Pat’s Product Review: EnGarde Hard Body Armor

Since 1980 I’ve had a real interest in body armor. Back then, I ran a gun business and I was contacted by a fairly large Oregon police department to bid on a request–they wanted for some soft body armor. I placed a bid, and much to my surprise, I won it! At that time, the biggest name around in soft body armor was Second Chance. I contacted Rich Davis at Second Chance, and told him I had won a bid to supply a fairly large police department with soft body armor. However, I didn’t have the funds to purchase the armor from Second Chance. No problem! Davis simply had me add the name of Second Chance to the bid, and he sent me the armor, and he received a check, and sent me my share.

EnGarde Body Armor contacted me, and wanted to send me one of their hard body armor carriers, complete with hard body armor panels to test for SurvivalBlog readers. Over the years, I’ve tested many different types of soft and hard body armor, some failed my testing, while some more than lived up to their claims. While I make no claim of expertise’ in the area of testing body armor, I have walked away with some interesting results over the years. One company, that is no longer in business – wonder why? – is because their armor failed miserably in my testing – simply placing their soft armor panel in front of a phone book, and firing a 9mm round, that the company claimed their armor would stop. Unfortunately, I was performing this test in front of a police department, that was interested in purchasing this T-shirt style soft body armor. Not only did the 9mm round in question completely penetrate the vest, it also completely penetrated the phone book behind it. I didn’t win an order for body armor that day. However, I’m glad I performed the test, seeing as how I was a retail dealer for that particular brand of body armor – it opened my eyes!
 
EnGarde Body Armor is located in The Netherlands, however, they have offices all over the world. So, if you live in a country outside of the USA, and wish to purchase their body armor, please contact them, for a location near you. The USA has very strict laws regarding the export of body armor – you simply can’t live in another country, and if you happen to see body armor for sale in the USA and want a dealer to ship it to you – they can’t! It’s against several Federal laws!
 
A little background on EnGarde is in order. They are a leading manufacturer of high quality armor products, utilized by law enforcement, military and civilians all over the world. They also take great pride in the performance, comfort and durability of their products. Their vests outperform the standards set down by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) which is recognized the world over for testing and setting the standards in body armor protection levels. To be sure, you can’t just purchase any old body armor – you have to understand the threat-level you will be facing, and act accordingly in picking the right threat level for your needs. Over the years, in law enforcement and in private security work, I only felt the need for soft body armor – designed to stop most common handgun rounds. However today, I might look at things differently if I were still involved in those lines of work.
 
I received the EnGarde T.R.U.S.T.  plate carrier that is normally offered with a Level IV level. Mine came with two Level IIIA soft panels. The Level IV plates are for stopping high-powered rifle rounds, like those you’d encounter on a battlefield: 5.56mm 7.62×39 and .308 Win. I believe that many SurvivalBlog readers are more interested in hard body armor, than they are the soft panels, if it came down to a TEOTWAWKI scenario – then again, I could be wrong. However, the set-up I received was Level IIIA and it will also stop many common handgun rounds, as well as some rifle rounds.
 
You will find two different types of hard body armor on the market, one is from steel plates that are called AR-500 steel, and the other are ceramic plates, which is what EnGarde sells for their hard armor needs. Of course, there are endless debates as to which is better, the AR-500 steel plates or the ceramic plates? And, I have no intention of getting into that debate here, or through e-mails. Both types of hard body armor have their pluses and minuses. The AR-500 steel plates are heavier than ceramic plate. The AR-500 steel plates can take many multiple hits without failing. The ceramic plates are lighter – quite a bit lighter and more comfortable. However, they aren’t rated to take as many multiple hits. I believe NIJ tests armored plates – for hard body armor – to withstand 6 or 7 hits without failing. And, if you are in a place where you have been hit 6 or 7 times by high-powered rifle rounds, you should be in a different place – simple as that. Some claim that ceramic hard armor plates are a bit fragile, and you shouldn’t drop them or they’ll crack or break in short order. And, to be sure, the plates aren’t just manufactured out of ceramic material – Aluminum is added to the ceramic plates – and some companies closely guard their secret formulas for good cause. Again, I’m no expert in this field, so keep that in mind.
 
