‘Stab’ – even the word is short, sharp and violent. It is one of those words in English that sounds exactly like what it’s trying to convey.

Unfortunately, it’s also a word that British people are encountering more and more in our daily lives.

According to the UK Government, knife crime is entering its highest point in almost a decade. Some 47,000 knife (or knife-like object) related offences were recorded for the year ending March 2019 alone.

The year before that had seen 285 homicides (which accounts for 39% of all recorded homicides that year) being caused by people wielding knives or other sharp objects.

The numbers don’t lie. Knife crime is a serious problem facing the UK right now.

Among other professions such as police and first response teams, security personnel are often on the front lines, dealing with (and sometimes having to disarm) would-be assailants.

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PPSS Stab Vest Covert

PPSS Stab Vest Overt

Low cost Alternatives

Guardian G1 Vest

Timbert Vest

This is where a stab vest can really help. Not only for practical protection against the dangers presented by knives, but also by boosting the wearer’s confidence and peace of mind.

In this piece, we’ll be taking a detailed look at today’s stab proof vests.

  • What are their strengths?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • By how much do they improve the safety of the wearer?
  • Are they worth buying at all?

We’ll be answering all these questions and more.

Who Invented the Stab Vest?

Protective garments, some able to provide a measure of defence against swords and musket fire, had already been in use for centuries by the time a Polish immigrant-turned-monk-turned-inventor named Casimir Żegleń publicly demonstrated what may be considered the first ‘bullet proof’ vest in Chicago, Illinois in 1897.

It was made from layered silk, of all things, but, amazingly, it worked.

Unable to gain financial backing for his invention in the States, Żegleń returned to Europe, where he teamed with Polish inventor Jan Szczepanik in order to further refine and mass-produce the invention.

Today’s stab proof vests owe their existence to the pioneering work of Żegleń and Szczepanik, among many others.

Though engineered to repel blades, as opposed to bullets, the technology used by stab proof vests is similar enough to consider Żegleń as its earliest pioneer.

Casimir Żegleń

How Do Stab Vests Work?

Modern stab proof vests are considerably different from their bulletproof ancestors.

In some cases, high performance polycarbonates are used.

However, the ‘stab-proof’ material most commonly used in the manufacture of today’s stab vests is Kevlar.

Kevlar, also used for bulletproof vests (though arranged differently for stab proof vests), is a synthetic fibre with a particularly high tensile strength.

In the manufacture of stab proof materials, Kevlar fabrics are tightly woven together to the point that they become almost impenetrable, at least as far as knives are concerned.

Many stab proof vests (such as those worn by UK police) also incorporate layers of chainmail or laminate coating for added protection (see the later section regarding ‘spike-proof vests’ for more information).

The science behind stab proof vests is quite simple. When a sharp object is thrust into the protective portions of a stab-proof vest, the Kevlar fibres of the vest move around the object’s point, which causes it to be pushed back and forth within the material. The resultant effect makes it extremely difficult to push a blade or other sharp object directly through the vest, as the object is constantly being redirected.

It should be noted that although today’s stab proof vests are incredibly effective, no garment is truly 100% ‘stab-proof’. Even the best body armour has its weaknesses. 

Stab Proof Vests & UK Law

The United Kingdom presently has no laws against the manufacture, sale and ownership of body armour (perhaps this explains why at least one Londoner has taken to wearing chainmail?).

However, body armour used professionally is subject to certain standards and requirements.

These standards were determined via dialogue between the UK Government and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the Police Federation, various manufacturers and testing facilities, the Metropolitan Police Service’s Physical Protection Group and other technical experts.

All stab proof vests (and body armour in general) are assigned a performance rating. This will be discussed in the next section.

Stab Vest Ratings

Like all body armour sold in the UK, stab proof vests are given a performance rating and protection level. This is done to ensure that wearers acquire the right armour for the right job, as some jobs will require a greater degree of protection than others.

UK police have tested all types of vest with a variety of bladed weapons. The most dangerous of these are known as ‘engineered’ blades.

To qualify as ‘engineered’, a blade must retain its shape and effectiveness when stabbed into something thick like a block of wood.

