- FRS/GMRS Radio Comms: Interface with Electronic Hearing Protection, Setup, and Ensuring Reliability
The purpose of this article is to serve as a basic guide to individuals who wish to use their handheld FRS/GMRS or similar radios in conjunction with their electronic hearing protection headsets for use as tactical or range communications equipment. What I'll be covering is the basic setup (required cables, PTT's, etc) and ways to ensure reliability/durability of your comms system. Section One - Setup: Setup of handheld FRS/GMRS radios for interface with electronic earpro is quite simple and can be done fairly inexpensively. Most electronic earpro headsets produced now have a 3.5mm audio IN port on one of the earcups. Most handheld radios use a two-pin audio interface system, a 2.5mm port for audio IN and a more common 3.5mm port for audio OUT. To simply pipe in audio from your radio to your headset what you need is a 3.5mm male-to-male cable, such as the the one pictured below. You can pick whatever length and style suits your needs best but I recommend: Cable length of 3 feet for a belt mounted radio setup. This length will be perfect for most users. Both connectors are L shaped. This will keep the connections low-profile and reduce snagging/pulling of the connections which reduces wear and will minimize the chance of a connection pullout. Non-braided cable. Something I've learned is braided cables transfer rubbing/bumping sounds more easily than non-braided cables and these sounds WILL be heard in your headset. Unless you need extreme abrasion resistance I would recommend against using a braided cable. The above setup will play all incoming audio in your headset, keeping your radio silent. However, if you want to be able to speak without needing to grab your radio then what you need is a third component - a PTT or Push-To-Talk microphone such as the one pictured below. These handheld PTT's are usually a speaker/mic combo. They have a small microphone inside for your speech and a speaker to play incoming audio. The reason they include a speaker is so the audio source is moved from your radio to a position closer to your head, provided you've mounted the PTT on your chest or similar area. This theoretically makes hearing the audio easier, but many of these cheap PTT speakers are quite weak even with the radio volume turned to max. For our purposes however we will be disregarding the speaker altogether, as we want to interface our radios with our headsets therefore playing the incoming audio in the headset, making the PTT speaker irrelevant. That said these PTT's typically have a 3.5mm audio OUT port on the bottom. To create a link from your radio to your headset all you need to do is take your 3.5mm male-to-male cable and connect it to the audio OUT port on the PTT and the audio IN port on your headset. The PTT is connected to the radio and will occupy both audio ports. Now you have comms piped directly into your headset and a remote push-to-talk system that allows you to leave your radio holstered, making communicating much easier and more hassle free. Peltor ComTac users, a note - You can do this with your headsets as well even though they lack a 3.5mm IN port. Peltor uses their proprietary two-pin hookups on these headsets. What this means is you need an adapter cable which Peltor themselves produce in a couple lengths and coiled or non-coiled versions. Generic aftermarket versions are also available. These cables cost about $20 to $30. Pictured below is one of these cables. Total cost of setup: The largest variable here is likely to be the headset you use. Electronic hearing protection varies widely in cost from about $30 a set to over $300 a set. The radio can also vary quite a bit in price. Cost with basic electronic earpro, low cost radio: ~$50 electronic earpro headset (such as the Impact Sport) ~$35 radio$5 to $15 3.5mm male-to-male cable ~$30 PTT Total approximately $115 to $130 Section Two - Ensuring Reliability: Now we will focus on protecting your electronics from water and other environmental damage. Water that isn't deionized carries contaminants that can interact with the metals on PCB's (Printed Circuit Boards) and the connections soldered on them. Water can also damage integrated circuits depending on their construction. Salt water in particular is damaging to electronics. Aside from poor quality control or bad design the primary cause of failure in electronics is either mechanical (physical destruction/damage) or environmental (static, water, etc). Protecting all three components of your comms system from environmental factors is key to ensuring it is reliable and functions when needed. First, let's examine the radio. This particular radio is a Midland GXT1000. This radio carries a "JIS4" rating. JIS is the "Japanese Industrial Standard". A rating of 4 means splashing water from any direction shall have no harmful effect. To see exactly what this means we're going to open the radio and look inside. First of all the battery compartment is fitted with a gasket (the gray band) that seals against the battery door. This should prevent rainfall or splashing water from getting inside the battery compartment. Next we have the radio internals, seen after opening the radio body. The body is fitted with a gasket (the orange band) so the internals should be at least moderately protected from rainfall or splashing water. However, the electronics are not protected directly. There is no conformal coating on the electronics, leaving them exposed to environmental hazards should something breach the radio body. If the radio were to be submerged water would come through the speaker vent or other unsealed areas and come into direct contact with the electronics. I will cover "conformal coating", how to apply it, and what it does later. While you're inside the radio you should also look for bad solder joints. Should your radio not have a gasket a cheap, quick fix would be to apply some electrical tape to the area where the body pieces meet. You could also apply a gasket making material and form your own gasket, though you should check for chemical compatibility to make sure it won't damage the radio body. These are of course band-aid solutions and I would recommend picking up a radio with a decent water resistance rating to ensure its reliability in wet conditions. Now let's examine the PTT internals. These are fairly simple, with a basic PCB, a couple small capacitors or similar components, and a few solder joints where wiring meets the PCB. This PTT does have a gasket (the black band) and so the internals should be protected from rain or splashing water. As with the radio you should examine the PCB for bad solder joints. Here on the other side (the front) we have the microphone and speaker. The microphone is the small cylinder in the upper left corner. Seen in the lower left corner is the activation button for the PTT. Should you