Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

After a rather long hiatus, we have updated the ever-popular Recommended Armor/Gear Database. There have been some interesting (and surprising) additions, and sadly some items became unobtainable for various reasons.

But time and gear marches forward! Thanks for your patience. Check out the updated page here:

IMPORTANT EDIT 11-23-2015: It has come to my attention that these plates may not perform as certified regarding M193 high velocity rounds. Until such time as I have conducted a shoot test in direct comparison to the Maingun Patriot 2 plates, I cannot recommend these.

All those that have read The Good, The Bad and The Ugly series here at D-Rmor Gear know that steel rifle plates are an excellent choice. Thin, extremely durable, and inexpensive (compared to ceramic and UHMWPE), steel plates really only have two drawbacks: their weight (usually around 7.5 lbs. and up), and their susceptibility to high velocity M193 rounds.

This round, at or above 2950 fps, will reliably swiss-cheese garden variety AR500 steel (up until recently, the most common type of steel used in commercial rifle plates and target gongs). That means from any rifle with a barrel longer than 16″, M193 renders steel armor useless.

One of several companies that have stepped up to address this lack is Armour Wear. Their new AR680 level III+ (note the plus) steel plates will not only stop level III threats (M80 ball), but M855 Greentip below 3200 fps, and the notorious M193 below 3300fps. This is faster than M193 travels from the muzzle of a 20″ rifle.

Using an advanced type of steel, these plates are not only stronger, they are lighter and thinner. Upon unboxing the plate, the second thing I noticed (the first was how nicely it was packed) was the seeming thinness. While there is a Line-X coating to help mitigate front-face splash, it is not obnoxiously thick as I have encountered on some plates. Taking the measure with a digital caliper showed the thickness right at 10.17mm, or about twice the thickness of the steel. Not bad. Weight was right at 7 lbs. 2 oz., also not bad for a fully coated plate (considering that other steel plates previously available in III+ weighed in at over 8.5 lbs.)


I was struck by the quality and attention to detail. The coating was even, with no runs or sloppiness. The reverse of the plate includes a certification sticker, which contains the lot number, inspection number, and other information. Very impressive.


The curvature (extremely difficult to do with this type of steel!) was even, smooth and symmetrical.

Finally, I was pleased to see that the lower corners were clipped, as this has the double effect of reducing weight and wear on plate carriers.

Armour Wear currently makes the AR680 in three sizes: 10″ X 12″ (reviewed), 8″ X 10″ and 6″ X 8″ (flat). The 10X12 retail for $135, which although definitely more expensive than previous steel plates, is quite affordable when the extra capabilities are taken into consideration.

You can purchase these plates directly from Armour Wear here:

Have finally had a moment to update the Recommended Armor Database. Alot has changed, and some items have either been superseded (AR680/Ultra-Hard Steel Plates are now best practices in the steel category, Mil-HHS is minimum acceptable, and AR500 should no longer be used for anything except training targets), or even discontinued (Midwest SIGMA III+).

Due to US Armor’s ludicrous “no civilians” policy, I cannot and will not recommend their products until such time as they change, and so I do not have any concealable armor listed currently (The US Armor Enforcer Classic IIIA being the only soft armor that meets my standards).

As always, please contact me if you feel something should be added to the list.

The legendary Tactical Armor Products GAMMA III+ series of plates was one of the most highly regarded rifle plates of its time. With decent weight, good quality build materials, and excellent stopping power, the now extinct TAP’s plates command a premium on the secondary market.

To fill the vacuum left by the discontinuation of the GAMMA, Midwest Armor stepped up to the plate. Like pretty much everything else in their linup, their continuation of the lineage, the SIGMA, was a grand slam.

I ordered my sample of this plate from Appalachian Training. Though they did not even have it officially in stock at the time, Mike was more than happy to get the ball rolling. The plate was a little over $449 shipped, thanks to Appalachian’s enviable flat rate shipping rate.

