Armor (also spelled Armour) is a protective layer of material used to protect something from damage. Some types of armor includes armor for buildings, armor for vehicles and armor for personnel (generally referred to as body armor). Putting armor on people or putting them in metal boxes to keep them safe is important because we can be killed by sharp rocks or branches or basically anything else at all except grass and leaves. In fact not even even those. This is because because our skin is not armor and it sucks. This article will focus mostly on body armor.
Types of Body Armor
Numerous forms of body armor have been developed over the millennia by civilizations with various levels of technology and resources on hand.
- Leather armor - not just any leather would do; soft leather offers no protection against blades. You need hard, boiled leather to be effective. It's a matter of heated debates whether it actually even existed historically, as it's highly impractical and too expensive compared to padded cloth while offering largely the same or even lower level of protection. The general consensus is that it surely didn't have any noticeable presence in Europe, and while in the East (both middle and far) it did exist, it wasn't that much popular and widespread either. In the Americas, where metalworking was noticeably diminished or not present, leather armor was relatively common. Another name for this is "cuir bouilli" or "cuirbouille".
- Padded cloth armor - Cloth bundled in sufficient thickness was one of the first forms of armor, since bronze armors tended to be too expensive or too heavy to be widely used. Cloth continued to be used mostly as padding underneath metal armor (called a Gambeson), to help absorb blows and all through the middle ages continued to be the go to protection for men-at-arms in lieu of expensive metal plate or mail. Despite what you might think it (obviously) provided one of the best protection against percussive strikes, second only to full plate (which have padded cloth integrated into it), surprisingly high level of protection against slashes and swings, unless the blade is razor sharp (most historical blades weren't that sharp) and while it barely ever provides full protection against piercing weapon heavier than a shortbow arrow, it does lower the depth of penetration, often turning instantly lethal wounds to survivable if debilitating, or even surface damage, with an added bonus of often catching enemy weapon (although given most times blades get stuck in padded cloth they pierce deep enough to kill, it's more to the benefit of your companions than yours).
- Paper armor - this one sounds crazy, but apparently it was actually a thing in ancient China. The Mythbusters tested it out and it might have been actually effective... at least, so long as it doesn't rain.
- Scale armor -
an early form of mail*BLAM*HERESY!an early form of armour, sporting overlapping metal (cuirbouille and lacquered leather were also used) plates arranged in a similar fashion to roofing tiles, which were riveted/sewn onto a backing cloth or leather and oftentimes loosely laced together in rows. One of the earliest examples of armour, used predominantly in Eastern cultures.
- Bamboo armor - basically wooden armor, but with the advantage in that you can shape bamboo more easily. Bamboo is also notable in the sense that it has a high strength weight ratio.
- Mirror armor - an early form of plate, this was a small round bronze plate attached to the torso. Besides physical protection, it was also believed to ward off the supernatural.
- Mail - the iconic armor made of interlocking rings. One of the most common and effective type of armor from the ancient world to the middle ages. Flexible and easy (though time-consuming) to make, it was widely used by many cultures. It was also significantly easier to repair, as a break could easily be mended by replacing a few rings, whereas a hole in plate armor might require a complete replacement. While fairly effective against foot soldiers, the crossbow and the lance charge required knights to wear extra armor over mail for additional protection. In the modern era, they are used for non-combative roles, such as shark suits and dealing with high-power electrical wiring (because electrons "slide" along the mesh rather than penetrate", admittedly the mesh must be very tightly made). Some nations still use mail armor to supplement riot gear.
- Plated Mail - this is not what some sourcebooks refer to as platemail, which is basically just plate armor worn over a mail hauberk. Plated mail integrates metal plates into the rest of the mail pattern, ranging from large rectangular plates on areas like the chest, to small plates arranged like fish scales on areas that require more dexterity, such as near the shoulders and back. This was popular with medieval Persians and Indians.
- Laminar armor - armor made from bands of metal. The most famous example is the ancient Roman Lorica Segmentata.
- Lamellar armor - armor made from overlapping pieces of leather or metal, each piece being laced side-by-side to create semi-rigid rows, which then are laced together to form a complete suit of armour. This form differs from other "overlapping plates" types of armour in that it is self-contained and does not rely on backing material to keep the all the pieces together. Again it is one of the oldest types of armour and was still in use as recently as 1930s.
- Samurai armor - depending on the period, it could be lamellar, laminar, or even western plate (but not wood. That has no basis in history). The helmet (kabuto) had a distinct shape that often featured ornaments and even a removable facemask (Darth Vader's helmet is said to be a hybrid of a kabuto and a German stahlhelm).
