Author: Ron LaPedis
Each year, body armor vendors kick things up a notch. PoliceOne visited Angel Armor and Armor Express at SHOT Show and, as you can see by the following six trends, armor manufacturers are doing everything they can to help police departments make the right choice when purchasing ballistic protection for officers.
1. Low visibility external carriers for everyday use
It’s no secret that many departments are moving away from duty belts and to load-bearing vests. As this article points out, officers who carry most of their equipment – which often weighs close to 30 pounds – on vests rather than duty belts experience significantly less hip and lower-back pain.
As long as the officer is wearing an external vest, why not put their ballistic panels into it and call it a day? Angel Armor and Armor Express were showing off their latest external carriers. The carriers are available in standard uniform colors (black, navy and tan) and others by special request. Even though the latest low-visibility carriers look like they button in front, they are secured from the side like traditional armor carriers.
2. New shaping using clothing industry expertise and customer feedback
Both manufacturers I talked to said they had been working with fashion designers and apparel manufacturers who know exactly what the human body looks like and how to shape clothing to it for comfort.
In the past, ballistic panels and carriers were scaled by math. A smaller panel had the exact same shape as a bigger panel. But apparel manufacturers have known forever that male and female, and smaller and larger bodies, all have different proportions. This means that manufacturers need to tailor each size of panel and carrier to the average proportions for that size.
Angel Armor worked with a research team at Colorado State University in Fort Collins to conduct 3D body scans of officers to help re-design its RISE 2.0 carrier for improved comfort and coverage.
The completely new Bravo design from Armor Express gives the wearer more clearance under their neck and arms. Mike Criswell, senior designer, started the Bravo ballistic panel project and Monica Russ, product development manager followed, designing new carriers around them. Both have extensive backgrounds in the apparel/shirt industry and Monica attended fashion school before starting her career. Mike really understands fit, and he applies his knowledge when designing tactical gear.
3. Stretch when you sit down
Your armor should not feel like the Batsuit when you wear it. It needs to move with you, especially when you sit down. Older carriers have large slabs of hook and loop fabric on the side, which have no give in them.
Whether internal or external, the latest carriers are “stretchy” so that they move with you. Angel Armor has always used overlapping front and rear carriers attached with elastic-loaded rubber straps on each side. Armor Express has gone a different route, with a stretchy cummerbund that is attached to and stretches from the back. These new designs mean cops do not have to worry about their vest shifting or riding up into their neck and throat when sitting down.
4. External plate pouches
In the old days (meaning last year), I had to dissemble my armor to get to the rifle plate carrier, which was a hook and loop (Velcro) sealed pouch hidden inside the carrier. If I wanted to add or remove my plate, I had to unseal the main body of the carrier, blindly feel for the plate pouch, and then slide my plate(s) into it.
Because of the move to external carriers for everyday use, why not put the plate pouches on the outside where they are easier to get to? In fact, why not put them on the front and the back?
Both manufacturers offer external front and rear top-loading combo plate pockets to accommodate a variety of rifle plate sizes and thicknesses, maximizing the coverage area. The Armor Express Traverse dress carrier maintains the low-visibility look by hiding the front plate carrier under a zipper opening disguised as a button front.
Angel Armor managed to combine last year’s two-plate Truth Snap 308S system into one plate called the 308C, which is almost 30 percent thinner and lighter. The new Truth 855 ceramic strike plate ups the ante to protect the wearer from M855 “green tip” ammo when worn with the 308C on top of their Level IIIa armor.
Unlike other ballistic materials, ceramic is subject to chipping and can shatter if it is dropped. Because it is much less expensive to replace just the strike face rather than an entire rifle-rated plate, Angel Armor went with an easy-to-replace separate plate.
5. Specific designs for fire and EMS
Since fire and EMS personnel are being brought into warm or hot zones in an active shooter event, they need some armor love too. But it gets a bit pricey when an agency needs to equip all of its firefighters and paramedics with armor. Armor Express thinks it has the answer with its Hardcore FE product. It comes with or without MOLLE panels and has what the company calls a “dynamic armored cummerbund.” In a nutshell, there are multiple side panels that can fold or unfold giving the vest a 10-inch variation, allowing you to share vests among staff.
Along with the Hardcore FE, Armor Express partnered with Buffalo Armory to offer the Triton, an affordable Multi-Hit NIJ .06 certified level III steel plate with Polyurea coating that also will stand up to M855 green tip. Measuring only .21” thick with a weight of 6.3lbs in a 10×12 “shooters cut” configuration, it is substantially thinner and less expensive than laminate/ceramic rifle armor, allowing agencies to put one or two into every one of those shared fire and EMS vests.
6. Wire routing tabs and pockets
Another trend is wire-routing tabs and pockets – lots of pockets.
While tactical pants have plenty of pockets, sometimes they are hard to get to, especially when sitting or kneeling, or you just need to carry more stuff than will fit in them.
Angel Armor’s RISE 2.0 has two hidden front body-facing utility pockets made of durable high performance stretch material ideal for your radio, cellphone, extra magazine and/or a backup firearm or folding knife. It also has a front-zippered admin pocket with low-profile, laser-cut, MOLLE/PALS-compatible Velcro laminate material with microphone loops.
Armor Express has various pocket layouts depending on the model. These include a rear hidden lumbar map pocket, zipper cover with camera mount, wire routing ports, ambidextrous utility pockets, and a Napoleon chest pocket with zippers or hook and loop closures. The company’s low visibility vests also offer concealed ID tag and badge tab attachment points.
Considerations prior to purchasing body armor
Like buying a car, there are dozens of decisions to be made before cutting that purchase order. With the new NIJ Standard 0101.07 about to be released this year, the wrong purchase could be deadly for cops in the field.
How do you distribute your funds over the carrier, armor panels and rifle plates? One size does not fit all, and each person’s armor needs to be tailored to their mission.
Carriers with fewer features might be great for some, while the latest style with tons of features might be better for others. As discussed above, shared carriers could be an option. Maybe heavier and less-expensive panels for some, lighter but pricier panels for others. Does a first responder need a lighter but more expensive plate, a heavier but cheaper plate, or no plate at all?
And while not a trend, your buyers should ask for a copy of the NIJ letter that proves the armor complies with the NIJ standards and hasn’t just been “tested to NIJ standards.” For bonus points, buyers also can ask if the manufacturer has attained certification to BA 9000, the NIJ body armor quality management standard. This lets buyers know that the armor they are buying is as good as the armor that was submitted for compliance. For more information on BA 9000, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more SHOT Show coverage, visit https://www.policeone.com/shot-show/.