NIJ Body Armor Standard vs Other Body Armor Standards
Whether you’re preparing to deploy, you just want to be careful, or you think your neighbor Tom is planning to lay siege to your house, knowing how your body armor is tested can put your mind at ease when the bullets start flying. This article will go into three different body armor standards, so you know exactly what the body armor you purchase is capable of.
NIJ Sneak Peek
The NIJ body armor standard is one of the most in-depth standards, with high requirements to ensure that, when body armor is NIJ certified, it’s top of the line. With such requirements, it’s no wonder that it’s the most widely accepted standard for law enforcement, military, private security, and civilian use.
But, there are other standards out there, each with varying bullet stopping power, such as: GOST for Russia, VPAM for Europe, AR500 independently tested, and SAPI for the US military. Today we’ll be focusing on the NIJ body armor standard, AR500 body armor standard, and SAPI the US military standard.
What does a Body Armor Standard mean?
To start, I should probably introduce the body armor standards I’ll be going over in this article. The NIJ body armor standard is the United States’ National Institute of Justice’s standard, which goes through thorough testing to ensure that those wearing body armor that meets this standard are protected. The AR500 body armor standard is an independently tested standard that loosely follows the NIJ standard, but with a few added levels in the middle. The SAPI standard is what the US military uses, and it mirrors the NIJ standard, however its bullet stopping capabilities increase linearly.
The goal of every body armor standard, is to give a ranking and requirement of different types of ballistic armors. This means that each standard has levels that, as they increase, will increase in bullet stopping capabilities. And each armor will be placed into the level, who’s requirements it meets.
NIJ (National Institute of Justice) Standard
The first and best standard is the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) standard. This body armor standard has 5 levels: 2A, 2, 3A, 3, and 4 (IIA, II, IIIA, III, and IV). The NIJ body armor standard starts with soft body armor at 2A, 2, and 3A, then transitions to hard armor with 3 and 4, with some overlap at 3A. The first 2 levels, 2A and 2 are tested to stop sharp handheld weapons, such as ice picks and knives, and some very low caliber bullets (such as slower .22 rounds). Once you get into 3A, the armor can take more of a beating. 3A can withstand most bullets from handguns, however Atomic Defense’s 3A plates can stop 12 gauge shotgun pellets and slugs in addition to what NIJ 3A tests up to. At level 3, NIJ standard armor is able to stop bullets from common assault rifles, and everything the previous levels stop. NIJ level 4 armor will stop high caliber bullets, including sniper bullets and armor piercing bullets. If you want to know more about NIJ level 3A, 3, and 4, click here.
In order for a piece of armor to become NIJ certified, it must go through rigorous testing, including, but not limited to:
- Tumble tests at 80% humidity for 10 days at 149 degrees Fahrenheit
- Fully submerged for 30 min
- Multiple close shots together when testing (2 inches)
- Shots at different angles (30 degrees and 45 degrees)
There is a lot more thorough and in depth testing, not mentioned here. But if you’re interested, you can find the full testing doc on the National Institute of Justice's website.
Let’s move on to the AR500 body armor standard. This armor standard loosely follows the NIJ body armor standard, but adds levels in the middle that will stop bullets incrementally where the NIJ armor would stop all of them. The levels are: II, IIIA, III Lightweight, III+ and III+ Lightweight, and IV. Also, keep in mind, all their armor is made using steel. Steel is more dangerous than other materials, such as Polyethylene, because bullets can ricochet off of the armor and hit other parts of your body or hit friendlies around you.
AR500’s level III Lightweight, III+, and III+ Lightweight is very misleading, because in the description the NIJ standard is referenced, but NIJ does not have a III Lightweight or III+, there is just III. NIJ level III has more bullet stopping potential than AR500’s three different versions of level III.
Lastly, we’ll cover the US military standard, SAPI. The SAPI standard is fairly simple, their armor undergoes the same thorough testing as NIJ armor. The only differences are that SAPI armor’s bullet stopping capabilities increase linearly as you progress through the levels, and SAPI armor requires a soft armor backer.
As some concluding thoughts, I would highly recommend that, whenever you’re looking to buy any kind of body armor, check out what calibers the armor is tested to, and compare it to what you believe you will need protection against.
Also, keep in mind, steel is a poor choice in body armor, even if the seller says they use some kind of coating to keep shrapnel from flying everywhere. Better safe than sorry.
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Thanks for reading, and take care!