Different types of bulletproof vests are available today with different protection levels. Different manufacturers also use different technologies and materials.
So there’s no direct answer to your question – how much does a bulletproof vest weigh?
To give you some rough idea, a ballistic vest may weigh anywhere between 3 to 8 pounds while most of the standard vests weigh around 5 pounds.
But that’s not all. A hard vest with plates can reach up to 40 pounds while invisible vests weigh only one or two pounds.
Let’s get into the details to know more about how heavy they are.
Bulletproof Vest Weight Based on Material
A heat-resistant and high-strength synthetic fiber, Kevlar (para-aramid) is the most common soft vest material, which is mainly preferred for its high tensile strength-to-weight ratio.
Compared to steel, kevlar is seven times stronger and ranks first in overall energy absorption in ballistic tests.
Most modern kevlar vests weigh 3 to 5 pounds.
2. Polyethylene (PE)
Polyethylene bulletproof vests are made of aramid fibers that are non-conductive and incredibly strong. They usually weigh around four pounds.
Twaron is also a para-aramid fiber that’s as strong as Kevlar. Level IIIA vests made of Twaron weigh 3-5 pounds.
Spectra is an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber. Compared to steel, it is 15 times stronger but lightweight.
Although Kevlar ranks high for energy absorption, Spectra is 5 times more durable than Kevlar. A spectra vest weighs around 3 pounds only.
The extreme toughness of steel makes it the most popular material choice for those who need ultimate protection from their vests. Steel is heavier than other materials but thinner because of its high strength ratio.
The lower cost of steel makes it even more preferable than other hard vest types. A typical steel vest weighs between 8 to 10 pounds.
Ceramic vests are also popular because of their easy adaptability. Although they are costly due to their advanced technology and don’t last as long as steel, many still prefer them for being lightweight.
They are also thicker than steel plates that allows them to achieve the same level of toughness and durability.
Ceramics weigh half of steel. So the average weight of ceramic plates is 5 pounds.
Fiberglass panels are made using several layers of woven roving bonded together with a prepreg resin under pressure and heat.
Depending on the protection level they weigh from 4 to 15 pounds.
Titanium is a chemical element found in nature only as oxides. A silver color lustrous transition metal can be produced from it, which has high strength, low density, and is resistant to corrosion.
This metal is mainly used to make titanium plates which are lighter than steel. A typical titanium plate weighs only 5 pounds.
Doron is a fiberglass-based laminate that is very strong and was first used as an armor material by the United States Marines.
Those Doron plates were 8 pounds each and considered “the most lightweight armors” at that time. Later they were replaced by the lighter nylon and kevlar.
Today Natural Fibers Reinforced Polymer Composites (NFRPC) are used that are lighter than steel but strong enough to stop bullets. They are also non-conductive and corrosion-resistant.
Another advantage is that they can be custom tailored to make certain parts of the vest stronger. To talk about the downside, they are very expensive.
The average weight of a composite vest is 5-7 pounds.
Bulletproof Vest Weight Based on Their Protection Levels
In 2018, the standard of the protection level was upgraded from NIJ Standard-0101.06 to NIJ Standard-0101.07.
HG (Handgun) and RF (rifle) designations are being used in this newer system. We are following this newer standard as this is easier to understand. But we will link this standard with the previous one for better understanding.
This is the lowest level of protection and Level IIA and Level II of the previous standard fall into this category.
Level IIA is the softest, lightest, most flexible, and very concealable version of protection and is made of woven fibers like Kevlar. It can stop a 9mm FMJ or a .40 FMJ round.
Level II is the upgraded version of Level IIA. In terms of softness and lightness, these vests are close to Level IIA vests but slightly stiffer.
They are designed to stop 9mm FMJ rounds traveling at 1,305 feet per second (ft/s) and 357 Magnum (JSP) rounds traveling at 1,430 ft/s.
