Thoughts on Body Armor for CCW


Up front: we don’t own any body armor.

This is partly due to cost. Anything I purchase I wind up buying at least one more copy for the She-Shepherd, if not more than one copy for redundancy, etc.

The other factor, more importantly, is weight and bulk. Several of my fellow students and most of my instructors own body armor, and wear it during some of the classes. Rifle classes seem to bring out the most folk wearing body armor. I think that’s partially due to the calibers being fired, but also because most envision using a rifle during a longer disruption of service. Wearing a full plate carrier and armor makes more sense in this situation.

Why we considered body armor

We imagine four situations where we’d want body armor:

  1. Encounters in the home
  2. Active shooter response
  3. Prolonged disruption of service
  4. Getting home from a Really Bad Day™ where traveling home from wherever we are may be dangerous, such as a riot, civic unrest, panic during an emergency, etc

Encounters in the home

The She-Shepherd and I had talked about buying heavier, less expensive body armor for the house, but this does not play to our physical or philosophical strengths. She’s small, I’m spindly, and we’d rather keep our mobility as high as possible. Sure, we could Battle Turtle it at the top of the stairs, but the family doesn’t sleep on the same floor and there’s no guarantee that “hunkering down” is the best option.

Purchasing armor for “castle defense” did not seem a priority.

Active shooter response

My number one concern is a shooting in the workplace, followed by a shooting in a public retail area like the mall, Wal-Mart, etc. The She-Shepherd spends a LOT of time at school volunteering for her kids, etc and we all know that gun free zones are bullet magnets.

At SHOT Show 2014 we briefly talked with the folks who make DKX Armor, the thin, lightweight armor that floats. This renewed our interest in body armor: what if we could get armor lightweight enough to make it portable? This is our philosophy about rifles and PDW, so we became curious if the same would hold true with armor.

After doing more and more research, I decided to hold off on EDC armor for the following reasons:

  • Lightweight armor is available, such as the DKX armor. Each plate weighs under three pounds, which is very light compared to other materials including ceramic. However, DKX armor is thick.
  • Even armor that is “lightweight” by armor standards is still very heavy for EDC. My AR15 pistol weighs just over 6 pounds, and once I add in a laptop, tablet, accessories, coffee thermos, etc my bag is pushing 12 – 15 pounds a day. To add another ~8 pounds for two plates plus a carrier would be a lot of weight to hump around every day.
  • Thick armor is too bulky to carry in a bag. We need thin armor for convenience. The DKX armor is very thick for its weight, so that means we would have to get heavier plates in order to get thinner plates.
  • I am already concerned about how long it takes to get an SBR, PDW or AR15 pistol out of a bag and into a ready condition. A plate carrier adds even more time.

It is possible to get lightweight armor that is rated only for pistols, but we can’t be certain that we’ll only face shooters with handguns.

Prolonged disruption of service

I used to spend a lot of time researching about and preparing for prolonged disruption of service. Back when I lived in the South it was not uncommon for severe weather (tropical storms, flooding, ice storms, etc) to knock out power and other services for days if not weeks. A very suburbanite co-worker of mine was without power in her home for two weeks following an ice storm, and she and her family had to cave in and moved into a hotel.

Now that we’re up here, the worst thing that could happen is a direct tornado strike. We do have blizzard conditions here but it’s never bad enough to be snowed in for more than a day. We have about two week’s worth of food and several day’s worth of water, so I’m not really worried about being snowed in.

In any event, I’m not really concerned about a prolonged disruption of service PLUS an environment in which I’d need to repel boarders. We have a finite amount of money to spend, and we’ve decided to put those funds in places other than armor to cover this scenario.

Getting home

My thoughts evolved to a set of armor for the car in case of a Really Bad Day™, but all of the sudden we’ve shifted away from lightweight to heavy and inexpensive. Not the same mission as EDC armor to be put on in the event of an active shooting.

In my research for armor, the most lightweight, comfortable armor is often made up of plastic materials such as Dyneema or Spectra. These Ultra High Molecular Weight Poly-Ethylene (UHMWPE) plastics are known to change state at temperatures above 180° F. Once this happens, the material has about the same qualities as plastic used in milk containers and this change is irreversible.

