HESCO Ballistic Plates: Protection at Every Level

HESCO has a longstanding history of providing various Personal Protective Equipment, specifically its varied “series” of body armor, to the consumer. These series range from professional body armor utilizing complex composites, to affordable civilian ceramic models that still retain the same overall protective qualities—many of which still bear certification by the National Institute of Justice.

HESCO’s body armor comes in a variety of  “cuts” that define their applicability. This includes; Shooters Cut (SH), Law Enforcement Full Cut (LE), and SAPI Cut (SA). In the past HESCO has offered full-cut plates, but has since discontinued the design. All of HESCO’s plates are Multicurve (MC) and come in a range of sizes from Small to XLarge. Select models also include Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) materials or a polyurea coating for added mechanical abrasion resistance. All of HESCO’s plate models offer edge-to-edge protection, with some offering a 2mm thick bumper/padding around the outer edges of the plate for comfort and drop-protection.

800 Series

For the -800 Series designator, these plates constitute the flagship product for  HESCO body armor that blends lightweight materials to attain plates with NIJ Level III and IV certification (to include others with the non NIJ-recognized “+” and Special Threat profiles). Each plate is made with a composite core utilizing a water-resistant Honeywell composite called SPECTRA This material works to maintain the overall plate’s protective profile despite any effects of multiple strikes. Then the plate is enclosed in a water-resistant, polyurethane Cordura fabric that adds to the plate’s overall structure and durability. Depending on its size, NIJ rating, and cut, the -800 Series has a thickness between 0.67 and 1.12 inches, and a weight between 1.4 pounds (for a Small Shooter’s Cut plate) to 6.8 pounds (for an XL Level IV Standalone SAPI plate). It should be noted that the variance in weight between 800 models is due to differences in material with some made with ceramic, and not in others.

600 Series

Within the -600 Series, these plates are designed with added padding to be worn for longer durations or combat patrols while maintaining the full range of motion and protection needed. Available in Level III+ (which is to say is NIJ certified Level III, with the non-NIJ recognized “+” designator for an added protection profile provided by HESCO) and as a NIJ Level IV Stand Alone, this Series incorporates many of the same features as the -800 Series. Depending on its size, NIJ rating, and cut, the -600 Series has a thickness between 1.05 and 1.18 inches, and a weight between 4.1 pounds (for a Small Level III Shooters Cut plate) to 8.8 pounds (for an XL Level IV Standalone SAPI plate).

400 Series

As the more cost-effective solution for civilians, the -400 Series by HESCO is has a traditional ceramic core with a more cost-effective backer, and is enclosed in a 1000D Cordura nylon wrap. Available in NIJ Level III and as a NIJ Level IV Stand Alone, this Series incorporates some of the features as the -800 Series to include composite materials and rigidity. Depending on its size, NIJ rating, and cut, the -400 Series has a thickness between 0.93 and 1.22 inches, and a weight between 2.1 pounds (for a Small Level III Shooters Cut plate) to 9.1 pounds (for an Large Level IV Standalone SAPI plate).

200 Series

Promoted as a low-visibility, cost-effective means for the consumer to obtain light-weight body armor, the -200 Series offer a variety of specialized protective profiles for NIJ IIIA (handgun) and HESCO’s Special Threat capabilities for 5.56 and 7.62. Depending on its size, protective rating, and cut, the -200 Series has a thickness between 0.27 and 0.68 inches, and a weight between 0.6 pounds (for a Small Level IIIA Shooters Cut plate) to 7.8 pounds (for an XLarge Level Special Threat Standalone SAPI plate).

100 Series

Augmenting HESCO’s diverse product line are its -100 series of side armor that offers protective ratings from NIJ IIIA, III, and IV as well as HESCO’s III+ and Special Threat profiles. These augment plate carriers by increasing the protective surface area around the side of the torso that would otherwise expose vital areas to threats from the side. The side plates vary in dimension based on protective rating but consist of 5×7, 6×8, or 7×9 and can weigh as little as 0.3 pounds (for trauma plates) to 2.5 pounds (for single curve Level III+ side plate).


Product Evaluation Scores:

