Concealable Body Armor Gets More Comfortable

Body armor and uniform manufacturers are developing new systems to make wearing concealable armor more comfortable.

For decades, body armor companies have been working to make concealable ballistic vests that are lighter, cooler, more comfortable, and more likely to be worn by officers on patrol.

In the late 1990s, the industry (and many police departments) turned toward a new synthetic polymer called Zylon, which was lighter, more flexible, and stronger than Kevlar. Or so departments thought.

Following two 2003 shooting incidents involving Zylon vests that resulted in the death of an officer in California and the serious wounding of an officer in Pennsylvania, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) decertified the “wonder fabric” for use in law enforcement ballistic vests. The NIJ’s research discovered that Zylon fibers rapidly degraded, especially under hot and humid conditions.

In response, the NIJ reexamined body armor certification standards and issued its sixth certification in 2009. The NIJ Threat Level 6 (or NIJ-6, as it is commonly called) standard resulted in the creation of vests that were sturdier, but also heavier, bulkier, and less flexible.

Since the NIJ-6 standard was issued, both law enforcement uniform and body armor manufacturers have been looking for new methods of making ballistic-resistant soft body armor that meets the dictates of the standard, but is also thinner, lighter, and more thermally bearable. They seem to be focusing on two areas: modifying the carrier and modifying the way ballistic panels are fastened to the wearer.

“The Holy Grail is the combination of ballistic protection and the decreased weight that is synonymous with officer comfort,” says Michael Haynes, director of channel development for Point Blank Enterprises/PACA, which develops, manufactures, and distributes body armor for the U.S. military and domestic and international law enforcement agencies.

In 2011, according to FBI statistics, more than 54,000 U.S. police officers were assaulted in the line of duty. Of the more than 160 who died, about 53 percent were not wearing body armor, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Many experts believe if armor can be made more comfortable for officers to wear, then fewer officers will be killed by felonious assault in the future.

The following is a look at a few law enforcement apparel and armor companies, and how they’re changing the way you wear concealable armor.

Blauer Manufacturing

Massachusetts-based uniform manufacturer Blauer has developed an external concealable body armor carrier, called Armorskin. The ArmorSkin vest covers an officer’s conventional ballistics carrier, which is secured to the body as usual with its straps for a snug, custom fit. Unlike some other external carriers which are closed via hook-and-loop systems, Blauer’s product uses two hidden zippers to close the false uniform shirt and complete the tailored look.

The carrier’s exterior comes in a variety of fabrics, including polyester, wool blend, rayon blend, and cotton-blend ripstop, which are matched to Blauer’s ripstop shirting and pant fabric. It also includes two-way pockets with hidden document storage, epaulets, and a center mic tab. The carrier is color matched to the company’s lightweight, moisture-wicking ArmorSkin Base Shirts, which come in short- and long-sleeved models, and the same variety of fabrics. Sizes range from XS to 6XL.

“The number one reason why police officers refuse to wear armor is discomfort,” says Blauer’s Senior Vice President Stephen Blauer. “External wear of armor is the most comfortable way to wear it, as it can be removed easily [when the officer is in a safe area], allowing the officer to dry off and giving him or her a break from the heat and weight of it.”

For additional comfort, the company also offers an ArmorSkin Suspension System, a suspender-like contraption that attaches to four points on an officer’s duty belt, to rebalance the belt and equipment between shoulders and hips. It is worn under the uniform-style carrier.

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