The Ultimate Buyer's Guide to Body Armor 2022

The Ultimate Buyer's Guide to Body Armor 2022

11 minute read

What Are Ballistic Threat Levels?

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has set standards for body armor and administers a program to test products that claim to meet its standards. NIJ ballistic threat levels are based on their ability to stop specific rounds. Body armor plates are typically tested for one impact, but it can be important to look for protection that exceeds these standards. If a large amount of gunfire is anticipated, body armor with multi-hit capabilities would be required. The NIJ collaborates with the National Law Enforcement and Technology Center (NLCTC), Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to ensure the body armor is thoroughly tested. Ballistic armor is rated by levels of protection, and new armor to the market will be rated based on this scale. Our buyer's guide to body armor will detail the differences between threat levels to help you find your best option.

What Level Body Armor Should I Purchase?

  • Level II body armor is the lowest rating and a type of soft body armor. It is lightweight and easy to conceal therefore, practical for someone looking for low-profile protection. Level II armor offers protection from a .9mm and a .357 Magnum. This protection is practical for anyone looking for handgun protection.
  • Level IIIA vests are designed to stop a .357 Sig FMJ or a .44 Magnum Semi. This is typically soft armor but sometimes can have ballistic shields or hard armor. They could also be designed to include the ability to add additional armor. For example, many LEOs will have soft armor that is a Level IIIA NIJ rating but they are designed to fit with hard armor to give extra protection from higher caliber weapons.
  • Level III are hard armor plates that offer rifle protection. Although LEOs prefer soft armor for lightweight protection, Level III armor can save a life that is threatened by more than a handgun. There are lightweight Level III options available today. Hard body armor is made with an array of materials including steel, ceramics, and Polyethylene.
  • Level IV offers the highest level of protection from special threat weapons. Level IV body armor is designed to withstand the force of one hit from an armor-piercing rifle. Anyone with possible exposure to a special threat weapon should purchase Level IV body armor.

What Does ICW Mean On a Plate Rating?

ICW (In Conjunction With) rifle plates are hard body armor plates that must be used with Level IIIA soft armor to fulfill the ballistic rating. ICW plates are lighter and thinner, therefore practical for LEOs to use while on duty. Soft armor can be trusted to protect against common threats such as those from handguns, but if a higher threat situation arises, ICW plates will offer the appropriate protection! The ShotStop® Duritium® ICW plate can withstand multiple hits from a 7.62x51mm, 149 grain, or M80 FMJ. Just like other hard armor plates, the ICW plates are made with an array of materials

ShotStop Duritium® III ICW Shooter Cut Plate

ShotStop Duritium® III ICW Shooter Cut Plate


Duritium® III ICW (In Conjunction With) Body Armor Plates This insert is ideal for patrol officers and will be a quick upgrade to your soft armor for additional protection against most rifles. This is for anyone looking for comfort while… Read More

What Body Armor Material Should I Choose?

Polyethylene, A.K.A. PE or UHMWPE

Polyethylene is a growing market in the body armor industry and is actually one of the most common types of plastic used today. Body armor is made from a special kind of Polyethylene called Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE). UHMWPE is the highest rated thermoplastic in terms of durability and is about five times stronger than steel. It is an abrasion- resistant material that trumps other body armor materials. UHMWPE is typically a more affordable body armor option because it is cheaper to produce. It is also very reliable for protection, making it the best bang for your buck. 


ShotStop® ballistics’ Duritium® technology is an innovative approach to polyethylene that has an unusually high tensile strength. It combines UHMWPE with composite materials for light, thin, and durable body armor plates. Duritium® has a high kinetic energy disbursement, making it a great fit for ballistic protection. ShotStop® has taken their findings and created groundbreaking products in the armor industry. The plates can withstand multiple strikes in the same location without losing integrity.

