The Modern Combat Helmet [and When to Use One?]
The modern combat helmet, sometimes referred to as a battle helmet or ballistic helmet, is applicable to a number of individuals aside from soldiers and law enforcement officers. Prepper’s, home defenders (particularly those living in rural areas) and tactical enthusiasts often spend a small fortune on the latest generation of combat helmet, and for good reason. So now to the question of the day: do you actually need a combat helmet, and if so, then what kind?
The simple answer is this: if you require head protection when geared up – for whatever reason – then yes, you do need a helmet.
- The bump helmet is a lighter and cheaper option offering impact protection while also providing a platform to mount night vision, cameras, flashlights and other equipment.
- The ballistic helmet is heaver and more expensive, offering all of the advantages listed above and also defence against fragmentation and certain small arms projectiles.
In order to make the right choice when purchasing a helmet, you may need more information on helmet types, cost, mountable accessories, uses & effectiveness. We are going to discuss this in more detail below.
Ballistic Helmets vs. Bump Helmets
The bump helmet, often made from lightweight polymer or carbon fibre, is designed primarily to protect your melon from nasty bumps or impact; protecting your brain from accidental damage.
Under the military, tactical, prepper’s or home defence context, a bump helmet should be used if there is a likely chance that you may face direct impact to the head. The threat generally stems from operating in potentially hazardous conditions such as arduous mountainous or rocky areas, from vehicles, aircraft or boats, in woodlands or urban environments under low light conditions, during explosive breaching, or if you are likely to encounter impact weapons, thrown projectiles and other head strike hazards.
In addition to impact protection, the bump helmet offers a mounting surface for night vision devices (NVD/ NVG) and various other head-mountable accessories. More information on accessory types can be found under the FAST / High Cut Helmet description below.
So if you require any of these features, but without protection against shrapnel and incoming projectiles, then the bump helmet is your lighter, more comfortable and more affordable option.
Now if you require the impact protection and mounting surface features of the bump helmet, but with added protection against fragmentation and small arms fire, then you should explore ballistic helmet options.
The ballistic helmet, often made from Polyethylene and/or layers of Kevlar bound together with resin, is rated to NIJ Level IIIA (protection level).
Some ballistic helmets are lighter and perform better than others, so compare different brands and models to determine which is most affordable and suitable for you.
NIJ Level IIIA
Level IIIA armour is capable of stopping pistol rounds up to .357 Sig and .44 Magnum (up to a certain velocity), which means that the helmet will protect the wearer against most common pistol threats.
It is important to understand that ballistic helmets are not intended to stop high powered rifle rounds. There are some modern ballistic helmets that have been designed to protect the wearer against certain rifle projectiles, but safety is not guaranteed and the bullet needs to be fired from longer distances, impacting at reduced velocity.
Helmets with NIJ Level IIIA protection may still cause significant damage to the head and brain when struck with a projectile that is travelling fast enough, even when the bullet does not penetrate the helmet itself. On the opposite side of impact, a ballistic helmet will typically bulge outward and may result in Blunt Force Trauma to the head. This is known as Back-Face Deformation. Most helmets have an adjustable suspension inside so that they don’t sit up against your head, negating this effect when impacted by a projectile. This is why correct fitment is vital!
It is your responsibility when selecting a helmet to always ask for testing documentation when comparing helmets, and ensure that the helmet will still protect your head even when back-face deformation results from a bullet impact.
Modern Combat Helmet Types
The following ballistic helmets are still used today, and can be purchased new or used. As we move down the list, price increases in line with innovation.
The PASGT Helmet
The Personnel Armour System for Ground Troops (PASGT) helmet was issued to US military personnel from the early 1980’s to the mid-2000’s. The helmet was issued along with a ballistic vest, forming the complete PASGT package.
The helmet is typically made of Aramid Kevlar fibres, and is sometimes referred to as a Kevlar helmet.
It is most noticeably identified by its lip that extends over the brow.
The PASGT helmet offers protection against impact and fragmentation, and is rated at a Threat Level IIIA for small arms fire.
- Approximate Weight: 1.4 to 1.9kg (or 3.1 to 4.2lb) – size dependant
- Approximate Cost (New): $250
Helmet Cover Tip #1
Extra Protection – helmets have a painted surface, which when knocked or bumped causes scratches and chips. Over time this may degrade the integrity of the helmet, resulting in irreparable damage. The solution is to use a helmet cover.
The MICH and ACH Helmet
Designed as a replacement for the PASGT, the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH) was released in 2001, and uses a new, more advanced type of Kevlar.
The helmet is lighter and offers an improved internal padding and retention system. The improvement provides greater impact protection and comfort for the wearer.
The MICH is also slightly smaller and provides less coverage than the PASGT, which aids in weight reduction and also allows for both greater situational awareness and less obstruction of the wearer’s vision.
This was then replaced by the current issue Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH). The ACH is virtually identical to the MICH helmet, but with a slightly larger surface area, offering a little more protection.
