Having spent hundreds of hours in tactical armor, and over twenty years in concealable armor, it has encompassed a large part of my life since 1983 when my Second Chance vest was first donned. It was uncomfortable as hell, heavy and hot, yet from that day forward a vest was used continually; first as a reserve, then full time officer, and finally SWAT officer. To this day a vest is worn during training, weapons testing, and during video and photography in support of my articles. Always striving to test in real conditions it remains a weekly affair for me with no change in sight.
Always Armed / Always Armored
Quite to the consternation of a commander or two, my uniform never went on without body armor. Duty, dress, even detectives. Many thought it overkill even paranoia at the time. Even 25 years ago my best assessment was wearing a uniform made me a target for whack jobs. I owed it to my wife to protect myself. Unwilling to be the department test case, armor was always worn when in uniform, on warrant services as a detective, sergeant, or commander. As a sergeant, officers who showed up without them were sent home to change, policy or not. You wanted to work the streets with me, you wore a vest. I had no intention of explaining to loved ones why you died because you had no vest.
With officers now being killed regularly for simply being in uniform my guess is nay sayers are disappearing quickly. Recent targeting of officers aside, there are events (including in Utah) where officers died of gunshot wounds on warrant services or entry due to an unwillingness to wear body armor, or worse, a commanders unwillingness to demand it be worn. There are still agencies who do not provide it, and administrators that see them as “not required”. To me, any agency not requiring and then providing body armor to officers is grossly negligent, but hey, that is probably why I am not a Chief. I would give up a desk or two, trip to IACP, or the next FBI Academy get-together to pay for officers vests. Apparently that is a minority view still, hard to believe. For those agencies with the appropriate priorities, there is a company out there building some excellent armor, at reasonable prices. Having thoroughly tested their concealed armor, this evaluation is focussed on their WARRIOR tactical body armor.
Survival Armor Warrior
The Warrior is a full overlapping soft body armor vest capable of supporting use with or without plates, including side plates. It is fully adjustable with an internal and external cummerbund system. Shoulder straps are wide, adjustable, and conformable. Non-slip material sits on either shoulder for weapons support. Soft armor meets the NIJ 06 standard along with the “special threat” testing that includes some higher velocity rounds. My test vest included Bicep sleeves, throat protection, a removable collar, and groin protection. The pull strap is heavy duty, and it includes 360 degrees of MOLLE attachments. Several colors are available making it easy to match unit uniforms, this vest was in Multicam.
Many years in a vest tempered by lots of hard use meant it was kept light. Unless an agency mandates certain configurations it is pretty easy to pick out the experienced SWAT officers. Anything not used or needed is absent. All the cool guy stuff you carry as a rookie is sitting in a box somewhere. After several hours in an IAT it is just weight. Contrary to popular mythology, SWAT officers are not soldiers, their needs are different. Much of the equipment Soldiers and Marines must carry is just never used in the police world. Bottom line, the older you get the less you carry, and my vest has just what it needs to get through a deployment.
Officers get relieved for the most part within hours, not days. My vest consisted of ammo pouches, water, comms, and the ability to carry a pistol. My favorite pistol attachment method is G-Codes RTI H-MAR MOLLE adaptor for vests. It allows the use of all my Safariland Gear, some of my favorite holsters. It also allowed the use of BladeTechs TMMS quick change kit. They make a MOLLE kit, but it just did not allow me to get the correct angle. Leaving the RTI in place the TMMS bolted up nicely allowing me to use several of their duty holsters and my Surefire X400 light / laser. Both are excellent, just different. Given my current profession pouches that accept different magazines is helpful, making the HSGi Taco pouches perfect. Three rifle pouches accept anything from 5.56mm to VEPR-12 magazines. Pistol pouches are the same working with just about any single or double stack magazine. An SKD Tactical P.I.G. (SYSTEMA) Hydration carrier mounts to the rear. There is a fixed pouch for a radio when needed, my cell phone where no radio is needed. Lastly, my favorite fighting knife was attached to the left hand side of the vest. It sits in between the overlap protected from the urban world and others, yet remains at hand when needed.