decide you have no use for the speaker, never will, and want to ensure the PTT is silent (won't accidentally play audio out loud) you can simply remove the speaker entirely by cutting the two wires seen below. Conformal Coating, Explanation and Application: Conformal coating is a broad term encompassing a variety of electronics coatings. Conformal coatings are typically applied extremely thin and serve the purpose of acting as a barrier between the electronics to which the coating is applied and damaging environmental factors such as moisture. To keep this simple I won't be diving into the various coatings here and will focus on just one, the one I use, that being MG Chemicals Silicone Modified Conformal Coating. This coating applies easily, dries quickly, and is one of the cheapest conformal coatings available. It is about $15 for a 55ml bottle. It comes with a brush applicator cap. Upon application the coating will be tack-free within 5 to 7 minutes and dry enough for reassembly of the device in about 30 to 40 minutes. This coating can be soldered through if you need to make repairs. NOTE: I am NOT an electronics expert. If you apply this coating you do so at your own risk. There may be components that are not suitable for coating. I don't know what components those might be. In addition applying this coating or making other modifications likely voids the manufacturer warranty. To apply you simply paint the coating onto whatever electronic components you are trying to protect. You do not need to coat the entire circuit board but it's a good idea to coat the entire board surface front/back and all components, solder joints, etc on the board if possible. You certainly want to cover all solder joints and small board components entirely with the coating. With this particular coating the electronics should be ready for reassembly in about 30 to 40 minutes after application. To aid in application you can use a UV flashlight. Conformal coatings typically have a UV tracer in them which allows the coating to fluoresce under UV light for inspection purposes, allowing you to check for missed spots. This coating can be applied not just to the PTT circuit board but to the boards in your radio and your electronic hearing protection. I would strongly recommend coating the PCB's in your headset (if they aren't already) as they are constantly exposed to salt and moisture through your sweat. I would also examine the headset connections to make sure a wire won't come loose. The Peltor Tactical 100 headset for example has a ribbon wire that can come loose and cause function issues. However, I would again caution that some components may not be suitable for coating. This should not be an issue in the earpro headset (conformal coatings are used in the MSA Sordin Supreme Pro-X and Peltor ComTac III headsets on all components) but radios are complicated electronics with many different components. The radio is what I would be most careful with. Closing: A simple inspection of your electronics and proper application of a conformal coating can mean the difference between gear that will survive harsh conditions and gear that will randomly fail at the worst moment. Of course there are issues with material durability and construction, especially with these cheap PTT units, but that's a complicated issue. My recommendation is to only buy known name brand PTT units as they will likely be higher quality than cheaper off-brand units. You should also take care to select a good quality 3.5mm cord and get in the habit of inspecting all cables for wear as you use your gear. There are of course some things not covered here, such as radios without a simple two pin connection system but that is beyond the scope of this article. My hope is to have provided you with enough information to make an informed decision about your comms equipment, know what modifications to make to enhance its environmental resistance, and know what to look for to find units with an appropriate level of durability.
- Body Armor Sizing Guide - How to Select Proper Rifle Plate and BALCS Armor Size
As there is currently no published, universal guide to fitting yourself for body armor I will be doing my best here to create such a guide. It should be noted in advance that choosing the appropriate size for armor, including both soft armor and rifle plates, involves multiple variables and can be a highly individualized process. That said this guide is designed to be as general as possible but there are always exceptions to the rule, so if possible it is best to test fit actual armor before committing to a purchase. All dimensions called out here are in inches. Sizing yourself for hard armor – There are two hard armor size systems used for “full size” torso plates in the U.S. – the non-standardized ‘LEO’ size system and the standardized SAPI size system developed by the U.S. military. The LEO (referring to law enforcement) size system was developed by the armor industry in the early days of commercial hard armor in an effort to create a universal industry standard size system. However, it is an informal standard not enforced by anything except the fact of convenience for commercial armor manufacturers. As such plates made to any of the three sizes under the LEO size system can have any variety of cuts and actual dimensions can be off by as much as a full inch. The SAPI size system however is fully standardized, with every dimension specced under a published standard. This system is enforced by the fact that DoD (Department of Defense) requirements are strict, so there is little to no variance in plate dimensions or cut style among SAPI sized plates regardless of type or manufacturer. Commercial armor intended to be sold to users in the U.S. military must meet the SAPI dimensional specs or it will not interface properly with issued equipment. As the U.S. military is the single largest buyer of body armor in the world the SAPI size system has become the de facto standard for hard armor sizing in the U.S., next to the LEO system. The LEO system is composed of three sizes, 8x10, 10x12, and 11x14. Plates in 10x12 are extremely common and as such so are carriers made for them. 8x10 is considered the “Small” size, 10x12 “Medium”, and 11x14 “Large”. Most adult American males will find the 10x12 size to be adequate. To size by chest size (circumference, as measured around fullest part of chest as illustrated below) for the LEO system, you would follow this chart – 8x10: chest size of 37” or below. 