You’ve likely seen ads and news stories about “bulletproof” laptop bags—bags capable of carrying your laptop and also protecting you from flying lead when the fan hits the shed.
You’ve also likely wondered whether it was just marketing fluff. I decided to find out the only way you can: By shooting one.
My example bag would be Force Training Institute’s Multi-Threat Shield. Unlike most “bullet-proof” bags that aren’t much larger than a bag, the MTS is designed to unfold quickly into a three-foot long shield. Loops in two different areas let you hold it like a shield. It’s long enough to protect your torso and your head, if you hunch a little.
It’s made of laminated Kevlar and is NIJ Threat Level IIIA rated. That’s the National Institute of Justice’s rating on body armor for police. For soft body armor, Level IIIA is the highest rating and will stop high-velocity 9mm bullets as well as .44 Magnum rounds. That essentially means the MTS is supposed to stop most handgun rounds, as well as those from sub-machine guns and shotgun blasts. FTI says with an additional ceramic plate insert, the bag will also stop rifle rounds, which will cut through all soft body armor.
(Just so you know, the term “bulletproof” is technically incorrect, because nothing is really bulletproof. Some substances, like laminated Kevlar, are bullet-resistant. People still can’t help but call them “bulletproof,” though.)
How we tested
To test the Multi-Threat Shield, we visited the Jackson Arms shooting range in South San Francisco. We placed a coat rack at a distance of eight yards from the firing lane, sandbagged its base for stability, and hung the MTS on it.
The MTS is technically a bag for your gear, so I tossed in something no one would miss: a first-gen iPad. When Technology Island was evacuated, the iPad didn’t make it to the chopper. It can’t run anything anymore, and it’s built like a tank—and weighs about as much. The iPad, mind you, was put into the bag’s pocket on the opposite side where the bullets would hit, so it would be protected by the Kevlar.
I started with the very common .38 Special—a Smith & Wesson model 442 snub-nose revolver. I fired two 125-grain, full-metal-jacket rounds at the top left corner of the bag.
In TV shows and movies, you’ve seen bullets send a person flying across the room, but that doesn’t really happen. If you fired a bullet with enough energy to knock a person back 10 feet, it would send you 10 feet back when you pulled the trigger.
The two .38 Special rounds mildly pushed the MTS to one side before it went back into place. Meh.
The second test round would be the very popular 9mm Parabellum. It’s essentially a .38-caliber-sized bullet, but flying along at a higher velocity and with more muzzle energy—about 338 ft.-lbs. in this case. The round I used was a 115-grain, full-metal-jacket bullet fired from a 4-inch-barrel Glock 19 pistol. I fired three rounds to the upper right quadrant of the bag to see whether multiple hits to the same spot would penetrate the bag. FTI says a stiff plastic insert made of Kydex thermoplastic was used to keep the bag from rolling over when shot. If you’re afraid an edge will bend in, it doesn’t, thanks to the stiff insert and fairly stiff Kevlar too.
The results from the higher-energy rounds? Like the .38 Special, pretty meh, just slightly more movement.
Next, I moved up to the mighty .44 Magnum. Yes, the most powerful movie handgun in the world. It’s so powerful that it’ll blow your laptop clean off your desk. Do you feel lucky, punk?
For the .44 Magnum, I used a 240-grain, hollow-point bullet fired out of a Smith & Wesson Model 29 with an 8⅜-inch barrel—yes, Dirty Harry’s revolver of choice. The bullet I used makes about 900 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle, or almost three times the energy of the 9mm round.
I worried the wooden coat rack might be damaged from the impact of the bullet, but firing the mighty .44 Magnum dead center into the middle of the bag and practically on top of the wooden support produced as little observable movement as the 9mm round.
What? Where’s the Hammer-of-Thor impact I expected? The movies lied to me.
My final test round would use a 12-gauge shotgun. Like the .44 Magnum, there’s a lot of misconceptions about the shotgun. Shotguns fire multiple pellets, typically in different sizes. Most people think that when you squeeze the trigger, the pellets spread out immediately into a giant cloud and move forward. They actually will stay in a small cluster. How large that cloud gets is called the spread, and it depends on a lot of different factors. Because I wanted to put as much energy into one tiny spot as possible, I used Federal LE13300 buckshot in our Remington 870 shotgun. The shell was designed for police use and features a special design that holds the eight pellets together in the air longer. This minimizes the risk that pellets will spread out and strike innocent bystanders. At the eight yards’ distance of the MTS, all eight .33-caliber pellets would strike in roughly a one-inch zone with more energy than even the .44 Magnum.
Finally, the force of the shotgun blast delivered the anticipated result: The buckshot struck the bag about two inches to the left of center, causing it to fly through the air and onto the floor of the shooting range
Did it pass?
After all that shootin’, amazingly, none of the rounds penetrated the MTS—not even the shotgun rounds fired into a one-inch spot.
The MTS thwarted other kinds of assault, too. FTI says the Kydex plastic insert it uses to stiffen the bag also gives it some stab resistance. I took my pocket knife, locked the blade in place, and repeatedly stabbed the bag with as much force as I could muster. My Benchmade Barrage knife in my nerd arms, at least, doesn’t have what it takes to get through.
Once the testing was done, I removed the Kevlar liner and cut it open. The MTS is made of 25 three-foot-long sheets of Kevlar. There are no seams at all where a bullet could slip through.
I peeled back the layers to count how many sheets it took to stop each round. The .38 Special was stopped by a single sheet of Kevlar. The 9mm barely penetrated two sheets. The .44 Magnum dug all the way through five sheets, as did the double-ought buck from the shotgun.
Genius Bar, can you help?
I opened the pouch to check on the iPad. You can see in the image above that it didn’t survive, nor had I expected it to. When I’d inserted the iPad, I placed it in direction you would expect: with the screen facing inward. Deploying the MTS turns the iPad so it faces the impact zone in the middle section of the shield. I suspect the .44 Magnum round likely cracked the screen. The force of the 12-gauge buckshot, however, not only shattered the screen but bent back one corner of the iPad by several inches. Again, it wasn’t actually hit by any bullets or pellets, but you can see it’s no fun to be on the receiving end of all that energy.
It’s clear the Multi Threat Shield lives up to FTI’s claim. It will survive multiple common handgun and shotgun impacts. You should know that the bag’s Kevlar is laminated rather than woven. One concern from some is that it can melt at very high temperatures. If a gun were pressed up against it and rounds were fired repeatedly, the Kevlar could melt and eventually allow penetration.
I didn’t test this scenario, but FTI says it’s tested the MTS using “contact shots” with no melting and no penetration. This is also probably more of a concern for a garment application such as a vest, rather than a bag.
Not much protection for your gear
While the bag is certainly capable of withstanding bullets, it’s really not much of a laptop bag. There’s minimal shock protection and not even much room—you could squeeze in an Ultrabook with a charger and the usual road-warrior accessories, but the pouch won’t fit a 17-inch gaming laptop. It’s also a heavy bag to begin with, at eight pounds empty. Throw in your two-pound laptop and its charger, and you’re talking more than 10 pounds on your shoulder.
This isn’t a bag you pick up on a whim—especially not for $900. It’s a bag you buy because it mimics the looks of a laptop bag. The Velcro-lined pouch is actually supposed to carry a firearm. It’s intended for police and security professionals who might need a three-foot ballistic shield in a pinch, or to supplement their normal body armor. In that regard, it delivers, and how.