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Old November 11, 2002, 11:40 PM   #1
David Park
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BulletProofME.com body armor review (long)

I've been wanting some sort of bullet-resistant vest for a while, and the recent "sniper" murders in the D.C. area finally made me decide to buy. (I didn't really expect to be a target, but it was a good excuse.)

The section on body armor in Boston's Gun Bible was written by the folks at BulletProofME, and it sounded like a good company committed to selling gear to us "mere civilians" in addition to law enforcement. Their web site has tons of information and pictures which I won't duplicate here. Head over there to learn the basics.

Choosing the Right Gear

Since I had finally decided to order, I planned to "buy quality and only cry once." After consulting the BulletProofME web site and talking with Nick at BPM on the phone, here's what I ordered:
  • ProMAX Concealable GoldFlex vest (Level IIIA)
  • Second Chance LST trauma plate
  • Coolmax undershirts (short sleeve and sleeveless)
  • Ceramic rifle plates and carrier (Level III/IV when worn with IIIA vest)
Since I don't plan to wear the vest every day, but only in potentially dangerous situations (like at the range), I wanted maximum protection. BPM generally recommends Level II Kevlar, but the Level IIIA GoldFlex (a type of Spectra aramid fiber, by Honeywell) is the same thickness and only a little bit heavier (but more expensive). For rifle protection, especially for concealed wear, ceramic is the best choice because the plates are shaped to fit your body. It's also lighter than steel, but again is more expensive and not as durable (don't drop them!).

I'm very tall and skinny, somewhat resembling a coat rack, so my vest size is Xtra-Small/Xtra-Tall. That was a custom order that would take a few weeks to make. (In fact it took exactly a month, since the invoice is dated Oct. 8 and UPS attempted to deliver last Friday, Nov. 8.) I had wanted rifle plate pockets sewn into the carrier, but the vest would be too narrow, so I got the separate carrier. That meant the plates could ship immediately, and Nick asked me if I wanted a loaner vest to wear with it (at no cost, except return shipping). They found a Safariland police surplus Level II vest in size Small/Tall, and I decided to try it. (The rifle plates weren't designed for use with a Level II vest, but reportedly the performance wouldn't degrade too much.)

Vest Comparison

Now that I have my custom vest and before I send the loaner vest back, I wanted to do a brief comparison. Here are pictures of both vests from the front and the back, the blue Safariland on the left and the white ProMAX on the right. The yellow rectangle is the trauma plate, positioned over the pocket on the Safariland vest so you can see it better.





The pictures aren't the best, but I hope you can see the difference in size and configuration. My Xtra-Tall vest has an extra inch at the bottom that covers my chest right down to the top of my belt when I sit, but it's not so long that the vest pushes on my belt and jabs me in the throat. In fact, there's a fairly generous amount of space around the throat compared to the Safariland vest, and the trauma plate pocket is also positioned lower, which aids comfort and concealability while not sacrificing much coverage. In all other areas, the ProMAX vest lives up to the "Pro-tection to the MAX-imum" slogan. The ProMAX has a bit of overlap at the sides and covers much more area under the arms, with a snug fit aided by the extra side straps. The protection also extends up much higher on the back. Even though the Safariland is a size larger (S compared to XS) it did not overlap at my sides, which shows that proper measurement and sizing of a garment like this is critical.

Both vests are surprisingly soft and comfortable, and the elastic helps them to flex and expand with your movement. They do get hot on warm days. I think the heavy-duty elastic side straps on the Safariland are slightly more durable, and it was obviously designed for daily use and quick on-and-off. However, I had a heck of a time trying to adjust the shoulder straps on the Safariland to fit me. The ProMAX, being custom fitted, is obviously much better. As a male, I thought the cut-out on the front flap was a nice touch. My only complaint so far is that the rear panel is wider than the shoulder straps, which means they tend to stick out more than on the Safariland's design. It's very noticeable under a T-shirt, but not so much with a heavier button-front shirt. The vests do "break in" after you wear them awhile, so maybe it will conform to my body better in the future. Obviously I didn't want to break in the loaner vest, but I did wear it to work once or twice to see if anyone noticed, and nobody said anything.

