Friday, July 31, 2020

Ballistic Armor: Materials

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
Two weeks ago I talked about levels of protection. This week I will expand on that by talking about the materials involved in making ballistic armor.

Ballistic Fiber
You know this best as Kevlar, but there are other materials on the market which have similar properties. Most kevlar armor is soft, although hard armor such as ballistic helmets and speed plates do exist; these are Kevlar fibers coated with a polymer resin to produce a durable, rigid form.

Soft armor works through a process I like to call ballistic spaghetti. Normally the woven fibers are flexible (if stiff), but when struck by a fast-moving object the strands, which are stronger than steel, clump together like pasta around the bullet and prevent it from breaking through. This clumping weakens the weave of the material, however, so further strikes to the same area are more likely to punch through. Kevlar weave is also highly slash-resistant, but is only moderately stab-resistant; a stab concentrates cutting force at a point smaller than that of a bullet, whereas a slash only damages the outer layers. Many police officers have a small trauma plate over their heart to further protect from knife attacks.

Kevlar helmets are designed primarily to protect the head from shrapnel and falling damage, but they can protect against some bullets. However, they are designed to redirect the damage; a direct hit is still likely to penetrate it. See the video for more information.

Kevlar fibers are sensitive to acids, salts, and ultraviolet light, which is why most such vests come with an expiration date; it is assumed that these vests are being worn daily and that the sweat of the wearer's body is breaking it down. If kept out of the sun and in a climate-controlled area, such as your closet, these materials ought to last your lifetime.

Unlike Kevlar, steel armor will last forever so long as it doesn't rust, and most armor comes with a protective covering similar to pickup bed liner to prevent that. Steel will also protect against multiple hits from most non-armor piercing rounds through the simple fact that it is stronger and denser than lead or copper bullets, which will break upon impact. However, "breaking apart upon impact" isn't always great, as this leads to what is known as spalling which can cause injury and even death.

As an example, let us assume a 5.56 M855 bullet strikes a steel plate head-on at 3,100 feet per second. With no deflection, all that force has to go somewhere, and since the bullet cannot penetrate the plate (although it will break the lining and likely leave a dent or dig a divot in the metal) the force will break the bullet into pieces... which are still going quite fast... and since the fragments cannot go forward, they will deflect to the sides. These fragments are known as spall, and unfortunately one of the directions the spall can deflect is towards your head, specifically your unarmored neck and face. Sharp, fast-moving fragments in that area can be debilitating, if not lethal. A protective coating on steel plates helps reduce spall, but will not prevent it.

Finally, steel plates are heavy. I realize this elicits a "Well, duh" comment from many of you, but really, they are heavier than you think. As I mentioned previously:
I have worn level III steel plates, and within 5 minutes my shoulders hurt; after 15 minutes I was in such discomfort that the only thing which would make me keep them on is being shot at.

I also own level IV ceramic armor. While it weighs about the same as level III steel, because it is larger it feels lighter due to the larger dispersion of weight. I was able to wear my level IV for 15 minutes before feeling a stiffness in my neck and shoulders (that "I need to stretch it and make it go pop" feeling) but I was able to wear it for an hour before I started to cramp up.
The steel plate which I wore was two 8 pound plates carried front and rear in a plate carrier. My ceramic armor is two 7.4 pound plates, again carried front and rear. The steel feels significantly heavier than the 1.2 pounds of difference between the materials.

It sounds like ceramic armor is the best kind, doesn't it? I admit that it's great, but but it isn't always the best choice. On the negative side, ceramic is fragile; if you drop it or you fall on it, and it breaks, your armor is pretty much done. Ceramic armor is also only NIJ rated for one shot of .30-06 M2 armor piercing ammunition; steel is rated for six shots. Depending on the armor and the caliber and composition of the bullet, ceramic might stand up to more hits; it's up to you to figure out what your armor can do. Here's the information from my plate, which is a 4401-SH-SC-L:

As you can see, while it can stand up to a lot of hits, there are some calibers or types of ammunition where it protects by failing; i.e. the force of the bullet is distributed through the material by breaking the ceramic. In lesser cases, the ceramic breaks up the bullet and makes it larger so that the Kevlar backer can catch it and stop it. Level IV plates are more likely to fail to bullet mass than to bullet velocity for a single hit, but unlike steel they will fail just from being shot in the same location several times. Once the ceramic is shattered, it starts falling out and all that’s left is the Kevlar backer that cannot stop a rifle round on its own.

(Yes, I said Kevlar. That means ceramic plates are also susceptible to damage from sweat and UV radiation. Remember what I said earlier about "No overall winners"?)

It's up to you to decide what your needs are, and that is what will inform your choice of purchase. If you want something to leave in the trunk of a car in case of trouble, steel is a good choice. However, if you think you will be wearing it a lot, or doing a lot of walking with it (as opposed to sitting and riding), then ceramic is probably better for you.

Ultra High Density Polyethylene (UHDPE) 
After publishing this article it was pointed out to me that I neglected UHDPE. That oversight has been corrected with this article.

A Final Word on Impact
Just because a bullet is stopped from penetrating doesn't mean that it will have no effect on you! The force of impact will still be transmitted to your body; it will just be spread out across a larger area.

