By J. Robinson
During TEOTWAWKI, long-term survivability will depend upon more than adequate firepower from a diverse gun collection. Historically, men and women who faced violence, conflict, and war did so not just with arms of swords, but also with armor. In dire times of combat having the ability to protect oneself and loved ones from injury may make the difference between life and death. Many preppers have invested substantial sums of money into firearms; surprisingly most have not acquired body armor. This is partly because many believe body armor to be cumbersome to wear and difficult to acquire. Luckily today’s armor is technologically advanced, comfortable to wear and easily obtainable.
Since the rise of civilization warriors have wielded swords, axes, and spears while relying on armor for protection. King Arthur and his fellow knights wore infamous suits of shiny plate armor; Vikings and Romans wore quilted fabric and hardened leather into battle for protection. Today’s common man wields firearms, but it’s vital that he also bears armor.
Armor was widely used primarily because of its simple design of using a wearable hard dense material to stop the penetration of projectiles and edged weapons into the body, while also absorbing the impact of blunt force trauma. Primarily this hard material has traditionally been leather, iron or steel. Around the mid-twentieth century, synthetic materials such as woven Kevlar started to be used for protection against small-caliber munitions like handguns but remained ineffective against larger caliber firearms like military rifles. In more recent decades, the use of special formulated ceramic has been substituted for ballistic rated steel in some applications. This is especially the case in regards to armor plates, which are very effective against stopping military rifle fire. Both steel plates and ceramic plates share the same heavy cumbersome characteristics of medieval armor. Thanks to the ongoing scientific advancements of plastics in recent years, high-density polyethylene can effectively take the place of steel and ceramic plates.
There are many different grades of high-density polyethylene. It’s very likely that several plastic bottles in your home have an HDPE label on the bottom, which is an acronym for high-density polyethylene. The toughest HDPE is ultra high molecular weight polyethylene or UHMWPE.
UHMWPE offers several impressive innovative advantages, the first and most important being weight. A UHMWPE 10 by 12-inch level III NIJ rated ballistic plate weighs about 3 pounds! This is considerably less than a comparable level III rated steel or ceramic plate. Personally, I have 2 AR500 steel 10 by 12-inch curved plates with an anti-spall base coating. Each plate weighs slightly over 9 pounds. I am in relatively decent shape and wearing 2 separate 9-pound plates for any extended period of time is exhausting and running a full sprint while wearing them is near impossible.
Having owned AR500 steel plates for some time now, I’ve come to realize that I will hardly ever wear them even during TEOTWAWKI simply because they are way too heavy and body armor is only effective if you’re wearing it. It’s probable that every day during TEOTWAWKI will be physically demanding due to the increased amount of labor required around your home to keep a functioning homestead running. Never mind trying to accomplish that increased workload while having an extra 18 pounds strapped your torso. I see no need for the additional burden of heavy armor when a lightweight option is readily available.
Be honest in regards to your physical condition, TEOTWAWKI will not be a time to start going to the gym. If you can’t successfully accomplish yard work or walk a short patrol of your property now while wearing a heavy plate carrier how will you ever be able to do so during TEOTWAWKI? It’s also important to remember how precious calories will be during a TEOTWAWKI scenario. Wearing heavy armor plates that equate to wearing a weighted workout vest will surely work up an appetite.
Please keep in mind whether you have steel or ceramic plates in your plate carrier, you must also factor in the weight of additional gear that will be on your plate carrier as well, including loaded magazines, first aid materials, a 2-way radio, and a water bladder. That’s why you must consider UHMWPE armor plates. 2 standard sizes 10 by 12 inch UHMWPE plates will weigh about 6 pounds, which makes all the difference in the world. With only 6 pounds of armor in my plate carrier I can wear it all day if need be and walking a patrol around the property is a breeze. Another precious attribute that made me decide to switch to UHMWPE plates is because steel and ceramic plates sink in water like concrete blocks, UHMWPE plates on the other hand actually float!
UHMWPE is actually neutrally buoyant and even though a typical size plate weighs 3 pounds they are still light enough to float on the surface of the water. It’s important to note that UHMWPE is a hydrophobic material and does not absorb any water and plates will retain their original weight no matter how long the plates are exposed to moisture. This is a huge advantage if you plan on being anywhere near water. If you happen to take a plunge while you have 18 pounds of steel or ceramic strapped to your torso you better remove your armor quickly because you will be sinking like a boat anchor. This is why the U.S. Navy was one of the first military branches to start the shift from steel and ceramic plates to UHMWPE plates. The UHMWPE plates will partially act as a life preserver and help keep you afloat. As lightweight and buoyant as UHMWPE plates are they are also drop safe, prevent spall and are capable of sustaining multiple hits.
UHMWPE plates are tough, tough enough to be dropped on the ground and not be a cause for alarm that you just turned your plates into paperweights. It’s nice to know that if you have butter fingers on occasion and drop your plates on the ground when you attempt to correctly position them in your plate carrier that no damage will come to the plate. This is not the case with ceramic plates. Dropping a ceramic plate from waist height can cause cracks to form within the plate, which will significantly degrade the ballistic resistance of the plate. The only way to confirm if a ceramic plate has cracks in it after a drop is to pay the price and run it through an x-ray machine. This is not the case with steel plates, however, if you drop a 9-pound steel plate from waist height make sure your wearing steel toed shoes otherwise you might have to get an x-ray for a different reason.
