Introduction: Armored Messenger Bag

Picture of Armored Messenger Bag

First caveat, this is not a cheap project. The bag is about $140 plus tax and the armor plates will run close $200 for new ones. You'll need access to a sewing machine and a few other minor things as well. All told it's close to a $400 project. 

If you are a journalist, work late nights in retail or the restaurant industry or live in a bad neighborhood you might have very rational reasons to want something like this. If you are in law enforcement or military service you've already got what you need. That being said...

In all seriousness, there really is no reason most of us will ever actually "need" anything like this at all. This Instructable is for entertainment purposes only, as in, not even educational purposes. Building, owning or using body armor may even be illegal where you live. If you have been convicted of felony you are likely prohibited from owning or using ballistic armor. Committing even misdemeanor offenses while using body armor in some cases may elevate those infractions to much higher level crimes. Please to not build something like this and use it at any sort of protest or even while you on a graffiti run. If you get caught but weren't in real/serious trouble before, you will be when your bag is searched and found to be armored. This is in fact my giant disclaimer and warning. If you build this, you are on your own.  

This Instructable is how I armored my bag to level IIIA+. 

Step 1: The Armor

Picture of The Armor

If you don't happen to have extra armor laying around you'll need to source some. I used standard run of the mill level IIIA armor with a small trauma plate. It's rated to stop "most" handgun rounds. The specs rate it to stop up to 9mm and 44 magnum. Though, it is important to note a few critical things. 

A. That isn't a guarantee. Armor fails. 

B. Unless you don't think getting kicked by a horse is a big deal, taking a hit from a 44 magnum even if your armor stops it will really get your attention. That's an awful lot of kinetic energy to absorb. 

C. Armor wears out. Getting a cheap, beat up, surplus vest may not ultimately be a great idea. They wear out over time. If you are sourcing it and at all and serious about armoring something you may as well just buy new plates. They aren't terribly expensive compared to the value of not taking a bullet. 

In most of the United States you can legally buy this type of armor everywhere from uniform shops to eBay. It's easy to find if you look. It is possible to get it inexpensively but again best to NOT buy budget body armor if you are going to buy it at all. 

Step 2: The Bag

Picture of The Bag

I used a standard messenger bag from Chrome Industries in San Francisco. It's a rugged and very well built bag. One advantage for this project is that it has a "floating" liner. So there is an easily accessible space between the part that carries the cargo and the outer fabric of the bag. It's stitched on the side next to your back but held in place with Velcro on the other. 

An added bonus beyond ease of installation is that it will also be easy to remove the armor for any reason from, it's heavy to I'm going to the airport and have no idea if TSA prohibits this sort of thing nor do I wish to find out even over the phone. 

Step 3: Measuring the Armor and Cutting

Picture of Measuring the Armor and Cutting

This was the hardest part of the project. Ballistic armor is predictably difficult to cut and you'll want to measure carefully so you don't mess up and ruin your project or find that you need to now spend more money to finish it. 

I didn't make a pattern, just laid out the pieces and marked where to cut with chalk. Not at all tricky. 

You might use large, sharp sheers if you have them. Whatever is handy and very sharp. Probably not going to cut it in one go. I have no idea what armorers use to cut this stuff. Probably big sheers or some industrial cutting machine. 

I used a rotary cutter and sheers. 

Step 4: Make a Simple Sleeve for the Armor Plate

Picture of Make a Simple Sleeve for the Armor Plate

In the interest of longevity you'll want to make some sort of sleeve or cover for the armor plate. Nylon or rip-stop are probably best. I used an Instructables T-shirt for added robot protection.

This is very straight forward. Just follow the photos and the notes.  

Step 5: Securing the Plates

Picture of Securing the Plates

I planned on using velcro to secure the plate but was fortunate and managed to fit it well enough that it isn't necessary. Other bag designs might require some sort of anchor and it's probably still a good idea. Though, I did note that my original plate carrier that these came from didn't have velcro or anything either. 

Step 6: Value Added Extras

Picture of Value Added Extras

It fits pretty well and as long as no one has reason to thoroughly look inside the bag no one would have any reason to think it's armored. The weight isn't as noticeable as I thought it might be either. Ballistic armor in general isn't too heavy until you get into military combat models. 

