Level 3+ Vs. Level 4 Body Armor | Which Armor is Better for Every Day Protection?

Level 3+ Vs. Level 4 Body Armor | Which Armor is Better for Every Day Protection?

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For those of you who wear body armor everyday (for work [LEOs, Military] or public security concerns), think about how you selected your plates. Chances are the first 3 things you considered were mobility, threat level, and weight

There are several changes occuring right now with how body armor is regulated and tested, making it difficult for anyone to keep up with the different threat levels.

There are also many factors that impact body armor capability, such as edge-to-edge protection, multi-hit resistance, and durability.

Today, I would like to explain the changes with the new NIJ standards. A complete understanding of threat level protection will help you make decisions on the best options for daily use and future use of body armor. 

ShotStop Level 3 Body Armor

How Do I Choose the Right Body Armor?

According to PERF, the most popular body armor for police officers is Level II (41%) and Level IIIA (35%) because most officers are concerned with stopping bullets fired from their own guns. However, I wouldn't buy anything lower than Level III+ armor and would highly consider Level IV if the specs were right. 

The question you should ask yourself is, “Which armor is better for everyday protection?” As you gain a better understanding of the NIJ standards, we’re confident that you’ll be better protected with ShotStop® Ballistics. 

What Impact Does the NIJ Have on Body Armor Classification? 

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is responsible for all ballistic protection testing and standardization for every company selling body armor plates in the United States. 

The NIJ created the 0101.06 standards over 15 years ago, and we all know how much technology has advanced since then.

Ballistics has improved to a point where pistol-sized guns can shoot rifle-caliber bullets with incredible reliability and accuracy.

ShotStop Level 4 Body Armor

As ballistic technology improves with bullets becoming faster, more accurate, and packing more punch, it’s vital for the NIJ to keep up with modern technology. 

The current standards only have testing requirements and guidelines for ballistic plates (soft & hard plates).

The new NIJ 0101.07 standards for ballistic protection were created, in part, to incorporate new ballistic protection technologies, such as bulletproof hoodies, bulletproof backpacks, automotive, and infrastructure ballistic materials

What Are the New Ballistic Resistance Standards for Personal Body Armor?

As far as rifle protection goes, there are 3 classifications in the new standards, RF1, RF2, and RF3. To keep things simple, RF1 is similar to NIJ Level 3 armor, except it includes the special threats that we label as Level 3+. These threats include the 7.62x39mm, 5.56x45mm (M193) BT, and the M80 bullets

RF2 includes the 3 bullets listed above, but also protects against the armor penetrating Green-Tip M855(A1). In current standards, the RF2 would have to be listed as Level IV body armor. 

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RF3 replicates the current NIJ Level 4 body armor standard that will protect against a 30.06 M2 Armor Piercing (AP) FMJ spire point AP, in addition to any shoulder-fired bullet that you might come across.

RF3 is typically worn by warfighters, S.W.A.T. teams, and other special LEO organizations who are certain they will face off against high-caliber rifles.

NIJ RF Threat Level

Test Threat Ammo


Reference Velocity


7.62x51mm M80 Ball NATO FMJ steel jacketed spire point boat tail (SPBT) 149 +0/-3 grain

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

2,780 ft/s


7.62x39mm surrogate test round 120.5 grain 

Specifications provided by NIJ (See Ref. 16)

2,380 ft/s


5.56x45mm (M193) BT 56 Gr

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

3,250 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Plus 5.56mm NATO, M855)

7.62x51mm M80 NATO FMJ SPBT 149 Grain

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

2,780 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Plus 5.56mm NATO, M855)

7.62x39mm 120.5 grain 

Specifications provided by NIJ (See Ref. 16)

2,380 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Same as NIJ RF1 plus 5.56 mm M855)

5.56mm M193 BT 56 Gr

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

3,250 ft/s


5.56mm M855 BT 61.8 Gr

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

3115 ft/s

NIJ RF3 (Formerly NIJ 0101.06 Level IV)

30.06 M2 Armor Piercing (AP) FMJ spire point AP 165.7 +0/-7 grain

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

2880 ft/s (878 m/s)


Why Make the Changes Now?

Having the ability to carry a gun that fires a 7.62x51mm or a 5.56x45mm NATO bullet in our jackets, backpacks, or under our clothes is more common now than ever before.

This presents obvious concerns for LEOs because potential assailants can conceal guns that offer firepower superiority over any duty weapon an LEO carries. 

The new standards make it easier to understand threat levels by changing the names from Level 3-4 to RF1, RF2, RF3.

