Steel vs. Ceramic Armor: Pros and Cons of Both

Steel and ceramic armor are both popular types of body armor material, but there are pros and cons to each. Some of the major factors that affect their advantages and disadvantages are durability, weight, and price.

Steel armor is cheap and common, but it is vulnerable to high-velocity weapons and can be heavy to wear. Ceramic armor is strong and lightweight, but its brittle nature means it lacks long-term durability. Ceramic armor is also twice as expensive as steel armor.

If you’re trying to decide on a material for your next suit of body armor, you may be wondering which is the better of the two materials. Keep reading to learn more about both steel and ceramic body armor. You may also find information about the pros and cons of both.

The Pros and Cons of Steel and Ceramic Armor

When choosing whether steel or ceramic armor is the right choice for you, there are several factors you should consider. Below you’ll find a breakdown of the pros and cons of steel and ceramic body armor.

Steel ArmorCeramic Armos
PriceCheap (around $2000)Expensive (around $6000)
DurabilityDurable but shrapnel-proneBrittle but tough aganist high-caliber weapons
ProtectionProtects against slashing weapons, handguns, and shotgunsProtects against handguns, shotguns, high-caliber rifles, slashing weapons, and stabbing weapons
Weight8-10 pounds per 10’ x 12’ square4-8 pounds per 10’ x 12’ square
Lifespan20-year lifespan5-year lifespan
Pros and cons of steel and ceramic armor

There are many different factors you have to look at when you’re comparing steel and ceramic body armors. Some users may need to invest in body armor that is lightweight even if it’s more expensive, while others may be more interested in body armor with a long lifespan. 

Advantage of Steel Armor

Steel armor is among the most common types of body armor found, and there are a few benefits that it brings to those who chose this body armor type. Here are a few of the main advantages of using steel body armor: 

  • Durable: Steel is known as the most durable body armor available. On a technical level, steel has more tensile strength than ceramic. Steel plates used in body armor are usually through-hardened. Means that they are as strong in the middle as they are on their exterior. (Source: Caliber Armor)
  • Widely available: Steel body armor is the most commonly used body armor in the world. This makes it easy to obtain and gives buyers plenty of different options to choose from when it comes to brands or models.
  • Affordable: Steel body armor is much more affordable than ceramic body armor. This makes it the armor type of preference for home protection and survivalist preparations. This also makes it the option of choice when buying body armor plates in bulk quantities.
  • Good armor against handguns and shotguns: Steel armor provides good protection against smaller caliber weaponry such as handguns and scattered shot.
  • Can withstand repeated impact to the same area: One of the major benefits of steel armor that aren’t offered by ceramic armor is that steel armor can withstand repeated rounds to the same area of the armor without losing its bulletproof ability.
  • Slash-resistant: Steel body armor is slash-resistant, which makes it a good choice for defending against melee weapons.

There are plenty of reasons why a person might choose steel body armor as their armor of choice, and the advantages of wearing steel are many. Yet, steel armor is not perfect, and we will explore this in the following section.

Steel body armor plate
A regular pair of bulletproof vest used by US Army units, made from steel (Source).

Disadvantages of Steel Armor

While steel armor has many benefits, there are also some disadvantages of wearing steel in comparison to ceramic. Here are some of the downsides to steel body armor: 

  • Vulnerable to high-velocity threats such as rifle rounds: While steel armor works well against handguns, shotguns, and melee weapons such as knives, steel armor is not effective against high-powered weapons such as rifles. This limits the effectiveness of steel body armor against military-grade weapons.
  • Vulnerable to spalling (shrapnel): Steel has the tendency to spall or break apart when it suffers a bullet impact. This means that those who wear steel armor are more likely to suffer from shrapnel-related injuries. (Source: Police 1)
  • Heavyweight: Steel is much heavier in comparison to ceramic body armor. This can increase fatigue for those who have to wear steel body armor for long periods. It can also decrease the user’s flexibility, which in turn can decrease their combat effectiveness. (Source: Bulletproof Zone)
  • Uncomfortable: Because steel armor plates aren’t as flexible as ceramic or composite plates, this makes steel body armor much less comfortable to wear. In an emergency, comfort is less of an issue, but for those professionals who have to spend long hours in body armor, comfort is a big concern. 
  • Ricochet deflection: One of the risks of steel body armor is that steel tends to cause a ricochet. A bullet deflected off a user’s body armor can be redirected to strike another person or an unprotected part of the wearer. 

