What Do The NIJ Protection Levels Mean?
NIJ LEVELS - US NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE
NIJ Ballistic Levels Protection ( Level IIA, Level II, Level IIIA, Level III and Level IV)
Ballistic helmet is a critical safety piece of safety equipment that has saved the lives of thousands of people. However people who are in the market for helmets often find it difficult to assess which choice is right for them. There are a few primary factors to consider which solution will best suit their needs; threat level, heat buildup, comfort, mobility conceal-ability and cost. Threat level or protection level is typically the biggest factor when choosing ballistic helmets, and also the most difficult aspect to understand.
Limited by technology and materials, the highest level helmet that can be made is only NIJ IV. As we all know, the weight of a helmet is directly proportional to its protection level, that is, the higher the protection level, the heavier the helmet. Even with the advancement of material fibers, the ratings that every NIJ needs to wear a rifle-grade ballistic helmet will appear to be too bulky. Excessive weight will cause great obstacles to the wearer's exercise and cause a lot of discomfort. That’s why we can’t produce NIJ V helmets.
NIJ Armor Protection Levels
Keep in mind that each level can protect from its own threat range AND those of the previous levels. So a level IIIA armor protects from the same threats as level II and below.
NIJ LEVEL I BODY ARMOR
The original NIJ Level - now out of commission
The Level I protection rating was created in the 1970s and is now obsolete. If you come across a Level I vest, consider it either memorabilia or junk.
NIJ LEVEL IIA BODY ARMOR
The current lowest level of protection
Level IIA armor is the lightest and most flexible armor available today but largely out of date. Usually soft armor, it's easily concealed beneath clothes.
LEVEL IIA PROTECTS AGAINST:
.9mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) at 1165 feet per second (ft./s)
.40 S&W (Smith & Wesson) FMJ at 1065 ft./s
NIJ LEVEL II BODY ARMOR
"HANDGUN ARMOR," DEFEATING UP TO .357 MAGNUM ROUNDS
Level II vests are still relatively light, flexible, and easily discrete under clothes, but can defeat a higher range of ammunition than Level IIA. They also offer more blunt force protection than IIA.
LEVEL II PROTECTS AGAINST:
all handgun rounds, up to and including .357 magnum jacketed soft point (JSP)
NIJ LEVEL IIIA BODY ARMOR
Good all-round for concealable, lightweight protection
Level IIIA is the most common protection level you'll see when browsing for soft body armor.
Found in everything from bulletproof vests to bulletproof backpacks, it's a bit heavier than Level IIA or II but still largely concealable.
LEVEL IIIA PROTECTS AGAINST:
9 mm rounds traveling at speeds of up to 1400 ft./s.
.44 magnum rounds.
Some suppliers offer level IIIA+ vests that protect against shotgun rounds, 9 mm Civil Defense rounds, and FN 5.7. While such vests aren't officially certified by the NIJ, it's becoming a popular option for niche use.
NIJ LEVEL III BODY ARMOR
Level III body armor is the first level that protects against rifle rounds. This armor usually consists of hard plates as opposed to soft plates, so it's not concealable.
Hard armor is also heavier than soft armor, but with that weight comes greater protection.
LEVEL III IS DESIGNED TO HANDLE:
Six shots from a 7.62x51 NATO round traveling up to 2780 ft./s