Archive for the ‘Armor Care’ Category

One of the more interesting tidbits concerning woven Kevlar armor is that it retains its protective qualities exceedingly well over a long period of time. 30+ year old panels still stop the threats they were designed to stop, with boring regularity.

Even more intriguing, is a study showing that older vests may in fact get *BETTER* with age. Wine, cheese, and woven aramid? You can find the abstract here:

Some quotations from the article:

“NIJ tests failed to demonstrate any significant differences in 10-year-old armor, regardless of the extent of use or apparent physical condition”

“The warranty exists solely to limit the manufacturer’s liability on the product and is not a reflection of the anticipated service life of the product.

I hear lots of folks say that their department religiously discards vests as soon as the 5 year period is up. While I understand that this is due to departmental liability, the idea that these vests suddenly become worthless is ridiculous. If they are 100% woven kevlar, they are barely broken in, and should easily have another quarter century (or longer) of use left in them. I say longer because I have not been able to get my hands on vests older than about 36 years. Saving a few of these for the 40 year mark, and will report back on the results.

Unfortunately, this extreme longevity only applies to woven aramid vests, and in my experience, the older ones are typically built better than the new. Laminates will experience peeling and edge creep, the newer all-woven vests also see much more edge creep (fraying) that reduces the effective area of protection.

If you have an older vest in good shape, remember there are things you can do to keep it going: keep it out of sun, or exposure to florescent bulbs (which are actually worse in some ways than sunlight), keep it dry, clean, and free of mold or mildew. Wash with clean water (not tap, not distilled) and a mild detergent, let drip dry.

So keep that older vest, and appreciate a well-built vintage armor!

There are some things that just need to exist. UHMWPE (Spectra and Dyneema) armor, though light and exceptionally strong, has an Achilles heel- it will turn back into milk jug plastic if certain temperature thresholds are exceeded.

This applies to both soft and hard armor containing Spectra and Dyneema, and there are currently no test standards that are willing to address this glaring weakness as mentioned here:

Since many end-users do not have a choice in their issued armor, I realized a simple, effective solution was needed. I had a custom thermal sensor created, which would irreversibly change color if certain temperatures were reached. This would let the end user know that the armor had been exposed to unsafe temperatures, preventing them from using potentially compromised armor.

The D-Rmor Gear Armometer(TM) is a dashboard for your hard or soft armor, and is overbuilt to stand up to the lifetime of wear associated with duty gear. With a foundation of waterproof paper, it has information sections to record relevant data about the specific panel the Armometer(TM) will be attached to. This is then sealed with an included laminate finish-flap to completely render the unit sweat and moisture proof. It is designed to stay with the panel, plate, or helmet for its entire service life. It answers the number one question with UHMWPE armor: is it still viable?

Instructions will be included with each order. Pricing is $12 for the first Armometer(TM), with additional units being $10, no matter how many you buy. Shipping is included in the price, anywhere in CONUS.

Get yours today, and increase your peace of mind.

Well, you asked, I listened. With all the mail volume I get, this single request was the most common. Thanks everyone for their patience, I have been extremely busy of late with travel, testing, evals, and even a tiny little bit of personal life. 🙂

When it became clear that Zylon was a huge liability and safety hazard in soft armor, lots of people wanted to know if their vests contained it. With the more recent realizations that first and second generation aramid laminates such as GoldFlex and GoldShield, and UHMWPE laminates such as Dyneema and Spectra have notable drawbacks and Achilles Heels, identifying these has also become important.

And so, without further ado, here is how you determine what kind of stuff your armor contains.

1. The first step is to field strip your armor. Most concealable vests today are multi-component, consisting of an outer shell or carrier, and an inner ballistic package. These are generally bottom-load, with the closure consisting of strips of hook and loop along the bottom seam. There are some manufacturers that use a top-load, and some that use a “mid-load” with a seam across the middle part of the vest. Regardless, determine how to get your ballistic panels out of the carrier, and we can get to the next part.

2. Look at your ballistic package. About 80-90% of modern vests will have the actual material encapsulated in some sort of secondary shell, usually consisting of GoreTex, or thin Nylon ripstop that has heat sealed edges. If this is the case, skip to part 4, since you will be using texture and feel to determine what you have.

3. If you have one of the 10-20% of vests that does not have the ballistic material encapsulated in a secondary shell, you will be able to use visual means of determining the composition. I have included closeups of the four materials found in vests to aid in identification:

100% Woven Kevlar- The Gold Standard for body armor

100% Woven Kevlar- The Gold Standard for body armor

A. Woven Kevlar- This is the material you want to see. It appears as a bright yellow fiber, with discernable warp and weft. Ideally, your armor consists of nothing but this.

GoldFlex- Not the most optimal material, but could be worse...

GoldFlex- Not the most optimal material, but could be worse…

B. Aramid Laminates- This material will have the same bright yellow appearance as woven Kevlar, but will not have any warp/weft. It will appear glossy, shiny, or slippery, due to the plastic film that covers it. Not optimal, but better than the next two.

