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the unofficial, unauthorized online reference manual for the real life super hero community

" There is no more honored sterward than he who compassionately serves; not out of subjugation, but moral obligation."

A look at the various types and levels of protection of  armor

Alright. Let's face it-

You, my friend, are mortal.

A quick review of todays headlines in your nearby big city, or casually scanning the latest news updates online ought to be enough to convice you that our modern world is a dangerous one. Bullets do not bounce off you. Knives will not glance off you like an insect when jammed into your soft spots. As a street level hero, intending on scrapping and engaging with a combative, either you must be downing a super-secret fictional serum that makes your skin as tough as granite...admittedly, unlikely... OR there will come a time an individual intends to use you as a pincushion. If this is you, you must consider the wearing some sort of protection.

Of the possibilities, several trends have emerged amoung the RLSH community, most of them stemming from the application of currently available self defense products utilized into the costume/battlesuit/uniform of a RLSH. These choices stem from the user's:

  • Background & Experience
  • Personal Preference
  • Available Resources
  • ....& lastly, the Local Threat Level

Prior miliitary will probably favor ballistic vests AKA "Bullet Proof Vests / Stab Proof Vests". Due to the various different types of projectile, it is often inaccurate to refer to a particular product as "bulletproof" because this implies that it will protect against any and all threats. Instead, the term bullet resistant is generally preferred.


A ballistic vest is an item of protective clothing that absorbs the impact from gun-fired projectiles and shrapnel fragments from explosion. This protection is for the torso. Soft vests are made from many layers of woven or laminated fibers and protect wearers from projectiles fired from handguns, shotguns, and small fragments from explosives such as hand grenades. When metal or ceramic plates are used with a soft vest, it can also protect wearers from shots fired from rifles. In combination with metallic components or tightly-woven fiber layers, soft armor can offer some protection to the wearer from stab and slash from a knife. Soft vests are commonly worn by police forces, private citizens and private security guards, and hard-plate reinforced vests are mainly worn by combat soldiers in the armies of various nations as well as police armed response units.

Modern body armor may combine a ballistic vest with other items of protective clothing, such as a helmet. Vests intended for police and military use may also include ballistic shoulder, and side protection armor components.

Textile vests may be augmented with metal (steel or titanium), ceramic or polyethylene plates that provide extra protection to vital areas. These hard armour plates have proven effective against all handgun bullets and a range of rifles. These upgraded ballistic vests have become standard in military use, as soft body armour vests are ineffective against military rifle rounds. The layers of very strong fiber in these vests catch and deform the soft bullets and spread its force over a larger portion of the vest fiber. The vest absorbs the energy from the bullet, bringing it to a stop before it can penetrate the vest. A deformable handgun bullet mushrooms into a dished plate on impact with a well designed textile vest. Some layers may be penetrated but as the bullet deforms the energy is absorbed by a larger and larger fiber area. While a vest can prevent bullet penetration, the vest and wearer still absorb the bullet's energy. Even without penetration, modern pistol bullets contain enough energy to cause blunt force trauma under the impact point. Vests' specifications include both penetration resistance requirements and limits on the amount of impact energy that is delivered to the body. Vests designed for bullets offer little protection against blows from sharp implements, such as knives, arrows or ice picks, or from bullets manufactured of non-deformable materials i.e. steel core instead of lead. The force of the impact of these objects is concentrated in a relatively small area, allowing them to puncture the fiber layers of most bullet-resistant fabrics. Corrections officers and other law enforcement officers often wear vests which are designed specifically against bladed weapons and sharp objects. These vests may incorporate coated and laminated para-aramid textiles or metallic components.

Body armor standards are regional. Around the world ammunition varies and as a result the armor testing must reflect the threats found locally. Law enforcement statistics show that many shootings where officers are injured or killed involve the officer's weapon. As a result each law enforcement agency or para-military organizations will have their own standard for armor performance if only to ensure that their armor protects them from their own weapon. While many standards exist a few standards are widely used as models. The US National Institute of Justice ballistic and stab documents are examples of broadly accepted standards, In addition to the NIJ, the UK Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB - formerly the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB)) standards are used by a number of other countries and organizations. These "model" standards are usually adapted by other counties by incorporation of the basic test methodologies with modification of the bullets that are required for test. NIJ Standard 0101.04has specific performance standards for bullet resistant vests used by law enforcement. This rates vests on the following scale against penetration and also blunt trauma protection (deformation) (Table from NIJ Standard 0101.04):

