Poor Man’s Body Armor


I’m going to start this one off by stating if your weigh body armor options through a fitness prism, and many folks do, you’re wrong, and you need to stop reading, walk outside, and do something strenuous. If you’re an excuse maker, guess what- your odds of personal survival are slim anyway, much less working within a successful guerrilla Light Infantry paradigm. I hope that hurts some feelings, because when feelings get hurt, folks do something about it.

Musa himself was well armed, “I carried a Kalashnikov, the older 7.62mm model, not the smaller 5.45mm model. The larger round is much better than the 5.45mm because it is less likely to ricochet in urban and forest fighting. Several of our people were killed in Grozny from friendly fire- ricochets from the 5.45mm round.”

“Because I was a commander, I also carried a pistol and three or four magazines. I carried 12 magazines for my AK. Eight of these I carried in a four-pocket combat vest. I put two magazines in each pocket. That was my body armor. I carried an additional magazine on my back, directly covering my heart and another on my side protecting my kidney. I carried six hand grenades strapped across my stomach. So my arsenal was my flak vest. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.

-Billingsley, “Fangs of the Lone Wolf” , 80

His vest probably looked something like this.

JC Dodge wrote an excellent piece a few days ago which prompted some interesting comments I felt was important to share.

You may have armor. Your immediate team may as well. Folks you pick up along the way may not, and you may not either at some point. There’s other ways to go about it.

It’s not perfect, but it’s been “good enough” for a lot of the old timers. And don’t forget, Body Armor doesn’t make you bulletproof.


25 thoughts on “Poor Man’s Body Armor

  1. Interesting perspective on body armor. I tend to agree with the example provided on improvisation.

    I look at folks who carry a full ruck, a full harness (or vest), 8 to 12 mags, and then put on body armor, which totals around half their body weight, and ask, “So….how far and how fast do you think you can carry that?”

    Point being not to denigrate, but to get them to think about speed and stamina vs. ‘force protection’ mindset that seems to be slowing down 20 something combat troops when they need to run, let alone the 40 to 50ish ‘neighborhood defender’ who doesn’t do PT every day, might be carrying 20 extra pounds or so of his own weight, and hasn’t carried a load for more than a couple hours in a very, very long time.

    Personal example on the equation of weight carried v performance capability: I’m routinely carrying 80 pounds up to 10 miles at a shot with no breaks. I don’t do 10 miles all the time; I also vary the weight I carry from 30 pounds and up for conditioning. Sometimes I run as fast as my body will let me carrying the various packs for as long as I can which might be 50 meters or up to 500 meters. My conditioning level has told me that should I have to have on more than a ruck (harness, rifle, etc), I’m going to have to ensure that everything equals 80 pounds. Pack, rifle, harness, water, ammo – all of it. If I add plates, I have to cut down the pack,or harness proportionately so I don’t go beyond 80 pounds, because at 60, that’s my max for being able to move a particular distance and still perform when I’m done…..


    1. Well…as far as equipment is concerned, a lot of lip service is given in one direction or another.

      One factor that seems to be forgotten is what happens after you take a round to that plate. It’s now compromised. Hopefully you have more, or have a blacksmith on your payroll skilled enough to make a new one.

      There’s other options and different ways of doing business.

      Eventually when things slow down on my end I’ll post some stuff about my bush living loadout. It’s a bit different from what many might assume.

  2. Virgil Kane

    ” It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.” Good enough in his mind or will it actually stop a bullet? What about USGI aluminum mags? Will that now figure into the AK vs AR debate?

    1. The quote in reference came from a Chechen who lived to tell his tale, so I’d say it worked. He’s obviously not making money selling tacticool junk, so he has little reason to lie.

      The first chest rig pictured is a Chinese Type 56. It was referred to as “Poor Man’s Armor” by many with bush time in Vietnam and favored by the Rhodesians. Hence why many Recon and LRP teams can be seen pictured with them from that era. Even in the early days of the Iraqi insurgency, the rig worked to varying degrees of success. It’s also very concealable, light, and cheap enough to be disposable.

