Guide to Researching Body Armor

Body Armor 101

Body armor comes in two main forms, hard and soft.  These can be made from different materials such as kevlar, ceramic, steel, titanium, and polyethylene and can be used to protect against anything from a .22 caliber round (level II) to a .30 caliber round (level IV).  It is important to note that body armor is specifically tested to stop different calibers of rounds to offer users the choice to wear lighter, more maneuverable vests with less protection or heavier vests with more protection depending on the perceived threat. For example, many police officers wear a level IIIA vest since they tend to deal with smaller caliber handgun bullets. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan wear level III and Level IV body armor to defeat higher caliber rifle ammo.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ)

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is responsible for the guidelines associated with vests and are the ones that determine the meaning of the different levels.  There are 5 main categories set forth by the NIJ to include Level IIA, Level II, Level IIIA, Level III, and Level IV. There is also a special type of category which allows manufacturers to fit special threat specific vests in their own category.  To give you a better understanding we’ve created a table that includes every type of body armor that is registered under the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

Class of Armor Caliber Explanation

Type II A

9mm, .40 S&W Type II A can only be guaranteed if it’s new and tested against 9mm Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) bullets no larger than 124-grain and no faster than 1,225 ft per second.

Type II A can defend against bullets as large as a .40 S&W FMJ bullet no larger than a 180-grain and no faster than 1,155 ft per second.

According to the NIJ, if Type II A armor is conditioned it can also withstand a new set of requirements, but we have to understand what armor condition is first. The define armor conditioning as, “Environmental and mechanical conditioning of armor prior to ballistic testing, which consists of exposure to specified conditions of temperature, humidity, and mechanical damage”.

If your Type II A armor is conditioned, it can withstand a 9mm FMJ bullet that is no larger than 124-grain and no faster than 1,165 ft per second. In the same conditioning Type II A can handle a 180 grain .40 S&W FMJ bullet, but the speed drops again from 1,155 ft/sec to 1,065 ft/sec. As you can see with both calibers, a conditioned armor can defend against the same size bullet, but you’re losing protection against faster bullets.

Type II

9 mm; .357 Magnum Type II can only be guaranteed if it’s new and tested against 9mm Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) bullets no larger than 124-grain and no faster than 1,305 ft per second.

Type II can only be guaranteed if it’s new and tested against a .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point (JSP) bullet no larger than 158-grain and no faster than 1,430 ft per second.

Type II conditioned armor can defend against a 124 grain 9mm FMJ, but at the reduced speed of 1,245 ft/sec. Against a .357 Magnum, it will protect you against a 158-grain SJP at the reduced speed of 1,340 ft/sec.

Type III A

.357 Sig; .44 Magnum Type III A armor tested with .357 SIG FMJ Flat Nose (FN) bullets with a 125-grain bullet will protect you against a bullet traveling less than 1,470 ft/sec.

Type III A can only be guaranteed if it’s new and tested against a .44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point (SJHP) bullet no larger than a 240-grain and no faster than 1,430 ft/sec.

Type II A conditioned will protect you against a .357 Sig FMJ FN bullet that is no faster than 1,410 ft/sec. Against a .44 Magnum SJHP bullet, a Type III A will protect you at speeds less than 1,340 ft/sec.

Type III

5.56mm, 7.62mm Type III armor is the armor that we as soldiers use when we go into warzones, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Northern Africa. This armor is rock-hard and is able to withstand a 7.62mm FMJ, steel-jacketed bullet no larger than 147 grain and no faster than 2,780 ft/sec. I can tell you that this armor is heavy and bulky, but I’ve seen it stop multiple rounds fired from an AK-47 rifle and a shot from a Dragunov Russian Sniper Rifle.

Type III armor tests the same with conditioned armor as it does the hard plates.

Type III armor can be confusing because, in order for it to work, it must combine the flexible armor (outer shell) with the hard plate insert for you to feel safe enough against such a powerful bullet.

