Best Body Armor (Complete Guide) By: Joseph Kocik

Best Body Armor

Looking to protect yourself from bullets? Then you need the best body armor to stop whatever threats may come your way.

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Body armor is completely legal to own for civilians, and people are finally starting to realize how important it is.

You have your primary battle rifle, your sidearm, now you need body armor for protection.

This article will cover the different types of body armor and what is the best body armor.

Best Body Armor

What Is The Best Body Armor?

Before listing which are the best, you should understand the materials they are made of and the threat levels they protect against.

There is also weight and cost, which are two big factors when determining which body armor is right for you.

Here are some of the biggest factors when choosing body armor.

Level Of Protection

Best Body Armor

Not all body armor is created equal, and there are various levels of threats they are made to protect against.

The good thing is that there is a rating and testing system to figure this out.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has created a standardized system and tests that the industry uses to rate their body armor.

Click Here for further reading on the NIJ rating process and resources.

This system rates armor for different calibers and velocities and is broken down into these categories.

  • Level IIA – Tested to stop 9mm and .40 S&W ammunition fired from short-barrel handguns. No rifle ammunition protection.
  • Level II – Tested to stop 9mm and .357 Magnum ammunition fired from short barrel handguns. No rifle ammunition protection.
  • Level IIIA – Tested to stop .357 SIG and .44 Magnum ammunition fired from longer barrel handguns. No rifle ammunition protection.
  • Level III – Tested to stop 7.62mm FMJ lead core rifle ammunition.
  • Level IV – Tested to stop .30cal steel core armor-piercing rifle ammunition.

What About 5.56 & 223?

5.56mm ammunition comes in a wide variety of constructions. The rounds with lead cores typically used for hunting and target shooting can be stopped with Level III hard armor plates.

5.56mm ammunition designed for military use, with a steel or partial steel core, needs a ceramic or metallic component to the hard armor plate to stop it. Some Level III plates have a ceramic/metallic face, but not all.

If you have identified the M855 or other similarly designed steel core ammunition as a potential threat, a Level IV plate is the best choice for protection.

Ultimately, the higher velocity rifle calibers and cartridges are what defeat body armor. The speed of the round upon impact is more important than a steel core round or armor-piercing round.  

Best Body Armor

Soft Body Armor

Level IIA-  Is the lightest soft body armor on the market today and protects against most pistol cartridges. IIA guards against the following threats:

  • 9x19mm, 124-grain FMJ-RN, 1,225 ft/s
  • .40 S&W, 180-grain FMJ, 1,155 ft/s
  • .45 ACP, 230-grain FMJ, 900 ft/s
  • All Level I threats

Level II – It protects against high-velocity handgun rounds and is a little heavier than IIA. The threats against which Level II is rated are as follows:

  • 9x19mm +P, 124-grain FMJ, 1,305 ft/s
  • .357 Magnum, 158-grain JSP, 1,430 ft/s
  • All Levels I and IIA threats

Level IIIA – The heaviest soft body armor currently available is frequently worn by law enforcement and security professionals. The threats against which Level IIIA is rated are as follows:

  • .357 SIG, 125-grain FMJ-FN, 1,470 ft/s
  • .44 Magnum, 240-grain SJHP, 1,430 ft/s
  • All Levels I, IIA, and II threats

Best Body Armor

Hard Body Armor

Level III – This level also protects against most 7.62x39mm bullets (AK-47 ammunition) and commercial .223 Remington FMJ and JHP ammunition. This level is rated to protect against the following threats:

  • 7.62x51mm NATO, M80 ball, 148-grain FMJ, 2,780 ft/s
  • All soft body armor threats

Level III+ – It offers more protection than regular Level III without becoming as heavy as Level IV. This degree of protection refers to armor that can withstand 5.56mm M855 and other small-caliber, high-velocity bullets, which can penetrate Level III armor. The NIJ doesn’t officially recognize level III+, so keep that in mind.

  • Level III+ armor to protect against the common 5.56mm M855 green tip (62-grain FMJ at around 3,000 ft/s)

Level IV – These are the thickest and most dense, giving the best protection. Its purpose is to stop full-size rifle bullets from piercing the armor. This level guards against the following threats:

  • .30-06 Springfield, M2, 166-grain armor-piercing, 2,880 ft/s
  • All Level III threats
  • All soft body armor threats

Different Types Of Armor

These are the most common materials used in manufacturing body armor.

