People in many professions and vocations wear body armor while on duty. Others store gear in their homes for use in an emergency. While there are many misconceptions around the topic, your life can depend on knowing the signs of expired armor.
Body armor, and many other kinds of defense gear, are manufactured with an expiration date. Typically, between five to ten years depending on the manufacturer’s warranty.
So, does body armor go bad? Yes – it does. Below, we will explore several of the most important issues related to body armor care and expiration dates.
How Does Body Armor Expire?
Age alone does not cause the deterioration of body armor and defense gear. Proper care and maintenance have been shown to have a more profound impact on the life of an individual piece of gear.
The materials used to make up ballistic garments are found in other types of protective clothing and equipment (e.g., bicycle helmets), marine and aircraft components, industrial cables, and recreational equipment such as fishing rods and tennis rackets. They are very durable, but need maintenance.
Hard armor is commonly made up of ceramic, steel and/or composite materials. Plates can become damaged easily if dropped. Just a small chip or hairline crack can affect the plate’s integrity and its ability to stop incoming projectiles. This type of damage only becomes visible through the use of an X-ray machine.
Soft Armor can become subject to more wear and tear as it is impacted by many factors, including:
- UltraViolet Light
- Water Damage (sea, sweat)
- Chemical Damage (gas, oil)
- Adverse Heat and Cold
Through the use of ultrasonic bonding technology, or “sonobond”, armor manufacturers have developed solutions to keep raw materials from becoming affected by these elements. It is possible, however, that over time a utility belt or another accessory can dig into a vest causing a puncture in the sonobond. Which would allow sweat and other moisture to degrade the integrity of the armor’s ballistics.
How Long Does Body Armor Last?
Unfortunately, no definitive answer can be given across the board to this question. Every piece of armor will eventually have to be replaced as it is not a one-time purchase. Next Day Armor products are equipped with a clearly marked label that includes an expiration date for reference.
In addition, every model of armor deemed compliant with National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standards has an instruction label spelling out the procedures necessary to keep armor components clean.
Several studies have been performed by the NIJ in an effort to determine the ballistic value of body armor worn in the field for 10+ years. The results show that the ballistic quality remained intact for the majority of samples regardless of wear and tear.
However, the NIJ’s official recommendation is that armor should be “visually inspected at least once a year” and “replaced when necessary”.
Risks of Wearing Expired Body Armor
NIJ certified armor is put through extensive testing to ensure its ballistic quality as well as its environmental longevity. Vests, plates and helmets endure a variety of simulated testing including:
- Extreme Thermal Exposure (heat and cold)
- Weathered/ Aging
- Tumbling Cycles
- Mechanical Durability (drop testing)
- Moisture and Chemical (submerged)
These inspections take place prior to any ballistic testing on the armor samples, ensuring the safety of the user. Even with these measures taken, as we have established, armor can deteriorate under your care. Is vital to remember that, unlike normal clothing, your life may depend on the functionality of your gear.
Using a plate that has worn down or is past its expiration date may result in serious physical injuries or even worse. It is always best to adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines regarding replacing your equipment. You should never put your life in the hands of an expired piece of body armor.
Why Should I Replace My Armor?
There are many reasons departments and individuals replace armor every 5-10 years. Wear and tear aside, the body armor industry is always evolving.
Lighter and more comfortable armor solutions are being patented every year. New threats and ammunitions are being faced and neutralized. Just like your clothing, you may experience a fluctuation in weight or size causing you to need armor replacement. If personal safety and comfort on the job is your concern then assessing and/or replacing armor regularly is a must.
Although armor may not expire like the milk in your fridge, worn out armor is nothing to take lightly when your life is on the line. Read the label. Keep up with your armor’s maintenance, and replace your gear when needed.