How To Make A Bulletproof Vest More Comfortable: Here’s How

For people who wear bulletproof vests on a regular basis, you are probably aware of how uncomfortable it can be, hiking or running around with such a heavy burden on your back. When you are out and about or crouched on a stakeout, the last thing you want to worry about is how your bulletproof vest is digging into your side.

The best ways to make a bulletproof vest more comfortable are to:

  • Find the right fit
  • Look for lightweight material
  • Make good use of trauma pads
  • Use moisture-wicking technology to stay dry
  • Try using multi-curve body plates

If you want to know more about your options to have the most comfortable bulletproof vest, keep reading to learn more about the tips and tricks that professionals use to stay cool and stay safe under pressure. A bulletproof vest is only as secure as the person wearing it can use, and there is nothing more unsafe than being distracted by overheating. 

Find The Right Fit

The best way to find the right fit is to be professionally fitted for bespoke body armor, but unfortunately, most people do not have that kind of luxury. If a custom fitting is out of your reach, there are a few essential things to remember when you are ordering a bulletproof vest, and you want to make sure that it is the right fit for your body. The first thing is to try it on. If you can, avoid ordering a bulletproof vest from an online company when you cannot try it on first because you will not know exactly what size to order. There are recommendations about chest width, overall weight, and length of your torso that can guide you in the right direction, but nothing can replace actually trying the vest on before purchase.

It should not be so constricting that you do not have any room to move either. You want to be fully covered and protected, but not so that you have difficulty maneuvering. The inner panels of the vest also should not overlap. Ballistic panels that are too close together can limit your movement in a crucial moment and can do more damage than the protection it provides. If there are straps on the vest, you should make sure that they fit snugly without restricting your movement at all. Any kind of buckles should be appropriately adjusted so that the straps are holding everything together without rubbing or abrading your armor panels. Your vest will still go through normal wear and tear without the extra rubbing of your too-tight straps.

If there are straps on the vest, you should make sure that they fit snugly without restricting your movement at all (Source).

Gender-Specific Options

Some types of bulletproof vests are made with either men or women, specifically in mind. If you find that your chest’s shape does not work in gender-neutral vests or vests designed for men, you may want to look into female bulletproof vests. These vests are roomier in the breast area and allow you to cinch the waist tightly and independently of the chest area. A larger bust can make the underarm gap bigger than recommended and leave you exposed in places you were not expecting. Different manufacturers have taken a myriad of approaches to make female bulletproof vests that do not compromise the vest’s integrity with the expansion in the bust. After all, you do not want to sacrifice effectiveness for comfort. 

In 2014, the National Institute of Justice began its research into body armor made with women in mind. They began investigating various types of bust cups being incorporated into the vests, using different darting and stitching techniques to allow for a larger chest and other methods that are still being tested for maximum efficiency. It may seem a little silly to buy a gender-specific bulletproof vest, but when it comes to your safety, you should never let appearance hinder your ability to stay safe. The fit needs to be different in order to accommodate your body shape, and your vest will be a lot more comfortable when it is made for your specific body type. 

Vest Maintainance 

Another way to keep your bulletproof vest comfortable is to make sure that it is well-maintained. This is general advice for all equipment, especially things that need to be in tip-top shape to keep you safe. When you take the vest apart for cleaning the ballistic panels, you want to ensure that you put it back together correctly. The outer carrier part of the vest can be machine washed when set on a gentle or delicate cycle, but the panels inside will need to be cleaned by hand. It is not recommended to put the carrier in the dryer to avoid the vest shrinking at all and becoming too tight for you. You should also lay the straps out and let everything dry flat.

You want to avoid anything being overly stretched out or shrinking during the routine washing so that your perfect fit does not go awry just because you do not wish your bulletproof vest to smell like stale sweat. When it comes to keeping your vest in good working condition, you are maintaining your current level of comfort and staying safe. It is also essential to consider the materials that you use to clean your vest. If you start tossing the bulletproof vest in the laundry along with a normal Tide Pod, you might be disappointed with the results, not to mention the general damage to your washing machine if you leave the armor plates in the vest when you put it in.