- Ashigaru armor - Worn by conscripts, it featured the same kinds of breastplates, a lesser helmet and some minor stuff but was overall less complete than samurai armor.
- Brigandine - a.k.a "corazzina".
Similar to lamellar, except the pieces of metal are riveted into a leather jacket rather than laced together.Very close, but not quite. A "brig" is built from overlapping plates of various sizes and shapes, riveted onto a leather or cloth "jacket", but it differs from other "overlapping plates" armours in that A) the plates are *usually* bigger and shaped according to where they go on the armour (scale and lamellar mostly use same-sized, same-shape plates), B) they are riveted inside the leather/cloth and not on the outside and C) the plates are not linked together in any fashion and fully rely on backing to keep them where they're supposed to be. Brigandine is a "poor man's plate" and was quite popular in medieval Europe. Often confused with "studded leather armour".
- Plate armor - armor made from single, solid pieces of metal. Bronze plate armor had been used in ancient times, but was limited to helmets and sometimes breastplates due to the weight of the armor. Full suits of plate armor were not possible until improvements in smithing allowed for large bars of steel to be hammered out into single pieces. A popular misconception about full plate is that it's very hard to move in, to a point it's exclusive to cavalry. While this is true for a tourney plate specifically designed for maximum protection in jousting tournaments, an actual battle plate was designed with maximum mobility in mind, and it was not uncommon for a knight (or later an officer) to do a somersault or dance with his lady while testing his new plate armor. Technically speaking, modern body armor for many nations use are in sense partially plate armor, with a carrier holding a solid plate.
- Jack Chains - if you were too poor to afford proper plate armor, you could at least add some metal reinforcements to your gambeson called Jack Chains. These attached to the arms so that one could, at bare minimum, block slashes to their sides without getting cut.
- Makeshift Armor - Not really a set of armor in the traditional sense, generally makeshift armor is what ever one could scrounge up to make a protective wear. In the modern day, this is a protestor (think 2014 Ukraine Revolution) go to for long term engagement. Generally, motorcycle and safety helmets alongside heavy thick jackets would be the go to, as well as whatever one can strap to themselves.
- Flak Jackets - The first modern body armor to be developed, Flak Jackets were developed in WWII out of high-strength nylon to protect aircrews from fragments fired from flak cannons. Before the invention of Kevlar and ballistic vests, this was the only kind of body armor available to modern soldiers expected to walk.
- Ceramic armor - typically, high-strength ceramic plates (typically made from boron carbide) are used as an energy-absorbing component in some ballistic vests. These are typically single-use only due to their the tendency to break up a bit after the first shot. A good plate however, usually will catch a few more in the same spot. These are some of the best plates for infantry... Unless you got your hands on a 1/2in steel. That, while heavy, will stop just about anything.
- Ballistic vests - "bulletproof" armor vests able to stop bullets of varying sizes and speeds. For "soft" armor, the use of high-strength fibers that "catch" the projectile, thereby slowing them down enough to prevent them from penetrating, are used, typically for security guards, low-intensity combat areas jobs, and cops. For "hard" armor, ceramic/metal/ultra-high-strength plastic/combination-of-the-previous may be used in the form of solid plates. Body armor may come in as either a standalone vest (i.e. "soft" kevlar vest) or a carrier (which can further more simply be a holder for a solid plate or a combination of "soft" and "hard" armor). Options of groin, neck, and shoulder protection may be included with the vests.
- Blast suits - full-body armors capable of absorbing the heat and shrapnel of a bomb blast. The only part that isn't protected are the hands, since wearing thick gloves is detrimental to finesse, so if a bomb goes off you may be maimed - but at least you're not dead! May also include a closed air supply in the case of biological or chemical bombs. Commonly worn by EOD technicians.
- Power Armor - As of current, we already have prototype exoskeletons, but they're one of the many inventions that isn't in common use purely because of limits on battery power. There isn't as much a need for such strength in direct combat like in fiction, as it's designed more for load-bearing in mind, allowing for bigger, heavier guns and/or more ammo. However, that could include allowing the user to wear heavier armor as well. Generally speaking, the servos and external components are rather exposed. Think STALKER's exoskeleton for modern military exoskeleton prototypes.
Modern Body Armor
With modern technology and all it's amenities, a large choices of body armor exists on the market (the NIJ level approved list for body armor products consumes 212 pages on a PDF file). That said it is good to know what levels of protection for both ballistic and melee threats are.
