An h-adaptive algorithm was developed to enhance modeling of 3D impact problems. The algorithm utilizes a recovery-based error indicator involving the root mean square error of the Green-Lagrange strain. This indicator proved effective for identifying refinements in the contact region, which lead to improved solution accuracy. The effectiveness of the algorithm is demonstrated for both a reverse Taylor impact test and a ballistic penetration problem. Both the algorithm and implementation issues are discussed herein. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.