Soft Body Armor Vs Hard Body Armor

Soft Body Armor Vs Hard Body Armor

What's the Difference?

Body armor is an essential piece of protective gear for military personnel, law enforcement officers, security professionals, and prepared civilians. It provides potentially lifesaving protection against ballistic threats. There are two main types of body armor: soft body armor and hard body armor (also called plate carriers). At PivotalBodyArmor, we offer a wide selection of both soft armor and plate carriers from top brands like AR500 Armor and Spartan Armor Systems.

How soft body armor works

Soft body armor is made from multiple layers of strong, flexible fibers like Kevlar, Twaron, or Dyneema. When a bullet strikes soft armor, the fibers absorb and disperse the energy, stopping the round from penetrating. Soft armor is lightweight and comfortable enough to wear all day under clothing. Most soft armor vests are rated NIJ Level IIA, II, or IIIA, which protect against common handgun rounds. Browse our selection of concealable soft body armor vests.

Advantages of soft body armor

The key benefits of soft body armor include:

  • Lightweight and flexible for all-day wear
  • Concealable under clothing for discreet protection
  • Protects against most handgun threats
  • More affordable than hard armor plates
  • Allows good range of motion
Soft Armor Brand NIJ Protection Level Weight (Size Large)
AR500 Armor Concealment Vest IIIA 5.5 lbs
Spartan Armor Systems Concealable Vest IIIA 5.7 lbs
Shellback Tactical Shield Vest IIIA 5.3 lbs

How hard armor plates work

Hard body armor consists of rigid plates made from steel, ceramic, polyethylene, or composite materials. Hard armor plates are worn in a plate carrier vest. When a bullet hits a hard armor plate, the plate absorbs and dissipates the energy, stopping the round. Hard plates provide a higher level of protection than soft armor, stopping rifle rounds. Level III and Level IV are the most common ratings for hard armor plates.

Advantages of hard armor plates

Key benefits of hard armor plates include:

  • Provides protection against high-powered rifles
  • Handles armor-piercing rounds (Level IV)
  • Withstands multiple hits
  • Fits standard plate carrier vests
  • Ideal for combat or active shooter threats
Hard Armor Plates Plate Material NIJ Level Weight (10x12)
AR500 Armor Level III Steel III 8.3 lbs
RMA Armament Level IV Ceramic IV 7.2 lbs
Spartan Armor Omega AR500 AR500 Steel III+ 9.5 lbs

Comparing soft armor vs hard armor

When deciding between soft body armor and hard armor plates, consider factors like the likely threats, comfort, weight, and cost. Soft armor is lightweight, concealable, and protects against handguns, while hard armor plates stop rifle rounds but are heavier and more noticeable. Many people wear soft armor for everyday protection and add rifle plates when facing higher threats.

Factor Soft Armor Hard Armor
Ballistic Protection Handguns, shotguns High-powered rifles
Weight Lighter (4-6 lbs) Heavier (15-30 lbs with carrier)
Comfort/Concealability High (thin, flexible) Low (thick, rigid plates)
Cost Lower ($300-$800) Higher ($400+ per plate)
Best For Everyday wear, concealment Active shooter, combat

Choosing between soft armor and hard plates

Your choice between soft armor and hard armor plates depends on the threat level and your operational needs. For protection against common handgun rounds, soft armor provides a lightweight, comfortable, concealable solution. If you need to stop high-powered rifles, hard armor plates are necessary. For the best protection, you can combine soft armor with hard plates.

For help choosing body armor, consult our Body Armor Buyers Guide. Still have questions? Contact our armor experts for personalized advice on selecting soft armor or hard armor plates for your needs. We are happy to guide you through the options so you can make an informed choice.

Overt vs covert body armor

Covert body armor is worn under clothing for low-profile protection. Most soft armor vests are thin and lightweight enough to conceal under a shirt. Overt body armor is worn externally, making it visible. Hard armor plates and plate carriers are typically worn overtly. For discreet everyday carry, choose concealable soft armor. For high-threat operations, overt hard armor plates provide maximum protection.

Proper fit and wear

To get the most protection from your armor, proper size and fit are essential:

  1. Measure your chest to determine the right size
  2. Adjust straps for a snug fit with no gaps
  3. Ensure side panels overlap for full coverage
  4. Wear the armor over a base layer to prevent chafing
  5. Replace worn or damaged armor as needed

A well-fitted soft armor vest or plate carrier maximizes protective coverage, comfort, and mobility. Most soft armor can be hand-washed and hang dried. Hard armor plates require little maintenance. With proper care, body armor provides reliable protection for many years.

Common misconceptions

There are a few common myths about body armor:

  • Soft armor can stop rifles (only Level IV hard plates reliably do)
  • Hard armor is bulletproof (it's bullet resistant with limitations)
  • Steel armor is obsolete (it's still widely used and effective)
  • Body armor makes you invincible (it has limits)

Body armor greatly increases your odds of surviving a shooting, but it's not a guarantee. Hard plates stop more powerful threats, but soft armor protects against the most common handgun calibers. Both complement each other to reduce blunt force trauma.


Soft body armor and hard armor plates each have their place. Soft armor provides discreet, comfortable protection against handguns, while hard plates stop rifle rounds. Evaluate the likely threats to determine the right armor for your needs. For most everyday carry, concealable soft armor is the go-to choice. For active shooter situations, hard plates are required. Whatever threats you face, PivotalBodyArmor offers quality, affordable soft armor and plate carriers from leading manufacturers.

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