Steel armor is useful for home protection purposes and survivalism. However, the fact that steel armor is heavier than ceramic and more vulnerable to heavy weaponry means that it isn’t as effective on the battlefield as combat armor in military operations.

Advantages of Ceramic Armor

Ceramic body armor is a popular alternative to steel body armor, and it can handle the kinetic energy behind most bullets by counteracting it and absorbing it. (Source: Spartan Armor Systems) This strong bulletproof capability makes it an armor of choice in military operations. 

Here are some of the other benefits of ceramic armor: 

  • Lightweight design: Ceramic is a lightweight material that only weighs four to eight pounds for a ten-inch by twelve-inch plate. In contrast, a steel plate of body armor of the same size would weigh eight to ten pounds. This makes ceramic body armor a good choice for those who must wear their body armor for long hours.
  • Flexible design: As a material, ceramic is much more flexible than steel. This allows the wearer of ceramic body armor to move more freely. This, in turn, can increase their effectiveness in a combat situation for either defense or assault. This also makes ceramic armor a good choice for those who must move quietly in it.
  • Stable material structure: As a material, ceramic is more stable than either steel or Kevlar. It is resistant to heat, water, and ultraviolet exposure. Because of this, ceramic body armor is easy to store without having to worry about armor degradation. It can be stored in diverse environments without fear of damage or durability loss. 

Ceramic body armor is powerful, so it is increasingly preferred over other armor types in combat body armor. But, while ceramic armor seems like the overall better choice, it is not without its faults.

Close up image of a ceramic body armor
A Close up image of a ceramic body armor (Source).

Disadvantages of Ceramic Armor

Ceramic body armor is preferred in many circles because it has a high level of bulletproof capability and a lightweight design. But, there are some definitive drawbacks of this armor material too. Here are some of the disadvantages of ceramic armor compared to steel armor: 

  • Brittle design: Ceramic is a brittle material, which means once a ceramic body armor plate has suffered an impact, it’s no longer viable in most cases. While ceramic does a good job of absorbing impact, the damage it sustains in the process does not lend itself to repeated use.
  • Expensive: Ceramic armor is more than 200% more expensive than steel body armor. This can be cost-prohibitive for those users who are purchasing body armor for home protection or individual use. However, ceramic body armor is still cheaper than carbide alloy and polyethylene armors. (Source: Shot Stop)
  • Degrades relatively fast: While steel armor can last for twenty years before needing to be replaced to avoid degradation, ceramic body armor is only rated to last for five years. It is more expensive, and you have to replace it more often than steel to make sure it stays effective and viable for use. (Source: Northeast Shooters)
  • Can’t handle multiple impacts in one area: In a conflict scenario against a sniper or someone who is a sure shot, having ceramic body armor can be a disadvantage since multiple shots to the same area can penetrate past the armor. 

Even though there are some drawbacks to using ceramic armor versus using steel, there are still enough benefits to make it a popular choice. 

Factors That Affect Armor Effectiveness 

Along with the material type, there are other aspects of a body armor’s makeup that can affect the armor’s ability to protect the wearer. These are some of the factors of armor effectiveness that are impacted by material type. 

  • Agility: The lightweight flexibility of ceramic body armor gives users of ceramic body armor added agility in the field. Steel is both heavier and less flexible than ceramic, which means that steel armor wearers are less agile when moving through an active threat scenario. In a real firefight, having the agility to get into cover can be the difference between life and death.
  • Endurance: An armor’s weight is the main factor that influences how it affects the wearer’s endurance. Steel is the heavier of the two body armor types and harms endurance, making it better suited for short-term engagements. Ceramic armor is light and can be comfortably worn for hours or even days.
  • Mobility: Both flexibility and weight of a body armor affect the wearer’s mobility. The harder it is for the wearer to move around in the armor, the less energy they’ll have for fighting or defending themselves. Ceramic is a more mobile body armor type than steel. 