Type IV

Armor Piercing/.30 caliber Type IV Armor Piercing (AP) body armor can protect you against bullets as large as .30 cal with a size smaller than a 166-grain and speed less than 2,880 ft/sec. If accompanied by the flexible armor it’s designed to pair with, the Type IV can withstand a .30 caliber bullet without penetrating the armor system. However, if you’re hit with a .30 caliber bullet, you’re going to suffer from serious injuries, such as broken ribs, punctured lungs, and many more internal injuries from the force.

A .30 caliber bullet is essentially the same as a 7.62mm bullet, but has the added size and speed to defeat most body armor systems. Type IV armor is worn by infantry soldiers and SWAT team members when they expect to counter advanced weaponry that can only be provided by a few nations.

Special Type

Customized The Special Type body armor is used when the individual buyer wants an armor that is rated differently than the standard types above. For example, if someone wants to use a different material than the regulated armor to reduce weight, increase stoppage power, etc., it would fall under this class.

Who Should Buy Type II A Body Armor?

Type II A body armor should be worn by police officers who intend to encounter small arms during their shift, such as a Glock 17 and Glock 19. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police/DuPont Kevlar Survivors’ Club3,100 police officers have been saved from wearing at least Type II A body armor. I’m not saying that every police officer that wears body armor will be saved, because nothing will protect you from a headshot. With an estimated 1,574 police officers killed by firearms since 1987, who knows how many of them could have been saved by wearing the proper armor.

Who Should Buy Type II Body Armor?

Type II body armor is rated to beat the power of a .357 Magnum with anything smaller than a 158-grain bullet. With new ballistics coming out what seems like everyday, there are calibers and bullets that are designed to beat this level of armor. I would still feel comfortable as a police officer against a handgun as powerful as the Glock 29 or the .357 Magnum, but there is never a 100% guarantee. Personally, I would rather wear this armor over the Type II A because it’s only a half-pound heavier and can stop heavier bullets. Type II is essentially the last class of armor that gives your maneuverability and dexterity without sacrifices weight or coverage.

Who Should Buy Type III A Body Armor?

I recommend this for police officers, hunters, and specialized police units like SWAT teams and Hostage Rescue teams (HRT). With the ability to stop up to a .44 magnum to the chest, I like my odds in surviving a gunfight much better than any Type II. Hunters in congested hunting areas that see dozens of hunters (many of whom shouldn’t be allowed to carry a gun) should consider this in case someone confuses you with a deer. Personally, I would go with a Type III, but I have years of experience with heavy armor walking dozens of miles in all conditions.

Who Should Buy Type III Body Armor?

Type III body armor is designed to handle rifle caliber guns that can chamber anything up to a 7.62mm bullet. I recommend these plates for Border Patrol, U.S. Military, and Hunters who want to ensure they’re protected. Border Patrol has the duty of combatting human and drug trafficking on a daily basis from people who are not going to give up. Many of the cartels have AK-47’s that shoot a 7.62 bullet and will take no mercy on our heroes at the border.  With most hunting rifles being chambered in 7.62mm, this armor will give you the best chance at survival if you’re hit in the chest or back by an ignorant hunter.

Who Should Buy Type IV Body Armor?

Type IV body armor is designed to stop an armor-piercing .30 caliber bullet (7.62) when used in conjunction with the flexible outer shell. I recommend this same body armor for Border Patrol officers, police SWAT officers, and U.S. Military personnel. This is normally going to cost well over $400-500 and this armor is going to be relatively heavy versus all other armor types.

What Plate Carrier Should I Buy?

The Advanced Slickster Plate Carrier is our most popular model for its sleek design, versatility, and comfort. We opted to create a unique carrier set up after years of frustration of wearing plate carriers that were good, but not quite good enough.  This plate carrier went through extensive testing overseas with individuals actively participating in the war on terror.  We continued to develop the plate carrier based on the actual current needs of combat. If you’re looking for other plate carriers, our “Top 5 Plate Carriers” blog will give you more options.

 

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1 Comments

  1. Does this mean that a level III hard armor plate, will become a level IV if it is ICW a IIIA soft plate? If that is the case then someone who has a IIIA soft plate should buy a poly level III plate, correct? thanks for the information

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