Think of it like this: a pin moving at a slow speed will penetrate your skin because all the force of the impact is focused on its tip. A fist moving at that same speed will not penetrate your skin, because the force is spread across a larger surface area. A fist moving at a faster speed will hurt you, but a sledgehammer swung at that speed will break bones. The speed of sound is 1,125 feet per second; most AR-15 rounds will be going nearly three times that velocity.

If you are struck by a bullet while wearing ballistic armor, you will feel every bit of the 1000+ foot-pounds of energy in that shot. Expect to be knocked off your feet because you the impact will hurt so much your legs will fail. Expect to have the wind knocked out of you. Expect to have some really impressive bruises, and maybe even some broken bones. You will not be having a good day.

But you will be alive.

Thursday, July 30, 2020


One of the major mental health problems preppers need to consider is the effects of prolonged isolation on their team and tribe. Humans are generally social animals, and so we do best when we have contact with other people and can work together towards a common goal. Being cut off from social interaction affects different people in different ways; some can handle it, while others will reach some level of insanity rather quickly. 

With the current “quarantine” guidelines and social distancing being pushed harder every day, we're getting a taste of what life could be like after a major SHTF event:
  • A significant EMP attack or CME causing the loss of our electrical grid would drop civilization back to roughly 1900s levels of transportation and communication.
  • A real pandemic that kills 10-20% of the population would have much of the same effect, as infrastructure would begin to fail due to lack of maintenance.
  • A truly rogue government imposing strict controls over the population would come close, but there would be (and is) resistance to alleviate some of the isolation.
  • People getting stranded in their cars during blizzards is an annual event up north. Some of them make it out with a good story to tell, while others don't survive the experience.
  • There were Japanese soldiers that refused to surrender at the end of WW2, the last one spent almost 30years living alone in the jungles of the Philippines before finally accepting the end of the war in 1974.
Looking back through history, I can find many instances of people being isolated for long periods of time, individually and in small groups. How they dealt with the lack of contact with others, and the reactions of some of them, might provide us with clues on how to prepare for something that could happen.

Biosphere 2
Briefly, Biosphere 2 was a sealed complex that  housed 8 people for 2 years. Completely separated from the outside world except for the windows, they had to grow their own food and keep enough plants alive to provide the oxygen they needed to breathe. They had mixed results: extra food had to be brought in and the oxygen levels dropped to dangerous levels, but all 8 people survived. 

About half-way through the experiment, the crew had split into factions which is a common occurrence in isolated groups and is something to watch for.

This is an extreme case, and is closer to setting up camp on the moon or Mars than anything we will see post-SHTF short of a total nuclear war and the destruction of a significant portion of Earth's ecology.

Submarine Duty
I've known several men who served on submarine. They had to pass some pretty thorough psychological testing to qualify for that duty; the Navy has probably the best understanding of how people will react to prolonged isolation of any organization on the planet. The military discipline and sense of duty each individual has keeps them fairly sane, but there are still problems that pop up when you're spending months under water. Good food (the subs get better rations than any other group in the Navy), scheduled releases of entertainment (so there is always something new to look forward to), and the amenities provided by having a nuclear reactor on-board (plentiful fresh water and electricity) help keep the worst of the boredom and sense of deprivation to a minimum.

Space Flight
We have a very limited history of space flight, but sticking three men into a capsule the size of a modern SUV for a 8 day trip to the moon and back 50 years ago is a good example of isolation. Early flights were crewed by military pilots, so once again their discipline and sense of duty had a lot to do with the success of the missions.

The few space stations that humans have managed to put into orbit have rotating crews and regular supply deliveries. Crew members have work to do, and staying busy wards off the feelings of loneliness. They also have excellent communication with people on the ground, which helps minimize the feeling of being cut off from society.

There are scientific stations in Antarctica that are staffed year-round. “Wintering over” is being there for the 6 months where transportation is not available due to the extreme weather conditions, and it is about what you'd expect to experience if you crawled into a bunker for a couple of months: tight quarters, limited communications, no resupply, no escape, and no way to survive outside the buildings for more than a few minutes. 

The physical and mental effects have their own medical term, “winter-over syndrome”. Irritability, absent-mindedness, aggression, and insomnia are common symptoms -- think of it as a prolonged period of living with a three-year-old. Gossip and rumors tend to be one of the worst aspects of life in these situations, creating tension and mistrust among the inhabitants, so keep lines of interpersonal communications open and stomp on gossip as best you can. 

A psychological view of the stresses can be found here, but it's a hard read unless you're familiar with the basics of behavioral science. Most such articles are locked behind pay-walls, but I did find that one freely available.

The biggest aids to avoiding problems that I have seen are a common history, a set of goals to achieve (stay busy), and good communications, and new information or entertainment and giving people a sense of privacy go a long way towards keeping them sane. That said, being locked up with a bunch of quarreling idiots is a good way for some of them not to survive the experience.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Prudent Prepping: July Take-Out Post

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

This is what used to be called a Buffet Post, but all of the buffets around here are closed and several of my favorites are unlikely to reopen. Like the old format, this is a collection of topics I want to share because they are either too small to use as a stand-alone post, I need to make a quick mention of something from an older post, or a teaser of things to come.

