Well, I did it, it’s true. I completely destroyed a perfectly good piece of really quite valuable gear for you, my friend the reader. Yep. The truth is, I dearly love kicking the shit out of stuff to see if it comes back up swinging. Hell, I destroyed a perfectly good Magpul P-MAG to see if it stands up to its hype (it does.) But THIS time, it was something quite a bit more valuable: a $600 bulletproof vest. All in the name of curiosity, and confidence in a product.
In case you missed my post last week, here’s the quick rundown: Safeguard Armor gave me one of their GHOST covert Level II bullet/ Level I spike protective soft body armor vests – and dear GOD, I hope it wasn’t a loaner…because, yes, I shot the bejeesus out of it to get the nitty-gritty of how well bulletproof vests really work. It was tons of fun, but somewhat sad, too…because I could have kept it and had a nice piece of gear in the kit. But then, it would just be the given word, “yup, it works because they said so.” I debated back and forth, but in the end, I decided this is how a proper test should go…and that’s why they sent it to me. To test it out, right? Right.
So far, this vest has been great. I wore it on the Urban Skills Challenge to get a feel of how it would be to actually HAVE to wear a vest in a bug-out type situation, where a hostile event wasn’t out of the picture. The vest was extremely comfortable to wear, though a bit sweaty during the 6.5 mile, 7-hour course. It definitely helped distribute and cushion the weight of my pack over the course of the day, and it never got in the way of doing any activities. Just in the movement and confidence attribute areas, this vest is a winner. I’d give it a 7 out of 10 in the “covert” department, as it definitely added a bit of bulk and you can vaguely see the outline print of the securing velcro straps under a T-shirt, but if you’re moving, it’s harder to tell. But does it do its job? Does it make all the extra bulk and sweat worthwhile? I had to find out.
What the ratings mean
Okay, so I have a level II bullet/ level I blade rated vest. What does that mean? Well, to find the answer, I would HEARTILY recommend a perusal of the Safeguard Articles page on their website. In it, it will tell you the standards of testing bullet, knife, and spike-proofing, and what the ratings mean. Basically, this Level II vest was rated for the following calibers, out of a handgun: (image taken from the actual Safeguard website)
This is the standard for Level II vests, which protect with multiple thin layers of “soft” kevlar, (as opposed to “hard” ceramic plates in level III armor) which catch a bullet, quite literally. The 9mm and .357 Magnum are two of the most deeply-penetrating calibers available in a handgun, so it makes sense to use them for a standard. Larger-diameter calibers, such as the .44 Magnum and .45 ACP, have a larger frontal area; while this may give them more “whallop”, it also provides more surface area for a bulletproof vest to grab onto….so therefore, it’s probably actually easier for a bulletproof vest to stop these calibers. This is why you won’t generally see the .44 Magnum listed as a standard for many bulletproof vest ratings…even though Dirty Harry probably would disagree. So, a Level II vest will GENERALLY be rated for most standard handgun calibers (the FN 5.7mm, which was specifically designed to penetrate this type of armor with certain bullets, is not being counted as “standard” here.). If you want protection from handgun calibers at more velocity, a Level III vest, which will stop a 9mm bullet out of a carbine-length barrel, or a .44 Magnum with a 6″ barrel, is recommended. A Level IIIA vest is rated for most standard rifle calibers up to a .308. Level IV will stop a .30-06 AP (Armor Piercing) round. For more information about vest threat levels, read up about it here.
Testing the GHOST vest
Once I’d made the decision to riddle the vest, I went about collecting my own guns and borrowing guns from others to give this vest a proper tryout. The collection included: a Sig Sauer P226 in 9mm, a Sig Sauer P220 in .45 ACP, an H&K MP5 clone with 8.8″ barrel in 9mm, Smith & Wesson M&P40 Compact in .40 S&W, a Smith & Wesson Model 27, 5″ barrel in 357 Magnum, a Smith & Wesson Model 65 3″ barrel, in .357 Magnum, a Smith &Wesson Model 25-5, 4″ barrel, .45 Colt, Smith & Wesson Model 629 4″ barrel, .44 Magnum, and a Smith & Wesson Model 46, 7.5″ barrel, in .22 LR. I figured this covered the caliber gamut nicely, and would give this test a real workout. I called up a buddy and asked if he wanted to help me ventilate a bulletproof vest. He agreed, and we met at my local sandpit.
