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Level 4 Body Armor and Protection: Everything You Need to Know

Level 4 Body Armor and Protection: Everything You Need to Know

While body armor can dictate whether you stay safe from bullet impact, not all products are created equal. Level 4 body armor is the highest rated for personal use, and it's essential to understand the fine details about how it functions. Let's explore the key information you need to keep in mind when moving forward.

What Is Level 4 Body Armor Made Of?

This type of body armor is composed of a combination of different materials into two main parts; the strike face and the backer.

The most common strike face material is ceramic, more specifically alumina ceramic. Alumina ceramic is used in most ceramic plates for its high density, durability, and cost. The ceramic material is what takes first impact of the bullet. The plate backer is a lightweight material that sits behind the strike face that assists in preventing penetration and back face deformation and offers substantial protection against blunt force trauma. These are made of materials like UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) and aramid. 

The way in which the strike face and the backer are assembled is crucial. The quality of a plate can often be determined by how well the backer itself is pressed and how well it is pressed to the strike face. Sheets of UHMWPE or aramid must be strongly pressed to remain an intact backer and must be strongly pressed to the strike face to maintain the integrity of the plate. 

Cheap and/or imported plates are often poorly pressed with cheap materials causing unnecessary back face deformation and an overall weaker, inferior plate. HighCom and LTC use high quality materials from manufacturers like DuPont™, Teijin/Twaron, and DSM Dyneema® and advanced heat pressing processes to consistently produce high quality body armor.

Understanding the Standards for Level 4 Armor

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has standards for how level 4 armor should perform. These help ensure that the product sufficiently protects the user.

The NIJ 0101.06 Standard for Level 4 armor requires one single hit of .30-06 M2 AP. The round should have a velocity of 2,880 feet per second.

A common misconception is that Level 4 is automatically better than Level III since it can defeat .30-06. This is not necessarily true. Level 4, at minimum, is designed to stop one shot of .30-06 whereas Level III is designed to defeat six hits of 7.62x51mm NATO. Additional rounds vary by manufacturer, so always educate yourself on the plate's testing. 

The Pros and Cons of Level 4 Armor

There's no shortage of benefits level 4 armor offers. Understanding these can help you decide if it's right for your situation.


Overall Protection

Since this is the highest-rated body armor, it offers the highest level of protection against ballistic threats. At minimum, you will be protected from one shot of .30-06 M2AP. LTC and HighCom Armor produce a list of different Level 4 plates that defeat additional threats beyond the NIJ Standard.

Since the armor offers protection in diverse circumstances, it's ideal for military and law enforcement. It's also a great addition to emergency preparedness kits.


Most people assume that the highest rated body armor also costs the most. However, most Level 4 plates cost less than Level 3 and are often available for less than $500 a set. Level 4 starts to become as or more expensive than Level 3 when it is made of other ceramic besides Alumina such as Silicon Carbide and Boron Carbide.



Weight is the one and only drawdown of Level 4 armor. Most Level 4 plates, which are alumina ceramic, will be the heaviest compared to Level 3 and other Special Threat plates. Level 4 can get as light as some Level 3 plates when using alternative ceramics mentioned above, but remember cost will quickly increase.  

Finding the Right Body Armor for You

It's essential you find the right body armor to get the best possible experience. Let's take a closer look at what you should consider.

Consider the Manufacturer

As previously mentioned, plenty of affordable body armor options exist. However, not everyone takes the time to look for the options from reputable sources that are most suited for their needs.

When it comes to finding reputable manufacturers, its recommended that they have at least one NIJ Certified ceramic plate with a clean track record with the NIJ. The armor you get does not necessarily need to be certified, but manufacturers with several long-standing NIJ listed models have some of the best manufacturing standards and reputations in the body armor industry.

It is also preferred that body armor come from US manufacturers. These companies have the utmost focus on material quality and manufacturing quality control. The leading domestic manufacturers of body armor, like LTC and HighCom Armor, hold ISO 9001 certifications for excellent quality management. 

There are many armor companies online now that sell imported armor from places like China with low manufacturing standards and material quality. Many may see a YouTube video of this armor being shot and think it's okay, but the biggest issue with cheap imported plates is quality control. Unlike NIJ certified plates that undergo more stringent initial testing and follow up testing, imported armor has no follow up testing and the legitimacy of the ballistic testing is at the word of the manufacturer.

With enough due diligence, you'll find a suitable option for your needs. It's never worth settling for inadequate armor.

What Testing Has Been Done?

Never purchase body armor without thoroughly researching its test results. Many consumers make this mistake, which could place them in dangerous situations. Reputable providers should provide easy access to accurate testing information. As stated above, it is also important to consider who performed the testing as well any third parties who may have verified it.

It is also important to know what the specific plate is tested for. Two Level 4 plates from the same manufacturer can look similar but have completely different ballistic testing profiles. One Level 4 plate can stop just .30-06 M2AP while another could stop that round plus ten others.

