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Differences Between Hard and soft body armor plates

DATE: Oct 27th, 2023
  • Material and Structure

Rigid body armor is made of hard materials, such as steel plates, ceramics or composites, to withstand the impact of high-velocity bullets and explosive fragments. They typically feature hard ballistic panels embedded in clothing or carriers that cover critical body parts such as the front, back and sides.

In contrast, soft body armor uses soft and lightweight materials such as ballistic fabrics, stab-resistant materials or composite soft materials. These materials are relatively thin and lightweight, making the clothing more suitable for extended wear. They are constructed similarly to regular clothing, but with ballistic material embedded inside, usually covering the chest, back and other critical areas.

  • Protective performance

Rigid body armor provides a higher level of protection against the threat of high-velocity rifle bullets and heavy ammunition. This makes them excellent when faced with high-risk environments and can effectively mitigate the risk of bodily injury. According to NIJ standards, rigid body armor is usually classified into different levels, such as III and IV, each corresponding to a different level of ballistic protection.

Soft body armor is suitable for protection against low-velocity bullets, knife attacks, and puncture-resistant threats. While they don't perform as well as rigid body armor against high-velocity bullets or powerful explosive threats, they still provide a degree of protection. According to NIJ standards, soft body armor is usually classified into different levels, such as IIA, II and IIIA.

  • Weight and Comfort

Rigid body armor is usually heavier because of the relative thickness of its rigid material, which can add to the wearer's burden, especially if it needs to be worn for extended periods of time. Due to the weight and the nature of the rigid material, the wearer of rigid body armor may feel restricted, especially when performing high levels of activity.

Soft body armor is relatively lightweight, making it easier for the wearer to perform activities. This makes them more suitable for applications that require flexibility and comfort. Lightweight and soft materials provide a higher level of comfort and are particularly suitable for tasks that require prolonged wear, such as police, security and military personnel.

  • Levels of protection and types of weapons that can be protected

The level of protection of hard and soft body armor depends on its design and material. Hard body armor is usually classified according to NIJ standards, which define different levels of ballistic protection.


Hard body armor is categorized into different levels according to NIJ standards:

NIJ Level IIIA: Capable of protecting against .44 Magnum pistol rounds, 9mm pistol rounds, etc. This is the lowest level of hard body armor and is suitable for protection against the threat of low velocity handgun rounds.

NIJ Level III: Protects against 7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester) rifle rounds, etc. This level provides a higher level of protection. This level provides a higher level of protection against rifle rounds.

NIJ Level IV: Protects against .30-06 Springfield rifle rounds, etc. NIJ Level IV provides the highest level of hard ballistic protection against the most powerful rifle rounds.


Soft body armor is also classified according to NIJ standards:

NIJ Level IIA: Capable of protecting against .22 LR, 9mm pistol rounds, etc. This is the lowest level of soft body armor and is primarily used to protect against handgun rounds.

NIJ Level II: Protects against .357 Magnum, 9mm pistol rounds, etc. Level II provides a higher level of protection against more powerful handgun rounds.

NIJ Level IIIA: Protects against .44 Magnum, 9mm handgun rounds, etc. This level is a soft body armor. This level is the highest level of soft body armor and will protect against most handgun rounds.

In summary, there are significant differences between rigid and soft body armor in terms of material, structure, protective performance, weight, comfort, level of protection and application. When attacked by firearms, the bullet will first come into contact with the first line of defense in the rigid body armor, i.e. the bulletproof plate made of metal, ceramic, and high-performance composite materials. At the moment of contact, the bullet and the hard ballistic material will crack, accompanied by the consumption of most of the bullet's energy.

The soft bulletproof material will act as the second line of defense, which will absorb and diffuse the remaining part of the bullet's energy and play a buffering role, thus achieving bulletproof effect. Compared to soft bulletproof vests, hard bulletproof vests have a much higher level of defense, reaching Level III and IV defense levels. They are able to withstand rifle bullets with much higher power levels, even rifle armor-piercing bullets, and armor-piercing incendiary bullets. The combined use of these two body armor types provides the wearer with comprehensive protection, ensuring that they are able to effectively deal with a wide range of threats while maintaining a high level of comfort and flexibility. This makes body armor a critical piece of personal protective equipment used in a wide range of hazardous occupations and tasks to ensure personal safety.