I researched internal car temperatures for this article. It appears that a car’s interior can increase up to 50 degrees after about an hour. If you live in a place that has temperatures over 110, you may want to be concerned about keeping a ballistic plastic-based armor in your car. Oddly enough, it appears that trunks are cooler than the greenhouse environment of your car’s interior.

As I concluded my research, I had to consider if the expense of getting armor was worth the likelihood of needed armor to “get home.” I’m not disrespecting anyone who has a plate carrier in their car, but buying a setup for each of our vehicles would almost pay for an entire season of training for the She-Shepherd, and at our stage of education we need more training more than extra equipment.


If you already own armor, that’s awesome. Many of my friends and family do, so there’s nothing wrong with that. This post was meant to be a current “state of the Union” regarding where we are at with armor, especially as a response to the conversations I’ve had with readers about armor for EDC.

At this point in time, we’ve decided not to buy armor. I don’t think the combination of super lightweight and super thin armor exists, even at $1000 a plate.

However, I’m in conversations with a few folks that might change our minds.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.
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6 Comments on "Thoughts on Body Armor for CCW"

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  1. nDjinn says:

    I have two light weight sets both can work for EDC. Inexpensive and IIIa. I do have ceramic inserts, but based on statistics and ergonomics I go with soft panels (EOW, I’ll be at home and get those in right quick along with loading magazines, getting swords and arrows out and securing what fuel I have, you know the normal end of the world stuff). I went with USPalm they make some great products including an armored backpack that interfaces with my front plat only carrier. I have a Defender (molly version) and Desert Tracker. They accept standard 10×12 panels/plates. I have not been shot while wearing one, but otherwise the workmanship is outstanding and well designed.

    My desert tracker was in the photo I sent for the SBR contest. I have it hanging in my closet just above my pistol safe. It takes seconds to drop it over my shoulders. It’s ready with mags and trauma kit along with light and blood type patch) I love it though it only has a front plate and is in high demand (meaning I had to wait 6 months for stock to come in).

    The Defender is $99 and a IIIa soft insert in another $100 each. The Tracker is $149 and fits the same 10×12 armor and the tracker has 6×6 side panels (I found armor to fit the side panels at a Army store just outside the JEBEAR gate for $20 for both (issued, but never used! The joys of living down the street to a very active base and a great shop – 907 Surplus )

  2. B R KURTZ B R KURTZ says:

    Honestly I think the weight and bulk of soft armor is way over stated. I wear issued armor everyday, even when on “desk duty” and for court. It feels weird not to wear it when in uniform. When I first became a MP (1980), I bought my own concealable body armor. Don’t talk to me about expensive, my MONTHLY take home was $370 back then. Still it seemed like a good idea and it saved me more times than I can count; not from being shot but from knives, punches, broomsticks, and vehicle accidents, (collisions BTW, that I shouldn’t have survived, but was flirting with EMTs on the way to the ER).

    Police (issued) armor generally includes side coverage and tends to be longer than some of the Bikini armor that’s available today (US PALM, etc). Police armor also has front and back coverage. Some don’t feel the need for rear panels; but the weight difference is insignificant and it tends to balance the vest (think a shoulder holster with ammo on the off side). IF (big IF in my mind) you insist on cutting weight, I might be willing to give up side protection–but not rear. Id only give up side coverage IF you have adapted to shooting SQUARE to target (greatest armor coverage); but I bet youre shooting on the move so that tiny bit of additional weight for side coverage is comforting.

    When I first became a police officer I routinely still filled in doing Respiratory work in the hospital where I had been working prior to becoming a cop. Since I knew hospital security was a joke I wore my handgun and vest. Just like carrying a gun, a vest can be worn concealed IF you dress right. Back in those days the Fanny Pack was still popular, especially so in hospitals. I was able to wear “scrubs” like the rest of the Respiratory staff over my vest (in this case I wore my t-shirt over the vest instead of under it for just a tad bit more concealment), and a DeSantis Gunny Sack for my P226. On “Out Patient” Days (Breathing Tests), I might wear a dress shirt/tie and slacks. On those days the vest was even easier to conceal along with a “tuck” holster for my handgun. Id be sitting less than a foot from a patient and neither vest nor pistol was ever noticed.

    Soft armor is not bulky, with use they become even more flexible and “comfortable” (OK maybe not comfortable like an old T-shirt; but not stiff or a problem). YES armor is HOT and even HOT-er in HOT climates. Inside an air conditioned office its not a problem, worse case add a small desk fan to your daily “cell”.

