Bulletproof vests are dangerously misleading. The term implies that they can protect against any firearm, but in reality there are several factors that contribute to the protectivity that body armor offers. The material, caliber of the assaulting weapon, and velocity of the projectile can cause life threatening situations that result in the failure of the product. With careful research, an informed consumer can select the best protection without fear of unintended injury.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) classifies bullet-resistant materials into one of four categories. While each subset requires separate criteria depending on its use, generally the higher the rating, the more effective protection the material provides. Above all other factors, the NIJ rating is the most important piece of information to determine the quality of body armor. Never purchase body armor without an NIJ rating.
The base level of protection involves “soft” body armor which is commonly known as a bulletproof vest. Though this is commonly accepted, the term can be dangerously misleading. Most soft body armors do not have the structural integrity to stop rifle rounds from penetrating their fabric. If armor is purchased without appropriate research, the product can result in catastrophic injuries, because it was not intended to handle all of the threats that the consumer thought it could. Soft armor produced in accordance with NIJ 0101.05 Standard must adhere to one of three ratings.
Tested Against: 9mm FMJ at 1,090 fps
.40 S&W FMJ at 1,025 fps
Pros: This Armor is great for most threats encountered in a civilian environment, and its thin overall width allows it to be the best in terms of comfort and concealability.
Cons: Due to the lack of protective material, it allows a strong, blunt-force impact which can cause damage even if the round does not penetrate the armor. Due to the lack of interest in the overall market, II-A armor generally requires to be purchased through an individual order.
Tested Against: 9mm FMJ at 1,175 fps
.357 JSP at 1,400 fps
Pros: It provides a great balance between the overall protection while also being easy to conceal under clothing. The added protection allows smaller, blunt-force impacts than II-A.
Cons: It does not protect against the more serious threats, and the blunt trauma can still be enough to fracture bones and inhibit the user from effectively fighting back.
Tested Against: 9mm FMJ at 1,400 fps
.44 Magnum Hollowpoint at 1,400 fps
Pros: Provides the highest level of protection of all soft body armors, and reduces blunt force impact to minimal levels. This is great for high contact engagements.
Cons: It’s added bulk makes NIJ III-A soft armor hard to conceal. In addition, the added materials and testing results in a higher price.
While soft armor is tested against ballistic weapons, they are also effective at protecting against slashing weapons like a knife. It is important to note, most soft armors are not stab resistant, due to the blade being able to slip between the vest’s protective fibers. Some models of vests are produced to be thrust-resistant in addition to the other qualities, though this is not part of the NIJ rating.
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