In recent years, tactical (and often tacti-cool) type gear has become increasingly popular among civilians.
For some people, there’s a certain appeal to owning the same thing as (or at least something similar to) what actual soldiers are using. Some veterans enjoy owning tactical items because it connects them to their time in service.
And some people just enjoy the practical aspect of tactical items, like durable protection and lots of pockets.
Regardless of which of these groups you fit in, the tactical helmet is an awesome and practical piece of tactical equipment to add to your collection.
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What is a Tactical Helmet?
Tactical (or tac) helmets are exactly what the name suggests: helmets designed to provide protection in combat situations.
The tactical helmet, like most tactical gear, had its origins in the military and is now also used widely among law enforcement.
Leather helmets were used in combat situations starting in ancient times, but the modern tactical helmet really grew from the “steel pots” of the early twentieth century, which were designed to protect troops from shrapnel, but not from gunfire.
Modern helmets are made of lighter materials like kevlar, carbon fiber, and impact resistant plastic, and are often designed to protect the wearer from gunfire. They have padding for comfort and fit and are shaped to be as effective and ergonomic as possible.
Modern tactical helmets can also be used with countless interchangeable devices, including night vision optics, cameras, lights, audio equipment and communication devices, and more.
Tac Helmet vs Ballistic Helmet vs Bump Helmet
Before we get too far, let’s talk about a couple other terms that you may hear used to describe tactical helmets: a ballistic helmet and bump helmet.
As I said, many, but not all, tactical helmets are designed to withstand gunfire. These types of tactical helmets are referred to as ballistic helmets. However, they are normally only rated for effectively pistol caliber hits.
Bump helmets, on the other hand, are a type of tactical helmet designed to protect the wearer from the impact of bad things, such as falling debris, shrapnel, and other harmful stuff. They are not rated for gunfire of any kind. They also provide a covenant platform for mounting things like NVGs, hearing protection/communications, etc.
The advantages of a bump helmet is easy of use, comfort, and weight. They also make for nice training aids since they are radically cheaper than ballistic helmets. In a combat situation, these helmets are sometimes worn by paratroopers, pilots, and drivers.
Why You Might Want One
The first reason a civilian may want a tactical helmet is the same reason why a civilian may want a lot of different kinds of military gear: prepping.
If you want to be prepared for anything in an emergency situation, a ballistic helmet will provide you with the protection you need against attackers, looters, and super intelligent gun-wielding zombies.
If you’re more concerned about natural disasters, a bump helmet will keep you safe during tornadoes, hurricanes, and seismic events.
On a similar note, a tactical helmet is also a huge advantage in the event of a home invasion. A ballistic helmet will protect your head, while night vision optics will help you see what your assailant can’t.
There are also reasons to have a tactical helmet that aren’t “just in case” type situations.
Hunters may appreciate the video from a helmet-mounted camera, whether for the scenery and wildlife or for the impressive kill shot it captured. And if night hunting is legal in your area, night vision optics in your helmet also make safely hunting and navigating the woods at night much easier.
Tactical helmets can also provide an extra layer of protection from a hunting accident or from a fall from a deer stand.
Speaking of home maintenance, a helmet is an essential safety device for ladder top home maintenance, like trimming tree branches, cleaning gutters, and replacing siding or windows. Tactical helmets have the added advantage of accessories like face shields, hearing protection, and filters.
Tactical helmets are also great for sports like climbing, mountaineering, biking, base jumping, and more, especially if you’d like to film your adventures or have a hands free lighting option.
Finally, military contractors need combat protection, but generally have to provide their own tactical gear, including tactical helmets.
Choosing the Best Tactical Helmet Type
I’ll be the first to admit that a tactical helmet can be a bit pricey, but this is not the time to sacrifice quality for the price. Your helmet is responsible for protecting your brain, after all.
With that in mind, there are a few features you’ll want to pay special attention to when choosing a tac helmet.
The first thing you’ll need to decide is what type you need.
PASGT stands for Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops and is pronounced “pass-get.” These helmets were standard issue for the US military from the early ‘80s to mid-2000s.
They’re made of ballistic aramid fabric and a phenolic resin system with an outer shell consisting of 19 layers of Kevlar. They provide protection from both ballistic projectiles and shrapnel.
The MICH (Modular Integrated Communications Helmet) was designed to improve upon the PASGT, and the ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet) is an improved version of the MICH.
These helmets are made from advanced Kevlar, protecting the wearer from handgun shots as well as ballistic projectiles and shrapnel. An improved four-point retention system, as opposed to the PASGT’s chinstrap, provide greater comfort and improved protection from impacts.
ATE/High Cut/Maritime Cut/FAST
This style of helmet goes by many names: ATE (above the ear), high cut, and maritime cut, but no matter what you call it, it’s the cutting edge in tac helmet technology.
The ATE helmet was originally developed for maritime special ops and, as the name suggests, is cut higher on the sides to prevent water catching in the ear cups during high speeds. This higher cut also means that this helmet offers less protection, but greater visibility and easier use of communication devices.
ATE helmets are usually made from Dyneema, a lightweight but incredibly ballistic resistant specialized composite material. Some ATE helmets are made from the same aramid Kevlar as the MICH, which offers greater protection but also greater weight.
Degree of Protection
The manufacturer of any helmet should be able to provide the detailed results of NIJ required testing.
A few results to focus on are resistance to penetration, back-face deformation, fragment performance, and blunt impact resistance.
Resistance to penetration is how well your helmet stands up to gunfire. For ballistic protection, you want a helmet that’s rated NIJ Level IIIA, which means it offers protection from 9mm, .357, and .44 Magnum.
