Levels of Bulletproof Vests


Bulletproof vests are most commonly used by law enforcement and military personnel. The primary materials used in producing bullet proof vests are Kevlar and Spectra. Rating levels are ranked as either I, II, II-A, III, III-A, IV or Special type vests. Special type level bulletproof vests are those with protection levels that do not qualify under any of the specific conditions described for the other stated levels.

National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Standards

  • Manufacturers of authentic bulletproof vests must meet guidelines established by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). When considering the purchase of a bulletproof vest, you should read the label which describes the size, model, manufacturer, rating, lot number, issue date and serial number. Vests with ratings I through III-A must contain a disclaimer warning the purchaser that the vest does not provide protection against rifle fire or puncture wounds.

    The NIJ's bullet proof vest rating guide states that although no vest is 100 percent safe, "routine use of appropriate body armor significantly reduces the likelihood of fatal injury."

Purchase Considerations

  • The NIJ guide warns that the unnecessary purchase of higher rated vests often results in the failure to use the vest at all because higher rated vests are usually heavier and less comfortable than lower rated vests. However, the NIJ recommends that vest selection should protect against both street threats and possible use of an officer's own gun by suspects. According to the NIJ, the best overall vests to purchase are usually Type II and Type II-A.

Level I

  • Type I vests protect against .22 long rifle lead round nose bullets. The body armor is lightweight and represents the minimum standard.

Levels II and II-A

  • Type II vests protect against 9mm and .357 Magnum full metal jacket round nose bullets. They are heavier than Type I and Type II-A vests. Type II-A vests protect against 9mm and .40 Smith & Wesson full metal jacket round nose bullets.

Levels III and III-A

  • Type III vests protect against rifle fire from 7.62mm full metal jacket bullets. They provide protection against all Type I through Type III-A rated threats. Type III-A vests protect against high-velocity 9mm and .44 Magnum full metal jacket round nose bullets. Police departments in hot, humid locations should encourage use only in tactical operations such as barricade confrontations.

Level IV

  • Type IV vests protect against .30 caliber armor-piercing bullets. Generally, this type of body armor is intended only for single-shot protection since ceramic materials used in constructing these vests are brittle. These vests should be used only when tactical operations dictate such use.

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