Most other knives (i.e. those designed for use in the kitchen) will bend or even shatter if stabbed into too dense an object. These types of weapons, therefore, are considered less dangerous to the person wearing a vest.

stab vest rating

In order to qualify for certification, stab proof vests must resist attack from an engineered blade, as opposed to a basic knife or homemade ‘shank’.

A stab proof vest will be given a ‘KR’ of ‘Knife Resistance’ rating depending on how much punishment it can withstand.

Smaller, more pointed blades, such as ice-picks, are properly categorized as ‘spikes’ rather than knives, as they are more likely to penetrate a stab proof vest due to their having a smaller, thinner point. Accordingly, they have their own rating, known as ‘SP’.

To qualify as ‘stab proof ’ or ‘anti-stab’, a vest (or other piece of body armour) must be able to repel a 3 or 6-inch basic Bowie knife, allowing only a maximum penetration of 5mm.

A vest or other piece of armour rated as KR1 or SP1 can repel an engineered blade or spike thrust into it with considerable force, allowing a maximum penetration of no more than 7mm.

If the armour is rated as KR2/SP2, or KR3/SP3, it must be able to resist an engineered blade or spike thrust toward it with increasing degrees of force, while still only allowing for a maximum penetration of 7mm.

Certifications

Since 1993, the UK Home Office has published test standards that can be used to assess the effectiveness and viability of various types of body armour. These tests include formed armour testing, ballistic protection levels, rifle testing, production quality testing and in-life monitoring (this essentially details how long the vest can last when constantly in use).

Following these tests, the Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) (which was incorporated into the Defence Science and Technology Library in 2018) issues a CAST certification which details how effective any body armour or protective gear actually is.

The PPSS stab proof vests hold the following certifications.

CAST certification – KR1: This means that the vest is protected from single-edged weapons such as kitchen knives, machetes and combat knives.

CAST certification – SP1: This means that the vest will protect against makeshift ‘shivs’ and spikes, including sharpened screwdrivers, ice picks and other pointed objects, like needles. It also means that the vest will protect against double-edged blades such as flick knives.

For clarification, KR1 alone simply means that the armour offers total protection against knives, while KR1 and SP1 together (which this vest has) offers both knife and spike protection.

HO1 only means that it offers ballistic protection, but no knife or spike protection, while ballistic and knife protection would be HO1 and KR1, respectively.

This vest does not offer any ballistic protection, but it seems statistically unlikely that this will be needed by the average UK-based security operative, a fact for which we can all be very thankful.

Can Stab Vests Stop Needles?

Some individuals have been known to threaten people with hypodermic needles. Usually, the attackers claim that the needles are infected with HIV or AIDS. However, even a simple air bubble, injected from an empty syringe, can be fatal.

In vest trials, the ‘spike test’ is usually harder on the protective material than any testing undertaken with regular knives. In many cases, a spike will penetrate a stab vest.

Given this fact, does it follow that needles, by dint of being particularly small, sharp and fine, can also penetrate stab proof vests?

Thankfully, most stab proof vests will easily repel a syringe. The material is simply too dense for the needle to get through. If greater force or pressure is applied, the needle simply snaps.

Bulletproof Vests Vs Stab Proof Vests

Along with bulletproof vests and stab proof vests, there also exist spike-proof vests.

Bulletproof vests work by trapping and flattening the bullet within the protective material of the vest; this disperses the energy of the bullet across the vest itself, which acts as a shock absorber.

A bulletproof vest may stop or slow a bullet, but they are not especially useful against knives. For effective defence against knives, a stab vest is recommended.

Many stab vests work in the manner described earlier in this feature. However, they are especially suited to deflecting ‘edged’ weapons such as knives, broken bottles and improvised blades such as ‘shanks’ or ‘shivs’.

Stab vests are very effective against ‘edged’ weapons, but not as effective against ‘spiked’ weapons, such as ice picks, sharpened screwdrivers, stilettos and any other piece of sharp, slender metal.

To this end, spike-proof vests have been developed. Spike proof vests are similar to stab proof vests in most regards, except that they feature an additional layer of plastic laminate (or similar material) which blunts the initial impact of the spike.