No matter how well a body armor can deflect bullets or blades, the ability of the wearer to comfortably move around in that armor without expending too much energy will have a large impact on how effective it is in a real fight. 

How to Choose Between Ceramic and Steel Body Armor

There are a few significant differences between ceramic and steel body armor, both when it comes to their advantages and disadvantages. But how do you choose between the two? The easiest way is to ask yourself some basic questions about what you need in a set of body armor. Here are a few: 

  • What are you buying body armor for? A person who is buying body armor for a daily private security detail will be looking for many different specifications in body armor than someone who is just wanting to keep some body armor on hand with the rest of their prepper supplies in case of civil unrest.
  • What is my budget for armor? Take into consideration both how many people you’ll have to outfit with body armor as well as how much the armor itself costs. 

Ceramic armor comes at a high price, compared to steel, and when you add to that the fact that you’ll need to replace ceramic often, you may find that it’s out of your price range. Also, for someone who is getting body armor as home defense gear rather than for a professional job, this makes the steel more tempting.

  • How strong are you? You shouldn’t just consider how much weight you’ll be able to carry in body armor, but also how long you’ll be expected to do it. If you’re expecting to have to wear your body armor for a long time when you do wear it, you’ll want to look into something lightweight like ceramic if you can afford it.
  • What type of weapons are you expecting to defend against? If you’re defending against home invaders, you’re more likely to come up against a handgun or a shotgun than a rifle, which makes steel armor the more practical choice. But if you’re participating in paramilitary operations, ceramic offers more protection against high-powered weaponry. 
  • Do you want armor that is covert or overt? Overt armor is an armor that is worn openly and is best suited for combat areas or for use during times of civil unrest. Covert armor, on the other hand, is an armor that is designed to be worn under clothing and can be used during civilian activities without arousing suspicion from people nearby. (Source: Body Armor News)
  • Are you going hunting in body armor? Ceramic is a better choice of body armor for hunters to protect against stray bullets since it can defend against rifles, while steel armor is better suited for home protection. Hunters are especially vulnerable to accidental shootings, so wearing body armor is a good way to help prevent them from being fatal.
  • Is the body armor you’re buying strong enough to deflect a bullet from your own gun at point-blank range? This is an important consideration when buying armor since it can potentially save your life if you are disarmed by an attacker and your gun is used against you. Always keep in mind that your weapon might be the closest one at hand for both you and your enemy.

Since steel and ceramic body armors are each geared towards different uses, the only way to figure out the best one is to figure out exactly what you’re planning to use it for and whether you can afford to buy the type you want. For simple home defense, steel armor plates are usually sufficient, but for more intensive protection, ceramic is worth the money.

Best Companies for Steel and Ceramic Armors

Whether you’re looking into steel or ceramic body armor, there are several reputable companies on the market that provide both. These are a few of the best companies on the market that sell steel and ceramic body armors. 

  • Armored Republic: Armored Republic offers a wide variety of both hard and soft body armors in steel, ceramic, polyethylene, and aramid plates. Armor prices range from $36 to $349, depending on the size and armor type. This vendor also sells many related items such as plate carriers, training products, and armored backpacks.
  • Spartan Armor Systems: Along with their ceramic armors, Spartan Armor Systems use military-grade ballistic steel known as Omega Steel and is a steel that is also used in armored cars and other environmental bulletproof barriers. This hardened steel is rated at ten percent stronger than most ballistic steel and is rated against higher-caliber threats than most steel body armors.
  • RTS Tactical: RTS has many kinds of military and law enforcement products available for self-protection, including steel and ceramic armors. The tactical apparel available through this vendor, along with the tools, means that it’s a one-stop-shop for anyone looking to gear up in body armor and related accessories. 

If you’ve chosen between steel and ceramic body armor, doing some comparison shopping between a few major vendors can help you to further narrow down your choices. 

Steel and Ceramic Body Armors Are Both Useful

While there are pros and cons associated with both steel and ceramic body armor, these two armor materials are both heavily relied on by amateurs and industry professionals alike when it comes to self-protection. In the case of both material types, the pros of wearing armor outweigh the cons.


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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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