10x12: chest size of 37” to 45” 11x14: chest size of 45” or larger. Note that these are generalities based upon the SAPI size system as there was never a fitting standard developed for the LEO system, so I have done my best to adapt the measurements used in the SAPI system to the LEO system. To size by chest size for the SAPI system, you would follow this chart: Extra Small: chest size of 33” or below Small: Chest size of 33” to 37” Medium: Chest size of 37” to 41” Large: Chest size of 41” to 45” Extra Large: Chest size of 45” and up. This fitting system was determined by the U.S. military. SAPI plate dimensions are shown below – To measure your chest circumference, measure around the fullest part of your chest as shown: Ensuring proper plate fit – To ensure proper plate fit it is best to make a cardboard (similar stiff materials can be used as well) cutout of the plate sizes/cuts you’re interested in to physically check for proper coverage and fit. To properly orient the plate on the vertical axis, stick your pointer finger in your suprasternal notch. Then take the plate and bump the top of the plate into your finger. This is illustrated below. Proper placement of the front plate is typically on that spot or within two finger widths of it if you desire to lower the plate slightly. Now you can check for coverage of vitals (heart, lungs, major arteries) and other organs such as the diaphragm. There is no hard rule for what exactly a plate should cover as armor is always a balance of protection vs. weight and ergonomics. To check for ergonomics, punch out with your arms as if shooting a handgun. Shoulder and arm movement through that range should not be impeded. Also be sure to bend over and/or go into a deep crouch to check if the plate digs in or contacts your belt area or thighs. If it does it may jam up into your neck or chin. If you find the plate does this when you crouch or bend over, it is likely too long. You should be able to comfortably crouch, bend over, and your arms should not be impeded through the majority of their range of motion with a properly sized plate. Some users opt to go down one plate size for the purposes of decreasing weight and improving ergonomics. So for example a user whose technically correct plate size is SAPI Medium might choose to wear SAPI Small plates for the aforementioned reasons. Naturally the sacrifice being made is coverage, but some users determine that unimpeded movement and weapon manipulation is more important for their purposes than maximizing coverage. As always you should adapt your gear to your specific needs if possible. Sizing yourself for soft armor – This is a much more complicated matter as there is a wide array of soft armor options and multiple size/cut styles, especially in regards to law enforcement style concealable armor. That said, I will cover one fairly common system here and that is the BALCS system. BALCS (Body Armor Load Carriage System) is another U.S. military designed armor system and as such is a rigid standard, meaning little to no variation between models and manufacturers in terms of the dimensions of their armor. As BALCS was designed to work with other U.S. military armor systems – including issued SAPI plates – it follows the SAPI size system in terms of sizing based on chest size. That said one need only refer to the SAPI size system as described above to determine the appropriate size of their BALCS soft armor. Again, this can vary however. I for example am technically sized for SAPI Small and Small BALCS. However, I can easily wear Medium BALCS and in fact prefer the coverage it offers over Small BALCS soft armor. So if I were to combine my preferred SAPI rifle plate size and preferred BALCS soft armor size I would wear a Small SAPI plate with Medium BALCS armor. A note of caution on this however – most BALCS carriers that also offer an option to carry plates will typically have the plate pockets sized for the corresponding SAPI size, meaning a Small BALCS soft armor carrier with plate pockets will most likely have SAPI Small plate pockets. Some made-to-order or custom manufacturers like Beez Combat Systems however can customize carriers to mix and match sizes. Conclusion – Sizing yourself properly for body armor is not difficult as long as you have the appropriate information and follow a few steps to physically check fit before committing to buy. As always there are exceptions to any rule and if you have the experience necessary to make a highly informed decision regarding your body armor then it may be in your interest to break from these rules to better suit your particular situation, but otherwise I generally recommend following the guidelines I’ve laid out here for choosing the size of your body armor. Stay safe, stay informed, and don't forget to check out the blog for more articles on body armor and related subjects.
- MSA Sordin Supreme Pro-X Review and Analysis
The MSA Sordin Supreme Pro-X headset is the "top of the line" model of the Sordin line of electronic hearing protection, known well in the shooting world for years. It is available in a range of colors/camo and with two different suspension options - over the head and behind the head. The particular headset pictured here is a Multicam model with behind the head suspension. Price is typically around $280 with gel ear seals. Headset features: Uses two AAA batteries, rated battery life of ~600 hours. NRR rating of 19 Waterproofed. Battery compartment is O-ring sealed, circuit boards coated in conformal coating Two front facing microphones, one on each earcup 5 volume levels Battery save feature, headset will turn off after 4 hours with no button presses, warning tone will be heard 2 minutes before turn off Sound compression, does not "clip" or turn off the speakers when loud noise is encountered Will save last used volume level Adjustable for fit 3.5mm audio IN port on left (control side) earcup The headset: This is my headset with Multicam dipped cups and behind the head suspension. There are gel seals installed on this headset. These headsets are available in a couple other colors, including OD Green, Black, and Blaze Orange Camo. You can see the two front facing microphones here. The microphones have foam windscreens which are covered by rubber shrouds Left side earcup. Front (microphone) to the left. The controls are on this side. The power button is in the middle, with volume down to the left and volume up to the right. Right side earcup. Front (microphone) to the right. The battery compartment is on this side, to the left. You can see the lanyard I've attached to the battery door. The 3.5mm audio IN port on the left earcup is pictured below. The battery compartment is accessed through a metal screw on cap. The battery port is sealed with an O-ring, preventing water and dust ingress. The battery cap is steel and knurled to make unscrewing it easier. The post on the end is for attaching a lanyard to the cap, as seen below. The other end of the lanyard should be tied to one of the steel suspension wires on the headset. This prevents loss of the battery cap when changing batteries. Here are the internals of both earcups, seen after removing the ear seals and outer comfort/acoustic foam. Both circuit boards are entirely coated in conformal coating, preventing water/dust damage to the boards and the components