Body armor is designed to provide protection against various ballistic threats.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has established a rating system to categorize body armor according to its level of protection.
Level IV body armor is the highest rating NIJ gives, meaning it stops the strongest ballistic threats.
Let’s discuss the materials used in Level IV body armor, the NIJ standards it must meet, the pros and cons, what level 4 body armor will stop, what will penetrate level 4 body armor, and the civilian legality of owning level IV armor.
Materials Used in Level IV Body Armor
Level IV body armor is typically made from a combination of materials, including ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), and ceramic.
UHMWPE is a lightweight material that makes up the backing of the armor plate and provides significant blunt force trauma and back face deformation protection by absorbing and distributing the energy from the round.
Ceramic is used for the front of the plate, made of alumina oxide, boron carbide, or silicon carbide.
Ceramic is hard and rigid, this is what gives a level IV plate the ability to stop a rifle round.
Ceramic for level IV plates, believe it or not, works by being harder than the bullet, and shattering the round on impact.
NIJ Standards for Level IV Body Armor
The NIJ sets standards for body armor performance and tests armor to ensure it meets these standards.
Level IV body armor must be able to withstand a single hit from a 30.06 M2 AP round with a velocity of 2,880 feet per second.
This is the extent of the NIJ testing for level IV armor, in theory this means level IV should stop all lower threats as well.
When purchasing armor it is a good idea to check out independent tests and reviews as well to determine the plate’s performance against other rounds.
Pros and Cons of Level IV Body Armor
Benefits of Level 4 Armor
Level IV body armor offers the highest level of protection against ballistic threats, including armor piercing rounds.
This armor has the ability to protect the user from threats across diverse circumstances, making level 4 ideal for law enforcement, military, and emergency preparedness kits.
Some level IV plates can be fairly affordable, in the $100-$250 range.
In theory, level IV will stop all common rifle threats.
Note, I said “In theory” because level IV only has to stop a single round of 30.06 AP to become certified.
However, it does stand to reason it would also stop 7.62×39 AP and M855 5.56 easily, and many companies test their plates to make sure they will.
There are tons of videos on the internet that show armor testing against a variety of threats.
Level IV body armor can be heavy, making it less comfortable and more fatiguing to wear for extended periods.
Basically there is a trade off when it comes to level IV.
Many manufacturers make level IV, it is relatively simple to produce.
However, if you want a more affordable plate, sub $300, the plate will most likely weigh 7-9lb based on the materials used.
If you want a light weight level IV plate, such as what the military uses, the price increases exponentially.
Pound for pound, a level IV plate will cost disproportionately more to get the weight down to the 4-7lb range. At Tacticon we have two options for lightweight level IV body armor with our TASPIV weighing in at 6 pounds and TAFRIV at 7 pounds per plate.
What Does Level 4 Body Armor stop? and What Will Penetrate Level 4 Body Armor?
Level IV armor is designed to stop .30-06 M2 AP.
Therefore these are typically effective against various other rifle calibers, including 5.56, 7.62x39mm, and 7.62×51.
However, no body armor is entirely bulletproof.
Level IV armor may be vulnerable to high velocity or specialized armor piercing rounds.
Further .338 Lapua Magnum and .50 BMG are generally capable of penetrating level IV.
If you are getting shot at by these threats it’s probably best to reevaluate your life choices rather than your choice in body armor.
Civilian Legality of Owning and Buying Level IV Armor
In the United States, it is generally legal for civilians to purchase and own Level IV body armor as long as you are 18 or older, and not a convicted felon.
Some states, such as Connecticut, New York and possibly California if AB92 is signed into law, restrict the purchase of body armor for civilian use to varying degrees.
In some states, if you are committing a crime while wearing body armor, wearing body armor becomes an additional charge.
Check your state and local laws before purchase.
In conclusion, level IV body armor provides the highest level of ballistic protection available.
Level 4 plates come as either ‘stand alone’ or ‘in conjunction with (ICW)’ plates.
The difference is standalone plates are a complete plate as is, that’s ready to go out of the box.
Stand alone plates make up the majority of plates on the civilian market, but be sure to varrify at checkout.
ICW plates are meant to be used in conjunction with soft body armor.
This is more often seen in military and law enforcement, where soft armor is a prerequisite.
Level IV may be overbuilt and heavy if you choose a more affordable plate, but if you buy from a reputable manufacturer, you can rest assured your plate should stop any threat you are likely to face.
Interested in level 4 body armor kits? Check out our level 4 Elite Bundle
Interested in other levels of protection? Checkout our armor bundles and individual plates.