THE ULTIMATE BODY ARMOR BUYER'S GUIDE
LEGALITY AND RESTRICTIONS
Is body armor legal for civilians?
YES! You may be surprised to learn that body armor is legal for almost anyone to own! Many people believe that body armor is illegal to own unless you are a law enforcement officer, but that is simply not true.
Body armor is legal in all 50 states with ONLY the following three restrictions:
• Body Armor is illegal if you have been convicted of a violent felony.
• Body armor may not be shipped to a civilian in Connecticut. Body armor purchases in Connecticut may only occur "face to face."
• Body armor is not intended for criminals. Wearing body armor while committing a crime will increase penalties greatly.
Why did I hear it is illegal to own body armor?
Many people believe that body armor is illegal to own because many companies RESTRICT THEIR SALES to law enforcement only. However, a company restricting their sales is due to their own policy - not the law. It is absolutely legal for law abiding civilians to wear and own body armor.
"I tried to order body armor from another company and they told me that only law enforcement officers could own armor."
Without discrimination, Safe Life Defense legally provides protection for all law abiding citizens. We will never restrict our sales because EVERYONE has a right to own body armor. Body armor is a tool designed for safety, and we believe it should be treated that way.
Can I take body armor on a plane?
Body armor is legal in all 50 states and can be transported and worn over state lines. You cannot be arrested for wearing body armor and your armor cannot be confiscated. In fact, traveling with body armor is just as easy as traveling with a jacket. You may wear it onboard, take it in your carry-on luggage, or check it in baggage. With this in mind, Safe Life Defense created a specialized Body Armor Carry and Storage Bag to make transporting body armor a breeze.
What does the “NIJ Rating” of body armor mean?
The single most important thing to look for when shopping for body armor is the NIJ (National Institute of Justice) Rating. This rating is the ballistic standard of resistance used in the United States and most of the world. Body armor becomes NIJ rated when it passes a strict set of guidelines at a NIJ certified 3rd party ballistic laboratory.
You should ALWAYS request ballistic testing information from an NIJ Certified Laboratory BEFORE you purchase body armor. For example, Safe Life Defense conducts ballistic testing at NIJ Certified, Oregon Ballistics Laboratory and our results are always posted on each product page.
NIJ PROTECTION LEVELS
What are the different NIJ rating levels?
Soft Body Armor NIJ Threat Levels
NIJ Level iia
This is the lowest level of protection currently available for body armor. This level is mostly outdated, since higher protection levels are now just as concealable. NIJ level iia is typically used by individuals that are undercover and cannot risk being identified.
NIJ Level ii
This armor balances weight, protection, and concealability. Level ii armor will stop most common handgun rounds including 45 acp, 9mm, .40 s&w, .357 etc. The National Institute of Justice specifies that level ii armor must stop 9mm fmj bullets with a mass of 124 grains and a velocity of 1,305 ft/s as well as .357 magnum jsp with a mass of 158 grains and a velocity of 1,430 ft/s.
NIJ Level iiia
This level of protection is the most commonly recommended. Armor rated level iiia, such as a Safe Life Defense Multi-Threat Vest, will protect the wearer against nearly all handgun rounds up to .44 magnum, 9mm submachinegun rounds, and even 12 gauge shotgun slugs. To be rated level iiia, armor must protect the wearer from .44 magnum with a mass of 240 grains and a velocity of 1340 ft/s.
Enhanced Multi-Threat Level iiia+
This innovative level of protection is offered exclusively through Safe Life Defense and provides an unmatched level of multi-threat protection. This enhanced soft armor not only provides protection against the same threats as our traditional iiia, but also includes NIJ Level 1 spike protection for up to 36 jules of stab force and protection against armor piercing handgun ammunition such as Liberty Civil Defense 9mm & FN 5.7x28 40gr! The unique bullet, strike, slash, stab, and special threat resistance found in Safe Life Defense iiia+ armor makes it the worlds most powerful soft body armor!