Something Old
I have mentioned in the past buying tourniquets and where I carry them. From reading articles around the internet, the topic of "Just how many tourniquets do you have?" and why there might be a logical reason to have more than one in a kit came up. When (if) I get to go camping, the potential is there to have more than one person injured either at the site or traveling to or from it. Having more than one TQ is an idea I never gave any thought, so I ordered two more North American Rescue Gen 7 tourniquets.
I know everyone is familiar with how many counterfeit items are on the market and how easy it is to be fooled, so I look for the name and verified that it is from the correct company with the proper products.  
I believe most people are familiar with tourniquets, but if you are not, here is information from the Amazon ad:

The CAT Tourniquet utilizes a durable windlass system with a patented free-moving internal band providing true circumferential pressure to the extremity. Once adequately tightened, bleeding will cease and the windlass is locked into place. A hook and loop windlass retention strap is then applied, securing the windlass to maintain pressure during casualty evacuation. The tourniquets unique dual securing system avoids the use of screws and clips which can become difficult to operate under survival stress or where fine motor skills are compromised.

I bought two because this will allow me to pack an extra tourniquet in any of my gear (other than the ankle rig reviewed here) without moving  anything from where it is normally packed now.

Something Also Old
In my post on checking lights and charging when necessary, I mentioned liking the look of the new and improved lantern that Erin gifted me/us several years ago. I have placed an order and, if things work out with Amazon's delivery system, I will review it next week. As a reminder, the lantern is the 
Etekcity LED Camping Lantern with upgraded magnetic base and brightness control.

From the Amazon ad for the Etekcity CL30:
  • ULTRA BRIGHT: This lantern includes 30 individual low consumption LED bulbs carrying 360° of luminous light while saving energy
  • LONG-LASTING: Light up at least to 30 hours of regular, continuous use with enough battery capacity (batteries pre-installed in the lantern).
  • 4 LEVELS BRIGHTNESS CONTROL: Easily adjust the brightness with dimmer button to fit the environment for camping, reading, power outage, emergency, hiking, backpacking etc.
  • MAGNETIC BASE: Effortlessly stick it to any metal frames for hand-free lighting in any working environment.
  • DURABLE MATERIALS: Constructed with military grade ABS material; FCC Certified, RoHS Compliant.
  • COMPACT & LIGHTWEIGHT: The extremely lightweight build allows you to take lanterns on the go with ease. When not in use collapse the lantern to a smaller size; taking up little space.
  • TACTICAL STORAGE: The top lid of the lantern contains a small room for storing some small things like some change, yours keys, some spare batteries, etc.
I will compare the new model to the model I have now and report back.

Recap And Takeaway
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Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Friday, July 24, 2020

Ballistic Armor: Helmets

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
My apologies for this article being late and not on the subject of materials as promised last week. I've been rather busy and the subject is quite complex, so in the spirit of giving our readers something I thought I'd expand a bit on what Chaplain Tim said on Thursday about helmets.

There are various types of helmets to be found on the market today, from the M1 "pot" helmet of Vietnam to the ACH kevlar helmet of today, the FAST/ATE helmets used by Special Ops and riot helmets used by police officers.

I cannot find the NIJ rating for the M1 helmet, but all kevlar helmets on the market today give level IIIa protection which, to repeat myself from last week, is rated to withstand up to 6 shots of 240 gr .44 Magnum SJHP (semi jacketed hollow point) without penetration at a distance of 5 meters (16.4 feet). None of these helmets are rated to stop rifle rounds, and I cannot find any that do. If they exist, they are not for sale to civilians.

There does exist something known as the SLAAP Plate, which is an aftermarket accessory which claims to protect against rifle rounds up to 7.62x39mm. However, it only protects the front of your helmet and costs around $700.

This is not to say that a IIIa helmets cannot protect against rifle shots; there are numerous documented instances of IIIa rated helmets stopping rifle bullets. However, the reasons for this are a combination of factors such as the angle of the shot, the type of bullet, the range of the shooter, and so forth. While I suppose it is technically feasible to make a level III or IV helmet with today's materials, it would be exceptionally heavy and bulky and therefore an uncomfortable, and possibly dangerous, thing to have on your head. We will need to wait for further advances in materials science before level III helmets are commercially viable.
Until then, you will have to make do with a IIIa helmet. Given that the head is a small target compared to your torso, it ought to serve you well in protecting you from concussion, shrapnel, and the rare pistol bullet.

However, just because the helmet will prevent a bullet's entry does not mean it will protect against the force of the impact! If you get hit with one, expect your bell to be rung hard at the very least; a concussion is more likely. To prevent further damage, you will need -- not want, NEED -- a set of helmet pads. I was able to get a set of them from Amazon for $23.

I also bought a helmet browband for $30. It provides a much more comfortable fit.

