Level III vs Level IV Body Armor | Ultimate guide To Understanding Body Armor

Level III vs Level IV Body Armor | Ultimate guide To Understanding Body Armor

Level/Type III Body Armor

The Level III conditioned armor is tested against a 7.62mm FMJ (M80 military) weighing 147 grain and a muzzle velocity of 2,780 ft/s. A 7.62mm FMJ is normally fired from an AK-47 style rifle or a sniper rifle.

Level III will stop most of all 5.56mm and 7.62mm bullets, but will not defeat military-grade armor-piercing ammo. For example, a NATO M855 5.56 x 45mm bullet with a 62-grain steel core will defeat a Level III armor system. It will, however, defeat a 5.56 x 45 mm bullet at 55 grain.

Level III will defeat a 7.62 x 51mm 147 grain (M80) FMJ fired from an AK-47 style rifle. It will not defeat an M2 AP 7.62mm x 63mm or 7.62 x54R API (BXN) fired from a Dragunov Sniper Rifle. 

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Level/Type IV Body Armor

Level IV hard armor or plate inserts tested ICW Level IV flexible armor after they’re conditioned under the NIJ regulations.

We specifically designed level IV body armor to defeat armor-piercing bullets in a military combat environment.

The NIJ rates level IV armor to defeat up to .30 caliber armor-piercing (AP) bullets that weigh 166 grain and a muzzle velocity of 2,880 ft/s.  Our soldiers wear Level IV armor in combat operations. 

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What’s The Difference Between Level/Type III and Level/Type IV Armor?

Level III armor is worn by police officers, corrections officers, and Federal agents in the FBI and Border Patrol. Level III will defeat handguns and the majority of sporting rifles (Hunting rifles, AR-15’s).

According to the FBI, most of all gun violence towards law enforcement is done by handguns. With hundreds of thousands of AR-15 rifles produced annually, the need for more protection is evident. Level III armor is lighter, easier to wear covertly, and is more affordable than Level IV.  

NATO military forces around the world normally wear level IV armor in the most austere environments. Level IV defeats AP bullets fired from military-grade weaponry and technology.

It's going to be more expensive and heavier than Level III. However, it’s going to give the most possible protection against ballistic threats that is technologically possible. 


According to the NIJ, there are 3 types of body armor models: male, female, and gender-neutral. The male and gender-neutral models are essentially the same in design and feel. The Female body armor model is only different in soft armor because soft armor can be flexible and pliable.

This allows armor to conform to the bust of a woman by developing a curve in the ballistic panels that make up the armor. Women with a larger bust should always consult the manufacturer to get the curve ballistics because they will be much less secure with male or gender-neutral armor.

This happens because a larger bust can push the armor panels forward, causing an underarm gap between the front and rear panels. 


The 1st thing to consider is what kind of threat are you expecting to face in your workday. For example, corrections officers don’t really have to fear being shot, because the prison environment doesn’t allow guns. However, they face being stabbed at a much higher rate than any other LEO. Corrections officers should always wear stab-resistant armor, instead of ballistic armor. 

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The other thing to consider when deciding which armor to use is the trade-off between ballistic protection and wearability. Protection levels decrease when your comfort level increases (Level II Soft Armor). For example, if you’re wanting to wear lightweight ballistic protection that is soft and flexible, you’ll be giving up protection. Buying a Level IV system will offer the most ballistic protection, but you’ll sacrifice comfort and maneuverability. 


Every person wearing body armor needs to understand that body armor (even Level IV) will not protect you 100%. Ballistic armor will protect you against the bullet penetrating your skin, but could still cause internal bleeding and severe bruising.

Depending on the caliber of the bullet, it will most likely knock the LEO to the ground and take the air out of their lungs.

Sometimes, the force of the bullet takes the officer off their feet, which can look like a fatality. If an assailant shoots an officer, these are things you should do immediately:

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  1. Neutralize the threat before attending to the downed officer. Do not rush to the down officer because there is still an active threat. Always keep in radio contact and get reinforcements to your location.

