by Andy Shiu
Lake Forest (IL) Police Department
I have been a police officer for nearly 20 years now, and a bike officer for nearly 15 of them. Comfort and managing body heat has always been a factor. Wearing outer body armor carriers and polo shirts has been wonderful, but after 8-12 hours, the smaller details begin making the difference.
This past summer, I was privileged to have the opportunity to wear and (now) review the Blauer Performance Polo, ArmorSkin Polo Body Armor Carrier, and ArmorSkin Suspension System. When not training a new officer, I have the option to carry a patrol bike on the back of my squad car to ride during my shift. I rode and used all three items frequently, if not daily. Let me tell you – Blauer did a fantastic job of making the smaller details work. It only took wearing it once for me to notice the dramatic difference.
Blauer Performance Polo
My bike uniform shirt has always been a polyester/nylon blend (95% polyester/5% nylon) that doubled for use during regular bike patrol and special events, like the carnival, 4th of July, and BMW golf tournament. It was better than my regular uniform shirt – that’s all I can say about it because although it had short sleeves, it held heat and odor, and became itchy over the course of my shift. I wore it because it was what I was issued, and I was just happy to get to ride my bike.
My first day wearing the Blauer Performance Polo was the hottest day of July, or, at least that’s what it felt like. I figured, “what better way to try it than on a hot, sweaty day?” So I wore the polo over my concealable body armor.
Getting the gear ready and mounting the hitch/bike onto my squad usually sets the sweating tempo for the shift. It requires me to bend, move, twist, and lift to get the gear out and mounted. While wearing the old shirt, by the time I was done, I was usually uncomfortable within the first 15-20 minutes of an eight-hour shift. What a way to start the shift, right? While wearing the Blauer shirt, I was still warm, but body heat was not trapped underneath the shirt, mostly because of the built-in mesh paneling that acts like heat venting.
Proof for anything in this line of work is actual duty use, so I was eager to ride right away. I parked my squad under a tree in the business district and rode most of the shift until nightfall, responding from one end of my zone to the other, an area packed with businesses and homes. When I wasn’t responding to calls, I was looking for hills to climb and obstacles to overcome as part of testing the shirt. It was basically an all-day workout and ride. The polo performed flawlessly and kept me comfortable the entire shift.
When you are hot and sweaty, shirt-to-skin irritation from the rubbing isn’t fun. Add the 40 pounds of gear we wear daily, and it is sometimes unbearable. The Blauer polo material is soft where contacts the skin – against the neck and arms at the “cuffs” – causing no irritation whatsoever. The entire shirt is breathable; hold it up to the light, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Between the breathability, venting and quick-dry wicking material, I felt the air cooling my skin off as I rode. By the end of the shift, I noticed that even though I was still warm (can’t get around that; body armor anytime/anywhere causes it), I was much more comfortable.
After my shift, I checked the shirt to see how it reacted to the rubbing against the Velcro straps of my body armor as I rode. It did not appear to have suffered any damage from the contact.
On subsequent patrol days, I wore the Blauer polo underneath either my department-issued body armor carrier or the ArmorSkin polo body armor carrier. In both of these modes, wearing the carrier over the shirt obviously reduced its ability to vent and wick moisture from my skin. With heat and moisture trapped under layers of Kevlar and covering material, there’s really no way to avoid being hot. But the areas not covered by the body armor were still vented well, and the feel of the material against my neck and arms was the same. I was still more comfortable than I was in my issued bike shirt. At one point during my shifts, I took off my outer carrier and walked around without it while doing paperwork, and I immediately felt cooler due to the venting from the shirt.
I have also worn this shirt outside of bike patrol and during firearms and defensive tactics instructor training schools. I rolled with it on while training and/or shooting on mats, dirt, sand, grass, and mud. The shirt felt great, held up well with no tears or signs of wear, and kept me cool and dry. It is also great for classroom attire.
If I had anything to suggest any improvement to this shirt, it would be to incorporate more venting material into the area around the upper trapezius area (under the collar, basically across the upper back) instead of just the two sections that run diagonally along the back of the shirt. I say this because so much of the shirt is covered by the outer body armor carrier, and the mesh paneling is great for heat venting. That’s the only thing that comes to mind. It is that great of a bike patrol polo shirt. I wore it for as many shifts as I could during the review period, including some double shifts, and it made a huge difference while on bike patrol. If I could rate the shirt 1-10, it would be a 10, without a doubt.
ArmorSkin Polo Body Armor Carrier
The Blauer ArmorSkin Polo Body Armor Carrier is a welcome change from the heavier carrier issued by my department. The material is very different; it is much softer, and it breathes. I wore the shirt primarily in conjunction with Blauer Performance Polo because the reviewed carrier was dark/navy blue and was too much contrast against the light blue uniform shirt I wear when not on bike patrol.