Finally, you will also want to protect your hearing. With the exception of FAST helmets, most helmets cover the top half of your ears. This is great for protecting your ears from injury, but to protect your ears you will either need to use earplugs -- which prevent you from hearing conversation and environmental cues -- or you will need electronic earmuffs which fit underneath the helmet. I have a set of Peltor Soundtrap Tactical earmuffs and they work very well with my helmet. ($63 at Amazon).

You should now know enough to get yourself an effective ballistic helmet. I apologize for the delayed post and altered schedule, and I hope that this article was enough to tide you over until next week.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Head Gear

Since a couple of us seem to be on a PPE theme, I thought I'd cover a oft-forgotten piece: helmets. Protecting your noggin is important in a lot of scenarios, from daily activities like riding a bike or working in construction or in a busy factory to the more extreme situations like exploring caves or searching damaged structures. Your head contains your brain, and since that is your most important tool for surviving most anything life can throw at you, it's worth protecting.

Helmets come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes; form tends to follow function, so you'll be able to look at a helmet and get a good idea of what its purpose is. I'll break the available options down into two main groups and give example of some of the subsets within the two groups.

Blunt Force Protection

Bicycle Helmets
Designed to offer protection against low-speed falls on various surfaces, most bicycle helmets are made of a thin, hard plastic shell with a crushable foam liner. Many have a air holes to ventilate the helmet and keep your head cooler while you're expending energy pedaling a bike. They don't cover the ears, so your hearing won't be impaired. Straps can be either a chin strap that cups your chin or a single strap that sits under your chin. These are a common sight on rioters since they are readily available and not obviously riot gear, while offering some protection against thrown or swung weapons.

Motorcycle Helmets
Similar to bicycle helmets, but with a thicker, harder shell usually made of fiberglass. These are designed to absorb the shock of higher-speed impacts and protect better against abrasion. There are several types;
  • Skull caps (AKA Potato Chips) are popular in states that require helmets while riding a motorcycle. They cover the top of the head but don't extend below the top of the ears. These offer very limited protection, but they don't muffle the noises around you like other styles.
  • Full helmets cover the top and sides of your head and may have a Snell or DOT rating sticker to prove that they offer a standard of protection. There is usually a clear or tinted visor that flips down to keep the bugs off of your face, but that is the extent of facial protection.
  • Full-face helmets are full helmets with a bar that wraps around your chin to give coverage in the event you end up face down on the ground. When I rode motorcycles, this was my preferred style even though they are heavier and hotter than the other styles. The visor of a full-face helmet is usually a tight fit to the helmet itself, offering good protection against wind and rain. Shop around and you can find options like built-in speakers/microphone and Bluetooth connection for use with your radio and phone.

Industrial Hard Hats
Having worn one of these at work for 16 years, I can attest that they do protect against bumps and small falling objects. Lacking a chin strap, they are held on by a somewhat rigid strap that fits under the base of your skull in the back. Wearing one for 8-12 hours at a time is not uncomfortable, but they do block your vision similar to a ball cap, and add a couple of inches to your height which makes it easier to run into low-hanging obstacles. Metal ones are rare but still available; most job sites don't allow them because they can conduct electricity, but they are better than the plastic ones at deflecting small falling objects.

The interior is a series of nylon straps connected to the rim of the helmet, so impact energy is spread out rather that absorbed. One of the trade-offs of having the webbing is the gap between your scalp and the helmet itself: this is necessary for the shock absorption, but also makes them hard to insulate in cold weather. Having a brisk breeze blowing across the top of your head in below freezing temperatures is not comfortable.

A cross between bicycle helmets and a hard hat, these are designed to protect against falling rocks and bashing your head into overhead obstructions. There is usually a chin strap to keep it on your head, and make sure it is fitted properly to keep the helmet from slipping as you bend and twist to get around things. They aren't as well vented as a bicycle helmet, but they are designed to provide better coverage and be worn for long periods of time. This is what you'll see search and rescue crews wearing in a disaster area to protect against falling debris and overhead obstructions.

Riot Helmets
This is one I've seen but never worn. The various styles seem to fit and function like a climbing/caving helmet, but with a thick plastic visor covering the face. Designed to protect against thrown objects and melee weapons (sticks, baseball bats, etc.), most police forces have them in stock. The plastic visor can vary in thickness from thin plexiglass to thick ballistic plastic capable of stopping small caliber bullets, depending on how much the police department wants to spend.

Ballistic Helmets
The military has been using helmets to protect troops for centuries. Early ones were designed to deflect a sword blow or arrow, but the newer ones are for slowing or stopping bullets and shrapnel in a war zone.

Steel Pot
I'm old enough to have been issued a steel pot helmet and helmet liner. The helmet liner was a fiberglass shell with a nylon web inside similar to a hard hat, and the steel shell fit snugly over the top of it. Soldiers used this system in the US for several decades and found a plethora of “alternative” uses for the steel pot. You could strip the cover off and set the steel shell directly on a fire to heat water for cooking or cleaning; I know hot water makes a big difference when trying to shave in the field. The front edge was shaped like a shovel, and in a pinch you could use the helmet as one. The chin strap made a good handle, so it also made a handy “basket” for carrying small items. The uses were almost endless.