  2. Once officers neutralize the threat, attend to the LEO and perform any needed first aid. Most departments and all branches of the military provide training to deal with these situations. 

  3. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), everyone involved will go through some psychological issues, such as profuse sweating, crying, anger, and depression. Please talk with a medical professional to get ahead of the symptoms associated with this trauma. 

  4. Once a body armor system is shot, it needs to be replaced and never worn again. 


Body armor is just like everything else in your life and must be cared for maximum longevity and effectiveness. We believe you should treat Body armor like it can/will save your life when you need it the most. Every manufacturer has their own guidelines for proper care, but all share general guidelines.

  1. We should store armor flat at room temperature in a dry, shaded place with minimal exposure to sunlight.

  2. We can hang armor from a robust hanger that is specially designed to handle the weight and dimensions of the armor. 

  3. Never hang the body armor by the carrier straps, because it will stretch the fabric and compromise the integrity of the armor.

  4. As everyone who’s worn armor knows you’re soaked with sweat underneath the armor. Always try to turn the body armor inside out or open the flaps to air it out and let the moisture evaporate. 

  5. Always ensure your body armor is dry before you store it so you don’t degrade the material. You’ll know if it’s not dry because it will smell like an old gym locker room in high school. 

  6. Never store your armor in the trunk of a car because of exposure to extreme heat/cold.

  7. Never store your armor in places with little airflow, such as the bottom of a locker or in a drawer. 


Maintenance of your body armor is just as important as maintaining your car because it will not protect you if you don’t care for it. Using chemicals to clean your body armor can deteriorate the integrity of the armor panels and reduce its effectiveness. The NIJ created a guideline for how you should clean your armor, which I listed below.

  1. Remove the panels from the carrier

  2. Wipe the outer panel cover using a sponge or soft cloth with only cold water

  3. Always air dry the panels while laying flat to ensure no creases in the armor while it drys

  4. Insert the dried armor panels back into the carrier in the correct orientation

  5. Do not soak, submerge, or rinse your armor

  6. Never dry armor panels outside in the sun or shade because the ultraviolet light will degrade most ballistic material

  7. The carriers need to be hand-washed with cold water, and unscented mild detergents intended for delicate clothing

  8. Once we wash the plate carrier, we hang it up indoors until it’s completely dry


Every manufacturer is required to list its warranty and expected longevity of armor with the NIJ.

The first thing you should do before you buy from any company is to look at the Compliance Product list (CPL). If the company you’re wanting to buy from is not on this list, DO NOT BUY FROM THEM! The Justice Technology Information Center (JTIC) and the NIJ must approve the armor before you can ensure its authenticity.

Many factors contribute to the longevity of armor, but you can expect body armor to last 3-10 years if you follow the guidelines listed above. If you’re looking for the best warranty and best overall armor, no other company on the CLP can beat ShotStop’s 15-year warranty. 

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NIJ-Listed Level III body armor protects the wearer of the armor from rifle caliber bullets shot from an AR-15 style rifle and every handgun caliber.

Soldiers, SWAT Team members, and Federal officers in the field wore level IV body armor. Level IV armor will offer the highest level of protection registered by the NIJ.

The trade-off between the level of protection and wearability is the main point to think about when deciding which armor to wear. 

Level IV armor is going to be heavier and reduce your mobility, whereas Level III will offer protection against most rifles and pistols and offer better mobility. 

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  • I’m surprised to hear that my steel level 3 plates only last 3 to 10 years regardless of how stored.

    Bob on

  • 7.62×51 cannot be chambered in a AK-47 because of the longer casing. 7.62 x51 is usually used in the Mosin-Nagant rifle and some modern day hunting rifle. The AK-47 is chambered for the shorter 7.62×39 cartridge…as is the SKS rifle and carbine.

    Michael Maston on

  • This was very informative. I wanted to learn about the different types of vests. Does your company make vests for police dogs? Thank you.

    Joseph L Martin on

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