  • Kevlar – This is the most preferred material for body armor because it is durable, flexible, and comfortable. You often find this in the soft body armor used to protect against smaller handgun calibers.
  • Polyethylene – This is essentially a plastic composite material that is lightweight and comfortable to wear. It also floats, which makes it good for maritime operations. Plates made with Polyethylene are the most expensive.
  • Steel – This is another popular option for hard armor because it is cheap to make. Steel plates weigh the most and can eject tiny metal fragments when hit.
  • Ceramic – Are lighter than steel plates and significantly less expensive than Polyethylene plates. I recommend these to everyone, and they offer a good balance of protection, weight, and cost. (These are fragile and can crack if dropped)

Weight & Cost

Best Body Armor

How much your plates weigh will play a big part in deciding what type of armor you should get.

Soft body armor is the lightest and the most comfortable to wear for extended periods.

The trade-off is that it will only stop smaller handgun-caliber rounds.

Steel plates are the heaviest but offer the best protection against bigger rounds and multiple hits. These are very heavy, though; if you plan on doing any serious type of running and gunning while wearing them, you will fatigue extremely fast.

Polyethylene is very light, but it also costs the most money.

Ceramic plates are the sweet spot that I recommend for almost everyone. They are fairly light and fairly priced and offer good protection.

Again this will depend on your unique situation, environment, and how you intend the body armor will be used and deployed.

Body Armor Laws in the U.S.

Best Body Armor

Although there has recently been a big push to ban body armor in the U.S. by lawmakers, everyone can legally own body armor at the time of my writing this article.

The only class of people who are not allowed to own body armor is felons.

For the time being, it is legal and safe, but no one knows what will happen in the future. Some stores and companies will only sell you body armor if you provide documentation that you are a law enforcement officer or military member.

I would not support these types of companies or stores.

Make sure you always check your local laws and regulations. Depending on where you live, there may be extra restrictions.

How To Wear Body Armor Correctly

You would be surprised at how many people I see at the range, on TV, and on Youtube wear their body armor incorrectly.

The whole point of body armor is to protect your vital organs, the heart, and lungs.

Getting shot in the heart means instant death, and a lung shout means a slower death. Without these organs, you will not be able to survive.

Body armor is not meant to protect your stomach. Yes, getting shot anywhere would suck, but a gut shot is better than a chest shot.

Your plates need to fit properly and be worn correctly, or else you are just LARPing.

Best Body Armor


Most armor plates come in three different sizes.

  • 8″ by 10″ – small
  • 10″ by 12″ – standard
  • 11″ by 14″ – large

Most body armor manufacturers will have a sizing chart on their website so make sure you reference this and measure yourself.

Armor plates need to be high enough and should cover your sternal notch. A good way to figure this out is to lower your head, and your chin should touch the top of the body armor when wearing the armor.

Another easy way to determine the width is the armor should touch and cover both of your nipples.

It’s going to look and feel pretty high up on your chest, this is what you want.

Remember, the whole point of armor is to protect your heart and lungs, not your stomach.

Cuts & Shapes

There are four main cuts and shapes of body armor plates, and I will explain them.

  • Rectangular: These plates offer the most coverage but the least mobility. A rectangular shape plate is what I recommend for a back plate.
  • SAPI: These plates offer much of the same coverage as rectangular plates, but the upper corners are cut at a slant to give you a better range of motion when presenting your rifle.
  • Shooter: These plates are similar to the SAPI, but the corners are cut more aggressively, and more material is removed. The shooter’s cut is different depending on if you are a right-handed shooter or left-handed.
  • Swimmer: These plates are aggressively cut down on all corners, offering the least protection but the most mobility.

I suggest a SAPI front plate and a rectangular rear plate for most people.


With different cuts of body armor, there are also different curved body armor. These can be curved from top to bottom and also from side to side.

Depending on your body shape, you might choose differently from someone else.

As an easy rule, I recommend a standard curved front plate and a flat rear plate. This seems to be the best setup for most people and body shapes.

Choosing the Right Body Armor

Best Body Armor

Okay, now you should have a good baseline knowledge of body armor and be able to make a more informed decision on which is the best for you.

Remember to consider your intended use and situation, your budget, and the level of threat you might face.

I will list all the soft, steel, and ceramic armor I recommend.


Best Body Armor

Bullet Safe Vest VP3 Level IIIA

Best Body Armor

BulletSafe’s new Vital Protection 3 (VP3) Vest is Made in the USA and NIJ-Certified Level IIIA.

The VP3 Vest retains a low price point while providing first-class protection from most handgun calibers up to .44 Magnum.

The unisex design is discreet and comfortable. The VP3 is ideal for law enforcement, security, and other professionals who need peace-of-mind security for their daily work.

Best Body Armor

This vest is lightweight and fits snugly to its wearer via the provided height-and-weight chart.

