With an increasing number of women serving as law enforcement officers and soldiers, we’ve seen a rise in demand for female body armor for women in recent years.
With that rise has also come an increase in questions regarding women and body armor – is regular ballistic armor not a good fit for women?
If it’s not, what considerations need to be made? And how does this impact comfort, quality, and price?
Let’s take a more in-depth look at female body armor and the various questions it raises.
A Brief History Of Female Body Armor
You certainly can. It’s not something that’s been around for a long time, however; up until recently, women were forced to make do with body armor that had been designed with men in mind.
Many dismissed concerns over this, believing that it made little difference and that it adequately fit the female form. Some female soldiers, however, felt differently.
US Army Major Melissa Elledge, who had been twice deployed in combat zones, noted that the supposedly unisex armor was ill-fitting on a woman’s body, leaving potentially life-threatening gaps around the armpit area and restricting circulation to the legs when sitting down. It was also too heavy and interfered with a female soldier’s ability to shoulder her rifle.
With Maj. Elledge’s input, a new style of modular body armor was developed for the US Army in 2021.
Though not designed explicitly for women, the armor’s modular design meant that different portions could be switched out or altered as needed, making for a better-fitting and more lightweight form of body armor for both men and women.
In the wake of the US Army’s new ballistic armor design, private companies began to develop armor that was made specifically with women in mind.
As of 2023, then, women have several options when it comes to body armor tailored specifically for them.
What Makes For Good Female Body Armor?
There are many types of body armor available that are marketed as ‘unisex’. This does not, as many a woman has found out, make them automatically suitable for women.
But there are a few things that can ensure one type of body armor is more suitable than another. Let’s take a look at them.
Simply put: a woman needs to worry about her breasts when wearing chest armor. Though this is not necessarily a life-threatening consideration, it is important when it comes to comfort.
After all, a woman doesn’t need to be worrying about her breasts being squashed when she’s in a firefight.
The best body armor for women, then, will accommodate this with a roomier chest area. Some may even have cups built in.
In tailoring, a technique called ‘darting’ is often used to give shape to a garment and make sure that it’s comfortable for women to wear.
This technique can be used with body armor, ensuring that it’s a good fit on a female body when worn during active roles.
Heavier armor isn’t great for women, as it’s cumbersome to wear and leads to circulation and mobility issues. Lighter armor is, therefore, better.
Examples of Female Body Armor
Now that we have in mind a few things that make for better armor for women let’s take a look at the best types that are currently on the market.
Citizen Armor V-Shield Ultra Conceal Female Bulletproof Vest
Designed to be a concealable vest for women, the Citizen Armor V-Shield combines discretion with comfort.
It takes its name from its ‘V’ shape, which fits the female form while protecting the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
The V-Shield is .25” thick, which affords plenty of protection against most small-arms fire but isn’t so bulky that it impairs movement or comfort. It’s also made of a breathable fabric, which makes it wearable all day round.
Spartan Armor Systems Concealable IIIA Certified Wraparound Bulletproof Vest
Though this armor is specifically stated to be unisex, the fact is that many bulletproof vests are marketed as such – but fail to deliver on the ‘unisex’ aspect.
This armor is lightweight and easily concealed – both aspects that enhance its suitability for female wearers.
The lighter load makes it more bearable to wear for long periods of time, and it’s well-suited for the female torso, meaning it’s not uncomfortable.
For improved comfort, the IIIA features four adjustable strap points, making it extremely easy for individual users to shift the weight of the vest in order to make it more comfortable.
This makes it one of the best (and, in truth, one of the few genuine) unisex bulletproof vests available.
Female Coolmax Covert Vest
This NIJ-tested vest sports ballistic protection level II and knife protection level I, ensuring great all-around protection against both small-arms fire and the most commonly-available blades. It’s also been explicitly designed with women in mind, ensuring that it fits comfortably on the female torso.
Ventilated materials and adjustable straps ensure that you’re able to further alter the way the vest sits against your body, ensuring that you’ll be comfortable no matter the situation – and that you’ll be able to wear the vest all day long, if necessary.
Bad Female Body Armor is an Equal Threat to Comfort as it is to Life
As we’ve seen, traditional body armor is seldom suitable for women and can not only pose several threats to your comfort on a daily basis; it can even pose a threat to your life.
With ill-fitted armor, it’s much harder to ensure your vitals are protected as well as they should be, and it can ultimately elevate a hazardous encounter into a fatal one.
Thankfully, the personal protection market is slowly coming around to the idea that women need better protection than that which has been traditionally offered.
We’re now seeing, as a result, the gradual introduction of body armor designed with the female form in mind.
Though the pickings are slim (it was difficult to find any more examples than those offered above), things are slowly improving.
This means that we’ll soon see a future where female servicewomen and LEOs will no longer be encumbered by inappropriate armor and who will be able to perform to their maximum capability.