Are you unsure if you’re allowed to wear body armor on a trip to the grocery store?

The rules and regulations that govern personal protective equipment (PPE) can often be a bit confusing.

And it will likely vary from state to state, country to country.

But worry not, for we have the answer to the following question, right here.

Is it legal to wear body armor in public?

Keep reading to find out, and make sure you’re always staying safe, and within the law.

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Can You Wear Body Armor in Public? The Short Version

In this fast-paced world, we recognize the need for at-a-glance content, to satisfy your concerns. With that in mind, here’s the “too long, didn’t read” version:

Yes, you can wear body armor in public. You have a right to defend yourself, and your loved ones/family.

Unless, you’re a convicted felon – in which case, you’re all outta luck, and it’s illegal for you to wear any kind of body armor in public.*

Of course, laws will vary depending on your region (sometimes more than others), so it’s important that you check with the local ordinances to be on the safe side.

police in body armor

Remember – we’re tactical shooting and combat sports enthusiasts, not lawyers, and we’re not to be held responsible for your choices. Ignorance isn’t an excuse.

But what is body armor, why would you choose to wear it, and is it generally a good idea for members of the public? Keep reading for more detailed information on this subject.

*There is a caveat to this, which we’ll explain further in the article.

Body Armor – What Is It Exactly?

The days of body armor being solely for the military and law enforcement are long gone, now that tactical and protective gear has become increasingly more popular with the public.

You only have to explore these awesome tactical gear brands to see the quality of what’s available, and this article will tell you why tactical gear has become so popular in the first place.

And more and more first responders are feeling the need to protect themselves when they’re called onto the streets.

But what is body armor – and what is it capable of?

Body armor is available in various types and levels of protection, depending on how it’s made, what it’s made from, and what it is designed to do.

There are four main types – soft, composite, hybrid, and hard.

And there are six different threat levels – Level I, Level IIA, Level II, Level IIIA, Level III, and Level IV. The level you choose should suit the level of threat, but for most civilians, you’re looking at soft armor no higher than level II.

The video below will explain it in detail, but this is all set and regulated by the National Institute of Justice, and you can find out more information on their website.

Body armor has several monikers – bulletproof vest, ballistic vest, stab vest, plate carriers, bombproof suits…

They are predominantly designed to be worn over the torso, with more heavy-duty versions including additional appendages and protective plates to cover other parts of the body.

Plate carriers are different from bulletproof vests, for example, and you can follow that link to find out more.

But in this context, we’re talking about body armor designed to protect vital organs. These vests consist of many layers of tightly-woven fabric, and/or hard plates for additional ballistic defense.

Kevlar is a popular and highly effective material, capable of stopping or absorbing small arms fire, as well as stabbing weapons.

men training in shooting range

Body armor has been synonymous with the military for hundreds of years, and today is commonly also used by law enforcement, security personnel, and bodyguards.

But when it comes to self-defense, more and more members of the public are turning to the purchase of body armor to improve their chances of survival, in the unlikely – but possible – event they’re ever shot at.

And as mentioned above, there are many types, depending on the level of threat perceived. Take a look at the informative video below, which will explain each version in detail.

If you are going to decide to wear it, you should at least suit the type of armor to the situation.

 Why Wear Body Armor? The Pros and Cons

Although we’ve shown that law-abiding citizens are legally allowed to wear body armor, perhaps we should be asking ourselves if we actually should be wearing it?

Why are you considering using a bulletproof vest in the first place? Surely it should just be left to the military and law enforcement?

Let’s explore the pros and cons of wearing body armor, below:


The main reason why people wear bulletproof vests is to protect their vital organs from small arms fire, and/or from stabbing weapons.*

If you happen to be shot/stabbed in the torso with a small-caliber weapon/knife, there’s a good chance it can save your life, and/or limit the extent of your injuries.

There’s no doubt it is effective – according to the National Institute of Justice, it has saved the lives of more than 3000 police officers over the course of the past 30 years.

For combat sports enthusiasts, wearing a bulletproof vest greatly increases the realism of the game, which is very desirable for MilSim (Military Simulation) players.

Take a look at this article on the differences between airsoft and real military gear for more information. Spoiler – there’s not a lot in it.

Airsofters also like using these tactical chest rigs for magazines, too – the closer to the real steel – the better.

Furthermore, body armor often has MOLLE attachments or other ways of storing additional gear on your person. This can be of practical use in tactical situations, such as carrying a first-aid-kit, for example.

*Note – not all bulletproof vests offer adequate defense against a blade. Just because it stops a bullet, doesn’t mean it can stop a knife – so bear that in mind, depending on the kind of protection you’re looking for.

police force with flashlights in dark


While potentially saving your life is a big tick in the pro column for wearing body armor, there are several cons to the practice.

Quality, certified body armor is very expensive. Sure, it might be worth it (you can’t put a price on life) but, being realistic, it’s a lot to spend if you’re not actually in harm’s way on a daily basis.

Body armor is often heavy, hot, and uncomfortable. Perhaps not the best choice for a day out shopping in the middle of summer. Wearing it isn’t fun, and certainly not as “cool” (literally) as you might think.

Seeing a member of the public wandering around in body armor can easily cause distress, especially if other people aren’t aware of your intentions. It’s obtrusive and can appear very aggressive, too.

You might inadvertently attract exactly the kind of trouble you’re hoping to avoid, or, at the very least, you’ll have a lot of strange looks thrown your way.

And as we mention below, if you are wearing body armor (particularly of the plate carrier variety) around the town, then there’s a very strong chance you’ll have to answer several questions from the police.

Expect to be stopped, quizzed, and possibly searched, either from patrolling officers or as a result of a member of the public specifically calling the police to your location.

Of course, you won’t be detained if you’re not breaking any laws, but it will still be of significant inconvenience to you.

