The classical definition of “bulletproof” is typically presented as an object’s imperviousness to bullets. With the variety and often overwhelming power of modern munitions, making something impenetrable to every possible munition is impractical. When it comes to wearable bulletproof armor, having something that offers maximum protection while maintaining complete mobility requires some degree of compromise. At least it used to.
The government authority that sets the standards for ballistic armor is the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The NIJ thoroughly tests every vest upon its introduction to the market using their rigorous standardized laboratory methods. The NIJ first started doing these tests to determine which vests would be good enough for police officers and other law enforcement. Since then, the NIJ rating system has become the industry standard for law enforcement, military, and commercially marketed vests. Every vest is given a protection rating which describes what kinds of cartridges the vest is capable of stopping. The ratings serve as a convenient guide to classify and quantify the ballistic capabilities of each vest model.
The chart above outlines the increasing levels of protection at each rating. Level I is only rated for rimfire and archaic cartridges, which are so rare in self-defense situations that no vests are commercially sold with a Level 1 rating. Level IIA describes a vest that is capable of stopping handgun velocity 9mm and other common slow velocity pistol cartridges such as .40 S&W. Level II offers protection against faster moving pistol calibers such as 357 Magnum and pistol calibers shot from carbines. Level IIIA is the highest rating Kevlar vests have been able to achieve thus far. These vests can stop nearly anything fired from a pistol, but they leave their wearer completely exposed to any variety of rifle calibers as well as some of the more exotic armor piercing pistol calibers such as 5.7x28FN. In the past, in order to get full Level III protection, which includes rifle calibers, one would have to spend an exorbitant amount to get hard armor capable of stopping even the lightest rifle cartridges. Because of the inferior steel used in these older vests, they would have to utilize thick, heavy plates in order to offer protection even against some of the more common rifle cartridges. With modern steel processing and hardening methods, it is now possible to get ballistic plates rated beyond Level III+, which is capable of stopping round more powerful than the .308 ball used to certify standard Level III. Level III+ exceeds the standards set by the NIJ and is vastly superior to the common vests used by law enforcement and even most military personnel.
If you’re interested in having the best available protection from a level III+ vest, the Best Body Armor is offering their “Best Bulletproof Vest” on sale now for $299; This vest is rated at NIJ Level III+ so it is more than capable of stopping any full power rifle round one might encounter. Use the Promo Code “BESTVEST” for $25 off any of their vests.