Concealable Body Armor Gets More Comfortable

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


Uniform manufacturer Elbeco calls the “V” Series of its Professional Performance System the evolution of the daily uniform.

In 2011, the Pennsylvania-based company introduced its V1 External Vest Carrier to the law-enforcement market. At the time, most concealable ballistic vests were worn underneath an officer’s uniform, which was usually made of non-breathable material itself. Underneath the vest, he or she wore a T-shirt, which soaked up the heat and sweat generated by many layers of clothing.

What made the V1 different was that it was engineered to work outside of an officer’s uniform shirt and was available for both men and women in a wide range of sizes/body types.

“That’s the biggest trend right now: to wear the armor externally,” says J.D. Devine, director of sales and marketing for Elbeco.

The uniform-style carrier itself doesn’t offer ballistic, stab, or slash protection. Conventional, soft body armor panels are inserted into the external carrier’s inner pouches, and the external carrier includes functional front pockets, a badge tab, epaulettes, a mic line loop, and flexible, underarm micromesh vents. It secures with a side Velcro closure for a custom fit.

To reduce bulk, Elbeco also created the UV1, a thin, moisture-wicking knit-fabric undershirt designed to look like a uniform shirt when worn under a vest carrier. Parts of the shirt visible to the public—pointed collars, shoulders, long or short sleeves, and buttoned shirt cuffs—are made of color-matched polyester fabric to give a professional (and yes, uniform) appearance when worn with the external carrier. They come in sizes from small to 6XL.

“Until a couple years ago, the external carriers were mostly tactical, SWAT looking, and public safety administrators didn’t want to use them because they preferred the traditional look of the daily duty uniform,” Devine says. “The compromise we have found works for administration and patrol officers who don’t want to compromise the image they have always projected.”

Working in tandem with the “V” series carriers is Elbeco’s VSS1 Suspension system, a suspenders-like harness that attaches to an officer’s duty belt so the entire weight of the belt and equipment doesn’t rest on his or her hips and lower back. The suspension system itself is also worn under the external vest.<div>KDH Defense Armor

KDH Defense Armor

KDH Defense Armor claims that its Transformer Armor System, which uses a harness system to directly support armor panels and hold them against the body, is revolutionary.

“With the Transformer, you wear the armor—the armor doesn’t wear you,” says Paul Larkin, the company’s national director of sales.

“A standard armor carrier holds the armor within, and does all the work,” Larkin notes. “If the shoulder straps (elastic/neoprene) stretch out over time, then the ballistics tend to drop down on the officer’s body and can expose their front or back to a potential ballistic event.”

The Transformer harness, on the other hand, attaches directly to the ballistic panels themselves, and is made of ri
pstop nylon that will not stretch out over time. The harness literally holds the armor in the correct position on an officer’s body.

“It’s extremely light, and not as bulky. It doesn’t even look like you have a vest on,” says Officer Mark Guillen, a veteran of the Eden (N.C.) Police Department, who has been testing the Transformer system for five months in his area’s hot, humid climate.

“A vest, when you sit down, rides up into your throat. This keeps all your plates together and tight. And if you’re outside chasing someone, or directing traffic, or running a K-9 track, instead of wearing a sweaty vest all day, you can just grab another sleeve [and change into a dry one.] It takes about a minute.”

The system comes with five standard protective sleeves per vest, so an officer can change them out at will much easier than removing a conventional ballistic vest to replace a wet, under-carrier T-shirt. Other manufacturers’ vests come with one carrier for the armor, and if an officer needs an additional carrier, he or she will need to purchase them at an average price of up to $150, according to Larkin.

The KDH suspension system can also fit into other types of carriers, including a uniform shirt sleeve, an overt vest sleeve, and a tactical MOLLE sleeve. Officers can simply then button their uniform shirt over it.

“The Transformer Armor System, which has the most ultra-concealable carrier option on the market, is the wave of the future for the law enforcement, federal and military community,” Larkin says.

<div>Point Blank Enterprises

Point Blank Enterprises

Florida-based Point Blank develops and manufactures concealable and tactical body armor for the U.S. military; federal agencies; and city, county, and state law-enforcement and corrections agencies. Its military-style, tactical armor is designed to be “modular” and “scalable”—so that other specialized protective pieces such as throat collars or cummerbund systems—can be attached onto the basic frame.

“Those are the buzz words now,” Point Blank’s Haynes says. “You have fewer officers being tasked with a wider variety of jobs as our police forces are shrinking…. They need to be able to go from a patrol-uniform profile one minute, to then potentially responding to an active-shooter situation, which would necessitate the quick addition of rifle plates, or perhaps a full maximum-coverage tactical vest. We try to maximize building off their base ballistic platform.”

What sets concealable ballistic vests manufactured by Point Blank subsidiaries Point Blank Body Armor and PACA Body Armor apart from its competitors is a Self-Suspending Ballistic System, or SSBS. The system is comprised of shoulder harness straps connected to the front and back of ballistic carrier panels. The suspending system prevents the ballistic panels from shifting or dropping, maintaining the original shape and coverage of the carrier itself. PACA’s Blue Steel and Point Blank’s Vision carriers, manufactured in both male and female models, also include an inner lining that offers electroshock weapon protection.

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Bryn Bailer is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Ariz.

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