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Every set of armor you can forge in MH3U has a "Defense" stat. Arzuros armor sports a higher defense than Jaggi Armor, and Barroth Mail sports a defense higher than both.

However, all armor can be upgraded, which increases its "Defense" value. One of the NPCs in Moga Village even mentions off-handedly, "If you like the look of a particular armor, why not upgrade it and keep it around?"

So a couple of related questions: How many times can I "Level" a particular piece of armor? Is there a cap on defense? If I find a particular combination of stats / appearance I like (say... Ludroth armor), will it always be a decent option, or will higher level armors (within the same Rank, anyway) eventually totally eclipse it?

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The number of times you can increase the level of an armor depends on the armor set. Typically, the number averages to around 7 to 8. As for your second question, it depends on what rank you're at.

Typically, at Low Rank, you are a bit more reliant on the armor's innate defense partially as a buffer for lack of experience in hunting. As you get to higher Hunter Ranks, you'll find that your Defense stat becomes less and less important. While you typically never want to bring Low Rank armor sets to High Rank or G-rank hunts, an armor set with a set of armor skills and coherent playstyle in mind is far more valuable and viable than a mish-mash of the "best" armor you can put together.

Armor skills are always more valuable than cut-and-dry stats simply because they have a bigger multiplier effect to your skill. Anyone can take a hit and survive if they have a high enough Defense stat, but armor skills let you evade attacks more easily so you can continue to deal damage instead of having to wait to get back up.

For that matter, elemental resistances scale the same way. You'll want to avoid bringing thunder-weak armors to Lagiacrus fights when you're Low Rank, but as you get better and better at hunting, you can find yourself hunting those Lagis in full Narga armor with the best of them.

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