A few decades ago the US military switched to a more bullet-resistant helmet. The kevlar fibers that it is made of are stronger than steel and do a good job of stopping pistol caliber bullets, but a heavy rifle round will still have a good chance of penetrating. Heavier than the steel pot, they are also less useful for alternative purposes. The current design provides better coverage of the sides of the head and ears than the steel pot design, almost like a full motorcycle helmet.
A lot of police departments have adopted military equipment, so you may see these on riot control squads and SWAT teams.

Going further than a hat, helmets offer protection for the most important tool you have. Get the best you can afford that will give you the protection you need! The common advice in motorcycle shops is, “If you have a $50 brain, buy a $50 helmet”.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Prudent Prepping: Summer Vacation? Summer Interruption!

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

Things don't always go as planned, so there had better be a Backup Plan, and a backup to the backup too, just to be safe. Ask me how I know this.

Plan G or Maybe H
Last week I talked about taking off for a day or maybe two to relieve some stress and be out of the city, but as German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke said, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Nowhere is it stated that the 'enemy' can't be inanimate.

Look it up.  I'll wait.

Interrupted, In A Safe Way
Here is what ruined Plans A through F:
A worn rotor
All my plans of going fishing (not even to catch anything!), being outdoors and relaxing around a lake went out the window Friday as I backed out of my parking spot and the telltale SQUEEEEEK! of the wear indicator drifted through the window. 

Normally when you hear that it just means you're down to the end of your brake pads but not worn all the way out, but this time there was a bit of a grinding noise, too, which is not a good sign. 

For those that are familiar with brakes, this isn't too bad a picture but, since the wear indicator is on the opposite side, I needed to pull everything apart.

Safe working conditions
First Things First
Think safety in what you do, but don't be silly about it. A very wise man by the name of Mike Rowe wrote a very enlightening post called Safety Third. Read it and really think about what this man said: the guy doing all the crazy, dangerous and entertaining things on his hit show Dirty Jobs thinks safety shouldn't be first! I'm not going to talk about what he said; you can read it and get the enjoyment for yourself.

One thing I do want to make clear is that safe conditions are important and I do not deliberately put myself or others in danger. That's why you see an engaged jack stand and a jack in this picture.

Rotary Work
I won't go into the details of of servicing front rotors, even if the work is pretty universal. There are several YouTube videos to watch where you can find your car's make and model. What I will mention are several things that I always try to do.
  • If at all possible, I try to re-use my rotors. That means I have them machined to remove the ridges and put back on. This time I wasn't so lucky; the back side of the rotor in the top picture had a gouge in it where the old shoe either broke or something got between the pad and rotor. 
  • I had already checked on brake pads and rotors in two different parts stores, just in case. This turned out to be essential.
  • Collect all necessary parts and accessories before you start. There's nothing like getting 3/4 through the job and finding you're short one bit needed to finish and no way to get to the store. 

If you decide to do your own work, one thing I recommend you use is anti-seize lubricant on the bolts and screws along with the specified grease for the other areas.

This isn't required, but since it can be several years before everything gets disassembled, I want the removal to be as easy as possible. The small screw shown in the picture (right) is the mounting screw that holds the rotor on the hub. Don't believe me? Look at the first picture in the post and you will see two small screws, one at one o'clock and the other at seven o'clock. These two screws and two other pairs of bolts get their threads coated before putting everything back together. Many parts stores will give you lube with your purchase of the parts.

Lube In The Groove

The new brake pads mount in the groves, so there needs to be a small amount of lube for the pads to slide on. There are matching greased points on the back side of the brackets.

Acceptable for disassembly
Required for assembly

The new rotors need to be cleaned of any grease and kept clean until the wheels go on! Any oil, grease or even the anti-seize on either the pads or rotor could affect how your brakes work. There are special brake cleaners designed to remove oils and they really work well.

I normally wear gloves, but I mistakenly thought I had some left in my gear. Since this was only dirt and not oil or grease, I didn't mind washing several times during to job.

While the wheels are off, look at the underside of your motor for any obvious leaking fluids. It doesn't matter if you don't know power steering fluid from brake fluid, look for wet spots so that you can clearly describe to someone else where you found a possible leak.

And that's the way I spent my Sunday: several hours in the hot sun, a little sunburn, and not quite three times what my fishing trip would cost. At least I now have a safe car that I can trust for many miles. All things considered, I'm okay with how things turned out.

Recap And Takeaway
  • Once again, have a plan and be ready to change it.
  • Set aside money for vehicle repairs -- you know they are coming.
  • If you can't do your own repairs, ask around for a good shop. Friends you trust should be your first source of information.
  • Nothing was ordered this week, but $147.86 was spent at the local auto parts store.
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Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Pistol Caliber Carbines

After last week's post about rifles for preppers, a reader asked if I could talk about pistol caliber carbines. I'm more than happy to oblige!


Friday, July 17, 2020

Ballistic Armor: Levels of Protection

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
Last week, I covered the legalities of owning and wearing ballistic armor. This week I will talk about levels of protection, but first I need to address a semantic point:

Erin, why do you call it "ballistic armor" when everyone else calls it "body armor"?

