Stab vests play a crucial role in protecting individuals working in high-risk professions from knife and spike attacks such as security. In the UK, stab vests are available in various types, certified according to specific standards, and made from different materials. This comprehensive guide aims to provide detailed insights into the types of stab vests, certification requirements, and the materials used in their construction, along with an understanding of how they work to provide protection for individuals and security officers.
Stab vests, also known as body armor, stab-resistant vests or stab proof vests, are designed to reduce the risk of injury from knife or spike attacks. These protective garments are constructed with specialized materials and layers that offer resistance against penetration. Stab Vests come in a range of cover types, material constructions and protection levels.
What are the laws regarding stab vests in the UK?
In the UK there are no specific laws that prohibit the wearing of stab vests by individuals for personal protection. Individuals can purchase and possess stab vests as long as they are obtained from legitimate sources and not used for any unlawful purposes. Carrying a stab vest in public places is generally allowed unless there are specific restrictions in certain locations or circumstances. However, it is important to be mindful of the perception and potential concerns of others, as wearing a stab vest might raise suspicions or draw unnecessary attention.
Please note that if you plan to travel abroad with a stab vest, it is crucial to check the laws and regulations of the specific country you are visiting. Some countries may have stricter regulations or even prohibit the importation and possession of stab vests. In many places they are considered in the same category as weapons
Stab vests function by utilizing the principle of energy dispersion and absorption. When a knife or spike impacts the surface of the vest, the protective layers distribute the force over a larger area, slowing down the penetration and reducing the risk of injury. The specialized materials used in stab vests work together to absorb and disperse the energy from the attack, preventing the weapon from penetrating the wearer’s body.
What certification governs stab vests in the UK?
Stab vests in the UK are certified according to the levels of protection they provide against knife and spike threats as determined by the Home Office’s standards. Originally, called the PSDB, the HOSDB and now the CAST standard, they use a stringent testing regimen to determine whether a stab vest is safe for use in the UK. It is strongly recommended that you only use certified armour.
The CAST 2017 testing schedule looks at the force used vs the penetration of the weapon. A vest only passes if the weapon does not exceed the maximum penetration at both energy levels, as laid out below:
Energy Level E1
|Maximum Penetration (mm)
|KR1 + SP1
|KR1 = 7.0, SP1 = 0
|KR2 + SP2
|KR2 = 7.0, SP2 = 0
|KR3 = 7.0, SP3 = 0
Energy Level E2
|Maximum Penetration (mm)
|KR1 + SP1
|KR1 = 20, SP1 = N/A
|KR2 + SP2
|KR2 = 20, SP2 = N/A
|KR3 = 20, SP3 = N/A
What are the different Types of stab vests available in the UK?
When people talk about types, what they are referring to will generally be the cover or the material that the armour panels are made out of. There are three main types of covers.
- Covert Stab Vests (Concealable, Undershirt Stab vests): These are designed to be worn discreetly beneath clothing. They offer a balance between protection and flexibility, allowing for ease of movement and comfort. Concealable vests are commonly used by undercover law enforcement officers or security personnel requiring a covert protective solution. The covers will normally be made from a softer material than overt/tactical vests such as poly-cotton to prevent irritation when worn under-shirt. Covert stab vests will come normally come in one of three colours, white, beige or black.
- Overt Stab Vests: Overt stab vests are worn over clothing and are highly visible. These vests act as a visual deterrent and are typically worn by security officers, prison staff, or other personnel working in public-facing roles. Overt stab vests often have additional features like high-visibility panels, Velcro patches for badges, docking stations for equipment and more. They are normally available in either tabard (over the head, bib style) or zip-front models. They will normally be made from more rugged materials such as Cordura.
- Tactical Stab Vests: Tactical stab vests are specifically designed for law enforcement or military applications. They are built to withstand more rigorous use and will include additional pouches and attachment points for carrying equipment. In many cases they with use PALS/MOLLE systems to attach equipment. They will tend to be made of very rugged materials and are worn over clothing.
What Materials are used in stab vest UK armour panels?
- Aramid Fiber Stab Vests (e.g., Kevlar): Aramid fibers are widely used in stab vests due to their exceptional strength-to-weight ratio. These synthetic fibers are lightweight, flexible, and possess high tensile strength. They work by distributing the force of an impact across the fibers, reducing the risk of penetration. While more common in ballistic vests due to their costs, aramid stab vests tend to be composites with other materials such as in the Fortis range. These armours tend to be soft and flexible. Kevlar is a brand name for aramid that is produced by the Du Pont company.
- Carbon Fibre Stab Vests: In recent years, carbon fibre stab vests have become popular due to their blunt force protection and lightweight nature. Unlike soft armours, carbon fibre stab vests form a shell around the user which does not bend with the body and allows it to absorb more shock damage. The PPSS range is a good example of these types of carbon fibre stab vests.
- Soft-Steel Stab Vests: Some manufacturers opt for using soft-steel which is essentially a semi-flexible sheet of thin metal that covers the user’s vital organs. It is somewhere in between the above two types with regards to flexibility, comfort and shock resistance. These tend to be less expensive than other makes of stab vest. The Vestguard range uses this construction method.
Other construction methods and materials that are common globally but less popular in UK stab vest models are:
- UHMWPE Fibers (e.g., Dyneema): Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibers are another common material used in stab vests. These fibers are incredibly strong, offering excellent resistance against knife and spike attacks. UHMWPE fibers have a high energy absorption capacity, which helps dissipate impact forces.
- Composite Materials: Some stab vests combine multiple materials to enhance their protective capabilities. Composite materials, such as a combination of aramid fibers and ceramics, provide a higher level of protection against both stab and ballistic threats.
Maintenance and Care
Proper maintenance and care of stab vests are crucial to ensure their ongoing effectiveness. Manufacturers provide specific guidelines for cleaning and storage, which should be followed to maintain the vest’s performance. Regular inspections should be conducted to identify any signs of damage or wear and tear that may compromise the protective capabilities of the vest.
Stab vests are vital protective equipment for individuals working in high-risk professions. Understanding the different types of stab vests, certification levels, and the materials used in their construction is essential for selecting the appropriate vest for specific threats. By adhering to certification standards and properly maintaining stab vests, professionals can maximize their personal safety and minimize the risk of injury during knife or spike attacks.