How Much Does a Bulletproof Vest Weigh? This Much!

Bulletproof vests are a prominent feature in every modern cop show, crime series, and military film. How much do these bulletproof vests actually weigh? We see bulletproof vests on police officers and military service members, but body armor is useful for civilians as well. It is important to have accurate information about vests on the market.

A bulletproof vest weighs between 3 and 8 pounds, depending on the style of the vest. The most common vests are between 5 and 6 pounds. There are separate hard plates that can be added to some vests that offer more protection, and these plates will increase the weight of the vest significantly.

Bulletproof vests are not just for law enforcement or the military. In today’s world, you can never be too careful. Bulletproof vests are helpful for anyone wanting to protect themselves during everyday life. Read on to learn more about implementing these useful tools into your armory. 

What Factors Determine What a Bulletproof Vest Weighs

Not all bulletproof vests are the same. This is not to say that one style of vest is necessarily better than the other, because each style serves a different purpose. If your main concern is a vest’s weight, there are a few key things to know. The following factors play the largest role in the weight of any given bulletproof vest. 

  • NIJ (National Institute of Justice) Protection level of vest
  • Added armor inserts
  • Cost of vest
  • Size of vest

NIJ Protection Level

Bulletproof vests are given a protection level. The higher a vest’s level, the more protection it offers to its wearer. The levels range from II to IV. There is technically no level I in the NIJ classification because vests rated level I do not meet NIJ standards. Some levels are split into two parts. The vests with the highest protection are rated level IV. These vests are rated for use with rifle rounds and armor-piercing bullets. These are the heaviest of duty vests on the market. They will not be found in an average closet, as armor-piercing bullets are a rare encounter for most average civilians. 

The highest level vests are also the heaviest. These vests will have hard armor inserts which can add several pounds to the total weight of the gear. With that kind of durability, you are looking at a vest that weighs about 8 pounds plus added weight from the protective inserts.

NIJ Body Armor Ratings

Added Armor Inserts

Some higher-level vests are designed to accommodate added protection in the form of plates or inserts. Depending on the material, these additions can add quite a bit of weight to the overall vest experience. The two types of plates available are ceramic and steel. While ceramic plates are lighter, both ceramic and steel plates offer great protection and are favored by body armor users. Ceramic plates typically weigh about 4 pounds, while steel plates can weigh up to 10 pounds. 

Cost of Vest

The cost of your vest, added plates or inserts included, can be a major factor in the overall weight of the gear. Advanced technologies have been created in the last couple of decades to create lightweight materials that are also super protective. Thanks to these achievements, added comfort is available for a higher price. Lightweight vests that way 3 pounds or less are on the market, but they are more expensive. They are comfortable and more easily concealable, so they are highly sought after by people who may need vests for everyday use. If your vest or plate carrier is one that requires hard armor, ceramic plates are available at a higher cost. Hard armor weighs more, but ceramic plates are the lighter option. They, too, are much more costly than their steel counterparts. 

Size of Vest

As stated above, vests typically weigh between 5 and 8 pounds. However, it is important to note that larger vest sizes will weigh more due to the increase in material. Proper fit is essential to any bulletproof vest. Take fit into account when deciding on a vest, both for proper protection and vest weight considerations.

Explanation of NIJ Protection Levels 

The NIJ protection levels mentioned above are crucial when researching bulletproof vests and body armor. The below table will explain in more detail what each level means, and what protection vests in each level can offer. 

Protection LevelAmmunition Additional Information
I.38 and .22 cal (uncommon)Level I is not NIJ approved
IIA.9mm and .40 calplus everything abovesoft armor plates
II.9mm and .357plus everything above.9mm ≤ 1,245 ft/ssoft armor plates
IIIA.9mm and .44 mag/calplus everything above.9mm ≤ 1,400 ft/ssoft armor plates
IIIRifle roundplus everything aboveRound ≤ 2,780 ft/shard armor plates
IVArmor-piercing roundsplus everything abovehard armor plates

Differences Between Steel and Ceramic Plates

While not all vests come with added armor in the form of plate inserts, this option is quite common. If you are in the market for a bulletproof vest, or you want to add to your current gear, choosing an insert is a good step. The plate you choose will have a significant impact on the weight of your vest as a whole. As mentioned above, the most common plates that accompany bulletproof vests are made from either steel or ceramic. These materials are wildly different (think handcrafted vase versus utility elevator). However, they both serve as extremely useful and durable materials. 