Rifle Plates

Getting the external carrier for the ceramic plates is the best option, I think. A carrier with rifle pockets might make concealment easier, but practically speaking these things are very difficult to hide, and even the ceramic is pretty heavy (11 lbs., compared to 18 lbs. for Level III steel) so it's better to have an easy way to put them on and take them off as needed. The ceramic does match my body shape nicely, especially the back plate. If I wear the carrier over the vest, I can conceal everything under a shirt and suit jacket, but it looks like I have a barrel chest and gained a lot of weight (which in a way I have). The only way to really conceal all this is with a heavy winter coat. Why conceal at all? So the guy shooting at you with the rifle won't know not to aim for your chest. I don't know how often I'll wear the plates, but it's the type of thing that, when you really need it, it's too late to run out and buy them. Now, if I could just figure out how to duct-tape a second plate to my back...

Accessories

I'm sold on the sleeveless Coolmax shirts, and need to get some more. I already liked Coolmax socks for making boots wearable in the summer, and the sleeveless shirt is a great help in keeping a vest from feeling like a straitjacket. The short-sleeve shirt works too, but is not quite as comfortable.

The LST trauma plate is simply a thin piece of steel wrapped in Kevlar. It's lighter than an all-steel plate, but still offers that extra bit of protection against blades and blunt trauma. Speaking of blunt trauma, I think more police have been saved by their vests in auto accidents than from getting shot. That's an extra incentive to wear the vest on driving trips.

Cost

Body armor is not cheap. A common phrase when considering high-dollar items like this is, "How much is your life worth?" There's some sense to that, but it shouldn't imply that protection is only available to the rich (and I'm definitely not rich). Nick at BPM actually tried to steer me away from the more expensive IIIA GoldFlex, arguing that Level II Kevlar is nearly as good. Maybe they have a bigger profit margin on Kevlar , but it seemed to me like they genuinely want to do right by their customers. Their unused police vests start around $300, and used vests are available for less. My vest was more expensive, but I definitely think it was worth it, mainly for the custom fit. The price of an inexpensive vest is comparable to a decent handgun, and even my entire package is in the same range as a battle rifle like an AR-10 or M1A. Which is more useful, a weapon (probably one of many in your safe) that you may not even be able to carry legally unless the SHTF, or concealed protection that is legal everywhere (as far as I know), even D.C. and NYC. As KSFreeman likes to say, you need the sword and the shield, or as the BPM web page says, "One vest and one gun, beats NO vest and two guns!"

Anyway, this probably sounds more like a commercial than a review, but I'm very happy with my purchase (and so is my credit card company). I think body armor should be part of the essential gear of more than just police officers. Also, all it would take is another North Hollywood shootout for the grabbers to try to get ballistic vests banned for "civilian" use, so don't wait until it's too late. Personally, I hope I never have an opportunity to test the vest's effectiveness, but even if it "only" prevents a tragic range accident, a ballistic vest will have paid for itself a million times over.
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Old November 12, 2002, 01:44 AM   #2
Skunkabilly
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Nice!

Anyway I just checked their website, all I can find is the Promax stuff...where is the Safariland and Second Chance goodies?
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Old November 12, 2002, 10:08 AM   #3
David Park
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The other brands are listed on the Police Surplus page under "Unused, Late Model." They used to have the Second Chance Ultima listed, but it's not there any more. Since it seems that these vests are unused surplus rather than new from the factory, it probably depends on what they have in stock. My Safariland loaner appeared new and the date on the Kevlar was fairly recent, so I wouldn't be turned off by the "surplus" label.
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Old November 13, 2002, 10:57 AM   #4
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Good review! I plan on purchasing all of my high dollar stuff when I gradamatate. The review will help me in my decisions.
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Old November 13, 2002, 12:43 PM   #5
Incursion
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Do you think the Level II vest can be worn under a T-shirt without anyone noticing?
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Old November 13, 2002, 12:55 PM   #6
Skunkabilly
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I wonder if they can special order? One of those Safariland interceptor or cover 6 vests would raise da roof!!
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Old November 13, 2002, 01:57 PM   #7
David Park
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Incursion, Level II in standard Kevlar is still kinda thick. I tried it, and if I stand perfectly straight, it's mostly concealed. However, as soon as I bend over or even slouch (bad posture), it prints like crazy. Most people might not recognize the shape of a handgun if it prints, but a vest looks like a vest. You could always claim it's a back brace. Under a heavy cotton dress shirt or Hawaiian shirt, it does disappear (more or less).