on them. All seams on the battery compartment are sealed. The battery leads in the inside are also sealed. The circuit boards are held in place with Torx screws. Behind the boards are 1/8" thick pieces of acoustic foam. The other side of the control side circuit board. Here you can see the majority of the small components in this headset. The two IC's (Integrated Circuits) are covered with the same coating used on the internal battery leads. This is a nice thing to see as the IC's are critical components, so I appreciate that they've afforded them some extra protection beyond the clear conformal coating. As the conformal coating is mostly clear it is difficult to see if it really is applied to all the components. I want to make this clear - ALL components mounted on the circuit boards in Sordin Supreme Pro-X headsets are coated with conformal coating. Conformal coating is a broad term for a variety of electronics coatings used to protect components from water, abrasion, dust, and other environmental hazards. The coating on this board has a UV tracer and as such can be seen fluorescing under UV light. My camera doesn't handle the UV light well, but as you can see all components are coated and therefore protected from water damage. Use as shooting muffs: I'm comfortable firing a range of weapons with this headset, to include 5.56 AR-15's with 16" barrels, 9mm handguns, 12 gauge shotguns, and the like. However, my shooting is done exclusively outdoors in an open space. No deleterious effects were experienced. Experiences shooting indoors or in enclosed spaces may differ however. The sound compression works flawlessly, even with multiple shooters firing at once. The compression is instant and the headset is very fast at coming out of compression when harmful sound levels have ceased. Sound quality: The sound quality of this headset is excellent. There is a slight electronic background "fuzz" or "hiss" that increases as you go up in volume but it is only noticeable in my opinion at the upper two volume levels. It is not loud enough to negatively impact sound quality, all sounds still come in crisp and clear. Wind noise does come through, but I have yet to find a headset that does a spectacular job with wind noise. The most comparable headset, the Peltor ComTac III, seems to handle wind noise only marginally better in terms of suppressing it. The headset does present a slight high range bias, with bassy or low sounds (foot steps on wood stairs, door closing, etc.) coming through a bit muddled. It does however mean higher pitch/range sounds come through particularly clearly and it makes picking up crunching leaves and similar sounds easy. Locational and directional hearing is ok, not as good as natural human hearing. The headset handles direction distinction better than distance distinction. Overall the sound reproduction very good but lacks in certain areas. Durability and environmental resistance: This headset is not officially submersion rated as far as I know, but given my knowledge of electronics waterproofing I'd say this headset could indeed survive submersion for a couple minutes at least. As mentioned above the battery compartment is water tight, the circuit boards are coated with all components being sealed from water, and the 3.5mm port is water tight. The headsets construction in terms of material quality and design choices is top notch. The headset is made in Sweden. The shells are high quality plastic, likely glass reinforced polymer of some sort. The wire pins are steel. The windscreens on the microphones are protected from damage by the rubber cages. The battery cap is steel and features a lanyard point to prevent loss of the cap when changing batteries. With the circuit boards and all components on them being coated with conformal coating I don't see any way water could damage those components. Even the solder joints are coated. This headset should be durable and reliable through a variety of tough conditions, including extremely wet environments. The ear seals are excellent in terms of construction quality. Their bonding to the plastic backer is seamless and done very well. They feel very durable. Operation: Operation of the headset is extremely simple. The only functions are on/off and volume up/down. To turn the headset on simply press the middle (power) button once. To turn it off, hold the button until the headset turns off. To adjust the volume press either the volume up or down buttons once to cycle up/down one level. Tones are heard for each action, including turning the headset on and off. A slightly longer tone is heard when you try to adjust the volume past the upper or lower most levels, alerting you to having reached maximum adjustment. Compatibility with consumer electronics: Using any 3.5mm male-to-male cable you can hook up devices such as cellphones to the headset to play audio in the headset. You can also hook most FRS/GMRS radios into the headset provided they have a 3.5mm audio OUT port or an adapter cable with a 3.5mm end to plug into the headset. Extra info - purported issues and changes to the battery compartment: Going back before 2014 there are plethora reports of issues with MSA Sordin headsets, with the primary issue being total loss of functionality. It is my opinion that the vast majority of reported issues with MSA Sordin headsets are attributable to two things - headsets shipped as lemons (bad QC/non-functioning) straight out of the factory and battery issues, partly related to the battery compartment. There are still reports here and there from users of brand new headsets having issues. It would seem quality control on Sordin and/or MSA's part is lacking. Before 2012 MSA Sordin Supreme Pro and Supreme Pro-X headsets featured a black battery compartment with a battery cap that lacked the lanyard post. In 2012 this battery compartment was upgraded and is now grey, as seen above in my headset. I do not have details of what was changed in the new compartments. I contacted SRS Tactical in an attempt to find out more, asking about the battery compartment change and how durable the new boxes are. The full text of the email I received in response to my questions is below: The original box was black with flat top cap. The new box is grey with knob for lanyard. Upgrade around 2012. Spring is now screwed on to cup. New boxes are tight fitting. We sell over a 1000 sets a year with a few needing new box. They hold up well but of course you only hear about ones that don't. Conclusion: The MSA Sordin Supreme Pro-X is a very good electronic hearing protection headset, though growing outdated. It is durable and built to last, with the sealed battery compartment, conformal coated circuit boards, and protected microphone windscreens. The sound quality is excellent, with some caveats, and it is simple to operate. With the 3.5mm audio IN port it is easy to pipe in audio from a variety of consumer electronics.
