If you work or live in a dangerous environment with a high risk of shooting incidents, a bulletproof vest can be a life-saver. Level 4 body armor offers the highest level of protection.

Buying one seems to be a reasonable investment. Since it’s meant to save your life if you ever get into jeopardy, it is only natural to take serious consideration before buying one. But, this endeavor can get more complicated than it appears. 

First of all, there’s no such thing as a bulletproof vest. There are so many different types of ammo and no body armor stops them all.

A bullet-resistant armor or vest is a more appropriate term. But, terminology aside, the competition is fierce out there and a lot of misinformation is spreading around.

If you’re considering buying a level 4 body armor, we will try to clear the air and provide some guidelines and tips to help you choose.

DO I NEED LEVEL 4 BODY ARMOR (OR ANY BULLETPROOF VEST)?

Body armor is cumbersome and not really comfortable.

It’s pretty obvious why law enforcement officers, security guards, and soldiers need body armors. They work in an environment that can become hostile in a blink of an eye and they have to be ready in order to do their job – and stay alive while at it. But many civilians buy body armors as well. If you’re involved in shooting sports safety comes first. And accidents happen. 

As for ‘regular’ civilians, it’s a little bit more tricky. Most people buy body armors and hope they never use them. It’s similar to gas masks or home defense weapons. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but in case of an emergency, you’ll be prepared.

However, body armors aren’t very cheap, so it’s a difficult call. It all comes down to potential threats and math. Judging potential threats is highly subjective, though.

Just think about it: major natural disasters, economic collapse, pandemics, nuclear threats, megadroughtall these events may or may not unleash mayhem. Calculating the odds is nearly impossible. Eventually, it’s up to you to evaluate and make a choice.

WHAT TO CONSIDER

When it’s time to buy body armor there are a couple of important questions to ask.

First, you need to assess the level of threat. It includes not only the odds of an active shooter or other shooting incidents but the types of weapons and ammo commonly used in these incidents.

For example, a street police officer can be fine with levels two or three that would stop most knives and common 9mm or .357 magnum bullets.

You should also consider the cost, weight, thickness, and comfort of body armor.

bulletproof vest

CLASSIFICATION

There are several ways to classify body armors. It can get a little bit confusing.

So, let’s break it down.

Soft vs. Hard Body Armor

First, there are soft and hard body armors.

Soft armor is made of strong but flexible woven fabric. It stops the bullet and spreads impact energy across a wider area. Typically it can offer protection against knives and many pistol calibers.

Overall, it is less visible, more comfortable, and less protective than hard body armor.

Hard body armor is made for more serious threats like rifles and explosives. It’s heavy, bulky, uncomfortable and rigid. But, it offers a significantly higher level of protection. 

Both types have some advantages depending on the level of threat you’re facing.

Steel vs. Ceramic Plate

This seems to be a never-ending argument, but I’m sure that steel will eventually become obsolete

Steel body armor is strong, heavy, thin, and usually multi-hit capable. It is also affordable and durable. However, it is susceptible to spalling and ricochets. 

Ceramic body armor is significantly lighter and has much better energy transfer than steel body armor. But, it is not as durable and usually, two hits at the same spot would break it.

Ceramic technology is constantly improving and each new generation offers better overall performance. Anyway, if you buy from top brands, both steel and ceramic plates will provide an outstanding level of protection.

Level of Threat Standards

Minimum performance standards are set by NIJ (National Institute of Justice). There are six classification types:

Type I – .22 LR; .380 ACP

Type II-A – 9mm; .40 S&W; .45 ACP

Type II – 9mm; .357 Magnum

Type III-A – .357 SIG; .44 Magnum; 10mm Auto; 7H21

Type III – Rifles; 7H31; Lehigh .45-70; 5.7x28mm SS190

Type IV – Armor Piercing Rifle

OUR TOP PICKS

When you decide to buy body armor, a reputable brand is a must. There are many rotten apples in this industry and you’ll want to avoid them. False claims and even slightly lower quality products can make a crucial difference.

So, make sure to only choose attested and proven brands.

These are our top picks – not necessarily in this order.

1. HighCom Guardian 4s17m

guardian level 4 body armor

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HighCom Armor is a reputable and recognized personal protective equipment manufacturer.

Their adherence to the highest standards of quality and testing allows you to count on them. This plate will stop 98% of threats you may face. It’s a ceramic composite plate with 1000D Cordura nylon exterior cover.

Multi-curve shape provides a better fit. I recommend shooter cut, but you can opt for SAPI if you prefer.

2. RMA Armament 1155 4

plate bulletproof vest

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RMA is probably the most popular body armor manufacturer.

And in this industry, you can’t be popular unless you provide top-notch quality.

Their model RMA 1155 offers the best price/quality ratio. It’s available only in SAPI cut with a single curve. It is a little bit heavy by ceramic standards (8.3lbs), but it offers a great level of protection for a low price.

3. AR500 Level 4 Body Armor

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This is a rebranded RMA 1155 plate so it offers the same qualities and protection.

4. DFNDR Level 4 Body Armor

rifle plates

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This is another excellent choice. It’s on the more expensive side but it offers a lot. Tested at muzzle velocities, this plate provides great protection while it’s probably the lightest level 4 body armor you can find.

It’s available in SAPI cut only. It also has a multi-curve shape to provide a more comfortable fit.

5. Hesco 4401 Level IV

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Hesco 4401 is a well-rounded body plate. It provides excellent protection and durability with a relatively low price. You can opt for a shooter cut or SAPI.

A shooter cut can be a single curve or multi-curve, while SAPI version has a multi-curve profile.

6. Hoplite Triple Curve SAPI Plates

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These plates are sold in pairs. You can choose from 4 different sizes. These plates are made by LTC (Leading Technology Composites).

LTC is the world’s largest body armor manufacturer, but it doesn’t sell to civilians. This body armor is pretty light and it is supposed to be multi-hit capable