Below is a personal review of the Guardian 3S11M from Brandon Buhler founder of Firearms, Weapons, and Tactics Google + Community. Brandon Buhler was raised on a Farm in Central Kansas. Due to the rural midwest lifestyle, he became acclimated with firearms at a very young age. This has been a passion of his throughout his life. Brandon can be found training with Law Enforcement and Military in his spare time as well as writing about all things Firearms, Weapons, and Tactics.
This is going to be a semi detailed look at body armor specifically HighCom Armor’s Guardian 3S11M. This will be from my point of view with some options I considered on a personal level and why I think you should too.
The single most important thing when considering armor is the company its coming from period. This next comment is going to be for civilians as Military and LEO are going to know better. The behaviors I have seen over and over are nearly identical so I hope to help some of you not make those mistakes. You are not going to be buying body armor, throwing some rounds at it, deciding its good, and buying another set you’re comfortable with. You have to trust the manufacturer is 100% on the development, testing, and manufacturing. For those first time armor buyers, please pay attention. Do not shop for a pair of plates, buy something not reputable you’re guessing can’t be terrible, only to receive it and its crap, or mediocre, or doesn’t fit your needs. It will end up going into your safe and staying there. It’s either too heavy never to be used, the materials are questionable, you make excuses it’s for the xyz scenario so you’ll risk the poor anti spall coat in an emergency that has a good chance of sending a bullet frag into your neck or a round straight threw the plate or whatever other disaster you’re flirting with. Please don’t do this. Now that that is out of the way.
LET’S START WITH NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE (NIJ)
NIJ establishes and updates the minimum performance standards for body armor. This means testing these standards to make sure sure body armor complies or exceeds them. This is the benchmark for performance and this lets you know what you can expect without having to shoot your own armor to find out. One thing to keep in mind and this is important is not all NIJ is equal. NIJ 0101.04 as well as NIJ 0101.06 are below for an idea. Stay current on nij.gov.
- Total number of shots for soft armor: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 48 shots / 24 each cal. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 144 shots / 72 each cal.
- Number of shots new armors: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005)= 48 shots / 24 each cal. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 72 shots / 48 each cal.
- Number of shots artificially aged armors: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = none. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 48 shots / 24 each cal
- Total number of BFS measurements: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 16 BFS / 8 each cal. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 48 shots / 24 each cal.
- Wert conditioning of armors: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 6 minutes / shower. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 30 minutes complete submersion
- Number of test samples per NIJ Level/Gender: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 6 complete armors. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 28 complete armors
- Template size/shots: NIJ Level/Gender: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 48 shots large size. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 72 shots smallest size / 48 shots largest size
- Increased velocities Level IIA -9mm / 40 S&W: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 1120 fps / 1055 fps. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 1224 fps / 1155 fps
- Increased velocities Level II -9mm: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 1205 fps. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 1306 fps
- New Threats IIIA: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 9mm eliminated. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = .357 Sig at 1470 fps
- Sample conditioning – Artificially Aging”: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = none. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = Tumbling for 10 days at 149 deg. At 80% humidity
- Shots to edge distance: : NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 3 inches. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = Small cal. 2” from edge / large cal. 3” from edge
- Shot placement: : NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = Widely spaced. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 3 near edge / 3 closely spaced
- V50 with both calibers: : NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 9mm only. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = Both calibers
- Conformity assessment: : NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = none. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = Manufacturing facility audits and random testing over 5 years
- Certification life – 5 years : NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = No time limit. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 5 years
- Cost of Certification per model: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = $2,500 – $3,300 NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = $18,000 – $25,000
- Level I eliminated: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = Yes. NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = Eliminated
- Total number of shots Level III hard armors: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 18 shots NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 24 shots
- Total number of shots Level IV hard armors: NIJ 0101.04 (Interim 2005) = 8 shots NIJ 0101.06 (NIJ 06) = 24 shots
Now that you have an idea, testing is tough. Heated, tumbled for 10 days, cooled for testing. It is worth mentioning that there are other ballistic testing criteria a few armor manufacturers pursue like the DEA Hard Armor Protocol. This is unique and rare for manufacturers but puts these companies like HighCom in a class of their own. Bottomline, if you want the highest levels of tested protection look for NIJ certified as well as FBI or DEA complaint.
HOW DOES BODY ARMOR WORK?
