As detailed on
the Ballistic Protection Levels page, even Level II-A vests are adequate
for the vast majority of pistol ammunition usually seen on the street.
Level II and III-A offer more blunt trauma protection, and stop more
of the unusual threats.
But really the
decision here is not so much a percentage protection decision, as
personal preference pay a little more, for a slightly heavier
and bulkier vest and know that if you ever take a hit on the
vest you might possibly get off with a 3" or 4" bruise (~8 or 10 cm.),
versus a cracked or broken rib. We cant make that call for you,
other than to say we generally feel well protected with a Level II
vest a nice balance between competing priorities.
If all you can
afford is Level II-A, yes, you might be missing a few per cent of
the more unusual ammunition threats but in the big picture
wearing your vest 100% of the time is MUCH more important. If you
simply feel better knowing you have a III-A (the maximum in soft body
armor) we cant argue with peace of mind.
The one good rule
of thumb is get a vest tested to stop the weapon you, or your
"one in six
officers killed with a handgun was killed with his or her own service
...Guide to Police Body Armor, NLECTC
factor does strongly recommend a thicker Level II or III-A, over II-A
being able to return fire more quickly and/or effectively.
The extra thickness means more blunt trauma protection, and
less felt impact or injury from bullets striking you. Thus you may
be able to react faster and more effectively after being hit
critical if you need to prevail in the confrontation, as well as just
survive the hit.
if you are wearing your vest for long periods of time, comfort often
becomes the most important factor don't automatically assume
Level III-A is the best for you.
are fond of expounding on the fact that their favorite Armor-Piercing
(AP) 9 mm, or their 7.62 mm Tokarev pistol ammo, etc., etc., can go
through that vest like a hot knife through butter! Indeed, you
should be aware that some very rare and specialized pistol ammo CAN
penetrate soft body armor. But what also needs to be said is that
in the US AP pistol ammo is illegal and difficult to impossible to
obtain (also all the calibers of AP rifle ammo usable in pistol variants).
How often does
the armed criminal take the time and trouble to find such rare ammo?
Not very often, though obviously you must evaluate the threats YOU
are likely to face. If you are a narcotics police officer after hard-core
biker drug-gangs AP is possibly a concern. In 1999 one officer
was just barely saved by his Level II vest from a drug dealer with
a 7.62 mm Tokarev.
So, for example,
SWAT teams, and police officers making high-risk traffic stops, may
be well advised to get Level III-A armour, just to be on the saf-ER
side (there is never a 100% safe side). For the majority of law enforcement,
security guards, and civilians, getting a Level III-A is money well
spent for peace of mind and extra blunt trauma protection but
probably not required on a percentage analysis. You must evaluate
the threats YOU are likely to face.
What About Blunt
Not to be confused
with Rifle Plates, these 5" by 8" (~13 by 20 cm.) Steel or Aramid
inserts are designed to protect the vulnerable mid-chest/sternum area
from blunt trauma. A great idea, highly recommended, but they are
the icing on the cake not the cake. Vests are NIJ-certified
WITHOUT a Blunt Trauma Pad.
not conducted research to determine the effectiveness of such inserts.
In general, NIJ believes that agencies should select armor that
provides the rated level of protection over the entire area of coverage,
not just isolated areas.
...Guide to Police Body Armor, NLECTC
The big question
in Threat Levels is do you need Level
III or IV rifle plate protection? Adding a PAIR of 10" by 12"
Ceramic plates (~25 by 30 cm.) will add ~11 lbs. (5 kg.) to your 4
lb. vest (1.8 kg.)! (Plus it will double the cost of a $500 vest.)
You can cut that down to ~6 lbs. (2.7 kg.) with Ultra-light Polyethylene
plates but then the extra cost is ~$800.
U.S. urban areas, short-barreled firearms are the main threat because
they are the type of weapon most often used by criminals. Worse, they
are concealable you cant avoid something you cant
see. You can more easily avoid the criminal with a rifle, seen from
Once again, you
must evaluate the threats YOU are likely to face. If rifles are a
possible or probable threat, get some Level III or IV protection,
as this is often the only option short of your vehicles engine
block. (Or hoping that your car door will cut ~2,800 fps of rifle
muzzle velocity in half so that your soft body armor might
A good compromise
is a soft body armor vest for regular wear, with an optional carrier
with built-in rifle plate pockets, such as our ProMAX Concealable with a Rifle Plate
Pockets carrier. Or, more convenient for quick throw-on use, Rifle
Plates in a separate modular
Over-vest Carrier. This allows you to quickly add Rifle Plates
when the tactical situation demands.
Armor-Piercing Level IV Ceramic Plates
Analogous to the
soft body armor discussion on AP how often are you faced with
a criminal with Armor-Piercing ammo? The military in war zones, obviously.
SWAT teams may be well advised to spend the extra money for the peace
of mind and officer confidence.
But it can also
be argued that its not justified on the small percentage chance
of ever facing such a threat. Once again, you must evaluate the threats
YOU are likely to face.
Steel versus Ceramic Rifle Plates...
or Polyethylene Plates, versus Steel plates, are usually well justified
on two factors. Firstly the weight savings you are looking
at carrying ~3.3 or 5.5 lbs. per plate respectively, versus 9 lbs.
for steel (~1.5 or 2.5 kg. versus 4.1 kg.). Over two plates that is
5 lbs. to 11 lbs, of weight savings (2.3 or 5 kg.).
is less chance of ricochet or bullet splatter causing injury with
a Ceramic or Polyethylene plate. The bullet tends to penetrate further
into nonmetallic plates. (However, this also means that, in multi-hit
situations, ceramic or Polyethylene loses protective integrity faster
Steel does have
advantages its less expensive, and you dont have
to worry about fracturing it if dropped/abused. If you can afford
it, go light, but, as always, it's more important to wear second-best
protection than to have nothing.