The MICH and ACH helmets offer protection against impact and fragmentation, and are rated at a Threat Level IIIA for small arms fire. They also provide an even front surface for mounting a wider variety of night-vision devices, and the side brim has been raised to allow for improved compatibility with communications headsets.
- Approximate Weight: 1.36 to 1.6kg (or 3 to 3.6lb) – size dependant
- Approximate Cost (New): $300
Helmet Cover Tip #2
Organisation – with so many attachable helmet accessories available, you may struggle finding a place to fit items or store cables. A helmet cover can help you to keep things organised and properly secured.
The ECH Helmet
The Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) is soon to replace the ACH as the new standard issue U.S. military helmet.
Utilising thermoplastic polyethylene, the ECH is designed to offer increased protection against fragmentation and small arms fire. It provides an even front surface for mounting a wide variety of night-vision devices, and the side brim has been raised to allow for improved compatibility with communications headsets (as per the MICH & ACH).
- Approximate Weight: 1.36 to 1.6kg (or 3 to 3.6lb) – size dependant
- Approximate Cost (New): Upwards of $300
Helmet Cover Tip #3
Uniformity – helmet covers allow the user to change the overall colour or add to the team’s uniformity, which may also help in determining friend from foe.
The FAST / High Cut Helmet
The Future Assault Shell Technology (FAST) or High Cut helmet is the modern design that most tactical enthusiasts aspire to wear.
The FAST helmet was publicity released in 2009 having been first issued to U.S. Special Forces operating in Afghanistan, and remains the most modern and up-to-date ballistic helmet design used today.
The helmet features a much lower profile than that of its standard issue counterpart, and is most distinguishable by its high-cut above the ears. This design was intended for maritime special operations due to the safety hazards of water catching the ear cups on the sides of older helmets at high speeds.
The modern FAST/ High-Cut helmet offers improved protection against impact, fragmentation, and small arms fire, with a substantial weight reduction. It provides an NVG mount and retention straps (shock cord), as well as skeleton side rails and hook & loop panels allowing for attachment of various items such as:
- Electronic Hearing Protection & Communications Headsets
- Mountable Video Cameras
- Gas, CBRN & Oxygen Masks
- Ballistic Visors & Shields for Face Protection
- Battery Packs
- Illuminators, IR Strobes and Identification Panels
- Approximate Weight: 0.6 to 1.2kg (or 1.4 to 2.7lb) – size & product dependant
- Approximate Cost (New): $400 to $1800
Helmet Cover Tip #4
Camouflage – the helmet cover (seen in the image) allows the wearer to add or change the head’s blendable camouflage when operating in different environments or seasons.
Combat Helmet Price Comparison [Best Brands]
Modern helmets vary drastically in price, weight, features and quality. While the standard issue advanced combat helmet (ACH) is priced at around $300, a top-of-the-range FAST/ATE helmet can cost close to $2000.
Since most users who buy personal helmets prefer the modern FAST/ATE design, we are going to compare some prices below.
Note: these prices are approximate and may be subject to change. Clicking on a helmet brand/model below will display an image.
When selecting a ballistic helmet, it is highly advised to avoid cheap brands. Cheap brands may stop a projectile, but may not project the wearer from back-face deformation.
Basic Helmet Setup [and Fitment]
Fitment and correct helmet setup isn’t rocket science, but it can be done incorrectly.
Accessory Attachment – once you have determined what type of protection you require (bump or ballistic), your next step is to decide on your accessory needs. If you require a full communications system, night vision and a counter weight, visible or IR light, or any other equipment, you may need to upgrade your helmet to allow for secure and correct attachment. A modular helmet cover will provide various attachment points and shock cord/ retention straps.
Back-Face Deformation – we’ve already mentioned correct fitment in relation to back-face deformation; the adjustable suspension inside the helmet MUST be setup so that there is a clear gap between the helmet and your head.
Strapping System – as for the strapping/ harness system, this should be tightened around your head to provide a comfortable fit, ensuring that the chin strap sits along your chin and not underneath your neck. Some military units are taught to fit the helmet with a 1/2-inch (or 1.5cm) gap above the brow. This allows for goggle fitment if and when required.
Pressure Points – once the helmet is setup correctly, it should fit comfortably with no pressure points. Pressure points can become extremely uncomfortable as time goes on, eventually reaching a point where situational awareness degrades due to the dull paint of an overtightened helmet. The helmet should fit just right, and shouldn’t have any side-to-side or front & back movement when moving your head around.
Tip: You can secure your helmet to a daysack when not in use either by using a carabiner, or if the helmet has side rails then you can use the goggle swivel clips and some high-quality shock cord (as seen in the image).
Helmet Cover Tip #5
Shine – a helmet cover changes the exterior texture of the helmet and stops it glinting. This prevents shine and light from reflecting off the helmet when operating covertly.
You should now have a decent idea whether you need to invest in a helmet or not, and if so, then which type of helmet may suit your needs. If you decide on purchasing a helmet, then train with it. Don’t just train with your helmet occasionally, but train with it often and for long hours. This is the only way to ensure that it will work for you.
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