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October 17, 2012
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A breathable armor solution keeps you cool, and safe

Since the advent of body armor, police officers everywhere have shared one common experience

The following is paid content sponsored by Blauer

By Greg Bogosian, PoliceOne Staff

Since the advent of body armor, police officers everywhere have shared one common experience.  It’s the middle of the summer, the sidewalks are melting, and, desperately looking for relief, we pull the top of our body armor away from our chests and wince as the even-hotter air escapes our torso and blasts us in the face.  Traditionally, our poly-blend uniform shirts haven’t exactly been designed with breathability in mind (although recently, manufacturers have been working on that); in fact, they often seem to serve as insulators for our torsos which, when combined with the thankfully-impermeable body armor, puts our chests inside an oven every time we go outside.

More than making us uncomfortable, and slightly more odorous than we’d probably like to be when we show up to Grandma’s house on a call, this presents a real risk to officers in the form of hyperthermia and heatstroke.  The fact that navy blue tends to absorb heat doesn’t help either. Hydration can make up for some of this, but ultimately, the nature of the job doesn’t often allow for drinking the gallons of sports drinks that we’d need to try to keep our bodies cool and hydrated.  Even then, there are limits on how much the body can cool itself through evaporation.

I’m sure that like many of you, I’ve found myself  frequently wondering, as I stand roasting in my Level IIA, why someone hadn’t come up with a setup that would provide some relief, while enviously recalling images I’ve seen of NASA astronauts wearing their special air-conditioning undersuits.  Then recently, I was sent a flyer from a friend about a new product that Blauer has come up with which addresses this problem.  They’re calling it ArmorSkin™, and it’s such a simple solution that I’m surprised nobody seems to have thought it up before. 

The premise is pretty straightforward: create an external armor carrier which looks exactly like the torso of a regular uniform shirt, making the armor removable without stripping down to your skivvies (note: you technically can do that, but it’s a lot of paperwork and probably not that safe).  Then combine that with an underlying uniform shirt (which they call the StreetShirt) that features modern, breathable fabrics underneath the portion of your chest covered by the vest.   When you put the two together, you have a solution which will release heat much more efficiently than the standard toaster-oven configuration.

Here’s a little bit more detail about how it works:  the vest component has a universal fit, which means no begging your agency for brand-new armor – your existing soft armor will fit into it, along with the chest plates.  That means the entire vest, by the way: carrier, Velcro straps, and all, to retain the custom fit which helps protect you as an individual.  It has a mesh lining and mesh side panels over the armor, which means that 1) even that part breathes better, and 2) it thankfully dries fast, so no more peeling your sodden undershirt off of wrinkly skin at the end of the day.   Neither of these affects the ballistic performance of the vest, according to the company.

The side panels also have stretch to them, which means the armor moves with your body much better than our traditional Velcro corsets, obviously an advantage in a foot pursuit or struggle as well as just being more comfortable.  All in all, the whole thing looks just like the chest part of a regular Blauer uniform shirt, complete with epaulets, military creases, real pockets,  a mic tab right in the middle, and the colors match exactly (no more which-shade-of-navy-do-I-have-to-match-my-pants-to).

Now, the second part, where the real breathability comes in: the StreetShirt.  The arms, collar, and placket look exactly like the top part of a regular uniform shirt (and are made from fabric which matches the vest), but from mid-torso down, it’s all mesh, all the time.  Stretchable, breathable, lightweight, moisture-wicking, quick-drying mesh.  It comes in both long- and short-sleeve versions, with a banded dress collar on the long, and a convertible sport collar on the short to match the traditional styles.  Both of them have buttons on the placket to help integrate the look with the vest, and the long sleeve has 2 buttons on the cuff.

When put together , they look like a standard Class B uniform shirt.  In person, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference until you get up very close, and even then, it’s not really a significant difference in terms of professionalism of appearance in my opinion.  (One officer in Malden, Mass. reported that he’d been wearing it for 5 weeks before anyone even noticed… this from a guy who admits that he’d found his body armor unwearable for 13 years of his career.)  Patches and collar brass go in the usual places, along with the shield and nameplate.  Pens slide in where they’re supposed to, and the pockets are usable.  The manner in which the side panels come together, using zippers rather than Velcro, is very secure and moves well with the wearer. 

One major benefit of this configuration beyond the cooling and breathability is that donning and doffing becomes much easier.  Concurrent with this, if the vest did have to be removed due to a hyperthermic emergency such as heatstroke or if, heaven forbid, due to injury to the officer for treatment by EMS, it’d be a snap.   It could also come off if you’re in the secured area of the station writing a report and need to cool down, but of course department policies on doing so will vary, as well as opinion on whether or not it’s a good idea.

There is one other optional component of the system which integrates with the vest and can alleviate another type of discomfort:  back and hip pain.  Simply put, it’s a suspension system which looks like “X” configured suspenders, and attaches to your existing keepers to retain the quick-release benefits of the ArmorSkin vest.  Besides making things more comfortable by taking some of the load off of your spine and hips (moving it instead to the padded shoulder straps) and allowing for a looser fit for the duty belt, it can also help keep the belt more stable as you move around.

Overall, I see this configuration as doing a good job of addressing a long-held problem in law enforcement circles, and easing some of the discomfort that comes with the nature of having to be outside, and function at peak levels, in all seasons.   Little details in the design show that they talked to actual cops on the street when they were designing it (like the fact that it stretches to let you move more easily, for example), and the appearance is something that command staff can accept as well, especially important given the upcoming Federal mandate that officers wear body armor full-time in order for the agency to qualify for matching funds on vest reimbursement.

Bottom line: if you work in an area which gets at all hot during the summer months, your agency should consider ArmorSkin as a uniform option.  If nothing else, it’s good for your health in terms of keeping you from overheating and dehydration, and a healthier officer is a safer one. 

For more information, visit http://www.blauer.com/armorskin.

Greg Bogosian is the Special Projects Manager at PoliceOne and is a certified reserve/intermittent and mountain bike police officer.



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