A ballistic helmet is a type of tactical helmet that provides protection against small arms fire, flying debris, concussive events and more.
Ballistic helmets are typically worn by those with a realistic expectation of encountering live fire. But they are not the only type of tactical helmet.
Tactical helmets for less extreme environments are often referred to as ‘bump helmets’. They protect the wearer from bumping or banging their head during the course of their duties or activities and provide moderate protection against airborne debris.
Bump helmets are commonly used by rescue workers, Airsoft aficionados, climbers, mountain bikers, skateboarders and more.
Below we’ve brought together the 10 best ballistic/tactical helmets of 2021.
1. Ops-Core FAST Military Ballistic Helmet
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If you are looking for the most up-to-date ballistic helmet out there look no further than the Ops-Core FAST Military Ballistic Helmet. This is the helmet currently being issued to Navy Seals and is the epitome of lightweight strength and functionality. The helmet is rated for the highest threat levels, features an integrated ARC rail for mounting comms, lights, or other gear, and has modular Velcro pads for battery packs etc.
It comfortably accommodates your Peltor set, NVG, IR strobes and other gear and can be customized to your head size and shape with just a few twists of the adjustment knob. The price may take some back a bit, but keep in mind it’s less than half what some similar ballistic helmets are asking. Overall, an outstanding value.
2. Team Wendy Exfil Ballistic Helmet
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The Exfil Ballistic Helmet from Team Wendy is light, versatile and provides National Institute of Justice Level III-A protection. That’s the highest level of protection certified by the NIJ. The Exfil is very comfortable, even when thoroughly tripped out, and is lighter than its closest competitors. Some of the particulars have changed with this iteration, such as new mounting hardware requirements for your Peltors.
And you may find that by swapping out the standard interior pads for the thicker version (included), that the helmet warms up noticeably. But none of that detracts from the outstanding build quality or the fact that the Exfil SL weighs a scant 1.5 lbs yet still manages to deliver that NIJ Level III-A protection.
3. Crye Precision Airframe Ballistic Helmet
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The AirFrame Ballistic Helmet from Crye Precision features a revolutionary design that optimizes ventilation and coverage at the same time. The design covers more of the vulnerable nape than other ballistic helmets, and absorbs and redirects force in a way that reduces the impact of explosive events.
The Airframe is extremely stable, offers optional ear and face protection, provides 3/4 inch pads for comfort and shock absorption, and uses the modular ARC Rail system. The medium sized Airframe helmet tips the scales at a very nifty 2.3 lbs. Making it one of the lightest NIJ Level III-A rated helmets on the planet. The Airframe is also available in black, tan or green and can be pre-drilled at the factory (if you wish) to accommodate your NVG mounts.
4. HHV ATE Ballistic Helmet
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The HHV ATE Ballistic Helmet is an incredible value, providing NIJ Level III-A protection while costing only a fraction what top of the line ballistic helmets cost. How can they get away with offering such a versatile and effective piece of body armor for such a (relatively) low price? Well, for one it is a bit heavier than some of the more expensive Level III-A helmets.
It also provides about 10% less coverage than some other Level III-A helmets. And the ATE uses para-aramid fiber rather than the more expensive Kevlar. None of that, however, detracts from the high degree of protection and versatility the ATE offers with its A3S shroud, multi-layer padding system and M-LOK rails. It’s also a great looking helmet.
5. 3M F70 Ballistic Helmet
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You really wouldn’t expect 3M to put forth anything but their best effort when it comes to protective gear, and they do not disappoint with the F70 Ballistic Helmet. The shell weighs a feathery 1.8 lbs yet still manages to deliver NIJ Level III-A threat protection. The highest in the industry. The F70 is compatible with the 3M Peltor system, as well as the company’s goggles and gas masks.
It also features a no thru-hole attachment system for night-vision goggles and rails which helps bolster the integrity of the shell. The 3M F70 is ideal for military, law enforcement, and special ops, and is available in black, green, brown and tan. It’s not cheap, but it won’t let you down.
6. Lancer Tactical CA-725H Bump Helmet
Not everyone who needs a tactical helmet needs to stop pistol rounds. Mountain rescue teams, beat cops, paratroopers, Airsoft fans, skateboarders, mountaineers and mountain bikers need something light and tough that will take some hard knocks and protect them from environmental hazards, flying debris and falling stuff.
The Lancer Tactical Bump Helmet is a smart choice for those folks. It’s easily adjustable to fit any head, features a front NVG mount, 2 side rails and Velcro patches for accessories. This is a well ventilated helmet that is comfortable and light and fully compatible with most Peltor systems.
7. EmersonGear Tactical Adjustable FAST Helmet
The EmersonGear Tactical Adjustable FAST Helmet provides robust protection against impacts, flying debris, and limited protection against low-velocity projectiles. FAST stands for Future Assault Shell Technology and it is intended to provide special forces with a lightweight, versatile option to a full ballistic helmet.