- Ballistic threats Aka bullets most of the time. Soft body armor (aka Kevlar, UHMW Polyethylene, Dyneema, etc) that is rather flexible, but also vulnerable to high velocity threats. Thus most body armor of that class is relegated between II to IIIA. From there on out, it's hard body armor, which usually consists of some sort of metallic (usually steel, but titanium and high-strength aluminum are options too), ceramics, and composites. NIJ Standard III to IV stop those threats. Technically, though only rated up to 30-06 AP rounds (IV), some plates of body armor offer higher than IV. Some have even shown to stop a .50 BMG round, though the likely hood of one surviving such a shot is in question. Standard helmets only go up to level III
- Since some common threats are just above certain ratings, like 55 grain 5.56 from a 20 inch barrel penetrating level III or 5.7 pistols beating most soft armor, the NIJ system is currently undergoing an overhaul. While most western countries use NIJ rating standards, at least as a secondary, Russia has its own completely unconnected system for rating armor.
- Stab threats Protects against low energy stabbing objects (aka knives and maybe some small swords). Stab and piercing vest should not be trusted for higher level threats such a two handed weapons such as an pickaxe, sledgehammer, axe, spear, and even affixed bayonets. Even a knife in the hands of someone who can put an unusually high amount of force into stabbing can defeat a stab vest. However it is still great for stuff people would likely to conceal where rapid quick jabbing is likely to occur. Of course there is probably protective gear such as riot gear that could be more withstanding of heavier two handed threats, but it's likely best to not take a pickaxe to the chest in the first place.
Overlap between the two categories is minimal. Metal ballistic plates will stop knifes, though said plate covers minimal body area and is typically heavy. Soft armor is one or the other, though one could be worn over the other at the cost of bulk.
Anatomy of armor
Basic terminology of the different parts of armor. Unless you were very wealthy, such as a knight, not everyone had every part of their body covered in armor.
- Helmet - protects the head, one of the most common pieces of armor.
- Gambeson - padded cloth armor suit worn underneath metal armor to absorb blunt force and protect the wearer from the armor itself (metal and boiled leather aren't nice to unprotected humans skin, especially under extreme temperatures). Later variants often reinforced with sown-in mail in places actual metal armor above it have gaps and joints.
- Cuirass - protects the torso. If its made from a single piece of metal, it is a breastplate. Most breastplate are associated with full-body steel plate armor, but ancient Greeks had a bronze version called the "heroic Cuirass", or the Roman "Lorica Musculata", often molded with fake muscles and various decorations.
- Plackart - lower torso reinforcement that would overlap with a breastplate for extra protection, and connected to the faulds. The reason for this reinforcement is to act as a cushion for blows to the chest, as there is enough space between the plackart and curiass that it acts as additional padding to prevent soft tissue damage underneath.
- Faulds - a metal skirt attached to the breastplate, allowing some leg protection while offering mobility.
- Gorget - protects the neck. With certain helmets, such as the Sallet, the gorget protected the lower head where the helmet did not.
- Pauldrons - protects the shoulders. The real life versions are nowhere near as big as those on space marines.
- Gauntlets - protects the hands.
- Manica - Armor that covers an arm, used primarily by the Romans. Typically used to protect the sword arm when it leaves the safety of a shield, but gladiators are known to have worn just it and the attached pauldron.
- Greaves - protects the legs.
- Sabatons - protects the feet (you don't want some smartass spearman stabbing at your unarmored feet now, would you?)
- Codpiece - Yes, believe it or not, you could get dick armor too. Ordinarily this was just to armor the groin area like an athletic cup, but some people like King Henry VIII made massive codpieces to show off how well-endowed they were.
- Tabard - Technically not armor, but was the decorative sleeveless coat that would drape over the armor of knights. Besides being used as an identifier through the knight's heraldry, it also shielded armor from the desert sun so that the knight wouldn't boil in their own armor.
- Sashimono - Japanese equivalent. Essentially a way for armor to hold a small flag. Associated more with ashigaru armor than samurai, but samurai did wear them as well.
- Flak Armor: This is actually a ballistic vest, not Flak armor. Think an ESAPI (or the new XSAPI)plate modeled off of a cuirass. It can withstand stubber fire all across, up to rifle caliber, so if you were to magdump 20 7.62x39mm rounds into the plate, it could stand up to it. That's about it though. Anything higher, and SHING!, slices through.
- Carapace Armor: Better flak armor (the 40K kind which is a ballistic vest) but with much more coverage and better quality materials. Generally heavier and cumbersome, but only issued really to those more capable of making the most use out of it.
- Powered armor: Space marine general issue, as well as several powerful Imperial organizations. Comes with both long term and short term necessities, with high grade ceramite and admantium for protection, stabilizing and targeting gear to assist, and general life support if the being inside doesn't already have some. Very fancy. Honestly it has it's own article for a reason and this list section would do it no justice.