So you’re interested in body armor, but not sure which level is right for you?
We are here to provide a no-nonsense explanation of each body armor level, their stopping capabilities, and a few use-applications to help determine which level is right for you. If you have additional questions about the testing procedures, the NIJ, NTS, or anything not touched on here, please check out our other Articles, the official NIJ guidelines, or send us an email. We’re always happy to talk and educate.
First things first, the handy-dandy bulletproof chart:
In order of strength, body armor can be found today in the following levels: IIA, II, IIIA, III, and IV. Several “Plus” versions of body armor can also be found, such as III+ and IIIA+, but these are not considered official armor levels; we will address that shortly.
Seeing this chart, one may simply think, “Easy. I’ll just go for the highest level of body armor and be done with it.” But this is not always ideal for the situation at hand - in fact, that is realistically the case more often than not.
Why? Read on.
This rating was created back in the 70’s as the “original” NIJ standard, and is now all but obsolete. We will disregard it for the sake of this article.
Level II and IIA
Level II/IIA armor is the lightest (and weakest) level of body armor on the market today. Level IIA protects against .9mm FMJ at 1165 fps (feet-per-second) and .40 S&W at 1065 fps, and Level II protects against .357 magnum JSP. While Level II armor offers great protection against most pistol rounds, modern developments in Level IIIA armor make it a superior option in almost every way. Predator Armor does not currently offer Level II or IIA armor.
If you are looking for soft, lightweight, flexible body armor, Level IIIA is the place to be. Utilized by law enforcement agencies and private security around the country, Level IIIA armor is favored for its concealability and overall ease-of-use. Level IIIA will stop 9mm rounds up to 1400 fps, .44 magnum, and .357 Sig. People occasionally get confused by the naming of this armor, thinking the “A” means it is stronger than standard Level III armor - but it is just the opposite. The proper designation in order of strength is: Level IIIA, Level III, and Level III+. Don’t ask why, we didn’t make the rules.
Level IIIA armor will be sufficient for a vast majority of firearm-involved incidents in the United States. The media and federal government would love to convince you that every single shooting these days involves an AR15 or some other “scary” rifle, but if you look at the actual FBI statistics linked above, homicides involving ANY rifle (not just semi-automatic) make up less than 3% of total homicides in the United States. That is not to say rifle-involved shootings don’t happen of course, but if your goal is to prepare smart, you’d be hard pressed to not incorporate Level IIIA armor into your kit. Due to the weight alone, this is the most practical “everyday carry” armor option.
Predator Armor currently offers 10x12 Level IIIA panels that will work with most plate carriers. We also offer a concealed plate carrier specifically for IIIA soft armor which can be worn under clothing, as well as a slightly larger backpack armor panel - great for laptop bags, briefcases, even children’s backpacks.
Outstanding protection when you’re on the go.
Of course, you still may be wanting bulletproof protection from rifle rounds anyway - and for many people and their lines of work, places of living, or simple desire to be prepared for the worst, rifle protection is a must. So let’s get into it:
Shown: Level III Body Armor with Base Coat and Kevlar Lining options
Level III body armor is the first rating specifically designed to stop rifle rounds. Specifically, Level III must stop SIX (6) rounds of 7.62x51 NATO at 2780 fps, and do so from close range with minimal backface deformation. This multi-hit requirement makes it extremely versatile for any number of applications.
Level 3 plates typically consist of harder materials than IIIA, making them heavier, stiffer, and more difficult to conceal. This is why rifle rated plates are often referred to as hard armor. If you are in a situation that calls for Level III armor, concealment is probably not top of mind. In other words, this is the first armor level to consider for those truly FUBAR/SHTF situations - the alarm is already sounded, an intruder is in your home, society is collapsing, or some other very bad shit is already going down.
Predator Armor Level III lightweight Polyethylene Plate
We currently offer Level III Armor in two variations: AR500 Steel (approximately 7.5 lbs with an optional Kevlar lining for containing spalling and fragmentation), and UHMWPE Armor (approximately 3 lbs). These two types of armor both have some pros and cons. Obviously the biggest difference is going to be the weight. The Polyethylene armor is half the weight of the AR500 armor. The UHMWPE Armor is also much more expensive. The lifespan on the two is drastically different as well. AR500 steel armor have a 20 year lifespan on them, whereas the lightweight polyethylene plates have a 5 year lifespan. In terms of stopping capability, they both meet and exceed the NIJ Level III Standards. Meaning they will both stop 6 shots of 7.62x51. The Poly plates will stop your higher velocity rounds, such as 5.56 M193 from a 20” barrel as well. They will not stop the M855 green tip. Our AR500 steel Level III Body Armor will stop 5.56 M193 from a 16” barrel at close range but not a from a 20” barrel. It will stop M855 green tip though. There are trade offs with all armor plates and this is no different. You have to decide which type of armor works best for you.
There’s that “Plus” we talked about - so what does it mean for armor to be “Plus” rated?
