In 1979, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed in Des Plaines, Illinois, due to a faulty maintenance procedure before takeoff. 273 people died.
In 1981, an elevated walkway collapsed in a Hyatt Regency Hotel in Missouri due to an engineering error. 114 people died.
In 2021, a condominium in Florida collapsed—partly due to poor safety inspection practices—killing over 100.
A list of human-error related engineering mistakes and disasters could fill thousands of pages. Manufacturers and various companies make mistakes and people die.
Due to the imperfect nature of human endeavors, government standards exist for all consumer products and services in the United States. Whether it’s the Food and Drug Administration verifying the safety of food, the National Highway Traffic Administration certifying the safety of automobiles or doctors being reviewed by State Medical Boards, every profession has standards its practitioners must comply with, and live up to, if they want to continue doing business in their industry. It’s the law.
In the world of personal-protection consumer products, such as bulletproof vests, shields, helmets and the like, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—an agency within the Department of Justice—is the regulating authority. Only the most durable, quality and proven bulletproof vests earn the elusive NIJ certification.
His BulletSafe VP3 Vest is Certified by the National Institute of Justice!
NIJ-Certified vests are the ones worth your money. They are the ones most likely to save your life.
Bulletproof Vests: A Brief History
Firearms were first used in combat around the 800 years ago. Back then, there was heavy metal armor plating that could provide varying degrees of protection, although it was generally bulky, and if a soldier fell in a body of water, they were certain to drown. Over time, guns have become exponentially stronger, and the need for adequate physical protection has increased in parallel.
The first commercially available bulletproof vests were made of silk circa 1900. Fourteen years later, during World War 1, the need for widely available body armor only increased. Unfortunately, most soldiers of that era never received the protection they needed.
During World War 2, flak jackets became popular in the military, but they still failed to prevent bullets and shrapnel from doing extreme damage. It was becoming increasingly clear bulletproof vest technology was failing to keep pace with the destructive power of firearms and artillery.
Vietnam-Era Flak Jacket
Flak jackets became more advanced by the Vietnam War. They weighed about 22lbs and consisted of heavy armor plates woven together by strands of ballistic nylon, providing nominal safety from shrapnel and small-arms fire. However, they could not generally stop rifle caliber bullets.
Kevlar, a heat-resistant plastic, first became available to the public in the early 1970s. Marketed as “tougher than steel”, Kevlar dominated the bulletproof vest industry for the remainder of the 20th century.
At the turn of the century, enterprising engineers began to realize the shortcomings of Kevlar and traditional bulletproof plates. A Kevlar bulletproof vests’ average price tag was over $1000, and it was still too heavy and failed to stop high-velocity rifle calibers.
Soon enough, some inventors realized they could make bulletproof materials from aramids which are heat-resistant, synthetic fibers. Along this line of thought, a brand-new, thermoplastic polymer became widely-known and available: polyethylene. This material was stronger, lighter and more cheaply manufactured than Kevlar.
Nowadays, every top-notch bulletproof vest is made, at least in part, by polyethylene. The viability of new materials continues to be explored (firearms continue to become more powerful). Most new vests also have polyester components, which is a strong fiber that can be used to hold the plated sections of a bulletproof vest together.
For the future of vests, an ultra-light and incredibly powerful material known as graphene is being explored. As of this writing, no graphene vests are commercially available, though there is little doubt they will be in the future.
NIJ Certification vs Compliance
NIJ Certification is not granted lightly. Any company submitting bulletproof vests to the NIJ for their famous stamp of approval—which is NIJ Standard 0101.06—knows this well. Each year, there are numerous rejections for a variety of reasons.
Maybe a test-vest didn’t stop bullets of a certain caliber, or it didn’t stop enough bullets. Perhaps a vest wilted under high temperatures, or it became embrittled in low temperatures. Maybe it frayed in a humid setting, or the fabric warped when submerged in water.
One single failure, on any test, and boom! Back to the beginning of the certification process. This can be time-consuming and expensive for manufacturers, and many opt-out of the NIJ certification in favor of getting their products in the market more quickly.
To gain NIJ Certification, each body-armor manufacturer must submit 28 sets, or samples, of armor. They must also be at least two different sizes, small and large.
Every single set must meet every testing requirement. For flexible vests, carriers and jackets, each manufacturer must submit 14 sets. For insertable plates, at least nine samples must be sent to the NIJ.