My first opportunity to use this armor was during a Surefire Institute media event almost a year ago. Surefire is well known for events that truly test equipment, this was no exception. Solutions Group International hosted us to their High Risk Dignitary Protection class. During all of the firearms training portions, and the final live fire event the Warrior was put to the test. Both the neck protector and the bicep protection was used. Held in California, temperatures ranged in the 70’s or 80’s, even in March. The class was pretty active, especially the last day, so there was quite a bit of movement. It was worn start to finish, encompassing a solid 8 or more hours in the vest. It was removed during the lunch break, otherwise it stayed on the entire time. The pistol used was a G17 built by Salient Arms and was placed in a Safariland holster. The rifle was a Daniel Defense MK18 using a U.S. Optics scope and Surefire suppressor. It added not only weight to the vest, but allowed for testing for proper length of pull.
Comfort even with the collar was excellent. No other vest ever used has been more comfortable. Testing a couple dozen in the last 5 years, the only complete kit as comfortable is my ten year old Paraclete costing twice as much, ten years ago! Adjustment of the collar allowed for my rather large neck (or lack thereof according to some). It was supple enough to be comfortable, yet stiff enough to prevent any chafing from the sling. For the most part the sling stayed put, but anyone wearing these in the real world have the sling ride up – the Warrior handled it nicely. With the stock fully collapsed I was able to get solid eye relief without regard to position, and we were placed in some odd ones.
Never a real fan of bicep coverage when working entry, these were actually pretty comfortable. Given the opportunity to perform entry work again they would stay on. They fit over my long sleeve shirt comfortably with a ton of adjustability. Velcro on the sleeves allows for unit patches, flags, etc. Movement was not hindered significantly using either the long gun or pistol. Modern pistol and rifle technique (most of them) were all possible. There is always some limitations using a tactical vest, those were there, but no more than any vest ever used prior, more about your limitations than the vest. It was easy to get them on and off, I just adjusted them to fit then left them.
The Warrior uses an inner cummerbund, the best way to securely wear full sized tactical vests. It keeps things tight, and secure. For this training it was used throughout. When there is time to use them they are great, but it is nice to be able to just throw the vest over your head. The WARRIOR has generous 360 degree coverage with plenty of overlap. It allowed me to set the rig up to don and doff it by throwing it over my head. Once set up it went on with ease, and remained very comfortable. Grabbing the pull strap it came off easily as well, even when tired. During the course of the class it was used from kneeling, prone, roll over prone, around cars, barricades, lots of stuff. At the end of the day there was no chafing or hot spots. Best of all, no back pain, sling abrasion, or shoulder pain. Sweat covered for sure. but it performed incredibly well.
Over the course of the last 9 months this vest has seen use at three more schools, department firearms training, and almost weekly use during rifle, pistol, and shotgun testing. Short of those articles where Multi-cam has been over the top for photography it is a go-to vest. Using the Safariland holsters with the Coyote Nylon covering it blended in very nicely. Used with a couple of Glocks, my Red Creek Tactical 1911, and both a Sig Sauer P320 and P320C it was excellent. It fit nicely with or without a light, including my X400. Without a plate in place it was stiff enough to support it very well. The draw was smooth, angle perfect, and it held the pistol under some pretty harsh conditions. During one school it spent as much time in the dirt from prone as it did upright with no issues. The same was true using the BladeTech TMSS setup. Draw is a bit different, but it remained smooth and stayed in place during some harsh training.
The only set of plates I have are United Shield International Delta + units left over from 2007 while still in command of the SWAT team. Acquired in a trade they have served me well. Weighing in at only 3.75 pounds each they are rated to stop 7.62 NATO ball (multi) as a stand alone plate (SAP), along with 7.62 x 39mm MS core. Pretty light by comparison, they fit nicely, and carry comfortably without adding a ton of weight. Coupled with soft armor they stop most you would encounter as an officer and cost a bit less. The Warrior handles these very well, especially with just a front plate. You barely notice the extra weight, and they do not shift or move during hard use.
There are about a dozen plate carriers and vests sitting in the shop for use during weapons testing. They get cycled though most of the time, but when possible my favorites get used. For the last five years when soft armor is used that has often been my old and rather hammered Paraclete. Since getting my hands on this Warrior that has changed. The Warrior is almost always my choice when editorial decision making allows. It sits in my FJ all the time, ready to be used, now equipped with plates all the time. I have even taken it on a couple of runs up the canyon behind the FARM Police and Training Range. It is a great setup, with a retail price at $2270.00 it is pretty reasonable as well. You can certainly pay more, especially for some of the newer features. Their newer X-50 is lighter for sure, but as might expect more money. If you are looking for an excellent vest at a solid price give this one a good look.