When we got there, I dug a pit in a sandbank, so that the vest would be more or less vertical, and would have a solid, rock-free background to lay against. I didn’t want any “give” for the vest, since it wouldn’t really have much when strapped to a human. I took a fat-tipped Sharpie and drew aiming points on the vest, so that hopefully we could keep bullet impacts away from each other, using “fresh” vest for each caliber. I also wanted to find out if a vest was good for multiple bullet impacts in different areas. I would suck if it stopped a round low in the vest, but then wouldn’t stop one higher.
First up were the vest “Standard” rated calibers. My buddy popped a 124-grn 9mm into a mag for the P226, and didn’t even give the vest a warning shot. Right through the middle of a circle the bullet went. The vest jumped, dirt flew. What happened to the vest?
We made clear on the gun, and checked out the vest. Definite entry “wound”, and the material inside the vest was all bunched up. I smoothed it the best I could, and tried to feel for a bullet. Nothing I could feel, and there was a hole on the other side of the vest. Uh-oh. I thought this vest was rated for this, right? Well, no choice now but to try the other calibers.
Most of the calibers, I noticed, had the same results: bunched-up material, hole in the back of the vest. What the hell? I stuck my finger in the entrance holes, couldn’t feel the bullet, if it had stopped. I was pretty befuddled. Some calibers (like the 9mm through the MP5) DEFINITELY zipped right through definitively. And a couple hits, I would find later, were a bit peripheral. The .45 Colt, with a 255-grain LSWC at about 900 FPS, punched through the peripheral part of the vest. The only calibers that I saw that the best had absolutely stopped were the .22 LR with both high-velocity hollowpoint and solid round nose bullets, and the .38 Special +P 158-grain LSWC. Everything else, it seemed, had punched through. I was pretty dismayed and befuddled, to say the least. However, a dig around the in the sand didn’t really return any results – those bullets must have gone pretty deep without the vest offering much resistance. My thoughts on the vest up to that point? I thought it was a glorified back-pad. One point of light, though: I tried stabbing the vest repreatedly, with quite a bit of force! My 3″ bladed Gerber folder did NOT penetrate, hard as I might try. That part was pretty impressive, I will admit.
When I returned home, I had to figure out what the hell was going on. So I started cutting.
Here, you can see the layers that the vest is made out of: The outer vest, a tyvek-like material that contains the rest of the goods: a stainless steel ring mesh (like tiny chain mail armor) that stops the bladed attacks, the yellow kevlar pieces of fabric, layered up, and a black rubber foam pad that’s closest to the inside, I’m assuming to help distribute and cushion the blow of the bullet impacts. I tore the vest apart, layer by layer, hoping to figure out what went wrong.
So what did I find? Not much at first. The kevlar fabric had definitely bunched up after the bullet had gone through the ring mail, though the .22 bullets and the .38 bullet had acually caught and gotten wrapped up in the chain mail…I had to cut the chain mail to get the bullets out. So then I started peeling the layers off, one by one. It was a mess (it tore apart and was really itchy like fiberglass insulation) but it started telling stories.
the further I got in, the more bullets I started to find. It was insane….rounds I thought without a doubt would have penetrated through (like the .44 Magnum) were stopped dead by the Kevlar, caught in the fabric. And except for the 9mm carbine and the bullets that were shot accidentally and unknowingly through the periphery of the vest, every bullet I fired at the vest was caught. So it looks like the myth that a soft vest is only good for a single bullet strike is debunked – this vest caught multiple bullets in multiple locations. Here are the recovered projectiles…pretty wild. By the way: what I though were “exit holes” were just the casing of the vest bursting from the impact.
I was shocked, to say the least. This vest took a severe beating and caught pretty much every bullet I threw at it…as long as it was out of a HANDGUN. Pretty impressive, folks.
My thoughts? This vest is well worth the price of admission, folks. I’ve tested it under less than optimal conditions, sure, but this vest did what it was supposed to do: stop bullets and blades. And it did it repeatedly, as long as the bullets didn’t strike the same spot. This vest delivered all that it promised,and it did it with comfort and quality. If you want to be covered a bit better, I’d upgrade to a level III vest to cover almost all of the pistol-caliber stuff, even if it was a tad more expensive. To me, the gun you worry about is the one you can’t see, which would be a concealed pistol on a badguy. If I see someone with a rifle, I know the vest won’t help me, and I stay the hell away. If you want a rifle-rated vest, those are available too – it just depends on the comfort level you’re looking for, and what you can afford. But I guess the best thing I can say about this Safeguard GHOST vest is this: I’m saving up to buy one.
What do you think? Did this change your mind about bulletproof vests? Or is it just an unnecessary prep? We want to know!