October 7, 2016, by Chris Taylor – Body armor should be selected based on a variety of factors, including potential threats expected, utility and comfort as well as environment adaptability. The most important variable, however, is the level of protection it can provide against an array of pistol and blade attacks and the safety it can guarantee.
Based on these criteria, body armor products are categorized into one of six levels. Starting with the lowest at Level I, which offers the least amount of protection, the highest level is IV and it offers the most amount of protection.
This level system allows you to choose your body armor based on the rifle rounds and blade weapons you want it to stop. High-risk situations for security operatives or military personnel typically require higher levels of protection and body armor that is capable of withstanding rifle-piercing rounds as well as melee weapon attacks.
The NIJ Standard
Based on the National Institute of Justice’s rating system for body armor and its requirements, the levels are categorized as follows:
- Level I: Generally not recommended, the lowest level protects only against fragmentation and very low velocity pistol ammunition, such as a. 38 Special and .22 calibers.
- Level IIA: Suitable against vast majority of threats encountered on the street by law enforcement officials, although it does not protect against blunt trauma injuries. It is tested against 9mm and .40 calibers.
- Level II: Considered the best balanced option between blunt trauma protection, cost, and thickness / comfort / concealability. It performs well 9mm and .357 Magnum calibers at higher velocity.
- Level IIIA: Well suited for high-risk situations as it covers more of the uncommon or unusual threats, such as 9mm and 44 Magnum calibers at sub-machine gun velocity.
- Level III: With more comprehensive safety coverage, Level III extends to cover even 7.62mm NATO rounds, which makes it suitable for military personnel and security operatives in high-risk areas.
- Level IV: The highest rating for Body Armor offers protection against armor-piercing .30-06 caliber rounds and all lower level threats.
Body Armor Guidelines
Body armor should be chosen based on the circumstance you would expect to use it in – for example, in riot scenarios, military zones or for patrolling. It should always fit comfortably, although the more comfortable it is – the less ballistic protection it offers.
Soft body armor vests (levels I, IIA and II) are not designed to protect against sharp or edged weapons as well as rifle rounds. Hard or tactical body armor (levels IIIA, III and IV) incorporate ceramic or metal plates and are heavier and bulkier, allowing them to stop armor-piercing rounds.
No level can provide 100% safety from pistol or blade weapons as – close to the edge of the vest or at certain angles bullets and sharp objects can still penetrate the fibers. However, wearing a body vest in the line of duty significantly decreases the likelihood of sustaining serious injury or even death.