Exploring Body Armor Protection Level and Make Material While Buying

Things to Look for When Buying Body Armor

People face different kinds of threats every day depending on where they are, or where they work. Among the most prominent threats in the modern world are ballistic threats. You should never compromise on your safety at any point. It is important that you purchase and wear body armor if you are exposed to ballistic threats.

The body armor you wear must be in good condition for it to be effective. Also, body armor is categorized under various protective categories. You need to understand the level of threat you are facing in order to get the right body armor. Body armor protective levels range from Level IIA to Level IV.

Body armor is a necessity for law enforcement officers. Different officers require different kinds of body armor depending on the threats they are facing. Before they purchase body armor, they must make sure it is up to standards and it can offer the required level of protection.

In the sections below, are going to explore the two most important aspects that should determine which body armor your purchase. They are;

  • Protection Levels
  • Make Material

Protection Levels

Protection levels are a very crucial aspect of body armor. They are a measure of how protective the body armor is. As mentioned above, body armor can either be of Level IIA, II, IIIA, III, or IV. Before you purchase body armor, you need to understand each of these threat or protection levels. The protection levels of the body armor will always be clearly indicated on body armor's package or on the body armor itself. 

Each bulletproof vest it thoroughly tested to ascertain its protective level. For instance, Level IIA body armor is tested using a 9mm FMJ bullet with a velocity of 1225 fps. It is also tested with a .40S&W bullet with a velocity of 1155 fps. Level II body armor is tested with a 9mm FMJ RN bullet with a velocity of 1355 fps and a .357 Magnum JSP (Jacketed Soft Point) with a speed of 1430 fps.

All the above are low caliber gunfire, that only requires body armor that is strong enough to prevent penetration. The threat levels get serious from Level IIA and above. That does not imply that you should expose yourself to any kind of threats.

Level IIIA

Level IIIA now involves serious gunfire. As mentioned earlier, you must be able to relate your threat levels to the protective levels of body armor while shopping for body armor. Level IIIA is tested using a .357 SIG FMJ FN bullet with a speed of 1470 fps. It is also tested with a .44 Mag SJHP bullet with a velocity of 1430 fps. Although these are still fired from handguns, they are heavier, faster, and more lethal than those used in Level IIA and Level II.


Level IIIA body armor is 6mm in thickness, and it is the middle ground between protection and comfort. While the latter levels are light and comfortable, they cannot offer enough protection in high ballistic risk areas. Level IIIA body armor is nowhere near as light as Level II body armor, but it cannot be said to be bulky. Level IIIA bulletproof vests can easily be disguised, which is quite desirable.

The other impressive aspect of Level IIIA body armor while comparing it to Level II is its ability to protect against blunt trauma. The gunfire used to test Level IIIA body armor is heavy and could cause serious damage. For instance, a level II bulletproof vest might be able to stop a .357 SIG FMJ FN bullet from penetrating, but the blunt trauma would be dangerously high.

Level III

Body armor in Level III and upwards means business. Level III body armor protects against very lethal gunfire. The kind of gunfire that will drop one dead in an instant. Rifle gunfire such as a 7.62 mm FMJ bullet with a velocity of 2780 fps, is used to test Level III body armor.

Bulletproof vests in Level III involve carrier vests and armor plates. The carrier vests are basically tough fabric vests that have pockets in front and at the back. Armor plates are inserted into the pockets to make them bulletproof. The armor plates can be exchanged to raise the level of protection of a vest.

All armor plates are clearly labeled to indicate the level of protection they offer. Also, each type of carrier vest works with a certain type of armor plate. You have to ensure you get the right combination. Any wrong combination makes the vest less protective. For level III protection, you can get the following types of armor plates.

  • 25mm/1’’ Polyethylene plates
  • 6mm/¼’’ ballistic steel plates
  • 13mm/½’’ ceramic plates

It is important to keep in mind that ballistic plates will significantly increase the weight of bulletproof vests. Level III body armor is, therefore, heavy and not easy to conceal. Polyethylene armor plates have however revolutionized hard body armor. They are incredibly lightweight as compared to steel or ceramic plates. In fact, the Polyethylene material is lighter than Kevlar which is commonly used. We will explore more details about the materials used in the next section.

If you are looking for body armor that can protect you against rifle threats, Level III is a good place to start. Level III is not only protective against penetration, but also extreme blunt trauma. Many people do not realize that blunt trauma can cause serious injuries or even fatalities. There have been reports of people suffering broken ribs although the bullet did not penetrate.

Level IV

Level IV body armor offers the ultimate level of protection against ballistic threats. A 30.06 M2 AP bullet with a speed of 2880 fps is used to test level IV body armor. This is gunfire from an assault rifle. You would not stand a chance of survival against such gunfire without a Level IV bulletproof vest.

