What’s the Difference between Soft Armor and Hard Armor?


To begin with, let’s make sure we understand what body armor is.

The term body armor is usually associated with vests designed to provide ballistic protection to the vital organs in the torso. Usually, a vest contains two armor panels held in place by a carrier. One panel protects the front of the torso, the other protects the rear. To protect the sides of the torso, the vest is worn with the front panel overlapping the rear panel. These panels can typically, but not always, be removed from the carrier. The armor panels themselves consist of a ballistic panel with an integral cover that protects the ballistic materials in the panel from the environment. Panels come in multiple sizes and can be flat or curved to accommodate the different shapes and sizes of potential wearers. Typically, neither the panel cover nor the carrier is intended to provide ballistic protection. The principal purpose of the carrier is to support and secure the panels to the wearer’s body.

What is Soft Armor?

Soft armor is designed to offer protection against assaults with handguns. It is intended to be used for extended daily wear. It is the type of body armor that officers would typically wear while executing their daily duties. It can be worn under an officer’s uniform or other clothing. It can also be worn over a uniform or clothing in an external carrier. If it is worn under a uniform, it is called concealable armor.

A soft armor panel works much like a baseball catcher’s mitt. When a handgun bullet strikes the panel, it is caught in a “web” of strong fibers. These fibers absorb and disperse the impact energy that is transmitted to the panel from the bullet. This process causes the bullet to deform or “mushroom.”

What is Hard Armor?

Hard armor consists of rigid panels, or plates, of ballistic-resistant materials. Hard armor is designed to offer greater protection against higher threats than soft armor. Hard armor plates are used in tactical armor. Tactical armor is typically a combination of a hard armor plate and soft armor panels, making it thicker and heavier than soft armor alone (see the discussion of in-conjunction armors later in this chapter). Tactical armor is not typically worn for extended periods. It is donned for wear by officers entering high-risk situations.

Generally speaking, hard armor plates work in one of two ways: They can capture and deform the bullet, or they can break up the bullet. In both instances, the armor then absorbs and distributes the force of the impact.

No matter what your body armor needs may be, our experienced staff can help you select an armor that fills your specific needs and expertly measure you for a perfect fit. Contact us today to discuss your needs further. Call (800) 634-1944 or email us at sales@baysingers.com.

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