Body armor stops bullet penetration. The material being used is designed to exceed certain bullet resistance specifications (NIJ). Impact energy is absorbed. Please keep in mind, even with the very best armor, if a bullet does not penetrate the body there is still a possibility of injury including death. Blunt trauma injuries are a result of the backward movement of the vest when the projectile hits. It does not come to a complete stop upon initial impact. The projectile strikes the body armor, the body armor moves backward into the body creating a force that can cause these potentially fatal injuries. If that is scary please understand why it’s important to be certain your plates will stop the penetration. While that is your body armors primary job it is critical it helps mitigate the blunt trauma force.
LEVEL OF THREAT PROTECTION
- Type II: New armor protects against 8 g (124 gr) 9 mm FMJ RN bullets at a velocity of 398 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1305 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and 10.2 g (158 gr) .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point bullets at a velocity of 436 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1430 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). Conditioned armor protects against 8 g (124 gr) 9 mm FMJ RN bullets at a velocity of 379 m/s ±9.1 m/s (1245 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and 10.2 g (158 gr) .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point bullets at a velocity of 408 m/s ±9.1 m/s (1340 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). It also provides protection against the threats mentioned in [Types I and IIA].
- Type IIIA: New armor protects against 8.1 g (125 gr) .357 SIG FMJ Flat Nose (FN) bullets at a velocity of 448 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1470 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and 15.6 g (240 gr) .44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point (SJHP) bullets at a velocity of 436 m/s (1430 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). Conditioned armor protects against 8.1 g (125 gr) .357 SIG FMJ Flat Nose (FN) bullets at a velocity of 430 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1410 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and 15.6 g (240 gr) .44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point (SJHP) bullets at a velocity of 408 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1340 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). It also provides protection against most handgun threats, as well as the threats mentioned in [Types I, IIA, and II].
- Type III: Conditioned armor protects against (rifles) 9.6 g (148 gr) 7.62×51mm NATO M80 ball bullets at a velocity of 847 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (2780 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). It also provides protection against the threats mentioned in [Types I, IIA, II, and IIIA].
- Type IV: Compliance at Type IV for hard armor or plate inserts requires that samples be tested in a conditioned state with .30 caliber armor piercing (AP) bullets (U.S. Military designation M2 AP) with a specified mass of 10.8 g (166 gr) and a velocity of 878 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (2880 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). Compliance at Type IV for flexible armor requires that samples be tested in both the “as new” state and the conditioned state with .30 caliber AP bullets (U.S. Military designation M2 AP) with a specified mass of 10.8 g (166 gr) and a velocity of 878 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (2880 ft/s ± 30 ft/s).
It’s up to each individual to determine what they feel comfortable running. Keep reading and I will offer my personal thought process and usage cases.
This is where things get fun and it’s also fascinating how technology is evolving. You have 2 body armor types, soft and hard. These vary in weight and threat protection.
- Soft armor materials will be aramid fibers like Kevlar. Hard armor ranges from steel, ceramics, polyethylene.
- Aramids are synthetic fibers that are heat resistant and as expected, incredibly strong with outstanding strength to weight ratios.
- Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene or UHMWPE. This has some similar characteristics to para-aramids but is a type of polyolefin. Essentially extremely long chains of polyethylene.
- Steel, which doesn’t need much of an introduction.
- Ceramic or ceramic composites.
You have a lot of plates to choose from. Level II, Level IIIA, Level III, Level III+,Level 4, Specials Threats, Trauma Plates to name a few.
Each one of these differ in threat protection, strength, weight, and of course price. There is no real right or wrong. Run something that fits your threat level needs, at a weight you know you will stay vigilant with the training, from a company that is proven.
SIZE AND FIT
These range from concealable to various sizes. Plates can range from 5×7, 5×8, 6×6, 8×10, 10×12, 7.25×11.5, 8.75×11.75, 9.5×12.5, 10.125×13.25, 11×14. Plates can be found in cuts like swimmers cut, full cut, shooters cut curved or flat. I see a lot of questions about curved plates so I am going to squash this right now, I will always buy curved plates period. I personally would spend whatever it takes for curved.
The size of your plates should match your plate carrier in my opinion. Both my training plate carrier and main carrier are Sapi size. Sure I could throw 10×12 in there with inserts but that is not something I would do. I run the SAPI L 10.125 x 13.25 the carriers are designed for. Your usage case may vary.
WHAT SHOULD I PICK?