Vest Storage

Many people tend to prefer to hang their bulletproof vest in the closet when they are not using it, but hanging the vest can actually stretch it out, making it both more uncomfortable and decreasing its effectiveness. You should either lay it out flat or hang it from the bottom straps on the carrier to stop the straps from stretching out. 

You should also be sure not to fold the vest and leave it stored while it is folded or to lay heavy objects on top of the vest. You might end up creating the ballistic package by doing so, which can again affect both how safe the vest keeps you as well as how comfortable the vest is to wear for extended periods. If you notice any scratches, tears, or other defects when taking the bulletproof vest out of storage, you should take it to a professional or return it to the manufacturer for repair. Attempting to repair it yourself might further damage the vest, and you might not be able to rely on it for your protection. 

Many people tend to prefer to hang their bulletproof vest (Source).

Take Your Body Into Account

If you are participating in a diet plan or are otherwise intending to lose weight, you will have to take that planned change of shape into account. If at all possible, wait to purchase the bulletproof vest until you are planning to have a constant weight. For small changes, within five or ten pounds, it should not affect your vest fittings too much, however. If you plan to lose a more considerable amount of weight or are trying to bulk up and plan on gaining weight or inches, you should plan on either waiting to purchase your bulletproof vest or plan on buying a second one if you absolutely cannot wait. A change in weight does not have to mean that you need a secondary vest if that weight gain or loss does not change your torso much.

You can also work with a professional if you are planning on getting a custom-fit vest if you let them know that you are trying to build muscle or lose weight. They can alter the fit of the vest in order to allow for those planned changes if you can project how much weight you want to gain or lose. It can be difficult to predict exact measurement changes, however. 

Consider The Weight

As anyone who has served in the military or in the police force can tell you, armor is heavy. Lugging around a ton of heavy armor, in addition to your necessary supplies and weapons, is a pain. Manufacturers are continually working on inventing lightweight materials to construct body armor that will make it more appealing for everyone to wear and stay safe. For some people, civilians mostly, they just have not gone through the same kind of rigorous physical training as officers and soldiers. It is hard to maneuver and walk around when you have thirty-plus pounds of weight just on your chest and back. That is why it is so essential to determine how much weight you can walk around in and look for that in your vest.

If you are in the process of training or know that you will be wearing a standardized bulletproof vest, you should always find out how much it weighs and start preparing yourself for that. However, for most civilians, you have a choice of the vest, so you will want to find one that uses cutting-edge technology to keep you protected without weighing you down unnecessarily. One way to reduce the weight without sacrificing the overall protection offered by your vest is to look for a vest that allows you to remove the front and rear rifle plates. While they provide a lot more protection, you might not always need that much protection. Being able to remove those panels when you want to is a great way to lighten the load and still wear your vest against other threats.

Trauma Pads

Excluding people who just want to suffer, putting trauma pads behind your armor panels is a quick and efficient solution to make your bulletproof vest immediately more comfortable. As their name implies, trauma pads provide extra cushioning without bulking you up so much that the vest will not strap on properly. For people with ceramic plates or other hard armor, the difference between those alone and with trauma pads is supposedly night and day. While it is not precisely like hugging a pillow, these pads absorb impact while only being about a quarter of an inch thick. If you are using a soft vest, the addition of trauma pads can also increase your overall safety.

Soft armor does not absorb as much impact as hard armor, and the addition of trauma pads helps to dissipate the force of the impact more than just your vest alone. When it comes to your own safety, it is always good to hear that ways of making your bulletproof vest more comfortable can also enhance your protection. The shockwave of the impact of a bullet might still cause significant internal injuries, even if the vest stops the shot from actually piercing your body. Using trauma pads makes the vest more comfortable to wear and can absorb more of that shockwave, which might spare your ribs and internal organs from the extra wear and tear from the impact. 

