Jun 23, 2014

Review: USPalm Defender soft armor

US Palm Defender soft armor

Full disclaimer: I can only give initial impressions. I have no intention of subjecting this to a torture test. *g*

Body armor is traditionally pretty expensive stuff. There are various levels, from "I" to "IV" with a handful of steps between. IIIA is the most resistant soft armor out there, and should prevent penetration by handgun rounds up to .44Mag and 9mm from a sub-machine gun. Medium-coverage off-the-rack vests start around $550 and go up from there, to well past a thousand dollars for full coverage fitted armor. For most people, that falls into "prohibitively expensive" for an item that is unlikely to see much use.

US Palm has created a product to fill a niche market, and I suspect they have pretty well nailed it. The Defender is a front-and-back plate carrier designed to cover the vital organs and arteries at an affordable price point. They make a few different models, retailed online through SGC-USA and other places (Midway carries and Primary Arms used to carry their products).

The base model is $199, and includes only a front plate (a rear plate is available separately for $99). It's available in black, coyote, or MultiCam, and in one of several options:
- slick: no adornments; ideal for under-clothing concealment
- MOLLE: five rows of six MOLLE loops front and back for attaching your own preferred gear
- handgun: a universal handgun holster and three mag pouches on the front
- AR15/AK47/308: rifle-specific mag pouches on the front

I got a "MOLLE" version in size large. If you don't care to attach anything, this is nearly as low-profile as the "slick". If you do want to attach things, this gives the greatest flexibility.

First impression out of the box: this is well made. I found NO flyaway threads, no dropped stitches, no snags in the fabric, nothing. The fabric is heavy-duty nylon and the velcro is solid. The bottom of the carrier velcros open to slide out the plate:

The plate is dated, and warrantied for five years. Note the disclaimer on the label, "This panel is not NIJ certified due to dimensions." In other words, it's too small to be certified for duty use.

What to clip on those MOLLE straps? Up to you. I haven't found what I want just yet, but it's likely to be a flashlight pouch, universal holster, and 3 magazine pouches. (For size comparison, that's a S&W M&P40c.) The pads above the armor are the removable pads for the shoulder straps. They ride well but are bulky. If you're going to wear this under a light jacket or sweatshirt, it's probably worth removing them and padding the straps with something a bit more discreet.

Getting it adjusted to fit is critical, so take some time to get the shoulders right before worrying about the chest belt. There is no fitting guide included, so use your brain: you need to cover the heart, lungs, and central arteries as best you can, so it should ride fairly high. I'm 6'1" and the front plate roughly covers from my collarbone to the bottom of my rib cage and the center 10" of my chest. (The plate is 10"x12.5" with angled top corners.)

So: what is it really for? It's a "bump in the night" set. With your preferred "stuff" on it, it's a way to grab ONE thing and go figure out whether someone is kicking the front door or the cat knocked over a lamp - instead of fumbling for your glasses, then flashlight, and pistol, and where the hell is the spare mag for this thing? If a rifle is your house gun, I'd still go for the MOLLE vest - and then spend extra to get the mag pouches you want and arrange them as you like.

If you travel through less-pleasant neighborhoods and have a get-home kit, this might be a good piece to add. If you're going to Kabul (or Oakland), this is not enough. Fortunately, you can purchase SAPI plates from various sources and slide them into this carrier.

I don't have the rear plate in mine. I may spend the hundred bucks to get it at a later date, but I have no plans to be shot in the back in my own house...

I said I wasn't going to torture-test this. I'm still not going to. US Palm did it for us with a nice five-minute video here. Short form: stopped all handgun rounds tested (from .22LR through .44Mag 240gr), stopped a load of #4 buckshot, failed to stop a 12ga slug. No surprise on that last bit.

Bottom line: if you've toyed with getting some kind of armor but keep choking on a $500+ price tag, this may be a good compromise. I'm happy with my purchase.

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