- Introduction to the Blog
I am a gear reviewer/tester with an intense interest in the field of tactical equipment and personal protective gear. I was the first to review the Liberator HP headset and have also created the most detailed, in-depth write-ups on Sordin and ComTac headsets you will EVER find along with other top quality tactical and shooting related content. I strive for my writings to be of the highest quality, with photos and information you won't see anywhere else. My possession of some unique knowledge as it relates to tactical equipment, particularly electronic hearing protection, body armor, and nylon gear means I provide info you won't get anywhere else, guaranteed. Thanks for reading, and here's hoping you stick around to see what's coming in the future! Also, don't forget to follow the blog on social media for more quality tactical and shooting content. Instagram - Twitter - YouTube
- Body Armor - Determining Threat Profile and Selecting Appropriate Armor Threat Rating
Body armor comes in multiple threat levels, the two primary base threat levels being rifle and handgun. From there it is broken down further with Level III and IV for rifle armor and Level IIA, II, and IIIA for handgun armor – all of this is under the NIJ .06 standard. However, there are threat ratings used in the industry that do not exist under the NIJ .06 standard such as Special Threat rifle plates. This issue, amongst others, has confused many buyers of body armor. With that said this article is intended as a general guide to determining the threat profile you face and choosing appropriate body armor to counter those threats. For information on rifle armor threat levels, click here. Before we continue, it should be noted that I am covering only ballistic threats here – knives and other stabbing/slashing implements will be covered in a future article. Step 1: Determining Threat Profile “Threat profile” refers to the profile or range of threats most likely to be faced by the end user of a body armor system. Determining the threat profile you need your armor to protect against typically involves getting the most representative data sample possible from the area in which you will be wearing your armor and using that as a baseline to determine the minimum level of protection that’s necessary, then adding requirements or refining your needs from there. For example, the threat profile of a patrol officer in the United States will typically be composed of 9mm handguns as the most common threat by plurality, alongside handguns of a few other common calibers such as .38 Special, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Large caliber handgun cartridges such as the .44 Magnum are exceedingly rare in criminal use. Referencing FBI Table 119 reveals that assaults on officers wherein the shooter used a .44 Magnum handgun make up less than 1% of all instances. 9mm however makes up about 20% of encountered handgun threats. With that in mind the ideal handgun armor level for the typical patrol officer in the United States is Level II. While IIIA does provide more protection, it will always do so at the cost of decreased flexibility, increased thickness, and increased weight compared to a comparably priced level II armor system. More protection almost always comes with a price, and in this instance - with .44 Magnum making up less than 1% of handgun threats encountered in criminal use - it is the author’s opinion that the trade-off is not worth it for most individuals, but as always it is best to make your determination based on your local conditions if possible. Another example would be a user deployed as a combatant to Iraq or Syria. In these areas where conflicts are active, involve the heavy influence of foreign nations, and can see high levels of intensity selecting appropriate body armor is critical. In this example we’ll focus on rifle threats, though explosive fragmentation can also be a notable threat in these types of conflicts. Typical infantry weapons are of the AKM and PKM variety. A wide myriad of rifles and machine guns can be employed by insurgent forces, though the most common weapons are still AK or PK pattern in Middle Eastern conflict zones. The AKM and most AK pattern rifles employed in these areas fire the 7.62x39 cartridge. PK machine guns fire the 7.62x54r cartridge. As for specific projectile types, the most common are lead core or MSC (mild steel core) projectiles though API (Armor Piercing Incendiary) in both 7.62x39 and 7.62x54r has been encountered. With that in mind armor capable of stopping MSC 7.62x39 at a minimum would be recommended. Ideally, the armor would be something capable of stopping both 7.62x39 and 7.62x54r MSC projectiles at muzzle velocities. Whether or not AP projectiles are a threat worth considering will be up to the end user, as this can vary widely by locality. 7.62x39 API can be stopped by many Special Threat plates on the market, such the TenCate 2000SA or LTC 28791. It should be noted that stopping 7.62x54r API will require Level IV plates, and these plates should be specifically rated by the manufacturer as capable of stopping common 7.62x54r API projectiles such as the B-32 projectile. As an example, the Hesco 4800 is rated for the B-32 projectile. With all that said, determining the threat profile in your area/s is the first step to choosing the appropriate armor system for your use and this determination is ideally made using up to date information on commonly encountered threats. Step 2: Choosing Appropriate Body Armor With your threat profile determined you can now select the appropriate armor system to meet your requirements. From here you can select the appropriate armor level and then narrow options based on price, available sizes, etc. So, for example, if you’ve determined that the threat profile for your area consists primarily of 9mm and .45 ACP for handgun threats and lead core 5.56 NATO and .308 Winchester for rifle threats then a good soft armor solution would be quality Level II soft armor (such as the SA2300 model by HighCom) and Level III rifle plates, such as the Hesco 3600. If M855 (colloquially known as Green Tip ammunition) is an expected projectile from 5.56 NATO firearms then you would stick with ceramic armor plates such as the Hesco 3611C. However, let’s say that .308 Winchester and similar cartridges are a low priority threat or aren’t a notable threat in your area at all. In that instance it may be best to select a Special Threat plate such as the TenCate 2000SA or Hesco L210. Special Threat plates are generally designed to stop “carbine calibers” such as 5.56 NATO and 7.62x39 but not .308 or similar “full power” rifle cartridges. Special Threat plates are typically thin, usually around .55” inches in thickness which makes them an excellent choice for concealable rifle armor. Other Requirements/Special Circumstances: You may have requirements for your armor beyond it stopping basic threats. As mentioned above some users may desire a concealable rifle armor option, or they may require that their soft armor have an exceptional fragmentation rating, etc. Furthermore, there are other factors that may come into play, such as whether or not the user primarily wears their armor while on a boat or otherwise over large bodies of water where maintaining flotation can be important. Using the last point as an example of special circumstances, going overboard or otherwise ending up in deep water with gear on can be a serious safety hazard. This is why some users who frequently operate over or near large bodies of water will add flotation devices to their gear. This is one area where UHMWPE plates, commonly called poly plates or polyethylene plates, can shine. UHMWPE plates offer, at worst, neutral buoyancy meaning they won’t contribute to dragging the wearer down if they’re in the water. The caveat with UHMWPE plates of course is their inability to stop M855, any AP projectiles, and certain other projectiles with steel components. It should be noted here that Hesco now provides a buoyant ceramic plate, the 3810B. The point being there may be circumstances specific to you that necessitate selecting your armor based on extra criteria besides threat rating alone. The way these circumstances or extra requirements factor into the end users selection of armor will be highly individualized and thus it is up to the end user to exercise proper judgement here. Conclusion – Selecting the proper threat rating for your body armor is not a difficult task once you have the proper information to make an informed decision. As always it is the responsibility of the end user to use their best judgement to decide what properly fulfills their needs for body armor. Stay safe, stay informed, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blogs email list for more articles like this.
