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Concealed carry only gets you so much protection. It’s a reactionary measure, one that punishes those who have already taken action against you. But what about surviving that initial exchange? And what if you’re in a place that doesn’t allow concealed carry? In that case, SafeGuard Armor‘s Stealth series ballistic vests may be just the ticket for you . . .

When the folks at SafeGuard Armor offered to send us a ballistic vest to test (and they MEANT that testing part), naturally I jumped all over it. I mean, what’s cooler than a freaking bullet proof vest?! Especially one that you get to shoot! But before we got to the shooting part, I took it out for a test drive.

And before you get your hopes up too much, at no point were any TTAG writers downrange of a live gun. We might be looking for the truth, but broken bones and possible additional orifices aren’t on the menu. And definitely not covered by our medical insurance.

First things first. We’re trying out their Level II vest (with the stab protection) which is their lower end model. Then again, in this business “lower end” is relative. The vest itself is made of some high quality materials, and the fit and finish on it is perfect. On the outside is a “CoolMAX” carrier. It uses some sort of padded moisture-wicking material that makes up the shoulders and the inside portion of the vest, which adds a ton of comfort to the thing. And in the heat of the Texas sun, oh boy do you need it.

Wearing the thing around on your daily appointed rounds, it does add some noticeable weight to your body. The website lists it as an additional 2.5 kg of mass, and while it does feel pretty light by itself, there’s something about the way it hangs that makes it feel heavier. But once you’ve worn the vest for a while, you no longer really notice the added weight. It just sort of blends into the background, like any other garment.

Wearing it around town, no one noticed a damn thing. I wore the vest under the tightest fitting and thinnest shirt I could find, and not one person realized anything was different. Or if they did, they didn’t say a word. I even wore the thing to work, and the only person to notice was my boss (the former police officer and Air Force NCO). Even then, the only tip-off was the lack of definition in my, erm, chest. We heavier guys have some “man cleavage” going on sometimes, and the vest has a tendency to flatten that whole situation out.

One thing that will be a dead giveaway, though, is getting out of cars.

While I was wearing the vest, every single time I got out of my car, I forgot to take my seatbelt off. I’m so used to feeling the seatbelt and using that as a cue to remove it that when the vest took away the sensation of being strapped in, I completely forgot. I had a couple strange looks from people as I tried to extricate myself from my seatbelt while half way out the door. According to my former LEO boss, that’s a common occurrence with police officers and to be expected. Just make a mental note and you’ll start to remember.

So, the vest is comfortable, and concealable. But does it work?

In a word, “yes.”

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In fact, we tested this vest wrong. The actual test requires a block of clay as the backing, to simulate the “give” of human flesh (as the more time a projectile has to slow down, the less likely it is to penetrate the material). We used wood instead, which is, obviously, much more rigid. But the vest still stopped every applicable round that we threw at it and performed as expected.

But we couldn’t let it stop at that — we tested this thing up to and past the breaking point. And FYI, full size rifle cartridges didn’t even slow down. So while the vest protects from everything up to and including a 9mm round fired at contact distance, it isn’t 100% perfect.

As for the stab protection, let me put it this way. I was sitting at home trying to dig the rounds we fired out of the vest with my set of knives and probes in front of me, and I couldn’t get through the material. In fact, this vest dulled all of my knives. I couldn’t penetrate it at all. And upon closer inspection, the metal chain mail that’s woven into the vest would seem to deter all sorts of stabby sharp implements from doing much damage.

So, the vest works. But are there any drawbacks?

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In the immortal words of Sterling Archer, “Shut up! That vest is bullet-proof! But it is, y’know, a vest.” And a vest it is, indeed. The only places where the vest provides protection are the front and rear panels, meaning the arm holes, as well as the top of the vest, is pretty much as useful as a couple of shirt layers.

At the end of the day, the best defense is still a good offense. But it doesn’t hurt to have some extra insurance on your side, just in case a bad guy gets in a lucky shot. The SafeGuard Armor Stealth vest provides an excellent level of protection against the bullets it’s rated to stop as well as edged weapons. And it does so without any telltale signs that you’re wearing much at all under your shirt. The vest was designed to protect all (well, most of) your vital squishy bits, and as far as I can tell it does a fantastic job.

My only regret is that they only gave me one to test (which is now thoroughly ventilated, thanks to Tyler Kee). Now I don’t have a spare to wear.

Specifications: SafeGuard Armor Level II Stealth Vest

Weight: 2.5 kg
Sizes: XS to 3XL
Price: $581 (as reviewed…and destroyed)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Ease of Use * * * * *
The velcro straps make adjusting the thing a breeze. As simple as putting on those shoes when you were a kid.

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 * * * * *
Honestly, my only regret is that they didn’t send two and I had to shoot up the one I got.

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66 Responses to Gear Review: SafeGuard Armor Level II Stealth Vest

  1. So, it’s a sports bra for us fat guys. 581 bucks is a lot of money. I mean, it’s only my life. Probably a mute point for me. It’s probably illegal in California, everything else is.