Let there be no doubt – NIJ testing is thorough, rigorous and constitutes the highest standard of testing anywhere in the world. These devices are intended to safeguard people’s lives, including law enforcement, security personnel, bank workers, process servers, bodyguards and more.
People working in those crucial professions need peace of mind and effective protection. When they purchase an NIJ-Certified bulletproof vest, they know they’re getting the best of the best.
Unsurprisingly, many companies can’t meet the NIJ’s high standards. That’s perfectly fine. They can still sell their wares to the masses, albeit without the NIJ Certification stamp.
To get around the NIJ’s rigorous testing, many companies opt for a lesser claim, that of NIJ-Compliance. Bulletproof vests that are NIJ Compliant have been tested at ballistic laboratories across the country and been proven to withstand the calibers of firearms their purveyors claim. These vests might have marketing taglines like “Tested to NIJ standards” or “NIJ Compliant.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with merely obtaining NIJ Compliance. One of those vests could still hypothetically protect you.
The difference is akin to a licensed and bonded contractor replacing your roof, versus using your friend up the street who “knows a guy.”
Levels of NIJ Certification
Lower levels of bulletproof vest certification are generally soft armor, which provides less ballistic protection than hard armor. Most vests should protect against handgun calibers, while others can protect against rifle calibers. Some have stab-and-slash protection from edged blades and others only achieve higher protection levels when used In Conjunction With (ICW) a plate carrier or ballistic panel.
Here is a rundown of each NIJ level and its certification standards:
NIJ Level IIA armor is typically soft body armor, meaning that it is composed of layers of high-strength woven fibers. Common types of these materials are aramid fibers such as Kevlar, Twaron, and Goldflex or Polyethylene fibers such as Spectra and Dyneema.
Level IIA is designed to stop a .9mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) round at a speed of ~1165 feet per second (ft/s) and a .40 S&W FMJ at 1065 ft/s. Most often found in soft body armor vests, Level IIA is usually the lightest, most flexible, most comfortable and easiest to conceal.
NIJ Level II
A step above Level IIA is Level II which is also most commonly soft body armor. Level II is designed to protect from .9mm FMJ traveling at a speed of ~1245 ft/s and a .357 Magnum JSP (Jacketed Soft Point) at ~1,430 ft/s.
Like IIA, Level II body armor is typically very light, comfortable and easy to conceal, however it provides significantly more protection against blunt force trauma (trauma caused by kinetic energy of the round hitting the plate or vest.) Because of this factor, most concealable body armor vests are either Level II or Level IIIA.
NIJ Level IIIA
Level IIIA is designed to stop .357 Sig FMJ FN (Flat Nose) bullets traveling at a velocity of ~1470 ft/s and .44 Magnum SJHP (Semi Jacketed Hollow Point) rounds at a velocity of 1430 ft/s. Like its level IIA and Level II, Level IIIA is most commonly soft armor, however hard armor plates and ballistic shields can sometimes be found with a rating of level IIIA.
NIJ Level III
At Level III, we transition from soft body armor vests to the world of ballistic plate levels. Ballistic body armor plates are also referred to as rifle plates or hard armor plates.
Level III rifle plates are designed to stop 6 spaced hits of 7.62x51mm NATO FMJ (U.S. Military designation M80) at a velocity of ~2780 ft/s, which is very similar to the .308 Winchester round often used in hunting. Some manufacturers also offer hard armor rifle plates that are referred to as Level III+.
While the NIJ does not recognize the rating of Level III+, these plates typically have the + to indicate that they stop the same rounds at higher velocities or to indicate protection from NIJ threat Level III, plus additional threats such as M855 and M193. Level III and III+ body armor plates can be found at a variety of different price points depending on the rifle plate’s weight and material.
The cheapest and heaviest of these options are typically steel body armor plates which can weigh anywhere from 8-10 lbs. depending on the size of the plate. More expensive options such as those made from Polyethylene or ceramic can weigh as little as 3 pounds.
NIJ Level IV
Level IV ballistic plates are the highest rated hard armor plates under NIJ 101.06 standards. These hard armor plates are designed to take 1 hit from an armor-piercing rifle. These rifle plates are tested to defeat 7.62MM armor piercing (AP) bullets (and .30-06) traveling at a velocity of 2880 ft/s.
