A ballistic helmet is essential for those who want a complete kit of tactical gear. Helmets are often one of the last pieces of gear people add to their kit, and that’s not a good thing.
Why do you need a ballistic helmet?
Body armor protects your chest and torso from bullets, but that leaves your head completely vulnerable and plenty of people will take advantage of that. In a survival or combat situation, it’s not just bullets you have to worry about. Flying debris and objects dropped from above can cause serious injuries or even death.
Ballistic helmets often have areas for mounting optics. That’s a great feature if you have a night vision set up and want to use it hands-free.
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Ballistic Helmet Considerations Before Purchase
Expect to pay $350–$1,500 for any helmet with ballistic protection. The rating, materials, and special features all influence the price.
Military surplus helmets are available. They’re not always US military surplus either. The standard ballistic ratings is IIIA. Of course, you have to be careful when buying surplus. Always inspect the item for cracks or damage. Also make sure you have proof of the ballistic rating. Don’t just assume.
Counterfeit ballistic helmets are out there. Always buy from trusted sources. Beware of advertisements on social media from resellers and companies that offer a lot for very little. Some even go so far as to lie about the ballistic rating and put an official looking rating tag on the helmet.
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Ballistic helmets vary greatly in their weight. Modern ballistic helmets are noticeably lighter than older helmets. That’s something you’ll definitely notice if you have an older helmet lying around or something that was bought surplus.
Typically, lighter helmets offer less protection, but they’re more comfortable to wear over a long period. There’s a big difference between wearing a helmet that weighs 2 lbs. and one that weighs 2.5 lbs.
Gear and Accessory Compatibility
You need to consider what accessories and gear you want to use with your helmet. Even if you don’t have a lot of gear to use with a helmet now, consider whether you might want to add some later.
Gas masks, optics, lighting, and more can be added to some helmets. Of course, the more gear you add, the more weight you’ll carry on your head. If you purchase a heavier helmet, adding a lot of gear can create an uncomfortable load, especially if you have to wear it for a long time. Some helmets don’t come with rails for mounting gear but have the option of adding them later.
How a helmet adjusts varies by brand. Dial retention systems allow for easy adjustment with a knob, but that system is bulkier and sometimes heavier than others. The 4-point chin-strap adjustment system is the most common. The 4-point system is typically nylon webbing with adjustable buckles. It’s harder to adjust, but once you have it the way you like it, it usually performs well.
Helmets come with some cushioning and padding and you can add different or more pads. The tradeoff is that the pads add weight and make your helmet hotter to wear. Padding helps reduce the shock of impacts and can help you get a snugger fit.
It pays to have good pads. Older helmets often need their pads replaced. The design of pads has improved a lot over the years. Although good, correctly placed pads cushion impacts, pads that are old, thin, hard, or even too soft can increase the severity of injuries caused by impacts. New high-quality helmets typically come with nice pads. Just be sure to replace worn pads periodically to ensure your helmet provides the best comfort and protection.
There’s currently only one ballistic rating for helmets. Unlike body armor, there’s no level IV protection for your head. A $500 IIIA rated helmet has the same protection as a $1,000 helmet.
These helmets are Kevlar based and can block bullets in the following calibers: 9mm, .45, .22, .32, and .44 Magnum. They also protect against shotgun blasts.
They do not block rounds from common rifles such as the AR-15 or AK-47.
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Never assume a helmet is bulletproof unless it has a specific ballistic rating.
There are a lot of “ballistic” or “tactical” helmets out there. Some are just designed to provide impact protection not to protect against the velocity and knockdown power of a bullet.
Top Ballistic Helmets
This helmet is based on the classic design used by police and military in many parts of the world. This basic black helmet offers NIJ certified Level IIIA ballistic protection. The inside features a fully adjustable 4-point harness for a custom fit. The shell is 8 mm thick. Although this basic helmet does not come with any special rails or mounts, it is fully compatible with NVG brackets and side accessory rails, so you have the freedom to add gear at any time. The Protector is an excellent entry-level ballistic helmet from a well-known and trusted name in the body armor industry.
The Team Wendy EXFIL is made of a hybrid composite for increased strength and offers a unique profile that provides a better fit and greater comfort. The innovative CAM fit adjustment system is unique to Team Wendy helmets and provides a customized fit without a bolt taking up space. The liner is Zorbium foam, which cushions your head from all impacts while allowing enough space to comfortably wear a communications headband.
This helmet comes with one set each of thin and thick pads, so you can mix and match for the greatest comfort and performance. Although this helmet comes with rails for Team Wendy accessories, you also get a set of Magpul Picatinny rail mounts.
At 2.75 lbs. for the large/XL, this lightweight helmet is suitable for those who sometimes spend an entire day in their gear.
The ExFil offers NIJ Level IIIA ballistic protection.
Avon claims that this helmet has the best protection to weight ratio on the market. This ultra-light helmet offers NIJ Level IIIA ballistic protection but weighs only 1.2–1.4 lbs. depending on helmet size. The N49 lightweight helmet has a flexible rail system, making it compatible with almost any accessory. At around $910, the N49 is a significant investment but still far less than some heavier high-quality helmets that come in at $1,400 or more.
If you’re looking for a very lightweight helmet, the Avon N49 is as good as you’ll find for the money. As far as comfort, the 7-pad system and the boltless X-back retention system offer a custom, comfortable, easy-to-adjust fit.
