Bulletproof vest weight varies greatly from 1 lb. (.45 kg) up to 40 lb. (18 kg) depending on the level of ballistic protection the vest provides.
The number of plates, the composition of the materials used, the size of the vest, and the technology in the vest contributes to the overall weight.
As the level of protection increases with the bulletproof vest, so does the the weight of the vest.
Table of Contents
- Is Bulletproof Clothing Heavy?
- Levels of Bulletproof Vests and Weight
- How Much Should Body Armor Weigh?
- What Determines the Weight of a Bulletproof Vest?
- How Much Do Bulletproof Plates Weigh?
- Does My Bodyweight or Body Size Affect What Weight Body Armor I Should Get?
- Key Takeaways
Is Bulletproof Clothing Heavy?
Bulletproof clothing is as heavy as the protection it provides. Lightweight and nearly invisible small arms protection vests can be worn concealed under clothing and can weigh only 1-2 pounds (.45-.91 kg).
There are even fashionable jackets with layers of bulletproof fibers that don’t weigh much more than regular jackets.
There are multiple things that affect clothing weight, like the level of protection provided. The better the protection against faster munitions is generally going to mean heavier clothing. Some newer technology is lighter and will revolutionize the industry in the next few years.
New tech is always bringing the weight down. There are now very lightweight vests that will stop a .50 caliber round from penetrating it. Of course, it cannot stop the kinetic energy transfer to the body and you’d almost surely die from the impact.
There are still some further developments that need to happen but someday we may have a lightweight vest with more protection that can keep you alive after taking a round of .50 caliber too.
The bigger the plates you’re carrying in a plate carrier, the heavier it will be. The older the technology, the heavier it is. The more plates you use equates to more weight you will be carrying.
It is possible to use only a chest plate. Or, you could use chest, back, side, neck, and groin plates which will increase the weight of your bulletproof clothes significantly. More plates will also provide far more protection but it always comes at the cost of more weight.
Bulletproof clothing is always heavier than regular clothes but provides much more protection. Protective gear is heavier than a bullet and lighter than a coffin, I like to say.
Levels of Bulletproof Vests and Weight
In the United States, the standard is changing from NIJ (National Institute of Justice) Standard-0101.06 to NIJ Standard-0101.07.
This new standard uses the HG (handgun) and RF (rifle) designations and is stricter on requirements and yet easier to understand than the previous standard. We’ll cover both standards below.
NIJ HG 1 Weight and protection
HG 1 replaces Level II and IIA in the previous standard. There was no Level 1 in the old standard.
Level of protection: Bulletproof vests with this level of protection can stop 9mm Luger full metal jacketed (FMJ) round nose (RN), 124-grain rounds traveling at 1,305 feet per second (ft/s) which is 398 meters per second (m/s) and .357 Mag jacketed soft point (JSP) 158-grain rounds at 1,430 ft/s (436 m/s).
Weight: Body armor in this category typically weighs between 2-5 lb. (.91-1.82 kg) for a medium-size soft armor vest.
NIJ HG 2 Weight and protection
HG 2 replaces Level IIIA in the previous standard.
Level of protection: Bulletproof materials offering this level of protection can stop 9mm Luger FMJ RN 124 grain bullets traveling at 1,470 ft/s (448 m/s) and .44 MAG jacketed hollow point (JHP) 240-grain bullets at 1,430 ft/s (436 m/s).
Weight: Body armor in this category typically weighs between 3.5-6 lb. (1.6-2.7 kg) for medium-size vests with soft armor.
NIJ RF 1 Weight and protection
RF 1 replaces Level III in the previous standard.
Level of protection: Bulletproof vest protection from this level can stop a 7.62x39mm surrogate test round of 120.5 grain (7.81 g) traveling at 2,380 ft/s (725 m/s) and 5.56mm M193 BT 56 +0/-2 grain at 3,250 ft/s (991 m/s).
Weight: Body armor in this category typically weighs between 10-16 lb. (4.5-7.3 kg) for a medium-size 2-plate hard armor bulletproof vest covering the chest and back.
NIJ RF 2 Weight and protection
RF 2 is a new category of protection in the NIJ Standard-0101.07 that covers RF 1 (Level III in the old standard) and adds four more 5.56 mm M855 bullets with the following specs. Using Level IV ballistic vests will cover this category.
Weight: Medium-size vests with hard plates for this category of protection usually range in weight from 18-22 pounds (8.2-10 kg).
Level of protection:
- 7.62x51mm M80 Ball NATO FMJ steel jacketed spire point BT 149 +0/-3 grain meeting U.S. military or NATO specifications and traveling 2,780 ft/s (847 m/s).
