Personal protective body armor comes in a variety of shapes, styles and materials, most of which are designed for specific conditions, or to protect against specific forms of damage. For the purposes of simplicity, the records here are broken down into categories describing the physical composition or properties of the armor type in question, such as soft, or hard, etc.
Soft Armor is usually composed of some type of synthetic material that is woven in numerous layers that are designed to spread out the kinetic force of incoming projectiles, thereby reducing the amount of penetrative force or damage said projectile is capable of inflicting. Weapons with cutting edges are typically more effective against soft armors as they tend to cut and sever the carefully woven fibers rather than impacting with blunt force. Materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber, and certain spider silks have all been used very effectively in soft armors for hundreds of years and are still in use now, along with several newer, stronger and more flexible (and accordingly more expensive) materials. Soft armor will protect against most Class B weapon fire and many class A weapons (Except the sharp and pointy ones), provided the assailant is not using some form of armor piercing munitions. Some light Class C weapons will do greatly reduced damage to a person wearing soft armor, but for the most part anyone facing Class C or greater weapons in soft armor had better consider a good escape plan. With rare exception, no soft armor is likely to provide even the barest of defense against energy weapons or explosives. Soft armors are by far the most cost effective and easiest to obtain.
Hard Armor is usually composed of some form of rigid, malleable material that is capable of stopping most small projectiles and some light energy weapons cold. The plates are usually custom made to a specific user in order to match their joint structure and mobility as closely as possible and anyone wearing hard armor designed for someone else is likely to have a very difficult time of it if they can manage at all. There are some movement penalties associated with hard armors as joints and flexibility are restricted in favor of a higher degree of protection. Hard armors are extremely effective against all Class A and Class B weapons, and will shrug off most Class C weapon damage as well. It will dissipate the damage from most light explosives, hand grenades and such, and can even offer other benefits such as environmental seals, allowing the user to traverse open vacuum, harsh climates and inhospitable planets, as well as negating the effectiveness of most chemical agents that may be dispersed through the air. Hard armors are considerably more expensive than soft armors (especially if they are environmental as well), and their availability is not wide spread, although if one has the funds, it could be located without too much trouble.
Reactive Armor is the best of two worlds. Reactive armor is constructed using a combination of hard and soft materials, with the addition of some practical science thrown in for good measure. The basic idea is that the armor is able to sense when damage is occurring at a particular point, and is then able to react to that damage by somehow increasing the level of protection at that specific point. For example, there could be a layer of magnetically reactive liquid suspended between the lining and outer layer of the armor that, when the suit senses danger, it applies an electromagnetic field to the area in danger, thus causing the liquid to solidify, creating a piece of hard armor at the point of trauma only and keeping the rest of the suit flexible enough to allow its wearer to bend and move out of harms way, further reducing the damage. Many forms of reactive armor have been developed and experimented with over the years and the technologies are wildly different from one design to another, but the basic principal is the same. The armor senses danger or potential damage and reacts by increasing the level of protection in that spot. In addition to all of this, reactive armors can be made in any size, shape, color, weight and level of protection desired by an individual, and can include features such as built in computers (they are there already to run the reactive portion of the armor so why not add more to do other things with? Like targeting, Identify Friend or Foe [IFF], night vision, etc), or environmental seals and so on. Reactive armors are capable of providing extreme protection against all Class A, B, and C weapons and explosives including to some degree many energy weapons. The down side to this however is that typically this armor can only be ‘used’ one time. Once it is subjected to damage, it weakens the system as a whole and it must be either meticulously repaired or, more often than not, scrapped and replaced entirely. Reactive armors are prohibitively expensive and are available only to the military, government, and certain extremely powerful mega-corporations.
Power Armors are in a class all their own. These armor systems are almost vehicles in their capabilities and complexity, but are included here because their size and function limits them specifically to single person use in the fields of infantry and espionage. Power armor is usually some combination of Hard and Reactive armors with the added benefit of structural reinforcement and motor assisted movement. These motor and structural enhancements allow the wearer of power armor to be stronger, faster, and more agile than any normal person would otherwise be capable of. Through the use of micro turbines and ducted fan/compressed air systems flight or hovering is even possible. The other nice benefit of the structural and strength enhancements is that much heavier weapons can be used by the wearer of the power armor and in fact, many power armor systems include an array of built-in weapon systems and sensors that would otherwise be reserved for vehicle mounting. All power armor systems are environmentally sealed and provide protection against nearly all Class A, B, C, and D weapons and explosives, including energy weapons and have even been known to fight toe-to-toe against class E weapon systems and fare reasonably well. The wearer of a good suit of power armor is essentially enclosed within a compact, extremely mobile tank. These suites are expensive in the extreme and due to the weapon systems that are usually outfitted on them, they are closely controlled by the military, restricting their use to primarily military personnel, and a few other extremely well connected and financed corporations.