What Does Ballistic Rated Eyewear Mean?

Ballistics is the science that studies the movement of objects (such as bullets or rockets) shot or forced to move forward through the air.

In the world of safety eyewear, ballistics means military-grade impact protection. This standard differs quite a lot from that of safety eyewear for civilians. Ballistic-rated eyewear is designed and tested to survive the military’s high-speed impact and fragmentation standards.

What’s The Difference Between Civilian and Military Safety Eyewear Standards?

The civilian standard for safety eyewear is indicated by a Z87+ marking that denotes meeting ANSI Z87.1 standards. Although currently without a marking, the Military Ballistic Standard 662 means a product meets military-grade standards. The difference between the two standards is essential.

Civilian Standards

The Z87+ markings on safety glasses and goggles indicate eyewear is compliant with ANSI Z87.1 high impact and ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 industrial safety standards for eye protection. Safety eyewear meeting these criteria are used in a variety of industrial and personal applications.

Note that the Z87+ marking is used for all Plano, readers and magnifier safety glasses. The Z87-2+ marking is used for impact-rated prescription lenses. If you’re using Rx inserts with military eyewear, they must be impact rated and marked with Z87-2+.

Military Standards

The Military’s rigorous MIL-PRF 32432 Ballistic Fragmentation standard uses tests similar to those in the ANSI Z87.1 standard. However, the requirements are much more stringent.

There are two main Military Ballistic Standards used for testing, MIL-PRF-31013 (spectacles) and MIL-DTL-43511D (goggles). Eyewear passing these tests, along with additional criteria, may qualify to be listed on the APEL (Authorized Protective Eyewear List), which indicates the product is approved for individuals serving in the US Army.

Ballistic-rated sunglasses are a popular choice for todays military and law enforcement personnel.

Ballistic-rated sunglasses are a necessity for today’s military and law enforcement personnel.

Most military-grade eyewear will meet ANSI certifications. However, ANSI-certified safety glasses and goggles will not always be APEL certified. In fact, the majority of them are not.

The impact standards required for APEL certification are much higher than those for the ANSI standard. In fact, the MIL-PRF-31013 testing produces approximately 7 times more impact energy than the ANSI Z87.1 standard. Also, the military impact standards for goggles are even more rigorous.

The US Army also requires that ballistic eyewear is functional, reasonably comfortable, contains no bright colors or distracting designs, and is able to be disinfected. Also, they have requirements for optical clarity, protection from UV rays, fit, chemical resistance and environmental stability (no changes when exposed to a range of temperatures and humidity levels).

How can you identify APEL certified eyewear?

While all ANSI-certified eyewear must be indicated as such with the Z87+ marking somewhere on the product, there currently is no marking system in place for military-grade eyewear. Officials report Marking Requirements for Ballistic Eyewear Are Still Forthcoming.

The only way to be sure eyewear meets APEL standards is to check the APEL list provided and regularly updated by PEO Soldier, a program providing “soldiers with capabilities to ensure they remain decisive and dominant throughout the full spectrum of military operations.”

Only eyewear on APEL has been tested and validated as meeting military requirements for ballistic fragment protection. Eyewear not on this list is not authorized for wear during combat, training, or when there is the risk of impact injury to the eyes of individuals in the military.

How can you identify non-APEL ballistic eyewear?

Unfortunately, for non-APEL certified eyewear, there are no unique product markings to make identifying ballistic-rated eyewear easy. Safety glasses meeting military ballistic standards can only be identified by reading the manufacturer’s product description. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and see a “Vo” marking on the frame or lens. However, this marking appears to be falling out of favor with most manufacturers. The best bet for those required to wear ballistic-rated eyewear is to only buy those listed on APEL.

Wiley X PT-1 APEL Marking Example

Example of the APEL marking on a pair of Wiley X PT-1 Safety Glasses

Where can you find ballistic-rated eyewear?

Most manufacturers of ballistic eyewear list which styles meet or exceed military impact standards on their packaging or in sales descriptions. Safety Glasses USA has a dedicated Ballistic Eyewear Section to make the selection process even easier.

To help you get started, here’s a list of favorite brands offering ballistic-rated styles:

Even with the help provided by most safety eyewear manufacturers and retailers, it’s important to make sure any product purchased for military use is listed on APEL.

Tell us what you think

Do you have questions or comments about this article? We’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.

By |2018-09-20T15:07:49+00:00May 11th, 2017|All Posts|16 Comments

About the Author:

Michael Eldridge is a US Marine Veteran and the founder of SafetyGlassesUSA.com. He's passionate about protective eyewear and promoting vision safety. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, fishing, CrossFit, mountain biking, camping with his family and watching Detroit Tigers baseball.


  1. chris feigel May 18, 2011 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    Mike, great subject to bring up for discussion, I enjoy my edge baretti aqua, but have broken the left earpiece and can no longer wear them, had a piece of gutter fall at a job site and hit the glasses and broke them. i like them enough i tried to epoxy them, just took away from the whole look. so they sit. also wondering if you recommend any line that promotes scratch resistance, my HD703 took a hell beating when i used them while cutting tile with a wet-saw. the amber color was perfect, just know not to use them for that any longer. they worked great just didn’t expect they’d get ruined so quickly. any help?

    • Mike Eldridge May 19, 2011 at 9:19 am - Reply

      Hey Chris, glad to hear you like the Edge Barretti’s, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback on that style.