By placing RF (Rifle) in the standard, there is less confusion between Level IIIA (Handgun protection) and Level III (Rifle protection). This helps prevent LEOs from thinking they have rifle protection when they only have pistol-caliber bullet protection. 

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Currently Level 3 body armor only tests the M80 bullet and this creates some confusion for  customers with no previous knowledge of armor. For example, some may think that if the armor plate can stop a 7.62x51mm bullet, then it can stop a smaller bullet, such as a 5.56x45mm. 

However, due to the higher velocity of the smaller round, an NIJ-Listed level 3 plate can’t guarantee you that it can stop a 5.56mm bullet. This is where Level 3+ body armor comes in to fill the gap between a standard M193 NATO bullet and the bigger M80 NATO bullet.

What is Level 3+ Body Armor?

In light of all the different brands producing Level 3+ body armor, we decided to write a blog to explain the difference between Level III Vs. Level III+ Body Armor. Essentially, Level 3+ armor is a way for us to show our customers that our plates will stop more than the standard 7.62x51mm (M80) bullet that is tested by the NIJ.

Is Level 3+ Body Armor NIJ-Listed?

No, even in the newest standards Level 3+ isn’t a part of the standardization process. Since Level 3+ body armor can mean so many different things, the NIJ can’t test the dozens of variants that companies now offer the public. However, the new standards help clarify the different special threats with clearly defined new guidelines (RF1, RF2, RF3). 

Will a Level 3+ Body Armor Plate Stop a M855 or M855A1?

Once the new standards are officially implemented by the NIJ, there won’t be a need for us to list our armor as Level 3+ anymore. Much of the confusion with the current standards revolve around the M193 and M855(A1). 

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A Level 3+ armor plate will stop a M193 NATO round, but it will not stop a M855 or M855A1 round. Even with all the different brands of Level 3+, none are guaranteed to stop a 5.56mm Green-Tip bullet (M855).

What Can Our Duritium® Level 3+ Armor Stop?
  • All handgun caliber bullets, including a .22LR, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and 9mm
  • 5.56x45mm 55 grain ball (M193)
  • 7.62x39mm PS ball (MSC)
  • 7.62x51mm 149 grain M80 FMJ

Does Duritium® Level III+ Armor Provide Edge-To-Edge Protection?

One of the more contentious subjects with modern body armor is whether it provides edge-to-edge protection against the NIJ-Listed ammo.

The good news is that all Duritium® Level 3+ plates provide full edge-to-edge protection.

This means that even if a bullet hits the edge of the plate, it will not penetrate the armor. However, as with any shot to the edge of a plate, there is a chance of a ricochet.

I will dedicate our next blog to explaining everything you could ever want to know regarding edge to edge protection. 

What is the Best level 3+ Plate For Everyday Use?

The Duritium® Level III+PA Body Armor is the perfect combination of strike-face configuration (edge-to-edge protection), multi-hit capability, and durability. 

The Level III+PA plate is only 2.7 lbs per plate for the Shooter’s Cut (10”x12”) and remains under 1” thick. Both of our Level III+ plates are multi-curve plates to ensure comfort whether you’re sitting in a patrol car, bending at the knees, or running toward/away from a conflict. 

There is no other Level 3+ plate on the planet that offers full edge-to-edge protection against a M80, M193, and a 7.62x39mm bullet, while maintaining its integrity from multiple shots to the vest.

Our NIJ Compliance Letter shows 6 stops against these bullets, but as you can see from the video below, our Duritium® Level III+ plates will stop dozens. 

Who Should Wear Level 3+ Plates?

I strongly believe that every police officer should wear Level 3+ armor at the very least. However, for city cops and Sheriff Deputies in rural areas, Level 4 armor is a better option.

Ask yourself these questions listed below and if you answer yes to any of them, you should consider a Level 3+ armor plate. 

  • Do I carry a CCW?
  • Am I worried about my safety where I live or work?
  • Do I hunt on public land?

  • More people are using a Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) than ever before, due to the civil unrest, political strife, and overall concern for personal safety.

    I believe if you’re worried enough to carry a pistol in public, you must have a concern you could be shot. 

    One thing I can tell you from my time as a police officer and soldier is that facing down the barrel of a gun can be traumatizing. Even with a CCW, the other person might get a shot off before you.

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    Having a Level 3+ armor plate will ensure you have the utmost confidence in stopping any bullet that civilians are legally allowed to carry. 

    Hunting on public land is one of the most stressful experiences that I voluntarily take part in. Every year I read about people in my town that are shot and killed in hunting accidents due to negligence.