  2. Six months ago Sportsman’s Guide was offering police surplus concealable body armor. I believe it was from Puerto Rico. Anyway, for 100 or so bucks I bought a great condition Level II vest that was manufactured in 2003. It was never really exposed to moisture as far as I can tell, so I’m confident that it’s still good to go. I generally wear it when going to meet gun people I don’t know off the internet, thanks to TTAG. You guys published that one article here about a guy getting shot to death when he was going to do a private sale so I figured I might as well throw it on.

    But, yeah, I also forgot to unbuckle my seatbelt a time or two. I tried to get up and I was like “WTF?!” for two or three seconds until I realized I was strapped in. lol

  3. You honestly get used to the weight.
    FYI, you do NOT want to be wearing one and get shot with a 5.56 or most rifle rounds for that matter. It poofs a bunch of fiber into your body that then absorb bodily fluids and to a surgeon, look exactly like nerves…

    • Do you have a source on that? The panel I shot with 5.56 had a nice clean hole like the vest wasn’t even there. I’ve also never heard that claim before.

      • Experince shooting level II and III/IIIA vests confirms this. Big tufts of kevlar on the exit side.

        • ^^^ wound ballistics seminar put on by federal ammo.
          Vests were required of shooters, but only during the handgun portion.
          He explained about the fiber and we all just kind of looked at him like a dog hearing a high pitched tone. So, we picked the oldest vest in the crowd and shot it. It was a real eye opener. Rather have a nice clean small hole in me.
          The rep brought up a PPB officer who was shot with an AK round and it drove the trauma team nuts trying to figure out what to remove and what to leave.

        • Seems like if this was a normal issue, guys in the sand box would deal with it all the time. Maybe it is an issue with laminate Kevlar.

  4. Does the material of this vest deteriorate over time? When I was riding with LE many years ago (not as sworn personnel but as part of a psychiatric emergency response team), I was issued ballistic underwear, but it had to be replaced every two years even in the absence of having taken any rounds, because of time-related degradation of the Kevlar that was its principal component.

    • That is a CYA warranty thing. Studies have shown that Kevlar simply doesn’t break down, and that 10 year old used (but not abused) vests seem to outperform brand new vests. Kevlar simply doesn’t break down like that. You just can’t sue the company if you think your vest failed to stop a round it should have and your warranty is expired.

        • I’ve got a 20 year old vest in my shop that I’ve shot 40-50 times testing guns after working on them. Still holding up. The expiration date is to keep selling vests every 5 years.

  5. It isn’t illegal in CA. But for the price I would look at bullet proof me and consider 3A. Level 2 is still Kevlar, and Kevlar is like wearing laminated cardboard soaked in molten lead. It is heavy and has near zero breathability. Seriously, putting the weight aside, putting a concealment vest on is like wrapping saran wrap over an undershirt. You start feeling the sweat within about a minute of putting the thing on when it is 70 indoors. Step outside and you really start feeling it. The step from 2 to 3a is a few more layers and a lot better protection, so if you are taking the plunge, might as well go for it IMO.

  6. Wow that isnt a lot of side coverage, my L3A Ranger Body Armor overlaps on the sides. And I would hope it would be concealable, I’ve walked around with my RBA and a pair of SAPI plates and a jacket and my friends didnt realize I had on it on till I took off my jacket.

    • Lack of overlap on the sides is an issue of improper sizing, not poor design or an inferior product.

      • Actually it is a personal preference. Gap = ventilation; no gap = better coverage, less ventilation; overlap = full coverage, no ventilation.

        Unfortunately all vests that I know of for sale in the US have the stupid gap along the sides so that they can store them flat. In Brazil the armor panels have a wrap around front panel so that the gap is at 4:30 and 7:30 rather than 3:00 and 6:00 so that the side wouldn’t be left so exposed. I wish I could get those panels here, but manufactures and departments put a premium on how much space 500 vests take to store.

        • Inbox,

          My department uses vests that have plenty of coverage at the sides, and they’re American brands. We, of course, do NOT have the option of having space there.

        • That just means your department made the choice for you. Good on them as that is probably the best since they can make you wear it comfortable or not.

          The bonus to the gap more towards the rear is you can opt for the no overlap or gap coverage which means you are much more comfortable while still having good coverage.

      • Bingo… that vest is not even near sized correctly for him. There should be slight overlap at the sides and about 1/2-1 inch between the bottom and your belly button, although that may be more important for LEOs who have duty belts and have to sit down in cars.

        I notice the same thing on mythbusters when they wear vests… they just do it badly. This should be noted for anyone who is going to buy one, getting one online is a pretty bad way to do it, because it’s extremely difficult to get the right size. “One size fits all” never does, and it’s important here. If you’re going to shell out big bucks for protection, make sure it protects you.

        • For online, I couldn’t recommend bulletproofme more. They have you take a whole bunch of measurements, talk it through with you over the phone, then if that isn’t enough, you can exchange the vest if the fit isn’t quite what you wanted. I got my vest sized for little to no overlap / no gap. I had the option to get overlap. The vest came exactly as was discussed over the phone.

  7. Is there anyway to ducktape sapi plates to it? I work a high risk security job at a mall an I need extra protection at a reasonable price.

