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Different Levels Of Body Armor

We have established that body armor offers substantial protection from various threats. You have a right to know what threat levels your body armor can protect at. For that, the National Institute of Justice has developed a performance standard tier for body armor that allows the user to know what they are protected from. The NIJ classification is the single most important feature that you should look for when shopping for body armor.

The NIJ classifies body armor into five different threat levels. The levels are Level IIA, Level II, Level IIIA, Level III, and Level IV. The levels are designated based on the product's ability to stop specified rounds at specified velocities. 

And, Yes, the higher the NIJ classification, the more protection it offers against more powerful rounds. However, the NIJ classification does not account for multiple hit capability or the total weight of the armor. Because of these two factors, you might want to choose the armor that is the most likely situation that you may encounter, rather than body armor that is just the highest level of protection. You must be able to obtain mobility and carry the weight of the body armor. To maintain your safety and maneuverability, your body armor must fit correctly, and if you use armor that is not attached to your body, you must know how to use it as a protection shield against an immediate threat. 

Classic Firearms Lightweight M.A.C (Modular Armor Carrier)


NIJ LEVEL IIA - For the most part, this is an outdated level of protection, but this is only because higher levels of protection with more concealability qualities now exist. This level of protection is the lowest level that is currently available. This level is typically a soft armor, manufactured with multiple layers of ballistic fibers. This level of protection is usually found in soft body armor vests. 

Although it is the lowest level of protection by body armor, it is still bullet-resistant gear. Even at this level, this classification of body armor can stop a 9mm (FMJ) traveling at 1165 ft./sec., and a .40 S&W (FMJ) at 1065 ft./sec. Level IIA still has attributes and benefits however. This level is usually found in the most concealable, flexible, lightest, and comfortable body armor or armor carrier.


NIJ LEVEL II - Level II armor is also most likely soft body armor. At this level the armor must stop a 9mm (FMJ) projectile traveling 1245 ft./sec., and a .357 Magnum (JSP) round traveling at 1430 ft./sec.

Just like Level IIA, Level II is concealable, lightweight, and comfortable. The difference is that the Level II armor provides significantly more protection from blunt force trauma caused by the kinetic energy when the bullet hits the vest. Level II is designed to stop most of the common handgun rounds. 

Premier Body Armor Level II Bulletproof Koozie

NIJ LEVEL IIIA - Again, this level is commonly found in soft body armor. However, Level IIIA can be found in ballistic shields and some hard armor plates. NIJ Level IIIA requires that at this level, the armor should be able to stop at least a .357 SIG (FMJ FN), traveling at a speed of 1470 ft./sec., and a .44 Magnum (SJHP) traveling at 1430 ft./sec. 

Premier Body Armor Level IIIA Bag Armor Insert Black Vertx SATCH/ESSE

NIJ LEVEL III - At Level III, we start transitioning from soft body armor vests to ballistic plates and panels, commonly called ballistic body armor plates, hard armor plates, or rifle plates. At this level, the armor should be able to withstand 6 shots spaced at short intervals of a 7.62mm x 51 NATO (FMJ) 147-grain bullet traveling at 2780 ft./sec. The military designation for the above round is the M80, it is also very similar to the hunting round of .308 Winchester. The cheapest option of Level III body armor is steel body armor plates, they are also the heaviest option, weighing in at 8-10 pounds. There are more expensive body plates that can weigh as little as 3 pounds. 

Premier Body Armor Fortis 1.0 Level III Ballistic Plate

NIJ LEVEL IV - Level IV armor is the highest rated hard armor plates available under NIJ Standards. These plates must be able to withstand one round of 7.62mm Armor-Piercing ammo fired from a rifle and traveling 2880 ft./sec. Level IV ballistic plates are only tested at one shot in comparison to Level III which is tested with six shots. In some instances, Level III hard armor plates are better than Level IV hard armor plates. 

Level IV armor plates are also known as Special Threat Plates. Besides meeting the standards of an NIJ certification at this level, there are other standards that bullet resistance at Level IV must meet for military use, such as the U.S Military's SAPI standards. So the answer to the question that everyone asks is "yes, Level IV armor plates can stop an AK-47 and AR-15.


In the current day and times that we are in, most of us are looking for protection against handguns and shotguns, which means that you will want soft body armor. If you need protection from rifle threats, then consider Level III to Level IV, remember to take into account the weight and mobility that could be restrictive with Level IV armor.

If you don't want to be obvious about wearing your body armor, select a Level IIA or II vest. 

But what if you could get Level IIIA protection and still be discreet with your armor? That's completely possible. There is a really cool armor device that can give you that protection. It comes in an armor panel designed for carrying in the laptop compartment of any backpack. At only .22 inches wide, the Premier Body Armor Panel is constructed with the finest Kevlar made in the United States and encased with a rugged 500 Denier Cordura outer shell. You and every member of your family could have the confidence of protection when outfitted with this armor and bullet resisting panel. Suggestion: Pick a panel at least 1 smaller than the listed internal dimensions of your bag.


I will state the obvious in saying that the best defense is not to get shot at all, but in circumstances that are out of your control, you will feel a level of safety when wearing or carrying an armored protection plate or panel. Select your armor using the NIJ Levels as a reference to what will suit your needs. A good fit, easily accessible, flexible, comfortable, and mobility is as important as the bullet-resistant materials used in your gear.

It is always better to over-prepare than to not prepare at all. It doesn't matter what type of soft body armor vest you choose, I would recommend pairing it with a blunt trauma plate. Although the bullet-resistant vest or rifle plate will stop a projectile from penetrating into your body, a lot of kinetic energy from the shot is transferred through the vest or plate and absorbed by the upper body. You will definitely feel where you have been hit, but a trauma plate and soft armor backers will mitigate much of the energy and reduce your chances of serious injury.

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