At first when encountering the Ops-Core SOTR I was looking forward to seeing what made this respirator stand out from other cheaper units on the market and what features contributed to the £385 (integrated communications unit) price tag. At first glace the Ops-Core SOTR seems very much the same as any other half face respirator available in the current market, however on closer inspection there are a vast amount of features that make this unit stand head and shoulders above its competition.
When I first saw this item listed for sale, with the heavy price tag Ops-Core had attached to it, I had the same initial impression as I believe 90% of most end users had…….”you can buy one of these for £30!” and believe me when I say you are not mistaken, 3m make a vast amount respiratory products which are readily available on the civilian market at a much lower and affordable price, however as most of us know if this unit has the Ops-core name on it, it will be anything but basic!
Ops-core as a company belong to the much larger Gentex Corporation who started their journey 125 years ago with one goal in mind and that was to innovate the way in which we protect ourselves in high risk environments as well as providing the most up to date a highest quality protection equipment for industrial personnel, emergency responders and defense forces throughout the world.
(Gentex) Ops-Core’s venture into the respiratory market began in 1969 when they purchased Californian based Protection, Inc of Pomona. Protection Inc where specialists in the aviation field when it came to custom helmet manufacturing and worked closely with the worlds leading test pilots. Gentex used this expertise to transform their Californian location into their design and manufacturing facility for the latest in respiratory production and innovation. In 1992 Gentex decided to relocate to Rancho Cucamonga and to this day their innovation in respiratory systems and their systems capabilities lead the global market in oxygen masks, chemical and biological respirators, other associated protection equipment and accessories.
Now with the brief introduction out of the way and the establishing fact that Ops-Core are globally recognized as the leading innovators within the military respiratory market, lets get into the details of what makes this respirator worth its price tag and what features we should expect to find when using this product.
When purchasing the SOTR, dependent on version, there are several items you can expect to find accompanying the main respirator in the box
- Ops-Core SOTR respirator
- 2 x Rubber 1-way Exhalation Valves
- 2 x Particulate Ops-Core filters
- Ops-Core 3m communications Cable for integrated communications mic
- Gentex Yoke
- SOTR harness for non-helmet application
- SOTR helmet harness
- Ops-Core instruction manual
When opening the box, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many included extras with this product, recently it seems that many high-end manufacturers sell base products before charging premium prices for optional extras. Ops-Core have delivered with this unit giving the end user the option for helmet mounted capabilities, should the situation require it, as well as the general head harness for applications within a lower risk environment. The strap application for the SOTR operate with a press stud fixture system, making for quick change abilities if switching from one harness to another in quick succession, however still offering a secure fit in 4 locations across the face of the SOTR. The rear of the head harness offers a comfortable, smooth texture, plastic 2 step harness, fitting securely over the top and around the rear of the end user’s head. The second elasticated fabric strap of the SOTR secures around the top of the user’s neck via an adjustable Velcro strip.
When using the helmet harness the application of the SOTR is slightly varied and requires the user to loosen the helmet retention system and allow it to secure below the users chin, then whilst applying the SOTR to your face extend the helmet harness straps in unison before affixing them to the rear of the helmet via the Velcro retention tabs.
So now let’s get into the features of this unit and why the Ops-Core SOTR stands above all other respiratory units on the market!
The SOTR has been manufactured with protection at its for front and has driven the design processing of this product to the highest level of protection, the first thing to mention is that the SOTR’s filtration system offers a 99.97% filtration efficiency when combating harmful particles in the air. There are many airborne hazards, of which we as end users of this product where unaware where harmful to our respiratory system, for example asbestos, lubricant mist, lead, and explosive gunfire residue. One important aspect to pay attention to in relation to gunfire residue is recent scientific studies have shown that, particularly military personal, when exposed to long sustained periods of range training or live fire exercises are unknowingly subjected to long periods of lead exposure. Lead exposure in the military is a growing concern, studies show that before undergoing basic training lead levels in participants blood where non-existent and at correct levels, however after undergoing both basic and subsequent advanced training programs 21% and 81% respectively had detectable levels of lead within their blood. The SOTR has been developed with these issues in mind thus leading Ops-Core to develop their most effective filtration system to date to help counteract these effects and limit long term health issues.
The SOTR is available in both non microphone and on-board microphone variations, the use of the onboard microphone model enables users to connect the SOTR directly to various Ops-Core headsets and replaces the use of a boom/fist mic for communications. The in-built microphone contained within the SOTR is a cardioid broad range microphone enabling the microphone to remain unaffected by the surrounding noise from the operational valves whilst in use. The SOTR is compatible with standard radio communications. The onboard microphone is positioned directly centered to receive clear and concise communications from the user, however the position of the microphone is also directly related to the inhalation and exhalation valves located on the SOTR.
The front facing inhalation filtration unit is centrally positioned to provide maximum field of view to the user when wearing the respirator and making for quick and easy single-handed filtration exchange when needed. Coupled with the single inhalation valve are two symmetrically located exhalation rubber coated valves, the rubber covers located on the exterior of the SOTR allow the user, when applying the mask, to get a secure and sealed fit to the users face as well as providing protection from particle penetration during operational use.
The base section of the SOTR is constructed from non malleable rubber, redefined to mould to the users facial geometry whilst retaining its shape and secure seal but also allowing maximum comfort of fit for operational and training use which may require the SOTR to be worn for long periods of time.
The included communications cable enables the user to connect the communications model directly to an Ops-Core headset, be it the AMP or RAC headset. The inclusion of this cable allows for immediate use out of the box and is the high-end quality we have come to expect from Ops-Core and 3M respectively. This cable is also compatible with certain 3m headsets (including peltor) and Invisio headsets.
Initial Testings and Findings
After several days of usage with the Ops-Core SOTR, in which the unit has been worn for several hours at a time, I can say that in my opinion it is clear to see why this device has been rated so highly throughout the military community and by private users throughout. The SOTR offered nothing but comfort and made the use of every item and piece of equipment very smooth with zero obstruction. The use of the single centrally located filter helps to avoid any snags on Bergen/day sack straps, slings and other equipment usually associated with getting hung up. The shape and fit of the SOTR has enabled me to run multiple variations of ear protection and eye protection without restricting fitment as well as fitting comfortably in place with other Ops-Core manufactured products such as the Step in visor and AMP headset.
The SOTR ventilation system also stops any unwanted condensation build up when in use in warmer environments and based on its design has stopped the “wet face” build up associated with other issued respiratory systems.
In my personal opinion the Ops-Core SOTR, although being on the expensive side of the market, is a great piece of kit to have in any arsenal, it is clear to me that this unit has been created with the user in mind and not a item Ops-Core can slap their name on and charge consumers top end prices for. The features of this item are exceptional and I could quite easily continue to talk about the amount of benefits it possess over other rival units, but I don’t want to bore you. If you are looking for the best of the best in respiratory protection then I would suggest looking no further than the SOTR as an all round, high end personal piece of respiratory protection equipment.