Why Soft Armor Is Incapable of Stopping Rifle Rounds

How Soft Body Armor Works

To understand how these types of soft armor products work, let’s take a look at how a hockey goal net catches and stops a hockey puck. Attached to each hockey goal frame is a net made of white nylon cord that is draped in such a manner as to prevent the puck coming to rest on the outside of it, yet strung in a manner that will keep the puck in the net.  — ballistic resistant vests contain web-like nets of special fabrics that are designed to stop bullets in a similar fashion using resistance of the fibers interconnected.

Soft body armor is typically made of an incredibly strong synthetic fiber such as Kevlar or Twaron and other types of Aramid and/or composite materials. The flexible panels in vests are made up of many layers of tightly woven or laminated fiber/composite materials. The molecules arranged in each strand are extremely difficult to move apart, meaning it takes a lot of energy to do so. When a bullet hits a ballistic vest, it’s kinetic energy is transferred over a broad surface. With each strand, the energy it takes to move or break apart the strands is “stolen” from the bullet and absorbed by the synthetic fibers/composites. This causes the bullet’s kinetic energy to dissipate before it can penetrate the ballistic panel.

Like a hockey goal net absorbs the puck’s energy and spreads it out across all the fibers in the net, effectively slowing and then stopping the puck’s forward movement, the tightly-woven, flexible synthetic fibers/composites in a ballistic vest do the same thing. The fibers in the vest “catch” the bullet and bring it to a stop before it can penetrate the body and cause serious injury or even death.

HighCom Armor Soft Armor Panel Stopping Multi Handgun Rounds

How Rifle Rounds Penetrate

Current ballistic technology relies of taking the energy from the projectile and distributing it across as large an area as possible. Projectile velocity and composition will affect a vest’s ability to stop it. Since most rifle rounds are supersonic velocity. The reality is that bullet resistant vests don’t protect the wearer from every threat. In order to provide the wearer with greater protection against rifle round the wearer will need to (Up Armor) insert hard armor plates, over top of the soft body armor.  Hard armor inserts has been engineered to protect against high power/high velocity threats.


Still, bullet composition, sectional density, and velocity have more to do with armor penetration than muzzle energy. A soft armor vest may stop a 12-gauge slug, but it doesn’t mean it will stop a steel core 5.56 with the same energy. While these flexible vests successfully stop most handgun bullets and shotgun rounds at close range, nearly any projectile traveling faster than 2000 feet per second will penetrate through any soft armor vest.

Soft armor vests are designed to protect against low-velocity, low-energy bullets (e.g., 9 mm, or .38 caliber). The faster the bullet, the harder it is to stop.  Most level IIIA vests have a velocity threshold somewhere around 1600 to 1800 feet per second. If a bullet traveling faster than that hits the soft armor, it is more likely to penetrate. Add into the mix a penetrating steel core tip or exotic material built to maintain its original shape as a pointed projectile.

Bullets fired from a rifle will have higher velocity than similar bullets fired from a handgun.  A bullet traveling through a rifle barrel is characterized by increasing acceleration as the expanding gases push on it. Up to a point of diminishing pressure, the longer the barrel, the greater the acceleration of the bullet, hence the higher the velocity. Energy is greatest at the muzzle.  A hand gun has a shorter barrel will not produce enough energy to reach the higher velocities produces by rifles


Typical handgun lead and hollow point bullets are going to warp or mushroom – this greater surface area would be a benefit in stopping power, but, these hand gun threats becomes a disadvantage against body armor because the non woven and or woven fiber matrix. The the energy is dissipated over too large an impact area, whereas the long, thin rod of the same weight of a rifle round can penetrate primarily because its energy was focused on a much smaller area and can achieve relatively high velocities.

A rifle projectile is concentrated in a smaller area at higher velocities. Rifle rounds usually consist of a high velocity bullet with a hard nose shaped and steel cores that are not going to expand and are effective against a ballistic fiber vest.


Today’s soft armor vests will protect against most common low-caliber handguns, but high-powered weapons, especially rifles, can still penetrate ballistic resistance vests. In order for armor to stop bullets fired from a rifle, the armor must be made of extremely thick, inflexible plates made from ceramics with a ballistic matrix backing adhered, ultra high molecular weight polyethylene, or steel. Hard armor and body armor vest incorporate hard-plate inserts made of polyethylene or ceramic composite material in soft armor vests to defeat high-velocity rifle bullets. These plates are rated with the NIJ classifications of Level III and Level IV.

HighCom Armor is one of the most tested body armor companies out there, view our line of armor plates that can protect you from some of the highest threat levels that you may face.


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