So when I saw these awesome pieces on SoldierSystems I knew I had to see if I could get some too. Stephen Guiney of ExoSkel was kind enough to get back in touch with me and as it happened was traveling on my side of the planet, and hooked me up with a pair. I've worn a variety of shin-guards in the past, through both my LRP days, roller-blading and when I've been doing a variety of adventurous things I'd rather not crack a shin whilst doing. I've worn several different kinds of knee-pads in the past, but these are something entirely different.
Constructed from an advanced polymer, with closed cell foam backing and heavy duty stirrup strap, buckles and webbing and Fastex-type calf straps, these are some very rugged and rigid shin pads, which come in at only 500g (1.1lbs) apiece. They come with Self Extinguishing Fire Resistance, which is UL94 VO rating.
The most striking aspect of the guards is of course the five rows of teeth that make up the face of the guards. These are sculpted directly into the face of the guard, each with a downwards facing slope and butted tip, these are designed to grab and hold any surface that you happen to be scrambling over.
Where in regular climbing situations the usual rule is "3 points of contact; feet and hands only" in practice, and in stressful situations this goes right out the window. When going through a window, up a ravine, over a wreck or refuse, knees, shins and elbows all come into play. That is when something like the Exoskel's come into their own.
The guards (teeth, buckle, stirrups) hold in excess of 450 kg (1000lbs) when vertically loaded, which is equivalent to a drop of 150kg (330lbs) from 50cm (19"). The good folks at Exoskel went as far as to explain these figures as the following: "The measured strength of the dynamically loaded Exoskel products tested was higher than the maximum dynamic load estimated for an assumed in-field loading scenario with a 330 lb (150 kg) user and a 19 in (50 cm) drop onto a hard object."
A 50cm drop is a long way to expect any wearable piece of retention gear to take when that laden. My 215Gear Retention Lanyard is 17" long and stretches to 26" meaning you are limited to a maximum of a 26" drop, and that is a dedicated safety line. These are not designed for that kind of thing.This is a climbing aid, not a safety tool.
In fact, Exoskel stress their product is to be used for stabilization assistance and lower limb protection only. It is not a climbing safety device or harness.
That said, I was quite happy with dangling myself off a packing crate with a shin on each rung, no problems. I have tried them on a variety of surfaces and materials now, and have been really pleased with both the bite and stability of those teeth. Where normally I've felt the need to kneel up onto a surface, committing that much of a lunge to my ascent, being able to go "half-way" with a shin gave me a lot more scope to choose how I ascend, and potentially limit my exposure in doing so.
I took this shot to show the tooth-marks the Exoskel's put into the hardwood packing crate I posed these pictures on. You can clearly see the three splintered spots where I moved up and down, and also the two divots in the corner where I dangled.
Very impressive, I must say.
Some of the excellent additional features they come with, such as the emergency stirrup replacement and calf-strap holes, which enable the user to use up to 12mm (½") rope / cord to tie the guards back on in the case of breakage. There are also guide-holes divoted into the perimeter of the guard to enable drilling and sewing of the guard directly to pants.
The channeled foam lining not only helped with the breathability issues often found with form-fitting guards, but the design, and thickness as well as the exterior shell itself added considerable impact protection. I'm no kick-boxer, nor did I take a sledge-hammer to my legs, but I kicked a few trees, and clubbed myself a few times to gauge the kinds of impacts I might expect to take and resist, and didn't come close to bothering myself. I'm pretty sure I'd have lost footing before the guard broke. You can even wear them over existing knee-guards, depending on the fits.
As a Close Quarter Battle tool, or restrain device, I can only imagine how unpleasant it would be to be on the receiving end of a kick with one of these, or to be knelt on, but I have little doubt as to their effectiveness as a compliance tool, if needed.
They were quick to fit and remove, whilst being comfortable and stable for day-to-day wear, and low profile enough that I didn't find myself snagging on anything. This is a really great innovation and I'll be adding them to my adventuring kit, for sure!