There are many good reasons to own body armor. Some training courses may even require it, especially if there is a “shoot house” component to the course. Heck, I’ve seen enough unsafe boneheads at the range to make me want to wear armor just to go plinking.
Many people never purchase armor because they think it is expensive and, for the most part, they are right. It is expensive. However, sometimes it is not as expensive as people think. If you know where to look, you can get into a plate carrier and plates for around $400. I am not talking about a bottom of the barrel, less than ideal set up either. A quality armor set up is attainable for around $400 (maybe even less than $400).
Many people who are on a budget purchase steel rifle plates. These work but they do have some downsides. The two biggest downsides are that they are heavy (often 8 pounds or more each) and they tend to have issues with spall. You don’t have to settle for steel plates. In fact, you can do much better for the about the same amount of money.
There are plates on the market right now from a company called Tactical Armor Products (TAP) called Gamma Plus plates. These are brand new NIJ level III stand-alone plates. “Stand alone” means that they don’t need soft armor to provide level III protection. Level III protection means that they will stop all common rifle rounds except purpose built armor piercing projectiles. They have even been tested by noted ballistician, Dr. Gary Roberts. They weigh less than 5 pounds a piece and can be purchased for $150 each (or less in bulk).
I purchased mine and several for friends from Ray at BodyArmorOutlet.com. Ray was great to deal with and really helped me out on a bulk purchase of these plates. You might find even better deals on these plates in his Ebay store under the name: auction_one_b.
There are several plate carriers (PC) on the market that are fairly cost effective. Many of the $150 or less carriers are either slick carriers with no provisions to add pouches or off-brand knock-offs that are worth a dime. One sub-$150 carrier stands out from the crowd.
The Banshee PC from Shellback Tactical is easily the value leader. It can be purchased for $95-$130 including shipping and you get a lot of features, functionality, quality, and performance for that money. I won’t do a full review now but I will touch on some high points.
Most PCs in this price range have shoulder straps made from webbing only and you have to purchase pads if you want them. The Banshee comes with nice padded shoulder straps. It is very well made and constructed from 1000D nylon. It can be worn with the removable cummerbund or with simple side straps if you need a low profile option. It is extremely compact but offers more than enough MOLLE webbing to configure into a very useful PC. It is also made here in the US and backed with a lifetime warranty. I really can’t say enough about this PC.
I purchased mine from Ares Armor and I highly recommend them. However, right now you can get a significant discount as a Facebook fan of Shellback Tactical. If you miss the Facebook deal (runs through 9/9/2011), buy it from Ares Armor. They offer a great price and great customer service.
The above combination of plates and plate carrier will give you an armor set up that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 pounds (before you add pouches) and costs you around $400. That is certainly beats getting shot by some bubba in your carbine class who can’t keep his finger off the trigger and his muzzle down range.