As seen above there are some trade offs when considering armor type. First thing I consider, is the company reputable? I know what level of threat protection I am looking for. Does the manufacturer provide the cuts, threat protection, size I need? Are they certified so I don’t have to worry about it? Next thing I look at is weight and strength and the balance of the situation I am preparing for. My usage case has evolved over the years and I am going to discuss this a bit as we move forward with key considerations.
We’re taking this off the reservation a bit.
Now that you have a better understanding of body armor I want to talk about some practical usage cases. As mentioned above, mine has changed. There are a few reasons for this and why it has lead me to where I am today in terms of functional defensive decision making. I won’t be covering carrier setup, if there is any interest, I am happy to discuss plate carrier setup in another discussion but that is a bit out of scope and getting into the weeds for this discussion.
Like many, my first plates were decent quality but certainly not anywhere close to great. They were heavy. They sat in my safe most of the time which is a huge no no. Load-out was functional but not very practical primarily due to what I picked out. I should have saved my money if I’m being honest because I could have put that towards something else later that would be used multiple times a week. I would wear my armor to the range or occasionally a class. The biggest issue I was running into is my armor sucked. Sucked to wear. Sucked moving in. As a result, I wasn’t running it as frequently and to make matters worse I could tell I was getting rusty when I did wear it. Really rusty. As in, if I needed it would I have to the speed, mobility, and proficiency to save a life without risking throwing mine away? The answer was no so it was time to change.
I am fortunate I have had so many opportunities to go hands on with sometimes good and sometimes not so good body armor. Exploring plates in your hands is a bit different than training in it so while I was always envious of nicer armor, I could easily acknowledge its benefits, I’ll just blame my immaturity for not moving faster on my own personal kit and instead opting to settle.
My goal is to live a long life and provide for my family and loved ones so they can out live me. Part of that is being prepared. This includes taking care of myself physically. It didn’t take long to intermingle these goals. Two things I can control needed done and both fit my body armor decision. Thinkers before shooters. I enjoy fitness and it was extremely easy to integrate an armor choice based on this. I know people feel different about these things but there is a reason in basic you are made fit to fight. This shouldn’t stop with age or service. Enough with the excuses. My mindset has always been for the unlikely scenario of a burning house. Could I carry out people if needed? Am I physically prepared if a feat of strength or endurance was necessary to take care of my wife or daughter, a stranger in need? Failing a test like this doesn’t even cross my mind and it shouldn’t for you either. If it does, you need to message me so we can recalibrate your mindset and get you properly motivated. If you’re still reading, I’d like to think you are that man or women who is ready to serve the greater good if ever called on. This is why my usage case changed as I began to mature with my training decisions and kit. Work smarter not harder.
HOW I GOT TO WHERE I AM
Back to having the opportunity to play with various weapons systems, accessories, body armor, and all kinds of kit in general. Not everyone is this lucky. They get to read some reviews, see articles in magazines, people talking about various items in the forums or post on Social Media. So here I am being the one sharing the information. A lot of you know me via Social Media since I started the Firearms, Weapons, and Tactics community years ago. I get to see some quality items and unfortunately some that are not so. Over the years there has been a few body armor manufacturers I have just coveted over due to quality and reputation. One that is at the top of my list is HighCom Armor. Why HighCom? Why not someone else? For me, like the other questions I’ve mentioned this is simple, what is battle tested?
HERE IS A QUICK LOOK AT HIGHCOM ARMOR
HighCom was established in 1997 with a purpose to solve problems. Preventing holes is at the top of the list. Owned, operated, designed, and manufactured in America. They develop, test, manufacture, and distribute more than 2 dozen National Institute of Justice (NIJ) compliant hard and soft armor products. This is a big one we’ve talked about. HighCom Armor has a state of the art in-house ballistics lab and is currently capable of testing armor products to standards including Mil-STD-662F V50, NATO STANAG 2920 FSP Testing, NATO STANAG 4569 Level 1-3, UL 752, NIJ 0101.04, NIJ 0101.06, NIJ 0106.01, NIJ 0108.01 and HOSDB. The amount of rigorous testing with 100% probability of stopping the round its rated means you don’t have to worry about that side. The side that is behind the plate. HighCom Armor’s NIJ 0101.06 certified armor has a 10 year warranty. They were the first BA 9000 certified organization. Regarding being battle tested over 1,000,000 ballistic armor pieces have moved to the DoD and other government agencies including Law Enforcement, Military, and Civilian. HighCom Armor has never had a failure, a penetration, or recall of their armor. To reiterate, never had a failure.
