Proper Protection: Understanding Bulletproof Vest Levels

Last Updated on March 3, 2024 by Asfa Rasheed

Over the last 30 years, body armor has saved the lives of more than 3000 police officers.

As a law enforcement or correctional officer, you put yourself in harm’s way every day to protect and serve the country. Ballistic and cut-proof body armor allows you to carry out your job with a first line of defense.

Knowing which type of bulletproof vest to choose allows you to properly equip yourself for the task at hand. By learning about the bulletproof vest levels, operatives have a better chance of survival in the field.

Read on to learn more about bulletproof vest levels.

Protective Standardization

When choosing protective equipment, it is vital that it adheres to standardized protective ratings.

Although there are various ballistics protection ratings to choose from, the most widely accepted standard for body armor comes from the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

These specifications define the attacks each level of body armor will defend against, as well as the force it will resist. 

NIJ Level 1 Bulletproof Vest

This is the original NIJ-rated body armor. Created in the 1970s, level 1 armor is now obsolete. While it offers some protection against knife attacks, level 1 armor is unsuitable for field use.

NIJ Level 2A Bulletproof Vest

Level 2A vests and armor provide the lowest level of protection. They are generally soft body armor. Level 2A armor, which is roughly 4mm thick, is designed to stop 9mm FMJ RN and .40 S&W FMJ rounds.

NIJ Level 2 Bulletproof Vest

Level 2 vests are available as either soft or hard-shelled body armor. Around 5mm thick, they are capable of protecting against 9 mm FMJ RN and .357 JSP Magnum rounds.

NIJ Level 3A Bulletproof Vest

More heavy-duty than level 2 armor, level 3A vests are up to 10mm thick. They can effectively stop .357 SIG FMJ and .44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point rounds.

NIJ Level 3 Bulletproof Vest

Level III body armor has a thickness of 1/2″ to 3/4″ and is designed to defend against rifle fire. Level 3 vests have pouches to carry 15mm armor plates. Effective against 5.56mm/7.62mm NATO rounds.

NIJ Level 4 Bulletproof Vest

The highest rating available, level 4 armor, is designed to stop armor-piercing rounds. Incorporating 20mm armor plates and weighing about 9 pounds, level 4 is capable of stopping .30 Armor Piercing rounds.

Cut Proof Clothing

While bulletproof armor is standard issue for most officers on patrol, it doesn’t protect all the vital areas of the body.

Armored officers are still vulnerable to knife attacks to the neck, arms, and legs. That’s why it is important to pair NIJ-rated armor with cut-proof clothing.

As a police or correctional officer, protecting yourself from knife attacks is just as important as wearing a bulletproof vest.

Bulletproof Vest Levels: What You Need To Know

So, that’s the 101 on the different bulletproof vest levels and how they defend against attacks.

By choosing the right armor for yourself or your personnel, you improve their chances of carrying out their duty while staying safe.

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