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NIJ Certified vs. NIJ Tested Plates

NIJ Certified vs. NIJ Tested Plates

What are the differences between NIJ Certified and NIJ Tested plates? One of the main things you might be looking for in a plate is if it is NIJ Certified. This gives a quick look into the legitimacy of the ballistic capabilities of the plate. However, a common misconception is that the difference in Certified and Tested plates is all about ballistic protection. While NIJ Certification mostly showcases a plate's ballistic protection, it also displays it's quality of design by completing a more thorough testing process and routine follow-up testing after make. When looking at NIJ Certified vs Tested armor, it is important to know the processes of each.

NIJ Tested

NIJ Tested armor is body armor that meets the NIJ's standards for ballistic or stab resistance, but has not undergone the full NIJ certification process. NIJ testing only accounts for the shooting test portion of the NIJ Certification process and is often performed in a third party lab such as Oregon Ballistics Lab (OBL) or NTS Chesapeake. Often times, non-certified plates will use the same ballistic testing labs that certified plates do. NIJ Tested armor does not undergo the physical and follow-up testing certified armor does to prove its quality of design and longevity. This does not mean NIJ Tested plates are to be avoided, it is very important to consider things like the reputation of the manufacturer, its testing processes, and the testing facility used. 

NIJ Certified

NIJ Certified armor has undergone rigorous testing and evaluation by the NIJ to ensure that it meets or exceeds the agency's standards. NIJ certified armor has been proven to provide the level of protection claimed by the manufacturer, making it a more reliable choice for those who need to rely on their body armor for protection. Holding NIJ certification is also an ongoing process. The NIJ makes routine (and often unannounced) checkups on manufacturers to select and test pieces of armor to uphold certifications. This ensures that manufacturers are consistently producing the quality of armor originally approved by the NIJ.

Details to Look For

As of today, the latest standard is NIJ Standard 0101.06. The previous standard was Standard 0101.04. When looking for NIJ certified armor, you might find some products certified to 04 standard. While they are both technically NIJ certified, armor tested to the latest 06 standard undergoes more rigorous testing than 04:

  • 04 requires 9 plates tested, while 06 is 24 plates (up to 37 for Level IV).
  • 04 conditioning requires water “spray” for 6 minutes while 06 is submerged in water for 30 minutes with a 10 minute drip period.
  • 06 also requires a 10 day tumble (149F,80%hum), 1 day of thermal exposure (5-194F,0-80%hum) as well as a mechanical durability test (drop).
All 06 certified armor can be found on the NIJ CPL (Compliant Product List)
  1. Visit the NIJ CPL here.
  2. Find the manufacturer of the armor at hand, as well as its model designation. Brands that are on the NIJ CPL will almost always provide the armor's model number for reference.
  3. Verify that the model at hand is listed as "Active". This is an important step to make sure the model is still in good standing with the NIJ.

If you were able to complete these steps, the armor is NIJ certified to the latest standards and in good, active standing with the NIJ. Some reasons armor might be Inactive or not found on the NIJ CPL are:

  • Certification was not renewed.
  • Armor failed routine NIJ testing (FIT).
  • Armor is no longer offered by manufacturer.

What Is FIT Testing? 

The FIT (Follow-up Inspection and Testing) program was formed by the NIJ in 2010 to increase performance assurance for NIJ Certified armor. During a FIT test, independent inspectors pull production armor samples and send them for testing and inspection of both performance and construction. All NIJ certified armor is required to undergo FIT testing and the frequency of testing is dependent on a manufacturer's ISO Certification. If they are ISO certified, armor is tested roughly once every two years. If they are not, then testing is done roughly once a year. When plates are penetrated during a FIT test the model is temporarily suspended from the NIJ Compliant Products List to examine if the cause is a one-off mistake or a lasting flaw in the plate's design. If it is not determined to be a flaw in the plate's design, the model is permanently removed from the NIJ Compliant Products List.

Is NIJ Certified Superior?

When it comes to choosing body armor, NIJ certification is essential for several reasons:

First, NIJ certified armor provides a higher level of confidence in its ability to protect the wearer. It has undergone extensive physical and ballistic testing, along with successful follow-up inspections, which means that you can be confident that it will perform as expected when it's needed. 

Second, NIJ certification assures the wearer of the plate's design and physical capabilities to withstand adverse conditions and non-ballistic damage. 

Third, NIJ certification is required by many law enforcement agencies and government organizations. If you're a police officer, for example, you may be required to wear NIJ certified armor while on duty. Choosing NIJ certified armor ensures that you're in compliance with these requirements.

Is It Ever Okay to Buy NIJ Tested or Non Certified Armor?

While we would prefer and recommend NIJ Certified armor, it is not the end all be all. It all depends on the manufacturer. The largest military contractors like LTC, HighCom, Tencate, and Point Blank also sell NIJ Tested and non-NIJ Certified models, but have a proven track record of quality control. With certain requests from government agencies, these companies also make body armor outside of civilian NIJ Certification and are tested to different military standards like ESAPI. The most important thing when considering non-NIJ certified plates is the manufacturer's track record and reputation.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, while NIJ compliant armor may meet the minimum standards for ballistic and stab resistance, NIJ certified armor provides a higher level of protection, confidence, and reliability. It has undergone rigorous testing to ensure that it meets the NIJ's standards, making it a superior choice for those who need to rely on their body armor for protection. Remember the key points in looking for body armor

  1. Look for NIJ Listed Model label on product
  2. Confirm model is on the NIJ Compliant Product List and active.
  3. Stay up to date on a models NIJ certification status.
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