Level IV bulletproof vests also feature plate carriers and armor plates. You have to check both the carrier and the plates to ensure they are rated Level IV. Level IV armor plates include;

  • 18mm/¾ ‘’ ceramic plate
  • 12mm/½’’ ballistic steel plate



The steel plates are however too bulky to be worn and carried around. Such steel plates are normally used on armored vehicles. There are no restrictions to buying Level IV body armor, but many civilians do not come under ballistic threats that would necessitate wearing such armor. Level IV body armor is mainly used by tactical forces who are involved in high conflict areas.

If you must have Level IV body armor as a civilian. PE armor plates would be ideal. We will see why in the next section as we explore why the material used to make the body armor is such an essential aspect.

Body Armor Make Materials

Polyethylene (PE), Kevlar, Steel, and Ceramic, are the commonly used materials in making body armor. PE and Kevlar are used to make soft body armor, while steel and ceramic are used to make hard body armor. PE can be used to make hard armor plates as well.

Below, we explore each of these materials a bit deeper, to establish how suitable they are under various circumstances.


Polyethylene has revolutionized the body armor industry. PE body armor is 15 times as strong as steel, while it weighs only a fraction of what steel weighs. PE is also stronger than Kevlar. These properties allow PE body armor to be thin and lightweight, and still offer ample protection. Even in higher protective levels such as Level III and Level IV, PE body armor remains quite flexible and comfortable to wear.

PE armor plates are made of sheets of UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene). The sheets are pressure pressed together in order to bond and form the plates. PE body armor has the ability to stop a bullet, and subdue its force hence causing less to zero blunt trauma.

When a bullet hits the PE armor plate surface, the surface melts a little bit as a result of friction created by the bullet spin. The melted part will cool and harden immediately to trap the bullet and stop it from going inside. Also, the flexible nature of the PE plates allows it to distribute the force of the bullet all over the plate, hence avoiding too much trauma. High caliber rifle bullets might still cause a significant amount of blunt trauma though.

One of the most impressive aspects of PE body armor is that it can take multiple hits on the same spot. Steel and ceramic plates tend to crack or shatter when they get hit. PE body armor would be quite ideal in areas of combat where there is intense gunfire.

The only thing to be cognizant of is that PE armor plates get degraded by extremely high temperatures. As mentioned earlier, the PE material can melt. You have to take into consideration the temperatures of the place in which you intend to use or store it. It remains perfectly fine in room temperature though.


Kevlar is commonly used to make soft body armor. Most Kevlar bulletproof vests are between Level IIA and Level III. Kevlar is used to make either complete bulletproof vests, or insert plates that are used with carrier vests. Kevlar is an extremely lightweight material, and it is very strong. It is a stretchy fabric that is made of para-aramids.

Kevlar prevents penetration through the stretchiness. When a bullet hits the surface of Kevlar, it stretches backs and subdues the force and hence the velocity of the bullet. The bullet will therefore not be able to penetrate through.

DuPont is one of the most popular manufacturers of Kevlar. Kevlar is made of a material known as poly-para-phenylene-terephthalamide. The material is passed through a sieve to create fibers that are used to sew Kevlar sheets. The sheets are super-stiff and extremely tensile.

Kevlar only handles low and medium caliber firearm rounds. Kevlar body armor will not protect you against high caliber rifles, and Armor Piercing bullets. Kevlar is preferred by many civilians because it is lightweight and easy to conceal. Also, it is quite cheap as compared to PE body armor.

The only precaution to take with Kevlar body armor is keeping it away from UV radiation. Kevlar gets degraded by UV rays. You should also avoid using bleaching agents on Kevlar body armor. Kevlar body armor has the Kevlar parts well covered with a thick fabric that keeps the UV radiation at bay.

Steel and Ceramic

Steel and ceramic are hard and heavy. They are mainly used to make hard armor plates. Ceramic is used because it is not as heavy as steel, and it is not as expensive as PE. The downside with ceramic is that it shatters when it gets hit. It cannot protect you against multiple shots.

Steel is seen as the material offering the ultimate protection, although it is the heaviest. Steel body armor is mainly rated Level III or Level IV. Steel can stop armor-piercing bullets. Civilians rarely use steel armor plates since they are quite bulky.

After the discussions above, it should now be easy to choose the appropriate body armor for yourself. In a warp, the ideal body armor should offer ample protection, and be as comfortable as possible. Other aspects such as fitting are quite essential as well. You have to ensure the body armor you purchase fits perfectly.

Ensure you also know how to take care of the body armor you purchase. Improper care will cause the body armor to degrade and put you at risk. Each piece of body armor comes with precise instructions on proper care and use.

Head over to www.atomicdefense.com and purchase any body armor that you need. There is body armor of all levels and materials. If you are unsure of anything, you can seek clarification via the email contact@atomicdefense.com.

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