What you need to understand is that "body armor" is a legal term which, according to 18 USC § 921(a)(35), states The term “body armor” means any product sold or offered for sale, in interstate or foreign commerce, as personal protective body covering intended to protect against gunfire, regardless of whether the product is to be worn alone or is sold as a complement to another product or garment.

The problem with legal terms is that they are often semantically incorrect, which is why laws go to pains to define them. As an example, the legal definition of a "machine gun" works out to mean "anything that fires more than once with a single pull of the trigger". This is of course garbage terminology, as this would mean any select-fire M4 carbine used by the US military is a "machine gun", and yet that same US military  -- who ought to know the proper definitions, as they actually buy, use, and fight with them -- defines a machine gun as a weapon that fires small arms ammunition, caliber .60 or 15.24 millimeters or under, automatically and is capable of sustained rapid fire. The salient point here is "sustained rapid fire"; good luck sustaining any rapid fire through a magazine! No, they need to be belt- or link-fed for that. The lightest machine gun in the US arsenal today is the M249 LMG, which looks and acts completely differently from the M4 carbine.

Similarly, "body armor" is anything which protects your body from protection. Yes, ballistic plates are body armor, but so are riding leathers which protect your body against road rash if you fall off your motorcycle, as is the hard plastic shell called a "riot control suit" that police use to protect against blades and blunt trauma. Neither of these things will protect against a bullet, but ballistic plates will (it's in their name!) and so I make the differentiation between ballistic armor and other types of armor.

Levels of Protection
We've all seen some version of this "pick two" graphic before, and when it comes to ballistic armor the same principle applies, only your choices are Protection, Mobility, and Quality.

If you want Protection and Mobility at the cost of Quality, you end up paying too much for "protection" that won't protect you, usually because they skirt the rigorous NIJ (National Institute of Justice) certification. Don't ever do this.

If you want Protection and Quality, you will lose Mobility. The armor will be difficult to move and shoot in, and so heavy that it will fatigue you quickly.

If you want Mobility and Quality, then you sacrifice Protection. This sounds like a terrible idea but it's not as bad as you think, and this is because there are different NIJ levels of protection which give us a sliding scale between Protection and Mobility. To reverse the statement in the previous paragraph, if you lighten the armor to regain Mobility you lose Protection.

The trick is finding your personal "sweet spot" of Protection and Mobility at a Quality you can afford, and you do that picking your level. Ballistic armor comes in five levels:  IIa, II, IIIa, III, and IV. (Level I armor is no longer made.*) As the numbers increase so does the protection they give, but you pay for that with weight and with cost. Somewhat counter-intuitively, IIa and IIIa are actually a step below levels II and III respectively, and I have no idea why.

There are a few points I want to make before I continue:
  • The following data comes from the most recent NIJ certification PDF. Go there if you want more information. 
  • Each panel or plate is shot 6 times in different locations. In real life, multiple hits in the same location are possible and may produce a higher failure rate. 
  • Some tests (see below) are performed with non-expanding full metal jacket (FMJ) ammunition, which is more likely to penetrate armor than the expanding jacketed hollow point (JHP) ammunition found in most pistols in the US. 
  • Armor levels IIa, II, and IIIa are shot using handguns. There is no NIJ data for handgun rounds shot from carbine or rifle-length barrels. 
  • The physiological effects of being shot while wearing ballistic armor are a subject for another blog post.

Level IIa Armor
Made from ballistic fibers, this lightweight (less than 10 pounds) soft armor has largely fallen out of favor due to the fact that advances in materials science has made higher levels of protection more cost-effective. The only people likely to still use IIa armor are undercover agents who need protection that is difficult to detect. It is rated to withstand up to 6 shots of 180 gr .40 S&W FMJ without penetration at a distance of 5 meters (16.4 feet).

Level II Armor
Thicker and heavier than IIa armor but still soft and very flexible, level II armor is somewhat comfortable, at least in comparison to heavier armors.

It is rated to withstand up to 6 shots of 158 gr .357 Magnum JSP (jacketed soft point), not FMJ without penetration at a distance of 5 meters (16.4 feet).

Level IIIa Armor
This is usually soft armor, although some IIIa plates (known as "speed plates") do exist. It is of course heavier, bulkier, and more expensive than previous levels, although it is still somewhat flexible (plates notwithstanding).

It is rated to withstand up to 6 shots of 240 gr .44 Magnum SJHP (semi jacketed hollow point) without penetration at a distance of 5 meters (16.4 feet).

Level III Armor
No longer soft, this armor and above are known as rifle plates because they are rigid plates of steel or polyethylene and are rated to withstand rifle shots. They are heavy, bulky, tiring to wear, and the good ones are expensive unless you can get a screaming deal on them.

Level III armor is rated to withstand up to 6 shots of 147 gr 7.62 NATO M80 FMJ without penetration at a distance of 15 meters (49.2 feet).

As a point of interest, the velocity of this round is 2780 fps, whereas the .44 Magnum in the previous test only achieved 1340 fps and the velocity of a 300 gr .50 Action Express is 1550 fps. In other words, level III armor ought to protect against anything shot from a pistol.