Please note that since level IV ballistic plates are only tested to stop 1 shot compared to 6 shots from a Level III hard armor plate, a Level IV hard armor plate is not always better than a Level III hard armor plate. Besides NIJ certification, there are other standards of bullet resistance such as the U.S. Military’s SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert) standards, which features plates designed to military specifications.
This standard first came into play with their Interceptor Body Armor (IBA), and later with their Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV) and the Modular Tactical Vest (MTV). Since 2005, they have moved to the ESAPI (Enhanced SAPI) Program. There are also what are referred to as Special Threats plates which are designed to stop common threats while minimizing weight and cost. Typically examples of these plates are AK-47 and AR-15 plates.
But what about stab-and-slash protection? For correctional officers, this might be the most important consideration. According to the NIJ website, there are three levels of stab/slash protection.
Level 1 is the lowest stab proof level and is best suited for vests that can be concealed below clothing.
Level 2 is mainly used for overt body armor, generally police or military.
Level 3 is used mainly in high-risk areas, such as prison staff or police. This is the highest and most powerful stab proof level.
The main idea behind the NIJ’s stab-resistant levels is based on a study from the Police Scientific Development Branch, which tested how hard an average man could strike using different "stab" methods.
Level 1 corresponds to 85 percentile, level 2 equals 90 percentile, and level 3 equals 96 percentile (the strongest men’s stabbing power). BulletSafe vests don’t carry ‘stab ratings’, mainly because their bulletproof ratings are so formidable that it is highly unlikely any edged weapon could penetrate a vest which a bullet can’t.
How Good Are BulletSafe Products?
Aside from gas masks (which are not federally regulated, only respirator filters are), BulletSafe has 4 unique products available to the public. These products and their source materials are Made in the USA.
- BulletSafe VP3 Vest (BS52003B)—This Made-in-the-USA, NIJ-Certified vest provides Level IIIA protection while still maintaining flexibility and comfort. It has Velcro pockets to hold extra ballistic plates and potentially upgrade to Level IV. With a 5-year warranty and legendary low price-point of $299.97, this is the best bulletproof vest, dollar-for-dollar and quality-wise, on the planet.
The Legendary BulletSafe VP3 BulletProof Vest
- BulletSafe Level IV Plate (BS56006)—Able to fit into most plate carriers, the BulletSafe Level IV Plate stops bullets from high-velocity AR and AK calibers, including .30-06 armor-piercing rounds. Composed of durable alumina-oxide, this plate protects 120 square inches of your most vital organs: heart, lungs and liver. Boasting a shooter’s cut for user maneuverability, this plate weighs 7.5lbs and boasts a 5-year warranty.
BulletSafe's Level IV Ballistic Plate
- BulletSafe BackPack Panel (BS56005)—Tested up to NIJ-Compliant Level IIIA standards, this Backpack Panel discreetly slides into your backpack, briefcase, satchel or anywhere else you might need ballistic protection. Made of 600 denier polyester, this Backpack Panel weighs a mere 24 ounces, has a waterproof TPU coating, 5-year warranty and covers 140 square inches.
BulletSafe Backpack Panel
- BulletSafe Flexible Armor Panel (BS6001)—Tested up to NIJ-Compliant Level IIIA standards, this flexible, shooter’s-cut panel can easily slide into pockets or clothing compartments to provide ballistic protection. Made of 1000 denier polyester and covering 120 square inches, this Flexible Armor Panel boasts a 5-year warranty.
BulletSafe Flexible Panel
Why BulletSafe is the Best
BulletSafe products bring consumers the most protection for their money. Already trusted by thousands, BulletSafe vests have smashed the security industry’s norms. Formerly, everything was made of Kevlar and cost north of $600.
BulletSafe has changed the narrative. Now, the entire industry must compete with a cutting-edge company like BulletSafe, where they use aramid compounds and polyethylene to build comfortable, breathable, top-notch vests and other products. If you can find a more affordable vest, it’s probably not NIJ-Certified or NIJ-Compliant.
BulletSafe is a uniquely American company. Already boasting thousands of sales to working-class professionals like police, security guards, hunters, repo men and gun-range workers, BulletSafe is continuing to upgrade and diversify its impressive selection of life-saving products.
BulletSafe customer service is top-of-the-line, with real representatives answering the phones and promptly responding to customer needs and concerns. There are no automated answering systems or onerous claims processes to endure.
When you don’t want to break your bank account, but still get home safely to your family, BulletSafe is the company of choice.