- The Purpose and Future of the Tactical Gear Blog
I began this blog in July of 2019, when the original intent was for it to act primarily as a repository of information so I had somewhere to point people to when they asked me a question – I could simply link them to the appropriate article instead of typing/dictating a whole book to them to explain body armor, the principals behind modern load carriage systems, etc. However, plans changed over the first few months. I started expanding the intended scope of the blog to include the firearms industry and civilian shooting world alongside the professional tactical world. With that said I’d like to lay out the purpose of the blog and its intended future. Purpose – The current purpose behind the Tactical Gear Blog is to develop an independent multimedia experience covering both the tactical and commercial gear/training/firearms sectors along with any ancillary industries. What I want to create is a space for professional tactical and civilian shooting interests to mesh into one cohesive source. The current trend amongst media sources is towards increasing monopolization and consolidation. While there are understandable concerns about this trend on a general level, the bottom line on the user end is that media consumers (that’s you, the reader) increasingly expect their media to come from fewer and fewer sources. Ask yourself – what media sources do you use? Probably a varied combination of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube alongside a small handful of larger forum sites or the like. And of course Instagram is not an independent company, they are owned by Facebook Inc. just as YouTube is now a property of Google. With that in mind the intended scope of the blog going forward is fairly broad – I intend not to shift focus but rather to expand upon what is being focused on. I desire to grow the site and its associated media accounts into a large network that people can access for all tactical and firearms related content. Under this umbrella I want to bring together the tactical community at large (soldiers, law enforcement, contractors, trainers, manufacturers, etc.) alongside EMS as it relates to the tactical community plus the civilian shooting and firearms communities. The goal is for the blog to transform from a simple blog into a large conglomerate with direct involvement from professionals in multiple industries where consumers of tactical and shooting related content can have a one-stop-shop experience. Future – With all that said plans for the near future (1 to 3 years) include bringing on guest writers, putting a heavier emphasis on video content, and improving community involvement. Regarding the last issue, the site itself generates organic traffic but so far none of this traffic has translated into followers on the blog’s social media accounts or a meaningful amount of engagement with the blog itself. With that in mind I’d like to ask readers to take a moment to follow the blogs social media as this will keep you in the loop on content and help the blog grow. This is a symbiotic relationship - in helping the blog grow you are directly contributing to generating more of the content you came here for. You can click the links below to go to the blogs social media pages. Instagram - Twitter - YouTube In regards to the long term (in 3 years and beyond) the goal is for the blog to have grown into a self-supporting media source that offers direct coverage of industry events, a community forum where professionals from the tactical community as well as civilian firearms owners can interact in a moderated space, unique downloadable content, a large network of writers from the professional side, and more. Conclusion – I’d like to thank everyone that has read the blog, shared it, and helped it along through feedback on the site format as well as its content. I would like to reiterate that participation by you, the reader, is critical to the blogs success and I thank everyone that puts in the effort to follow and interact on social media as well as comment on the blog. By doing so you are helping to produce more top quality tactical and shooting content and build a user centric experience that will far outpace anything currently available on the net. With that said - stay safe, stay informed, and thanks for reading.
- Book Review: Body Armor - The Development of the Kevlar Vest
This was a book I found in my earlier searches for information on body armor and its history. Written by Nicholas Montanarelli this book contains insider information that cannot be found elsewhere. It offers a unique perspective on the early history and development of the first ballistic armor vest to incorporate DuPont Kevlar as a ballistic material in addition to featuring photos and informational graphs I have yet to find elsewhere, and likely cannot be found elsewhere. Montanarelli was directly involved in development and design of early armor vests, including the first vests to use Kevlar. In this book he relates first hand experience, knowledge, photos, and other information that would have otherwise been lost to time. In the many hours I've spent researching body armor I have still failed to find another source of information as rich in the history of armor development as this. Contained within is an in-depth look at early U.S. based armor development efforts and the technology and people behind it all. There's bits of info for both those interested in the technical aspects of body armor and those more interested in the historical aspects of it. While Montanarelli's skills as a writer are somewhat lacking it does not degrade the raw value of the information contained in this book. It is a must read, in my opinion, for anyone with even a passing interest in either the technical or historical aspects of modern armor and I thank the author for his efforts in creating this book.
- A Small Talk on Side Armor Plates
Ahh, side plates. A subject of mild contention amongst wearers of rifle rated armor systems, and one I feel deserves at least a quick overview as it isn't touched on frequently. Those little plates, typically 6"x6" or 6"x8", are often not considered in a broad context. Most people are on two sides of the matter - those that like to "turtle suit" to have as much armor coverage as possible at all times, and those that want the absolute minimum solution at all times to minimize weight and improve ergonomics. Both sides have understandable concerns and arguments, but I think there's a slightly more nuanced take to be had on the subject of side plate usage. My opinion is largely that they're uncomfortable and add unnecessary weight in most situations. They're especially bad if you have a short distance between the tops of your hips and the area where the plates sit, like I do. Every time I try to bend to the side with side plates on the bottom of the plates smack into the top of my hips. Not fun. There are situations however where I would possibly choose to wear side plates myself or recommend that others do so: You're in a fixed position for an extended period of time and will be there when someone is shooting at you (stationary machine gunner, static defense, etc.)You will be inside a vehicle when someone is shooting at you. Doors are one of the weakest points on an unarmored vehicle and rifle rounds obviously tear right through them. Your sides face towards the doors.You're part of a dedicated entry team and won't be moving more than ~200 yards typically. I personally believe side plate use in the above situations is perfectly justifiable and, in certain scenarios, could even be highly recommended. Outside of those however I'm of the mind that they don't offer enough of a benefit to outweigh the weight increase and loss of comfort. If I believed I was entering a situation outside the above scenarios where I feel side plate usage is still warranted I'd likely only wear UHMWPE, or poly side plates. While typically on the thicker side and not offering protection against M855 or similar projectiles a 6"x6" UHMWPE plate generally only weighs about a pound, making it two pounds total for a set. That is significantly lighter than all but the very top end ceramic plate solutions.