Some armors bill themselves as "Level III+" but there is no NIJ certification for such a level. This is because some types of 5.56mm ammunition can penetrate regular level III armor, like M855 “Green Tip" versus  polyethylene plates or M193 against AR500 steel armor. Level III+ claims to protect against both M855 and M193, but there is no way of certifying such a claim and unscrupulous sorts might make the claim in order to convince you to pay more for a level III plate. If this is your concern, I would suggest you look at level IV plates instead.

Level IV Armor
These plates are made from either ceramic or metal. The difference between ceramic and metal plates is the subject for a later blog post, but the short version is that metal plates last longer and withstand more shots but feel much heavier and there is risk of injury from spalling, whereas ceramic plates have a shorter lifespan and frequently cannot withstand more than one hit, but are more comfortable to wear and there is no risk of spalling.

Level IV steel armor is rated to withstand up to 6 shots of 166 gr .30 M2 AP (armor piercing) without penetration at a distance of 15 meters (49.2 feet).

Level IV ceramic armor has the same rating up only up to 1 shot. 

Level IV steel plates are everything I said about level III and then some. I have worn level III steel and within 5 minutes my shoulders hurt; after 15 minutes I was in such discomfort that the only thing which would make me keep them on is being shot at.

I also own level IV ceramic armor. While it weighs about the same as level III steel, because it is larger it feels lighter due to the larger dispersion of weight. I was able to wear my level IV for 15 minutes before feeling a stiffness in my neck and shoulders (that "I need to stretch it and make it go pop" feeling) but I was able to wear it for an hour before I started to cramp up.

There is no such thing as level IVa armor.

* For the curious, I discovered that Level I armor is rated up to 5 hits of 158 gr .38 Special ammunition.

Next week: Materials

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Car Keys

I've written about locks before, but I've run into a few issues with keys in particular and want to share what I've learned so someone else might avoid the hassles.

I recently bought a used Range Rover SUV that only came with one key. This is a problem for several reasons, the most important of which being my wife will drive it occasionally and my desire to have a back-up for everything important. Since this was a newer car, it came with an electronic key fob containing a “laser cut” key blade. The dealership (commonly referred to as the stealership for this make of vehicle) wanted $850 to make a duplicate key, so I started looking for less expensive options. The programmable key fob was easy to find on eBay and Amazon, but finding someone who could or would cut the blade to the right shape was more of a challenge.

I found exactly two locksmith shops in the nearest city (population ~500k) that had the equipment to cut the “laser cut” or “sidewinder” keys. One was a small, veteran-owned shop so I decided to give him my business. The owner/operator's name is Tony and he was very helpful and friendly. I learned more than a few things in the hour or so it took to get the key cut and the new key fob programmed to my car (for a grand total of $180).
  • The blade of the key will open the driver's door, but won't start the car without the electronic key fob. I had a spare blade cut so I can have a way to get into the car if/when my wife locks the keys in the car. This is a recurring issue with her, so I have to plan around it.
  • My particular anti-theft system is rather robust in that it disables the engine computer if the key fob isn't near the ignition switch. There's no remote-start option available, but it's pretty much impossible to “hot-wire” such a car.
  • Each key fob has a programmable chip in it that communicates with the computer in the car. This chip is designed to be programmed once and only once, so I needed a “virgin” key fob. The stealership might be able to reprogram a used key fob, but the available references weren't clear on that matter.
  • Vehicle manufacturers are getting serious about security on the higher-priced cars and trucks, which  was part of the reason most locksmiths wouldn't touch the type of key I needed made. Tony had to use a couple of electronic tools plugged into my car's diagnostic port to get the key fob programmed, but some brands are easier. There are several of the really expensive brands (Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes, etc.) that you have to go to the dealership for, since they won't share the information needed. Mine is old enough (12 years) that some information is available, but not freely given.
  • The locksmithing trade is still fairly locked down. Information is tightly controlled, and nothing is free. Even a licensed locksmith who cuts keys for a living will have to pay to access some of the information needed to cut vehicle keys and program key fobs.

While chatting with Tony, I mentioned my wife's ability to lock the keys in a car at least once a year. This is a major problem due to her health issues and the fact that she seems to do it when she's an hour away from home. He laughed and handed me a couple of business cards to give to her, then explained how to avoid having to use them.

40-50 years ago, most cars came with two different keys. One was for the doors and trunk lock, and the other was for the ignition switch. Chevrolet used a round head on the door keys and a squared head for the ignition keys, if I recall correctly; Ford did something similar. It was easy to have a spare “door” key made and hide it behind the license plate or in a magnetic key box somewhere under the car.

My wife's car is a early 2000's Oldsmobile. Tony was able to look up that model and told me that the (single) key it used had a neat feature: the door locks only use the back half of the key, while the ignition switch uses the whole length. This will let a locksmith cut a key that can open the door but won't turn the ignition switch, which is something that is more secure to hide on the outside of the car than a fully cut key since anyone who finds it won't be able to start the car and drive it away. Talk to your locksmith about your particular car, since this information is not readily available to the public. I'm good at researching things and I can't find it, so it's probably on sites that are subscription-only for licensed locksmiths.

