Safety gear: A tactical ballistic vest and a red firefighter helmet perched on a fire truck bumper

The Evolution of Tactical Vests: From Bulky to Lightweight and Comfortable

From animal skins to wooden shields, humans have always sought ways to protect themselves from injury, especially in battle. As weaponry has advanced, so too has our defensive arsenal. In this piece, we're going to take a quick look at the evolution of tactical vests through the ages and explore what makes them so special today.

Tactical Vests: A History 

The evolution of tactical gear and mainly tactical vests has come a long way both in terms of comfort and protection. Modern tactical vests are designed to outperform previous versions, making them even more valuable not just to keep those in law enforcement safe but can also to help protect civilians as well. While the use of tactical vests can be dated back to ancient civilizations, it was not until the 1500s that Roman royalty started to experiment with the design of bulletproof vests.

The first iteration of the tactical vest used layers upon layers of metal sheets which were used to deflect bullets. While the exterior layer was built to absorb the impact of the bullet, the interior layer functioned to provide additional protection from the gunshot. That being said, this initial version of the metal body armor was not very effective against stopping bullets.

During the 1800s, body armor was designed to be softer. This Japanese design was made of silk and proved to be incredibly effective. The only downside was that the use of rare silk also made the body armor very costly to produce.

It was not until 1901, after the 25th President of the United States, William McKinley, was assassinated that the US began to explore soft body armor. While the silk-based soft body armor was effective, it was not reliable when it came to stopping bullets from the new generation of handguns.

During World War II, the US invented the flak jacket, which was designed using ballistic nylon with steel plates sewn in, which offered protection from fragments of ammunition. However, the flak jacket was ineffective against pistol and rifle bullets and was rather bulky, which made it difficult to maneuver on the battlefield. This was one of the reasons why the flak jacket, also known as the flak vest, was only worn by gunners of the US Army Air Corps as protection from airborne shrapnel.

That being said, the lack of options meant that the flak jacket was widely used by soldiers since it did offer a modicum of protection. In case you were wondering, the term "flak" was derived from the abbreviated German work "Fliegerabwehrkanone" meaning aircraft defense gun.

It was not until the end of World War II that the flak jacket started to go through some major upgrades and was issued for general combat use. The traditional flak jacket was improved in more ways than one; the bulky steel plates were replaced using multiple layers of nylon instead, which made it lighter and easier to move around in. This version of the flak jacket was so effective that according to an official army report, injuries to the abdomen, back, and chest were reduced by up to 70% during their use in the Korean War.

In the 1970s, DuPont invented the Kevlar ballistic fabric, which changed the game in ballistic protection. While the fabric was initially invented to replace the steel belting in tires, it eventually found its way into the tactical vest along with added layers and waterproofing, which made it even more durable.

According to the National Institute of Justice, it took several years to test these Kevlar vests, which found that it was effective in protecting against 22 long rifle bullets, including a 38 Special, the most powerful cartridge an average shooter can handle. The Kevlar armor was found to be 95% more effective against small firearms as compared to other armor protection vests. Scientists in 1976 came to the conclusion that Kevlar was indeed bullet resistant to a great extent and was recommended for police officers to wear it full-time.

With the technologies used in tactical vests improving in leaps and bounds, it is not uncommon to find one that offers level IIIA bulletproof protection and still weighs just around 5.5 lbs. According to data released by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, since 1987, the use of tactical vests has been responsible for saving the lives of up to 3,000 police officers.  

Why Tactical Vests? 

While the regular bulletproof vest does protect against gunshots from small arms, tactical vests provide you with additional advantages, such as the ability to insert additional armor plates for more protection. Apart from protecting against bullets, modern tactical vests can be upgraded to include stab-proof capabilities as well as spike-proof as well transforming the tactical vest from Shield Concept into a true multi-threat armor.

Hard Body Armor vs. Soft Body Armor 

People use body armor for many reasons. But, it pays to know the difference between the various types of body armor that are available in the market today. Two of the major types of body armor available today is soft body armor and hard body armor. Hard body armor is sold without plates and contains a soft armor shell with a plate carrier along with armor inserts.

The metal plates that are used in hard body armor are made from either ballistic steel or ceramic. In comparison, soft body armor is more flexible along with being stronger as compared to steel alternatives. Since soft body armor is lightweight and less bulky, it is mostly worn under clothing and is more discreet.

It should be noted that soft body armor does not offer the same level of protection as hard body armor or offer protection against rifle shots. The world is a dangerous place which is why more and more people are opting for tactical vests for protection against shootings and other scares. Keeping the amount of protection that tactical vests provide, it should be one of the most common gears a civilian can own.

Ending Note 

Historically, the use of a tactical vest was meant solely for combat purposes, with the main objective for its use being to protect the wearer against knives and bullets from small firearms. While the earliest form of tactical gear dates back to ancient civilizations, modern upgrades have made the tactical vest an essential part of protective gear for the police and law enforcement.

While tactical vests have come a long way from incorporating wood and other materials for protection, it has also grown beyond their military utility, attracting civilians as well who can also take advantage of the advanced protection and lightweight design. If you are interested in keeping yourself or your family protected when a tactical vest is just what you need. You can find out all there is to know on tactical vests, plate carriers, and other tactical gear, including some incredible options at ShieldConcept.