NIJ Testing Standards: What and Why
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we explain the NIJ certification process from start to finish and why each test is important to ensure the protection of each level of armor.
To maximize protection for our customers, all Propper soft body armor is NIJ-certified. This is critical because the National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) sets the national standard on body armor to assure that it works as designed and offers the level of protection needed against certain ballistic threats.
The NIJ certification process is far more than a cursory glance at some arbitrary standards. It is an extensive hands-on process wherein over 50 samples of armor are run through a series of rigorous tests in varying conditions that closely simulate conditions wearers will encounter in real life.
The testing consists of not only ballistic resistance verification but also how well the armor holds up under environmental conditions such as extreme heat and humidity. These tests are carried out at NIJ-authorized laboratories guaranteed to meet the tough NIJ standards.
High Humidity & Submersion
Soft ballistic armor is composed of tightly woven threads that need to remain tightly woven to stop bullets, so they are encased inside a watertight membrane to protect from moisture. To simulate wearing the armor on hot, muggy days and in rain, where moisture could become an issue, the NIJ tests these sealed ballistics to ensure the life-saving aramid threads do not loosen or separate when the panel is worn in high humidity or submerged in water. The armor is also subjected to high heat for an extended period to ensure the threads do not separate or relax too much as they get warmer.
After the heat and humidity tests are complete, the armor is put into a tumbler for 10 days to simulate five years of use and wear. Why five years? Because that is the length of the manufacturer’s warranty on all NIJ-certified armor. If the sample armor can still stop a bullet after the tumble test, then the production armor should hold up to five years of wear and tear and still be strong enough to protect the wearer.
But what does all of this matter if the armor can’t stop bullets, right? The final – and perhaps most important – test is subjecting it to the caliber of bullets most likely to be fired at the wearer, typically law enforcement officers.
Soft armor offers two levels of protection: Level II and IIIA. Each is designed to absorb rounds up to a certain caliber and velocity. In the NIJ’s testing, six shots of two different calibers are shot at the armor to gauge its effectiveness:
- 9mm FMJ, 124gr at 1305 ft/s
- .357 Magnum JSP 158 gr at 1430 ft/s
- .357 Sig, 125 gr at 1470 ft/s
- .44 Magnum SJHP 240gr at 1430 ft/s
Each of the 12 samples is shot six times for 144 total rounds. This certifies each panel as multi-hit, tested to absorb at least six rounds, more than most assailants will fire in a shootout.
How tight is the test? A single failure of any armor samples to stop all of the test bullets will fail the sample.
For the protection of our customers and those around them, Propper sells only NIJ-certified armor that has gone through and passed the entire testing process.