The Basics of Body Armor Fit

We recently did an article on the Basics of Body Armor. For those of you who didn’t know about the various levels of protection or materials used to make armor it was likely an informative article. Once you decide on what type of armor is best for you and start looking to buy SAPI plates your likely going to run into the next common issue. Fit and Cut.

Improperly fitting body armor is one of the often done, dangerous mistakes.

Further with various cuts and sizes available from manufacturers the task of picking the right fit is difficult. It’s much like ordering shoes or clothes online. While you may know your size variance in clothes manufacturers buying difficult. For those of us between a size it is even more daunting. What makes this worse is that most of us have never been fitted for armor. There is not a lot of local shops that offer armor fitting to the general public. Even if you do get a chance to get fitted your not going to get a chance to run the gear with a gun before purchase.

Cuts

There are several well know cuts of body armor offered by most manufacturers.

  • Trauma Plate or Rectangular – Usually used to cover a persons back
  • Shooters Cut – Rectangle with top corners cut off to allow better arm movement and weapon shouldering
  • Swimmers Cut – A exaggerated version of the shooters cut removing more upper material

When deciding on a cut you need to look at your needs. Will you be actively shooting and transitioning your weapon. Are you going to be shooting from a prone position primarily? Is more cover or more maneuverability more important to you.

When you add in that these plates also come in various sizes M/L/XL there becomes a very real and dangerous decision of weight and coverage vs maneuverability and comfort. Unfortunately this is something that is either not thought about or not learned until it is too late. More importantly only you best know your personal endurance.

Coverage

Plate’s are not a perfect solution in anyway. They are not magic armor from D&D that gives you plus dexterity and dodge factor. While the plates are meant to save your life they are not expected to keep your entire body bullet free. They are designed to protect the lungs and heart. Ideally the plate will run from the top of your sternum as as far down as the top of your belly button. For me even with the larger plates this does not happen. I have an incredibly long torso for my height, and find the 10×12 plates leave more than I would like exposed.

Many chest rigs will also offer pockets in the cummerbund to put side plates. Typically 6×6 or 6×8 in size and covering the lower part of the lung. While these plates are available and do offer additional protection based on the added weight and additional reductions in mobility, it is common for them to not be used.

The size of your body as well as shape combined with the plate measurements and cut will vary your protection. The goal is to achieve as much protection as possible while maintaining the ability to maneuver and shoot accurately.

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Factors Affecting Fit

I have been wearing my AR500 Armor Plates for a few months now. I take them with me to the range as well as around the house. I did this to spend a huge amount of time in the vest and really experience how difficult plates make your life. Here is a few things to note that I have learned while wearing these plates related to fit:

  • Plates change your zero. I have been using the shooters cut AR500 Plates for my testing. While they do provide a good amount of maneuverability in the shoulders for your butt stock they will affect your rifle position. As such your zero is likely to shift slightly. If your battle rifle is zero’ed all the time without plates and you shoot without plates don’t expect to throw on plates and shoot the same way. Like any weapon skill you need to practice as you plan to fight.
  • Get a good plate carrier. If you have a crappy carrier your going to have a crappy fit and it’s going to make life even harder on you. I got a crappy carrier that was extremely cost efficient. When you factor in that I am not going to need to upgrade since I want to train with my plates my “cheap”carrie is going to be a waste of money and i’m left wishing I bought the better one to start. We will do an entire article on just plate carriers.
  • Find the sweet spot. I have found that putting on a plate carrier is a lot like zeroing my rifle. Taking the time to get it exactly the way I want and then just reconfirming each time I use the tool saves time and makes a difference. Your body will change slightly based on weather, water retention, weight and other factors. Getting a baseline of how tight your cummerbund needs to be or how long the shoulder straps are set to will make a huge difference. You will want the gear ready to go and having it as close to pre-adjusted from the onset is a big part of that.
  • Limit the add-ons. Steel plates are bulky and heavy. Adding double stack taco’s for pistol and AR mags, a holster for your gun, camelback, medkit, kitchen sink and the small neighbor kid to your kit is just going to make you hate your gear. I started with a lot of gear on my rig and have reduced it to 3 mag carriers made of the lightest material I could find and my trauma kit. I keep a war belt right next to my rig with moire pistol and AR mags and other items. This allows me to spread the weight out more evenly across my body.
  • Don’t over do it. Seriously I see it at every single carbine class I go to especially the multi day classes. John Rambo just bought all this super expensive gear on some Facebook trading forum. 50% of it is either stolen military gear or Chinese knockoffs and he does not know it. He has never work the kit before and thinks he is going to rock his rig through the entire class. 2 hours later if that he is panting. At the lunch break he is taking off his gear and either transitioning to a war belt or taking the plates out of the chest rig. If your going to take the gear to class train with it. If your day to day life is not physically strenuous don’t think you can strap on 15-25 lbs’ of gear and not expect it to suck. Start with a backplate or a front plate and build up to wearing full protection.

Summary

While buying ballistic body armor the choices don’t have to be over bearing. You dont need to buy the best of the best if your not working gov’t contracts or LEO. The average person hopefully will never ever need it even if they train in carbine classes regularly. The same can be said for your concealed carry though and I know our readers regularly train and own a weapon for EDC. so then do yourself the favor and buy an inexpensive plate carrier and front and back AR500 steel plates with the Paxon buildup. They are so incredibly affordable and if the day ever comes you do need to defend your home or are stuck in a SHTF scenario you will be very glad you did.

Starting at $215 and going up to $330 for 2 plates and a carrier it is cheaper than 1 hospital visit. But please if you take my advice and buy a set make sure you train with it as much as possible and get very comfortable in the gear.

Stay tuned for our next article where we will torture test the plates I bought and see what it takes to get through them.