Body armour comes in different protection levels in order to shield the user from physical attacks. If one is looking into defensive body systems, he or she may encounter these two terms related to body armour – “soft” and “hard”.
How are these variations different?
Defining Soft Body Armour
It is clear in the name that soft body armour refers to a more movable and less rigid armour system, although this does not take away from its incredible component strength. As soft body army is more flexible than hard body armour, this allows for the user to wear in combination with other tools and gear and/or with a preferred style of dress for work. As a way of reinforcing hard body armour, sometimes soft body armour is used as an added layer of protection. When used in conjunction it creates an additional level of safe-guarding.
Usually the underlying composition of soft armour is super-high strength synthetic fibers. The Kevlar vest is still the most frequently used form of soft body armour although other variations do exist.
Soft body armour is credited with being more utilitarian – its movable and more comfortable characteristics are challenged by the overall strength of hard body armour. Simply put, soft body armour is generally rated to stop ballistics from small arms and is not able to defend against higher caliber shots like those from a rifle.
Defining Hard Body Armour
Plates composed of steel, ceramics, or composite materials form the foundation of hard body armour. These plates are then surrounded or covered and interlocked with one another via a more pliable armour shell and form the commonly known vests and other forms of body protection. This internal plate construction and inclusion of these plates in the design, greatly increases the strength of hard body armour.
The U.S. military is attributed with the original design of a layered-plate system. Often made of ceramic, these plates are then coated in different synthetic fibers, depending on the manufacturer, which significantly increase the protective capabilities of these plates. A hard armour system is usually sold in two distinct components, the containing system, like the exterior or shell of a vest and then the actual plates which go inside the vest. This system allows users to choose which options are best suited for their particular situation.
As hard body armour relies on more materials to increase strength, the result is body armour which is less flexible and heavier than its soft counterpart. This is demonstrated by users of these systems stating that hard body armour is more uncomfortable, hotter and more difficult to use for lengthier amounts of time. Although these are clear negatives, these are all offset by the benefits of hard body armour’s strength. As hard body armour is rated for protection for ballistics from high-caliber rifles it is often chosen in higher risk environments.
In other non-ballistic situations, both of these types of armour are usually capable of defending the user against blunt or sharp objects. In order to maintain the highest levels of protection, a combination of both hard and soft body armour is often recommended.