I did add velcro for patches on the strap facing up and slightly forward. Right now it holds and IR reactive US flag patch that lights up pretty bright when viewed with night vision. Probably not necessary but it makes you visible to authorities that would be the most likely people using night vision and identifies you to at least some extent as someone who isn't hiding from them. If you already know any more (or less), that explanation of these patches should be sufficient either way. 

As an after thought, other than the fact that I have blasted my project across the internet, there really is no way anyone would suspect the plate in it's t-shirt casing is anything other than padding. If someone is dismantling your bag deeply enough to figure that out, you've got worse things to worry about anyway. 

Step 7: Important Information for Everyone!

Picture of Important Information for Everyone!

A friend of mine sent me this link. It's about as good a visual explanation as you'll get short of first hand experience. I hope this clears up any questions about the armor itself and Give a better idea of what a person wearing armor might experience if they are unfortunate enough to need it. 

A very special thanks to Don at Box O' Truth for putting this out there for the benefit of all of us.


Arkieeskimo (author)2014-10-30

Armor is not illegal in fact you can but it on line at places like Your right most of use may never need it but when and if you should need it you can't call timeout to go get it.but good instructable

Culturespy (author)Arkieeskimo2014-10-30

That's correct. Armor itself is generally not ilegal but using it while comitting a crime will almost always increase the severity of any charges and in some municipalities individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes are prohibited from possessing and using body armor. Open availability of armor should not be equated with legality of use. As with most Instructibles, check local laws before doing anything you even think might get you into trouble. An easy way to find out your local situation is to ask a law enforcement officer.

onrust (author)2013-02-17

Chrome products ROCK!

Aaronius (author)2011-11-11

McMaster-Carr sells 6 different pair of Kevlar-cutting scissors, like 2498A28 and 3897A11.

cancersux (author)2011-03-25

Is this the citizen, mini metro, or metropolis? I have the citizen.

Culturespy (author)cancersux2011-03-25

It is a Citizen and any Citizen should work. I've also armored and roll-top "Ivan" since writing this. It was a complete no brainer and required no cutting or fitting. Any ballistic plate should do. It's got a couple obvious places to slip the armor in.

DCTribble (author)2011-03-11

Body armor for civilians:

ilpug (author)2011-01-07

i find it funny that they make it illegal for law abiding citizens to buy protective devices.

skipernicus (author)ilpug2011-01-11

The reason is that sometimes law abiding citizens become criminals. And armored criminals are a big hassle for everyone.

johnzilla (author)skipernicus2011-02-10

Criminals can get anything they want anyway. Mansions, cars, boats, planes, do you really think they have a problem getting personal armor or anything else they want to get?

Laws only apply to law-abiding citizens. Laws that infringe on basic human rights like self-defense only hurt those who already follow the law and have absolutely no effect on those who don't follow the law.

skipernicus (author)johnzilla2011-02-10

Maybe that is true, but still, there is no reason to make it even easier for them.

johnzilla (author)skipernicus2011-02-10

What you're missing: making it "hard" for criminals means infringing on the rights of people who are not criminals. If you think law-abiding people should be harmed and have their rights infringed for doing nothing wrong "just in case" there's really nothing more to say.

skipernicus (author)johnzilla2011-02-10

@Culturespy: I think you mean "aren't" a convicted criminal.

@Johnzilla: It's not a black and white issue. If I have to go through a background check to buy a rocket launcher, so be it. If it was a free-for-all, which no checks for anyone, even the smallest crimes would be committed by people with firearms, body armor, and no tags on their mattresses. The idea that the way to stop outlaws is by giving up rule of law is a sound idea, but the result is less ideal than how we have it now.

Culturespy (author)skipernicus2011-02-11

You make a very cogent point, though another might be that committing a crime while using body armor carries a much higher penalty, as it should. In this way the rule of law is in no way infringed nor are the rights of law abiding citizens to defend themselves if they choose to without trampling on the rights of others. Further while I think it's fine that body armor is openly obtainable I wouldn't have an issue with needing a background check to buy it in the same way firearms are restricted.