- 7.62x39mm surrogate test round 120.5 grain (7.81 g) traveling 2,380 ft/s (725 m/s).
- 5.56mm M193 BT 56 +0/-2 grain U.S. military or NATO specification round traveling 3,250 ft/s (991 m/s).
- 5.56mm M855 BT 61.8 ± 1.5 grain U.S. military or NATO specification round traveling 3,115 ft/s (949 m/s).
NIJ RF 3 Weight and protection
RF 3 replaces Level IV in the previous standard.
Level of protection: Bulletproof vests offering protection at this level of ballistics can stop 30.06 M2 Armor Piercing (AP) FMJ spire point AP 165.7 +0/-7 grain rounds traveling at 2,880 ft/s (878 m/s).
Weight: Hard plate body armor in this Level IV category typically weighs between 18-22 lb. (8.2-10 kg) and more for a medium-size plate carrier with chest and back plates.
How Much Should Body Armor Weigh?
All other variables being equal (size, protected areas, level of protection), the primary factor in the weight of your body armor may come down to the price you can afford.
If the organization you’re working for is picking up the tab you should insist on the best armor available. There is quite a bit of difference in the weight of average and top-of-the-shelf ballistic body armor.
Can you afford lighter-weight body armor with newer and greater protection? Can you afford not to have it?
Secondary factors like the temperature and humidity, other weather conditions, your physical build, and how much other gear you’re carrying, can all factor into the equation and change the weight of the body armor you wear as well.
Working on your physical strength and stamina will allow you to carry heavier body armor more comfortably. You won’t feel the weight as much. Increasing fitness and strength should be a high priority for those of you engaging in life and death scenarios often.
What Determines the Weight of a Bulletproof Vest?
Many factors contribute to the weight of the bulletproof vest you choose to wear. There are some variables you have control over and some you don’t.
The size of the vest and the amount of material used can affect the vest’s weight and price.
The size of the soft or hard plates placed into your vest or plate carrier can vary greatly.
The technology used in the construction of the vest and the protective material used can affect the weight of a ballistic vest. Soft armor layers that are flexible and protect against Level IIA and II (HG 1) threats can be quite lightweight.
The technology used matters. Layered Kevlar, Dyneema, or some other fiber-based material can be very light compared to any hard plate material. Soft armor can protect up to NIJ Level IIIA (HG 2).
The greater the protection, the greater the weight when using the same technology and size of the vest.
For plate carriers, steel, ceramic, polyethylene, or a combination of these and other materials can be used which are significantly heavier than soft armor.
Finally, the coverage of your body with armor can affect the bulletproof vest’s weight. You may have full coverage armor with plates in the chest, back, neck, groin, and sides which weigh considerably more than just a chest plate.
How Much Do Bulletproof Plates Weigh?
Hard and soft plates for a plate carrier or ballistics vest can vary in weight quite a bit. Again, we’re talking about a minimal to maximal protection range and that means the weight range of ballistic plates can be as little as 1-2 lb. (.45-.91 kg) for Level II (HG 1) chest protection and even up to 35 lb. (16 kg) or more for Level IV (RF 3) plate carriers before you add any other pouches.
Keep in mind that there are hard and soft plates available at many manufacturers for chest, back, sides, neck, groin, and though hard to find sometimes – arms and legs.
Does My Bodyweight or Body Size Affect What Weight Body Armor I Should Get?
You need to get body armor that fits you and armor that is capable of meeting the level of threat you will face during a mission. If your body size is bigger or smaller than the average person, your body armor may weigh more or less than someone of average weight or height.
You can’t choose your body size, but you can change your body weight to some degree. You can develop a lot more strength and muscle in a gym with a regular weightlifting program. Don’t forget aerobic fitness which will prepare you for extreme cardiovascular efforts that you may not be capable of now.
Heavy body armor can feel like less weight the stronger and more fit you get.
Hard armor is heavier and more protective. Soft armor is lighter, can be flexible, and allows more freedom of movement.
Size of your vest. A small NIJ Level IIIA (HG 2) bulletproof vest may weigh 3.7 lb. (1.7 kg). An extra large IIIA vest can weigh 6.2 lb. (2.8 kg).
The number of plates you carry matters. More plates mean more weight.
Paying more for a high-tech bulletproof vest with the latest technology can result in significant weight reduction.
Written by Vern Lovic
Vern Lovic is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Stationed at Hickam Air Force Base where he served in the heart of the Pacific (PACAF) on Oahu, Hawaii. For the last twenty years he’s done hard time in Thailand jungles teaching visitors and locals how to manage their deadly venomous snake population. Read bio!