  8. My SBA weighs 9 pounds it will stop anything short of 5.7 penetrator, It was issued in germany but never worn, not even taken out of it’s carrier and cost me around $300. Sure it’s hot but it beats a trip to the morgue.
    Sapi plates require a carrier of some sort, a fishnet arrangement might work but it require alot of experimentation as SAPIs weigh about 9 pounds each. If you have the money you could buy the super light plates from DKX

  9. Ya’ll didn’t try the .45ACP at close range. Too bad. I would have been far more interested in seeing how it handles a 230 grain at +P from 7 feet.

    • If it stopped a 9mm, it’s going to stop a .45 ACP. There’s little difference in sectional density and the ratio of energy/frontal diameter is actually a little lower for the .45. The 230gr slug might make a better wound cavity if it gets into tissue, but in doing so it smears its force out over a larger area; the same protective vest is going to stop both rounds. The physics are the same now as they were in 1918.

      • I’m not up on all the physics you cite. You may be correct. I do know that, for example, a 9mm round will star a normal automobile windshield where a 45 will penetrate with enough force to kill the driver. I’ve seen videos of the test. I carried a “wondernine” until I saw those films. All my carry guns are now 45.

        • That’s an effect of momentum. The .45 at 230gr is almost twice the mass of the common 124gr Luger. Momentum = (Mass * Velocity) and is the tendency of an object moving on a vector to resist changes in that vector.

          The 9mm and .45 may have similar energies (1/2Mass * Velocity^2), but the 9mm has lower momentum. In absolute terms, both rounds have the energy to defeat the glass, but the force of the angled windshield impact is able to overcome the momentum of the 9mm and deflect it away from the direction that would carry it through. With greater momentum, the .45 just doesn’t care about that deflecting force and keeps (more or less) going in the direction it was going.

          (Incidentally, this is why .357 Sig, with *much* higher energy than the .45 ACP, also has a reputation for deflecting off of car windshields.)

          Make sense?

          With hitting a ballistic vest, what happens is the high-strength, woven fibers effectively create a much larger area for the impact energy to be dumped into. So rather than 380-420 ft*lbs of energy striking in .355-.452 inch, it effects an area several inches across. So it’s like you were hit with a baseball moving with that energy rather than a bullet – much less penetration.

          The only way you get through that is by dumping enough energy into the initial impact area that you overcome the strength of the fibers before they can pull on their neighbors (which pull on their neighbors, which pull on their neighbors, et cetera) and spread that energy out. The .45 ACP has a larger absolute energy than the 9mm Parabellum, but since it’s also a bigger diameter bullet it actually delivers slightly less energy per unit of area.

          So if the 9mm got stopped in a straight-on shot, a .45 is going to stop too…just as happened with the original cloth ballistic vests that hit the commercial market in 1918 with the end of WWI. Criminals quickly figured out that those vests would stop just about any common pistol round: .38 Special, 9mm Luger, .44 Special, and .45 ACP. The only existing round that they wouldn’t stop was the semi-auto, very-high velocity .38 Super cartridge. Since Smith & Wesson didn’t sell semi-autos, they rushed out an uprated .38 Special cartridge that could defeat the early ballistic vests as soon as the problem became common knowledge – and that’s how we got the .357 Magnum.

      • Yeah, I was lazy and hoping someone would do it for me. Actually found something on Wikipedia that describes them pretty well, and was comparable to another link from some law enforcement agency. Looks like a IIIA is the minimum I’d be willing to go myself, preferably a III but I’m sure that’d be bulky as hell.

        • A III is like wearing an armor plate. It’s stitched like a checkerboard, outer layer to outer layer. Very uncomfortable as it doesn’t lend itself to conforming or bending very easy. I wore a IIa for most of my career. Second chance, American body armor, etc…
          It’ll handle anything pistol and a lot of pistol caliber rifle. Anything up to 44 mag. Mine always came with a mini sapi plate. About a quarter inch thick by 4″ wide by 6″ tall. Centered over the heart. IIA is a great compromise vest for cost, protection, and comfort.

        • Level III is always hard armor from what I’ve seen. I’m sure there is theoretically “soft” armor that could be III, but there is probably a reason all the level III armor on the market is hard plate. IIIA is the highest I’ve ever seen soft armor.

        • Oh, and IIA isn’t rated for 44 magnum. It is for low end 9mm and .40 S&W. Level II covers .357 which gets you the protection that covers most generic stuff, but has quite a bit of back face trauma. Level IIIA is what covers 44 mag and minimizes blunt trauma. Yeah, it is a bit stiff, but roll it up, break it in, and it conceals just fine. IMO, aside from weight, there isn’t much drawback from going IIIA over II, but II is what sells the most.

  10. You mentioned metal chain mail woven into the fabric. May I suggest another test?
    Does this thing offer Taser protection? Does the metal in the vest short out the Taser contacts rendering it ineffective? Inquiring minds want to know….

  11. Hello,

    I have buy this Armor,

    I just have a question:

    Do you know what material are used for blade and spike protection?
    I Have passed the Armor with a Garrett Metal Detector and it detect nothing, but you said is a “metal chain”, it’s a non magnetic metal?

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