The ballistic protection for body armor usually requires both of high strength and high energy mitigation. In this work, we introduce and evaluate a new kind of body armor, i.e. a hybrid panel of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fabrics and soft energy absorption materials and structures (EAMS), by combing the advantages of bullet-proof and energy absorption of the respective material structures. A combined experimental and numerical study is conducted to evaluate the ballistic performance of the UHMWPE fabrics/EAMS hybrid panel. The resulting back-face signature (BFS) values of the hybrid panel are reduced by 6–17%, compared to the pure UHMWPE fabrics panel with the same areal density. If the EAMS is simply superimposed onto the UHMWPE fabrics, the reduction of BFS can be 50% or more with respect to the pure UHMWPE one. The effects of the geometrical factors of EAMS and mass ratio of UHMWPE fabrics to EAMS on the BFS values are studied using comprehensive finite element method (FEM) analyses. The strategies for optimal design of the UHMWPE fabrics/EAMS composite armor are proposed. The results presented herein shed useful insights for the design for high performance and energy mitigating body armors. © 2018, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.