The choice between soft armor and hard armor plates may not be as straightforward as it seems at first. There are times when a soft body armor can protect you better from gunfire, so read on to learn the difference.
Whether you choose soft plate inserts or a soft armor vest, this type provides protection and flexibility at the same time, while remaining hidden from sight. It is ideal for policemen and private security who need to move about a lot, but without their armor to show through.
Soft armor is light and flexible, but also strong enough to prevent a bullet from reaching the body; it is typically made from a material known as Kevlar whose design makes it stronger than steel. The armor is made from a net of horizontal and vertical Kevlar threads that absorb the energy from the bullet upon impact; this is what gives it its strength and keeps it from breaking or from letting the bullet pass through.
These plates offer heavy protection but they are much heavier than soft armor. Several thick, strong materials go into the making of hard armor plates; the most frequently used are steel, ceramic, and poly plates.
Employed since the 16th century, steel plates are still common today, despite their considerable weight.
A more recent invention, ceramic plates are much lighter and still provide protection against single and multiple hits, but they may get cracked and thus diminish their capabilities.
A third type of plate is known as Small Arms Protective Inserts, or SAPI. These are ceramic plates but they are covered with a composite material that makes them extra strong and much lighter than ceramic. The multi-layered SAPI plates come in various sizes that range from just three pounds per plate to five and a half pounds per plate.
Given their properties, these are the plates of choice for the United States military, who typically carry one larger plate in the front and one in the back, and two smaller plates in the sides of the vest. Moreover, the military usually wear a combination of soft and hard armor by inserting SAPI plates into their Kevlar vests.
Finally, polyethylene plastic is highly effective at withstanding multiple hits and rifle rounds. Known as poly plates, these will melt partly upon impact, and stop the round by sealing and cooling the metal projectile. Poly plates are tough, yet considerably lighter than steel and ceramic plates.