Back-face deformation occurs when a helmet is hit with a projectile and the opposite side bulges outward causing blunt trauma. 9mm (1400fps) BFD should average less than 25mm in all locations.
Fragment performance is basically the same as resistance to penetration, but with bullet fragments instead of bullets. Your helmet should stop bullet fragments at a speed of at least 2400fps.
Blunt Impact performance is exactly what it sounds like, and should average less than 150g over 14 drops.
You may also want to look at compression testing, especially for a bump helmet, and element testing to make sure your helmet won’t be weakened by the environment in which you live or use it.
Accessories & Other Features
Your helmet should be comfortable enough that you’ll actually want to wear it. That means it should fit properly, not be too heavy, and not rub uncomfortably.
It should also have a secure retention system that will keep it firmly in place, even against a strong impact.
You’ll want to make sure your tac helmet can be used with any accessories that you’ll need to use.
Choose a helmet of whatever color you’ll need the most. You can always spray paint the helmet or use a cover if you need to change the color.
Best Tactical and Ballistic Helmets
Now that we’ve covered what and where to look for a tac helmet, let’s move on to some recommendations.
1. Hard Head Veterans ATE Gen 2
You can rest assured that Hard Head Veterans knows their stuff because tac helmets are all they do.
They are veteran owned and operated and their entire team is connected to military or law enforcement in some way. On top of that, they perform rigorous safety testing on all of the tac helmets that they sell and offer an incredible warranty.
We’ve used their Gen 1 helmet (above) in our Best Night Vision Goggles article.
HHV only sells two helmets, an ATE option, and a MICH/ACH option, and they aren’t too flashy. What they are is high quality and produced by a company you can trust and feel good supporting.
Their Gen 2 version is completely redesigned too…from the front adapter to the side rail adapters.
The ATE option has built-in velcro and front and side accessory mounts, while the MICH does not.
But with memory foam padding, an adjustable rear support and chin strap, and comfortable ear protection, the HHV MICH is a great option for those who just want a simple piece of ballistic protection.
Both helmets are Kevlar. HHV also sells a tactical bag for your tactical helmet, helmet covers, and pads to customize your helmet’s fit and comfort.
Hard Head Veterans is giving Pew Pew Tactical readers a special deal…use code “PEWPEW” for $15 off your order or click here for it to be auto-added at checkout.
What’s your take on HHV?
2. Veterans MFG
Vets MFG is one of those rare companies that provide true innovation to the marketplace, they are also (as their name suggests) veteran-owned.
Their Tactical Helmet is a simple offering, you won’t find anything flashy on it or anything that doesn’t need to be there. It is a simple ballistic helmet with side rails, NVG adaptor, and hook-and-loop mounting points.
It is designed to work – period. And it really does work!
While at TriggrCon 2018, we got the chance to see the Vets MFG helmet at work when they mounted it to a target dummy and unloaded ~15 rounds of 9mm FMJ at a range of about 15-feet into it.
We inspected the helmet closely after the demo and could not find any penetration or deformation on the inside of the helmet. Truly impressive!
3. Crye Precision AirFrame
If you’re looking at Crye Precision, make sure you bring your biggest wallet.
Anything made by Crye is top of the line, amazing quality, designed for combat, and priced accordingly.
The AirFrame is no exception – clocking in at a cool $1,100, it is a no-frills design that is an industry leader in protection.
Ballistically rated, lightweight, and designed to be compatible with the most comment NVGs and hearing protection on the market the AirFrame also sports the ability to be reconfigured based on the mission at hand.
Add-ons include AirFrame Chops, Ears, and rails.
If you need the best and can afford the cost – it’s hard to argue with Crye Precision.
4. Team Wendy EXFIL LTP and EXFIL Carbon
The Cadillac of non-ballistic bump helmets, Team Wendy is huge in the search & rescue community due to their attention to detail, high quality, and innovative design.
Lightweight, easy to wear, lots of options for mounting NVGs, white lights, and more – Team Wendy helmets are perfect for protecting your head and enhancing your capabilities.
And that’s just their standard helmet.
The EXFIL Carbon is where things get interesting!
Made primarily from carbon fiber and a bunch of space-age polymers, the EXFIL carbon does everything a bump helmet should do while weighing substantially less. Less weight means less fatiage on the user, a greater degree of movement, and the ability to mount more useful stuff without making the helmet too heavy to wear.
What’s your take on the Team Wendy helmets?
5. Lancer Tactical Bump Helmet
First off – no, this is not the same Lancer famous for their AR-15 magazines. This is a bump helmet, so it won’t offer ballistic protection. Of course, most of us aren’t often in situations where getting shot in the head is a big concern.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
Ballistic helmets are often several times more expensive than bump helmets, a lot of extra money to spend on something that’s not a high priority.
If you’re more concerned with protecting your head from bumps and bruises rather than gunfire and you want the ability to mount accessories, the Lancer Tactical provides that at a cheap price point.
The helmet features dovetail accessory rails on each side and a front mount for a camera or optics. It also has bungee strips for attaching lightweight hook sided devices like battery packs and lights.
Do you need a tactical helmet? Probably not. But better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. And at the end of the day, don’t let some asshole on the internet tell you what you need or don’t need.
Once you decide on the tactical helmet for you, you’ll need some NVGs for it! Check out our hands-on review of the Best Night Vision Goggles!
Do you want a tactical helmet? Why? Is there one on this list that’s caught your eye? Got questions? Let me hear from you in the comments below.