is NIJ level III certified and tested to protect against common rifle rounds. It is also stab and slash resistant.

This is a great backpack plate that is lightweight and is size 10x16 inch to fit in a whole range of backpacks.

Other good features include the waterproof plate lining and the 5 year warranty that it comes with. 

6. AR500 Level IIIA Hybrid Soft Armor

AR500 Soft Armor

This AR500 Level IIIA is one of the most innovative soft armor plates around that emcompasses excellence in performance and quality whilst still delivering on comfort at a great price.

It is ultra thin at only 1lb is one of the lightest and top performing soft body armor plates that you can find anywhere! This is a soft armor plate that can be worn all day with maximum comfort. 

Stand alone this soft armor plate can protect you against handgun calibers up to .44 magnum.

AR500 have utilized a variety of the best ballistic fabric on the market such as Spectra Shield and Gold Shield to great this hybrid body armor plate. The features found in this plate are common amongst more expensive armor, but the AR500 hybrid plate has married top quality and price point to produce this must-have vest.

It has an antimicrobial nylon covering that ensures that the soft armor plate has a long lifespan and offers protection from the elements as well as sweat. 

The 11x14 inch plate is compatible with this sized plate carrier. 

7. Spartan Armor Omega AR500 Body Armor

Spartan Armor Omega AR500

Spartan Omega offers either a single curve or an advanced triple curve level III body armor plate-  which is created using a machine that gives this great curvature to fit seamlessly to your torso and body. The triple curve adds an extra curve to the bottom and top of the plate to add to the comfort factor.

This body armor allows the user to easily shoulder their weapon in full comfort and freedom. 

The plate itself is 0.25inches thick and by the NIJ standards offers level III protection. It comes in a set of 2, which can be purchased in 3 different sizes: 8x10inches, 10x12 inches and 11x14 inches. It can easily be used in conjunction with a steel panel into a concealable plate carrier.

You can also purchase it with the Full coat covering option which will offer increased fragmentation mitigation.

Top Level III+ Steel Body Armor

1. Spartan AR550 Body Armor Shooters Cut (Set of 2) - $224.99

Spartan AR550 Level III+

The Spartan AR550 III+ Body Armor comes in a set of 2 plates - which gives you the best value for your money.

It provides rifle protection and we found it to be a high quality body armor plate. The shooter's cut comes in 3 sizes: 8x10, 10x12 and 11x14. In terms of the weight of each plate you are looking at 6lbs to 11lbs each as you get progressively larger from size 8x10 to the 11x14.

It is available for purchase in the standard single curve, but Spartan has recently released a triple curve option too. If you are looking for the more concealable option go with the triple curve.

2. Spartan AR550 Body Armor Swimmers Cut (Set of 2) - $204.99

Spartan Armor Swimmers Cut Plates

Alternatively you can purchase the level III+ from Spartan Armor Systems in the swimmers cut set of two plates, which is still available in all the same sizes, as well as whether you would prefer the standard single curve (at no added cost) or the advanced triple curve. 

The weight of these cuts is lighter and ranges from 4lbs 14oz with the 8x10 to 8lbs 130z for the 11x14. The total thickness of these plates is a meme 0.5 to 0.6 inches.

3. AR500 III+ Body Armor - $129

AR500 III+ 

This AR500 level III+ armor plate offers its users edge to edge protection. It is made of ballistic steel and weighs 11.5lbs which is on the heavier side. The thickness is 0.26 inches.

It is rated to protect against multi hits of 5.56x45mm M193  and 5.56X45mm M855/SS109 at a velocity of 3,100 feet per second.

The plate is a 11”x14” shooters cut and can be worn on its own or in conjunction with other soft body armor plates. Choose from a flat or multi-curve as well as whether you want just the base coat or the build up coat. You can also choose between a left hand or right hand advanced shooters cut.

Top Level 4 Body Armor

1. Spartan Armor Systems Level IV Shooters Cut Ceramic Armor (Set of 2) - $399.99

Level IV Shooters Cut Ceramic Plates

Spartan Armor Systems IV plate is a great value plate that whilst it may seem more on the pricey side is touted for its ability to take multiple hits without compromising its ballistic ability.

The armor is NIJ certified, wrapped professionally and is also water resistant. It is available  in 1 standard size - 10x12 and has a weight of 8.3lbs and a thickness of 1 inch. The plate is a single curve and the cut on this plate is a SAPI cut.

The shooters cut ceramic plate are very compatible with a whole range of plate carriers and can also fit easily in concealable carriers (we found this best fitted without trauma plates).

