The single most important thing to look for when shopping for body armor is proof of 3rd party testing results or a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) certification. In this article, we’ll dive into both areas but focus more heavily on explaining who the NIJ is and why their stamp of approval is important to consider during the body armor purchasing consideration phase.
The NIJ is the main entity that sets the standards and testing protocols for body armor ratings and levels. They’ve been at the top of the food chain and ensuring the efficiency of products brought to market since 1972. The NIJ offers the most widely accepted levels of classification available, and it’s a long process for products to get their backing on ballistic performance. When their stamp of approval is placed on your body armor, you can rest assured that you’re getting nothing but the best.
Behind Closed Doors
The main goal of this organization is to certify body armor and ensure that it does what it says it's going to do — keep you safe. Each product submitted for testing must withstand specific and rigorous trials. All of this happens inside NIJ-authorized 3rd party ballistic laboratories guaranteed to meet the NIJ standards. Here is where products are assigned a level of protection based on their ballistic performance results. This rating is the ballistic standard of resistance used in the U.S. and throughout most of the world.
The NIJ level system dictates the caliber and threat level that body armor can withstand. It also ensures that a bullet does not penetrate the armor and that the wearer is protected against blunt-force trauma as well. These ratings range from Level IIA (two A) to Level IV (four). Body armor only becomes NIJ rated when it passes their strict set of guidelines, which we’ll cover in a bit. In our eyes, this process is essential. That’s why all Safe Life Defense products undergo ballistic testing at the NIJ-authorized Oregon Ballistics Laboratory, and our results are always posted on each product page
Beware of False Claims
The NIJ certification process is serious business. As the primary cert. nationally recognized for commercial use by Law Enforcement and the U.S. Armed Forces, this organization holds a high level of authority and responsibility. That’s not to say that there aren’t other standards or protocols that exist for entities like the FBI and the DEA, but Safe Life Defense’s armor will actually meet these as well. This brings us to the next crucial point: Although NIJ-rated armor is an excellent place to start from a safety perspective, it is not the only official proof you can look for. Any 3rd party testing results should be seen as acceptable proof of performance as well. While some manufacturers out there may claim to have had their products tested or that they meet NIJ standards, that may not be the truth. Before purchasing body armor, make sure you check for a testing results sheet from a lab or the NIJ-certified mark on the exterior of the product. Remember, there are no other means by which manufacturers can get this final stamp of approval.
Each piece of body armor is put through a series of tests that simulate the dangers a person could encounter. This includes everything from hand-to-hand conflict and blunt-force trauma, to firearms and bladed weapons. During this process, armor is also gauged by how it reacts in certain environments. To be fully informed on what your vest can put up with, we’ve included the various types below:
- The Environmental Test: Soft armor is made from tightly woven threads that aid in stopping bullets. It is also commonly coated with a watertight membrane to prevent moisture damage. Testing for environmental control is done in several ways. The first is by submerging the vest into water to simulate humidity, rain and snow exposure. The second is by exposing the vest to extreme heat that simulates wearing the armor on hot days or exposing them to exacerbated conditions. Both of these tests help to make sure the threads do not loosen or tear in extreme environments.
- The Five-Year Warranty Test: The warranties on different types of body armor can vary widely. Some may have a 2-year lifespan, while others can have a 5 or 10-year lifespan. To put time to the test, the vest is inserted into a constant tumbler for ten days straight. This simulates a standard conditioning cycle equivalent to the five full years of wear and tear it would be expected to tolerate. A test of this nature proves whether or not the body armor can maintain a full certified lifespan and still be able to protect you. That’s why all Safe Life Defense body armor comes with a five-year lifespan or warranty for the utmost safety.
- The Ballistic Test: The next test determines several important ratings that include the level of protection (II or IIIA) and what caliber, as well as velocity, the vest can absorb. This is done by firing at the armor six times with two different calibers. The Level IIIA test includes .357 SIG, 125 gr at 1470 ft/s and .44 Magnum SJHP 240 gr at 1430 ft/s.
For the inquiring minds that want to know, yes, you should only buy body armor from companies that provide testing results or have passed NIJ Certification! Any armor that hasn’t been tested for industry standards or by professionals for safety cannot be truly deemed as action-ready. Untested products leave a ton of room for error and may not shield you as stated. For the best protection, you want gear that has those results posted up-front with complete transparency. Nothing should give you peace of mind like knowing those on the front lines, both at home and overseas, find both types of proof to be acceptable at a base level.
A Certified Recommendation
There are plenty of options on the market, but Safe Life Defense’s Level IIIA+ Multi-Threat Vest was the first on the market to be enhanced. In addition to bullet, strike and slash protection, this armor provides NIJ Level 1 spike protection (up to 36 joules of force). Designed to defend against special threats like a 9mm and FN 5.7, this is the ONLY soft body armor out there that has achieved this advanced level of protection.
If that wasn’t enough, our body armor also comes standard with wrap-around side protection, meaning the surface area of our vests provides increased coverage. Try it for yourself! We’re confident you’ll see, feel and experience the Safe Life Defense difference.