      In regards to the Harley Davidson HD703’s lenses scratching there’s not much you/we can do since 99% of all safety glasses use polycarbonate lenses. Even with a hard coated lens, working in an environment with lots of abrasive material/dust will scratch the lenses quickly. The best thing you can do is follow good lens cleaning practices to extend the life of your eyewear.

  2. […] shooters, fisherman, and others.  And speaking of tactical eyewear, if you’ve ever wondered How To Identify Ballistic Rated Eyewear, this blog will answer your […]

  3. […] process for inclusion on the APEL. And here’s a link to an earlier article we did on “How to Identify Ballistic Rated Eyewear”. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to […]

  4. sorin Morgan July 12, 2016 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Hay this is sorin Morgan my question is are Jackson nimbisis safty glasses approved by the military?

  5. Karl Ericson January 11, 2017 at 2:17 am - Reply

    I was wondering how to obtain a pair of Z87+ in Australia. I would need to get the lenses changed to my prescription if possible for my job. Are the lenses available in both clear and dark? Thanks, Karl.

    Sorry, to add to my previous inquiry, the rating needs to be the 662 Military grade. I need to find the best protection available, with the prescription I need for driving and shooting. Thank you for any information you can supply.

    • Michael Eldridge January 12, 2017 at 2:38 pm - Reply

      Hi Karl,

      Thank you for your question.

      In my opinion, the best solution is to choose an eyewear style that uses prescription inserts. The ESS/Oakley URx Prescription Insert can be used for several different models of ballistic eyewear and accommodates a wide range of prescriptions (+/- 11.00). I’ve listed the eyewear models below for reference.

      1. ESS Crossbow Eyeshield
      2. ESS Crosshair Eyeshield
      3. ESS Suppressor Eyeshield
      4. ESS ICE Eyeshield
      5. ESS ICE NARO Eyeshield
      6. ESS Profile NVG Goggle
      7. ESS FlightPro Goggle
      8. ESS Profile TurboFan Goggle
      9. ESS FirePro-1971 Goggles
      10. ESS FirePro-1977 Goggles
      11. Oakley SI Ballistic Goggle
      12. Oakley SI Ballistic M Frame 2.0 Eyeshield
      13. Oakley SI Ballistic M Frame 3.0 Eyeshield
  6. mike smith March 15, 2017 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Great article, I learned something. Also If you wear inserts behind the MIL SPEC. eyewear the inserts need to be ANSI Z87-2+ . I make a lot of the inserts for most of the GOV. One change I’d like to see in the article is it’s stated that Z 87.1 is high impact but it’s Z87-2+ is the ANSI high impact standard..

    • Michael Eldridge March 17, 2017 at 2:02 pm - Reply

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for leaving a comment.

      Thank you for clarifying the need for Rx inserts to be rated Z87-2+ when used with military eye protection, I’ve add this important information to the article.

      You are correct that the Z87-2+ marking is required for impact rated prescription lenses. However, Z87+ is the designated marking for all impact rated Plano, Readers & Magnifier safety glasses. These marking requirements are coming directly from my copy of the official ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015 document. I didn’t make the prescription marking requirements clear, so I’ve updated the article to reflect this information.

      Thanks again for bringing this to my attention.

  7. Chris Erca September 19, 2017 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Hi Mike,

    Is the ANSI Z87.1 standard in safety glasses able to take pellets from a shotgun blast?
    Please let me know.
    I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Michael Eldridge September 28, 2017 at 3:35 pm - Reply

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for posting your question.

      I have to be careful answering this particular question. The ANSI Z87.1-2015 standard wasn’t designed for the powerful impacts of shotgun blasts and other hypervelocity impacts. With that being said, polycarbonate lenses are surprisingly robust. I’ve personally shot ANSI Z87.1-2015 rated safety glasses with air rifle pellets traveling around 1,000 feet per second without lens penetration (the frames usually break first).

      Keep in mind my backyard experiments are far from scientific and shouldn’t be used for evaluating safety eyewear. If you’re going to be in an environment where you need the highest level of impact protection available, then you need to look for Ballistic-Rated Safety Eyewear. Ballistic-Rated eyewear is designed to survive the US Military’s rigorous ballistic tests. These tests subject eyewear to projectile impacts over four times the velocity (650 fps +/- 10 fps) of normal ANSI testing standards (150 fps).

      The bottom line. There is no way I would trust regular ANSI Z87.1-2015 safety glasses to survive a shotgun blast, especially if my vision depended on them. Ballistic-rated eyewear is the only way to go when dealing with hypervelocity hazards. Another thing to keep in mind. The lenses may survive a shotgun blast, but your face won’t.

  8. askeri malzeme January 11, 2018 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    very good information sharing

  9. Steve Bruhn October 28, 2018 at 2:24 am - Reply

    I have ANSI Z87 glasses with readers. Need bifocals to see up close. Are there any glasses on the APEL list with readers? I didn’t see any.

    • Michael Eldridge November 1, 2018 at 4:55 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your question, Steve.

      At this time there are no APEL approved models with bifocal lenses. However, you do have a couple of options.

    • Select an APEL model that features an Rx-Insert.
    • While not APEL approved, you could select a ballistic-rated model such as the Edge Zorge Magnifier.
    • Let me know if you have any other questions.

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