Spartan Armor Systems are so confident in the quality of this plate, that they offer a 10 year manufacturers warranty. 

2. Spartan Armor Systems Level IV Ceramic Multi Hit Rifle Plate - Double Set - $649.99

Level IV Ceramic Multi Hit Rifle Plate

This Spartan Body Armor Rifle Plate offers the strongest protection you can find on the market today. 

It is multi-hit rated and can withstand 5-7 M2AP rounds. It is NIJ rated and has been tested against .30-06 M2AP. 

The rifle plate is made from an array of ceramic tiles thats purpose is to significantly decrease cracks. 

Regular ceramic body armor plates on the market are far more susceptible to shattering. They are made from a monolithic sheet of ceramic which will produce cracks across the plate which when struck by a M2AP round, which means that it is unable to protect against multiple rounds. 

Their patented ceramic tile array mitigates the damage, by localizing the damage so that it doesn’t affect the ballistic integrity of the rest of the plate, so it can still protect fully against other armor piercing rounds.

It weighs 7lbs and has a thickness of 1 inch. The plate is a single curve and has a SAPI/ESAPI cut, and is covered by a 600D water resistant cover.

This level IV Ceramic plate is trusted by both law enforcement and military to offer them the utmost protection that isn’t found anywhere else on the market. 

AR500 Armor

This plate is capable of defending you against multiple shots through its level IV protection rating. It is NIJ certified to protect you against multiple hits.

At this really competitive price, AR500 is known for its top-of-the-range armor plates that don’t compromise on quality whilst still offering great prices. This plate is no exception.

The level IV plates can be used by civilians and those in combat to offer you the highest level of protection. It works as both a front or back plate and can also work with trauma plates and IIIA soft armor (sold separately).

It is 10”x12” and 7.6lbs, and is made from a ceramic and polyethylene mix. The body armor plate is 0.75” thick and is a SAPI/ESAPI cut with a single curve. 

You can rest assured knowing that you have purchased a top quality plate as ar500 offers a 5 year manufacturers warranty.

Best Body Armor Buying Guide


Before checking out our best body armor picks for 2020, you should know that there are various considerations you should make before choosing the best one for you. Body armor choices are ample. Whether it be the level of protection offered, size or material - they are all very different. So you should be aware of this to find the best body armor for your purpose.

Firstly just a quick disclaimer before we begin. It is a common misconception that body armor makes you invincible. Whilst we wish this was the case, all body armor can be defeated. Whether it be the number of bullets shot or the type it is possible that your armor can be penetrated. 

What You Should Know About Body Armor

The first thing you should know about body armor is that its protection is given in levels that are allocated by the National Institute of Justice. We will delve into these levels further down in our guide, and break down the best choice for you as well as the most common body armor levels available for purchase.

Why Would I Need Body Armor?

Body armor has never been more popular amongst a large spectrum of civilians. Owning body armor is not only for people going into combat or fighting crime, but it is now more common than ever for everyday people to invest in personal protection gear for themselves and their families.

Here are some activities or situations in which people involved will typically wear body armor

Home and Self Defense

You never know when you may need to put on body armor in your house. A lot of our readers know that it is better to be safe than sorry and own some form of body armor in case of home invaders or personal dangers.

Shooters and hunters

If you take part in shooting activities owning body armor is a necessity. Whether you are shooting out in the wild or doing training drills, having a form of body armor on your person will give you the added protection that you need. Even if you are not shooting, wearing body armor whilst training will give you the feel of being in a real-life scenario.

There can often be instances when active discharge is possible, so we definitely would recommend wearing some.

Bugging Out

If you are prepping for when SHTF you know that body armor is essential.

EDC Gear

Your everyday carry gear or backpack is not complete without body armor. 


Types of Body Armor

Body Armor comes in 2 main kinds: soft and hard armor

Here is a brief run through the 2 different types of body armor you can buy.

Soft Body Armor

Soft body armor is made out of a very strong fabric like kevlar. The fabric has a really high tensile strength. Basically when a bullet hits a soft armor plate, it stops the bullet by spreading the energy throughout the vest. You can find this in pre-made vests and inserts. In our best body armor guide we will be primarily focusing on the plates itself. 

Soft armor will protect its wearer from pistol and handgun calibers and if it is specified can protect against knives too should it be slash-proof. 

Soft armor is definitely the more comfortable option. It is far lighter and covers a larger region of your body.

Hard armor

Hard armor on the other hand is the option that will offer you the greatest amount of protection. They will protect you for the threats that are more significant. 