Additionally, the development of ‘multi-threat’ body armour combines stab protection with spike protection. However this extra protection sometimes comes at the cost of decreased mobility and loss of comfort.

How to Wear a Vest

Protective vests may be either ‘overt’ (worn over other clothing) or ‘covert’ (hidden beneath other clothing). However, even covert vests will be visible unless a bulkier outer layer of clothing (e.g. a coat or loose fitting jacket) is worn.

Stab proof vests should always cover the wearer’s naval, but not their waist. If the vest reaches down to cover the waist, it can impede the wearer’s basic mobility, making actions such as bending down, walking or even sitting down quite difficult.

Limited movement is especially unwanted in those situations that require the wearer to move around a lot, such as restraining a dangerous person.

Stab vests are made of denser material than most other garments. Accordingly, they may weigh as much as 1.5kg. This can be very difficult to get used to at first and will also have an effect on the wearer’s general mobility.

Even the slightest armour, with the snuggest fit, is going to limit movement on the part of the wearer – that’s the trade-off you make for staying safe.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Stab Vest

The following is a checklist of things to think about before placing an order for Stab proof vests (or, indeed, any item of protective clothing).

What threats are you likely to encounter?

Though not unheard of, gun crime is rare in the United Kingdom. A bulletproof vest that protects against bullets but offers only minimal defence against far more commonly used weapons (such as knives) would seem to be a poor choice.

Consider the threats that you are most likely to face and opt for the vest that best protects against them.

The UK security worker will likely need to choose between a stab vest, a spike-proof vest and multi-threat body armour, all of which have their benefits and drawbacks. Choose carefully.

Where will the stab proof vest be worn?

Is your new piece of body armour going to be worn over or under your clothing?

Are you looking for the kind of visible deterrent that may discourage potential attackers (but equally may put off potential customers), or are you simply looking for extra protection to be worn beneath your regular clothing? Remember to buy extra, larger-sized clothes if this is your plan.

What other requirements do you have?

Does the vest need hi-vis capability? Is it important that you be seen or easily identified while wearing it?

Will the vest need to be waterproof? Will you require pockets? What equipment will you be carrying? Are there adequate options for mounting body cams, displaying I.D etc? How many storage options will you need?

You should take all of these questions into account before purchasing a vest.

Purchase the appropriate vest for your sex.

Protective vests are fashioned quite differently for male and female wearers. Where possible, choose the vest appropriate for your sex.

Consider your height.

The most important size consideration when choosing a protective vest is actually the height of the wearer.

As a general rule, any wearer between 5 ft. 8 and 6ft tall should order a ‘standard’ or ‘medium’ sized vest. A wearer shorter than 5,8 would be better served by buying a ‘short’ or ‘small’ size.

If you are in any doubt, contact the seller with your precise measurements and they should be able to help you.

Which protection rating best suits your needs?.

It isn’t usually necessary to purchase the most effective body armour on the market.

Often, body armour can be uncomfortable to wear, as well as heavy and cumbersome. There’s no point getting hold of military grade protective clothing, or the vests worn by American S.W.A.T teams, only to try and endure wearing them for a 10-hour shift on the doors of a busy nightclub.

Don’t be paranoid or reactionary, either. Think back upon the threats you’ve faced thus far and try to plan ahead for the threats you may face in the future.

Unless you’re planning on taking a bullet for the Queen at some point during the next couple of years, it’s best to stick to more practical, affordable options.

PPSS

PPSS group are an industry leader in protective gear. In 2018, the company launched the ‘CutPRO’ brand of cut and slice resistant clothing with an eye on protecting the workers of the glass and metal industries. A few months earlier, they had released their Emergency Body Armour to great acclaim from the security industry.

PPSS’ leadership consists of over a century of aggregate experience on the front lines. Various members of the company’s management team have served in elite military units, police, prison riot teams and private security firms, so it’s fair to say that they know what they’re doing.

What really impresses us, however, is that PPSS CEO, Robert Kaiser, is confident enough in his company’s products that he’s willing to take a knife to the chest to prove their effectiveness.

the reviews

PPSS Covert (Black) Stab Resistant Body Armour

These Covert vests are designed to be worn beneath an outer layer of clothing. As such, they are not supposed to advertise their presence in any significant way. 

