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Female Body Armor

Woman-tailored body armor wasn’t readily available in the U.S. prior to 2019, when Female Body Armor Modernization Act of 2019 was introduced in the Congress. Indeed, the very idea that women need specialized armor sets is relatively new and was not considered seriously until recent years.

However, today with more and more women finding themselves a law enforcement officers and in the Army, manufacturers lean towards providing body armor specifically designed for female users.

So, what is female body armor? Can’t women just wear male or unisex armor? Is there a real need in specific armor fitted for women’s bodies? Let’s find out.

There is vital differences between male and female armor

Apparently, men and women have different bodies. Somehow this is evident to all clothes manufacturers, but remains overlooked by many manufacturers of personal protection systems.

Men are taller and have wide shoulders, so when a woman attempts to fit a male vest, she faces a number of issues:

  • A male vest does not fit right on shoulders. The straps fit too loose, and do not fix the armor over the body.
  • A male vest is too tight on the chest, hindering movement and even making it hard to breathe.
  • It does not provide support for woman’s breast, while splashing it and exposing armpits at the same time.
  • A male vest has too low and too loose waist fit when worn by a woman. The armor can shift up and down and feels uncomfortable.

Moreover, a male armor vest does not even offer enough flexibility to adjust fitting.

Armor Package Level IIIA by Battle Steel®️

Of course, someone could say these are just minor inconveniences. But are they? Can a woman really wear male armor? Turns out, things are much worse than you might think.

Can a woman wear male armor?

When you buy body armor, you want it to fit best – otherwise you compromise protection. You tape measure your metrics, and select a model that feels comfortable and fitting. The same is true for woman body armor. Not only does trying to wear male armor cause discomfort, this is also dangerous!

As we said above, male vests do not sit well on a woman’s body, and hence the armor cannot provide its maximum protection. Based on data gathered during Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the death rate for women was twice as high as for men! There was no female-tailored body armor at the moment.

Aside from direct impairment of armor’s protection, bad fit also impairs agility. A female wearer has to struggle with too tight fit on the chest and too loose fit on the waist, which basically makes the vest slip up and down all the time. And due to the shape of a unisex armor vest, she cannot adjust it to her body properly. As a result, a female officer becomes less protected and less efficient too.

Prime Plate Carrier by 5.11 Tactical

Indeed, loose shoulder straps interfere with woman’s ability to aim and shoot. Overall cumbersomeness of the vest slows down making the woman less efficient in attack and more vulnerable in defense. Large open areas in armpits and near neck make female armor wearers more susceptible to injuries from shrapnel and reduce the protection level from bullets.

Last but not least, constant wearing of male armor can be a cause of acute and chronic occupational injuries. Imagine you are forced to wear boots two sizes smaller than your actual size. Would it hurt? You bet!

Can a woman wear male body armor? If this is absolutely necessary and there is no other way to remain protected, then, yes, male armor is still much better than no armor. But in all other cases women should prefer female body armor. Luckily, there are a lot of offers on the market today.

How to choose body armor for women

How to measure

Measuring yourself to select a proper size of female armor is generally done the same way as men do. However, women must take some additional metrics.

Overall, the procedure is done while wearing a comfortable t-shirt and a bra, the pants and the belt you will be wearing on duty. Do not hold your breath while measuring, and make sure you feel comfortable and relaxed during the procedure.

Stay straight and relaxed, and ask someone to take the following measures:

  • Chest/Bust girth measurement – measure around the largest girth of the chest.
  • Abdomen measurement – measure around your torso three fingers below the suprasternal notch.
  • Chest height – measure from three fingers below the clavicle notch to three fingers above your duty belt.
  • Back height – measure from three fingers below the shirt collar down to three fingers above the belt.
  • Bust point to Bust point.
  • Bust point to side seam.

Female armor vests are designed to wear higher above the belly button due to wide women’s hips. So it is recommended to take one more measurement. Sit straight on a chair, and measure the chest height starting from three fingers below the clavicle notch down to the duty belt. Make sure the metric does not conflict with your hips or with the equipment attached to the belt.

Sometimes, the manufacturers can make the breast cup on the vest. In this case you should also provide your bra cup size.

Features of female body armor to look at

Aside from the shape adapted to women’s body, female armor features a range of other special options. Let’s name a few.

Among the most important ones is 6-points adjustability of the vest. Female body armor needs more adjustments to make the armor fit the body of a woman, so if an armor model provides any additional adjustments – make sure to benefit from them.

Plate Carrier With Removable Cummerbund for 11x14 Armor by Battle Steel®️

What are these six adjustments? Two shoulder straps, two more on the waist, one on the abdomen, and one on the bust.

Female vests often come with built-in support cups. Also, soft armor has a special inner shape to make room for women’s bust. Plus, if the armor is a plate carrier, you should select curved armor plates to fit into the carrier. The curved shape better fits the female body while providing the same protection.

What about protection? Is it the same as male armor?

The National Institute of Justice does not distinguish between threat levels for male and female armor. So if body armor is certified as, say, NIJ Level IIIA (or NIJ RF1 since 2023), this means that this armor is certified and capable of stopping the associated threats, no matter if this is a female model or a male one.

Currently, NIJ sets the following threat levels:

Soft armor

  • Level II – includes pistol threats like .357 Magnum or 9mm
  • Level IIIA – the armor protects against common rounds such as .44 Magnum or .45 ACP

Flexible Ballistic Armor Panel Level IIIA by Battle Steel®️

Hard armor

  • Level III – this threat level describes rifle non-AP ammunition as well as high-velocity handgun rounds
  • Level IV – the advanced protection level designed to stop armor-piercing rounds

Ballistic Armor Plate Level IV by Battle Steel®️

As for stab protection, female body armor can provide it as well. But make sure the manufacturer explicitly states stab and slash resistance of the armor. If your duty involves high risk of knife damage, you probably should look for models that are designed or have a natural protection from stab damage, like synthetic fiber soft armor.

Concealable female armor

Female police officers and federal agents can take part in covert operations requiring them to wear concealable soft armor under clothes. There are white-colored concealable armor vests for women on the market, but take into account that for a woman it is harder to hide a vest under clothes due to specifics of her body shape and the armor sizing. Select volume or oversized clothes that can hide a bulletproof vest.

Other bullet-resistant products for women

In addition to wearable armor vests, there are special armor plates designed for use by women. These are ballistic plates that can be inserted to a backpack, a woman bag, or even a clutch. Such female armor can provide additional protection not only for law enforcement officers, but for civilian women too. Such armor plates are also more lightweight than their vest counterparts and do not hinder movement. And the woman can even wear a dress.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can women wear male body armor?

Yes, but only if this is absolutely inevitable. Whenever you have a choice, please select specially designed female armor vests and armor plates. Female armor is designed for women; they feel much more comfortable and are much more protected than while wearing male armor.

Is female armor weaker in terms of protection?

No. If female armor is NIJ certified it provides the same level of protection as male armor. Moreover, a woman wearing male armor is in fact more susceptible to shrapnel damage.

How heavy is armor for women?

The weight depends on the model, material, manufacturer, and protection level. Overall, the weight of a soft female armor can be as low as 2.5 pounds.

Are there hard armors for women?

Yes, there are female armor NIJ Level III+ or Level IV.

How to properly measure for female armor?

Make sure to read the above section on measurement closely. If you have any doubts or have questions, please do not hesitate to contact BattleSteel consultants. We will be happy to help you with selecting the best fitting female armor set.

This article is the author's opinion and does not represent the official position of BattleSteel®️

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