The most common kinds of hard armor plates that are available on the market are made from ceramic or steel. Hard armor plates are generally level IV and can stop shots from rifles and explosives.

They are able to stop shots by effectively shattering the bullet. A visualization of a bullet hitting a hard armor plate is like a car slamming into a barrier. Or you can check out this video of a bullet actually hitting a hard armor plate.

Hard armor is significantly heavier than soft armor. They are very rigid and solid armor plates.

The Types of Hard Body Armor

Hard body armor is available in the most common forms of steel and ceramic. We have broken them down into their benefits and draw-backs to help make the decision easiest for you.

Ceramic Body Armor

Ceramic armor is the more expensive choice of the two. This is because it is thicker whilst simultaneously being lighter. For a comparison, ceramic armor plates can be up to 3x thicker than steel plates.

It is generally better at stopping more lethal bullets than steel, however it will shatter quicker with the amount of bullets shot at it. 

Ceramic body armor can stop a common AR15 round. 

Another downside to ceramic armor plates is that they can be easily damaged. Dropping it on the ground or leaving it in the hot sun for an extended period is enough to reduce its armor capabilities and it may need to be replaced.

UHMWPE - Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene Plastic

Wow that was a mouthful. This body armor material has a level of protection that is the lowest of the three. It will only be able to stop pistol carriers. It is an incredible light material, so much so that it floats! Each of the plates only weigh around 3 lbs too. 

For this reason it is also a great deal thicker. 

Steel Body Armor

Steel body armor is cheaper than ceramic. They are thin, but very heavy and can be up to 3 times heavier than ceramic body armor plates. 

At their heaviest they can weigh up over 8 lbs and up to 15lbs for each plate. You will need a front and rear plate so your protection can weigh as much as 30 pounds. This makes them not the most ideal choice for daily use.

As we said, they are the most affordable and only cost roughly $60-$100 per plate.

Steel armor are protective enough to block non-armor piercing rifle rounds as well as handgun rounds.

They have the capacity to take multiple hits which the ceramic will not be able to. Due to this, they have a longer useful life than steel plates. A downside to steel hard armor plates is that they create ‘spalling’. 

Spalling occurs when the bullet hits the steel plate, it shatters and fragments of bullets (shrapnel) can fly everywhere and cause extreme danger if they strike a person. To ensure this doesn’t happen your steel body armor will require a coating which catches the shrapnel. We will explain the idea of spalling further down in our guide.

What is Spalling?

So as we mentioned above spalling is an issue that can occur with steel armor plates. The only way for this to be mitigated is to get a anti-spalling coating on your plate.

Companies these days will sell steel armor plates with this coating already on the plate. The function of the coating is that it works by trapping all the bullet shrapnel after it hits the plate.

Check out some of these videos below to show you the effect of having a anti-spalling coating on your steel plate.

Our Verdict on Hard Body Armor

It appears to be the general consensus amongst many body armor experts that steel armor is the slightly more favorable option of the two. We would have to agree with this. Steel is cheaper and can withstand more hits than ceramic body armor.

When ceramic armor is useless after a few shots, the steel plates will still hold up.


So which Type Should I Buy?

For soft armor go with level 3a body armor

With hard armor you can choose between level 3+ or level 4 body armor depending on your budget. Most people will go for level 3+ body armor.

Well we must admit that choosing body armor is a trade-off. Whilst hard armor seems like the obvious choice given it offers more protection, it is much heavier and uncomfortable to wear. For some plates they are basically steel armor plates. They are also bulky and severely reduce your agility. 

Soft Armor

Soft armor allows its use to be able to move more freely. It gives the user a much greater level of comfort whilst wearing it, and they are able to do pretty much any movements that they would be able to do without it.

This is why soft armor is worn by groups of people like cops and other emergency workers, security guards and regular civilians. The vast majority of their daily threats come from knives, pistols and other weapons like bottles. Soft armor allows them to still have the ability to run, jump and tackle, whilst being sufficiently protected. These are ideal for longer wear.

Soft armor wearers have 2 main objectives: provide a certain level of protection against less threatening weapons and still be able to be fully agile.

Hard armor is generally worn by those in combat such as the armed forces, federal security and situations where heavy gunfire is imminent. They are best utilized in short operations. 

These users will typically be fighting against threats such as AK-47s and AR-15s so are in dire need of the highest level of protection.

Even survivalists may tend to purchase hard armor. 

Many people who are preppers/survivalists will take whatever they can find that gives them the greatest protection even if it means having obvious and heavy armor.

These groups of people have one primary objective: protection.