The covert vest is worn over a simple base layer of clothing, such as a t-shirt or vest. It weighs the same as the overt vest (1.75kg – based on the larger plates) and the plates can be easily removed and interchanged with the overt version. 

Because both versions of the vest are essentially the same, the covert version features the same CAST certifications (KR1 & SP1) as the overt version. As with the overt version, there is no zip on this vest, which eliminates one of the major weak points of most stab vests. 

The vest comes in sizes ranging from ‘small’ to ‘3XL’ and is available for both male and female wearers. 

The colour of covert body armour is reasonably important. For example, if you wear a black covert vest beneath a white shirt, the dark colours of the vest are going to make it visible. Ideally, then, you may only wish to purchase the covert vest in black if you’re planning on wearing it beneath dark-coloured clothes. 

The vest’s relative invisibility is a key point in how it keeps the wearer safe, as an assailant is likely to attack the chest before any other area of the body and, if the chest armour cannot be seen, neither can any areas that are less protected by the vest (e.g., lower stomach, shoulders, arms, etc). 

Our Overall Opinion

The covert version, for its part, fits well under loose-fitting clothing, while placing the plates into either version is rendered as easy as possible by both user-friendly design and helpful notes from the manufacturer. The fact that it comes apart more-or-less completely makes the vest quite easy to clean and maintain as well.

Metal plates are a lower tech solution than Kevlar, but this vest will have a much longer shelf-life, as well as being far easier to keep safe and clean than a Kevlar vest. In the end, the material you choose is a matter of personal preference (as well as what you’re using it for), but if you prefer a plated vest, then this is definitely a good choice.

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PPSS Covert (White) Stab Resistant Body Armour

The white option, by contrast, may be your best bet if discretion is important to you, as it will likely not be as visible under light-coloured clothing. However, under thin, dark-coloured clothing, it is possible that this vest will become more visible. It is important to consider the colour before buying any protective gear. 

Again, for covert use, the ability of the vest to simply ‘blend in’ with the rest of your clothing is very important. It is metal plate body armour, so it won’t be completely invisible, but it is certainly hard-to-spot unless someone is actively trying to look for it. Accordingly, a neutral shade, such as white can really help in this regard. 

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PPSS Overt (Black) Stab Resistant Body Armour

The overt vest is designed to be worn outside of a uniform or most other clothing. It can act as a deterrent, by demonstrating to onlookers that there is a trained and protected security presence in the vicinity. 

The overt vest features the addition of two fairly deep pockets at the front, which are quite strong and secure. It also has Velcro patches that allow the wearer to customise the vest as required (e.g., badges, insignia, reflective strips, etc), as well as two universal radio docks, that allow you to attach radios, body cameras plus much more.

As with the covert version, the armoured plates may be removed for easier storage, cleaning and/or placing into the overt version. The vest weighs around 1.75kg (slightly more for the larger sizes) and comes in sizes ‘S’ to ‘3XL’

As with the covert version, the overt vest is available for both male and female wearers. 

The overt stab-vest in black sends a clear and definite message – and that message is ‘don’t mess with me – I’m protected’. As a visual deterrent, it works well. Besides, black goes with everything. In effect, black is the new black. 

Whatever your requirements, a smart, black stab-vest, with no frills and no nonsense, will work with almost any uniform and, as a simple, effective deterrent, can help to see you get home safely after every shift. 

Our Overall Opinion

The overt vest is smart and well designed. Features such as the front-facing pockets, universal radio docks and Velcro patches are very welcome and really add to the vest’s overall functionality. 

Some concerns we had surrounded the vest riding rather high on the chest, leaving the lower parts of the wearer’s stomach potentially exposed, as well as the lack of any real back support (which could prove to be a problem for wearers who experience back pain). We also found that, because it rides high, it can feel a little bit tight around the chest and neck and is perhaps not quite as comfortable as it could be. 

Unfortunately, if the plates were bigger and/or designed to sit lower (and thus cover more of the stomach), they may make sitting or bending down even more difficult, potentially even causing breathing difficulties for any wearer in a sitting position. 