  • Cost – Average (3/5): HESCO offers a large variety of protective plates, from the inexpensive -200 Series (the cheapest of which ranges between $150-$190 depending on retailer) to the more advanced -800 series (that can be upwards of $1300 per plate depending on retailer and threat profile). The defining aspect to the cost of HESCO plates is determined by the associated threat profile, materials, and cut/size/dimensions. For instance a Large Level IV 4800 Series plate ($1300) represents the higher or more exotic end of HESCO production, whereas a Large 4400 Series plate ($230) is slightly heavier, and made from more traditional ceramics and thus more affordable to civilians. In contrast, a Large Level IV 26148 Series Plate ($280) from LTC, a Level IV 4S17M Series Plate ($299) from Chase Tactical, or a Level IV 1155 Series Plate ($135) from RMA Defense illustrate that the diverse lineup of HESCO plates are at an appropriate (or average cost) to the consumer amid the current market of alternatives.
  • Comfort – Good (4/5): The good overall comfort of HESCO plates stemmed from its curvature and weight to each plate. The latter of which also comes from the associated base materials. A majority of HESCO’s plates are multi-curved (a select few have only a single curve), which gave them a comfortable contour and good fit to the upper torso—with full range of motion capable in the arms and shoulder pocket. Obviously the plates made from UHMWPE were extremely lightweight, and even floated, but as Level III+ plates they lacked that full, Level IV protection found in other, heavier ceramic-based plates. The consumer should note the need to invest in the appropriately sized plate for their torso, so as to avoid the corners of the plates poking or digging unnecessarily. Moreover, the reality is that heavier plates will pull on the upper torso and shoulders more, but lighter plates (unless made from advanced materials) often lack more protective threat profiles so finding that right comfort level is a balance between weight, cost, and threat profile the consumer should consider.
  • Durability – Good (4/5): From a durability aspect, HESCO’s products have all undergone extensive scientific testing and factory development, as well as testing from the National Institute of Justice. This ends with HESCO’s various plates appearing in the Compliant Product Listing of certified body armor. This meant that under controlled scientific settings; which includes a drop test, submersion test, and the ballistic test, the certified plates (Level III and IV) are known to defeat AT A MINIMUM the associated ballistic threat profiles. The durability of HESCO’s ballistic plates centered around its multi-layer design whereby plates like the -8/600 have a proprietary blend of HESCO core materials like SPECTRA, and an outer nylon layer that yields a consistent lighter weight ratio. The -400 series had the same multi-layer design, but had the traditional ballistic core of aluminum oxide ceramic, a fiberglass backer, and padding on the strike face wrapped in the more inexpensive Cordura nylon. Most Series also include a 2mm “bumper” of padding material around the outer edges to help prevent drop damage with the exclusion of plates made with a sprayed on polyurea coating. HESCO has had problems in the past in manufacturing, specifically in 2016, 2018, and most recently in 2019 with its 4600 and 3610 Series that could best be attributed to rapid growth demands and management issues. Since those issues were resolved, and HESCO addressed the issue by providing recall exchanges, HESCO has continued to be among the world supplier of body armor holding multiple government and private contracts.
  • Functionality – Good (4/5): Consumers should remember how the NIJ’s certification on body armor translates to functionality, and what threats the consumer feels are most probable for their stated environment. Level IV plates for instance, have a very specific threat profile and are tested to precisely defeat projectiles traveling upwards AT A MAXIMUM of 3200fps at the point of impact. If projectiles are moving faster (such as with high velocity ammunition), there will more than likely be a penetration if the plate’s ballistic core cannot hold. So it makes sense for the consumer to carefully consider what function is needed out of their plates, as HESCO offers seven different models of ballistic plates at all NIJ ratings. Moreover, HESCO does offer 10 alternative plates with enhanced coverage (marked with either a “+” or “Special Threat” description) whereby they are manufactured to meet certain NIJ levels (such as Level III for rifle), but have added materials or composite to expand its protective threat level to include defeating other common calibers (such as 7.62×39) outside of the stated NIJ certified level. As a fair warning to the consumer, those enhanced coverage ratings are not certified by the NIJ, and are determined by the manufacturer (i.e. HESCO) through third-party laboratories. Furthermore, consumers need to be cognizant that trauma or comfort pads are highly recommended for thinner plates like the 200 Series, because while such plates are rated for a special threat (i.e. 5.56 at 3200fps) there is simply less material available to absorb the back face trauma into the chest and more padding or protection will mitigate the severe trauma from happening.
  • Weight – Good (4/5): With 17 models of ballistic plates to choose from, HESCO plates ranged in weight from 0.6 pounds (for a Small -200 Series) to 9.1 pounds (for a Large -400 Series). Thus, there is a large variety of HESCO plates at various weights to consider. For instance, a Large Level IV 4800 Series plate (4.9 pounds) utilizes more advanced materials to keep the weight to a minimum, whereas a Large 4400 Series plate (7.9 pounds) is slightly heavier. In contrast, a Large Level IV 26148 Series Plate (8.76 pounds) from LTC, a Level IV 4S17M Series Plate (7.2 pounds) from Chase Tactical, or a Level IV 1155 Series Plate (8.3 pounds) from RMA Defense illustrate that HESCO’s plates are at a good weight within the current market having both excellent lightweight options, and average.

Overall Rating – Above Average (19/25)

Product Link: https://www.hesco.com

I am reviewing this product as a courtesy to the manufacturer and via STL Shooting Enthusiasts, so that I can evaluate it and provide my honest feedback. I am not bound by any written, verbal, or implied contract to give positive reviews. All views are my own, and based off my personal experience with the product.

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