Armor Level Protects Against
Type I
(.22 LR; .380 ACP)
This armor protects against 22 calibre Long Rifle Lead Round Nose (LR LRN) bullets, with nominal masses of 2.6 g (40 gr) at a reference velocity of 329 m/s (1080 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and .380 ACP Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 6.2 g (95 gr) at a reference velocity of 322 m/s (1055 ft/s ± 30 ft/s)
Type IIA
(9 mm; .40 S&W)
This armor protects against 9 mm Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr) at a reference velocity of 341 m/s (1120 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and .40 S&W calibre Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) bullets, with nominal masses of 11.7 g (180 gr) at a reference velocity of 322 m/s (1055 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). It also provides protection against the threats mentioned in [Type I].
Type II
(9 mm; .357 Magnum)
This armor protects against 9 mm Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr) at a reference velocity of 367 m/s (1205 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and 357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point (JSP) bullets, with nominal masses of 10.2 g (158 gr) at a reference velocity of 436 m/s (1430 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). It also provides protection against the threats mentioned in [Types I and IIA].
(High Velocity 9 mm; .44 Magnum)
This armor protects against 9 mm Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr) at a reference velocity of 436 m/s (1430 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and .44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point (SJHP) bullets, with nominal masses of 15.6 g (240 gr) at a reference velocity of 436 m/s (1430 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). It also provides protection against most handgun threats, as well as the threats mentioned in [Types I, IIA, and II].
Type III
This armor protects against 7.62 mm Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) bullets (U.S. Military designation M80), with nominal masses of 9.6 g (148 gr) at a reference velocity of 847 m/s (2780 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against the threats mentioned in [Types I, IIA, II, and IIIA].
Type IV
(Armour Piercing Rifle)
This armor protects against .30 caliber armour piercing (AP) bullets (U.S. Military designation M2 AP), with nominal masses of 10.8 g (166 gr) at a reference velocity of 878 m/s (2880 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). It also provides at least single hit protection against the threats mentioned in [Types I, IIA, II, IIIA, and III].

In addition to the NIJ and HOSDB standards, other important standards include: German Police TR-Technische Richtlinie, Draft ISO prEN ISO 14876, Underwriters Laboratories (UL Standard 752)

Textile armor is tested for both penetration resistance by bullets and for the impact energy transmitted to the wearer. The "backface signature" or transmitted impact energy is measured by shooting armor mounted in front of a backing material, typically sculpture modeling oil-clay. The clay is used at a controlled temperature and verified for impact flow before testing. After the armor is impacted with the test bullet the vest is removed from the clay and the depth of the indentation in the clay is measured.

The backface signature allowed by different test standards can be difficult to compare. Both the clay materials and the bullets used for the test are not common. However in general the UK, German and other European standards allow 20-25 mm of backface signature while the US-NIJ standards allow for 44 mm, which can potentially cause internal injury. The allowable backface signature for body armor has been controversial from its introduction in the first NIJ test standard and the debate as to the relative importance of penetration-resistance vs. backface signature continues in the medical and testing communities.

In general a vest's textile material temporarily degrades when wet. Neutral water at room temp does not affect para-aramid or UHMWPE but acidic, basic and some other solutions can permanently reduce para-aramid fiber tensile strength. (As a result of this, the major test standards call for wet testing of textile armor). Mechanisms for this wet loss of performance are not known. Vests that will be tested after ISO type water immersion tend to have heat sealed enclosures and those that are tested under NIJ type water spray methods tend to have water resistant enclosures.

From 2003-5, a large study of the environmental degradation of Zylon armor was undertaken by the US-NIJ. This concluded that water, long-term use, and temperature exposure significantly affect tensile strength and the ballistic performance of PBO or Zylon fiber. This NIJ study on vests returned from the field demonstrated that environmental affects on Zylon resulted in ballistic failures under standard test conditions.

for more information, see

Typical Brands include: Pinnacle, American Body Armor, Protech, Second Chance

A great place to look would be to start with suppliers to law enforcement, military, and corrections.











Other Sources of Protection

Some have found the "battle rattle" rather cumbersome and perhaps even overkill relating to their particular situation. Not really a need for ballistic armor, say in the UK, for instance, where gun control legislation highly restricts firearm ownership. Or perhaps you patrol a quiet suburb. No need to go all Rambo down Mainstreet, Smaillville is there?

If you're still concerned with getting scuffed up on patrol by some random intoxicated fool or a mugger looking for an easy mark, you may choose to follow the example of lightly armored heroes.  If you're a standup fighter who likes counseling the crooked with his fists, perhaps lightly armored motorcycle gloves. Conversely, if you are able to kick a fellow's cajones into his throat, tactical boots with reinforced toes and a shank in the sole are excellent from fending off knicks to the lower leg.   

Consider some of the following options, perhaps even in conjunction with your existing arsenal:

  • Sporting goods. Look for gear like lacrosse breastplates, football, soccer, baseball padding, etc.
  • Public safety suppliers. Riot & tactical gear for law enforcement.
  • Martial arts equipment. Padding, joint & athletic supports, sparring gear.
  • Motor sporting armor. Motorcycling is inherently dangerous and many of the modern garments include provision for high speed trauma protection; armored gloves, leathers, etc.
  • Re-enactment costuming. Period clothing such as medieval styled leather vambraces, pauldrons, etc may provide a minimal prevention of general scuffs and scrapes. You can try http://www.armory.net/ or Museum Replicas


Also on the horizon, with the advent of newer technologies, we can make extreme activities more viable by lowering the risk to our personal safety.

"What is d3o?
d3o is a material containing ‘Intelligent Molecules’ which flow freely under normal conditions making it soft and flexible, but lock together on shock to absorb all of the impact energy. But, enough of the science… what does this actually mean? Well for anyone participating in sport, or any kind of activity with a danger of injury from impact, it means you get protection that is both lightweight and flexible but that works when you need it to. d3o makes you faster, stronger, and smarter."

For RLSH work, this is an ideal base layer for the minimalist who wants to keep some layers between his/her tailbone and the asphalt. 

 * update *

I found a few more sporting goods carriers who stock protective gear suitable for street level RLSH "underoos". 

shock doctor



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