According to the NIJ standard, a Level IV plate should be able to stop one (only) round of .30 Caliber (7.62 NATO) armor piercing round (AP M2 ball) at 2,880 FPS. Most level IV ceramic plates in the market tend to fall apart after one hit from an AP round – the EnGarde can take several rounds of fire. Unfortunately, my precious few rounds of 7.62 NATO AP ammo had been used for testing another hard body armor, so I didn’t have any AP rounds to test on the EnGarde ceramic plates.
 
Before testing the EnGarde hard body armor, I placed the two hard ceramic plates, along with the two soft armor panels in the plate carrier that was sent to me – it was easy to insert the plates and the soft panel, however it took a little bit of time to get the carrier all adjusted so that it was comfortable. I wore the carrier and plates around my homestead for several hours, and made a few more small adjustments. And, as time goes by, you will probably make a few more adjustments, so it all fits and feels just perfect on your body. I will say though, that the ceramic plates with the soft armor panels in the T.R.U.S.T. carrier were very comfortable to wear. And, if something isn’t comfortable, you’re not going to wear it – period! A lot has to do with the plate carrier you select, and how many adjustments are available on the carrier.
 
Now, while the NIJ testing facility has their scientific methods for testing body armor, I prefer to just do it out at my usual shooting spot, and I simply placed the hard armor against a tree and fired at it from 25 yards away, with a Springfield Armory M1A rifle, loaded with military surplus ammo – ball ammo. I don’t know what the ballistic were, as my chrony long ago gave-up the ghost. I fired at the EnGarde hard plate 10-times, and not in the same area – I fired at various areas of the vest, and there was no failure – however, I was getting close. Another 10 rounds and the ceramic plate had failed. Now, that’s not to say ceramic plates “failed” my test – far from it. It outperformed NIJ hits by quite a bit. The ceramic plates are meant to break apart – that’s the way they are designed – they captured the bullet fragments as the bullet hits.
 
I still had one ceramic plate left for testing. On another outing, I took a bolt-action .30-06 rifle, with some FMJ ammo, and once again, at 25 yards, I began firing at the plate. To my surprise, the plate held-up for the first four rounds. I reloaded and began firing again, and this time, between rounds, I went downrange and checked the plate for penetration. It was on the 8th round, that there was a failure of the plate. Again, while I use the word “failure” the plate performed as expected – it actually performed better than expected.
 
I also tested the soft armor panels, that are rated to withstand 9mm and similar handgun rounds, not rounds fired from a rifle. And, to be honest, I lost track of the number of hits the two soft panels took from a 9mm and .45 ACP handgun rounds – without failure. But both panels were starting to look pretty ragged – but they didn’t fail! Now, the idea of having the soft panels behind the hard ceramic armor is to absorb some of the blunt force trauma – and that’s a good thing. And, you can also wear the soft panels as a stand alone set-up, if you  feel you will only be facing common handgun rounds. You actually have the best of both worlds with this set-up from EnGarde Body Armor.
 
The two ceramic hard armor plates are rated at threat Level IV, and the two soft armor panels are rated at Level IIIA – you are actually getting two different vests, for the price of one – if you use the T.R.U.S.T. carrier by itself, or you can purchase another carrier for use with the soft panels – a carrier that is more appropriate for soft body armor panels.
 
My testing wasn’t scientific. Then again, if someone is shooting at you in the field, you’re not concerned with how well the armor stands up under controlled scientific conditions – you only care that the armor does what it’s supposed to do – stop the bullets from penetrating your body – and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
 
I’ve looked around and found hard body armor, with ceramic plates (only) in a carrier, for as much as $2,000+ now keep in mind that, that is just for two ceramic plates and a carrier. I’ve also seen ceramic plates with a carrier for under $1,000 and everywhere in between. And, in many cases the seller was a private individual, so you have no idea how well the armor was cared for. Buyer beware!
 
Now, math wasn’t my best subject in school, however I did learn to add and subtract, if nothing else. I’m told by Iwan Luiten, at EnGarde Body Armor, that his product manager informed him that the EnGarde T.R.U.S.T. plate carrier, is normally offered with the Level IV and Level IIIA panels, and the entire set-up is priced at $599 USD plus shipping. Now, in my book, that’s one heck of a deal, on not just the plate carrier with the Level IV hard armor plates, but you are also getting two 9mm soft armor panels. That is a deal you don’t want to miss out on, if you’re in the market for hard body armor. I’ve seen soft body armor cost a lot more than this – and with this EnGarde set-up, you are getting a carrier, plus hard plates and two soft panels!   – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio

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