Safety in troubled times: body armor for the fashionable techie

Safety in troubled times: body armor for the fashionable techie

So, you’ve built your backyard bunker for the coming apocalypse, when the starving hordes who’ve lost their jobs to robots go rampaging through the streets of Silicon Valley, hellbent on vengeance against the machines and their creators. And maybe you also have a nice fortified shelter in New Zealand, in case there’s time to escape the violent epicenter of upheaval.

But how to get safely to your hiding place, here in a future land already awash with guns?

You need clothing that can protect you from bullets. Or possibly a handy laptop carrier that unfolds in a split second into a bullet-resistant shield. It’s time to armor up.

And fortunately, we’ve done some research and testing, and can offer some ideas about what, and what not, to buy.

Now, you mustn’t picture your bullet-protected self looking like some soldier from a battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan. Since you really don’t know when Armageddon might come, you need ballistic attire that can be worn or carried at all times. And while this might mean you lack defense against high-powered rifle rounds, you’ll still be in a position to survive close-up shotgun blasts or shots from a .357 Magnum.

To keep you safe we put three ostensibly bulletproof items to the test: a fleece vest, a concealable vest and a fold-out shield. All are rated at “Level IIIA” protection, so they’re supposed to stop virtually any handgun round. Two of the items use Kevlar for stopping bullets, while the other uses thick polystyrene. Both vests offer purported front-and-back protection, with the more substantial one also shielding the sides.

The results, in two cases, were somewhat surprising. The result in the other, not so much.

Surprise No. 1: a lightweight, fairly discreet vest that costs less than half of most similar items did the job quite well.

Surprise No. 2: a laptop case could actually save your life.

Not surprising at all: if your bulletproof vest closes in front with a zipper, you’ve got a problem.

While military uses account for the vast majority of global body armor sales, civilian purchases make up a small but significant portion of the market, with 7.4 percent, according to a 2016 Grandview Research report.

“A rise in burglaries, home invasions, and robberies is driving the demand for armor suits among the general public,” the market research firm said, in a description of threats likely matching possible worst-case scenarios of massive social and economic breakdown.

To see how these items would perform under fire, we took them out into the sun-baked hills south of Salinas. And because we couldn’t know in advance if they would actually stop bullets, we declined to put them on and get shot. Instead, we used a plump frozen turkey, slightly thawed, which served as a reasonable stand-in for a human torso. We tested each vest by wrapping it around the bird, and in the case of the fold-out shield, draping it over.

Each item received up to six gunshots from each of three weapons: a .38 Special handgun, a more powerful .357 Magnum handgun, and a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot. Shots were fired from 10 to 15 yards away.

First up was the BulletSafe BulletProof vest, the garment that uses polystyrene instead of Kevlar and costs a remarkably low $299. The vest is fairly low profile, and can be worn somewhat discreetly under a shirt or sweater that’s not too tight. Protective panels wrap around to provide side protection. This item stopped all the .38 rounds, and all the buckshot, and most of the .357 bullets — two of the latter hit in the bottom inch of the protective insert, and while they didn’t penetrate the polystyrene, they were close enough to the edge to slip through to the turkey. So we can say this vest protected against all three weapons, except the actual area of protection would be up to two inches shorter and two inches narrower than the full 18”x15.75” area of advertised per-panel protective coverage.

Next up was the BulletBlocker Fortress Fleece Vest, a comfortable garment with some retro chic. Unlike the other vest, there are no broad Velcro bands to wrap around and fasten — one zip and you’re good to go. Or maybe not. That closure was an issue, and not the only one. When a .38 round hit the zipper, it blew it open, and two more rounds went through the gap, but were stopped by the Kevlar in a tab underlying the zipper. A number of additional .38 slugs that hit in the chest area were indeed stopped by the Kevlar. But all the .357 bullets went straight through the material. And although the zipper was still functional after the .38 hit it, the first shotgun blast blew it open to subsequent shots, and when it came to turkey-dinner time, we were spitting out buckshot.

BulletBlocker, after our testing, expressed surprised that our review of a supposedly bulletproof garment included shooting it. It was only three weeks later, after we’d sought a response from the company to their vest’s poor performance, that a representative claimed that because the firm hadn’t anticipated we’d fire bullets at the item, it had sent us a “showroom” version “made from scrap Kevlar pieces to simulate weight and flexibility” instead of using actual ballistic panels. BulletBlocker also said its latest version of the vest has a stronger zipper that shouldn’t blow open under fire.

Last for testing was the MTS Multi-Threat Shield, which folds out nearly instantaneously from the laptop bag when you pull down a handle while giving the bag a shake. The idea is that you then drape it over yourself, or hold it out in front, and the shield provides nearly full-body coverage for an average-sized person in a crouch. This item stopped everything we shot at it. Of course there’s an obvious and serious weakness here: it’s not going to protect you unless you can see you’re about to get shot. The hidden assassin, or one creeping up behind, could kill you before you had a chance to deploy the shield. Add the fact that the MTS would be really hard to use in a car, and it becomes a solid, but limited, personal-security solution.

BulletBlocker Fortress Fleece Vest

Star rating, out of five: one-half star

Price: $750
Weight: about 4 pounds
Features: two hand warmer pockets; two interior gun pockets; front and back Kevlar panels can be removed, so vest can be cleaned; can get full-wrap protection for another $175

MTS Multi-Threat Shield

Star rating, out of five: 3.5

Price: $899
Weight: 8 pounds
Dimensions: 3 feet by 18 inches
Features: laptop compartment; carrying strap

BulletSafe Bulletproof Vest

Star rating, out of five: 4.5
Price: $299
Weight: just under 6 pounds

Features: front and back pouches to add steel/ceramic plates for protection against rifle bullets

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Published at Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:00:13 +0000