Putting trauma pads behind your armor panels is a quick and efficient solution to make your bulletproof vest immediately more comfortable (Source).

Soft vs. Hard Armor

If you are looking for a vest that still provides protection but is lightweight and more comfortable to move around in, you might be interested in IIIA level soft armor. You can either wear the soft armor behind the hard armor as additional protection that gives you another layer of comfort against the shockwaves of impact. However, if you want to just wear the soft armor by itself, it is still rated as able to stop multiple shots or stab attempts. It is a light and comfortable way to stay safe, and you can wear it over your clothes or uniform for maximum protection. Weighing only a little over a pound and less than half an inch thick, this vest keeps you safe without impeding your movements. 

Soft armor is also easier to conceal underneath a uniform if you need to go incognito with your protection. Where hard armor actually is made to deflect bullets and shrapnel, soft armor catches the tiny pieces of metal in the fine stitching and absorbs the impact so that your bones and organs do not have to. Soft armor is usually made of materials like Kevlar, a laminate like Dyneema, or a combination of both types of fabric. The interwoven stitches keep you safe without needing to weigh you down with ceramic plates and other heavy materials commonly used in hard armor. Soft armor is more comfortable for everyday use. 

Stay Dry And Cool

The cooling mesh liner is the best way to beat the heat, and trust us; you will get hot in that armor. Whether you are running around, practicing your fighting moves, or engaging in self-defense, there is no way to stay completely relaxed when you are exercising and wearing a heavy vest to help keep you safe. The Maxx-DRI Vest 3.0 has plenty of features that can let you stay cool, no matter what you are doing in their armor. The dual-chamber allows for more ventilation, and it covers everywhere underneath your actual vest. This vest is meant to be worn underneath the bulletproof vest, and the velcro keeps it anchored to your vest, so you do not have to worry about it slipping.

It is essential to look for products that feature moisture-wicking fabric or mesh, as well as anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties so that you do not have to worry about anything funky growing on your vest. However, we hope that you will wash it on a regular basis after wear. Otherwise, all of the mesh in the world cannot evaporate the stink. However, this vest, and others like it, are a way to help you stay cool under pressure and to fight against skin irritations or rashes that might form if you are wearing sweaty armor chafing against your bare skin. You should always wear something underneath your bulletproof vest, whether it be a mesh vest or a simple shirt. 

Multi Curve Body Plates

When selecting a bulletproof vest, it is crucial to consider the circumstances under which you will be wearing it. If you know that you will be spending a lot of time crouching or sitting down, you will want to consider multi-curve body plates or vests that have a variety of different cuts in order to offer you the most comfort possible. Single curve and flat plates are effective at keeping you safe, but unless you plan to stand perfectly upright for the entire time, they are likely to cut into your side when you lean over, reach for anything, crouch, or sit down. Any position that is not standing up completely straight can push the plates uncomfortably into your side.

Multi curve body armor plates better fit your body’s contours so that you can feel at ease while you move around naturally. When it comes to your comfort, if you know that you will be wearing your body armor for a while, you will want something that can fit your body comfortably so that you will not be tempted to take it off during an extended stakeout. It is important to remember that multi-curve plates will be a bit pricier than the single curve and flat plate alternatives, so if you are looking to buy a bulletproof vest on a budget, then you might not be able to afford these luxury plates. Nevertheless, if your highest priority is comfort, you can find these plates for all different cuts and body shapes. 

Multi curve body armor plates better fit your body’s contours so that you can feel at ease while you move around naturally. (Source).

Know How To Wear It

One major reason that your bulletproof vest could be so uncomfortable might be a lot simpler than you would expect. Are you wearing it correctly? Before you balk, know that it is not as easy as slipping on an ordinary vest. There is a right way and a wrong way to wear a bulletproof vest, and the wrong way is less comfortable and less safe. When it comes to the plate carrier, you want it to be high and tight over your chest so that it can completely cover your heart and lungs. Depending on your vest size, putting it higher up on the chest may leave your stomach exposed, but in many cases, stomach wounds are not as immediately life-threatening as wounds to the chest cavity. 