UHMWPE- Milk Jugs with delusions of grandeur.

UHMWPE- Milk Jugs with delusions of grandeur.

C. UHMWPE Laminates- Either Spectra or Dyneema, this material will have a pearlescent, white, shiny/waxy appearance. Less desirable than aramids.

Zylon- "Danger, Will Robinson, danger!"

Zylon- “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”

D. Zylon- DANGEROUS TO WEAR, this material is a liability and should immediately be discarded. Zylon, in its woven iterations, has a bright orange or bronze tint. In its laminate form, it will exhibit the same coloration, minus the weave pattern. Any armor containing Zylon should no longer be worn, and if possible discarded and replaced.

4. If your armor package is wrapped up in a secondary shell material, you have two options: see if there are any rips, tears, or holes in the material of the shell (to allow visual inspection), or rely on tactile sensitivity. The former is only possible if the armor is older, and there is existing wear or damage to the inner shell. Not an ideal circumstance. The latter will not allow you to determine the composition of the armor with very much accuracy, but is better than nothing.

Pull the shell material tight, and feel both the front and the back. If there is a detectable weave texture on both sides, you have a fairly good chance that the vest is made with 100% woven material. If older than 1990, it is MOST LIKELY woven Aramid, though there is a small chance it is Spectra Flex. If newer than 1998, there is a CHANCE it is made with woven Zylon. If you are worried this is the case, making a small slit in the shell material (if the inner shell is heat sealed) or using a seam ripper to pull about an inch and a half of the seam for visual inspection is advised. If handy with a needle and thread, this can be sewn up again.

If the material on one or both sides feels slick/slippery, then it indicates a laminate hybrid or 100% laminates respectively. Again, if it is of grave concern, a small inspection slit may be made in the inner shell. AGAIN, CUTTING A SLIT/RIPPING SEAMS SHOULD NOT BE DONE TO ARMOR THAT IS UNDER WARRANTY, AS THIS MAY VOID YOUR WARRANTY THROUGH THE MANUFACTURER.

Thus concludes the turorial. It will also be helpful to consult the label, and do a little research beforehand to see what materials you vest potentially contains. Hopefully this was helpful in determining your vest’s innards!

And, faithful readers, it is the first of several tutorials I intend to offer. Until next time!

One of the biggest questions that comes up is “how do I clean/maintain/care for my armor? While not a difficult task, properly maintained armor will last longer and provide optimum protection versus armor that is neglected or abused.

Woven-aramid based armor has only three natural enemies. The first is UV exposure. Try to keep the ballistic package out of direct sun. Indoor lighting is not great for it, especially the horrible new florescent “green” POS, but exposure is not as big a deal as direct sun.

The following presumes you are using 100% all-woven aramid body armor (which you should be anyway- more on why later).

Most concealable vests will have removable outer shells, which are typically machine washable. It sounds simple, but many folks forget to remove either the straps (which typically have patches of hook velcro on them- you just try to explain to your Wife/GF/SO that you ruined her favorite negligee…NOTHING good comes of it), or more importantly (some would argue less, after sleeping on the couch for a month) the ballistic inserts.

Throw the outer carrier in the wash. Did you take out the admin crap in the front plate pocket (you know, that pocket that *should* have a trauma plate/panel in it)? If yes, grab those bad-ass bullet stopping inner panels, ’cause it’s time to give ’em a sponge bath.

Grab some baking soda and warm water, a sponge and some dish soap. Soak the sponge in warm water, and swab the armor. No need to get it sopping wet, but make sure the vest is damp. Next, dab the sponge in the baking soda, and wipe the armor down again. Let sit for about ten minutes. This is killing/neutralizing any fungus/bacterial waste products/acids which WILL degrade the aramid (the second major enemy). Rinse the baking soda off, and mix a little bit (just a little) of dish soap in the water. Sponge down the armor once more, rinse, and let the armor dry naturally. Don’t put it in the dryer. Ever. Not even for a minute. Aramid handles heat well, but there is no reason to put undue stress on a piece of lifesaving gear.

Make sure the panels are completely dry before placing them back into the outer shell. Aramid does experience a drop in ballistic effectiveness of about 15% when wet, but this is a temporary/fully reversible property.

Under no circumstances should you expose aramid to bleach (the final enemy of aramid), which WILL degrade/destroy the fibers. Any strong acids are also not advisable, nor should you use harsh chemical cleaners. Simply not needed.

As for storage, if you are going to be wearing your armor regularly, it is ok to hang it. I recommend Tough Hook: Check them out, and say goodbye to busted/bent Nancy-boy hangers.

If you are not going to wear your armor for over a month, take it off the hook, and store it flat, in a cool, DRY area with no exposure to light. Black plastic garbage bags with a dessicant pack thrown in do the job nicely.

If you do your job with preventative maintenance, your armor should last a long time, which should in turn help YOU last a long time.

For care of non-aramid laminate soft armor, or armor containing aramid/non-aramid laminates, I will be publishing a separate post in the near future. As always, don’t touch that dial.