Damn Near Invisible: The Crye LVS
I’ve been wearing body armor for over twenty years. From old USMC flak vests in 1989 to my first soft body armor as a cop in 94 to an IBA in OIF 3 to a plate carrier in OEF 9, I’ve spent a lot of time wrapped in Kevlar and ceramic. Now that I’m retired from the military and no longer work the street, I only wear body armor on rare occasions when I’m in uniform or going into public in plainclothes with a police jacket.
As a Marine and Soldier my body armor was no secret, and pretty much screamed “Come at me, bro.” My police body armor, on the other hand, is “concealable”; that is, as long as my suspect is blind and hasn’t watched a cop movie in the last thirty years, he’ll have no idea I’m wearing a vest. Police body armor stands out, which is kind of a problem.
[Michael Pena in End of Watch, with his “concealable” body armor visible.]
Crye, on the cutting edge of tactical technology as usual, recently released their new LVS body armor. LVS stands for Low Visibility System, and the name isn’t just an advertising gimmick. In a nutshell, the LVS is a stiff-but-extremely-thin conventional concealable armor vest. The base vest disappears under uniforms and street clothes, and can fit into LVS-specific overt tactical carriers. I’ve had the opportunity to test pre-production LVS armor over the last few months, and for people like me who need our concealable body armor to actually be concealed this may be a game changer.
Here’s what Crye has to say about their Low Visibility System:
“The LVS system sets a new standard for concealable body armor. Our proprietary 3 dimensional forming technology allows us to shape the vest to directly match the contours of the human body, delivering an unprecedented level of concealment and comfort that only this production process can deliver. Because it is molded, the armor will not crumple and fold up in the bottom of the carrier. In fact, the LVS base vest requires no external carrier at all. This is due to our unique ‘Insert As Vest’ architecture. This construction greatly reduces bulk and visual printing.
The LVS system is extremely versatile. A wide range of optional covers allow the same armor panels to be quickly swapped between vest configurations. For instance, a patrol vest can instantly become a tactical entry vest, or anything in between. Additional side and abdomen armor panels are available to add even more coverage.
The LVS armor is NIJ IIIA Certified. Made in the US from US materials.”
A Primer on Body Armor
Those without experience might think body armor is both comfortable and “bulletproof”; in reality, it’s usually hot, a pain in the ass to wear, and leaves significant areas exposed. The tradeoff is always between coverage+protection vs. comfort+weight. The better a vest is at covering places you don’t want to get shot, the more it sucks to wear it.
We all want concealable body armor to cover our lower abdomen and upper chest, but don’t want our belly fat pinched between duty belt and vest every time we sit down, or the vest’s upper edge jamming into our throat. Military body armor is similar; we can wear an Improved Outer Tactical Vest with throat protector, neck protector, groin protector, shoulder protectors and side plates, or we can, oh, I don’t know, wear less and have the ability to “actually move”. In Afghanistan I wore a light, practical plate carrier instead of the bulky issued IOTV, knowing full well it wouldn’t protect me as well as plates plus Kevlar. Every vest is a compromise.
[My IBA in Iraq. Great coverage, and I hope to never have to wear anything like it again]
Crye seems to have addressed some of that compromise with the LVS. Instead of getting minimal coverage from a thick, uncomfortable and easily-spotted vest, we get better-than-minimal coverage from a thinner and highly-concealable vest.
The Good Points:
Concealable armor usually doesn’t disappear under a uniform, and anyone who pays attention at all will spot a vest’s edges on an officer’s upper back and chest. The top of a vest will often be visible just above the highest buttoned button on a uniform shirt, and plenty of us cops get in the unconscious habit of repeatedly pushing the top edge of the vest down whenever we’re seated. But the LVS is way, way lower profile than any issued body armor I’ve ever worn. If you adjust the Velcro shoulder straps on the LVS correctly, it won’t be visible if your shirt is at all loose.
[LVS almost invisible under a fairly close-fitting shirt]
The LVS is NIJ rated at Level IIIA, meaning it will stop up to a .357 Sig or .44 Magnum. According to the good folks at Crye, a wearer would feel no difference in impact if hit while wearing the LVS versus wearing a thicker, traditional vest. I had to double check with Crye on that, because the LVS feels so thin it’s hard to believe I wouldn’t feel more, but Crye assures me it would be the same. That’s a lot of protection in a little vest.
[Wearing the vest out in town in Arizona]
I really only have two. The first, and less important one, is that you have to experiment quite a bit with the Velcro straps to get the right fit. If you adjust it too high it’s visible at your collar, if it’s too low it doesn’t cover enough. I had to fight with mine quite a bit to get it right.
The other problem? I had trouble keeping the vest down. Every time I sat, the vest would get pushed up and become visible. Then I’d have to push down on the top edge below my chin, which is a body armor “tell”. The LVS could really use something to help keep it in position.
A typical police vest has tails, but a lot of people consider them an unnecessary pain in the ass. Mad Duo Merrill told me those are the first things he always cuts off and throws away. But the tails serve a purpose: they keep the vest down and in place. The LVS has no tails, and no provision to attach any (the pre-production model I tested had a zipper attachment on the inner face, but I don’t know what it was for).
I don’t know if Crye has any plans to offer tails or something similar, but I really hope they do. I know of at least one police officer murdered by a suspect who realized he had a vest, and carefully aimed around it. I’d like to see the LVS used by officers to its utmost, incredible potential: as a way to keep good guys alive by completely hiding the fact that we’re wearing armor. Crye’s LVS comes closer to that goal than any other concealable vest I’ve ever worn, and with the addition of a way to keep it pulled down, it may become the gold standard in body armor.
Breach-Bang & CLEAR!
This Post is part of our Trails Found Series. What is Trails Found? Members of BreachBangClear and some other badass media outlets assembled together this last September to train with one of the last of what has been called the “old Border Breed”, in the desert of Arizona. That man they were training with was no other than the legendary Jim Grasky. In 1965 Jim Grasky was a young Special Forces soldier in Vietnam, then in 1970 he was a the squadleader for a team of smoke-jumpers parachuting in to fight remote wildfires. For about a quarter century after that he was a Border Patrolman, and literally named BORTAC. Though Grasky is a man of many talents, one of his specialties is man tracking–which is why he developed programs specifically for USSOCOM and has taught the world over. Through your various social media outlets you can track other articles and photos related to Trails Found by searching for #TrailsFound16 and #GoodGearMatters.
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Chris Hernandez (Mad Duo Chris), seen here on patrol in Afghanistan, may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.