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Everything You Need to Know About SAPI Plates



SAPI Plates

Small arms protective insert plates (SAPI plates) are ballistic vests that protect soldiers from gunfire. These plates are constantly being evaluated and tested to try and get them lighter and perform better.

There are generally two types of protective inserts on the market, and SAPI plates fall into one category. This guide will look into everything you need to know about SAPI plates to help you decide if you want them or not.

We think it’s always worth considering different types of body armor if you handle weaponry. This may be true in a professional sense or for gun enthusiasts.

Let’s begin!

Types of Body Armor

The two broad classifications of body armor are hard and soft armor. You can think of soft armor as tactical vests that offer a small amount of protection against gunfire. You can classify body armor plates as hard armor.

The National Institute of Justice classifies body armor at different “threat levels.” There are five threat levels that they are using right now which are:

  1. IIA
  2. II
  3. IIIA
  4. III
  5. IV

You are unlikely to see any soft armor above the IIIA threat level. At levels III and IV, you will see hard armor with body armor plates offering the highest form of protection.

Body Armor Material

Manufacturers construct soft armor with flexible synthetic materials. Aramid, kevlar, and UHMWPE are popular materials that they use because of their favorable mechanical properties. They offer excellent protection while also allowing for good maneuverability.

Makers of hard armor can use a range of materials. these can include:

  • Ceramics
  • Ceramic composites
  • Steel
  • Polyethylene
  • Bullet-resistant fiber
  • Kevlar

Manufacturers often use a combination of favorable materials to construct hard armor. However, all hard armor will have a hard plate element, like with SAPI plates.

SAPI Plates

The U.S. military first started using small arms protective insert plates (SAPI plates). The concept is a classifier of body armor plates that can fit into standard-issue plate-carrying tactical vests.

Most SAPI plates are made out of ceramic composites. Silicon carbon is one of the main composite materials that manufacturers use in military issue plates. The idea is they should be able to stop 7.62×51 (M80 BALL) rounds in some circumstances.

SAPI plates are at the level III threat protection level when it comes to body armor. We can derive this from 0101.06 standards.

Advanced SAPI Plate Cuts

There are two advanced SAPI plate cuts we’ll look at. These are the swimmer’s cut and the shooter’s cut. While the original SAPI plate cut is super-effective, it may present some limitations to users that some manufacturers have addressed with the advanced cuts.

The swimmer’s cut SAPI plate allows excellent maneuverability while offering protection in crucial areas of your body. It will enable full motion with your shoulders so you can shoot your weapon like you would without the plate. Plus, it has deeper curved edges at the bottom of the plate that promotes better maneuverability and comfort for the wearer.

The shooter’s cut takes away a little more plating on the top edges so you can shoulder your rifle better and gain more accuracy in your shooting when wearing a SAPI plate. It has more surface area for protection than the swimmer’s cut.

What Are ESAPI Plates?

ESAPI plates are like the next generation of SAPI plates that the U.S. military started bringing in more prominently in 2005. The “E” in ESAPI means “enhanced.”

The main difference is that ESAPI plates are effective threat-level IV body armor plates (the top level). They should be able to stop .30-06 M2AP ammo.

And just so you know, the “AP” in that ammo name stands for “armor piercing.” So this was a giant leap for the U.S. military in terms of standard protection for their soldiers.

One issue with ESAPI plates is that they are often almost one-third heavier than standard SAPI plates. This is because makers of these plates often make them with boron carbide-based ceramic.

To put this into context, this is a material that the military uses to make some armored vehicles and tanks!

SAPI Plate Sizes

Whether you’re interested in SAPI or ESAPI plates, there’s one thing you should know: they don’t come in standard commercial sizes. This is because these plates were developed for the military and their particular specifications.

Some typical commercial sizes are:

  • 8″x10″ (small)
  • 10″x12″  (medium)
  • 11″x14″ (large)

While corresponding SAPI plate sizes are:

  • 8.75″x11.75″ (small)
  • 9.5″x12.5″ (medium)
  • 10.125″x13.25″ (large)

So as you can see, there are some significant differences in SAPI plate sizing compared to commercial plates. That being said, there are many commercial “SAPI plates” out there that go by standard sizes. It’s just something you should be wary of when thinking about buying SAPI or ESAPI plates.

How to Choose the Right Body Armor

You can consider three main factors when choosing body armor: cost, weight, and threat level. We should also mention the cut can be significant, but we’ve already run through that.

The first factor of cost is simple to calculate. Just set a budget, and try to get the best bang for your buck with what you’ve got. We recommend you check out for great deals on high-quality body armor and more. They also deliver fast!

To choose the right threat level, you have to think about what sort of threats you could be exposed to at some point in the future. Remember, the higher the threat level-rated armor you get, the heavier the armor will be.

So the reality is, the more you sacrifice on protection, the lighter your body armor can be. If you know you’ll never be exposed to armor-piercing bullets, it’s probably a good idea to avoid heavy and inflexible IV-rated armor and get something lighter in weight.

SAPI Plates Explained

So now you know much more about SAPI plates and whether they might suit your body armor requirements. Remember that you might encounter sizing issues, and consider cost, weight, and threat level when choosing your armor.

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