Know Your Size and Think About Fit

When looking for hard armor, you can't neglect its size and fit. Armor that's too large or too small could affect its ability to protect you as well as your mobility.

When looking for hard plates and a plate carrier, it's crucial you know your plate sizing first as this will determine your plate carrier size. For example, a medium size plate carrier is made to accept Medium SAPI plates. To learn how to measure for your plate size, check out our quick guide here. 

Proper Body Armor Maintenance Is Essential

Caring for your body armor will preserve its integrity. Without the proper maintenance routine, it might not protect you when the time comes. Keep the tips below in mind so you can avoid future issues.

Managing Temperature and Humidity

It's essential to keep your body armor out of environments higher than 140°F or below -10°F. The recommended humidity range is between 10% and 95%. As long as you stay within these, you should be able to easily maintain your armor's integrity.

Handling Body Armor

With Level 4 plates being made of ceramic, they are most prone to drop damage and delamination issues. The ceramic strike face can be cracked or crumbled on severe contact. Also, the strike face can become delaminated from the plate backer material. 

There are a few quick routines you can perform to check up on the health of your plate discussed in the video below:

Practical Storage Tips

It's best to keep your body armor in a dry location away from direct sunlight. Make sure your plates as dry as possible before storing them again and avoid storing damp plates in tight spaces. 

If you keep your plates stored in your plate carrier, make sure they are dry and properly secure. Keeping your plate carrier on a hanger with plates is usually just fine, but be familiar with your carrier and if the weight of the plates would cause early or unnecessary wear. 

It is okay to store plates alone either standing up or laying down, but it is advised you do so either on or close to the floor or in a closed drawer to prevent a potential drop.

How Top Armor Can Help You Find the Right Fit

We have a variety of LTC and HighCom Armor Level 4 plates suited for a variety of wants and needs. 

26605 NIJ 06 Level IV Triple Curve SAPI Plate

LTC 26605 Level 4 10x12 SAPI Plate

This product consists of an alumina ceramic core backed with layered woven aramid fiber. It's also finished in a black, water-resistant nylon covering. Rather than the common shooters cut 10x12 with tapered corners, this 26605 comes in a full SAPI 10x12 featuring a triple curve design.  

Along with the base NIJ Standard .30-06 M2AP round, 26605 is tested to a variety of other rifle threats like M855 Green Tip, M61 AP, and 7.62x54R API. 26605 is NIJ 0101.06 Certified and made 100% in the USA.

The 26605 is a viable option for those looking for light, but powerful, edge-to-edge Level 4 protection.

26605 NIJ 06 Level IV Swimmer Plate

LTC 26605 Level 4 Swimmers Cut Plate

All of the same features as the SAPI 26605, but in a multi curve swimmers cut shape. This plate features a steeper plate tapering for maximum arm mobility and weight savings compared to other 26605 cuts.

4S17M NIJ 06 Level IV Plate (Shooters Cut & SAPI Cut)

HighCom 4s17m NIJ 06 Certified Level 4 Plate

The 4S17M is one of HighCom's most popular rifle armor plates. NIJ 0101.06 Certified and made 100% in the USA, this plate provides the most expansive ballistic protection of any plate we and HighCom offer, being tested to 16 different threats. 

The Shooters Cut features a triple curve design while the SAPI cut features a more traditional multi curve shape. Also, just below the surface is a honeycomb design built to offer added drop protection to the strike face. To finish it off, the 4S17M features a heat pressed composite backing. This results in a slightly heavier, but still thin, plate at 7.2 lbs and 0.90".

The 4S17M is the go-to plate for those looking for maximum protection and affordability, coming in stronger and cheaper than the rest of the plates mentioned here.

4S16 Level IV Lightweight Multi Curve Plate

HighCom 4s16 Lightweight Level 4 Plate

This plate offers a heavy focus on weight reduction with basic armor piercing protection.

The 4S16 is HighCom's lightest and thinnest alumina ceramic plate coming in at 0.75" and 6.46 lbs. (10x12 Shooters Cut). However, to achieve these weight savings, some ballistic capabilities are reduced. The 4S16 is tested just for one hit of .30-06 M2AP according to NIJ Standard 0101.06. 4s16 is not an NIJ Certified model.

The 4s16 is a great option for those who need base Level 4 protection with a preference for maximum weight savings.

Choose the Right Body Armor for Your Needs

The information about Level 4 body armor in this guide will help ensure you make the best decision for your needs. From here, you should have no trouble leveraging the protection it provides.

Top Armor prides itself on providing high-quality products that law enforcement and military personnel have trusted for over 30 years. We strive to exceed all customer expectations by adhering to our rigid craftsmanship standards.

You can learn more about what we have to offer when you get in touch with us today.

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