At 3.1–3.4 lbs. this helmet has some weight to it, but if you don’t plan to add a lot of headgear, it’s a high-quality option worth considering. I like that this helmet is available in sizes to fit heads up to a 26-inch circumference.
The D30 Trust 7 helmet pad system provides comfort and extra cushioning against impacts. This high-cut helmet provides NIJ Level IIIA ballistic protection. Its Kevlar fiber and thermoset resin construction offer the best in strength, durability, and ballistic protection.
This is a quality helmet with many of the features of the more expensive Team Wendy helmets. At 2.3–2.7 lbs., the Spec Ops Delta is lightweight for a ballistic helmet and offers IIIA protection. The helmet is made of Aramid composites and features a comfortable 4-point adjustable harness for a comfortable snug fit. The Epic Absorption System is the same padding system found on Team Wendy helmets. The chin and neck pads are suede. The harness and pads are easy to remove and clean. The NVG-compatible mount and picatinny rails allow for easy placement of all your accessories.
The Fast Ballistic Helmet is a basic entry-level ballistic helmet. If you’re on a budget, it’s a good option with some desirable features such as picatinny rails and an NVG mount. The helmet comes in three colors: black, coyote, and olive drab. At 3.45 lbs., it’s a bit heavier than helmets that cost several hundred dollars more, but that’s to be expected. The Fast Ballistic comes standard with a 4-point retention system.
For those who want a classic ballistic helmet, this is an affordable option. The helmet comes in wither black or OD green. This helmet’s 4-point adjustable harness accommodates most heads. The reason for such universal sizing is that these helmets are based on the design most commonly used by police departments and teams that want every helmet to be able to accommodate every team member. Remember, you can always add extra pads if you feel there’s too much extra space in the helmet. Despite the price, this helmet comes from a reputable company and offers NIJ Level IIIA protection.
Although this helmet doesn’t come with rails or any particularly fancy features, it does offer robust protection and coverage. At 2.6–2.8 lbs., it’s lightweight for the price. This helmet comes in various sizes, unlike some law enforcement-style helmets that favor universal sizing. The 4D 7-pad cushioning system provides the comfort you deserve. The ACH is available in sizes to fit heads up to a 26-inch circumference. I like the coverage this helmet offers despite weighing less than 3 lbs. You can add rails for mounting accessories if desired.
The molded Teijin Aramid Twaron ballistic fabric and protective hard-shell exterior give this helmet the highest level of protection available. It’s made from NIR, meaning it shows up near infrared on devices capable of registering a heat signature. This means you’re more likely to avoid detection even if your opponent has advanced night vision capabilities. The HCBH features dual-layer autonomous foam padding with Velcro attachments. The aluminum-reinforced polymer shroud is compatible with NVG and NOD accessories. The extra silicone amortization helps keep accessories stable when mounted.
One of the most unique features of the UARM HCBH is the option to add temporal or frontal armor modules for even greater ballistic protection in key areas.
Helmets are made to be tough, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to protect and maintain them. Here are a few tips:
- Make sure your helmet has a layer of paint over the shell. Over time, paint can wear off and expose the fibers underneath, leading to greater wear and damage.
- If you find that you need a different helmet color, you can just spray paint your helmet to meet your needs. There’s no need to buy a new helmet. This means that if you find a good deal on a good name brand helmet in a different color, you can change the color for just a few dollars.
- Periodically check your helmet for signs of wear and tear. Any helmet with even a small crack or fracture should be replaced immediately.
- Do not store your ballistic helmet in extreme temperatures for long periods.
Bump helmets only provide protection from impacts. They're not rated for ballistic protection. Bump helmets are lighter because they aren't made with bulletproof materials such as Kevlar. Ballistic helmets provide protection from impacts while also providing protection from some bullets. Practically all helmets rated for ballistics are rated IIIA.
Ballistic helmets should be stored in a container or area where they're not subject to accidental impacts. It's best to store helmets in moderate temperatures. Extreme temperatures can be detrimental to helmet fibers over time. Cleaning your helmet is simple. Use a damp soapy rag, wipe clean, and allow to air dry. Removable helmet pads should be hand washed and allowed to air dry. Cleaning time is also an excellent time to inspect your helmet for damage.
The majority of high-quality ballistic helmets have a 5-year warranty and expiration date. That doesn't mean that a well-maintained helmet won't perform well past that date. As the warranty period ends at 5 years, that's when manufacturers typically recommend replacing helmets. However, most people don't replace their helmet unless it is actually cracked, worn, or extremely old.
Ballistic helmets protect one of the most fragile parts of your body while providing a framework to mount optics, lights, and other gear in some cases.
Remember that any helmet is better than nothing. Even just wearing a helmet that protects against impacts is smart during survival or combat situations.
Good helmets are not cheap. Helmets priced lower than average should be approached with extreme caution. Consider what you’re protecting. Do you really want to skimp on quality and protection?
Most helmets come in various sizes. Be sure to measure your head carefully and determine whether you’re on the larger side. Universal sizing accommodates most heads, but if you’re on the low or high extremes of commonly available hat sizes, double check to make sure that any universally sized helmet will accommodate you before ordering. If you order directly from a manufacturer, some do not offer returns or exchanges.
If you’re still unsure which helmet is best for you, consider checking YouTube and manufacturer websites for videos of live tests proving the ballistic protection of the helmets offered.