Para-Aramid Fiber

Para-aramid fibers are a class of heat-resistant and strong synthetic fibers. They have been used in ballistic materials for years. It is a flexible material that is much stronger than steel. The chain molecules are highly concentrated across the fiber axis creating a higher fiber strength than other synthetic fibers. This material is resistant to abrasion damage and maintains a sturdy backface with impact. This means that there is less deformation and it better controls the blunt-force trauma. 


Zylon is a synthetic polymer material with a high tensile strength (about 1.6 times that of Kevlar). Zylon is also a very stiff material, more still than steel, making it a bit impractical for body armor. It is important that your armor is comfortable and easy to maneuver in. If you already own Zylon body armor, make sure you replace it as soon as possible! This material has been banned numerous times due to massive recalls and defects. These are important to look out for when purchasing body armor, as defected plates will put your life in danger.


Steel is a common material in body armor but is slowly fading out of the market due to more advanced technologies. It is a cost-effective material with a long life span which is why some manufacturers saw it as a durable body armor option. There are two types of steel including AR500 Steel and Mil-Spec A46100. AR500 Steel is not certified by the NIJ but is commonly used in shooting targets and hard rifle plates. Mil-Spec A46100 is rated to stop both small arms and explosive shrapnel. When steel is used as body armor some setbacks don’t make it the safest option. For one, steel armor can cause a ricochet, meaning parts of the bullet will disperse and hit unprotected parts of the body including the neck, face, arms, etc. Also, steel is very stiff and heavy making it impractical for LEOs to be wearing all day. Standard 10x12 steel armor plates can weigh up to 15 pounds which means for front and rear protection, it’d add 30 pounds to your vest.


Ceramic body armor is thick like steel but lighter weight. Most modern ceramic armor is made from a boron carbide-based composite. Unlike steel, they’re better at absorbing and dispersing energy leading to fewer injuries when impacted including, intense bruising, broken ribs, etc. Although ceramic plates can offer reliable protection they do have a few downfalls. For example, ceramic can easily crack so if you have ever fallen wearing the plate, it will crack and therefore no longer offer bulletproof protection. Due to cracking when impacted, it cannot withstand multiple hits in the same area. Ceramic is also very hard, thick, and relatively heavy, making it difficult to maneuver in and not something comfortable to wear. 

What Are Body Armor Side Plates?

Body armor side plates can be placed in a plate carrier at the sides to protect exposed area of the torso that covered by just front and back plates. In the past, many operators and law enforcement officers chose to not wear their side plates because of the added weight and lack of mobility. Now, thanks to ShotStop's Duritium® technology, adding side plates to a kit won't cost comfort or maneuverability. 

ShotStop® Duritium® III+PA Side Plate

The ShotStop® Ballistics III+PA body armor side plate in 6"x6" and weighs less than a pound! That's .6 lbs. less than its leading competitor. Being that it is rated Level III+ means it can defeat more than a typical Level III plate. It has the capabilities to stop more than just the M80 and its multi-strike power is far greater than the 6 shot NIJ requirement. If you are in law enforcement this protection will save your life if ever faced by a criminal with an AR-15 shooting a 5.56x45mm or anything up to a 7.62x51mm. This is why it is important to be equipped with hard body armor plates and not just IIIA soft armor.

ShotStop Duritium® III+PA Side Plate

ShotStop Duritium® III+PA Side Plate


Level 3 Body Armor:  6 x 6 Inch Side Plate, LESS THAN 1 POUND!!  This product is very low profile and perfect for detectives, plain clothes officers, federal agents, bodyguards and security. Front, back and side plates are 7.3 lbs keeping… Read More

ShotStop® Duritium® GT2 Side Plate

The ShotStop GT2 side plate is a special threat ballistic plate. It is also 6"x6" but weighs 1.3 lbs. and is just .6" thick. Special threat plates can protect against higher caliber bullets such as the green tip strikes (M855/SS109) and a 5.56x45mm. This plate provides rifle protection without the wear and tear on your body. Just like all of ShotStop's products, the GT2 plate exceeds the NIJ standards and can defeat multiple strikes in the same area. Adding special threat side plates to a carrier can be life saving which is why we offer a product that is convenient and ensures comfort.