Steel Plates

Steel body plates are the most widely used type of plate in the body armor scene. They are extremely tough and durable, making them a popular choice for anyone looking for the ultimate protection in their bulletproof vest. They are also very affordable. This makes them the most accessible type of plate insert to use with a bulletproof vest. In a standalone comparison, steel is more durable than ceramic. However, there is more nuanced than that when it comes to bulletproof vests.

The impact of different types of bullets affects these materials differently. Steel is tougher than ceramic when it comes to larger rounds and precision rounds. However, steel is damaged more by bullets from AR-15s. Steel armor is heavier than ceramic, weighing between 8 and 10 pounds. However, steel armor is typically thinner than ceramic armor. Because steel is a more durable material overall, the plates do not have to be as thick.

Steel body plates are the most widely used type of plate in the body armor scene.

Ceramic Plates

Ceramic plates are always advancing thanks to their adaptability. This heightened technology comes at a higher price point. However, the cost is more than worth it for the protection and durability ceramic plates offer. While steel is more durable in a one-on-one comparison, ceramic comes out ahead of steel in certain instances. Bullets from an AR-15, as mentioned above, will do more damage to steel than to ceramic. Precision rounds, though, will cause damage on a greater scale to ceramic plates. Ceramic plates are much lighter than steel plates. Ceramic plates are usually 5 pounds or less, nearly half the weight of steel plates. However, to get the same strength and durability, more ceramic is needed. This results in a thicker plate. 

Close up image of a ceramic body armor
Close up image of a ceramic body armor.

Comparing the Choices

Both steel and ceramic plates are going to offer you excellent protection. There is a reason both options are so popular and widely recommended. The best way to decide the choice for you is to determine your specific needs. Do you value a lightweight vest above all? Ceramic will likely be your best choice. Do you want a traditional, tried, and true method of protection? Steel could be your answer. 

Soft Armor or Hard Armor?

There are two armor types for bulletproof vests and plate carriers: soft armor and hard armor. On the chart above, you will notice that NIJ protection levels II through IIIA feature soft armor, while the vests offering higher protection consist of hard armor. When it comes to the weight of bulletproof vests, soft armor will typically weigh less. Soft armor vests are designed to be more comfortable. They are meant for everyday use. They do not encumber mobility or weigh a wearer down. 

With soft armor, what you gain in comfort results in sacrificed protection. The steel and ceramic plates mentioned above are considered hard armor. They are hard plates inserted into a chest piece designed to carry them. Soft armor, because of its comfort and ease of use, is more easily concealable than hard armor. It is possible to wear underneath regular clothing without being noticed. Hard armor, on the other hand, is designed to be worn over clothing. Whether soft armor or hard armor would be best for you would depend heavily on the situation calling for the use of armor. You can imagine soft armor as an everyday police beat, and hard armor as a S.W.A.T mission.

Hard armor is designed to be worn over clothing.

Popular Bulletproof Vests and Their Specifications 

Below are highly rated vests and their specifications, including vest weights, materials, protection levels, insert capabilities, and prices. 

VestWeightFabricProtectionAdditional Info
Spartan Tactical Wraparound Vest6-10 lbs loadeddepending on size1000 denier KevlarIIIAAccommodates 10×12 rifle-rated steel, ceramic 
AR500 Invictus Plate Carrier<2 lbs unloaded500 denier NylonIIIAccommodates10x12 steel ceramic, poly
Safariland Xtreme Ballistic Panel0.85 lb/ft2Kevlar, Honeywell Gold ShieldIIArmor features Tex Tech Core Matrix

There are hundreds, if not thousands of bulletproof vests and body armor options available on the market. While a weight differential of a few pounds does not seem like a lot, when you are walking or running around, it can make all the difference. As seen in the chart above, vests that do not accommodate extra plates have more clearly stated weights. These average 5 to 8 pounds as mentioned above. However, for large sizes, they can range up to 10 pounds. For plate carrying vests, weights can vary widely based on the weights of the plates inserted. 