On the plus side, the vest doesn’t hamper movement as much as you might think and it is designed to be highly adjustable, meaning that a lot of initial discomfort could probably be alleviated through the simple trial and error of different Velcro adjustments. The addition of extra colours and a variety of sizes is very welcome as well. 

In summary, PPSS have designed a stab vest that’s both functional and hardwearing, as well as practical, relatively lightweight, and easy to use. Both versions are exceptional products.

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PPSS Overt (Black) with Reflective Tape Stab Resistant Body Armour

One potentially negative point regarding black clothing involves wearing it at night. In the dark, black clothes are potentially quite difficult to see, which negates some of their effect as a deterrent. By the time an assailant is close enough to see that you’re wearing a stab vest, they may still decide to try their luck.

If the vest is fitted with reflective tape, however, not only are you more visible, but your armour is better advertised as well. The inclusion of reflective tape here is a nice bonus that allows you to be safer and more visible at night. 

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PPSS Overt (Navy Blue) Stab Resistant Body Armour

If your work uniform is navy blue (or indeed any shade of blue), you may wish to forego the black and go straight for this one. The navy blue has the effect of putting the observer in mind of the police, which subtly implies your authority without overstating it. 

The navy blue variant is therefore very useful in areas where private security firms are filling the gap left by underfunded (and over-stretched) police and community support officers. Obviously, we’re not suggesting that you should ever impersonate a police officer, but there’s something about this colour that slightly evokes ideas of police and authority without ever leaning too heavily on either. 

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PPSS Overt (Navy Blue) with Reflective Tape Stab Resistant Body Armour

Apparently, blue is the world’s most beloved colour. Blue is said to calm and soothe people, which may be useful when the wearer encounters stressful or potentially dangerous situations. This vest is the same shade of navy blue as the previous vest, but features the welcome inclusion of reflective tape. 

Reflective tape is very useful for security operatives (as well as anybody working outside in low light), as it makes the wearer so much more visible. Visibility of security personnel is an important deterrent to violence or other criminal actions, so these strips, combined with the calming, yet authoritative blue, may be of good use to a door supervisor or other outdoor operative. 

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PPSS Overt (Yellow) with Reflective Tape Stab Resistant Body Armour

This is a very useful variant that can act as a hi-vis vest if needs be. It is not reflective, but the inclusion of the same reflective tape featured above covers this nicely. What the yellow version does is advertise your presence, which is very useful in areas where you wish to be highly visible. 

According to experts in colour psychology, yellow is a colour that evokes intellect and inspires inquisitiveness. Yellow encourages feelings of optimism and suggests good things to the person looking at it. This can be very useful if you interact with patrons on a regular basis and wish to be seen as approachable and non-threatening. Essentially, a security operative in yellow is more accessible than one clad in black or blue. 

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The Overall Verdict

Whether worn covertly or overtly, this is a very good vest. It really feels solid and safe when in use. We can totally see why the vest got those CAST certifications, as well as why it is so widely used. There’s no mistaking that this is a high-quality product.

The plates are relatively lightweight, yet are easily tough enough to withstand even the most dangerous knives, spikes, shivs and other sharp objects, while the various purchasing options (e.g The presence of multiple colours, sizes and designs) mean that this vest can be used for almost anything.

Low cost Alternatives

The Guardian G1 Vest

Positive

Extra-strong steel plates on the front and back of the vest (27 overlapping plates)

Large (25 x 30cm) pockets on both the front and the back.

Can withstand 24 joules of kinetic energy.

Includes a carry bag.

Negative

Comes up a little short over the back and front areas.

Could do with a little more Velcro as the end part of the strap sticks outwards.

The security tab is not removable.

The Guardian G1 is a simple, yet smart vest capable of handling most of your safety needs.

This vest has a lot of good qualities, especially with regards to the extra-strong steel plates on the front and back of the vest (there are 27 overlapping plates in all). These protective plates are fashioned from tungsten, a rare metal known for being very hard and durable.

The vest is ranked at level 1, which means that it can withstand 24 joules of kinetic energy, the equivalent of 253kgs worth of force. It is, however, not spike-proof.

The Guardian G1’s outer layers are fashioned from strong, weatherproof oxford cloth, which wipes clean easily and is also machine washable.