Though, no amount of background checks are going to stop anyone from obtaining much of anything they want if they are willing to ignore the law. Something criminals routinely demonstrate they are not only willing but pleased to do.

I think it's also kind of an argument by extension as well as a Red Herring to combine an argument for body armor regulation with firearms regulation. While cladistically related, they are functionally on opposite ends of the spectrum.

This discussion could go on forever with at least one point we can agree on, "it's not a black and white issue."

skipernicus (author)Culturespy2011-02-11

Agreed. Now lets get back to building cool stuff!

Culturespy (author)skipernicus2011-02-10

In most of the US civilian use of body armor us perfectly legal as long as you are a convicted felon. Use of body armor by law abiding citizens in no way endangers anyone. A stronger case can be made for it as a passive deterrent to violent crime in the same way ballistic resistant glass protects bank tellers, clerks and other at risk law abiding citizens.

Culturespy (author)Culturespy2011-02-11

Yikes! Typo! I did indeed mean "NOT" a convicted felon.

Culturespy (author)skipernicus2011-01-11

That is a slippery slope.

Wally_Z (author)2010-12-10

Good luck finding armored plates as a civilian. Try some methods like stacked issues of magazines or phonebooks. Even if a civilian could find plates, the starting cost for them is around $300.

needs_more_to_do (author)2010-11-04

Really guys...


Zephyris (author)2010-09-30

Surely the performance of bullet proofing is severly reduced when not held against a body? I thought a key requirement of this type of armour was a semi-solid support behind it to help prevent ripping on impact...

Culturespy (author)Zephyris2010-10-08

arty (author)Zephyris2010-10-01

You got it backwards.

Imagine an arrow hitting a sheet; is the arrow more likely to penetrate if the sheet is hanging on a line or pulled tight around a tree?

The same applies on the other end of the gun. The reason the shooter isn't hurt is because (s)he recoiled with the gun. Periodically people get broken because they back up against something solid before they pull the trigger, then have no place to go during recoil.

One of my favorite pictures is of someone with a ducktail firing a .468 Mag. Under recoil his hair is lifting off his head like a starched wig. His feet never moved, but his body recoiled about 18". Try putting your feet together before you fire... under recoil you will step to the rear or fall down.

I recently read something about how ballistic armor fibers get shorter and fatter when hit, therefore, my statements may be true but irrelevant. Beware.

Culturespy (author)Zephyris2010-09-30

The Chrome bag fits pretty close to the body. It can also be easily pulled tight on the fly. They're made for bicycle messengers who need to adjust the fit with one hand while riding. The chrome bag is more solid than the plate carrier(vest) this panel came from.

Vissy (author)2010-10-01

So if the guy above walks around with more than seven issues of National Geographic, he's a criminal?

The gangs wont stop wearing them. I wish politicians were smart enough to know that criminals who break major laws wont obey tiny ones either.

Great bag idea. I did my bedroom from the windows-down in 3/8 plate steel (yes, 3/8ths. Four of us couldnt lift it. We didnt see the guy who delivered it. We assumed catapult, magic, or worm-hole). I drilled holes where the studs were, then countersunk them, used hardened drywall screws-good luck finding them in town-then put my new drywall over the steel, then ran cheap regular drywall screws through the drywall into other holes in the steel I put there for that purpose (attaching to the old inner drywall. I lined up 1/16th holes in the new drywall with the holes in the steel by packing them with Prussian Blue chalk, then slapping the drywall with my hands up against it.

Helps that I bought 4'x4' drywall squares (I dont have a truck to fit 8'x4' pieces), they are much easier to manage.

darknessfalls (author)2010-09-21

so the US flag is the thing that glows under nightvision?

its an IFF patch. Identifies Friend or Foe when under nightvision its restricted to US military.
Pretty much means he (or she) is a bad @ss for owning one.

Mistwalker (author)thematthatter2010-09-30

I spent thirty seconds with google and found them available to the general public for $12.50.

i think you could find them (or similar ones) at a army surplus store

Culturespy (author)darknessfalls2010-09-24

This one was purchased on base. Not sure where you might find one otherwise. There's a lot of stuff floating around out there if you want it and know what to ask for.

