Escape From Tarkov Penetration Explained

Escape From Tarkov Penetration Explained
Images via Battlestate Games

Written by 

Harry Boulton


13th Dec 2022 17:14

In Escape From Tarkov, penetration is the key to winning pretty much every gunfight, but it can be quite confusing to understand at first for most players. Every time you choose your bullets in Escape From Tarkov you should be thinking about penetration, but it is - like most things in the game - a bit more complicated than it seems on the surface. So, to learn all about the Escape From Tarkov penetration system, make sure to check out the rest of this guide below.

What Is Penetration In Escape From Tarkov?

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Escape From Tarkov penetration is a value attached to every bullet in the game that determines its effectiveness in passing through the various classes of armour. It ranges from zero all the way to 79, with higher numbers progressively being more effective.

While higher numbers are obviously better, they do reach a point of diminishing returns when going against various armour types. A bullet with a pen value of 79 isn't going to do any more damage to a target wearing level four armour than a bullet with 45 pen (outside of one tricky condition which we will get to later), so you also don't want to be wasting high-value bullets on low armoured targets.

Furthermore, bullets either have enough penetration to bypass the armour, or they will do an imbalance of armour damage and flesh damage as only 'part' of the bullet passes through. The lower the percentage of armour left on a target, the higher the chance of a bullet penetrating. This is not directly related to the overall health of individual armour either, as a bullet will equally pass through a 35 health armour kit and a 200 health armour kit if it has a high enough penetration value. The main difference is that lower health armours drop in their overall armour percentage much quicker, so become far more affected by lower penetration bullets.

How Much Penetration Do Bullets Need In Escape From Tarkov?

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To better understand what each penetration value means, it is best to correlate each armour class with a penetration value ten times its number - so class four armour at 40 pen, class five at 50, and so on. 

The general rule of thumb is that you're going to want to have a pen value of no more than five points below the armour value to make a significant dent. So, a bullet with a penetration value of 35 will still take a few shots against class four armour, but a bullet with 40 penetration should ideally pass straight through. 

As mentioned previously, bullets that don't have a high enough penetration value to pass straight through do armour damage instead, which raises the chance of eventual penetration. This means that, unless you're a significant pen value below the targeted armour, you can eventually break through with enough shots.

This is also where high damage bullets with moderate penetration excel, as they break through armour significantly quicker, making up for their otherwise lack in penetration. Combining this with a high fire rate can also do wonders, as the overall time-to-penetrate can be equal for a lower pen bullet if you're able to connect with more of them.

On their website, Tarkov ballistics expert NoFoodAfterMidnight evaluates each round on a scale from 0-6, with zero being completely ineffective and six penetrating over 80% of the time. So, using this chart we can determine that ammo with a rating of at least four is the bare minimum that you'll want to be using, depending of course on the armour you expect to face.

With the ease that you can pick it up in the even the first day of a new wipe, class four armour is generally the baseline that you'll want to clear - unless you're going for specialised tactics like leg meta or headshots. So, you'll want your bullets to have at least 35 penetration, with higher values becoming increasingly more effective and valued.

Taking a look at our best Escape From Tarkov ammo list can give you a really good idea of which ammo to take for each round type, so make sure to read that if you're unsure.

Does Distance Affect Penetration In Escape From Tarkov?

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As we mentioned earlier, there is one rather major factor that can affect the penetration value of your bullets in Escape From Tarkov and that is the distance travelled. Unfortunately, after real-time ballistics were introduced into Escape From Tarkov, bullets now progressively decrease in penetration and damage as they travel in the air.

Looking at the 5.45x39mm PP gs round - which is one of the most popular early to mid-wipe bullets, it is illuminating how much distance can affect your chances of penetration. At a travel distance of just 50m the penetration of the bullet drops 1.25 to 34.75, with a further reduction down to 33.56 at 100m. While this doesn't seem like an awful lot, it could be the difference maker in not getting a one hit headshot kill.

If someone is wearing a class four helmet like the TC-2001, and you hit them in the head from 100m with 5.45x39 PP, there could be enough penetration and damage degradation to not surpass the required 35 damage for an instant kill. This is also something to factor in when looking at supposedly one-hit thorax kill bullets, as they will of course drop in damage and penetration over distance too.

Additionally, this mechanic is precisely why it is especially important to choose the highest penetration value possible when sniping. When dealing with targets at distances of up to 400m, you really do have to take into account the dropping values, as one-hit kills are near-essential at that range. Even the highly effective .338 Lapua Magnum FMJ will struggle to get a single hit thorax kill on class five armour beyond 150m, ruling out anyone wearing an Altyn or the ever-popular Gzhel-K.

So, that should give you all the information you need to understand the rather complicated Escape From Tarkov penetration mechanic - we promise it is not as confusing as it sounds! In the meantime though, make sure to have a read of this Escape From Tarkov best guns guide to make your pre-raid selection easier.

Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.

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