The Tactical Warriors Guide to Protective Body Armor

If you take some time and spend it on the web, you will find thousands of websites and blogs dedicated to body armor, ballistic plates, armored piercing this, level II that, and so on.  The reality is that many people don’t know what these phrases mean.  This article from our friends at Safeguard Clothing outlines some guidelines that can be used when looking for various kinds of body armor.

Please note, that this article is not a buyer’s guide.  When you are looking for a bulletproof vest and want to know what type will be the best for you, remember that this is just a simple introductory guide to body armor for tactical purposes.

Velocity Systems Plate

There are two principal forms of body armor – soft and hard. Body armor can be manufactured from various materials, including ceramic, titanium, steel, polyethylene, and Kevlar and can be employed to protect from anything; starting with .22 caliber gunfire (NIJ Level II) to .30 caliber fire (NIJ Level IV).  It is important to note that body armor is designed and tested to stop various calibers of bullets for a reason.  To provide consumers with vests that are lightweight with greater maneuverability, but as a result provide less protection, or heavier with less maneuverability that provide greater protection.  In essence, the various vests are designed in relation to the level of expected threat.  For example, many police officers wear Level IIIA bulletproof vests, because they often have to cope with smaller caliber pistol projectiles, while soldiers mostly wear Level III and Level IV bulletproof vests to resist higher caliber rifle ammunition.

The US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sets the guidelines related to bulletproof vests and is the establishment that defines the meaning of each level.  There are six main categories of bulletproof body armor according the NIJ: Level I, Level IIA, Level II, Level IIIA, Level III, and Level IV.  There are also special categories that permit manufacturers to fit particular threat-specific armors in their personal category.  Although these categories are mostly technical and are dependent on the vest’s condition, type of the bullet, weight of the round, and velocity of the round, they may be simplified to a particular extent with the use of the guide provided below.

Level I

This is soft armor and is the lowest bulletproof vest category. It stops .22 caliber bullets with a 2.6 g average mass.  This bulletproof vest is quite light.  Level I armor offers the lowest ballistic protection needed for every law enforcement representative.  The vest has to be worn, when on duty, throughout the day.

Level IIA

This is also soft armor.  It stops 124 grain 9 mm full metal jacketed bullets and 180 grain .40 S&W full metal jacketed bullets.  Once again, it’s essential to remember that this vest doesn’t stop just any 9mm or .40 S&W bullets.  A lot of solid core 9 mm bullets can penetrate through Level IIA bulletproof vests.  Nevertheless, this seems to be one of the most maneuverable and lightest armors on the market today.

Level II

Once again, this is soft armor.  This category basically represents a small step up from the previous category, offering a bit better protection. Level II bulletproof vests can stop the majority of 9 mm full metal jacketed bullets, and 1158 grain .357 JSP projectiles.  This is also lightweight armor that provides less protection, but good mobility.

Level IIIA

Same as the three previous categories, Level IIIA armor is also soft.  It is meant to stop most pistol ammo and is the highest rated soft armor to date.  This bulletproof vest stops up to a 240 grain .44 magnum jacketed hollow point bullet.

Level III

This is hard, flexible armor.  This type of armor is mostly meant for low caliber full metal jacketed rifle bullets, including the AK-47 7.62×39 bullets.  Although this vest is able to stop some rifle rounds and is quite lightweight and maneuverable, it cannot stop the majority of armored piercing and sniper bullets.

Level IV

Like the previous category, this is also hard and flexible armor.  This is the highest category provided by the NIJ and is developed for the majority of armored piercing rifle bullets up to 166 grain .30 caliber.  This bulletproof vest can stop most sniper rifle bullets, including the Dragunov 7.62x54R bullets. This category also features the least maneuverable and the heaviest vests of all.

Special Category

These armors are generally special threat plates, developed to stop the majority of common bullets found in a particular operation area.  Many Special Forces units employ special threat panels so they can be protected from common firearms and stay mobile due to the lightweight of this armor.

ICW – In Conjunction With

Many plates are frequently worn with soft armor as a configuration known as “in conjunction.”  Conventionally, a plate is worn above Level IIIA armor insert, which makes it either threat specific or Level IV.  This makes the plates and total set weigh less.  Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that when a plate is ICW-specified, it means that it will only provide proper protection when used together with a Level IIIA bulletproof vest or otherwise specified insert.


Please Note: This information was provided by our friends at Safeguard Clothing (

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One Response to The Tactical Warriors Guide to Protective Body Armor

  1. gear911 says:

    The tradeoff between maneuverability & protection is here to stay; at least for the time being. NIJ has done a great job in defining body armor details so precisely but many agencies, especially state law enforcement departments and others have got budget limitations too. Rifle rounds, sharp edged instruments and other ammunition can still penetrate the body armor. We need more innovations in this field.

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