Body armor is a hot topic of discussion these days. The market seems to have exploded lately with discussion about which plate carriers and rigid armor plate is the best for stopping high level ballistic threats. Most of these hard armor plates are rated to stop direct hits by high powered rifles such as 5.56 and 7.62x51mm. However, the soft body armor worn to stop rounds fired from a pistol or submachine gun are still available and worn by many police officers every day.
SafeGuard armor recently asked the Firearms Insider to test one of their ballistic panels. I agreed to do the testing and SafeGuard sent along to me a Level IIIa soft ballistic panel. The level IIIa is the rating used by the National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) to rate the level of protection the vest offers. Level IIIa must be able to stop 9mm FMJ 124 grain at 1,400 fps as well as .44 Magnum 240 grain at 1,400 fps. The ballistic panel itself was made out of a nylon-type material that enclosed at least 100 if not more layers of bullet resistant material. I informed SafeGuard that I would not be able to perform a test that conformed strictly to the NIJ standards, but that I had shot at ballistic vests before and knew how to perform a pretty valid and interesting test.
I started with obtaining a bunch of different cartridges to shoot at the vest. I sourced a 110 grain .30 Carbine, two full power .357 Magnum 158 grain Semi-Wadcutters, a 9mm 124 grain standard pressure and a 9mm 124 grain +P load, a 50 grain Liberty Defense 9mm load, a 7.62x25 Tokarev surplus load, as well as .22 Magnum 36 grain Hornady V-Max and CCI 40 Grain Maxi-Mags. For the test I shot the vest with the 9mm 124 grain load and the .357 Magnum load out of a 2 and ½ inch S&W revolver to show the control shots, that the vest could do what it was rated for. We then went through all the various cartridges that were assembled, to torture the vest and see what it could stop. One particularly interesting test was firing the .357 Magnum rounds out of a snub nosed revolver, and then out of an 18" barrel single-shot rifle. It stopped both, even with the increased velocity from the rifle barrel. The vest was shot multiple times in multiple different places while braced against a solid cardboard box with gallon jugs of water inside the boxes.
The vest performed way above what it was rated for. It stopped every single round except for the 110 grain .30 Carbine out of the M1 Carbine. That round is traveling around 1,900 fps and pierced clean through the vest. I was very very impressed with how the vest performed, especially after being hit repeatedly so many times.
At the end of the test, as you can see on the video, we took 12 individual layers of the bullet resistant material and clamped them to the box. We were curious how few layers it would take to stop a .38 Special 125 grain +P bullet. We fired that round dead center from a S&W Model 36 snub nosed revolver and the bullet was stopped by the 12 layers. It goes to show just how strong only a few layers of that material can be when stacked one on top of another.
The video above shows in great detail the entire test, as well as the bullets at the end after they are pulled out of the vest. I am very very impressed by the Safeguard armor vest, and would put it on the top of my list when shopping for body armor.
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