Culturespy (author)darknessfalls2010-09-22

Yeah, it's a little hard to describe but essentially that's it.

and its too bad Chrome doesnt even seem to sell that design anymore, its pretty sick bag design

Culturespy (author)darknessfalls2010-09-22

They only made a handful of this design. There are other patterns but this has a couple advantages some obvious some less so. One thing in particular is that it doesn't have a black liner. So no high contrast, eye catching, black stripe across the back and having a light colored interior makes it much easier to find things.

rustygray (author)2010-09-30

My friend and I started looking for things we could locate around the house or school that would slow or stop 9mm and .38. We discovered that 8 regular national geographic magazines duct taped together would stop, meaning 0 penetration, a standard .38 or 9mm. We also discovered that a ceramic tile mixed in the batch was effective for .45. .357 and .44 made it through but I am sure they released plenty of energy before exit. This was purely academic.......
Do not try it other than to prove to yourself.

Now that said, I work in an office of cubicles, and people get fed up with corporate crap and you might have an active shooter scenario. As I cannot bring my legally purchased and registered firearm into the office, I have discovered that a tightly packed reem of printer paper will defeat or slow most hand guns. So toss one of those in your back pack or bag. I keep a few at my desk to elevate my monitor and "just in case" .

PS I think the armored bag is a great idea. I know IDF sells them on ebay, from small bags to full body shields that fold up into a messenger bag size.

Until the liberals let us defend ourselves, we will have to maintain the passive resistance.

onrust (author)2010-09-30

CHROME bags rock

UltraMagnus (author)2010-09-30

wouldn't it have been cheaper to just buy a roll of aramid rather than a vest to cut up?

Culturespy (author)UltraMagnus2010-09-30

No, it's pretty expensive stuff and you need something very specific. So if you bought the wrong type, say you either picked out fabric meant for epoxy laminate or someone in a warehouse grabbed the wrong thing when picking your order, you'd probably never know until you found out the hard way. It also requires some pretty specific layering. Something I didn't disturb or re-arrange when making this.

Better to just cut to measure a known element.

Ripcode66 (author)2010-09-30

Nice how-to! Thanks!

lordofthedonuts (author)2010-09-21

That's nice, now I know a little bit more how to sew armor.

But a messenger bag?
How could that even be remotely useful?

Chances are the bag won't be at the right spot to protect any vital organs.
You should wear the vest you bought instead of tearing it appart.
That is, If you're not a hipster in the gaza strip...

Next project: IED proof fixed gear?

Ok i'm being sarcastic but i'm serious about the reasons, really; why? Just because you could ? You carry puppies in a warzone?

brycem (author)lordofthedonuts2010-09-30

"Why" is because of things like the recent UT shooting (28 Sep2010). This is to cover your head or torso in a surprise situation. The idea is if you're lying down trying not to be a target, you can put it between you and the shooter to provide at least some minimal cover. Yes, full armor would be better but it's not practical on a daily basis.

However, I'm not sure how much cutting into armor will degrade it. I know the manufacturer would freak out if they saw this.

Culturespy (author)brycem2010-09-30

Cutting the armor doesn't degrade it.

Ours is not to ask why. Ours is to say, "Dang it! I wish I had thought of that!"

pneu6 (author)lordofthedonuts2010-09-23

You have no idea how many times I'm sitting in class and thinking: "Dang, I wish my bookbag was bullet-proof." No, I'm not kidding. We had a lock-down drill today...

timntek (author)pneu62010-09-28

Dude me too it wasn't a drill either :(

Fizzxwizz (author)pneu62010-09-23

That's crazy! My school had a lockdown yesterday!

pneu6 (author)Fizzxwizz2010-09-24

Haha! that's weird. I guess there's some law somewhere...

Fizzxwizz (author)pneu62010-09-24

Actually, it wasn't exactly a drill. There was an armed robbery in a neighborhood right next to our school. Although everything turned out fine, I don't think they've found the guy.

zascecs (author)Fizzxwizz2010-09-25

o_O you might be having another lockdown soon...

Fizzxwizz (author)zascecs2010-09-26


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