What are the Different Levels of Body Armor: NIJ Protection Levels

What are the Different Levels of Body Armor: NIJ Protection Levels

There are a range of different levels of protective body armor. Each plate, or vest, is designed for a different purpose.

To decide which level of body armor you require, you must understand each level. The NIJ levels of protection are a standard set to define what each level of body armor is designed to stop. By following NIJ standards, and equipping yourself with NIJ standard gear, you can ensure you are using the correct armor in the right circumstances.

In this comprehensive guide from the body armor manufacturers at Sarkar Tactical, we explain each level of body armor. This will help you decide which one you require, or just understand the various protection levels.

Table of Contents

National Institute of Justice Protection Levels (NIJ)

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. It is dedicated to advancing scientific research, development, and evaluation in the field of criminal justice. 

One critical aspect of their work is the establishment of standards for body armor or ballistic-resistant vests used by militaries and police.

NIJ Protection Levels are a standardized framework. These levels categorize body armor based on its ability to provide protection against various ballistics. These protection levels are crucial in determining the specific capabilities and intended use of different types of body armor.

Levelled body armor is generally used in plate carriers or bulletproof vests. Find out more about what a plate carrier is, how to set up a plate carrier, or what bulletproof vests are made of.

Sarkar Delta-3


This lightweight 10” x 12” Level III plate reduces spall and has a multi-curved shape to fit the body comfortably…
The Sarkar Delta 3 plate is designed to meet the complete requirements of NIJ level III. This Dyneema® plate…
This single-curve 6” x 6” Side Plate has been independently tested to defeat the 7.62 x 63mm AP round…
This high performing 10” x 12” Type III/IV plate remains our most economical and popular offering…
This high performing 10” x 12” Type IV plate offers the most comprehensive stand alone protection from Level…
This 10” x 12” plate is our ultra-light NIJ Level IV insert and utilises a Hot Pressed Boron Carbide/Dyneema…


Soft, Concealable

NIJ Level IIA body armor is designed to mitigate the impact of certain handgun ammunition. It can provide defense against lower-velocity ammunition commonly found in typical handgun calibers.

While NIJ Level IIA offers protection against various handgun rounds, it’s important to note that it might not provide defense against higher-velocity or larger-caliber firearms.

What Does Level IIA Protect Against?

Level IIA can provide protection against handgun rounds, such as:

  • 9mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) rounds
  • .40 Smith & Wesson FMJ rounds
  • .45 ACP FMJ rounds

NIJ Level II (NIJ HG1)

Soft, Concealable

NIJ Level II body armor provides increased defense against a wider range of handgun threats compared to Level IIA. It can offer protection against various low-velocity handgun rounds. Similarly to Level II body armor, this is also still relatively flexible and lightweight. This means it can be easily concealed.

What Does Level II Protect Against?

Level II can provide protection against rounds such as:

  • 9mm FMJ rounds
  • .357 Magnum JSP rounds
  • .40 Smith & Wesson FMJ rounds
  • .45 ACP FMJ rounds


Soft, All-round, Concealable

NIJ Level IIIA body armor provides protection against a wider spectrum of ballistic threats compared to IIA and II. It effectively defends against various handgun ammunition. Additionally, NIJ Level IIIA body armor offers protection against blunt trauma from impacts. This reduces the risk of injury from blows or falls.

What Does Level IIIA Protect Against?

This level is designed to resist:

  • 9mm FMJ rounds
  • .357 SIG FMJ FN rounds
  • .44 Magnum SJHP rounds


nij level 3 armor plate

Hard, Rifle Defense

NIJ Level III body armor defends against rifle rounds and high-velocity ammunition. This is a broad spectrum of ballistic threats that lower levels can protect against. NIJ Level III body armor provides wearers with crucial protection against higher-velocity ballistic threats that surpass handgun ammunition.

What Does Level III Protect Against?

Level III body armor can protect against:

  • 7.62mm FMJ rounds
  • 5.56mm NATO FMJ rounds
  • .308 Winchester FMJ rounds

NIJ Level IV (NIJ RF3)

level 4 armor plate

Hard, High Velocity Rifle Defense

NIJ Level IV represents the highest level within the NIJ standards for body armor. It provides maximum protection against the most potent ballistic threats. NIJ Level IV body armor is engineered to withstand high-powered rifle ammunition and armor-piercing rounds.

What Does Level IV Protect Against?

This level offers protection against:

  • .30-06 M2AP rounds
  • 7.62mm NATO AP rounds
  • .300 Winchester Magnum AP rounds

Body Armor Levels Chart

Here is the current body armor levels chart from the NIJ:

Threat Level Table

Former Threat Level New Threat Level Notes
NIJ Level II NIJ HG1 HG = handgun
NIJ Level III NIJ RF1 RF = rifle
NIJ RF2 NIJ RF2 is a new intermediate rifle protection level that includes all the threats at the NIJ RF1 protection level plus an additional threat

Conclusion: The Different Levels of Body Armor

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Protection Levels delineate a crucial hierarchy of defense against ballistic threats. From the foundational protection of Level IIA, up to Level IV, each level has different protective capabilities. Understanding these levels is not just about the technical specifications of body armor. It’s about making informed decisions that could potentially safeguard lives in combat situations.

Find NIJ Level Certified Armor at Sarkar Tactical

Looking for tactical body armor? Explore Sarkar Tactical’s range of NIJ level certified armor. We design, craft, test, and supply all of our equipment, including helmets, armor, EOD and demining equipment, and tactical communications gear View our range of tactical vests, plate carriers, or ballistic armor plates Alternatively, learn how we test our armor, or explore our blog section.

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What is the standard for armor testing?

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Standard 0101.07 introduced a suite of standardized test methods and laboratory practices published by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for body armor evaluation. This updated standard represents a collaborative effort involving NIJ, the U.S. Army, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), ballistics laboratories, body armor manufacturers, materials suppliers, and other stakeholders.

Is there level 5 body armor?

The NIJ does not have a specific “Level 5” designation for body armor within its standardized levels. NIJ Standards for body armor typically range from Level IIA to Level IV at this point in time. Each level is designed for specific ballistic protection capabilities against various threats.

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