What's the difference between level 3 and level 4 body armor?
Thinking about buying body armor but aren't sure which level of body armor you need; level 3 or level 4? You're not alone. This is one of the questions we here at 221B Tactical get the most from civilians looking to purchase body armor.
Weight: How much do level 3 and level 4 body armor plates weigh?
Level 4 body armor is heavier than level 3 body armor. Because of its increased stopping power, you are going to have a much denser plate. This is important to know and consider because wearing two (2) plates for an extended period of time can be taxing; especially for those who are not in the best shape.
You can expect level 3 plates to weigh roughly 3 pounds each. In comparison, you can expect level 4 body armor to weigh anywhere from 6-7 lbs. per plate. This may not sound like much at first. However, if I asked you what you'd rather carry around for a few hours; a 6 pound bag of flour or a 15 pound bag of flour, you'd most definitely choose the former.
Price: How much does level 3 and level 4 body armor cost?
Because of their increased stopping power and advanced construction, level 4 body armor typically costs more than level 3 body armor.
Now, the following numbers are just averages. Prices vary between manufacturers. One of the biggest factors to look for is where the plates are produced. Many people on the internet feel that body armor produced overseas is inferior to armor produced domestically in the United States. Keep in mind these same people are posting these comment using a device that was produced overseas while sitting on a chair which was produced overseas. Point being, just because it was produced overseas, it doesn't mean it's inferior. And just because it was produced in the U.S. doesn't mean it's better. Choose your body armor based on the quality of the company and product.
When it comes to level 3 body armor, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300-$350 per plate. This seems to be the industry average. As for level 4 body armor, expect to pay anywhere from $450-$500 per plate.
Ballistics: What type of bullets can level 3 and level 4 plates stop?
Ok, I'm gonna keep this really simple for those who don't really know too much about ballistics and don't really care to know. Personally, I'm a ballistics nerd. However, I know that most people aren't. Remember, if you're a tactical ninja with high level knowledge, this article isn't for you. This is for the average Joe who has no knowledge about body armor. So here's the simplest way I can put it.
Level 3 body armor plates are rated to stop bullets commonly shot from AR-15 type rifles: .223 / 5.56 ammunition. Most level 3 plates will also stop 7.62 FMJ, steel jacketed, non-ap (non armor piercing) rounds. To put his in perspective, most all law enforcement officers you see who are wearing a plate carrier are more than likely wearing level 3 plates.
Level 4 body armor plates are rated to stop rifle rounds including 30 caliber AP (armor piercing) bullets. This bullet is the same size that is fired from a 30-06. Level 4 plates are meant to stop military grade armor piercing rounds which level 3 plates are not designed to stop.
When purchasing either level 3 or level 4 body armor, be sure to note whether or not the plate has "multi-hit" capability. As you might imagine, a plate which is able to withstand multiple hits will be superior to a plate which is only capable of taking a single hit.
Usage: Where can you keep level 3 and level 4 body armor?
This section is gonna be really short. If you plan on keeping your plate carrier in your vehicle or anywhere your body armor plates will be subjected to extreme temperatures, stay away from composite body armor.
Composite body is not designed to withstand extreme hot or cold temperatures. In fact, such temperatures can cause premature breakdowns and failures in the body armor. This is why many people who have a plate carrier setup for their vehicle use steel body armor for these carriers. Steel body armor plates can withstand extreme heat and cold weather temperatures without affecting their integrity.
So if you're keeping your body armor in your house, composite plates are good to go. If you're gonna keep your body armor (plate carrier) in your trunk, go with steel body armor plates.
A Note On NIJ Certification
There are a few people out there that feel that plates which are not NIJ certified cannot be trusted. Here's the reality of NIJ certification; it costs A LOT of money.
Many companies will declare that their plates have been tested and meet and/or exceed NIJ testing standards. This means that the plates were tested in an independent lab according to the same standards the NIJ would test them at in their own lab. Many companies will even display these test results on their website. Personally, I always look for this and see it as a great sign.
Being in the industry for over 2 decades, I've come to understand that getting something officially tested and certified by the NIJ is incredibly expensive; so expensive that most companies simply cannot bear the financial cost (or the red tape). Therefore, they hire independent labs to test their products according to the same exact guidelines and standards which the NIJ uses. If the product passes, they simply declare "Meets or Exceeds NIJ Standards."
That said, if you are dead set on only purchasing officially NIJ certified body armor, you can expect to pay a considerable amount more. Let's face it, someone has to absorb the cost for those insane certification fees.
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