Ideally, your bulletproof vest should begin one inch underneath your clavicle. When it is up that high, you do not have to worry that an errant bullet or piece of shrapnel might accidentally find its way into your lungs or heart. Also, you should check the straps to ensure that the vest adequately covers underneath your arms. The underarm is often exposed when a bulletproof vest is not properly fitted. If it is too loose, it can gape around your sides and leave you exposed. However, if the vest is too tight, it can also gape around the sides as it tried to accommodate the width of your chest and pulls one way or another with your natural movements. 

Consider Your Threat Level

Bulletproof vests and other body armor types are evaluated by the National Institute of Justice and given a rating that determines what kinds of threats the vest is equipped to handle. There are three primary levels and then an additional two levels, which are only available for hard armor plates. According to the NIJ, those levels include:

  • Level II-A – approximately 4mm thick, Level IIA is designed to stop a .9mm Full Metal Jacket round at a speed of ~1165 feet per second (ft/s) and a .40 S&W FMJ at 1065 ft/s.
  • Level II – approximately 5mm thick, Level II is designed to protect from .9mm Full Metal Jacket round at a speed of ~1245 ft/s and a .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point at ~1,430 ft/s. 
  • Level III-A – approximately 8-10mm thick, Level IIIA is designed to stop .357 Sig FMJ FN (Flat Nose) bullets traveling at a velocity of ~1470 ft/s and .44 Magnum SJHP (Semi Jacketed Hollow Point) rounds at a velocity of 1430 ft/s.
  • [This is where you transition to hard armor] Level III (Rifles) – approximately half an inch to three-quarters of an inch thick, Level III rifle plates are designed to stop six hits of 7.62x51mm NATO FMJ (U.S. Military designation M80) at a velocity of ~2780 ft/s.
  • Level IV (Armor Piercing Rifle) – the same thickness as Level III but weighs about twice as much. These rifle plates are designed to stop 7.62MM armor-piercing (AP) bullets (also known as .30-06 or 30 or 6) traveling at a velocity of 2880 ft/s. 

The reason that this is important is twofold: you want to know what kinds of weapons can be stopped with your bulletproof vest, but you should also be willing to consider your current threat level and why you are buying a bulletproof vest in the first place. Depending on what you may be facing, you might not need hard armor plates in your vest.  Once you have evaluated your need for a bulletproof vest, you can decide what level is right for you. If you opt for a lower level, you will have more comfortable options at your disposal while still staying safe. However, if you opt for one of the higher levels that incorporates hard armor plates, putting trauma pads behind the vest may help make it more comfortable. 

Know That It Was Not Meant To Be Comfortable

Being aware of the purpose behind your bulletproof vest may not actually make it any more comfortable to wear, but it can make it a little easier psychologically. Knowing that the vest and plates are there to keep you safe and to stop you from being shot might go a long way towards making it more bearable when you have to spend long nights in it. The core focus of the manufacturer is to make a vest that keeps you safe. Obviously, comfort is also essential, and when the vest is more comfortable, people will be more willing to wear it for more extended periods, which helps to keep you safe. If you have to take the vest off every time you want to sit down or crouch, it will not offer much protection at your side.

Manufacturers are not saying that you need to grit your teeth and bear the discomfort. However, mentally it might make you more capable of enduring long hours sweating in your bulletproof vest to know that it is working hard at keeping you safe, even if the material is heavy, impeding your movement somewhat, and not very breathable. The bulletproof vest is made of panels or tightly woven fabric that both stops projectiles from piercing your flesh and dissipates the impact of the shockwave over the entire area so that your bones and internal organs are spared. Without both parts, you might not have a bullet in you, but the impact can break bones and rupture organs. 

In Summary

Remember, wanting your bulletproof vest to be comfortable does not mean that you are not strong enough to deal with whatever threats might be waiting for you—making sure that your vest is comfortable means that you will be more willing to wear it often. One day, that vest may very well save your life.


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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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