There are a lot of “Protestor’s” or “Demonstrator’s” Guides to Body Armor, many of them have bits and pieces of useful information but much of what they cover is either outright incorrect or dangerous information. “Demonstrations” (read: riots) have been become ever more violent over the past 1 or 2 years, the Berkeley riots of old could be considered mostly peaceful protests compared to the events in Kenosha, Portland, DC, and Atlanta. Where police riot gear, bicycle helmets, and 3m half masks were enough before, these new environments demand actual body armor, helmets, ear protection, and full seal gas masks. This guide should serve as a baseline to equip yourself for any ‘non-permissive’ environment you find yourself in whether on purpose or on accident. What this guide is not however is a handholding walkthrough on terminology and basic information that can be acquired from a simple google search. This information is based on experience through actual use and testing.
Most generic information on sizing, composition, curvature, cuts, etc., can be found in any number of guides. Wearing body armor is not just throwing some armor on and going about how you would normally move, even a 6 lb soft vest is going to change the way you move, interact, and expend energy. The main things you need to know are:
1. Expected operational environment
2. Expected combatant capability
3. Expected resupply timeline
Expected operational environment is a simple question to answer. Are you going to a small protest outside the CNN building during lunch time to hold up some signs or are you going to the persistent riots that have been occurring in Portland every night for over a year? For the former, no body armor is required, just be comfortable during your 1-2 hour sign waving and go home, for the latter, an overt plate carrier with either level IV ceramic plates or level III special threat ceramic + UHMWPE plates that has a mounted IFAK (individual first aid kit) along with any other sustainment you may need is going to be proper decision.
Expected combatant capability is also a simple question. Are the counter protests just pissed PTA members or are they NFA coalition members with intermediate caliber rifles. Again, the same as above applies.
And expected resupply timeline is perhaps the most important. Water and food are the most overlooked parts of any non-permissive engagement. You can be armed to the teeth with all the body armor in the world, but when you overheat and pass out, none of that will save you. Always have a water source on your person, and either know the nearest water source or have a plan to regroup and acquire a resupply at some point in the future. The same goes for food, n an active and violent environment you are going to be burning a lot of calories, with an extra 10-30 lbs of gear strapped to your body you are going to be burning even more than that.
You really have 2 options, soft armor and hard armor. And for these options, do not cheap out. You are buying something that will potentially save your life, would you want the cheapest airbags in your daily driver? Buy good quality, trusted brands, who gives a fuck who they support, these aren’t coffee companies.
For soft armor, you really only have 2 options at this point, the Crye LVS and the Safariland Hardwire. They cost $700+ depending on where you get them. They are the lightest, mosst concealable, and most comfortable soft armor solutions you can buy. If you are wearing soft armor, you are wearing it for 1 of 2 reasons.
To have concealed body armor
To supplement hard armor plates with full coverage for sub-rifle calibers
That’s it, soft armor is only worth buying and using for these two things. If you plan to buy soft armor and then have it exposed to the world while wearing it, just get hard plates instead. You are going to sweat A LOT in soft armor, hard armor as well, but full wrap soft armor provides no where for your core to vent heat, again, carry water.
For hard armor, you want either level IV ceramic plates or level III special threat ceramic + UHMWPE plates. Level IV plates are currently the highest official armor rating available for retail sale, they will stop up to 2 shots of .30-06 AP (armor piercing), however they are fairly dated and heavy compared newer special threat plates. While these new special threat plates may not be rated up to 2 shots of .30-06 AP, they are rated to every other standard level IV plates are rated to if you find the right plates from a good manufacturer. For hard armor plates I recommend Highcom 4s17, Highcom 3s9m, Hesco L210, Hesco 3810, Hesco 4601, and Hesco 4800. There are other brands and plates that will also work, but these can be found in several places and fit a wide range of price points. Always make sure the brand you are buying from is reputable and is certified, not just tested, to the NIJ rating they claim. and DO NOT buy steel armor, I will not explain why, look it up.
When wearing hard armor to a protest just know you are a target of law enforcement and enemy combatants alike, you will stick out. You will be more protected, but you will stick out.
Below is an image of a good set of reliable plate carriers, they all have upsides and downsides, it’s up to you to research them. I will note that plate carriers that contain a harness, like the Crye AVS, are designed to be more comfortable for longer periods of time under heavy load by moving the weight off of your shoulders, onto your hips, similar to a hiking pack. Do not go buy some no name carrier, sold by some political grifter so you look cool at the protest, remember, buy quality gear because you anticipate that it may save your life.
There are also a few low vis hard armor carriers, a few are mentioned below (LV119, Slickster, AC1) as well as a few others such as the Crye LV-MBAV, the Velsyst Low Vis Carrier as well as the Chase tactical and Blackhawk low-vis carriers. While these carriers are technically concealable under a heavy jacket, do not expect your armor to be completely undetectable. Also be aware of heat components as stressed earlier, by covering your hard armor with a garment thick enough to conceal it, you are making it much harder to vent heat from your body.
If you are going to a non-permissive environment, chances are you will have to perform first aid, whether it is bandaging a boo-boo or applies quickclot to a gunshot wound, you should have the TRAINING necessary to perform the tasks. Don’t go buy an IFAK, stuff the contents into your pocket and then when the time comes jam a decomp needle into the wrong spot and kill someone. www.stopthebleed.org is one of the best places right now to get the training you need. The following are a list of good IFAKs that have been designed by people who use them for a living and know how to structure them to get to what you need in high stress situations, do not assume you know better than them. North American Rescue sells a handy premade set of medical tools called the SIRK, it contains everything you need for GSWs and other heavy trauma. For minor scrapes, bumps, boo-boos, and burns just build your own small first aid kit with common sense.
A topic of hot debate, but wear a helmet if you’re going to one of these, even if its just a bicycle helmet or a hardhat. Brain damage is not a joke and you are far more likely to be exposed to blunt force trauma to the head than a GSW. Ballistic helmets are fine, fragmentation may be something to think about, but so far firework mortars and glass jars of human shit don’t really require level 3a ballistic helmets. If you do want one however, prioritize weight savings, these will cost you more than anything else on the list but whiplash is not something you want to get with a heavy helmet. Ops-core, Gentex and Team Wendy are the biggest names in town, don’t buy cheap, chinese imported steel helmets. Always look at the weight.
The best things to have on you at all times are a source of hydration, a snack, and a handgun. No matter where you are, you will have some security to get to somewhere safer. The world gets more dangerous every day, people close to you will start to experience crime outside of these violent bursts in major cities. Be prepared, be cautious, and as always, remember the easiest way to keep safe is to not be there in the first place.