Steel armor plates could be lighter if it wasn’t for the concern of spall and fragmentation. Spall and fragmentation happen when a bullet impacts an armor plate at high-speed causing the bullet to defect into a different direction or to break up into pieces. For this reason, steel armor plates must have some sort of a material that acts as a shield to catch the impacted bullet, without it, a bullet or piece of it could easily bounce off the armor plate into a vital part of your body like your neck.
This is a concern and the reason why an anti-spall base coat build up is necessary with AR500 steel plates, but this additional base coat build up can add up to an extra pound in weight to the already heavy steel. Even with a standard amount of anti-spall material applied to a steel plate, it’s possible to have some bullet fragmentation leave the safety of the base coat material and enter another part of your body that is not protected with armor. Spall and fragmentation are not a concern in regards to ceramic and UHMWPE plates. UHMWPE and ceramic plates are designed to expand and hold the impacting bullet within the armor plate. These plates will actually increase in thickness after taking rounds. Of course, UHMWPE can do it at a fraction of the weight compared to ceramic.
When researching armor plates also take into consideration the multi-hit capability of the plate. The manufacturers listed in the next paragraph are producing plates that are rated to take a minimum of 6 rounds from a .308 caliber rifle. Not that you would necessarily still be standing in the same position after taking just a few of those hits, but it’s nice to know the level of abuse the plates are capable of taking.
The National Institute of Justice or NIJ is the U.S. Department of Justice regulatory agency that has established what constitutes different levels of ballistic resistance. Never buy body armor that is not NIJ rated! Level III NIJ rated plates have the ballistic resistance to stop at least 1 rifle round of 7.62 x 51 mm (.308) full metal jacket with a specified mass of 147 grains traveling at a velocity of 2,780 feet per second. Level III armor will stop rounds from a vast majority of military rifles including M-4s and AK-47 type rifles.
With that said, keep in mind that level III plates will not stop armor piercing rounds; if you believe you will be facing the threat of armor-piercing rounds during TEOTWAWKI, you will have to opt for steel or ceramic level IV NIJ certified plates and cope with bringing the weight back up to 9-10 pounds per plate, there are no manufacturers that are offering 100% UHMWPE level IV plates. Weigh your priorities! Having the advantage of being able to wear your plates all day long and even run with them far outweighs the concern of armor piercing rounds. Again, it’s likely that even if I had level IV plates I would hardly ever wear them because they are so heavy.
Several different companies offer UHMWPE plates including Spartan Armor Systems, RMA Armament, and DKX Max Armor, all of which offer NIJ certified ballistic grade plates. After significant research, I decided on 2 DKX Max UHMWPE plates. One being a 10 by 12-inch curved shooters cut plate designed for protecting the front of your torso and the second being a 10 by 12-inch curved square cut plate designed for protecting your back. The shooters cut weighs only 2.9 pounds and the square cut weighs 3.2 pounds.
The shooters cut has the top corners removed so the plate doesn’t interfere when raising your side arm or shouldering your rifle. You don’t have to worry about the rear plate interfering with your movements so having a square cut plate, which offers greater coverage just makes sense. Both plates are curved to hug your torso, which significantly increases comfort and makes wearing a plate carrier with plates for an extended period of time much easier. DKX plates are constructed of a premium type of patented UHMWPE called Dyneema.
On a weight-by-weight comparison basis, Dyneema is 15 times stronger than steel. Given the fact that armor plates are used to save lives it’s necessary to consider where the plates were constructed and the source of the raw materials. I feel more comfortable knowing that if a life may be on the line the product was manufactured in the USA from material in the USA and this is the case with DKX plates. So consider picking up a pair for yourself!
Currently, the majority of all law-abiding citizens in the US can legally buy body armor as long as you don’t have a criminal record. The only state that does not allow its citizens to purchase body armor is Connecticut. That is until the house and senate pass a bill outlawing civilian ownership of body armor.
There have already been steps taken by elected officials to ban civilians from owning body armor. For several years Representative Michael Honda of California with 7 bill co-sponsors backing him have been attempting to push H.R.378 the Responsible Body Armor Possession Act through the house and senate.
If passed this act would prohibit the possession, ownership or purchase of enhanced body armor by civilians with a few exceptions. The exceptions consist of allowing those who have owned armor prior to the date of the act passing to maintain ownership, also known as being grandfathered in. Additional exceptions would be granted for civilian personnel who work under a federal or state agency where the possession of body armor is necessary. This proposed act should serve as proper motivation to acquire body armor plates now while you still have the legal opportunity to do so.
If you too are a prepper, who has invested money in firearms that may be used to defend the lives of your loved ones during TEOTWAWKI, I urge you to acquire light weight UHMWPE armor plates for your protection, one day they might make the difference between life and death. Please remember, a knight that walks onto the battlefield with a sword and no armor is not ready for the battlefield.
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