As a consumer of most items we buy, it is a race to the bottom to find the lowest price for the item you want. This approach is not one that should be used when buying body armor.
When you buy body armor you are trusting that when you need it, it will stop bullets for the threat level you are wearing.
There are many websites and businesses out there that sell body armor as it has become, big business. But play close attention to wording, as it matters.
NIJ Certified is one of the most important checkboxes to look for. NIJ is the National Institute of Justice that certifies armor. Their website to check if a company sells armor that is certified is https://www.nij.gov/topics/technology/body-armor/Pages/compliant-ballistic-armor.aspx
There is a huge difference between Tested to NIJ Standards and NIJ Certified. Or the worst-case scenario, No mention of testing at all.
When armor is only tested to NIJ standards it means that a company has made a ballistic product (soft armor or Hard) and sent it to an independent testing lab. They test it to NIJ standards once. If it stops the bullets it is rated to, then it passes. That one time.
When armor is NIJ certified, it means that also the armor product has gone to an independent testing lab that is up to NIJ standards for testing and is tested. And if it passes, moves onto NIJ to be certified by them. This stamp of approval is huge. It means also that the company had to spend quite a bit of money for the testing process. When it comes to certifying hard armor products, it is very costly and several samples are submitted and tested to meet NIJ standards. After passing all steps and stages with NIJ, it is certified and goes on the NIK CPL list for compliant armor.
Let’s go back to testing. Not certified, tested once in a ballistics lab. When a ballistic product is NIJ certified, it continues to be tested to make sure that build of armor, is stopping what it is supposed to, with what NIJ calls a fit test. The FIT test is when NIJ shows up at a manufacturer an announced and pulls samples of the same armor that is certified by them to be re-tested to make sure it is still compliant. Again, that manufacturer pays for that test, and they happily do. Because it means they care to make sure the armor they sell will do what it supposed to. NIJ takes it back to their lab and tests that sample or samples. So, for the period has it certified for, which is generally 5 years (Differs by Manufacturer). It is continually tested. This translates into safety for you. We are talking about bullets here and a lifesaving product. Do you want to buy armor that is tested once, or trusts that it is continually tested? Some will say and tell you that it does not matter that a product is NIJ certified – But It does. It should be noted that most LE agencies only buy armor that is NIJ certified.
To close, make sure the body armor you buy is NIJ certified, your life depends on it. Don’t get wrapped up in cool graphics and lowest cost. Look for Data on the product and verify that data here https://www.nij.gov/topics/technology/body-armor/Pages/compliant-ballistic-armor.aspx.
We hope this helped in making your armor buying decision. If we can help, answer questions about armor or get you protected, we are here to help.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of Shellback Tactical.