      USGI aluminum mags are soft, much softer that steel AK magazines. So on that end, I’d say nope.

      As far as a debate on what weapon to bring to the party…that’s entirely up to you. But it is a good idea to have a few magazines for other weapons, for perhaps other purposes than your own.

      Bottom line, as I stated fairly plainly, is that while not ideal, a cheap($10) chest rig with a few steel magazines is an option for those without means. Rugged and simple.

      1. mtnforge

        You bring up the idea of poor man’s armor, that is a great point in itself. I’m a metal guy all my life. This ahead isn’t exactly poor man’s, but it is home made. Played around shooting various material’s, and found the 3 commercially common Titanium alloys are pretty rugged in thicker sections like 1/4 inch, so I was like why not try various composite mixtures of materials? I had access to scrap materiel from drops off of shearing operations so it cost nothing to try. I found taking a piece of .060 commercially pure Ti, a layer of .060 Impact-Resistant Slippery UHMW Polyethylene, layer of cold rolled mild steel, and a backer of another layer of commercially pure Ti, will stop a PMC 223 55 grain round at 100 yards. It will deform like crazy because the first two layers are breeched by the full metal jacket bullet, the last two dimple quite a bit. Looks like it would hurt, probably break ribs and give you one dandy of a black and blue welt. Figured some kind of padding like half inch or 3/4 closed cell foam with the sticky back might do the trick. Thing was I also had a buddy who worked down to the Natick labs, they where trying various systems out. One day he brought home a armored flax vest, it was in woodland camo, it was very light weight. They had employed overlapping scales of Titanium, like roof shingles and fish scales, it made the vest very supple as you can imagine as the scales where about 3 inches ling and 2 inches wide. It was intended as protection from flechettes, fragment/shrapnel and pistol rounds. It was at least half the weight of a Vietnam flax vest. It sure gave me ideas of how a home made one could be fabricated. Nifty thing about the Titanium scales is they where conformal, and flexed, to the torso. I tried a couple of them on, no heavy bulk or stiff plates that normally impede or hinder.
        My thinking at the time in the late 80’s was armor was very very expensive, battle armor was difficult to procure or non existent for civilians. Why not try some home brew experiments. I think a guy could get really creative and make something with not much fuss that works without the bulk and especially the weight factor. I know from the limited experiments I tried it is doable.

      2. Now that is cool-

        I thought about doing that very thing, in shingles, behind the magazines in a cheap three pocket chinese vest just to see what it would do.

        I’m glad someone else is thinking along these lines.

  3. Astute points, both from your POV, as well as JCD’s.

    Reasonable metrics for armor implementation may be:

    1) Personal fitness
    2) Access to vehicles
    3) Distance of expected dismounted operation
    4) Environmental specifics: Static positions vs Patrol

    I’m a binary sumbitch, so, generally:

    Mounted: Go
    Dismounted: No-Go

    Looking forward to seeing your bush kit.

    I’m imagining a pair of nail clippers, powdered caffeine for snorting off a dead-razorback’s snout, a steel canteen, and a Fleshlight (LRRP probably gets lonely, nomsayin?)

    ; )

  4. .weston.pecos.

    I’ve got body armor. Bulletproof vest (handguns, level III-A) and ceramic/poly rifle plates (level “3+”, stand alone plates). I am not planning on running through the woods with 80 pounds of stuff. I live in a medium-sized city and I am middle aged and not in great shape and have ankle problems. I am not running anywhere except maybe down the block and around the corner. If there is “trouble” in the area, I want to be able to defend myself and the house. Not everyone wants to be or will be a guerrilla fighter in the woods. I know lots and lots of people who have guns, ammo, armor, do lots of training, etc and not a single one of them are planning to be in some sort of underground army in the woods carrying 80 pound packs.

  5. mtnforge

    Something about the armor pros and cons perplexes me. If I am fighting small unit infantry tactic, and using cover and concealment properly, most of the time in a firefight I am fighting in a way where I would rarely give the enemy an opportunity to put rounds in my torso where body armor protects me. You have to be lucky to get hit in your armor. That means somebody is straight in front of the way your facing, or sneaking up behind you. And that is bad, because you just screwed up big time. You just gave somebody a target rich environment.
    Regular Army, police, they are straight up standing targets most of the time, sitting ducks in a potential kinetic environment. So ya, body armor for sure there.

