The National Institute of Justice has defined 10 levels of ballistic ratings. Out of these 10, 6 are the commonly used ones and these are namely I, II, IIA, III, IIIA and IV.
Levels I, II, IIA and IIIA all belong to the soft bullet proof armor subcategory while III and IV belong to the hard. Soft armor is usually lightweight whereas hard armor is not. The range of protection that soft armor offers is limited though. Regardless of that, the best soft body armor out there is the level 3a bullet proof vest. The upgrade of this is the III which already falls under the hard body armor.
The level 3a bullet proof vest is the best soft body armor for various reasons. Number one is that it is lightweight. This makes it perfect for everyday use. While being lightweight, it offers a wide range of protection from handguns and even some sub machine guns. Here is a list of rounds that it can stop:
124 gr. FMJ at 1400 fps
240 gr. Gas Checked
5,5″ to 6.25″ barrel”
SWC at 1400 fps
.44 Magnum Lead Semi-Wad cutter at 1400 fps
12 Ga. 00/ Buck/ 12 Ga.slug
The level 3a bullet proof vest usually weighs around 3 to 7 pounds which is extremely lightweight. The panels are .25 inch usually but since there is a front and back panel, you can say it is half an inch thick.
When picking out a level 3a bullet proof vest, always verify that there is side protection. Some manufacturers cut weight by actually leaving this spot open. They just have a Velcro strap there which connects your front and back plates. A good level 3a bullet proof vest must have side protection as well as complete coverage.
Also, a level 3a bullet proof vest usually has specially made compartments that allow you to add armor plates whenever you please. This is because some people do not want to buy the III or IV rated body armor and instead just wants to upgrade their III. It is important to test your level 3a bullet proof vest before use or have it tested by experts. Most sellers have the NIJ certification but it can always be falsified. Having it tested is better than being shocked that it doesn’t work when you get shot.
The level 3a bullet proof vest usually costs anywhere from $400 to $600.