28 November 2018 Bulletproof Backpacks

Mass shootings in USA so far in 2018

Before I start, I want to state that for the record that the object of this article and the use of the mass shootings in USA is not to put the USA in a bad light in any way or to condemn gun ownership in the USA. I do however, on a personal level, condemn the gun violence that has taken place so far.

According to a report by Business Insider Singapore1, as of 8th November 2018, there have been 307 mass shooting incidents in the USA. The numbers work out to be almost 1 mass shooting a day in the USA. AOL reported 345 mass shootings in 20172. A mass shooting is generally defined as a shooting which a gunman kills 4 or more people randomly in a public place. A majority of the mass shootings took place in schools. The statistics are extremely alarming and rather shocking. Parents in the USA are increasingly purchasing backpacks which are bullet resistant for their children, even for children as young as 7 years old. As a parent of 2 young children, it is easy to understand why parents would want to do so and I will probably do the same.

If a parent wants to buy a bullet resistant backpack for their child, what should they look out for? What do they need to know before making the purchase? Hopefully this article will help

Why bullet resistant and not bullet proof?

Similar to the terms water resistant and water proof for the watch industry, the terms bullet resistant and bullet proof can be rather deceiving. Ballistic protection, i.e. protection from bullets or other projectiles are generally designed with the projectile in mind. What this means is that if a ballistic protection panel is designed to protect against 9mm rounds from handguns or .44 magnum rounds from handguns (NIJ level IIIA), it will not protect against rifle rounds such as 5.56 NATO rounds or the 7.62 rounds. It does not mean that if you buy a ‘bullet proof’ backpack, it will protect yourself or your child from all kinds of ammunition. There are several ballistic standards used around the world today, but the most common ballistic standard being used is the NIJ ballistic standard. The higher the protection, the weight and cost goes up. What I am saying is simply, look at the possible scenarios that might occur, look at the types of weapons used in previous incidents and make an informed decision on what level of ballistic protection you want. Another very important point to remember is that there is a definite lifespan for ballistic protection inserts and armour. The lifespan is 5 years in general. This also means that users will need to replace the ballistic protection periodically.

Bullet resistant backpacks vs everyday backpacks

There are companies producing bullet resistant backpacks and there are companies producing ballistic protection inserts for backpacks. What is the difference? Which one should I get? One of the biggest difference is that bullet resistant backpack may have the ballistic protective inserts sewn in. The advantage of this is that this means that the ballistic protection is always in the backpack and available. In a normal backpack with ballistic protective inserts, the user might take out the inserts for cleaning or whatever reasons. And what the protection is needed, it isn’t there. Another difference is that some models of the ballistic resistant backpacks are designed to hold hard armour plates. These are armour plates to protect against different rifle ammunition. A very large majority of the everyday backpacks are not designed to hold a hard armour plate. For users who require such levels of protection, this is not much of a choice.

But beyond these 2 differences, there are little differences between the 2 types of backpacks. One can certainly buy a ballistic protective insert, put it in the laptop compartment and have a bullet resistant backpack. The decision on buying a ballistic resistant backpack versus buying a ballistic protective insert and putting the insert into an everyday backpack lies largely on the user. For parents trying to make this decision, it would be better to buy a bullet resistant backpack with sewn in protective inserts in my opinion. Children tend to have the ‘itchy hands’ syndrome and might take out the ballistic inserts to show to their friends or fiddle around with it or simply to make the backpack lighter. Without the ballistic inserts, the backpack loses it protective function and will function as any other backpack. But for an adult or college student trying to make this decision, he/she might be better off buying a ballistic protective insert. Some companies offer ballistic protective inserts in the same sizes as laptops. The gives the user the flexibility of transferring the protective inserts from a backpack to another, while maintaining that same protective function. Travellers can also choose to remove their ballistic inserts when travelling to countries that forbid ballistic protection, such as Singapore.

Final Thoughts

‘Bulletproof backpacks’ have their place in today’s context with the increased gun violence. Thankfully, we do not have such incidents in Singapore, but many of us are frequent travellers, be it for work or play. Guns are allowed in some countries and for the travellers. We may want to prepare ourselves on how to react when faced in a situation involving guns. Preparation also extends to simple first aid skills and first aid kits which I talked about in earlier blog articles. As we travel more often and as some of us might relocate to other countries, we need to increase our awareness and our preparation.


Ethan Foo, Manager
Defence Systems