Body armor is a fundamental part of your protective gear. It provides you with a valuable layer of defense against various threats, from bullets and bladed weapons to shrapnel and other forms of projectiles, covering your most vital areas. 

Choosing the right body armor depends largely on one’s personal needs and the nature of potential threats one might encounter. This could range from personal emergencies like home defense to more professional settings where life threatening situations are a part of the job. Yet, the use of body armor is not solely restricted to these scenarios; in fact, many civilians are also opting to own body armor as a proactive measure toward their personal safety in this uncertain world.

The highest level of protection available is the Level IV body armor, offering protection against armor piercing rounds that lower levels cannot defend against. However, the decision to use Level IV body armor should be based on an assessment of the realistic threats one might face, as well as considering factors such as weight, mobility, and comfort.

Choosing the right level of body armor is a personal decision that should be informed by a clear understanding of the protection each level offers, comfort, and the nature of the threats you may face. With personal safety in mind, having the right body armor can provide you with an extra layer of protection, peace of mind, and the confidence to navigate potentially dangerous situations. In the following sections, we will delve into the details of Level IV body armor to help you evaluate whether it might be the best option for you.

What is Level IV Body Armor?

Level IV body armor is considered the highest grade of body armor available under the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) classification system. Level IV body armor standards are designed to stop armor piercing rounds. 

Level IV body armor is manufactured primarily from ceramic composite and can protect the wearer from extremely high velocity rounds, and armor piercing rounds, specifically 30-06 M2 armor piercing. Furthermore, this type of armor is often designed with multi-hit capabilities, meaning the plate maintains its protective properties even after multiple impacts.

The process of manufacturing Level IV body armor involves the use of advanced engineering techniques to create layers of protection that can effectively absorb and dissipate the kinetic energy of a bullet. These layers are combined with a strong, dense outer strike face made of ceramic that prevents penetration. It’s worth noting that while Level IV body armor provides the highest level of protection, it is also one of the heaviest of the body armor levels.

This level of body armor utilizes a combination of ceramic materials and layers of polyethylene (UHMWPE) behind the ceramic. The ceramic material shatters upon impact, spreading the force over a larger area, while the layers of polyethylene absorb and further distribute the energy, reducing the blunt force trauma.

It’s important to understand that Level IV provides the highest level of protection currently available. However, it is also heavier and less comfortable than lower levels, so it may not be the best choice for all situations. 

 Is Level IV Body Armor NIJ Certified?

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is a division of the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for improving knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science. One of their most important functions is to set standards for body armor and conduct testing to ensure that these standards are met. Their classification system is internationally recognized and is considered the benchmark for body armor effectiveness.

To achieve a Level IV NIJ certification, body armor must be able to stop a 30-06 armor piercing round. These are one of the toughest rounds a plate can face.

Armor piercing 30-06 M2 AP "Black Tip" Bullet - Tacticon Armament
30-06 M2 AP “Black Tip”

The testing process by NIJ is rigorous and involves multiple samples of the body armor to ensure consistency in its performance. The armor must demonstrate it can stop the armor piercing rounds without allowing too much of the force to be transferred to the wearer, thereby reducing the risk of serious injury. 

The NIJ certified Level IV body armor provides the highest level of protection currently recognized by the NIJ. Therefore, for those who face serious threats and require the highest level of protection, NIJ certified Level IV body armor is a choice you can trust. 

What is Level IV Body Armor Made From?

Level IV body armor is constructed from a composite of polyethylene and ceramic. These materials were chosen due to their distinct protective properties and the specific threats that Level IV armor is designed to counter.

Polyethylene, or Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) is a lightweight but incredibly strong material that offers excellent resistance to impact. On a molecular level, UHMWPE exhibits an incredibly tight bonding pattern that provides effective resistance to ballistic impacts.

Ceramic is hard and brittle. When a bullet strikes a ceramic plate, the hardness of the ceramic causes the bullet to deform and shatter, which dissipates the energy of the bullet. At the same time, the brittleness of the ceramic causes it to crack and absorb the bullet’s energy, reducing its velocity and stopping it from penetrating the plate, with the UHMWPE providing support and catching fragments. 

Level IV body armor with tested strikeplates - Tacticon Armament
Armor testing

This combination of polyethylene and ceramic allows for Level IV body armor to be highly effective against a wide range of threats. The ceramic component disrupts the bullet upon impact, while the polyethylene absorbs the residual energy to minimize backface deformation.

Enhanced Level IV Ceramic Body Armor

The most common type of Level IV body armor is ceramic supplemented by layers of UHMWPE or similar materials. This is why these plates are technically referred to as “Ceramic composite.” The ceramic material is usually bonded to polyethylene or similar backing material to create protective body armor plates.

