If you’ve considered adding soft body armor to your EDC repertoire, check out our ballistic test of a lightweight and effective undergarment system anyone can wear

by Rob Reaser

When most people think of body armor, visions of bulky vests, strap-laden carriers, and insanely heavy ballistic plates come to mind. Many also think that body armor—hard or soft—is the exclusive purview of law enforcement and military.

The fact is that soft body armor is available for the civilian market, and many personal defense-minded folks—particularly those who practice everyday carry—are increasingly looking to the latest crop of soft armor as part of their daily dress.

Sound a bit out there? Not really.

“We saw a 300% increase in the demand for civilian body armor last year,” David Goldberg, owner of National Body Armor, explained to Shoot On. “We are planning for an increase in sales above last year as the defund the police movement has really pushed people to buy. We typically did not see that in the past. Handgun or rifle threats are very real, and people want to be prepared. They are concerned about the defund the police movement and being able to protect themselves in a time of need.”

We recently picked up a couple sets of soft armor to wear and to conduct ballistic testing from National Body Armor out of Boca Raton, Florida. NBA has several products that neatly address the needs of civilians who, for occupational use, travel, or general safety concerns, desire an extra level of protection in their daily lives. Another bonus…all NBA armor is made in the U.S.

For our purposes, we looked at NBA’s T-Shirt armor line. This is a minimalist armor solution designed for maximum comfort and minimal weight while delivering Level IIIA or Level IIIA+ protection, depending on the ballistic inserts you choose. What makes this line especially appealing is that the armor sets are made to be worn under normal street clothing.

You may now be wondering how a “T-shirt” body armor platform could stand up to the punishment of, say, a 9mm or a .45 ACP round, never mind a cartridge as gnarly as the .44 Magnum. Well, so did we, and that’s why we acquired an armor set we could devote to a do-or-die test. Check out the video below as we pump 9mm XTP, .45 ACP JHP, .45 ACP Honey Badger, and .44 Magnum FTX rounds into NBA’s Level IIIA ballistic insert at a mere ten feet and then dig out the bullets so you can see how effective this armor is against the most common handgun cartridges. Keep in mind as you watch this that here is armor that you can wear discretely under your button-up shirts or light jackets.

 

IMPORTANT: Not all body armor is created equal!

If you take random strolls through online body armor purveyors and pay attention, you’ll find “NIJ Certified” on some products and not on others, or you may not find this label on any armor in the digital store.

A NIJ Certified product is recognized by the National Institute of Justice as having met the institute’s rigid and exhaustive performance standards. Among the various technologies for which the NIJ establishes performance and evaluation standards is body armor—a key tool of law enforcement and defense professionals. The NIJ Certified label means that the armor has passed intensive laboratory testing, been evaluated by NIJ personnel, and has subsequently met the current NIJ standards for its use by law enforcement members.

All National Body Armor ballistic armor inserts and plates are made in the U.S. and are certified to NIJ standards. You can read the current 1010.06 standards here if you want to take an exhaustive look into the testing process.

NBA T-Shirt Armor

NBA offers three different models in their T-Shirt Armor lineup. Our choice was the VIP version, officially called the VIP T-Shirt Concealable Enhanced Multi-Threat. This model comes in three pieces: VIP T-shirt carrier and two NIJ Certified Level IIIA or Level IIIA+ ballistic inserts, one for the front and one for the back.

As you can imagine, the T-shirt carrier is quite a technical piece of clothing. It is made from what feels and looks like a polyester blend and features two-piece construction. The outer layer is comprised of a thin and lightweight stretch compression material. The inner layer is slightly thicker mesh fabric. The front and back sides of this inner layer form individual sleeves into which the ballistic panels are secured.

The bottoms of the inner panels include zippers. To load the ballistic inserts, simply unzip the inner panels, place the inserts inside, and close the zipper. The extended sides, or wings, of the inserts extend through slots on the left and right sides. This allows the sides of the front and rear ballistic inserts to overlap, providing 360-degree protection. This is a big improvement over soft armor sets that employ front and rear inserts that leave the wearer’s sides unprotected.

To ensure a snug, custom fit, hook-and-loop adjustments straps are located adjacent to the insert wings. This keeps the insert wings in their protective overlapping positions and helps snug everything comfortably against the torso.

I found the VIP T-Shirt system surprisingly comfortable to wear. The neck and arm holes are generously proportioned, so there was no rubbing or chaffing. Arm, neck, and upper body movement was not restrictive. As for weight, I honestly didn’t notice. My XL model hit the scale at 4lbs, 7 oz.. With the system’s adjustability and the outer layer’s compression fit keeping everything close and trim, the armor presented no issues for all-day wear. Of course, since the ballistic inserts are easily removeable, you can take them out and wash the shirt as you would any polyester garment. NBA also sells the shirt without the ballistic inserts (called the VIP T-Shirt Concealable Carrier), letting you have one to wear while the others are in the laundry. All shirts are available in black or white so you can better match them to your dress needs.

Ballistic Testing

Not that we had any doubts as to the real-world performance of the VIP T-Shirt armor set given its NIJ Certified status, there’s nothing like a little “let’s just see” to seal the deal and build the confidence level. To that end, we purchased a 50-lb. bag of whole kernel corn for our test dummy and dressed it up in a VIP shirt fitted with a NBA’s Level IIIA ballistic insert.

Here is a chart NBA provides to quickly help consumers assess ballistic armor levels. As you can see, Level IIIA covers the broad swath of handgun cartridges you are likely to encounter on the street. This includes .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum.

Naturally, our goal was to see how our armor set would stand up to the full spectrum of certified penetration resistance. For this, we used the following cartridges:

  • Fiocchi 9mm 124-gr. XTP HP
  • Black Hills .45 ACP 185-gr. JHP
  • Black Hills .45 ACP 135-gr. Honey Badger
  • Handload .44 Magnum 225-gr. FTX

The distance from muzzle to target was about 10 feet, which kept us toward the high end of velocity and energy. The results were impressive and, again, you can check out the video above to see for yourself.

Back at the bench, we dug out the bullets and were delighted that none penetrated through the innermost layers of the ballistic insert. From the 9mm through to the .44 Magnum, the NBA Level IIIA armor kept our bag of corn safe from harm and we have no doubt it will do the same for us if we’re ever struck with any of the typical defensive pistol cartridges.

Bravo!

To see if body armor is right for you, or to learn more about the personal protection options offered by National Body Armor, visit NationalBodyArmor.com.

Shoot On Editor-in-Chief Rob Reaser is a lifelong outdoorsman, former magazine editor, columnist, and contributing editor to numerous national publications in the automotive and outdoor segments. He has also authored and co-authored several DIY gun building books. His shooting and hunting passions cover everything from traditional archery and big-game bowhunting to the latest in handguns, rifles, and reloading. Rob has a troublesome habit of pulling guns and things apart to see how they work; occasionally, he manages to get them back together...

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