Tony also recommended having a spare set of house keys under the seat of the car, for the times she locks her house keys inside (not as frequent as locking her cars keys, but it has happened a few times). This is more secure than the “key under the welcome mat” or fake rock key hiders.

Find a local locksmith and get to know them. Everyone is going to need one at some time in their life for keys locked in a car, changing the locks on a house, or upgrading the locks on your doors. Most of them are small businesses, which I prefer, and if you find a good one they can offer good advice along with their services.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Prudent Prepping: State Shutdowns

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

California, or at least the urban portion I live in, is being shut down midnight tonight after many businesses were open a week, with salons and barber shops in San Francisco opening only yesterday. Other areas are less affected with reports (unverified) of rural counties telling Sacramento they are not complying with yo-yoing regulations. What does this have to do with me?

Recreational Area Closures
I was planning on taking a camping trip this coming weekend. I've uncovered most of my camping gear, since it is stored in separate totes from my tools and books; my sleeping bag, pad, tent and cooking supplies are together and ready to load. The last thing I needed was to buy several spools of new fishing line and pick up a license, and I was ready to go.

... Until this morning. The counties with 80% of the population are forced to take varying steps to try and contain the virus. The area I planned to visit is in a major county, but well away from the population centers affected by these regulations.
It doesn't really matter what your opinion is on what is or is not an effective virus control measure: the local rules stand and I'm home. Ah well, I'll make the best of the situation.

What's Next?
I'm using this week as a preparation/dry run for a Bug Out, if it comes to that. I have most of my gear stored here in my place and one other spot that is easy to get to and then back, and now I have to decide whether I will keep gear in both places or to only have everything here. I have duplicates of the most important items so I can actually follow the "Two Is One" rule for a change and not feel like I'm hurting my plans.

I also need to decide if it will be worth the investment to duplicate my longer term food supplies or not. After the recent smoke detector scare, I'm torn between the urge to carry even more supplies in my trunk and to keep things roomy and organize -- I believe I've confessed in the past to having a bit of a hoarding problem, and so I've made a conscious effort to keep things as small and compact as possible. Loading my trunk up with "Maybe, Sorta Useful" items that could be stored just as easily here violates my K.I.S.S. plans.

Recap And Takeaway
  • I'll say it again: have a plan and practice it, and be sure to have Plans B, C, D or however many you think necessary.
  • Nothing was purchased this week, but money is being set aside for future trips.
* * *

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NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Rifle Selection Basics

It's time to wrap up the weapon selection series by talking about rifles. As before, all firearms were cleared and verified by myself and my wife/camera operator.


Monday, July 13, 2020

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Ballistic Armor: Legality

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
If you didn't own ballistic armor before the COVID-19 lockdown (with its commensurate reduction in police time) or the later urban unrest and rioting, I'm certain you've at least given thought to buying some. Much like a gun, a set of ballistic plates is something that a lot of preppers hope they never have to use but rest easier knowing they have it just in case SHTF.

However, just like buying a gun, shopping for armor is something that should not be done quickly. It requires research and forethought, as well as a fair bit of discretionary income, and your decision depends on what level of protection you want, how much weight you can tolerate/how much mobility you are willing to lose, and how much money you have to spend.

However, that is a topic which I will cover in a later post, because the first hurdle you must overcome is "Can I legally buy body armor?"

Please note that all answers are for the USA only.

No State or Federal Prohibition (Yet)
The answer to that is "At this moment in time, it is legal to buy, own and wear ballistic armor so long as you are not a convicted felon and you are not committing a crime." I specify this moment in time because it seems that every year there is an attempt, either state-level or locally, to ban the possession of ballistic armor by "civilians", which is usually interpreted as "people who are not current or retired law enforcement officers and perhaps current, licensed security guards." In fact, last year there was a bill before the US House or Representatives that attempted to do just that; fortunately, it seems to have died in committee, although we will have to wait until January 2021 and the end of the 116th Congress to be certain.

A Clean Criminal Record
At the federal level, you cannot own any sort of body armor (their terminology) if you have been convicted of a violent felony (18 U.S. Code § 931) unless you need it for a job, your employer gives you written certification that your job requires you to wear said armor, and that you only wear it while on the job.

At the state level, it depends. Most states prohibit ownership of ballistic armor if you have any felony convictions whatsoever; only Arizona, Connecticut, and Delaware do not. Maryland is more restrictive in that it prohibits anyone with a prior conviction for a "crime of violence, or a drug trafficking crime."

Can You Buy It Online?
At this time, only Connecticut prohibits online purchases of body armor to non-law enforcement. You may however buy it face-to-face.

Where Can You Wear It?
Most states treat body armor like a firearm in that if you wear it during the commission of a crime, that in itself is a felony. However, I am certain that my readers are law-abiding citizens who will not engage in criminal activity, so I won't detail which ones.

In the state of Louisiana, it is illegal to wear body armor while on school property.

In the city of Topeka, Kansas, it is illegal to possess, carry or wear a bulletproof vest during protests, parades, rallies, assemblies and demonstrations.

You cannot ship, take, bring, or send body armor outside the USA without Federal permission.

Next week: Levels of Protection.

The Fine Print

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