Hard Armor NIJ Threat Levels
NIJ Level iii
Level iii armor is a hard armor rated for rifle protection. Level iii armor is rated to withstand 7.62 mm FMJ (US military M80) rounds with a mass of 147 grains and a velocity of 2780 ft/s. Yes, level III will defeat an AK 47 round.
NIJ Level IV
This is the highest rating of body armor available, and it will stop armor piercing rifle threats! Level IV armor withstands up to 30-06 M2ap steel core armor piercing rounds with a mass of 166 grains and a velocity of 2880 ft/s. Although this level is phenomenal in terms of protection, the weight and lack of flexibility can make it impractical for everyday wear. Many people choose to have a Level iiia vest with ICW (In Conjunction With) rifle plates to achieve a higher level of protection. For example, Safe Life Defense offers lightweight level IV ICW rifle plates that are designed to slide into low profile pockets on our level iiia vests. This allows you to adapt your armor to a variety of threat levels without making it too cumbersome for daily use.
What NIJ rating is best for me?
First, ask yourself: "Do I need protection against handgun and shotgun threats, rifle threats, or both?" Remember, there is a direct trade off between protection, comfort, and concealability. The higher the protection level, the heavier and less concealable the armor. The best armor is the armor you actually wear. With that in mind, it is best to select the most lightweight armor that will protect you from the threats you are most likely to encounter.
If you are like most of us, you need protection from handguns and shotguns, and will want soft body armor such as the Safe Life Defense Multi-Threat Vest. The multi-threat vest comes in level ii (which is great if you are looking for the most concealable option possible) and level iiia (which is great for protection against larger, faster handgun threats and protection all the way up to 12 gauge slugs!) Nowadays, most people are deciding to go with iiia because it offers a great deal of protection while still being very lightweight and concealable. Safe Life Defense Multi-Threat vests are also strike and slash resistant! Protection from bullets, bats, and blades? We've got you covered.
If you need protection against rifle threats, then you need some heavy duty gear. For this type of protection, you will need hard body armor, as no soft body armor will protect against rifle fire (besides 22lr). Hard body armor is rated NIJ III and IV. This type of armor will be much heavier and less concealable than soft armor, but the tradeoff is a much higher level of protection.
If you face a variety of threat levels, the Safe Life Defense Multi-Threat Armor System allows the use of removable rifle plates that can be used with a level iiia vest for adjustable levels of protection (iiia to iv). That way, you have all the benefits of NIJ Level IV armor without sacrificing wearability!
ICW & SA RIFLE PLATES
What are Rifle Plates? What does ICW and SA mean?
When shopping for hard armor, you'll notice two small abbreviations (ICW & SA) that have BIG meaning. It is extremely important to know the difference between the two and which is best for your needs.
ICW (In Conjunction With) Rifle Plates are hard plates that must be used with level iiia soft body armor to achieve its official NIJ ballistic rating. ICW plates are lighter, thinner, and achieve higher levels of protection. Safe Life Defense incorporates low profile front and rear pockets into all soft armor systems so you may add Level IV ICW Rifle Plates when encountering a higher threat level. This allows the armor system to be highly adaptable. You may comfortably wear your soft armor daily (concealed or externally) for protection against common daily threats. BUT, if a higher threat situation arises, ICW plates can be quickly added into the low-profile pockets to protect against some of the heaviest rifle ammunition out there!
Alternatively, SA (Standalone) Rifle Plates are designed to be used on their own to achieve the specified NIJ rating without a soft armor backing. These plates are useful if you are focused solely on rifle protection. Rifle plates alone have a much smaller coverage area than soft body armor and will leave areas of your torso vulnerable that would otherwise be protected by soft armor.
BODY ARMOR COMPONENTS, COMPOSITION AND LIFESPAN
What are the different materials used in body armor? What material is best?
