Tradecraft

Body Armor For The Laymen: Everything You Wanted to Know About PPE But Were Too Afraid to Ask

Since prehistoric times, people have worn a variety of materials on their bodies in an attempt to prevent trauma from blunt force trauma, edged weapons, and projectiles. First with bone, leather, bronze, iron, and then steel—as technology has progressed, the materials of body armor have risen to address the threats both on and off the battlefield. Today, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), of which body armor is included, incorporates some of the most advanced materials in science. Challenging that however, technology of the threat has changed just as quickly, and today that has left many both in and outside of the industry confused on credible information for body armor and what is best for the threat environment faced. Add into that, unscrupulous or overseas vendors who rely on slight-of-hand or misdirection to falsely promote their product to the unsuspecting, the toxicity of online trolls vocalizing their disdain for any product not their favored, and a first-time buyer can wind up with something they trust their life on that will never meet the threat.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this PPE series is strictly informational, much like our COVID Chronicles on plate carriers, this series is not intended by SSE to sway or convince the reader that one specific brand of body armor is superior to all the others. In the end, this series is intended to provide the reader with a condensed and focused resource—nothing more. As always, check with your local laws as some states have regulations on ownership of body armor by civilians.

Trifecta between Ballistics, Weight, and Cost

In general, PPE (specifically body armor) comes at a trifecta (think of it as a sliding scale); a balance between ballistic protection, weight, and cost. You can have the most extreme level of protection to stop any and all threats, but it will be heavy and expensive. Oppositely, you can have body armor that is both light and protective (often using some of the most advanced materials on the market) but it is expensive. Inexpensive body armor can provide good levels of protection, but use traditional materials that are often very heavy. A compromise, or “sweet spot”, would be body armor that provides the best protection, reasonable weight, and moderately priced for the consumer. The following series of writings is an effort to best explain the topic of PPE, with specific focus on body armor, for the everyday reader, it includes the following: 

Part 1: The Different Types of Body Armor

Part 2: Protective Rating Explained

Part 3: Materials of Body Armor

Part 4: Application of Body Armor

About the Sponsor

This series is written by Saint Louis Shooting Enthusiasts as means to inform readership. Partnering with SSE, Hesco is a world-recognized leader in PPE and manufacturers a full spectrum of body armor, most at all recognized NIJ levels. Hesco body armor is manufactured here in the United States, certified by the NIJ, and available to all end-users. Hesco is a subsidiary to the PRÆSIDIAD brand, which is a global provider to a variety of security, defense, and protection products. Hesco has provided SSE with representative samples of various body armor as examples to the unique characteristics, materials, and manufacturing involved in its production. 

Meeting the Challenges of the Industry

As any global manufacturer, some of Hesco’s efforts have not gone without its challenges. In 2016, the 3400 series failed at a NIJ’s Follow-Up Inspection Test (FIT) and Hesco simply discontinued the product.

In 2018, the company voluntarily recalled a select number of 4400 series after a bad heat treatment was exposed during a contract overrun. This manufacturing failure led to one of four samples during a regular FIT test to experience full penetration. Hesco took immediate corrective action and re-FIT the model 4400, and the NIJ marked the issue as closed/resolved in early 2019 and reinstated the model’s certification. Separately, the 4401 series was certified after changes in the supplier material was resolved, but the 4401 replaced the 4400 when the latter was retired by Hesco in 2020.

Lastly in 2019, the 4600 and 3610 series also failed at a regular FIT test, resulting in those models to lose its NIJ certification. As before, Hesco took immediate action to issue notices to owners, request returns, and revised the design into its 4601 series. Similar challenges in certification are frequent with many PPE companies, particularly with those manufacturing at a global scale, and reflect the dynamic nature of the industry and ever-evolving threat profiles. How they handle those challenges, while meeting the needs and concerns of their customers, reflect the ethics of the company.

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