This vest also features large (25 x 30cm) pockets on both the front and the back of the garment. These can be used to store added protection layers (including bullet-proof material if required).

The aforementioned pockets feature the word ‘SECURITY’ in big letters, which is printed on and cannot be removed. This limits the jacket’s application to security personnel, although the word could be taped over if the jacket were to be worn by somebody who was not a qualified security practitioner.

On the plus side, the word is bright, clear and easy to read, which is definitely beneficial if the vest is being purchased for security staff to wear.

This vest features a protection area of 0.3 metres, so offers fairly good coverage when contrasted with the rest of its dimensions. The vest’s protection area has a height of 100mm, a length of 50mm and a thickness of 0.6mm.

The sizes offered range from M to XXL. It could be a little bigger, in all honesty, as the back and front areas wind up feeling a little bit short. The vest’s design is aimed at both men and women.

This vest is lightweight (by stab vest standards), weighing only 2.7kgs. This means that it can be worn over long periods without causing serious injury or discomfort. It also offers the wearer a high degree of flexibility and movement and will not impede a security worker from doing his or her job.

Additionally, the Guardian G1 is fully adjustable, featuring well-made shoulder and stomach straps. These straps are fashioned from high quality Velcro and will not come unstuck until the vest is purposefully removed.

A negative point here, however, is that there isn’t quite enough Velcro on the straps. This means that the straps stick outward further than they should, which could be annoying for some wearers. Another negative factor is the fact that the security tab cannot be removed.

One nice feature, however, is the weatherproof carry bag that this vest comes with. This free gift allows the vest to be kept dry when not in use, which is definitely a plus point, as it would be potentially quite tough to fit into a standard backpack.

All in all, the Guardian G1 is a good product with a lot of excellent features. It’s potentially a little on the small side and suffers from one or two other minor flaws, but it is well made and offers good coverage overall.

The Timbert Vest

Positives

Breathable, light weight and covert

5 layers of reinforced High Manganese Tungsten Steel

Metal parts cover approximately 95% of the vest

Can withstand 24 joules of kinetic energy.

Negatives

Comes in one size only

Smart, lightweight and highly durable, the Timbert vest was obviously designed with practicality and functionality right at the forefront.

The vest itself is fashioned from 6000D nylon. Nylon is generally quite a bit tougher than most other fabrics. It is often used in tactical vests and banner signs, among many other things. While nylon isn’t quite as breathable as cotton or some other fabrics, it is weatherproof and very strong.

In this case, the use of nylon (arranged in a netting design) actually allows more breathability to the fabric, which will be very useful if the vest is going to be worn for extended periods of time, especially in warmer weather.

Adding to this feature is the vest’s weight, which, at just 2.3kgs makes it one of the lightest vests we’ve seen. The Timbert stab vest will not impede movement and attaches via a padded hook-and-loop enclosure, which allows the wearer to adjust the vest to suit their specific size, sex and/or body type.

The protective area of this vest covers approximately 95% of the overall surface area of the garment, covering the wearer’s chest, back and sides (an often overlooked area). Reliable protection is achieved via 5 layers of high manganese tungsten steel. The inclusion of multiple protective layers, forged from a combination of three of the toughest materials on Earth, will help the wearer to feel a lot safer.

This vest is scored at level 1, meaning that it will withstand 24 joules of kinetic energy, which is the equivalent of 253kgs worth of force. It is worth pointing out that this vest, along with most others, is not spike proof, though it does offer some improved coverage by dint of having a better protective area than many other vests.

Additionally, because the vest is lightweight and rather thin, as well as slightly better at hugging the contours of the wearer’s body (even the waistline is adjustable), it can be discreetly worn beneath a layer of outdoor clothing.

The vest is not machine washable, which is a negative point, but only requires a wipe down with a sponge to clean, rather than full immersion in detergent and warm water.

It also offers no option to add extra elements, so this vest can never be ‘bulked up’ or made bulletproof should the wearer wish to do either.

Overall, this is a streamlined, (some might stay ‘stripped back’) vest that combines design efficiency with high functionality. It is lightweight, comfortable to wear and well made, definitely among the best we’ve seen so far.