Comfort wise, there is no comparison. The zippers make it easy-on/easy-off while I am at the department eating meals or doing paperwork. It also blends well with the material, both color and appearance, of the Blauer Performance Polo. On the days I wore it over the Performance Polo while on bike patrol, the combination of the heat releasing/moisture wicking ability of both items made a HUGE difference. I enjoyed the zipper closure on the sides of the carrier. Duty shirts tend to get worn out on the underarms of the sleeves because of contact with the Velcro® on typical carriers. The downsides of zippers, is that if they break, you are without the ability to secure the carrier closed.
My recommendations for improving the ArmorSkin carrier are only those that would make it more practical for patrol or investigations personnel. As a comfortable carrier, it is perfect. For complete usefulness, it could use customization.
For daily patrol use, I feel that a body armor carrier needs custom-cut fitting to an officer’s existing armor panels and body measurements. There was some “wiggle” room in the panel pockets because the carrier is cut to my general measurements and not the exact body armor panels I’m using. I like that the ArmorSkin carrier allows my concealable body armor panels to be connected together over my shoulders like a suspension system. I wear a steel strike plate over my front panel, and without that ability, I am sure the front panel would sag, negatively affecting the overall appearance by causing bunching. I would also recommend the carrier be customizable with Velcro® closure shirt pockets, slit pockets, MOLLE options, and/or equipment pouches. Worn as is, without pockets, I did not have access to items I keep in my department-issued carrier, such as notebook, pens, pencils, radio, gloves, and handcuffs. Having these options would make it more useful for detectives and in other situations when it is appropriate to have some level of protection during daily use but less than is needed for executing a search warrant.
Like the Performance Polo, I used the ArmorSkin Polo Body Armor Carrier during firearms and defensive tactics instructor training schools. I gave it as much abuse as I could, while shooting prone and during movement drills. It withstood it admirably with no tears or lasting stains. The comfort and coolness features were consistent during hot outdoor conditions, and the carrier was easy to clean/wash afterwards.
Overall, the ArmorSkin Polo Body Armor Carrier would be a 10 with pockets and custom fit. Without, it is an easy 7 or 8. It is still an excellent product.
ArmorSkin Suspension System
I fought the need to wear suspenders for years – I thought I was physically in shape enough not to need them, and I thought they looked silly. Then I suffered through two week-long BMW golf tournaments as a player escort. Each day involved at least 6-8 miles worth of walking in full gear, which resulted in loss of sensation due to pinched nerves at the hips from the duty belt rubbing again my hip bones, and lower back pain that lasted for weeks to follow. I’ve tried three other suspender systems in the past year, most recently the Blauer ArmorSkin suspension system that I’m reviewing. All of the suspender systems have the same essential function. They take the weight off of my waist and balance it over my shoulders. This alleviates the numbness I’ve endured in my right thigh as well as the lower back pain from extended walking and/or patrol bike riding.
Like I mentioned before, Blauer is all about subtle differences that separate it from the competition. For me, it was the combination of the suspender material and the width of the shoulder pads. They provided excellent support, weight distribution and comfort. The suspenders are wide and well-constructed, like a car’s seat belt. The shoulder pads are also wide, and were very comfortable even after extended wear. The system overall kept my duty gear stable, even while running/biking.
I’ve read in other reviews that there have been issues with the quick release hardware/clips (which attach to current keepers) breaking. I have not experienced any breakage (knocking on wood here), but realistically, anything you use every day is subject to a malfunction or breakage. I have yet to disengage the clips, actually; I just slip the shoulder pads/suspenders off my shoulders and unhook my duty belt when I’m done for the day.
If I were to make a suggestion, it would be to find a way to keep the shoulder pads “in place” after the initial wear, like with Velcro®. On occasion, the pads would creep lower and I could feel the suspender strap on my upper back/trapezius area. Not a big deal; I would just slide it back, but not having to worry about them moving would be a plus.
Like the ArmorSkin Polo Carrier and Performance Polo, I subjected the ArmorSkin Suspension System to rigorous defensive tactics and firearms instructor school training. It was nice not to feel the debilitating pain from the duty belt in my lower back and hips for a change. In addition, the constant and often sudden movements did not cause my straps to come out of adjustment or loosen.
For the daily relief on my body and the comfort of having 40-plus pounds of gear on my belt now redistributed on my body, I give the ArmorSkin Suspension System an 11 out of 10.
As you well know, most equipment related to law enforcement on the market is intended to give us an edge and yet enable us to maintain a professional appearance. What separates the various brands is attention to detail, an area in which Blauer, in my opinion, is clearly ahead of the competition. This career isn’t getting any easier here in the United States or worldwide, so if one can stay cooler, more comfortable, and still do the job, my choice would be do it with at least one, if not all three, of these fine Blauer products.
Officer Andy L. Shiu is a 16-year police officer with the Lake Forest (IL) Police Department. He is IPMBA-certified as a Police Cyclist and as a Bicycle Response Team rider. He specializes in defensive tactics and firearms instruction. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy Blauer.
(c) 2017 IPMBA. This review appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of IPMBA News.