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A Guide to the Protection Levels Offered by Kevlar Vests
Anyone working in Law Enforcement will require a bullet proof vest, and will be well aware of their importance. First Responders, more than any, have unique and pressing requirement for body armor, and simply cannot perform in their role without the proper protection. It is often difficult to understand the different options available and how they can help you in different situations. For example, not only there are a number of different models available, but different styles, and numerous different fits.
However, the most important thing to understand about body armor is the protection it can offer you.
Before you consider how you will be wearing your vest and what you need from the style, you need to understand the different levels of protection available. These ‘NIJ Levels’ are named for the US National Institute of Justice, which is widely recognized as the world leader in ballistics testing and is responsible for the standardization of ballistic protection. These Levels then outline the size, strength, and velocity of ammunition that a vest can protect you against.
As mentioned above, body armor is available in a variety of different fits and styles. However, the two main different options are ‘Soft Armor’ and ‘Hard Armor’. Put simply, these armors are made from soft and flexible materials or hard and rigid materials. The harder materials provide stronger levels of protection at the expense of weight and flexibility, making it reserved mainly for those who are sure they will need it. Hard Armor will also utilize the soft fabrics used in Soft Armor in order to improve comfort for the wearer.
Soft Armor is available up to and including Level IIIa, whereas Hard Armor is available at Level III or IV, which is the highest level of protection currently available. Each level of protection is capable of stopping the ammunition outlined at lower levels. While the NIJ Levels begin at Level I, the minimum recommended level of protection is Level IIa.
NIJ Level IIa is capable of protecting against 9mm Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose and .40 S&W Full Metal Jacketed ammunition, which are used in the majority of handguns. It is also capable of stopping similar handgun ammunition, such as the 10mm Auto, .357 SIG, and even .45 ACP.
NIJ Level II armor is capable of protecting against all of the above ammunition, as well as .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Points and 9mm Parabellum rounds fired at a higher velocity.
NIJ Level IIIa, the highest level available in Soft Armor, can stop all of the above ammunition, as well as 9mm Parabellum rounds fired from a semi-automatic. It can also protect against .44 Magnum Jacketed Hollow Point rounds.
NIJ Level III armor can protect against the 7.62x51mm NATO Full Metal Jacketed round, as well as the 5.56x45mm NATO. It can also stop the vast majority of rifle and automatic rounds, such as the .30-06 and the .308 Winchester, as well as all the ammunition listed in the levels above.
NIJ Level IV is the highest level of protection currently available, and is capable of protecting against all the ammunition outlined above, as well as armor-piercing variants of the 7.62x51mm NATO and 5.56x45mm NATO.
For more information on ballistic protection and NIJ Levels, visit the NIJ’s Official Documentation.