Level III+ or any other “Plus” armor is NOT an official NIJ rating. It is a term used to designate a body armor plate that is stronger than a “standard” version of the same level, but isn’t quite strong enough to be considered the next level up. For example, you may have a Level III plate that does not stop 62 grain M855 ammunition, but a III+ plate that does. Since the III+ plate still does not meet Level IV requirements, it is designated with the “Plus” and would be considered only Level III by the NIJ. Keep in mind that each company’s individual “Plus” offering will be unique with regards to what it actually stops. Just because Company X says their Plus-rated armor will stop this round or that round, do not assume Company Y’s Plus-rated armor will stop it too. In other words, that “Plus” is not a universal designation for any single caliber.
With that being said, let’s talk about Predator Armor’s absolute beast of a III+ plate. Because… whew boy:
5.56 (M193+M855) from a 20” barrel.
M855A1 from a 16” barrel.
7mm Rem Mag.
…to name a few. Not quite convinced? Here’s a photo straight from one of our retail partners:
Photo Courtesy of Nodak Arms, Inc
…and the list goes on. Hell, want to take a guess at what this is?
That’s a 660 grain .50 BMG, from 100 and 200 yards respectively (Watch it happen here).
As the writer of this article, these plates coupled with a Kevlar lining are my absolute go-to for disaster-level scenarios. I keep them in my home-defense kit, as well as my truck kit for those worst-case situations I pray never happen.
And I’m not the only one that uses them for worst-case scenarios. Plenty of our friends in Ukraine are actively using Predator Armor plates through the current Russian invasion:
Video credit withheld for safety reasons.
…and have provided us with outstanding in-field testing. The plate below shows impacts from 7.62x39, 5.45x39, and 7.62x54R:
Want peace of mind in a 10x12-sized plate? We’ve got it.
Finally, the highest level of body armor: Level IV. This armor consists of hard plates, weighing anywhere from 3 to 10 pounds, and is generally the most expensive option on the market.
Level IV armor is rated to stop ONE (1) round from a 7.62 AP bullet at a velocity of 2880 fps - typically tested via .30-06 150 Grain Black Tip.
Aside from a commonly higher price tag, Level IV armor is not always preferable due to the single-round stopping requirement. That means once your plate has taken a hit, it is no longer required to take any additional rounds and may immediately be compromised, depending on the materials used. This provides Level III armor with more of a “blanket” advantage, since the plate cannot be compromised for at least six rounds, regardless of material - albeit from a slightly weaker round.
With the capabilities of Level III+ armor, and the monumentally rare chances of actually needing protection from (or even surviving) 30-06 armor-piercing rounds, there’s little reason to pay heed to the “Level IV or nothing” trolls that plague Reddit and other online forums.
Predator Armor does not offer Level IV armor at this time, but will likely be releasing a line later in 2023.
Let’s talk about 5.56 and .223.
“Speed kills armor” you say? We wouldn’t know.
One comment we hear more than any other is this: “Level III isn’t rated for 5.56, so it is useless.” This comment is objectively incorrect for the simple reason that no NIJ Standard currently tests for .223 or 5.56. Many people believe the NIJ standards to be outdated and/or needing revision to reflect this common round for that reason. It is also the reason the tactical world is plagued with misconceptions that Level III armor is “useless” and should be avoided. When those keyboard warriors we mentioned are spamming the internet with “Level IV or nothing”, they typically do so with 5.56 in mind, yet ironically do not realize that you don’t actually need a Level IV plate to stop 5.56 - just a strong Level III plate.
As we implied earlier, If a plate is capable of stopping 5.56, but not 30-06 AP rounds, the NIJ would consider it a Level III plate. Perfect? No armor is. Useless? Not even close.
How do the Armor Levels translate to real-world scenarios?
The answer is… meh.
Understanding the answer to this question is as critical as understanding the NIJ standards themselves: should we esteem these standards as the highest of high laws, or are they to be considered more… guidelines?
Here’s the thing - Nearly all NIJ testing is performed at near point-blank ranges, within intricately controlled environments that are virtually never found in the real world. While many handgun engagements will take place at closer ranges, odds are your engagement against that .30-06 AP-wielding foe will not be. And while that Level III plate may not be able to take such a round at 15 yards, it’ll more than likely take it at 50.
Moreover, remember that just because your plate can stop whatever rounds you expect it to, doesn’t mean you’re scot-free. So you took a magnum round to the chest with your Level IV plate - now what? Do you think you’ll just recover from that blunt force and keep moving? Do you expect your enemy to wait patiently, or hope they only carry a single round with them?
Assumptions kill. Training saves.
Hopefully you see where I’m getting at. No amount of “certified” protection can protect you from poor training, poor tactics, and a lack of common sense. So be smart about it. Go out and learn from professionals, and be cautious of how much information you take in from people online with no real experience. Train often, train correctly, experiment, and grow your mind and body. That’s the only way to (almost) guarantee survival. Remember that the world is not going to be as consistent or controlled as an NIJ testing lab - a fact which can equally provide both advantages and disadvantages.
If you’re reading this, you’ve already shown that you are willing to learn - and that puts you at a monumental advantage over most.
Train hard, train smart, and be victorious.