Most people would assume a “bullet proof” vest could withstand anything for a certain amount of time until it breaks (like in video games). However, in the real world “bullet proof” is divided into different levels, each which are rated to resist certain caliber rounds.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is responsible for helping standardize bullet proof ratings. For the purpose of this article, we will only be talking about bullet protectiveness and not knife or stab proofing.
Price: $30 – $100/ kit, but some kits can go all the way up to $200 for fully body protection.
Weight: 5 lbs / plate
Level IIA armor is the weakest on this list only rated to stop a 9mm bullet. When talking about armor variants, there are “soft” types which are soft and squishy material such as kevlar or some other type of plastic resin material, and then there are steel or ceramic plates (usually associated with higher level armor).
Why would anyone want such a weake armor?
There are two very big factors when choosing the appropriate armor: the threat and weight (also sometimes price).
Personally, I would always want to run the most powerful armor when available, but certain scenarios might not call for it. It’s especially difficult to run steel plates if you’re supposed to be on an undercover mission. Public figures like politicians or business people also might also not look so good in plate carriers.
So most level IIA armor comes in soft, easily concealable vests.
Both LV IIA and II are rated for 9mm only. The difference is in the thickness and density of the material, the “A” version being lighter than the regular Level II armor.
Protection: 9mm, 45. ACP, .357 Magnum, etc. up to .44 Magnum
Price: $60 – $90 / Steel Body plate
Weight: ~6 lbs / body plate
Like Lv II Armor, this also comes in “Soft” and “Hard” variants. Basically, level IIIA is rated to stop most common handgun rounds.
You may be able to fit it in a backpack or plate carrier and they do have some vests marketed as “concealed” but it is unlikely that you will easily conceal a level IIIA vest unless you’re wearing a full tux / jacket.
Protection: 9mm, 45. ACP, .357 Magnum, etc. up to .44 Magnum, 5.56 / .223, 7.62 NATO
Price: $90 – $140 / Body plate
Weight: ~8.5 lbs / body plate
This is where the rifle level protection starts to come into play, of course, as you can see by the weight, this isn’t going to be light. Fully loaded plate carriers usually have side plates as well, so you’re dealing with 2 big plates and 2 small plates. the total weight of the kit could be anywhere from 17lbs – 25 lbs on its own!
The weight increases if you need to carry mags, medical equipment, tools, etc. Rifle level protection is no joke, but the cost will be a heavy rig on your body.
You can buy a full kit for about $220 here!
Protection: 9mm, 45. ACP, .357 Magnum, etc. up to .44 Magnum, 5.56 / .223, 7.62 NATO, + ????
Price: $90 – $160 / Body plate
Weight: ~8.5 lbs / body plate
Unlike Level III armor, III+ is not an official designation but used by many manufactures to designate that their armor offers higher protection than the Lv III standard.
Because there is no standard for III+ it is up to you to research each company for specifications (if any exists). Some III+ armor is advertised for certain armor penetrating rounds, while others merely have an additional coating for “extra” protection.
I am not in any way saying that you should avoid III+ simply because the specification isn’t official. The better protection is always preferred, but I am saying that it is difficult to put them all in one boat. One thing is for sure, you should have at least III protection if you buy a III+ plate.
Protection: 9mm, 45. ACP, .357 Magnum, etc. up to .44 Magnum, 5.56 / .223, 7.62 NATO, .30 armor piercing rounds
Price: $150 – $850 / Body plate
Weight: ~8.3 lbs / body plate
Like the Level III armor, this offers even further protection against some of the most devastating rounds like the 30-06 and similar rounds.
They also offer different types of Lv IV armor in varying weights. You will begin to see the lighter weight armor costing a lot more in the $300 range (per plate)!
4.4 lb AR500 IV plates can be bought for about $700!!!
As regular civilians, it is unlikely that we will need to be in a situation that calls for covert armor. I personally wouldn’t advocate for Lv II armor for any regular citizen, even IIIA armor doesn’t seem to make a good compromise for cost / weight, vs lv III or IV armor.
If the world even came to an apocalyptic situation where we would need to be wearing body armor to protect against other american citizens who likely 0wn AR15’s and rifles, I would definitely want a minimum of LV IIII armor handy.