This type of body armor utilizes the properties of both the ceramic and the UHMWPE to provide protection against different types of threats. The hard ceramic front plate can deform and shatter incoming rounds, reducing their energy and slowing them down. Meanwhile, the UHMWPE backing catches any fragments and absorbs the remaining energy of the projectile.

Despite the use of ceramic making the armor heavier than pure polyethylene plates, this combination results in Level IV body armor being very effective at stopping armor piercing and steel tipped rounds. The balance between weight and protection makes ceramic Level IV body armor a popular choice.

Level IV Polyethylene Body Armor

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no pure level 4 Polyethylene armor. UHMWPE has its place in soft armor, SRT plates, and level 3 armor, however without a hard strike face like ceramic, UHMWPE is incapable of stopping rounds that contain any steel or Tungsten. The role of Polyethylene in Level 4 armor is to provide support for the ceramic, catch fragments, and disperse the energy of the round. 

UHMWPE Vs. Kevlar

Kevlar is the most well known ballistic material, in part due to its long use. UHMWPE has a long history of use, but its use in body armor is relatively new. UHMWPE is not a fiber like Kevlar, instead, it is a thermo plastic, when used for body armor. Kevlar is cited to be 5 times the strength of steel, whereas UHMWPE is roughly 15 times, on a strength-to-weight ratio. 

While both materials are highly effective in their respective roles, the inherent structural differences give UHMWPE a level of performance that can exceed that of Kevlar when it comes to stopping higher caliber threats. 

The topic of UHMWPE vs Kevlar is one that has been covered extensively, the difference in materials plays a large role in their use for body armor. 

The Heaviest Armor Available

Weight is an important consideration for body armor, and with the exception of steel, level IV is the heaviest type of armor. Weight range for level IV armor is generally 4-10 pounds per plate, the less the weight the greater the price. 

Concealable Body Armor

Given the level of protection they provide, Level IV body armor plates are naturally thicker than lower level plates, making them less suitable as concealable body armor. The typical Level IV plate is about an inch thick or more, making it harder to conceal. 

However, with the right choice of outer garment and body armor carrier, it is still possible to achieve a level of concealment. Bear in mind that Level IV armor is often used in situations where concealment is not a priority, such as active combat.

Level III Vs. Level IV Body Armor

It’s important to understand the differences between Level III, IIIA, III+, and Level IV body armor. Each level offers varying degrees of protection, weight, design, and cost. Here, we’ll break down these differences for Level III+ and Level IV.

Level III+ Design

Level III+ body armor is not an official NIJ’s rating at this time. This level is designed to fill the gap between III and IV, offering enhanced protection against rounds like M193 and M855 5.56 rounds. The design typically involves ballistic materials like ceramic composites, similar to Level IV, but the plates are often thinner and lighter.

Level III+ Functionality

The functionality of Level III+ body armor is its ability to protect from 5.56 rounds which are currently not tested for by the NIJ. It offers protection against rounds that exceed the specification of Level III but falls short of Level IV, such as 7.62x39mm MSC rounds.

Level III+ Weight Comparison

When it comes to weight, Level III+ plates are generally lighter than Level IV, thanks to their thinner design. This makes Level III+ a great choice for users requiring advanced protection but also value mobility and comfort.

Level III+ Cost

In terms of cost, Level III+ body armor tends to be more expensive than Level III due to its enhanced protective capabilities but usually less expensive than Level IV for plates of the same weight. The cost will vary depending on the specific model and manufacturer. It is always important to remember that while cost is a consideration, your safety should always be the top priority.

What Does Level IV Body Armor Stop?

Level IV body armor is designed to provide the highest level of protection currently available under the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) body armor performance standards. This means it’s rated to protect against 30-06 caliber armor piercing bullets, and all lesser threats. 

Beyond bullet threats, Level IV body armor can also provide protection against other types of physical threats. This can include shrapnel from explosions, knife attacks, etc. Remember, no body armor can provide a 100% guarantee against all potential threats, but Level IV offers the most extensive protection available.

Pros of Level IV Body Armor

Level IV body armor, particularly when made from modern materials like UHMWPE, is incredibly resilient and provides numerous advantages:

  • Rifle rated protection: This level will stop all common rifle threats, including armor piercing threats. 
  • Durability: The combination of UHMWPE and ceramics in Level IV body armor plates ensures long lasting durability.
  • Multiple strike protection: The design and materials of Level IV body armor allow it to withstand multiple bullet impacts.

Cons of Level IV Body Armor

While Level IV body armor offers outstanding protection, there are a few considerations to bear in mind:

  • Thickness: Level IV plates are typically thicker than Kevlar and other soft body armor, making them less concealable.
  • Shelf life: Although very durable, the materials used in Level IV plates can degrade over time, with a typical shelf life of around 5-10 years. 
  • Element resistance: Level IV body armor can be less resistant to extreme elements than some alternatives.

