One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “What body armor should I get?” More often than not this question arises in two contexts. The more common of the two is in the context of the TEOTWAWKI, an acronym for “the end of the world as we know it”, which comes in various forms including, but not limited to, mass civil unrest, collapse of society, or some sort of major global conflict where one’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. The other context is a more general armed self defense question where folks are trying to get an idea of how body armor fits into their tool box. In both cases, it’s indicative of a growing concern regarding threats to one’s personal safety. Furthermore, it’s a question that I more often than not defer to others as body armor is only something that I am still learning about. Nevertheless, I happened to get my hands on an Active Shooter Kit from RTS Tactical with Level IV ceramic inserts and figured I would share my thoughts about the kit and where it fits in from the perspective of a civilian self defense practitioner.
As I do with all reviews, I want to be transparent about my relationship with RTS Tactical. I am an affiliate of RTS Tactical. This means I do have a monetary relationship where I receive a small percentage of a sale transaction that takes place after a link found in this blog or I’ve shared via email or social media takes place at no additional cost to the purchaser. RTS also provided me with a discount to get my hands on this product, but it was not provided for free. Like always, I will do my best to provide an honest review of the product regardless of my relationship with them.
So what is the RTS Active Shooter Kit? It is a complete armor package offered by RTS Tactical composed of a plate carrier with front and back armor plate inserts. There are a few variants of this kit and several optional configurations and add-ons available including colors, sizes, 10×12 or 11×14 plate configurations, optional 6×8 side plates with attachable pouches, and an attachable 5.56 triple magazine pouch. For the purposes of this review, which is based on what I got my hands on, I will cover the plate carrier and the 10×12 Level IV ceramic plates which can be picked up for about $630 directly from RTS.
In my opinion, the plate carrier, which is an RTS Tactical Premium Plate Carrier, is well thought out and built well. It’s also covered with PALS webbing which will allow pretty much any configuration of MOLLE attachable accessories one can think of. The stitching on the 500D Mil-Spec Cordura appears to be well done and I was unable to find any flaws in it or any loose threads. It features adjustable wide and padded shoulder straps which are essential for proper adjustment so that the plates cover one’s vitals. The plate is secured around the sides with a cummerbund that is typical of many plate carriers. Additionally, it can also be secured with a nylon strap that snaps into a plastic buckle making the cummerbund optional. The nylon straps can be tucked away if one opts not to use them but the straps and buckles are not designed to be detachable and re-attachable. The plate sleeves use a combination of Cordura flaps with hook and loop to secure the plates in place which is important so the armor stays in place when one is moving around.
The underside of the carrier has plenty of padding and breathable mesh which is intended to minimize discomfort that can occur when wearing the carrier for extended periods of time. As a civilian, I didn’t have a good way to test this claim. I did wear it a fair bit, but never for more than a couple of hours at a time. So all I can say is that for my purposes, it was comfortable enough.
I won’t go so far as to say this is among the best carriers in the market for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I’m not an authority on the subject. There is simply a lot I don’t know. However, I do know enough to point out that this carrier is missing some features that are available on carriers that my friends who are better versed on this subject often talk about. The one that is most glaring to me is the lack of quick release mechanisms to remove the carrier quickly when necessary. Example use cases for this feature include, but are not limited to, receiving first aid, if one ends up in a large body of water, or if the plate carrier is snagged on something and continued movement is vital. The lack of these types of features doesn’t mean it’s a bad carrier. It just means it may not be suitable for some missions and applications. However, it is decently made and for the price point it can be a good starting point.
Let’s shift gears and talk about the two Level 4 ceramic armor plates that are included in the package. For those of you who don’t know much about armor, the level indicates the ballistic capability it is able to stop. The higher the level to more ballistic abuse it can take before being defeated. Level 4 is the highest rating armor can be received when certified by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). This means that these ceramic plates are rated to stop virtually all the common handgun cartridges, many rifle cartridges, and even some armor piercing rifle cartridges. Below is an in-exhaustive list of examples and their corresponding level:
- Level 2A: 9mm and .40 S&W
- Level 2: .357 Magnum
- Level 3A: .357 Sig and .44 Magnum
- Level 3 : 7.62 M80
- Level 3+: 5.56 M855 and .30-06 Springfield
- Level 4: .30-06 M2 AP
It’s worth noting that even though these plates are said to comply with NIJ Level IV tests they are not listed in the compliant products list available from the Criminal Justice Testing and Evaluation Consortium (CJTEC). In other words, they aren’t certified by the NIJ like some of the other RTS body armor products. This may be a big deal to some folks and not to others. I will note that these plates are more affordable than similar NIJ certified offerings from competitors such as Hesco and Hoplite and several YouTubers have shot these plates with armor piercing .30-06 rounds multiple times without the RTS plates failing. I’m not suggesting that YouTube tests are a valid substitute for NIJ certification at all. Rather, I’m pointing out that the RTS plates which do not appear to be NIJ certified are manufactured by a company that does offer NIJ certified products that have functioned as advertised after abuse by folks on camera and are more budget friendly. While I get the “you can’t put a price on something that one’s life may depend on”, the reality is that not everyone has the same available financial resources and is therefore something to consider.
These plates weigh in at 6.3 lbs each for a total weight of 12.6 lbs carried in the plate carrier. These are on the lighter side of comparable sized level 4 ceramic plates. As with all ceramic plates, they have a recommended shelf life of 5 years and are susceptible to fracturing if they are dropped or hit with sufficient force.
Overall, I think the RTS Active Shooter Kit is a budget friendly option that could work as a good starting point for some folks who are looking for a Level 4 body armor solution for themselves and their loved ones.
That begs the question: Where does a Level 4 body armor solution fit in the context of a civilian self defense practitioner? The answer to this question deserves its own blog post, but I’ll take a quick stab at it anyway. For me, this type of solution is one that lives right beside the home defense AR-15 and that’s about it. It makes sense for those bumps in the night where one has sufficient time to grab the rifle as that implies there is probably sufficient time to also don a plate carrier. Outside of that, I don’t see much value in it. For those of you interested in a deeper exploration of the topic of body armor for armed citizens, I’ll refer you to this post on the topic by Greg Ellifritz.
I imagine there are some folks wondering if this might be a good preparation option for TEOTWAWKI and all I can say to that is that it may be a good starting point as well. However, there are a lot of other considerations that likely should be prioritized over body armor for long-term wide-spread disasters in America and would refer folks to consider seeing what Paul T. Martin has to say on the subject.
But now I’m getting off topic. So I will close by reminding folks to take an honest look at the likely risks they are facing in their current situation and only after performing a personal threat assessment to consider what next piece of gear they need to purchase. Body armor may very well be the next priority. If that’s the case, then acquire the best armor solution you can that will work for your situation within the resource constraints that exist. Something like the RTS Active Shooter Kit might be the right answer, but only you can determine that for yourself.