LEVEL I BODY ARMOR
I protection is the lowest available level of bulletproof vests. At this level, a vest is rated for 2 types of small caliber rounds, .38 and .22 caliber rounds to be precise. Due to higher caliber rounds being very common, Level I vests are not considered up to NIJ standards.
LEVEL IIA BODY ARMOR
IIA is the next tier up. At this level, protection more flexible additionally protecting the body from 9 mm rounds as well as .40 Smith and Wesson rounds. The “A” distinction refers to having similar properties as Level II vests but somewhat weaker.
LEVEL II BODY ARMOR
II vests provide the same level of protection as IIA but can sustain damage from 9 mm rounds at higher traveling speeds (up to 1245 ft/s) and additionally protects against the .357 magnum rounds.
LEVEL IIIA BODY ARMOR
IIIA protection covers all previous protection levels as well as 9 mm rounds traveling at speeds of up to 1400 ft/s. IIIA vests also protect against .44 magnum and .44 caliber rounds.
There are suppliers that offer level IIIA+ vests that protect against shotgun rounds, 9 mm Civil Defense rounds, and FN 5.7. While such vests are not officially certified by the NIJ, it is an exploratory option for additional firearm resistance.
LEVEL III BODY ARMOR
III body armor is the first level that protects against rifle rounds. These vests usually consist of hard metal plates as opposed to soft plates. Vests must be able to withstand six shots from a 7.62×51 NATO round traveling up to 2780 ft/s to be considered as Level III.
LEVEL IV BODY ARMOR
IV body armor is the highest basic level which protects against armor piercing rounds. They also consist of hard plates as opposed to Level IIIA plates and below.
SPECIAL LEVEL ARMOR
Special type body armor can go beyond the standard protection rating. Level IIIA+ falls under this classification for example. Special type armor usually has very specific protection ratings in terms of caliber and traveling speed of the round.
The threat levels for ballistic vests are set by the NIJ (National Institute of Justice). If you like to know more about the particular threat levels, you can visit the NIJ’s website for more information.
With this information, you can now browse through various types of bulletproof vests with an idea of the level of protection you want in mind. Be aware that the highest rating possible is not necessarily the best choice due to factors like the cost and the weight or maneuverability of the vest.