- Body Armor Quality: Why I Do Not Endorse Chinese Body Armor, and Other Notes on Armor Quality
In recent years cheap body armor and ballistic helmets manufactured in China have flooded the U.S. market. These products offer what is, at least on the surface, very attractive price/performance ratios. Many such armor products become the subject of “YouTube shoots” wherein media influencer types with large subscriber counts or just your average person test out the armor on a range. These YouTube shoots are often touted as evidence of the armors quality, with proponents proclaiming that the armor “stopped what it said it stops, so why don’t you like it?” The answer – I don’t endorse these Chinese products because there are a great deal of things that YouTube shoots alone can't reveal, not to mention the problems often associated with Chinese manufacturing, or any manufacturers that simply go un-watched. Manufacturers who face little or no outside oversight have been caught cutting corners to varying degrees, or outright lying about their products and manufacturing processes. A prime example of the problems associated with lack of oversight is Sioux Manufacturing and the debacle regarding the Kevlar they weaved into completed fabric sheets. Sioux Manufacturing was contracted by the DoD (U.S. Department of Defense) to weave Kevlar for the PASGT helmet. It was discovered they were shorting the picks in the weave to cut costs. This shorting of the picks lead to a measurable decrease in ballistic integrity of finished helmets made using their fabric. Detailed information on this incident (among others) can be found in the book Shattered Minds by Dina Rasor. Another example of what I’m talking about can found in a 2010 incident involving ArmorSource, who sub-contracted their ACH helmet assembly to UNICOR – also known as Federal Prison Industries. Their manufacturing supervisors were having prisoners cut and assemble material and helmets with handmade tools, disassembling old/rejected helmets and reusing the material, etc. Multiple production lots of the helmets failed ballistic tests. This revelation resulted in the recall of over 44,000 ACH helmets and ArmorSource paying a three-million dollar settlement. All of this happened in the U.S. with U.S. based companies, those companies being contracted by the US Government. That said it is up for question what level of oversight and regulation Chinese armor companies face, and if they do operate under some level of legal regulation and/or third party oversight, to what level is it enforced? Regulation and oversight without enforcement is equivalent to nothing being done at all. There are some more instances of armor companies and quality issues that are worth noting, though these did not directly involve government contracts – TAP (Tactical Armor Products) made the fairly well known Gamma Plus plate. The Gamma Plus was a single curve level III ceramic plate. The fiber backer on many of the Gamma Plus plates still in existence is likely delaminated fully or partially from the ceramic strike face as the adhesive bonding these two parts is failing due to improper application procedures used during plate assembly. Because the plates were assembled improperly the effects of time (over a decade now since production of these plates ended) have taken their toll on the adhesives bond. These plates can no longer be relied on for ballistic protection, especially beyond the first hit on the plate. Hesco failed a FIT (Follow up Inspection Test, required by NIJ to retain NIJ Certification) on both their 4400 and 3610 plate models. The 4400 FIT test failure was in 2018, where a full penetration on one plate was recorded during the FIT test. The 3610 FIT failure (and subsequent suspension from the NIJ Certification list) was in 2019 and has resulted in the 3610 plate being pulled from Hesco’s product line, with production of the plate officially ending. The cause of this is, as far I’m aware, unspecified consistent issues with supplied materials. Hesco has also opted to replace many 3610 plates currently in use with their 3810 plate. To view all open and closed NIJ Advisory Notices (and hence all armor that has at least temporarily had its NIJ Certification suspended) click here. I would like to reiterate the point about what level of oversight, if any, Chinese armor companies face. Even U.S. based companies miss quality problems, make mistakes, etc. Worse still are shady fly-by-night armor companies. Furthermore there are other issues to consider besides just whether or not the plate simply stops the projectile from penetrating. Just as an example, I’ll reference the Botach Battle Steel Level IV plate here as it’s recently become quite popular and has appeared on the channels of several popular firearms and ‘prepper’ oriented YouTubers. The plate is ostensibly a product of LongFri Technologies, located in Pomona, California. A plate of identical specifications and appearance is listed in their product catalog. Reading through LongFri’s site there are myriad spelling and grammatical errors. Furthermore most of their products are typical of imported Chinese armor, with LongFri selling knock-off OpsCore helmets and the like. Both of these factors strongly suggest that LongFri is, at best, an assembler of a small handful of products such as their plates or that they are just an importer of products fully manufactured in China. In regards to the quality of the armor itself, there’s a reason these Chinese plates are cheap in comparison to comparable U.S. made plates. These manufacturers are likely cutting corners to lower production costs and hence make a cheaper plate. Where this corner cutting is occurring is likely in both materials and construction. The purity and overall quality of the ceramic used will likely be lower than that seen in a U.S. made plate, the adhesive bonding the strike face to the fiber backer may be applied crudely and the adhesive itself may be of low quality or it is inappropriate for use in ballistic products, and the backing materials will also be of lower quality than those made by the likes of Dyneema, Honeywell, or DuPont. The points about quality of materials and assembly can apply to any armor, not just ceramic plates. The point being that what you’re paying for with U.S. made armor from a known good manufacturer is consistent quality, better materials, better engineering in regards to ballistics, and superior craftsmanship. Again, in regards to the Botach plates in particular, Neither Botach or LongFri state measured BFS (back face signature, the reading taken from an NIJ spec clay block backer after a hit to the armor in lab testing), impact velocity, shot spacing, etc. There is no available information on what kind of quality controls are in place to ensure that plates being sent out the door to end users are not dangerously out of spec. There is no good information on the longevity of the armor. There is no information on the manufacturer’s track record. One last point on the matter - Who is being held accountable if a given piece of armor fails? With armor from quality manufacturers and distributors there is a clear line of responsibility. In the case of the Botach armor plates for example, who is responsible for a failed plate? Is it Botach? Is it the manufacturer (again, ostensibly Longfri) that Botach has obscured for some reason? How do we know that Longfri is an actual manufacturer or assembler, or if they’re just an importer shell company for a China based manufacturer? With most imported armor the true manufacturers are often obscured. At the very least I expect it to be more difficult to enforce any sort of legal liability for armor failure against most Chinese manufacturers compared to European or American based companies. Bottom line – while Chinese armor typically stops what it says it stops, it’s still a gamble due to the amount of unknowns involved regarding quality and QC processes. Single quantity tests are statistically meaningless as there’s nothing to prove one piece is the same as the next, so these “YouTube shoots” should always be analyzed with this in mind. There’s no way to ensure consistency from lot to lot or even from one item of armor to the next, never mind that the degree to which the armor can be subjected to abuse (rough handling, environmental exposure, etc.) and still perform as claimed is completely unknown. With all that said I do not and never will endorse the purchase of such armor except in a tiny minority of scenarios with exigent circumstances where the purchase of such armor is a last resort should armor of a known quantity not be available. Thanks for reading, and don't forget to check out the rest of the blog and subscribe to the Blogs social media for updates.