    It seems the real question for me, is not body armor or not, but a question of balances. The whole weight and mobility factor is to me far more important a mitigating prerogative. I operate as light and unfettered by extraneous equipment as possible, I want my advantage to be based on tactics and ability to move and function in as optimal mode as possible for as long as possible. The bush is a difficult environment to begin with. Lugging armor is counterintuitive. The more I learn and experience, the more I want to strip my kit down to the bare essentials. Less is more.

    1. This is true, and something argued by light fighters quite a bit actually.

      The way I break it down is this (and possibly it deserves its own post); if I’m fighting a similarly equipped force, say, al la ISIS vs. Peshmerga, then body armor has tremendously more value. It’s a stand up, toe to toe fight more in the towns than in the woods. A lot of potential fighting will indeed take place in towns, as population centers will need to be controlled to seat power in a region and wield economic influence.

      If it’s a underground fight, AKA insurgency, then armor has a much less value over other items. The ability to look and act as one of the population becomes a much bigger deal.

      I didn’t intend this to become a debate on the utility of body armor- simply that other options happen to exist for those less than fortunate to have disposable incomes.

      1. Maybe there isn’t a debate, as you say the two sides of the coin are very different. The regular Army has drifted so far from the concept of true Light Infantry Tactics as proponents such as yourself exemplify and advocate, is there really any debate they require body armor to reduce casualties, or as civilians who will be more road and static bound to defensive postures or limited urban and open country offensive actions?
        So I guess the debate is really about prerogatives and environments your working and fighting in and how you conduct operations. Armor is an optional thing in realistic terms, no matter if your a Chechen G or Joe the Welder. It is like the timeless caliber debate, and what it really boils down to when the lead is flying, is your skills and your best weapon, your brain?

        Fight right, fight light, stay left of bang, don’t get shot, shoot the other guy first, say your prayers, never say die.

      2. “So I guess the debate is really about prerogatives and environments your working and fighting in and how you conduct operations.”

        I couldn’t agree more.

      3. By all means, I surely appreciate your previous posts everything small infantry, there is never enough small infantry info by guys who really do it to absorb, I’m a true believer in it. John and Max have made some succinct comments and posts on the ways of it. It must be difficult to translate into written words, because those two are particularly articulate and well educated men, it seems they have difficulty translating experience into terms us civvies can grok, understandably so. So much of it is experience related. Noticed from various comments over time it is almost an alien concept to many. I know it was when I first began to try and understand it’s concepts. Personally, can’t get enough of it. Not because it is a perishable skill either, it is almost a philosophy in it’s nature. You begin to embody so many of it’s principles in different aspects of your way of life, in particular as you learn how important being self determining and living as a free man. They are things which go hand in hand. After attending Max’s courses it was an incredible revelation going through his combat class, the basics of it extend into everything combat, it truly is the basis of all kinds of combat, and extends even into more mundane aspects of life. It is empowering like nothing else I have experienced in life. Not just the idea you can survive combat, but be a small unit infantryman and fight, survive, and with courage and a cool mind keep your wits about you and maybe be victorious. Guy’s like you, to a guy like me, I can’t express my admiration and gratitude adequately, for the courage and convictions you all have, that you will go to the lengths and the effort you all do to share and transfer your knowledge and skills. It seems an unimpeachable caveat in its own right. Like for instance Dan Morgan’s “The Patrol”, or Max’s and Matt Bracken’s works. There are elements within Dan’s story that convey irrefutable laws of small infantry combat in a way you can feel the dirt, the wind, the subtle roll of a piece of geography, how to read subtle signs and extrapolate them into the context of small infantry imperatives. Taken all in a holistic manner, changes everything and defines so much, that before where the great unknowns, and maybe more valuable, the unknown unknowns. Understand what I’m trying to convey here to you?

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