Many of us put ourselves in harm’s way for work and we need to take precautions against gunshot and knife wounds, shrapnel and more. Law enforcement officers and military personnel aren’t the only ones in dire need of protection against assaults by firearm criminals. Private detectives, bail bondsmen and other occupations yield an elevated risk of falling victim to an attack by someone equipped with a firearm. While wearing body armor isn’t a guarantee to escape a gunfight without a scratch, it does decrease the chance of being injured while also lessening the chance of falling victim to life threatening injuries. In short, body armor can help survive an attack that otherwise may have been fatal.
Nevertheless, not every level of body armor protection is equally effective against the same type of gun rounds. As the protection level goes up, so does the potential of preventing injury caused by an increasingly large caliber round. It starts with level I and ends with level IV body armor.
Level I Body Armor:
Level I body armor is fairly outdated. It is bulky and effectively only protects against .38 Special rounds that travel at or below 850 feet per second. In addition, level I body armor is capable of stopping .22 rounds that travel no faster than 1050 feet per second or bullet fragments.
Level IIA Body Armor:
Level IIA Body armor is the lightest and most mobile body armor available that is recommended for use. Unlike level I body armor, it isn’t outdated, but simply a very light body armor that is made for long term use and protection against relatively small caliber rounds that travel at rather slow velocities. Level IIA vests offer protection against 9mm full metal jacket rounds that are travelling no faster than 1090 feet per second, as well as .357 Magnum jacketed soft point rounds with a velocity of no more than 1250 feet per second. Level IIA vests certainly also offer protection against smaller calibers, such as .38 Special and .22 rounds.
Level II Body Armor:
Slightly thicker, heavier and carrying a larger protection potential than level IIA body armor is level II. Body armor that has a protection level of II is capable of stopping the same type of rounds, fired at equal velocities as level I and IIA vests, but also 9mm and .357 Magnum that are travelling at a much faster speed than level IIA protection is capable of stopping. Level II body armor can protect the wearer against 9mm FMJ rounds fired at up to 1175 fps and .357 Magnum JSP rounds with a speed of up to 1395 fps, as well as offer protection against larger and faster flying fragments than level I and IIA body armor.
Level IIIA Body Armor:
Level IIIA protective gear has an even larger protective potential than levels I, IIA and II. Level IIIA body armor will protect against 9mm Full Metal Jacket Round Nose, 124 grains, (8.0 g) rounds, with sub-machine gun velocities of up to 1400 feet per second. That is much faster of a velocity than the aforementioned levels of body armor were able to protect against.
However, that isn’t all that level IIIA body armor is capable of protecting the wearer against. Body armor with this level of protection is even capable of stopping .44 Semi Jacketed Hollow Point, 240 grains (15.6 g) Magnum rounds that are travelling 1400 feet per second or slower.
Level III Body Armor:
Level III body armor possesses significant stopping power. Not only are vests with this level of protection capable of stopping 9mm full metal jacket and .44 semi hollow point rounds, each travelling up to and even above 1400 feet per second, but the ballistic steel or ceramic plates even allow level III body armor to provide stopping force against even larger and faster travelling rounds. Level III body armor is capable of offering protection against .308 Winchester Full Metal Jacket, 148 grains (9.6 g) rounds with a velocity of up to 2750 feet per second. This represents a significant advantage over the lower level body armors described above.
Level IV Body Armor:
Level IV body armor represents the largest level of protection. Due to its larger inlay ballistic steel or ceramic plates, it protects against the same caliber rounds that the lower level body armors protect against, as well as .30 M2 AP Armor Piercing, 166 grains (10.8 g) rounds with an incredible velocity of up to 2850 feet per second. In addition, it protects against larger and faster travelling fragments than all of the other body armor levels.