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Armor Levels

Which Protection Level Do You Need?

The protection levels for body armor are regional, and vary throughout the world. The 2 most commonly recognized standards for body armor are that of the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and the UK Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB). These are considered "model" standards, and as such are employed by many other countries around the world.

The NIJ and HOSDB often work together and share testing methods, so a piece of body armor that meets a standard set by the NIJ will also pass the equivalent HOSDB standard. They set out standards that covers 3 areas of protection for body armor - ballistic, stab and spike. It is important to note that a piece of body armor will only provide protection against the threats that it is designed to stop. For example a bullet proof vest will not provide protection against stab based attacks, equally a stab proof vest will not stop a bullet.

The NIJ is considered the world leader for ballistic testing for body armor, they perform a full range of tests and provide details of the results in their body armor standards. These show the range of protection offered by the different pieces of body armor tested, from low powered hand guns, up to armor piercing rifle rounds. The HOSDB are considered the leading experts in the world in stab and spike testing for body armor, and their standards also feature full details of the tests performed and the protection levels achieved.

The NIJ and HOSBD body armor standards outline exactly what threats each piece of body armor will protect against, and also the strength of the attack it will stop. For example a bullet proof vest will only provide protection against a certain velocity of bullet, and that protection depends on the level the vest has been tested to. The same is true for a stab proof vest, it will be tested to a certain level of protection, depending on the strength of the threat it can withstand.

Different pieces of body armor are designed to offer protection against a variety of attacks. They will also offer different levels of protection for each threat. Body armor with higher protection levels will not only protect against higher threats, but will also protect from the same lesser threats as body armor with lower protection levels.

It is vital when selecting body armor that you choose the most suitable protection level for your needs, as too little or too much protection will not be beneficial. Many people will choose a piece of body armor with the highest protection levels possible, simply because they think this is the “best”. However, the more protection a piece of body armor has, the more it will weigh, and the more restrictive it will be. You should ensure that the body armor you select will protect you against the threats you will face, but nothing more. By doing this you will ensure that you have the body armor that is most suited for your needs, and that is also as light and as comfortable as possible.

A Simple Guide To Ballistic Protection Levels

Each piece of body armor will feature an easy to read code that shows the basic details of the protection it provides. These codes are made up of the type of protection the body armor offers, for example NIJ ballistic protection, and the level of protection it provides, for example Level IIIa.

An NIJ Level II bullet proof vest will provide protection against regular powered 9mm handguns, up to .357 Magnums. A bullet proof vest with NIJ Level IIIa protection will protect against the same threats as an NIJ Level II vest, and in addition will stop up to a .44 Magnum and 9mm Sub-Machine gun. Because of the increased protection it offers a Level IIIa bullet proof vest will be heavier and more bulky than a Level II bullet proof vest, as it will have more layers of Kevlar.

Level II and Level IIIa soft body armor will protect you from handguns, but for protection against rifles you will require additional hard armor plates. Traditionally these are used in conjunction with Level IIIa bullet proof vests, and are available in Level III, which will protect against regular rifle rounds, and Level IV, which will provide protection from regular rifle rounds and also armor piercing rounds. These plates will add additional weight to a bullet proof vest, and so should only be used when required in extremely high risk situations.

A Simple Guide To Stab And Spike Protection Levels

Stab proof vests are available with KR1 and KR2 protection. A KR2 vest will provide protection against knife attacks that have more force than a KR1 vest would. Stab proof vests are tested with engineered blades, which are much stronger than regular household knives, and are also designed to stop attacks from other cutting objects such as broken bottles. Spike proof vests are designed to stop spiked weapons such as needles, syringes and stilettos.

It is important to note that a piece of body armor may be considered bullet, stab or spike proof, but this will only be up to certain levels. You should unsure that the body armor you choose will provide you with enough protection against the threats you may face, as if it does not you will be at risk and could face serious injury.