A medium-sized NIJ HG1 vest weighs 2-5 lbs.
This category represents Level IIIA of the previous standard. This also falls under the “soft vest” category.
Although soft, some have ballistic shields in them. These vests are designed to stop 9mm Luger FMJ bullets traveling at 1,470 ft/s and .44 MAG (JHP) bullets at 1,430 ft/s.
A medium-sized vest of this category typically weighs between 3.5 to 6 lbs.
NIJ RF1 has the same protection level of Level III. Hard vests are categorized from here that can stop even rifle rounds.
These vests can stop a 7.62x39mm traveling at 2,380 ft/s and 5.56mm at 3,250 ft/s.
A medium-sized 2-plate vest that covers both the back and chest weighs between 10-16 lbs.
This is a new category that wasn’t present in the previous standard system. It covers NIJ RF1 along with four more calibers –
- 7.62x51mm traveling at 2,780 ft/s
- 7.62x39mm traveling at 2,380 ft/s
- 5.56mm traveling at 3,250 ft/s
- 5.56mm traveling at 3,115 ft/s
A medium-sized vest of this category with hard plates weighs between 18-22 pounds.
This category represents Level IV of the previous standard and is the highest-rated protection level of NIJ Standard-0101.07.
Vests of this category can stop 30.06 M2 Armor Piercing (AP) FMJ traveling at 2,880 ft/s.
A medium-sized vest with back and chest plates typically weighs between 18-22 lbs.
Bulletproof Vest Weight Based on Cost
Newer and more advanced technologies developed in the last couple of decades are now offering lighter vests but at higher price points.
These vests are more comfortable and more easily concealable but don’t compromise on their protection levels.
Those who need to wear vests all day long can easily carry them as they weigh less than 3 pounds.
Bulletproof Vest Weight Based on Size
Armor size is another important factor as the bigger the size, the more weight you’ve to bear.
An average-sized vest will obviously not fit a taller person. So the weight of the vests will vary according to the wearer’s size and weight.
If the armor doesn’t fit, you won’t be comfortable and it may also not cover your vital body parts properly.
Remember, you can’t change your size but you can keep your weight under control through exercise, diet, and other healthy lifestyle choices.
Let’s Know More About Individual Plate Weights
The weight of a plate actually depends on what types of inserts (ceramic or steel or others) are in them as well as the manufacturer.
A standard 8×10 (200mmx250mm) ballistic plate weighs between 1.5 to 2.0 lbs.
Side plates only cover half of the torso so they are lighter than back or front plates.
The average panel weight range of different plates is as follows…
- Side panels – 1 pound each (approximately)
- Front and back panels – 2 to 3 pounds in total
- Rifle plates – 2.5 to 4 pounds each (depending on manufacturer and thickness)
1. Why don’t bulletproof vests cover the stomach?
Ans: If you think body armors should reach your waist then you are wrong. They’re designed to cover only the vital organs of your body without being too heavy for you to wear them for a long time.
As there is no vital organ below your belly button, it’s enough for your armor to reach down to the navel area.
2. Do bullets still hurt with a bulletproof vest?
Ans: Yes, because they only stop the bullet but not its force. People who have been shot but survived often say the impact is like getting hit by a hammer or something much more powerful.
3. Can a bulletproof vest stop a knife?
Ans: Not all bulletproof vests can protect you from stabs or spikes. They actually trap and flatten a bullet within the fiber and disperse the energy throughout the vest.
These protective fibers can be cut with edged (knives or bottles) objects if someone stabs you. Spiked objects like syringes, stilettos, or ice pickles can also pass through the minute gaps in the fabric.
But there are multi-threat vests available to save you from both bullets and knives. You can choose them if there is a possibility of being attacked by different types of weapons in your mission.
4. Do bulletproof vests expire?
Ans: Yes, they do. Over time the fibers break down and lose their ability to perform as expected. The expected lifetime for a vest is 5 years.