Will Kevlar Stop an Arrow?

Death is like an arrow that is already in flight, and your life lasts only until it reaches you - Georg Hermes

Asking if Kevlar can stop an arrow is like asking Erwin Schrodinger about the health of his cat. He’d probably retort that his cat was both alive and dead, and how it felt at any given moment was entirely dependent on a number of different variables. But worry not! Archery Edge is here for your answers!

And the same answer, or rather the specific conditions surrounding each individual incident in which an arrow and kevlar come into contact with each other, applies to the question about whether or not Kevlar can stop an arrow. Sometimes it can, and sometimes it can’t. It all depends on the variables.

What Is Kevlar?

Before we actually take a look at the circumstances surrounding the whether or not arrows can actually pierce kevlar controversy, we should probably explain what kevlar is.

After all, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively recent human invention and while Hollywood might want us all to believe that kevlar has been around forever, it was only invented and developed in nineteen sixty-five, by a chemist called Stephanie Kwolek was working for DuPont at the time of her discovery.

While we mostly associate the word kevlar with body armor and think of it as having been created for that specific purpose, it was actually created to be used in tires.

When it was first introduced to the world, kevlar was made to be a replacement for the steel belts in racing tires. It didn’t actually become a vital ingredient in personal protection for another couple of decades.

The US military began issuing kevlar body armor and helmets to serving personnel in the nineteen-eighties, after its impact and heat resistant qualities were found to offer better protection to front line servicemen and women than, up to that point, traditional body armor could.

Light and strong, and much less cumbersome than its predecessors, kevlar became an indispensable part of a soldier’s battlefield uniform.

Let’s Talk About Those Variables

Even though kevlar will, and can protect soldiers and anyone else wearing it from most bullets, as far as arrows are concerned, it’s a completely different story.

As kevlar is impact resistant, it’s designed to spread the force that a bullet strikes it with throughout the material, which is one of the reasons why most bullets flatten upon impact with kevlar, rather than penetrating it completely.

Arrows, however, unlike bullets (which are made to spread upon and following impact, and thus cause far more damage than arrows) are specifically designed to penetrate the target that they’re fired at. Because their tip is much smaller and sharper than that of a bullet and are fired with less velocity, and use far less energy.

Lower energy means less dispersal, which significantly reduces the impact protection that Kevlar offers. This means, in most cases, when they’re fired at kevlar, arrows can, and usually do pierce Kevlar.

However, if the kevlar in question is stab rated (kevlar is also used in stab vests which are worn to prevent damage and injury from knives) and is thick enough, it can stop an arrow.

That said if the arrow is fired from an incredibly powerful bow, and the archer in question is using armor-piercing arrows, then even the thickest stab vest and highest rated personal armor is unlikely to be able to stop an arrow.

Can a Bulletproof Vest Stop an Arrow?

Again, this depends on whether or not the bulletproof vest in question is made with kevlar or uses different shielding material. Generally speaking, bulletproof vests fall into two different categories. Soft body armor and hard body armor. Arrows can, and do, pierce soft body armor which, for the most part, use kevlar in their construction.

Hard body armor (or hard bulletproof vests) though, arrows have a much tougher time with. They’re usually made using either hardened steel plate or high-density carbon fiber or a combination of both and unless the archer in question is using an incredibly powerful bow, is firing at his or her target from a relatively short distance, and using purpose designed armor-piercing arrows, there’s an incredibly good chance that anyone wearing hard body armor would live to tell the tale after being shot with an arrow.

The Parting Shot - Can Kevlar Stop Arrows?

Yes, it can. As long as the Kevlar in question is thick enough, has a fairly high stab rating and the arrow in question isn’t an armor-piercing one and hasn’t been fired at its target by a powerful bow. As we explained earlier, it isn’t a simple yes or no answer and depends entirely on the variables and the details.

Unfortunately, the chances are, if you’re wearing kevlar body armor the only thing that it will stop with any certainty is small arms fire and a bullet from a handgun. If you want to be really safe, and stand a chance of walking away from a bow fight relatively unscathed, trade your kevlar in for steel plate armor.