Gear Review: AR500 Armor Level IIIA Bulletproof Soft Backpack Insert

Backpack armor is a pretty popular topic these days. Despite historic lows in violent crime, there’s a heightened concern about random mass violence, and rather than hoping it goes away there’s an increasingly large number of products devoted to providing ballistic protection to individuals.

One of those products is the AR500 Armor Level IIIA Backpack Armor 11″ x 15″ Rimelig Soft Body Armor (yes, that’s its full name) that I purchased last year and have been carrying just about everywhere recently.

First and foremost we should talk about what we’re trying to protect, and whether this is “enough.”

As a risk management professional, random mass violence falls into a category we call “low probability high consequence.” The likelihood that any specific person would be the target of this kind of violence (or any violence, really) is astronomically low. Statistically speaking you would need to live to be 20,000 years old before you’re guaranteed to be the victim of any kind of violent crime.

That said, these kinds of events do happen. People are attacked, and some are killed. Death is pretty much the ultimate possible negative consequence, which is something we definitely want to avoid if at all possible.

So there’s a chance we’re going to die randomly somewhere at some unknown time. It’s very small, but for some people that small risk is enough to warrant shelling out some bucks to have just a little bit of protection in their back pocket. In this case the back pocket is both literal and metaphorical.

Generally I’m not concerned enough to carry body armor on me at all times. But there are some situations where I feel there’s a heightened risk that rises to the level where some extra bit of protection would be appreciated.

For me, the clearest illustration of that need was my recent trip to Lima, Peru. My wife had found some cheap flights and wanted to check it out, and while I was mostly on board, I also wanted the ability to have some extra insurance. This made for a perfect scenario to add some soft body armor to my backpack.

The idea here is that a ballistic resistant bag could be held in front of me and/or my wife and give us just enough protection to run away from a shooter or other other threat. We’re not trying to kit up and confront the bad guys head-on, we’re just trying to get enough protection to get away alive.

While there are some backpacks on the market that claim to be bulletproof by design, generally they all are just standard backpacks with ballistic resistant panels inserted into a compartment. I’ve been using this Eagle Creek carry-on for some time and thankfully it already had a compartment in the back where I could slip the body armor. It seems intended for storing the shoulder straps, but intent and use can be different things. So rather than buying a new backpack I went searching for the perfect insert.

This is where most people run into problems. The assumption is that higher rated body armor is always better, but that’s not necessarily the case. All we’re looking for is enough extra protection to increase the chances of survival without adding so much bulk to the bag as to make it unusable.

In this case there are two things going in our favor: the fact that handguns are used in the vast majority of violent crimes involving firearms, and the fact that our backpack has things in it. Even if the ballistic resistant panel doesn’t stop the bullet on its own, the other contents of your bag might contribute to slowing down the projectile enough to keep it from completely wrecking your day.

I found that a Level IIIA panel was the right balancing point of weight and protection. It stops most handgun rounds, it’s light enough to not kill my back, and potentially inconspicuous enough that it won’t get too much extra scrutiny at the airport security checkpoint. Ceramic plates and metal plates don’t have that same stealthy quality.

AR500 Armor offers two versions of this product, this Rimelig variant and a hybrid variant. They carry the same ballistic rating, but the hybrid is slightly lighter and typically performs better. It’s also more expensive, so I opted for the cheaper material.

Overall the construction is pretty good. The panel comes in a nylon protective cover with the ballistic material inside. There are some handy markings for the front and back, just to make sure you have it oriented properly.

What I really like is the way the panel is cut. I reviewed a square version of this product before and the biggest complaint I had was that it doesn’t exactly fit nicely into a backpack or anything else that’s not square. In this case the 45 degree angle cuts on the edges allow it to fit comfortably into any appropriately sized backpack.

We’ve previously reviewed and tested AR500 Armor’s gear so I’m going to skip the function testing. We’ve established that it works and performs to the standards stated on the box. No sense in wasting more product.

The last question I had was how it performs in terms of everyday carry or travel use. I spent a couple months with the plate in my bag, and with the exception of a little bit of extra weight, I didn’t notice any ill effects. In fact, it did a good job adding some much needed stiffness and support to the back of the bag.

With these soft carry-on bags there’s not much there to help keep its shape, so I usually resort to putting my work laptop along the back of the bag to keep it flat against my back. In this case the plate did a better job, not only keeping the bag well aligned but also not digging into my back at every move and even providing some padding.

It also did a great job at the second requirement, namely being stealthy. I’m guessing that it just looks like another component of the bag on an X-Ray scanner because no matter what airport or security checkpoint I went through the plate didn’t raise an eyebrow. Numerous airline flights later and I’m actually being hassled less often than usual.