Just like any other product out there, body armor comes in many different makes and models, as well as many different ballistic materials. The best type of material comes down to your own personal needs.
Kevlar has been the longtime standard for ballistic material. It is 5x stronger than steel and is more flexible and comfortable than most other materials. It is tried, true, and battle proven. Kevlar is made by combining para-phenylenediamine and terephthaloyl chloride to create aromatic polyamide threads which are then refined and woven into the panels. Kevlar has saved thousands of lives and will continue to do so for a long time!
After extensive research into alternative ballistic materials, Safe Life Defense decided on a custom manufactured Kevlar for all soft body armor. Safe Life Defense custom made Kevlar is bullet, strike, slash resistant! Safe Life Defense Enhanced iiia+ Kevlar panels are also stab and special threat resistant!
Polyethylene – Often Called PE or UHMWPE
This material is a relatively new to the ballistics market and is 5x the strength of steel. Polyethylene is a similar material to plastic shopping bags from the grocery store, but don't be fooled - ballistic UHMWPE is heavily engineered. UHMWPE is often found in cost effective body armor as it is generally much cheaper than other ballistic materials to produce.
We advise against UHMWPE in soft armor if you are in an area with higher temperatures. It has been found that in excessive heat (like in your car trunk on a hot day) UHMWPE will degrade at an accelerated rate. Heat degradation is a major concern, and UHMWPE is not used in Safe Life Defense soft body armor.
In hard rifle plates, UHMWPE provides a reliable multi-hit and lightweight armor. Safe Life Defense uses a blend of ceramic and pressed UHMWPE in hard rifle plates which helps reduce the weight significantly. Plates that are entirely composed of UHMWPE plates tend to be thicker but lighter.
Remember this name and stay away! Zylon is banned from many departments, had a massive recall, and has been proven to fail under various conditions. If you have Zylon body armor, replace it as soon as possible! This material is NOT recommended and is not worth the risk.
This new material takes the form of cylindrical carbon molecules which is said to be over 100x the strength of steel! This material is very flexible and shows promise for body armor. The reason carbon nanotubes are not taking over the body armor market is due to the overwhelming costs of manufacturing. Maybe one day these carbon allotropes will be standard, but until costs come down significantly, they don't make practical sense.
Steel is a very cost effective material for hard armor. It is commonly used in hard rifle plates and is often used for targets.
Steel provides great protection and will stop multiple hits. HOWEVER, many people choose not to wear steel plates because they are not practical for daily use. Their weight makes wearing steel plates uncomfortable and significantly restricts movement. Standard 10x12 slabs of steel armor can weigh as much as 15 pounds, which means front and rear protection can weigh up to 30 lbs! The tradeoff between protection and comfort is at an extreme with steel. It is, however, a great material if you do not want to spend the money on a more advanced ballistic material. Remember, something is always better than nothing. If you are looking for the cheapest option, steel is a great choice.
If you go with steel armor, be sure the steel has an antispall coating. When bullets hit hardened steel the bullet will fragment 360 degrees, creating lethal shrapnel. An antispall coating will trap the shrapnel making steel armor a safe option.
Why does body armor have a lifespan?
All soft body armor has a lifespan because ballistic materials degrade over time. Typically, the lifespan of soft armor is 5 years and it important to confirm an expiration date with the manufacturer. Even the world’s strongest materials degrade with age and it is important that you know when your armor will expire. For example, Safe Life Defense soft body armor has a 5-year lifespan with a full manufacturer warranty, guaranteeing the ballistic panels from defect during the entire lifespan of every vest produced.
Can I wear expired armor?
Expired body armor should be replaced, but wearing something is better than nothing. It has been proven that body armor does maintain some of its ballistic properties long after the standard 5-year lifespan. However, there are no guarantees and no official testing for expired armor. You should expect to wear expired armor at your own risk. If your armor is expired, and you cannot afford something new, keep on wearing it. It can still save your life.