Due to an unfortunate (albiet very minor) issue with the plate’s PU finish, I got to experience the superhuman customer service that both Appalachian, and Midwest, strive for. I alerted Mike to the issue, and from that moment, it was as if a small army of extremely efficient Armor Ninjas were set in motion. I had an RMA number and label in my hands within mere hours, and the plate was back to Midwest, but NOT BEFORE they had already initiated shipping on a replacement. The box showed up two days later, full of extra goodies (some edible, some not). Now that, folks, is how CS is done.

The replacement plate arrived in good order, and the unboxing commenced. Even though this is armor, and is rugged as heck, the packing job done by Midwest would have kept a dozen eggs from getting so much as a single crack. The extra little details really matter.

Midwest Sigma 3+ front strike face.

Midwest Sigma 3+ front strike face.

The first impression of the plate was “tough.” The tan PU coating is really grippy and resilient. Curvature is not too extreme, and fit my plate carrier very nicely (SKD PIG). Weight is right at 5.45 lb. and thickness is 1.27″. The weight puts this into the “just under medium” category. Much lighter than steel, it is still heavier than the pure UHMWPE plates. However, this is due to the welcome addition of a thin ceramic strike face (in keeping with the GAMMA theme), which allows it to defeat the Green Tip M855, the bane of all UHMWPE plates.

Rear face with label

Rear face with label

Thickness is right at 1.27"

Thickness is right at 1.27″

Overall, I give this plate 4.5 out of 5 stars. The only reason it was not 5 stars is that I generally don’t give 5 star ratings to anything. This plate is rugged, relatively affordable, and comes with a 5 year warranty (and take it from me, if you need the warranty, you will be well taken care of).

Kudos to Midwest Armor and Appalachian Training. They make and sell excellent products.

With the recent roll-out by Midwest Armor of their FM4 and FM3 plates (currently the lightest level IV and III rated stand-alone plates respectively), it was hard to contemplate what they could do to top it.

By releasing the FM-STX (“Force Multiplier, Special Threat”) they may have done that. The STX plate fills a niche for a light, THIN rifle plate that won’t break the bank. While the FM3 is still the lightest level III plate out there (~2.2 lb.), it is relatively thick (a hair over 1″) and does not address the M855 threat. The STX does not carry an NIJ level III rating, as it is tested specifically against M193, M855, and 7.62X39 steel core (hence the “Special Threats” designation).

The STX, at just over .55″ thick, and weighing in at 5 lb. in medium ESAPI profile (4.8 lb. in 10X12 shooters cut!), comes in thinner than either the FM3 and the FM4, providing the thinnest profile of the 3 (with the FM4 being .90″ thick). Consisting of a thin monolithic ceramic strike face sitting atop a backing package of advanced, proprietary UHMWPE rigid laminate, it pushes the limits of hard armor technology.

It also compares very well to the SIGMA III+ (review forthcoming), as it is triple curve (compared to the SIGMA III+ single curve), .55″ thick compared to the SIGMA III+ 1.25″ and only about $50 more per plate @ $499. If M80 ball is not a concern, and you need the thinnest non-steel plate to stop common-threat rifle rounds, the STX is the correct choice.

Add to this that Midwest is not satisfied with a single plate profile- the STX is available in all four ESAPI-profile sizes (small, medium, large, X-Large) as well as small and medium shooters cut, and small and medium full cut (rectangle). Options are nice to have.

The price point does place it in the midrange, with the standard MASS III running $399 and the Guardian IV triple curve at $150. But each plate should be considered for the intended end-use. If you are looking for a thin, light ceramic plate that will stop M193, M855, 7.62X39 steel core and all lesser threats (which accounts for a large percentage of typical threats) for PSD work, the STX is the best choice.

Armor is not a one-size fits all proposition, and by increasing the available choices, Midwest continues to lead the industry. Check out the FM-STX plate here:

(Disclosure: As usual, I have not received any financial inducements, discounts, or remuneration from either Midwest Armor, nor Appalachian training. When I do my hands-on review, as usual I will have paid for the plate out of my own pocket).

Or contact Mike at Appalachian training to special order.