    I don’t wear it off duty; but then I don’t tend to go places off duty that require it. On the rare cases when Im FORCED to go to high-er risk target zones, especially on special days (Sept 11th or maybe April 19/20), Im likely to be carrying a PDW so a vest is hardly anymore weight to complain about.

    Rifle plates range from CHEAP (steel $100) to expensive (ceramic $400+). Steel is THIN and really not much heavier than ceramic. Stell is more forgiving for abuse (don’t drop ceramic); but steel requires an anti spall coating. Rifle plates are smaller than soft armor. You have choices between 8×10, 10×12, and some as log as 14inches. There are even 6×8 but those are meant for insert in soft armor. If all else fails a typical Yellow Pages will stop many rifle rounds and most/all handgun rounds (so will a ceramic floor tile).

    Body armor is CHEAP insurance, its a mistake not to have it next to the bed. At the very least have a couple of steel plates in a airsoft quality carrier (under $250 if you shop or bid wisely). No you wont be doing a hundred sit-ups or maybe not a sub 4min mile; but if you ever need it you’ll be damn glad you had it. Having even police trade-in armor as throw-ons for the kids (small sizes are really cheap), is like seatbelts and smoke detectors. While Im talking about kids keeping a panel in their school book bag is VERY comforting, in the event of a school shooter.


  3. Cymond says:

    “It is possible to get lightweight armor that is rated only for pistols, but we can’t be certain that we’ll only face shooters with handguns.”

    So instead you choose to have no armor whatsoever. Considering the number of firearm homicides committed with handguns vs the number committed with rifles, I’d say a pistol-only vest would cover the vast majority of situations.

    I doubt I’ll ever need it, but I bought some steel plates and a carrier a few years ago. I got ‘upsold’ to both front & back plates with anti-spall coating (and I have no regrets). I removed the cumberbund to make donning faster, but I do wish it had some side protection and was longer. It barely covers my ribcage. I used to keep it by the bed but we moved to a nicer neighborhood and it’s currently in the closet. I didn’t marry as well as you and my wife thinks I’m nuts. Regardless, a vest/plate carrier is a good place to centralize spare magazines, restraints, a flashlight, etc.

    For many people, the best plan is to bunker down with a gun and call 911. But as you said, that isn’t an option for you since your family isn’t all upstairs. If you do ever have a home invasion, you may need to go rescue children. IMO, armor is especially important for anyone who is searching their home and may actively encounter criminals.

    You mentioned that you tend to buy at least 2 of each piece of gear because of She-Shepherd, but if you ever decide to buy armor, I would recommend buying just one set to start. That way, you’ll have the opportunity to test & evaluate before buying more.

  4. Travis says:

    There is backpack and briefcase soft armor pads that are light, flexible and are I believe carry a class III rating. They would fit easily in your sling bags. I’ve been in classes with you and seeing how you can flip the bag around in front of you so easily you would then have soft armor in front of you without having to don it or really spend any time employing it at all.

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      Thanks for the comment! Over the years we have done some research on soft-ish body armor for the exact purpose you’ve described. The Adidas Rydell and Vertx bags we ran in the rifle class both have accommodations for an armor plate.

      Two things have stopped us from doing this: cost and bulk. We have had a rough year financially, and it’s cut down on the number of products we’ve purchased / reviewed.

      We’ve also found that the lightest weight plates tend to be pretty thick. I’m sensitive to how “thick” my EDC bag is (which is one of the reasons I’m experimenting with a flat-packed version of my trauma kit).

      If you have any specific recommendations we’ll expand our research. We stopped looking about two years ago, and it’s possible that the technology has changed enough to warrant another look.

      Thanks for commenting, it means a lot.

  5. Jimbo Peterson says:

    I spend more time going into vacant houses in bad neighborhoods for work than the average guy. It wasn’t bad when I was with 6 guys on a construction crew but now that I am solo soft body armor is a must. I have family in law enforcement and most stories about finding guns on a bad guy is a stolen gun and a zip lock bag of mixed FMJ target ammo. This helps the thought of bad situations seam more survivable.

    People have tried to rob me twice this year and luckily I only had to use my flashlight and not my body armor or weapon.

    Sure felt glad I had it on afterwards though.

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