We’ve talked about improvised armor, though it’s been in the past. Like with weapons, armor is not universal. You wear armor to protect against specific threats and circumstances, rather than all the threats. Nothing will ever cover all the threats. Police riot gear, for example, is designed to protect them from the rioters. So, it’s protection from physical harm such as fists, thrown rocks, and bottles. It won’t protect from bullets.
From a writing standpoint, always dress your characters for the threats they expect face rather than the ones that may actually exist. Always dress them from a basis of what they know and are aware of rather than what you do. They may guess right, they may guess wrong, but those choices are honest to who they are.
So, while none of the ideas you floated in the questions are good ones, they are what someone with no experience in improvising armor might pick as opposed to dressing in multiple layers that can be easily shed, wearing leather, sports pads over or under the clothes, and choosing clothing that’s been designed to take a pounding.
The life vest will make it difficult to move, the goggles will cut off your peripheral vision, and, unless you’re in winter, winter coats will cause you to rapidly overheat.
Ironically, when you’re talking about improvised armor, the bog-standard male Hollywood action hero has the right of it. Thick denim jeans, leather jacket, motorcycle gauntlets, and biker boots. You might end up looking like the Terminator, but you can take a beating.
Likewise, if you don’t have boots, soccer shinguards can be helpful for protecting your shins when in hand to hand. The shins are one of the weak target points and even children know a kick to the shins hurts like hell, due to the lack of muscle, exposed bone, and nerves.
If you have the time, are desperate, creative, and have access, you can probably rig up some form of armor from various sports equipment.
It’ll be the difference between a few cuts, bruises, and the general scraping which come with hand to hand brawls. You want gear that’s designed to take impact, deflect force, and soften blows. In terms of sports equipment, though, most people don’t wander into bars wearing that unless they have some excuse. So, they will look very out of place as opposed to a jeans and a leather jacket.
However, this won’t help if someone’s coming after you with a weapon. It won’t necessarily save you, but it’ll make a difference.
Armor is, unfortunately, much harder to improvise than weaponry. Even good armor when ill-fitting can be detrimental. You need to be able to move and move freely with nothing inhibiting. So just pulling a guard’s riot armor off and throwing it on can ultimately be more harmful than helpful, due to the way it will disrupt and impede movement. You don’t want to wear anything poorly fitting or uncomfortable because the seconds you lose trying to account for it will be the difference between life and death. If you aren’t used to fighting in it, you will be bad at fighting in it, and it’s harder to learn how to fight in an outfit than it is to figure out a crowbar.
Instead, learn to assess a character’s limits. There will always be situations where our characters will find themselves outmatched. You can’t single-handedly defeat a riot, though they can work with and organize the participants. If the entire bar devolves into a fight, or they’re faced with one drunken angry man/woman plus a gaggle of friends and your character has no friends to stand behind them, the best course will be to extract themselves.
Retreat in the face of overwhelming odds is just good sense.
A single character is not going to be able to fight off an entire riot, but they can use it to cover their exit. By utilizing their surrounding environment in the bar, chairs, tables, bar stools, a character can create a path that blocks or causes difficulty when their enemies try to reach them.
Remember, improvised armor takes planning and should be based on the
threats your character expects to face. Defense always requires a basic
understanding of offense.
If you don’t know what you’ll be facing, then it’s difficult to defend against it and you can’t prepare for everything. If you’re characters aren’t in a situation where they have the time to craft and create their armor, consider the surrounding environment and use it. Terrain will always impact a fight and what characters have available to them to use.
And always have the world around them react to what they’re doing. If your character walks into a bar in mix matched football and soccer gear wearing biker boots and a helmet have the other characters behave accordingly.
Confusion and laughter are expected.
References and Resources:
This WikiHow has a lot of helpful information on how to make your own riot gear. One of the things you’ll notice and should take note of when improvising your fictional situations is the amount of preparation it takes.
This article on RideApart.com discusses how to adapt motorcycle gear into riot protection.