Benjamin Atkinson, Communications Executive at SafeGuard ARMOR, writes:
Ballistic body armor has saved thousands of Americans from death or serious injury. While body armor is part of the standard equipment for law enforcement officers, gun enthusiasts are only now beginning to adopt the technology in large numbers. And why not? With modern advancements in production and design . . .
body armor is no longer bulky and heavy. It’s more effective. And cheaper.
So which vest is right for you? There are many different standards for ballistics protection levels. Understanding the different levels of available armor helps you determine which is most suitable for your budget and potential threats.
Body Armor Levels – Ballistics
The two most commonly recognized standards for body armor come from the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the UK Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST, formerly HOSDB).
These two orgs are widely held to be the world leaders in standardizing body armor. They often share testing methods; armor that meets the standards of one will meet the requirements of the equivalent.
These standards outline exactly what threats each level of body armor will protect against, as well as the strength of the attack it will stop. This means that a bullet proof vest at Level II for example will not protect against a Level IIIa threat. But what do these levels mean?
Bullet proof vests are designed to ‘trap’ and slow bullets down as they attempt to pass through the vest. Bullet Proof Vests come in two different types; hard and soft. The ‘soft’ armors are designed to protect against most handgun and small arms ammunition, whereas ‘hard’ armors are designed to stop high caliber and armor piercing rounds.
The NIJ classifies body armor as follows:
Body Armor Levels – Edged Weapons
Many assume that if a piece of body armor can stop a bullet, it can stop a knife. This is not necessarily the case. Stab proof vests are different in make up to bullet proof vests.
You can buy multi-threat vests that can protect against both, but these still need to be graded according to the protection they offer against both bullets and edged/spiked weapons. The threat levels for stab proof vests are standardised by the CAST as follows:
The Simple Choice
A Level IIIa vest is the most commonly used body armor.
Level IIa is soft armor rated for pistol rounds and light fragmentation. As shown above, it offers good protection against 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP rounds. Many consider Level IIa the bare minimum armor protection.
When it comes to a decent array of pistol weapon threats, versatility and affordability, Level IIIa is the simple, affordable choice. That’s the rating current law enforcement standard. Level IIIa body armor offers enhanced protection up to .44 mag and .357 SIG (a relatively high velocity round for a handgun).
Overt or Covert
Apart from protection levels, there are two types of tactical body armor styles: overt and covert (concealable).
Non-LEO buyers generally find that covert vests offer greatest advantages. They’re useful in a large range of scenarios — as opposed to hard armor which is impractical for daily use. Covert body armor offers reduced chances of detection, which can save your life. Attackers won’t aim for unprotected body parts.
And don’t forget comfort. Body armor isn’t one-size fits all. The best vests are adjustable to better fit the user’s body type and range of motion. And some use breathable fabrics for hot weather climates.
One of the best advancements in the field of body armor: lightweight ballistic plates.
A vest that accommodates ballistic plates radically increase a vest’s protective capabilities. That said, they add some weight and bulk, potentially limiting covert capability.
The best solution: buy a Level IIIa ballistic vest that takes lightweight ballistic plates. Mate the two as and when the situation requires.
Benjamin Atkinson is the Communications Executive at SafeGuard ARMOR™, a leading international body armor manufacturer. SafeGuard ARMOR™ have invested years of research and industry expertise into the development of high performance body armor that is lighter, more flexible, more comfortable with unbeatable protection.