HIGHCOM ARMOR GUARDIAN 3S11M
I will say immediately, the Guardian 3S11M is hands down the nicest body armor I have seen. Even the way its packaged shows a meticulous level of detail and care. Make no mistake though, these are made to work.
This armor is Level III having a curved plate design that is certified compliant by NIJ for 0101.06. This protects against FN FAL 7.62x51mm NATO M80 ball bullets at a velocity of 847m/s +/- 9.1m/s (2780ft/s +/- 30ft/s). AK47 AKM, SKS 7.62x39mm Ball 2380/725. M16/AR15 5.56x45mm M193 3150/960. It is Rifle Special Threats Validated.
GUARDIAN 3S11M HARD ARMOR PLATE TEST
The Guardian 3S11M is UHMWPE based and it is super light. Easily worth the investment. Measurements are approximate. I weighed each plate at 3 lbs 15.8 ounces with the sticker. HighCom has these listed at 3.8 lbs. Keep in mind, these are a SAPI size in a shooter cut so they are larger than the typical 10×12 inch plates. You can expect your 10×12 to weigh in less than 3 lbs a plate! These are extremely light, as in floats in water light, literally. The exterior is wrapped in 1000D Cordura textured nylon with nothing hanging off the plates. Quality. Thickness was right at1.25 inches. These are absolutely state of the art design and finish body armor plates.
So what is it like wearing these if you’re a first time buyer or looking to upgrade? I can say for me, the Guardian 3S11M is a buy once cry once experience. It is still hard for me to believe how incredibly light these are with the level of threat protection they provide. I mentioned some of my behaviors with training along with my goals and what I am comfortable with from a safety standpoint and how they have changed dramatically since getting this armor. I went from armor that was worn during training classes occasionally and on range day. With the 3S11M I am essentially running these plates with such frequency I will never have to wonder “what if” should something happen and I am needed. I have two plate carriers this armor moves in and out of. 1 is for training that is not as heavily equipped. The other is a full setup. I haven’t been on a trail run or been hiking without this armor since I’ve gotten it. These plates are so light my 2.5 mile brown trail run time has stayed virtually the same. The curved plate design has the 3S11M sticking to my body like a glove. I do not pretend to know how HighCom Armor decides the best angle for the curve on their armor but it is literally perfect. No bounce or movement from the plate carrier when running. No rubs. No sore back. Rather its mobility training, fitness training, or combat training, there is no excuses not to wear the 3S11M.
Armor that isn’t a burden to wear changes everything from a functional standpoint. Mobility acclimation due to frequency of usage has me closing in on shaving off 2 seconds from my reload time. You don’t fight around the armor, the armor is part of you.
I wore the 3S11M for 8.5 hours to test some longer usage case scenarios. My intentions were for 8 hours but lost track of the time. Nothing intense, just a regular day to day. Few highlights though went on a 1.5 hour hike. Sat in traffic for an hour. Not a single complaint. Ironically being forced into a straighter, non-slacking posture was a benefit. That’s something else I need to work on.
I haven’t covered everything body armor related but this gives you a good idea and what to look for. I want to stress a few points. You do not have to buy body armor and stick in your safe and wait for an emergency. This isn’t practical if you want to stay both fit to fight and top form from a functional mobility standpoint. You need to wear it, you need to move in it, you need to train in it. For Law Enforcement, if you’re out on your Motorcycle, your Trek, sitting in your squad car, at a desk, or on foot you already know the pros and cons of body armor from comfort to mobility. You can’t put a price on this. You can’t put a price on shaving time off of a speed reload because you’ve been practicing in the event you ever need those seconds either. Not being winded after moving or feeling clustered with your armor and a sling. Active Duty and Veterans get this. First Responders.
HighCom Armor has an entire range of resources for defensive protection. HighCom Armor has plates made for backpacks that are light enough you won’t know they are there. They have a robust selection from plates that can go into a backpack to ballistic blankets, ballistic shields, and virtually any size plate with every threat level rating you can imagine. Armor comes with a QR code for scanning that would come in handy for any Dept issuing. Scan the QR and you get the Manufacturer, Model Number, Size, Lot#, Serial #, Threat Level, D.O.M, Job. HighCom Armor doesn’t need any help from me but there is a reason they have their track record, ratings, and contracts. If you are in the market give them a hard look and consider what you’re getting. On a personal note I am thrilled be able to run their plates especially when there are still body armor manufacturers that refuse to sell armor to civilians. HighCom Armor is taking care of everyone and I know I am protected and so will you be, or anyone else behind their plates.