    A Level 3+ body armor plate will stop both a 12 Ga and 20 Ga shotgun, a .308, and make easy work of a .22LR.

    Personally, I wear the Duritium® Level IV+HA Body Armor while hunting to ensure I’m protected against a 30-06 bullet. 

    Level 4 Body Armor

    Level 4 body armor is the most common threat protection for the U.S. military due to its protection against armor-piercing bullets, such as the M2AP and M855A1 bullets.

    Does Duritium® Level IV+ Armor Provide Edge-To-Edge Protection?

    In order to be as transparent as possible, it’s important for us to acknowledge the fact that our Level IV+ body armor is not full edge-to-edge protection.

    As you can see from the diagram below, there is 0.5” around the edge of the plate (buffer) that can’t be guaranteed to hold up to a 30-06 M2AP bullet. 

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    Although our Level 4 armor doesn’t provide edge-to-edge protection for the 30-06 M2AP, it does offer edge-to-edge protection against the 9mm, 357 Mag, 44 Mag, 5.56x45mm (M193) , and the 7.62x39mm PS Ball

    What is the Best Level 4 Body Armor For Everyday Use?

    There is no lighter, thinner, and more comfortable Level 4 body armor than the Duritium® Level IV+HS plate.

    Wearing Level 4 body armor means that you’re worried about being shot with a high powered rifle with armor piercing capability. However, most people shy away from Level 4 armor because of the perceived weight and lack of mobility.

    According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), less than 10% of LEOs wear Level 4 body armor. In conjunction with PERF, the BJS conducted a survey of thousands of LEOs across the country.

    They found that the lack of mobility, the excess in weight, and the lack of concern for rifle-caliber rounds are why LEOs don’t like Level 4 armor. 

    What if I could show you with definitive evidence that our Duritium® Level IV+HA Body Armor is the lightest, most durable, and comfortable Level 4 plate ever made? For starters, the 10” x 12” plate is only 4.5 lbs per plate and features a multicurve design for added comfort. 

    ShotStop Level 4 Body Armor

    Whether you’re a female officer or a man with a larger waistline or chest, our Duritium® multi-curve plate is designed to give you more space to breathe and function normally. 

    Who Should Wear Duritium® Level IV Armor?

    I know that no police officer wants to hear this, but my respect and admiration for law enforcement is why I believe every LEO should wear Level 4 body armor. I’ve held many Level 3 plates from family and friends still serving and they’re all heavier than our Duritium® Level IV+HA plate. 

    As technology advances and more Americans have access to SBRs and AR-pistols, LEOs are more at risk than ever before.

    NIJ-Listed body armor has saved over 4,000 officers since 1987 and will continue to save the lives of officers wearing the most relevant armor. 

    Why Should I Choose ShotStop®  Level III+ or Level IV Plates?

    Body Armor has been gaining popularity in the past couple of decades with the exposure to American soldiers through movies, shows, and social media.

    Oftentimes, one of the first questions I’m asked by civilians is, “What was it like to wear all that body armor?” My answer is always the same…”It’s heavy, hot, and uncomfortable.” Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way anymore with Duritium® technology. 

    As a soldier in either Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the only option for body armor is Level IV.

    For me and my teammates in the early 2000s, this meant an additional 20-40 lbs of armor including side plates. With Duritium® technology, the weight for modern soldiers can be cut down to 9 lbs for a front and back Level 4 plate

    Not only will wearing lighter weight save your energy, but it will save your knees, ankles, hips, and back in the future.

    As a disabled veteran, I can say with certainty that if I carried 20-30 lbs less weight in armor, I probably wouldn’t be on my third knee and ankle surgery. 

    If you give our plates a chance,we’re confident that we can provide the best Level 3+ and Level 4 body armor for your mission.

    All law enforcement and military organizations receive extensive discounts that you can’t see online. Please email us at sales@shotststop.com for further questions and concerns.

    Our Duritium® body armor plates are the lightest, thinnest, and most comfortable plates you'll ever wear. We also understand that our armor is an expensive initial cost compared to our competitors. Even though our 10 (Level 4) and 15-year (Level 3+) warranties make our armor cheaper over time, spending more than $500 on a set of plates is a lot at one time.

    Showing our customers that they can trust our name means everything to us as a team. This is why we show proof of our receipts on each product page in the form of NIJ Compliance letters and independent ballistic lab tests results. 

    The main goal of this deal is to have everyone interested in Level 3 and Level 4 body armor have a chance to get huge savings on life-saving gear. Happy New Year to everyone and we hope you stay safe!

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