It has to be said: Bluegrass have knocked it out of the park with their new Armour line-up of MTB back protectors. The Armour Lite and the B&S D3O have been completely redesigned for 2020. They now offer far more than just back protection; they are also hydro-pack compatible, taking bladders of up to 1 Litre, and offer three storage pockets for carrying trailside essentials. We got both versions in for testing, to check out usability, fit, comfort and value for money. Here are our thoughts.
2020 Bluegrass Armour Back (and shoulder) Protection
For this model year, the Bluegrass Armour Lite and B&S (back & shoulder) D3O MTB back protectors have new fabric, a new fit, improved modularity and hydro compatibility. The fabric is lightweight, stretchable, very well ventilated and super fast-drying. For a product not typically worthy of those adjectives, Bluegrass have done a very good job of integrating solid CE-marked protection into back protection vests without making the wearer look like they are preparing for armageddon.
Review: Bluegrass Armour Lite
As an enduro rider, the Bluegrass Armour Lite was the back protection vest I gravitated towards most. I liked its minimalist design. It looked light, body-hugging and well ventilated, all of which I am happy to confirm it is. And it is CE marked, certified to EN 1621-2 Level 1. This satisfies the criteria stipulated for racing in certain Enduro World Series events, therefore it satisfies me.
The Armour Lite is available in four sizing options; S, M, L and XL. I opted for the small, recommended for chest circumferences of 84cm-90cm, a waist size of 73cm-79cm and a torso length of 40cm-44cm. Sitting comfortably within those ranges the vest was a good fit. It wasn’t super tight, which meant that there was room for layering up in cold winter months, and additional stretch to allow for stuffing the pockets with trailside essentials. Bluegrass state a claimed weight of 415g; we weighed it at ~390g.
For 2020, the Bluegrass Armour Lite back protection vest is €10 cheaper than the 2019 iteration, priced at €130 (£120). To offer an attractive price, but still upgrade the fabrics, add water bladder compatibility and pockets, Bluegrass decided to swap out the D3O back protector for a 3-layer EVA foam insert. Bluegrass say this hasn’t compromised the safety of the back protection vest. The vest and EVA foam back protector together are CE Certified to the EN 1621-2, Level 1 standard.
The Bluegrass Armour Lite back protection vest now has 3 pockets at the rear. The central pocket is the largest and the only one with a zip. In here, my iPhone 7 and Topeak multi tool fit comfortably. In the side pockets, I usually stuff trailside snacks and gels or spare gloves. I tend to carry more of these items than I need just to be sure they fit snugly in the pockets. One gel on its own would definitely bounce out and become trail trash.
The Armour Lite easily accommodates a 1 Litre bladder, housed within the same compartment as the EVA foam back protector. At the rear you’ll find two exit holes for the hose. At the front you’ll find two loops, one on each shoulder, to secure the hose. Thus, you can position the hose on the shoulder that suits you best.
We really, really like the Bluegrass Armour Lite, and would definitely recommend it. For me, it has been the perfect addition to my pack-less set-up, allowing me to carry a litre of water, snacks and some trailside essentials all on my person. But you can carry all that in a bag?! Yes, but once you go pack-less you never go back. I love the freedom of riding without a pack, and the Bluegrass Armour Lite allows me to do that while still offering CE Certified protection. It’s way lighter than a pack, and eons cooler (temperature). We’ve had no qualms with the zips or fabric. It’s a quality piece.
Can we fault it? Yes, but we’re hard pushed. The fabric at the pockets could be a little more elastic, to hold small items more securely. A small clamp at the front shoulder regions, to secure the bladder hose in place would also have been a welcome addition.
Review: Bluegrass Armour B&S D3O
The Bluegrass Armour B&S D3O offers CE Certified D3O protection to both the rider’s back and shoulders. The vest is composed of the same open-mesh, lightweight, breathable fabric as seen on the Armour Lite, thus I feel this too is a quality piece. Housed inside the sleeves are the removable D3O pads. Bluegrass claim a weight of 690g. With the pads in, we weighed it lighter at 630g.
I have to say, I thought I was going to look and feel like Michelin man in this. Or like I was preparing for battle. I was however, pleasantly surprised. It feels light on. Movement is free and unhindered. Despite the padding on the chest, I didn’t feel like I was getting squashed (cup size C, ladies).
Of course, the B&S D3O Bluegrass Armour MTB back protector is a lot more noticeable when riding than the Armour Lite, owing to the sizable shoulder pads. When pedalling along, you will notice the edges of the pads pressing into your upper arm. It never became uncomfortable, it was just noticeable. For this reason, I never wore the B&S Armour when I knew I was doing a long day in the saddle. Instead, I used it for uplift days, where the focus was on descending and the risk taking was a little higher.
As with the Armour Lite, the B&S D3O protector can house a 1 Litre bladder, and boasts three pockets at the rear, one of which is zippered.
We struggle to fault this back and shoulder protector from Bluegrass. The fit is very good, with the important D3O back and shoulder protectors held securely in place by the open-mesh stretchable fabric. It better suits days in the bike park than long pedally days out in the saddle. If anything, we’d prefer the fabric at the pockets to be a bit tighter to hold small items more securely, and a small clamp to hold the bladder hose in place would also have been a welcome addition. Otherwise, this is a quality piece of kit that I recommend to anyone looking for some lightweight back and shoulder protection for summer bike park laps.
Pricing & Availability
At €130, the Lite Bluegrass Armour MTB back protector vest is slightly cheaper than comparable competitors on the market, such as the Sweet Protection Back protector Vest, and a lot cheaper than POC’s Spine VPD 2.0 vest. It offers more features, with the hydro-pack compatibility and the pockets for stashing snacks and important items, but it lacks a big waist strap to hold the bottom of the back protector securely in place. On the whole, I’d say the Armour Lite is pretty good value for money.
The Bluegrass B&S D30 Armour will set you back €190. As it offers CE Certified protection for both the back and shoulders, there isn’t much out there that’s actually comparable. The EVOC enduro shirt offers only chest and shoulder protection, while the Leatt 3DF Airfit only offers shoulder protection. The IXS Carve is the only real direct competitor. It is similarly priced at €189, but doesn’t look to be anywhere near as breathable as the Bluegrass Armour.
The 2020 Bluegrass Armour MTB back protectors are available now, direct from Bluegrass.