- Body Armor - The Case for Concealable Rifle Plates
Rifle rated armor systems in their modern form have existed since the 1960's but discussions about the use of such armor outside of the obvious are rare. With that in mind this article is about making the case for an often overlooked concept for the employment of rifle rated armor - as a realistically concealable armor solution. Rifle rated armor is in use by military, law enforcement, and private/civilian users across the world but is typically only seen in use in an overt manner - generally thicker plates in overt load-bearing armor carriers. However, it is possible to conceal rifle plates, at least to some degree. Concealability in armor and the ability to stop rifle threats are not mutually exclusive traits. The setup - The ideal concealment setup for rifle armor should look much like the photo above - a totally slick carrier with minimalist construction and low-profile armor plates. Examples of such slick carriers are the pictured Extreme Concealment Carrier by Beez Combat Systems, the Slick by First Spear, or the Slick Plate Carrier by Ferro Concepts. These carriers do not have MOLLE webbing or any extraneous features that would make concealment difficult. They are the ultimate in minimal plate carrier design, and that is exactly the desired style of carrier for this purpose. In regards to plates multi-curve is, in my personal opinion, a must. It may be possible to conceal single curve plates, but it isn't something I would choose to attempt and single curve plates will be at a minimum more difficult to conceal as they don't follow the bodies profile, meaning they're likely to stick out - particularly at the top and bottom. Thickness is a critical factor. I would not recommend trying to conceal plates thicker than .65" inches and would target plates .55" thick or thinner for this use. That said there are multiple options in this category, most being in the category of Special Threat plates as the lack of a rating for larger cartridges such as .308 Winchester allows for the plates to be thinner. Such plates include the TenCate 2000SA, Hesco U210, Velocity Systems API-BZ, and a few others. All of these options measure around .55" in thickness and are multi-curve. They all stop common 7.62x39 and 5.56 threats, including M855. When such plates are paired with a slick carrier like the ones mentioned above you have an easily concealable and fairly light weight rifle rated armor solution that stops a wide range of common threats in the United States. Below is a photo of yours truly wearing the above pictured Beez carrier with a set of 8"x10" TenCate 2000SA armor plates inserted. For reference the pictured individual, me, is about 5' 9", 145 pounds. Weight and body shape will play into the concealability of rifle armor and as such must be taken into consideration. Below, the plates and carrier and easily concealed under a standard (and properly fitted, not oversized) black colored Hot Weather Combat Coat. This is a single layer coat, with no batting or multiple fabric layers. No carrier printing is visible (no shoulder straps or cummerbund showing through), but light plate printing is visible around the top edges of the plate. Below is the view from the back. No notable carrier or plate printing is seen but there is a slight "overhang effect" due to the coat hanging off the protruding back plate. The view below is from the rear with the body in a slight hunch, showing what happens when the wearer is in a position other than upright. This position and others can result in noticeable printing - a watchful person would likely take notice of this but typical passersby on your average street would probably glaze over such details. Clothing should be chosen accordingly for the amount of exposure and movement of the wearer in the given scenario. The next set of photos are the same other than the coat has been replaced with a Woodland Combat Coat. As this is a patterned top this pattern can help break up any outlines created by a printing plate or carrier. M81 Woodland however is not ideal for this application as its pattern consists of fairly large sections. In its intended use as camouflage this helps prevent it from "blobbing up" or otherwise blending into a solid color at a distance but these "chunky" patterns are non-ideal for breaking up printing viewed from up close. However, its effect is still somewhat noticeable and a much more granular pattern would be even more effective. Again, the jacket is properly fitted and not oversized. Some additional notes are that "fluffy" clothing such as puff jackets or other winter clothing with thick batting can also aid in concealability. The point of the clothing being worn over the armor is to prevent it from being visible to the eye and to effectively break up any printing that may occur to further aid in preventing its notice. Thicker or oversized clothing can aid in concealing any armor worn under it. Conclusion - Concealment of rifle rated body armor is very much a realistic possibility, but there are some limitations to keep in mind. That said a setup such the one described here is a solid option for those that have a need to remain covert while retaining the ability to stop rifle caliber threats, whether that be plainclothes officers, civilians, or others working in high threat areas who need covert protection from rifle threats. Stay safe, stay informed, and don't forget to check out the rest of the blog.