NIJ Ballistic Protection Levels

Bullet proof vests are designed to stop a bullet by trapping it as it attempts to pass through the vest. The bullet is caught in a web of fibers within the vest, and then flattened until it comes to a halt.

They come in 2 main protection levels, NIJ Level II vests that are designed to stop normal handgun rounds, and NIJ Level IIIa vests that will stop up to high powered Magnum rounds. The NIJ has developed standards that help users to select the most suitable type of body armor for their needs, detailing exactly what ballistic protection each level will provide.

NIJ Level II

NIJ Level IIIa

NIJ Ballistic Protection Levels For Hard Armor

Hard armor is designed for use in high risk situations, for example by military personnel and tactical teams. Traditionally it is designed to be used with NIJ Level IIIa soft body armor, however some types of hard armor are ”stand alone”, which means they can be used without soft armor NIJ Level III hard armor plates will provide protection against normal rifle rounds, and NIJ Level IV will protect against armor piercing rounds.

NIJ Level III

NIJ Level IV

HOSDB Stab Protection Levels

People often assume that a bullet proof vest will also stop a knife based attack, however this is not the case. The way a bullet penetrates a piece of body armor is completely different to the way a knife does. A bullet proof vest has fibers designed to "catch" a bullet, but a knife will cut through those fabrics and not be stopped. A stab proof vest is designed in a different way to a bullet proof vest, and will help protect the wearer from not just knife attacks, but also broken bottles and physical assault.

The blades that provide the most serious type of threat to stab proof vests are known as engineered blades. These types of blades are designed to retain their shape and effectiveness even when forced into a wooden block. In order for a stab proof vest to qualify as stab proof it must be able to resist an engineered blade, not just standard household blades.

Generally it is easier for body armor to protect against a larger knife than a smaller one, so as a result manufacturers will ensure that their stab proof panels provide protection against both 6 inch and 3 inch engineered blades, as well as standard Stanley knife blades. The UK Home Office Scientific Development Branch required protection levels for stab resistant vests are shown below.

HOSDB Stab 1

HOSDB Stab 2

HOSDB Spike Protection Levels

This type of weapon can be classed as a needle, a syringe, an ice pick or any type of weapon that is rounded off to a point. A spiked weapon has a concentrated point of impact, and it does not cut fabric like a knife. The point will instead pass between the weave in the fabric, and penetrate the body armor that way. As a result a stab proof vest will not provide protection against spiked attacks.

A spike proof vest will contain multi-layered, flexible materials, and no solid plates. This method of construction makes the piercing of the material by a spiked weapon much more difficult then a stab proof vest. The UK Home Office Scientific Development Branch required protection levels for spike proof vests are shown below.

HOSDB Spike 2


Multi-Threat vests

As society becomes more violent so do the attacks that take place, and as such it is difficult for body armor users to be prepared for all the threats they may face. For example 15-20 years ago a policeman would mainly fear attack by just a knife, but in the last few years the threat of gun crime has risen rapidly, and the fear of infectious diseases such as H.I.V. or Hepatitis is also increasing.

To combat the threat of different types of attacks companies now produce multi-threat pieces of body armor Simply put, a multi-threat vest will provide protection against more than one form of attack, for example bullet and stab protection, or stab and spike protection. The panels they use will be constructed differently depending on the protection that each piece of body armor will offer, and will provide the same level of protection as an equivalent piece of body armor that only can only stop one form of attack.

Fragmentation Protection

Our hard armor also offers additional fragmentation protection, which helps protect the wearer from fragments and shrapnel from an exploded bomb.

Using the internationally recognized NATO standard STANAG 2920, our products our tested to ensure they provide the required level of protection. Tests are performed by firing FSP (Fragment Simulating Projectiles) at the armor at a variety of velocities , and then measuring the damage that is caused. By analyzing this data it is then possible to determine the maximum speed at which the armor will defeat impacts from fragments.