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Alternate Armor: Protection and Mobility

Alternate Choices for Body Protection Against the Undead

by TS Alan

In the article Armor vs Mobility, I discussed the pros and cons of wearing full-body armor along with your bug-out bag, weapons and other gear you will be carrying when you are fleeing a zombie uprising. Using the low-end of the weight scale of what an Army Ranger candidate would be equipped with on their backs for training (65-90 lbs.), plus weapons and tools worn, your median load-bearing weight was approximately 83 lbs. Adding head-to-ankle body armor, including a ballistic helmet, full face mask, fully equipped outer tactical vest with all its components, along with a collar and groin protectors, elbow pads and shin/knee guards, the load-bearing weight came out to be approximately 125 lbs.

With all the weight it will be extremely difficult for even a highly trained military troop to quickly flee any living or undead threat, except perhaps the most degraded living corpse who can barely propel itself forward. My conclusion was that all the gear that is supposed to protect you, will instead harm you by limiting your mobility and bring about your demise.

While I don’t totally disagree that body armor can protect you, my issues are with the functionality and prohibitive weight. I knew there are some hardcore survivalists that will disagree with my assessment and feel that head-to-toe body armor is essential to prevent being bitten, infected from splatter during a melee, and/or ballistic threats from hostile survivors.

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Human Bite wound

It doesn’t take a great deal of bite force to puncture the skin. Approximately 10-15% of human bite-wounds become infected. Saliva contains as many as 100,000,000 organisms per milliliter, representing as many as 190 different species. However, there is only one type of bite-wound to be concerned about, the kind that can only be treated by a bullet to the head. Let’s face it; the undead will be more of a threat, especially during an initial outbreak, than a band of marauders trying to steal your gear or do you bodily harm. So for those of you who have voiced your endorsement for full armament, let me offer you some alternate armor choices that still gives you the protection you need while allowing for maximum mobility:

Ballistic Helmet
2.98 pounds (large): Ballistic helmets are made for protection against fragmentations, not direct gunfire. Try a bike/skate helmet with tough aero-styled ABS shell, usually weighs less than a pound.

Full Face Mask
1 lb: Instead of an Airsoft goggle-system face mask, try a neoprene half face mask or neofleece combo scarf. It can be used not only to protect you from blood splatter but from the dashing winds and extreme cold. Couple it with a pair of Airsoft or ATV vented, anti-fog frame goggles and you’ll have full-face, head, and neck protection from the most fierce winter storm and zombie blood splatter. Weight is less than 14 ounces with goggles.

Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV)
30-35 lbs with all its components (front, back & side ballistic plates with collar and groin protectors): Unless you’re going to be in a fire fight and exchanging automatic weapons fire from all sides, skip the heavy tactical vest. Remember it’s bites you should be concerned with, so try an upper-body suit used by motocross or pro-bikers. You’ll want to purchase a suit with:

  • Armor made of high-impact injection-molded plastic (co-polymer).
  • Protectors on elbows, forearms, shoulder, chest, and spine guards with tail bone protector; sewn onto light-weight durable, stretchable, mesh fabric.
  • Perforated E.V.A rubber padding under all the parts for maximum air flow.
  • Removable shoulder guards.
  • Adjustable shoulder and forearm straps. So that you could adjust the position of armor around the chest and elbow.

If you still insist on having ballistic-threat protection, you will need to decide if you need/want protection from pistol threats or rifle threats. Soft, 100% woven P-Aramid vests stop pistol and fragmentation threats, but it takes a rigid rifle plate to stop a rifle bullet, and this is where weight comes into play. Even a DoD-issued IOTV does not protect against heavy .44 Magnum ammunition and it is only designed to stop up to three hits from 7.62x51mm NATO M80 ball ammunition (M14, M16 and AK-47 rounds). So that heavy military vest you think will protect you against all ballistic threats, it will not.

For handgun protection it is important to know that Level II-A, Level II and Level III-A all stop the overwhelming majority of pistol projectiles you are ever likely to encounter (plus 12 gauge, OO buckshot).

Level II are often worn by police officers. It is a great balance between blunt trauma protection, versus cost, and thickness, conceal-ability and comfort. Level III-A is a little thicker, heavier and stiffer, but will stop more of the uncommon pistol threats, such as 9mm sub-machine-gun and .44 Magnum rounds. Weight is 3 to 5 lbs., depending on level and size.

Elbow Pads
1 lb: Avoid this purchase by buying an integrated upper-body suit. Weight 0.

Shin/knee Guards
2-4 lbs depending on type: There’s no need or reason to go out and buy expensive and less-than-lightweight motocross/motorcycle leg armor. You should be wearing a good pair of boots that will protect your ankles and lower shins. Besides, if you got ankle-biters grabbing at your feet or if you’re on the ground worrying about your kneecaps being chewed off, then you’re in serious trouble, the kind of trouble that you won’t recover from. Forget the knee guards, they can inhibit mobility. Weight 0.

The thicker the glove, the less easy it will be to pull the trigger on your weapon. Find a pair that won’t limit dexterity while maximizing protection. Weight, 2 ounces.

When choosing your under-armor garments you will need to take into consideration movement, overall bulk, weight, weather conditions, ability to be maintained and washed, durability and protection. Leather and neoprene are excellent bite inhibitors, but retain heat and can lead to dehydration, especially neoprene. I would go with 5.11 Tactical TDU pants and a 5.11 Tactical TDU shirt. It is made of polyester and cotton, which makes it light-weight, breathable, durable and washable.

With my alternate armor recommendations, you can trim your body armor down from approximately 44 lbs to less than 6 lbs while still maintaining center-mass ballistic protection. For those who are looking for more simplicity while still achieving maximum protection, you may want to consider a Xelement men’s black and gray Level-3 Armored Jacket with removable arm sleeves, paired with their advanced Level-3 black and silver leather-trimmed Tri-Tex™ fabric Motorcycle Pants. The outerwear is lighter weight, less bulky and provides highest CE Approved Protection over traditional motorcycle jackets, and has an ergonomic design with higher impact absorption while still allowing free movement. Pants and jacket combination weigh less than 18 pounds.

For the diehards out there who still want to suit up from head to toe, there is a modular system that may meet your needs: It is called The FX-1 FlexForce Modular Hard Shell Crowd Control System, made by Damascus Protective Gear, for high-threat-level riot control. It is a non-ballistic modular hard shell system that covers most of your body. The suit is lightweight and ranks highest in easy of putting on or removing. The modular flex design allows for all shapes and sizes to fit comfortably without sacrificing much-needed mobility. For extra protection you can add-on a thigh/groin protector and forearms protectors from their Imperial line. Be aware it doesn’t come cheap; it’s around $700 without the add-ons.

Just remember, whatever you decide, think smart, shop wisely, stay vigilant and be safe.

About TS Alan

TS was the former managing editor of Zombie Training before co-founding ZEA with former associate editor Mike Garman. TS was born outside Buffalo, NY. After attending high school he entered into a two-year community college to study Communications and Media Arts. There he became involved in the college’s radio station as a radio personality, under the pseudonym of J.D. Hollywood. After a year with WNCB radio he also became the station’s Promotions Director. J.D. Hollywood was also one of two names he used as a music reporter and Associate Editor for Buffalo Backstage, a local music magazine. After moving to Manhattan and experiencing the Northeast blackout of 2003, he became interested in prepping and urban survival, learning much of his experience through self education and observation of tragic events like 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. TS Alan currently resides in the East Village of New York City and is a published author of the zombie novel The Romero Strain.