Naturally you should check your local laws for where you’ll be traveling to make sure you’re in the clear, but at least as far as the US is concerned since 2009 you no longer need a license to travel internationally (“exporting” the otherwise regulated item) with body armor for your personal protection.

Obviously I haven’t been able to test this in the intended situation (and hope not to), but I do feel a little more comfortable with it while traveling. I feel like I’ve got a better chance if something were to kick off where I’m not allowed to have my carry gun with me.

Bottom line here: do you need this? That’s really up to you and your personal risk tolerance.

If you feel it’s worth the cost and the weight to carry this in your bag, I think this is a great option. It works, it sails through airport security, and for me it actually provides some structure to an otherwise limp bag. I’m a fan, and in my opinion it’s worthwhile for that little extra peace of mind while traveling or in higher risk environments.

Specifications: AR500 Armor® Level IIIA Backpack Armor 11″ x 15″ Rimelig Soft Body Armor

Rating: IIIA
Weight: 1.6 lbs
Dimensions: 11″ x 15″
Price: $129

Rating (out of five stars):

Overall: * * * *
At 1.6 libs. it’s a little heavy, though hardly a backbreaker. If you’re the kind of person who finds a bit of extra protection valuable, this is really what you want.

comments

  1. avatar Leslie says:

    GREAT! But where does the Kinetic Energy of the Bullet Impact go though…

    1. avatar GeorgiaBob says:

      The kinetic impact goes right smack where you think it goes! Soft armor, like AR500’s pistol grade backpack armor, only spreads the impact from a circle less than 1/2″ across to three or four square inches centered on the impact point (and, not incidentally, prevents penetration).

      I am told that it hurts – a lot – and can break ribs. I have also been told, by people I believe, that there are hundreds of people who are alive today to complain about the painful impact. People who would have been too dead to complain if they were not wearing the armor!

      1. avatar Leslie says:

        But at what range! I doubt a Point Blank impact with even with this protective composite armor will save your life…

        1. avatar SAFEupstateFML says:

          It will if it stops the round. There may be a argument for potential serious injury/death with some shotgun slugs but kevlar has been stopping pistol threats rather reliably (if painfully) for decades now.

        2. avatar Jim Bob says:

          It seems you believe firearms have magical properties that can only be counteracted by ineffectual, feel-good legislation. That evil will cease to exist and crime will cease to occur because they “did something” by passing said laws. And then, when evil still exists and crime still occurs, you will want still more laws so you can feel safe again because they “did something”.

        3. avatar Tex Patriot says:

          This type of soft body armor is similar to the soft “bulletproof” vests worn by cops for decades. Those vests have saved hundreds (if not 1,000’s) of lives despite the fact that they won’t stop a rifle round.

          With their low weight, soft armor has a huge advantage over steel. It is light enough and comfortable enough for people to wear under normal circumstances.

    2. avatar arc says:

      Stick a trauma plate behind it, tablet, laptop, or a water bladder. Even some extra cardboard would do wonders for dispersing the energy over a larger area. If you are concerned with rifles, put a level 3 plate in front of it. Cops are usually the only ones slinging rifle bullets around and the odds of death by cop are many times higher than death by spree shooter or robber.

      Armored backpacks and briefcase shields are stupid, right up until you could really use one.

      1. avatar Leslie says:

        And how does a wearing “Backpack” save you from “Broken Ribs”? Kind of going out on a limb, as to having a Level III-A Protective Backpack handy when you don’t even know from what the direction the bullet is being fired from, or from what distance, or whether or not the firearm in question is “Suppressed”…

        1. avatar SAFEupstateFML says:

          Risk mitigation is a balance with the end result always being suboptimal. While I am generally not an AR 500 fan a kevlar panel is a major step up on most mass shooting threats (gangland drive bys and related) than nothing, even in a backpack.

        2. avatar arc says:

          Provided you have a trauma plate behind the soft armor or even a ballistics plate, broken bones are a non-issue. I doubt pistol calibers are going to break anything behind hard armor or soft + trauma plate, maybe some bruising. impacts probably won’t even be noticeable in the heat of the moment. The system isn’t supposed to protect against someone blasting away with 30-06 black tips or an AR chambered in .338LM. Its intended for pistols.

          Hear gun shots, run in the opposite direction. Armor is to your back.

        3. avatar Jim Bob says:

          Cars have exhaust system that are “suppressed” – can you not tell which direction they’re coming from when you hear one?