It can easily be worn under clothing and is very comfortable compared to other body armor options.

It has wrap-around front; rear ballistic panels to maximize protection over the heart, lungs, and other vital organs. It can carry larger 10″x12″ ballistic plates in its Velcro pockets to provide Level III and IV protection against rifle calibers.

This is a lightweight vest that weighs about 4.5lbs only. It will be still at first but will break in with time.

Best Body Armor


  • Made in the USA
  • NIJ-Certified Level IIIA Protection
  • Stop bullets from most handgun calibers up to .44 Magnum
  • Concealable and discreet
  • Breathable; enables a full range of motion
  • Modular and upgradeable
  • Arrives work-ready
  • Available in 8 sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL and 4XL
  • Note: The Extra Small (XS) does not have a plate pocket.

Click Here to check the current prices of the Bullet Safe VP3 Vest

BlueStone Safety Level IIIA Vest

Best Body Armor

The BlueStone Safety Level IIIA Vest delivers the max coverage, with Kevlar soft armor sewn into every square inch.

So you’re covered front, back, and sides with Level IIIA ballistic protection tested to stop common handgun rounds like 9mm, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, all the way up to a non-armor-piercing .44 Magnum.

You don’t have to worry about finding compatible soft armor panels — everything you need is inside the Vest. And with three available sizes, you’re sure to find the right fit for you.

Best Body Armor

In addition to the all-over Kevlar soft armor, the Professional Full-Wrap Vest also features a soft trauma plate insert over the heart, which may help reduce the effects of trauma from bullet impacts, edged weapons, and hard impacts.

Adjustable shoulder straps and elastic waist straps help dial in your fit and keep the Vest firmly in place during periods of high activity.

In addition to providing the ideal fit and flexibility, the elastic waist straps also let you cinch the Vest tight, which helps eliminate gaps between the front and back tabs.

Best Body Armor


  • Made in the USA
  • Full-coverage: Kevlar soft armor is integrated into the front, back and sides
  • Kevlar soft armor is independently tested to Level IIIA N.I.J. Standards
  • Tested to stop non-armor-piercing handgun rounds up to .44 Magnum (including 9mm, .380 ACP, .38 Special, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP)
  • It also includes a Level IIA trauma soft armor insert over the heart
  • Adjustable shoulder straps with hook-and-loop fastening make for a custom fit that holds firm
  • The elastic waist strap provides the right fit and provides just enough “give” to make it more comfortable
  • Weight: 7 lbs. (Size Medium)/8 lbs. (Large)/8.5 lbs. (XL)
  • Falls under EAR and ITAR regulations

Click Here to check the current prices of the BlueStone Safety Level IIIA Vest

AR500 Armor Heritage Plate

Best Body Armor

The AR500 Armor Heritage Plate is made of a custom steel alloy blend, engineered to perform better than the generic AR500 steel used by other armor and target makers. This armor is affordable, reliable, and strong.

The armor plate comes in flat and curved forms, features level 3 body armor protection and multi-hit capability, and has a durable FragLock base coating. Additionally, this armor plate has a lengthy shelf life, retaining its full strength for twenty years.

AR500 Armor Heritage armor plate, unlike ceramic or polyethylene alternatives, can protect against several direct hits while still being less bulky than competing materials.

Best Body Armor

It also has been independently tested following NIJ 0101.06 threat levels through Oregon Ballistics (OBL) and H.P. White Laboratories.

This means that its level 3 body armor protection is rated to stop 7.62×51 M80 NATO Ball (.308 Winchester) at a velocity of up to 2,780 FPS, and special threat tested to stop 5.56mm M855/SS109 (Green Tip) at a velocity of 2,780 FPS.

The downside to these plates is that they are heavy, especially with the build-up coating recommended for steel.

Best Body Armor


  • Material: AR500 steel alloy blend, with FragLock™ Coating
  • Protection: 7.62 mm FMJ, steel-jacketed bullets (U.S. Military designation M80) with a specified mass of 9.6 g (147gr) and a velocity of 2,780 ft/s (+/- 30 ft/s).
  • Capability: Edge-to-edge multi-hit protection
  • Form: Flat and Curved (base coat)
  • Dimensions:
  • Weight: 8.5 lbs
  • Thickness: 0.34″ thick
  • Shelf life: 20 years
  • Manufactured: United States

Click Here to check the current prices of the AR500 Armor Heritage Plate

Ferro Concepts Duritium Level III+

Best Body Armor

The Ferro Concepts Duritium Level III+ is a top-tier armor offering for those requiring one of the most advanced, lightweight armor options. Multi-curve profile comes in at only 0.7” thick and a mere 2.7lbs per plate.

