Re-Post from MDT
When I first went into the military, the first two units I served with did not recommend or issue body armor (generally what was available was PASGT body armor, RBA (Ranger Body Armor) had not been developed for issue yet). The rule of thumb was that whatever amount of weight the body armor added it would be better to carry it in ammo or other combat survival gear. I have used IBA ( Interceptor Body Armor) body armor on two deployments, and believe that for urban defensive scenarios, vehicle mounted “bug out” operations, and static defense situations, it is a good and smart option to utilize. Rural operations such as defensive patrols of your retreat property or the surrounding area are another matter.
This post isn’t about being an advocate of body armor or not, but I will say this. As a Survivalist, you have no resupply chopper, and what you’re carrying on your back is what you’ve got. In a rural setting, the plan is to break contact at all costs, right? If you’re stuck, send a butt load of (semi accurate) rounds down range to extricate yourself. From my perspective as an M1A fan, that 14-15 pounds of plate carrier (with Level III ceramic or Patriot plate 2 steel) is an additional nine steel M1A mags, or twelve polymer M1A mags I could be carrying! Not to mention that if you are using something like Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) which is around 21-22 pounds with just two Ceramic or PP2 steel plates, there is even more of a utility load you could be carrying.
So steel or ceramic plates? Both have advantages, but we are talking from a Survivalist perspective. Advantages of ceramic plates? Spalling is negated, due to the ceramic plate’s ability to “absorb the bullet (not actually, but it doesn’t just bounce off like steel). Ceramic is a little lighter, but as you’ll see, not by much with more modern steels. Ceramic plates are also not magnetic, so it doesn’t throw your compass off. Disadvantages of ceramic plates? They are a lot thicker, as you’ll see in the pics. Ceramic plates are a lot less durable than steel plates. They are also more expensive than steel plates.
Advantages of steel plates? They are thinner than ceramic (in some cases, a lot thinner). They are a lot more durable than ceramic plates (from a Survivalist perspective, it’s a win in that regard). Steel plates are usually a good bit cheaper than ceramic plates. If it has the “LineX type” treatment, it doesn’t have the splatter/ricochet issues. Disadvantages of steel plates? Steel can cause magnetic issues with your compass. Depending on the type of steel plates you get, they are heavier than ceramic plates (cost savings adds to the weight usually).
As I said earlier, from a Survivalist’s perspective, steel is the way to go if you are wearing plates. They are more durable in every way, when compared to ceramic (there’s a reason ceramic plates need X-rayed every year). Ceramic is OK, but if there is a problem like cracks due to a bad drop, or it actually gets hit by small arms fire, you are not in the military, and can’t turn it in for replacement, right?
Are there other lighter options for level III plates? Sure there is the 4.5 lb ceramic/polyethylene that will stop 5.56 Green tip ammo (level III), but it is almost an inch thick, and regular ceramic is too thick already. Want super light, Go here. Basically a plastic 3 lb plate that is over an inch thick, and is 6X thicker than the PP2 steel plate is. Do you plan on having mags mounted on your chest? Have fun with that, especially if you are in a vehicle.
Although I own level IV body armor (IBA with Level III plates), unless I am in an extended urban situation, I don’t plan on using it much. Plate carriers are much more convenient (and breathable), and with my PP2 plates, works out very well in a vehicle. I know what it feels like to wear heavy body armor every day in stressful situations, and when given the option, I would rather take other choices.
If you decide to go with steel, remember that use of a compass needs to be practiced to figure out how far out from the body to hold it to get a good bearing ( I know testing your gear is such a BIG PITA DEAL, right?). Body Armor has come a long way, and continues to get better. As a Survivalist, you are not only looking at what is the “Best”. You are looking at economy. Equipping your group with level III plate carriers with coated steel PP2 plates (around 14 pounds) will run around $350 per person from Maingun, which is a pretty good deal. Give Doc a call, he’ll square you away.