If concealability under minimal clothing is an issue, I think one of the thinner models (like recent Second Chance) with less than maximum coverage would be best. All that coverage is nice, but it's harder to conceal, reduces your mobility and flexibility, and is hotter. A lot depends on your body shape as well. It's kind of like carrying a full-size handgun while wearing a T-shirt and shorts. You can do it, and most people won't be attentive enough to spot it even if you print, but it's still hard to fully conceal.

Skunk, I think they carry the tactical stuff. Give 'em a call and ask. They also answer email, but might take longer (I received a very quick response, but maybe I was lucky).
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Old November 18, 2002, 12:54 AM   #8
part swede
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I ordered the Second Chance Ultima level II from Galls the day before the Norfolk, Neb. robbery, and a few weeks before the snipers went shooting out east with alacrity (not that level II would have helped in that case). Anyhoo, it is quite comfortable and concealable. And about 1100 smackers. I will espcially be wearing it at ranges, on airline trips, and in America's crapholes like Chicago.
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Old November 18, 2002, 08:47 PM   #9
Incursion
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Does the spike PRISM technology make it a lot thicker?
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Old November 21, 2002, 04:36 AM   #10
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My Second Chance Monarch level II vest is pretty thin - they use Kevlar 129 (as opposed to just 29). The "Butterfly" stitching they use makes the panels extra flexible.

I've not had a chance to try their newer vests, such as the Ultima (which is made with Zylon), but the Monarch is the most comfortable best I've worn so far. It beats out all the others I've tried, such as Safariland, RBR, Point Blank, and PACA.

I wear my vest when I go to the range, or to places known to be "seedy" (East L.A., etc). I have a level II Kevlar panel in my backpack for when I'm at school.
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Old November 21, 2002, 01:36 PM   #11
Mark D
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Just a side note...

Kevlar has a MUCH higher degredation themperature than most of the new "ultralight" ballistic fibers. Kevlar is good up to 600 degrees if I remember correctly.

Many of the new fibers are just densified polyethelene, and if they get heated above 190-200 degrees, they loose their strength and basically revert to being regular plastic. Bye-bye ballistic properties!

Consider how hot the interior of a car can get during the summer months, or worse, a trunk. 200 degrees isn't beyond reason.

Do some searching on the net. All of the info is out there.

Buy safe.
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Old November 21, 2002, 04:20 PM   #12
Incursion
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part swede, are you LE or a civilian?
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Old November 21, 2002, 08:51 PM   #13
Incursion
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double tap
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Old November 22, 2002, 09:24 AM   #14
part swede
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Civilian.

It also has the advantage of bulking up your appearance a little, and the corset-like support can prevent tiring of the back, in my opinion.

Last edited by part swede; November 22, 2002 at 10:36 AM.
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Old November 22, 2002, 03:24 PM   #15
Mark D
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Back support... I have a PACA IIIA vest that routinely doubles as a back brace for those times when I have to wait a day to see the chiropractor.
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Old November 27, 2002, 06:03 AM   #16
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Greetings,
You may want to reconsider Zylon. See the posts under M.D. Labs over at http://www.tacticalforums.com/

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Old November 27, 2002, 01:19 PM   #17
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Exactly why I stick to Second Chance's Monarch lineup. Kevlar may be "old" technology, but hey, it works. Not to mention that it decomposes at a higher temperature than even Nomex, and a lot higher than the plastic stuff (Zylon, Spectra, etc).
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Old November 27, 2002, 03:26 PM   #18
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Whoa, that's some scary stuff. Thanks for posting this guys.
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