This is why it is important to consider what you will be using your armor for, which will ultimately dictate the type of body armor you end up purchasing. 

Body Armor Considerations

Level of Protection

We mentioned above that the body armor levels of protection are designated by the NIJ through its ability to stop shots fired by certain traveling at different velocities.

Instead of going into every level on the scale, we have decided to just mention the levels of body armor that are available for purchase.


Level IIIA Body Armor - The Most Common Everyday Armor

The most common body armor is level IIIA which is a soft body armor. It is easily concealable and still oftens protection that most would deem sufficient for their purpose. 

Level IIIA body armor offers protection from nearly every handgun round and can protect from a .44 magnum traveling at a velocity of 1340 ft per second. 

Another popular level is level 3+ body armor which is between the level III and IV ratings. III+ is the hard armor option.

If you are looking for a step up from the III+, the IV is your go-to, as it will protect against armor piercing rounds. It withstands up to 30-06 M2ap armor piercing round traveling at a velocity of 2880 ft per second.

If you are curious about getting body armor that is stab proof, the stab proof ratings are a whole different scale, so you will want to make sure that the armor you are looking at purchasing is stab proof. Stab proof will not only protect against knives, but machetes, axes and broken glass.

Spike Proof is also another grade of protection, and again is specialized. If your body armor is spike proof it’ll protect you against stiletto knives, needles, screwdrivers and icepicks. 

Not all body armor will offer protection against this so it is best to further check on the armor’s description. 

More of the time spike proof protections will come in conjunction with stab proof protections.

The Shape of the Body Armor

Body armor can be purchased in a variety of different shapes all which come down to personal preferences. Companies are working to diversify the body armor that they sell, in order to improve aspects like comfort through different curves and cuts of their armor.

The common cuts are shooter cuts, swimmer cuts and SAPI cuts and rectangular cuts. 

Shooter cuts

Shooter cuts have the top corners cut down but more aggressively, and one side is shaped differently depending on whether you are a left or right handed shooter.

Swimmers cuts

Have the deepest cuts on each corner of the plates. They are the least protective, but allow you to have the most mobility. 

Rectangular

The least cut plates - so therefore offer more surface area, are good for protecting your back. The drawback is that it offers the least mobility

SAPI

Also have clipped down top corners to give you more range of movement but is most similar to the rectangular cuts

Flat and curve armor

Flat plates in our opinion are the least comfortable primarily as they do not fit your body.

The curved plates on the other hand can have different curves such as between the shoulders or vertically between the stomach and the neck.

Sizing of the Plates

What size armor plates should I get? Is a common question asked by many.

Sizing of the plates comes in a few popular options. The most commonly bought armor plates are 10 by 12 inches. Smaller than this, you can find 8 by 10 inch plates and larger at 11 by 14 inch plates.

Buying body armor plates is not like purchasing clothing in which you can make a quick and easy return. Often retailers will not accept body armor returns as they can’t be fully assured that the plates still have full capacity and haven’t been compromised. So be sure to be attentive to the size body armor you need the first time around!

In case you are curious about the position in which your armor must take - it is obviously positioned to protect your heart and lungs but should touch your internal notch. This is a common misconception, as many people firstly prioritise the heart and then next the stomach. Your body armor does not need to cover them as a priority.


Our Body Armor Non-Negotiables

We have created a bulleted list of our must have features in body armor that we would purchase, and would recommend you refer to this if you are new to the body armor world!

  1. Definitely level 3+ or higher NIJ rated
  2. Must be NIJ certified (this is pretty much all armor bought from good sources) - But can use this source to double check.
  3. Made by a reputable brand - the brand must have positive customer reviews as well as product descriptions that are concise, honest and display all the necessary information (so you don’t have to sift through to find the specifications!)
  4. Fits our budget - this is an individual preference
  5. Lightweight and thin 


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

How often Should I Replace my Body Armor?

All soft body armor has a useful life of 5 years, due to the degrading of the materials over its lifespan. A lot of companies offer its consumers a warranty over this period, in case of a defect. Just make sure that you do keep tabs on the expiration date, and if you are unsure about this you can check with the manufacturer.

If you proceed to use your armor past this 5 year period you should do so at your own risk.

Conclusion

We hope that our guide has been helpful in giving you all the information you need to make your decision on purchasing the best body armor for you! After all, it is a piece of equipment that can save your life, so definitely take some considerations when choosing yours.

Our personal favorite is definitely the Spartan Armor Systems AR550 Level III+ Plate in the Shooters Cut, but we would also recommend any of the Level III+ Plates which offer high levels of protection at an affordable cost.