Gear Review: AR500 Armor Carbon Nanotube Soft Armor IIIA

AR500 Armor IIIA plate, c Nick Leghorn

I’ve tested a couple body armor options for TTAG in the last year. They’ve ranging from Kevlar level IIIA vests to level III steel plates and plate carriers. And while they work, and might save your life, they’re nowhere near comfortable and are often downright cumbersome. That’s where AR500 Armor’s latest product comes in handy . . .

The usual way to make a bullet resistant panel is to sandwich layer upon layer of heavy Kevlar until you have enough material to stop the requisite projectile. Then pop that into a vest of some sort for the end user to wear. Kevlar, though, is neither lightweight nor flexible, meaning that the vests are extremely heavy and very stiff. They work, but it’s not something that you’d want to wear every day.

Thanks to recent innovations in science, though, we’re finally at the point where we can use carbon nanotubes to make incredibly strong materials that are also insanely lightweight. You can read up on them on the ol’ Wikipedia, but the long and the short of it is that they allow you to have an incredibly strong barrier without the usual associated weight. And it’s awesome.

But that doesn’t solve the whole problem, since while the projectile is stopped it still exerts a tremendous amount of force over an extremely small area. That can lead to some nasty broken bones and associated trauma depending on where the round hits. The solution is to spread the force of the impact over a greater area. The way that AR500 Armor does that while still allowing the plate to be flexible is by using a non-Newtonian backing.

Again, Wikipedia has your back on the science but essentially it’s a material that is flexible when you slowly move it or impact it, but turns to a solid when struck with a great force. Like a bullet would. So when the force of a round hits the otherwise flexible backing, it hardens and disperses the impact over a much wider area than would otherwise be possible.

That’s all great in theory, but what really matters is how it performs in the real world. And boy does it perform.

Testing body armor gets boring after a while, and when the manufacturer provides this kind of video evidence of the fact that it works, there’s very little our own testing can add. So, it indeed works and stops most of the projectiles that you might be concerned about encountering.

AR500 Armor provides two versions of the nifty soft IIIA plate. The first is the standard vest-style cut, which will slip into any existing plate carrier or vest and provide more or less the same protection as a standard Kevlar vest but much, much lighter. The SafeGuard Kevlar IIIA armor that we’ve tested before clocks in at about 5.5 pounds. These sheets will only run 1 pound each. But while the standard option is nice, it’s the second option that really intrigues me.

AR500 Armor IIIA plate, c Nick Leghorn

AR500 Armor sells a 11″ by 14″ plate that fits almost perfectly into my 5.11 Messenger Bag and turns it into a real bullet stopping piece of equipment. Even better, it only adds about 1 pound to the bag and doesn’t make it any less flexible. But the best part is that I can bring this bag anywhere and have my IIIA protection with me at all times without raising any red flags or having to answer any unwanted questions about why I’m wearing a bullet proof vest. I recently flew from San Antonio to New York City’s JFK airport and back with this IIIA plate in my carry-on bag, and then proceeded to carry it everywhere in the city, and didn’t get a single question about it from the local constabulary. Or my family, for that matter. It was completely covert.

That’s really what these plates give you, and where you get your bang for your buck. They’re lighter and more covert than the standard Kevlar plates, even if you use them in a traditional vest-style setup. Oh, and did I mention that they’re cheaper than their Kevlar buddies? The best deal on a Kevlar vest I could find was around $400, but I can kit out a vest with a set of these plates for $350.

Yeah, I don’t see a downside here… except to DuPont.

Specifications: AR500 Armor Carbon Nanotube Soft Armor IIIA

Weight: 1 pound
Sizes: 11″ x 14″ square or vest cut
Price: $130 (square) / $140 (vest)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Ease of Use * * * * *
These plates slip right into your existing gear or pack, and while only adding one pound of weight adds a ton of “peace of mind.”

Utility * * * * *
It stops bullets and doesn’t give you away. For concealed carry, it’s perfect. But if you expect some higher velocity threats, you might want something with some steel plate inserts.

Overall * * * * *
While AR500 Armor sent the square plate to review, I think I’m gunna have to con them into sending the vest cut plates as well. For… um… “testing.” Yeah, testing. Long term, that is.