In short, unless you’re a military or law enforcement professional, or you’re dressing up for cosplay/Halloween, or enjoying a realistic airsoft game on private land – is it really necessary to wear body armor in public, anyway?

Generally speaking, nobody is coming to kill you. You’re not going to get attacked everywhere you go, and it’s perfectly safe to go outside.

If you’re obeying the law, the chances of getting shot in public are very, very slim (there’s statistically more chance of you dying from heart disease).

Don’t believe the fear-mongering in the media.

However, if you feel you ARE at risk, you’re concerned for your safety from a particular individual, or you have similar concerns, then you should contact law enforcement professionals for protection and advice as soon as possible.

Is it Legal to Own a Bulletproof Vest?

In every state in the US, you can legally purchase, own, and wear body armor.

However, depending on the where, when, and how you’re using it, you might raise a few eyebrows with local law enforcement, security personnel, and other members of the public.

The laws for purchasing and wearing might also vary from state to state. For example, in Connecticut, body armor can only be bought face-to-face, and not via online sources or over the phone.

In Louisiana, you’re not allowed to wear body armor on school property, or anywhere on the campus itself.

tactical gear and guns

And in many states, wearing body armor while committing a felony is a felony in itself, and if convicted, you will be charged on both accounts, with stiffer sentencing.

Regardless of where you are, if the vest is visible, it’s likely that a police officer will approach you and ask why you’re wearing body armor in the first place.

Unless you’re a convicted felon, you’re well within your rights, so this check should simply be to ascertain if you are a law-abiding citizen.

That, and to establish you’re not wearing it for illegal or insalubrious purposes.

However, we mentioned earlier that there was a caveat to wearing body armor as a convicted felon:

If your job requires it, you can wear armor, but you need official, written authorization from your employer to do so.

After all, it’s not unheard of for people with criminal records to rejoin society on the right side of the law.

Further afield, around the world, the rules for owning and wearing body armor can be vastly different, not least because of the wide range of firearm restrictions and gun ownership laws.

Perhaps surprisingly, the UK has some of the most relaxed laws, and it’s currently legal for anyone to purchase, wear, and own body armor – regardless of criminal history.

In the European Union, wearing body armor is legal, unless it’s specifically designed for military use – such as plate carriers or similar, heavy-duty protection.

In some parts of Canada, you need a license to wear body armor, such as in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia. Official law enforcement, security guard, firearms license or body armor permit is required.

Australians have something similar, and you require authorization to own and wear body armor in the territories of South Australia, Victoria, Northern Territory, ACT, Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania.

So too in Russia, where privately-owned body armor should be registered and licensed. However, “responsible” citizens are allowed and encouraged to wear it.

In Thailand, a license is also required to own and wear a bulletproof vest. We believe the same can be said for a number of Asian countries.


Is it illegal to wear tactical gear in public?

Not at all. You can feel free to wear things like these awesome tactical pants in public, or these tactical jackets that are ideal for all kinds of outdoor adventures.

Just because something is “tactical,” doesn’t mean that it’s only authorized for use by the military or law enforcement, and off limits to the general public.

Body armor is slightly different, of course, the legalities of which have been addressed in the article above.

Do I need an ID to buy body armor?

No. Unlike firearms themselves, there is no background check, permit, or ID required to purchase body armor in most US states.

Again, check your specific state or country for up-to-date legislation before proceeding.

Is it legal to wear a bulletproof vest in public?

A bulletproof vest is essentially the same thing as body armor – just a different version of it.

As such, it is legal to wear one in public – providing you’re not a felon, you’re not in the act of committing a crime, and/or you can legally prove your job allows it.

What type of body armor does the military use?

It will likely vary depending on the armed force in question, but the US military used something called the Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor System, or IBA for short.

As of 2007, it has been updated and improved, with modular tactical vests, and scalable plate carriers.

These tactical plate carrier vests often feature metal or ceramic plates which help protect the body against more powerful, higher caliber firearms, and as such, are often favored for military use.

Check out the video below for a visual guide to a Navy SEAL’s body armor setup.

Can I wear hidden body armor?

Yes, you can. In fact, in many situations, having hidden body armor can be a huge advantage, not least because it doesn’t alarm other members of the public.

Another notable plus point is that it’s going to offer unrestricted freedom-of-movement, as it is generally more comfortable than the plate carriers, and heavy-duty armor of level III and above.

Just be aware that, by the nature of its construction and lower profile, that it won’t offer nearly as much protection as anything in a higher class.

That, and you’ve pretty much got it on for the whole day – unless you want to be stripping off all the time, this is going to run hot.

Will bulletproof vests be banned?

Unlikely. In recent years, there have been some movements to ban the wearing of bulletproof vests by civilians, (in New York City, for example) but we doubt very much it will gain any traction.

For the foreseeable future, at least, the public is legally allowed to protect themselves from firearms on the streets (however unlikely this event actually is).

Can civilians own Level 4 body armor?

In the US, owning level IV body armor is allowed, and is designed to protect the wearer against rifle fire and heavier caliber weapons.

In Europe, this level is usually off-limits to citizens and is reserved for the military and law-enforcement sectors only.

However, as the vast majority of altercations and assaults with firearms involve a pistol, it’s unlikely that any member of the public will ever need this level of body armor, anyway.

Save it for the MilSim – and it will save your pocket, too.


Is it legal to wear body armor in public?

For the most part, the answer is yes – but you should always check in your state or country for up-to-date local laws. Rules are subject to change at short notice.

We hope this article has been informative, and it’s helped you decide if it’s a realistic, practical choice for you to wear a bulletproof vest in the first place.

Let us know what you decide in the comments, or if we’ve missed out on any crucial information on the subject.

Stay safe out there!