While these points might sound like disadvantages, they should be understood in the context of Level IV armor’s primary goal, to provide the highest level of ballistic protection possible. If discretion, a longer lifespan, or resistance to extreme elements are more important to your specific needs, other types of body armor may be more suitable.

Size, Fit & Cut

Level IV body armor plates come in SAPI sizes, or the common civilian 10×12. First time armor owners are often surprised how small of an area this covers, making it important to understand the purpose of rifle plates. Due to the weight and lack of flexibility rifle armor cannot cover as much as soft armor. Rather, rifle armor is designed to cover vital areas that you cannot survive a shot too. 

Swimmers VS. Shooters Cut

Body armor plates come in different cuts, with the “Swimmers” and “Shooters” cuts being two common options. The Swimmers Cut is designed with a more aggressive angle and cut out at the top to allow for a greater range of motion in the shoulder area, making it ideal for situations requiring high mobility.

The Shooters Cut is less aggressive and provides more comprehensive coverage, making it suitable for situations where maximum protection is prioritized over mobility. The best cut for you will depend on your specific operational needs and personal preference. 

Level IV Full Body Armor

When it comes to Level IV body armor, there are a variety of products available to suit different needs and preferences. Each piece plays a unique role in ensuring your safety and survival in high risk situations.

Maximum Ballistic Protection

Level IV body armor plates are the heart of the protection system. These plates are designed to provide the highest level of ballistic protection, capable of stopping 30-06 caliber armor piercing bullets. They are available in different sizes and curvature options to accommodate a range of body types and user preferences.

Plate Carriers

Plate carriers, or tactical vests, are designed to carry the Level IV plates securely on the body. They are made of high-strength, durable materials and are designed for comfort, flexibility, and ease of movement. They are generally MOLLE compatible to allow the attachment of pouches to hold magazines, or whatever is needed. 

Trauma Pads

Trauma pads can be worn behind the ballistic plates, and are designed to help absorb and distribute the impact energy from a bullet strike. They help to reduce the risk of blunt force trauma injuries that can occur even when the bullet is stopped by the armor, and injury from backface deformation. The pads play a role in minimizing the risk of serious injuries like broken ribs or internal damage.  

Level IV Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a plate multi hit capable?

A body armor plate is considered multi hit capable when it can withstand multiple bullet impacts. This capability comes from the armor’s design and materials. For Level IV armor, the combination of ceramic and polyethylene materials helps to disperse the energy of a bullet’s impact and prevent penetration, even with multiple hits provided they are not right on top of eachother.

How to make level 4 body armor?

Manufacturing Level IV body armor involves a complex process and should only be done by professionals. The procedure involves using ceramic and polyethylene or similar materials in a precise configuration and then subjecting them to high heat and pressure to bond them together. 

Level IV body armor manufacturing process - man operating factory machine, cutting machine, and body armor plate shaper - Tacticon Armament
How much does level 4 body armor weigh?

The weight of Level IV body armor varies depending on the design and size of the plates. However, they are generally heavier than other armor because of the additional materials needed for enhanced protection. A single Level IV plate typically weighs between 4 to 10 pounds.

Is level IV body armor concealable?

Due to its thickness and weight, Level IV body armor is less easily concealed compared to soft armor. However, it can still be worn under loose clothing.

Are Level 4 plates stab proof or knife resistant?

Level IV plates are designed to stop bullets, they are not specifically designed to resist knife attacks. They will, however level 4 plates are limited in coverage. If you are concerned about knife attacks stab-resistant armor would be the best bet.

What Does Level IV Body Armor Stop?

Level IV body armor is the highest rating under the NIJ’s standards, designed to stop 30-06 caliber armor piercing bullets, and all lesser threats. 

Final Thoughts

Level IV body armor provides the highest level of protection currently available under the National Institute of Justice’s body armor standards. Its combination of ceramic and polyethylene materials offers effective protection against 30-06 caliber armor piercing bullets, as well as most other high velocity rifle rounds. However, this high level of protection comes with increased weight and thickness compared to lower level armor, making it less concealable.

Selecting the right body armor is a personal decision that should be made based on an individual’s specific needs, the threats they are likely to face, and their physical capabilities. Although Level IV body armor offers the greatest level of protection, it may not be the best choice for everyone. Other factors such as weight, flexibility, concealability, and cost also come into play.

At Tacticon, we offer a range of body armor options to suit various personal needs and threat levels. We encourage everyone to make informed decisions when it comes to personal safety and the use of body armor. Always remember, the best armor is the one that you wear, fits you best, and matches your threat assessment. If you have any questions feel free to ask. 

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Tacticon Armament.