Why Would The Weight of a Bulletproof Vest Matter?

Most of us may never expect to run into the need for a bulletproof vest. However, imagine the situation in which one would be necessary. There will likely be a lot of running, movement, and stress involved. If this is the case, the vest weight is important as it will play a large role in its wearer’s agility and dexterity. Running encumbered is more difficult than running freely. Having a greater range of mobility may make the difference between getting to safety or being left in an unfortunate predicament. A vest’s weight and thickness can cinch how a scene resolves. Consider the strength of the wearer. If the person is athletic and used to weight training, the extra weight might not be a large hindrance. However, if a person is frail or out of shape, 10 extra pounds can be a major burden, slowing them down.

Bulletproof Vests Will Not Make You Invincible

Despite all of the protection and added benefits, bulletproof vests will offer you in a dangerous situation, it is critical to remember that a bulletproof vest alone will not make you invincible. Know the actual capabilities of body armor and you will be better prepared when its use is needed. The “proof” half of bulletproof is a bit of a misnomer. If shot enough times, or at a high enough speed, a bulletproof vest will eventually fail. Sometimes, a strong enough impact of a bullet can still cause the wearer internal injury. These threats are serious and must be taken as such.

Bulletproof vests are designed to protect vital organs in the human torso. These organs include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and spleen. If these organs were to get hit by a bullet, the injuries could be fatal. However, this leaves a very important organ woefully unprotected: the brain. Because of this, anyone wearing a bulletproof vest must practice awareness and vigilance. Bulletproof vests only protect a small section of the body. Carelessness can lead to disastrous results.  

Is It Legal to Own Body Armor?

There is some confusion about whether it is legal to own certain types of body armor. In the United States, where laws vary from state to state, it can be easy to get lost in the weeds. However, the laws on body armor are pretty simple. Adult non-felons can legally purchase and own bulletproof vests anywhere in the country.

There are some restrictions regarding online purchases of bulletproof vests, so it is wise to check your local laws on this matter. If you live in a state where online purchases are prohibited, purchasing and owning a bulletproof vest is still legal. You will simply have to make the purchase in a store.

Even kids are wearing bulletproof vests.

Who Needs a Bulletproof Vest?

Bulletproof vests are not just for law enforcement, armed forces, or action heroes. There are plenty of reasons a regular civilian could benefit from owning a bulletproof vest. Any person who anticipates a volatile situation, or simply wants to take charge of their own personal safety and peace of mind, would not be remiss to consider a vest’s potential.

  • Store owners
  • Abuse victims
  • Armored truck drivers
  • Homeowners 

Stores like liquor stores and 24-hour convenience stores are susceptible to criminal activity. A comfortable, lightweight, bulletproof vest would add a layer of protection for the clerk or cashier, should the need arise. Anyone afraid for their safety, including domestic abuse victims, should take all precautions possible when dealing with their abusers. An abuse victim is most likely to be killed by their abuser when attempting to flee. During this terrifying time, a bulletproof vest might act as a small comfort.

Armored truck drivers are targets for robberies, as they deal with large amounts of money. These workers could use added protection when making their pickups and dropoffs, as well as on the road. Many homeowners have a firearm for home protection. Adding a bulletproof vest to the arsenal would increase that level of protection. If an intruder were to break in, the homeowner could be both armed and physically protected.

Wrap Up

The thought of purchasing a bulletproof vest has likely not even crossed the minds of many civilians who could benefit greatly from them. While the conversation about the Second Amendment is common and well heard, we do not often hear about the other options for protection available to us.

Bulletproof vests come in all different shapes and sizes. They are designed for all different heights, weights, body types, and figures. This is so that each vest protects its wearer to its utmost capability. A vest’s weight is also a major part of that formula.

When deciding on any of these choices, a bulletproof vest’s weight is going to be one of its most important specifications. With the information above, you are now more knowledgeable on what types of vests are available, and how much they weigh.


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Kevin was born and raised in Texas and loves all things tactical. His hobbies include shooting, hunting, rock climbing, and hiking with his dog Jax.

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