ESSENTIAL BODY ARMOR WARRANTIES AND GUARANTEES
What guarantees should I look for when purchasing armor?
Most body armor companies provide some guarantees and a warranty. Be sure to review and understand what guarantees come with a vest before you buy. For example, Safe Life Defense proudly stands behind all of our armor and the people who wear it by offering a fit guarantee, satisfaction guarantee, warranty, and incident guarantee.
Safe Life Defense guarantees the proper fit of your body armor. If you feel your vest does not fit properly, we are happy to help you exchange your vest. Exchanges must be within 30 days of delivery and in original condition.
If you are dissatisfied with your Safe Life Defense body armor, send it back to us in its original condition and we will issue a refund for the entire cost of your product.
Should your Safe Life Defense body armor save your life, we promise to replace your armor at no cost. Simply send us your body armor accompanied by an official incident or police report. Safe Life Defense will always stand behind you and our product.
Safe Life Defense provides a 5-year manufacturer warranty on all ballistic panels and plates and 2 year warranty on all of its carriers.
BASIC BODY ARMOR CARE AND SAFETY
Can I test shoot my armor?
NEVER SHOOT YOUR BODY ARMOR UNLESS YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO WEAR IT AGAIN.
NEVER TEST BODY ARMOR WHILE WEARING IT!
You can test shoot your armor, but plan on immediately buying a replacement! Safe Life Defense body armor can withstand multiple hits, but wearing a vest that has already been shot is not recommended. We shot one of our iiia ballistic panels 72 times before failure, but it is not worth the risk to wear a vest that has ever been shot. Stopping a bullet is serious! A single shot WILL damage your armor no matter how great it is, and that is major safety hazard.
How do I clean my body armor?
Body armor will need to be washed just like any other article of clothing, especially if you are wearing it on a daily basis! Cleaning a Safe Life Defense carrier is easy and can be done in a washing machine as long as the ballistic panels are removed. Since air drying is the best way to insure a long carrier lifespan, an extra carrier is recommended. Having a spare carrier will allow you to transfer your ballistic panels into the clean carrier while your soiled carrier washes/dries. It is important that you never go without protection.
Care Instructions for Safe Life Defense Body Armor
IMPORTANT: Do not machine wash or dry clean ballistic panel insert(s).
- Remove ballistic panels from outer carrier.
- Wipe ballistic panels using a mild soap and water. Set aside to dry.
- Close all Velcro fasteners on carrier.
- Dry clean, hand wash, or machine wash carrier on a delicate cycle using medium water temperature. DO NOT BLEACH.
- Tumble dry on a low heat setting or air dry. Iron on a low setting as needed.
- Reinsert ballistic panels. BE SURE THE BALLISTIC PANELS AND OUTER CARRIER ARE DRIED COMPLETELY.
How should I store my body armor?
You should store your vest in a room temperature environment away from direct sunlight, liquids, and chemicals. Store on a hanger or lay flat in a Safe Life Defense Body Armor Carry and Storage Bag for added convenience and protection.
ORDERING BODY ARMOR ONLINE
How do I buy body armor? Can I purchase it online?
Body armor is an unregulated product which means it does not require any special paperwork or background checks. Many companies choose to restrict their sales to law enforcement, but at Safe Life Defense, we believe everyone has the right to be protected. Body armor is a safety product incapable of causing harm. You can absolutely purchase armor online. If you choose to make an online purchase, make sure the manufacturer has a fit guarantee like Safe Life Defense. The fit of your vest is crucial to your ability to protect yourself while wearing it.
Thank you for reading our body armor guide, if you have any questions, please post in the comments section and we will be happy to answer them!
You can order body armor on our Body Armor Shop just as you would with any other website! We do our best to keep all items in stock and provide same day shipping on all orders before 5pm (unless they are customized). You may also contact us by phone at 702.829.4029 to place an order.