ShotStop Duritium® GT2 Side Plate

ShotStop Duritium® GT2 Side Plate



ShotStop® Duritium® IV+HA Side Plate

The ShotStop® IV+HA side plate is the lightest Level IV body armor side plate in the world! Level IV is the highest level of protection and according to the NIJ, they can protect against six hits from a 5.56x45 mm M193 or three hits from a 7.62x39mm API 2390. ShotStop®'s Duritium® technology goes above the standards and offers the most durable protection on the market. Our goal with this buyer's guide to body armor is to provide information about all ballistic materials available to keep you protected and comfortable in your armor.

ShotStop Duritium® IV+HA Side Plate

ShotStop Duritium® IV+HA Side Plate


Level 4 Body Armor Side Plates - The lightest Level 4 side plates in the world with a standard 10 year warranty!  This is a military grade armor and is ultra light weight with the highest level of protection you can… Read More

Is It Legal For Civilians To Buy Body Armor?

In the United States, it is legal in all 50 states for law-abiding citizens to purchase body armor. You have the right to protect you and your family from harm. Ballistic protection is allowed for personal and professional use and does not require any special paperwork or background checks. It is your own responsibility to determine if you are legally able to purchase and use body armor. Convicted felons are prohibited from owning body armor (18 U.S.C. 931). However, they may purchase bulletproof vests if it is required by their employer and they have written permission to do so. It is the felon’s responsibility to refrain from buying body armor and can be prosecuted for an illegal purchase. Body armor can be beneficial to invest in for people such as:

  • Jewelry Store and Pawn Shop Owners
  • Convenience Store Owners and Clerks
  • ATM Repairmen
  • Hunters
  • Body Guards
  • Homeowners Who've Suffered Home Invasions
  • Victims of Stalking or Abuse
  • Shooting Range Personnel
  • Forest Rangers

Are There Body Armor Counterfeits?

The internet is polluted with counterfeit designer handbags, shoes, etc. and body armor is no exception! It is important to buy from reputable brands with a good history. It is key to look up reviews and thoroughly look into the website and social media platforms before making a purchase. Most brands will list agencies they deal with to prove they are a trusted brand. Counterfeit body armor can give you a false sense of security that puts your life at risk. The Counterfeit Report monitors fake products being sold in the United States to create awareness for consumers.

What Guarantees and Warranties Should I Look For?

Typically, body armor needs to be replaced every five years due to wear and tear, it can not perform to its full capacity any longer. However, ShotStop® Ballistics Duritium® technology is very durable and has a 15 year warranty! This is 3X the industry standard and can save agencies thousands of dollars. Warranties are very important to look into when buying armor to know the lifespan of your protection and also your cost in the long run. 

The Armor Shop™ also offers other guarantees in order to provide affordable protection to all law enforcement officers. These include:

  • ShotStop® Saves is a unique program offered by our manufacturer, ShotStop® Ballistics, that is offered to all LEO customers who’ve been shot on the line of duty. If any officer takes a bullet(s) to their Duritium® body armor plate, we will not only provide you with a free replacement, but we’ll also send you a $500 check to cover any expenses related to the incident. We’ve said it before, but our mission is to provide the safest and most efficient protection for those who protect our communities.
  • LEO Pricing is offered by ShotStop® ballistics and provides an exclusive discount to LEOs worldwide. just like with any other company that offers exclusive LEO discounts, The Armor Shop® will need basic info that every LEO has on hand (badge #, department, etc…). Once your account is verified we will notify you via email and then you can log into to receive exclusive LEO Discounts.

At The Armor Shop our goal is to provide reliable protection to every law enforcement officer in America. We also know the importance of ballistic protection for anyone, including civilians. We hope that our buyer's guide to body armor can help make your purchasing process easier.

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