These advanced armor plates increase user performance, efficiency, and comfort with less fatigue.

Meets and exceeds NIJ 0101.06 Certification providing full user confidence. Made with Duritium PE technology (UHMWPE). Duritium can be dropped & stomped without affecting the plate’s integrity.

These plates are for those that prioritize weight.

Best Body Armor


  • NIJ Certified NIJ 0101.06
  • 10” x 12”
  • 0.7” thick
  • Multicurve
  • Shooters cut
  • 2.7 pounds per plate
  • Multi-Hit
  • Level lll+
  • Special threat tested
  • Stand alone
  • Duritium® (High tensile strength polyethylene)
  • Neutrally Buoyant
  • Fits Medium Carriers
  • 15-year warranty
  • Made in the USA

SPECIAL THREATS TESTED:5.56x45mm 55 grain ball (M193)7.62x39mm PS ball (MSC)7.62x51mm 149 grain M80 FMJ

Click Here to check the current prices of the Ferro Concepts Duritium Level III+

MIRA Tactical Level IV Body Armor Plate

Best Body Armor

The MIRA Tactical Level IV Body Armor is a 5.9-pound lightweight Level IV body armor plate. It’s designed to stop multiple impacts from armor-piercing ammunition.

Tested to NIJ standards at a US laboratory, MIRA Tactical’s Level IV Armor includes single curve, a shooter’s cut 10” x 12” ESAPI armor plates, and side plates available in 6” x 6” and 6” x 8” sizes (depending on your armor carrier/cummerbund).

The hybrid armor offers an enhanced range of motion and protects the wearer from small arms, including armor-piercing high-powered rifle rounds in 5.56, 7.62, .308, and .30-06 calibers.

Best Body Armor

Unlike typical ceramic plates, which can splinter and crack and only protect against single-shot threats, Mira Tactical’s Level IV plates combine the benefits of both ceramic and polyethylene.

They are lightweight ballistic plates that are easy to deploy and provide outstanding life-saving protection.

Best Body Armor


  • Standard 10” x 12” Level IV plate with single-curve shooter’s cut configuration makes it easy to deploy in many plate carriers.
  • Optional 6” x 6” (1.70 lbs.) and 6” x 8” (2.20 lbs.) side plates that fit most standard plate carriers and cummerbunds.
  • Anti-spall protection from the Ballistic ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) ensures that bullet fragments are absorbed by the plate rather than expanding outwards, causing injury to the wearer’s face or limbs. 
  • Upgrade your existing plate carrier with true “stand-alone” Level IV body armor
  • At just .9” thick and only 5.9 pounds, it is LIGHTER than some less protective Level III plate configurations.
  • Lightweight construction thanks to advanced, weight-saving materials, including Alumina Oxide Ceramic (AI203) and ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE)
  • The UHMWPE extends edge to edge to offer a greater protection area. 
  • Offers superior protection against everything from small handguns to battle rifles and common rifle platforms like the AR-15, AK47, M4, etc.
  • Ideal upgrade for a tactical backpack or a low-profile/concealed body armor configuration, where lightweight and uncompromising protection have serious benefits
  • Extensively tested at a US-based laboratory following standards for NIJ Level IV armor.
  • It comes with a 10-year warranty to ensure your satisfaction
  • Easy to read the label on the back of the plate includes threat level, threat defense capability, manufacture date, and other important details
  • Assembled in the USA

Click Here to check the current prices of the MIRA Tactical Level IV Body Armor

Hercules Level IV Ceramic Body Armor

Best Body Armor

The Hercules Level IV Body Armor is manufactured in-house at the Spartan Armor Systems facility in Tucson, AZ utilizing ballistic ceramic and UHMWPE materials.

As with all body armor manufactured by Spartan Armor Systems, the Hercules level IV ceramic body armor plate has been independently tested and verified by an NIJ Certified laboratory.

Each Hercules level IV body armor plate is rated to stop armor-piercing rifle rounds up to .30-06 M2 AP. Weighing in at just 6.9 lbs per plate, the Hercules is noticeably lighter than most level IV ceramic body armor plates available.

With full edge-to-edge 10”x12” coverage and Advanced Compound Curve design, the Hercules is ideal for operators needing maximum protection and comfort.

Best Body Armor

When your life is on the line, don’t take chances with other ceramic plates that measure 10”x12” but only provide an 8”x10” area of protection.

The Hercules level IV body armor plate features Advanced Compound Curve (ACC). While many body armor plates claim to be “multi-curve,” the ACC profile is a true multi-curve design providing the operator with the most comfortable fit of any ceramic level IV body armor plate.