        4. avatar GluteusMaximus says:

          Ribs go all the way around man

  2. avatar TheUnspoken says:

    Interesting, I didn’t consider taking one abroad or whether that was possible, that is actually pretty smart considering you usually can’t bring weapons internationally.

    I do like having a plate (rifle plate) in my work laptop bag, it is heavy but already heavy with the computer, if “run hide fighting” it can be worn in front or behind, while we throw staplers and coffee mugs at the mass shooter.

  3. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Everyone should have soft body armor. It is usually less expensive than the handgun you carry. I don’t wear it every day anymore, but I keep two vests handy in my house and one goes with me when I travel. Doned one after Hurricane Michael the night a running gunfight broke out about a 200′ from my front door. Given several “expired” vests to friends. Years ago I shot an expired Second Chance vest. IIA if I recall. Stopped all three .357 jacketed HP from 6″ barrel.

    1. avatar Leslie says:

      “Everyone should have soft body armor”!/? Are you anticipating unforeseen conflict in the foreseeable future! How about eliminating the threat that would require having too wearing “Soft Body Armor”…

      1. avatar Dave says:

        Where did he say you cannot do both?

        1. avatar Leslie says:

          Why not just wear Level III-A or IV Compose Armor from Head-to-Toe! Or just wait until “Dynamic Armor” is made available to the General Public…

        2. avatar SAFEupstateFML says:

          Budget and legal requirements paired with perceived/observed historic threats. 3a is doable for much of the time but 2a and 2 still cover most issues. For more money you can get thinner lighter and stronger but cost can quickly hit diminishing returns for most budgets. As for ability to neutralize the threat it matters what your carry and self defense laws are. For most of the country (sorry Connecticut ) armor is quick easy and relatively cheap.

        3. avatar Jim Bob says:

          Leslie (or should I say, Karen) – the same reason we have fire extinguishers and not sprinkler systems in our houses, the same reason we have seatbelts and air bags and not roll cages, four point harnesses, and helmets in our cars – expense and practically.

          Absurdity and appeals to emotion don’t work here.

        4. avatar SAFEupstateFML says:

          Jim Bob I was hoping it wasn’t a histrionic troll but I think you called it. Good info all through from you though.

      2. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        Leslie, first I was required to wear soft body armor for nearly 25 years. Second, if I could “foresee” a conflict I would avoid it. Of course, if I could foresee a traffic crash I wouldn’t bother with my seat belt. Last, how would you eliminate the need to wear body armor? The running gunfight I spoke of after Hurricane Michael involved several guys I used to work with before I retired. And an illegal alien, convicted felon with multiple open warrants for his arrest. He made the statement, “I’m not going back to Guatemala!” We know this because the two passengers in his car told us. Well, my former coworkers anyway. He wasn’t able to. Something about those multiple gunshot wounds, especially the one to his head, were an impediment to speech. He had a Glock 9mm in his hand that had been run to slide lock. He went back to Guatemala. In a box. Now I ask you: which firearms law do you think that asswipe was going to obey?

        1. avatar Leslie says:

          “Selective Enforcement of perceived threats”! How do you think the Pensacola Shooting took place, if their weren’t a selective Vetting Process in place…

        2. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

          Leslie, forgive the delay. I had to check on Mom. She’s 90 and lives alone. There is one other thing. I’ve said this before. (So those who’ve heard it bear with me. She’s obviously among the uninitiated.) A law enforcement officer’s real job description is that of a historian and a janitor. We write down what happened and clean up the mess. You are responsible for your own safety. Act accordingly.

        3. avatar Jim Bob says:

          Karen – Have you ever been on a military base? They check your military ID, and let you in. They don’t do cavity searches at the gates. Even if they did do VERY thorough searches at the gates, most bases are huge and you could easily hop a fence (if there even is one surrounding the entire base).

        4. avatar Leslie says:

          And yet his guy went to his local Walmart bought a Glock and managed to get through the front gate and us it without being challenged by anyone…

        5. avatar Jim Bob says:

          Walmart doesn’t sell handguns. He had a military ID, so yes he was let into the “gun free zone”. There is no practical way to ensure a military base is a “gun free zone”. This is why they are changing rules to allow military personnel on base to conceal carry.

        6. avatar Leslie says:

          My bad! “Uber’s Lock & Key” at 5803 W. Fairfield Drive in Pensacola, Florida…

          ( https : // abcnews . go . com / US/saudi-pilot-gun-loophole-buy-murder-weapon-shooting/story?id=67630953 )

        7. avatar Jim Bob says:

          Yes, he bought a gun legally. He also could have bought a gun illegally – are they going to charge him with possession of an illegal gun after he murdered several people and was killed? He was also being trained to fly air planes – he could’ve killed a lot more people if he flew a plane into a building, as Saudis are known to do. Evils exists and crime occurs. Maybe we shouldn’t be inviting Saudis over here to train with our military.

