In 2008, I went through Ft. Benning before going to Iraq. There, I was issued body armor. The outer vest was new and spotless, still in its plastic wrap. The plates, however, were junk. Both plates were extremely worn, one having a long groove in the strike face.

          The problem with ceramic plates like these is that a single crack can compromise the structural integrity and making it unsafe for wear. The plates I was given were without a doubt, weakened and not up to military standards of safety. They’d shown no signs of being shot or subjected to any ballistic impact.

          More likely, they’d been handled by soldiers, specifically grunts. Grunts can break anything. They make airport baggage handlers look careful in comparison. Grunts throw armor in the back of Humvees, drop their armor onto hard concrete, and generally abuse their equipment. Unfortunately, this left me with second-hand plates.

          Thankfully, I didn’t find out just how structurally compromised those plates might have been. I remained un-shot and un-perforated. The second time I went to Iraq, I bought my own damn plates. I knew that soldiers (and possibly grunts) might be handling my gear when I got to Iraq and did not want my plates getting cracked. So, I bought steel plates from

The Secret of Steel

          Steel is more durable than ceramic plating. You can drop it and it will not crack. It is thinner, which means it is somewhat more comfortable inside a tight armor carrier. And it is less expensive, which means a lot to a civilian who has to pay for his own gear. Steel plates are strong, being rated to take multiple hits of .308 caliber full metal jacket ammunition. The downside is that they are heavier. The steel plates I purchased weighted in at 8lbs each and cost me half what a ceramic pair would have.

          I lugged those things around in my armor carrier for a year in Iraq. Sixteen pounds might not seem like much, but when you add Kevlar soft panels, a nylon carrier and a helmet, it starts to add up. Try this in 120 degree heat with high humidity. I’m just thankful I didn’t have to carry around gear like the poor grunts.


          There are more than just two types of protective plates out there on the market. One alternative is lightweight polyethylene armor. These plates are much lighter, weighing in at 3.5lbs. While the weight savings over steel are extreme, there are significant disadvantages. The polyethylene plates are almost four times as thick as steel ones and are nowhere near as abuse-resistant. They’re vulnerable to extreme temperatures. This was enough to convince me they’d be unsuitable for use in Iraq. If I left the plates out in the sun on baking asphalt, I didn’t want their structural integrity compromised. Oh yeah, they also cost about four times what steel does.

          Recently, a company called Strike Industries has come out with an interesting type of plate. It’s hard armor, but is not designed to stop rifle rounds. It will, however, stop pistol rounds, bladed weapons and shrapnel. It stops pistol rounds with less backface deformation than equivalent level IIIA Kevlar, which means that you won’t get such a nasty bruise (or cracked ribs) if you’re shot while wearing a Strike Plate versus a Kevlar vest. The Strike Plates have about the same cost as steel plates and weigh three pounds less.

          The downside is that these plates only cover a portion of your torso, whereas a vest wraps around to protect your sides as well. Furthermore, the fact that an AK round will go straight through a Strike Plate without even slowing down is a dealbreaker for me. Again, they’re not designed to stop rifle rounds, but that’s simply a feature I look for.


          Steel plates are heavy and suck, unless you actually need them. If it comes to it, you’ll be happy you were wearing some decent, affordable plates.  There are other options out there, and I encourage you to check into them. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. As for me and my house, we rely on my heavy old steel plates, which still sit in my faded and sweat-stained armor carrier. Just in case.

By: Allen Cosby

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53GR is an avid shooter, hiker and tinkerer. Introduced to guns at an early age, the hobby became a passion in his early twenties. After two years in Iraq as a contractor for a defense company, he developed an unhealthy addiction to military surplus gear. Though he's currently in treatment, the prognosis is that the condition is chronic.

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