This advanced ergonomic design is especially important during extended duty engagements, typical of Law Enforcement, Security, and Military operations.

Best Body Armor


  • Threat Protection: Armor Piercing Rifle Rated Up To .30-06 M2 AP.
  • NIJ 0101.06 Rating: Laboratory tested and verified to meet NIJ 0101.06 level IV standards.
  • Material Composition: Ceramic & UHMWPE
  • Plate Size: 10”x12”
  • Protection Area: 10”x12”
  • Weight: 6.9 lbs
  • Thickness: 1.1”
  • Plate Quantity: Two (2) Plates Included
  • Curve Profile: Advanced Compound Curve
  • Cut: SAPI/ESAPI (Shooters Cut)
  • Armor Type: Stand Alone
  • Exterior: 1000D Condura® with Embroidered Logo
  • Warranty: Guaranteed against manufacturer defects five years from the date of purchase.
  • Origin: Made in the U.S.A – Manufactured by Spartan Armor System® in Tucson, AZ.

Click Here to check the current prices of the Hercules Level IV Body Armor

Ares Level IV Multi-Hit Ceramic Body Armor

Best Body Armor

The Ares Level IV Ceramic Body Armor is the toughest and lightest level IV plate yet.

With a boron carbide strike face and UHMWPE backer, the Ares is a military-grade plate that has been laboratory tested and proven to defeat .30-06 M2AP armor-piercing rounds.

Boron carbide is one of the hardest materials known to man.

Best Body Armor

However, it’s lighter than other softer ceramics, such as aluminum oxide, which is used in most civilian-grade body armor.

It’s no secret that speed, agility, and stamina are critical during hostile engagements. While many level IV ceramic body armor plates weigh around 7 or 8 lbs per plate, the Ares weighs just 6.1 lbs per plate.

Best Body Armor

The Ares plate provides the operator a clear weight advantage, and the boron carbide strike face easily destroys .30-06 M2 AP rounds upon impact.

The lightweight UHMWPE backer catches the remaining bullet fragments preventing any penetration or secondary spall injury to the operator.

The Ares level IV ceramic body armor plate is the perfect choice for Law Enforcement, Security Contractors, Military, First Responders, or even concerned civilians looking for advanced threat protection and safety.

Best Body Armor

The Ares provides maximum protection for vital organs in a full 9.5″ x 12.5″ medium ESAPI shooter cut profile. This allows for better protection for the operator in the event of near-edge impacts.

The highly compatible ESAPI sizing allows the operator to choose from a wide range of plate carriers. The Ares features a traditional multi-curve design for added comfort during extended-duty use.

Best Body Armor


  • Threat Protection: Armor Piercing Rifle Rated Up To .30-06 M2 AP.
  • Multi-Hit Rating: Rated to Stop 3-4 Rounds of .30-06 M2AP
  • NIJ 0101.06 Rating: Laboratory tested and verified to meet NIJ 0101.06 level IV standards.
  • Material Composition: Boron Carbide Ceramic & UHMWPE
  • Plate Size: 9.5”x12.5” ESAPI
  • Protection Area: 9.5”x12.5”
  • Weight: 6.1 lbs
  • Thickness: 1.2”
  • Plate Quantity: Two (2) Plates Included
  • Curve Profile: Multi Curve
  • Cut: ESAPI Medium (Shooters Cut)
  • Armor Type: Stand Alone
  • Exterior: 1000D Cordura® with Embroidered Logo
  • Warranty: Guaranteed against manufacturer defects five years from the date of purchase.
  • Origin: Made in the U.S.A – Manufactured by Spartan Armor System® in Tucson, AZ

Click Here to check the current prices of the Ares Level IV Ceramic Body Armor

Body Armor FAQ

Best Body Armor

Can Kevlar stop a knife?

A Kevlar vest with a stab and spike rating will protect against edged and spiked attacks from objects such as knives, broken bottles, and syringes.

(Click the links for the most up-to-date prices)

  • Bullet Safe VP3 Vest
  • BlueStone Safety Level IIIA Vest
  • AR500 Armor Heritage Plate
  • Ferro Concepts Duritium Level III+
  • MIRA Tactical Level IV Body Armor
  • Hercules Level IV Body Armor
  • Ares Level IV Ceramic Body Armor

Have you ever used body armor?

Which plates did you decide to go with?

Let me know in the comments below.

Further reading on Are you interested in learning more about guns and gear?

This list of the Best Red Dot Sights can help you choose the best optic for your rifle.

In addition, here are the Best AR-15 Upgrades & Accessories that can help you get more out of your primary battle rifle.