    2. avatar SAFEupstateFML says:

      Gadsden I am amazed that a 2a would stop that much 357 says a lot about how well it was maintained at the very least.

    3. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Gadsden Flag,

      Your “expired” ballistic vest stopped .357 Magnum rounds from a six-inch barrel. How much did the bullets weigh and what was their muzzle velocity (as best as you can tell)?

      If you are not sure what their muzzle velocity was, what load was it? (e.g. they were PMC Bronze 158 grain semi-jacketed softpoints).

      1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        I’m pretty sure it was IIA, but we’re talking circa mid ’80s. The loads were 158 grain semi jacketed hollowpoints from a 6″ Python. Vests will generally stop rounds greater than they’re rated for. Between ’91 and ’14 I saw lots of professional vest demonstrations. What was that guy that used to own Second Chance? Rich Davis I think. Saw him get shot in the chest with an FN FAL from about ten feet. He was standing on one leg. Never lost his balance. There was a video. You can probably still look it up.

        1. avatar Jeep Mechanic says:

          Gasden, the video is, Deadly Weapons: Firearms and Firepower. Rich Davis shots Alexander Jason with a FN FAL, it is on YouTube.

        2. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

          Jeep, I’ll take your word for it. I’ve been doing this shit for very long time and seen a lot of it. It all starts to blend together after a while.

    4. avatar arc says:

      Aye, if I open a retail shop then I’ll likely be wearing a concealed armor most of the day. Being so close to the border, there are too many criminal types invading and setting up gangs.

      The level four, self-contained, IMTV / flack is for militia use, should my country ever call for my services again.

  4. avatar million says:

    and yet Bloomberg’s Everytown won’t put this product in their back-to-school “essentials” lineup.

    1. avatar SAFEupstateFML says:

      Spend money on protecting children? No no that money is for other projects besides it could reduce the number of victims for future exploitation. Next you will start talking about allowing teachers to carry it having secure and reinforced entry points.

  5. avatar Billb says:

    Really caught my attention, writer, when I saw Lima in the article. I’m actually thinking about a trip there. The good thing is I know someone there that knows pretty much the good and bad places. Of course bad elements always slither into the good areas too. This is where the armor would be of help to me. A “just in case”.

  6. avatar hawkeye says:

    Bought a couple of these at Christmas, for daughter’s backpack and mine. Hers full of books and laptop, mine full of, er, safety stuff. By now, we don’t even notice the panels are there. Sized correctly, less than half an inch thick, maybe a pound or so, and for a hondo each give or take. Cheap and easy insurance.

    And for the naysayers who ask “but will it stop a….” I can only refer them to the internet. Used to be a website named “Here, Let Me Google That For You” or some such. More testing videos than you can shake a stick at.

  7. avatar strych9 says:

    Soft armor for travel makes sense. No one can argue it’s ITAR restricted which could happen with some hard-rifle rated armor that is legal to export but how smart do you think your average CBP agent at an airport is on the nuance of the law on that?

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      I’d be more concerned what a customs agent in a banana ‘republic’ might think.

      It might make your trip more ‘exotic’ than you were expecting…

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        Eh, not really. I’ve spent an ungodly amount of my life in such places. Good ol’ Ben Franklin (or equivalent depending on place) will get you out of a hell of a lot of jams. Particularly with local/provincial police and… customs agents. They’re all at the bottom of the pay scale.

        One of the big benefits of less developed areas of the world is that you can almost always get out of trouble/what you want via bribery. The only questions are who needs their palm greased and how much that costs.

        1. avatar hawkeye says:

          This is true. My wife is from one of those banana republics. Remember when those new golden U.S. dollar coins came out? We got a lot more than a dollar’s value out of them, I can tell you, for tips as well as “help” from the local jefe.

  8. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Well, I guess what’s her face dropped out of the debate on body armor. It is hard to have a logical argument when you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

    1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

      Doubt she even touched any soft body armor. Let alone wore any.

      1. avatar SAFEupstateFML says:

        Seemed more interested in the ‘why would you ever need/want it’ script. That reaction to your “selective enforcement” was telling.

  9. avatar Boats guy says:

    I have three different sets of armor for different kits and uses and none of them are made or associated by AR500. I’m not going to trust my life to their poor QA or shoddy workmanship.

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