The Adjustable FAST Helmet is ideal for search and rescue teams, hunters, Airsoft enthusiasts, bicycle patrol officers, skateboarders and more. You get 2 sets of internal pads, fully Peltor comms compatibility, Velcro patches for battery packs or whatever, a pair of tactical side rails and an integrated mount for your NVG. It is also available in 9 different colors and patterns.
8. Loogu FAST Base Jump Military Helmet
Whether you are actually into base jumping or are just looking for a comfortable, versatile, and affordable tactical helmet for your Airsoft or dirt bike exploits the Loogu FAST Base Jump Military Helmet will no doubt fit the bill.
There are a pair of side rails to accommodate a variety of accessories, an integrated port for night vision goggles, Velcro pads around the back for battery packs and more, and 8 diamond-shaped vents on top to prevent heat buildup. Even when tripped out we found this to be a well-balanced helmet that is easily adjustable and comfortable over the long haul. At 1.24 lbs it won’t wear anyone out and won’t overheat on summer days on the Airsoft field.
9. MTEK Flux Ballistic Helmet
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If you are in the market for a Level III-A ballistic helmet that’s comfortable as a custom-made hat, handsome as the day is long, and tough as city squirrel the MTEK Flux should be on your shopping list. It features a boltless shell crafted from polyethylene that weighs in at just 2.2 lbs, a proprietary Fluxliner system that absorbs impact while shaping itself to your head and wicking away moisture, and a 4-point retention system that’s as effective as any on the market.
There are 2 M-LOK compatible side rails, multiple tie downs to keep things tidy, battle bungees for NVG stability and much, much more. The helmet also offers some of the most complete coverage you will find, and it won’t balk when you slip your Peltors on under it. Be aware, however, that this type of quality does not come cheap.
10. Rothco Advanced Tactical Helmet
The last item on our list is the Rothco Advanced Tactical Helmet. This is a one size fits all (adults) helmet that is easy to adjust, lightweight and very comfortable, even when loaded with accessories.
The military-style chinstrap keeps the helmet firmly in place while the twin side rails and forward port await your night vision goggles, helmet camera, comms system, battery packs and more. The EVA cushion inserts are removable, while up top are 8 diamond-shaped vents to let out the hot air. The Rothco Advanced Tactical Helmet is available in black, tan, and olive drab.
What Is a Ballistic Helmet?
A ballistic helmet gets its name from its ability to provide protection against ballistic projectiles, i.e, bullets. Exactly how much protection the helmet will provide will depend on the material used, the type of projectile and your proximity to the source of the projectile. In most cases, ballistic helmets are only rated effective for pistol rounds.
All ballistic helmets are considered tactical helmets. But not all tactical helmets are ballistic helmets. The dividing line, again, is in whether the helmet provides protection against ballistic projectiles. Tactical helmets that do not protect against bullets are called ‘bump helmets’. So-called because they will protect your head if you bump it against something hard. They will also provide a modicum of protection against shrapnel, falling debris, thrown rocks and such.
Why do I Need a Ballistic Helmet?
Ballistic helmets enable preparedness. Recent events have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that things can change in an instant. If anyone had said a year ago that most of the developed world would shut down for the better part of a year and that widespread social upheaval would follow, they would have been dismissed as a ‘prepper’. Turns out, those preppers were right. In an uncertain world it pays to be prepared.
Ballistic helmets ensure you are ready for natural disasters. Ever been through a hurricane or tornado? Flying debris can get moving at hundreds of miles per hour posing a clear and present danger not only to buildings, but to life and limb (1). While a tactical helmet will not offer much protection from a 2×4 flying at 200 mph, it may well save your head from small rocks and other debris that could otherwise cause life-threatening injury.
Ballistic helmets can help in the event of a home invasion. Home invasions are by nature nasty, unpredictable events. A ballistic helmet can increase your odds of emerging from such an event intact. If you have night vision goggles (2) attached to your helmet you will be able to see everything the invader cannot.
Ballistic helmets can be useful around the house. You may not need a full-on ballistic helmet, but a bump helmet can certainly come in handy when performing tasks that require you to get up on a ladder. That includes cleaning the gutters, replacing shingles, trimming trees back and more.
Ballistic helmets are also great for high-risk sports. Rock climbing, ice climbing, mountain biking, base jumping and more all present a high risk of head injury. A tactical helmet, whether it has full ballistic capabilities or not, is a great choice that will provide a much higher level of protection than most standard climbing or biking helmets.
What are Some Ballistic Helmet Accessories?
One of the main attractions of ballistic and other types of tactical helmets is the ability to trip them out with all manner of accessories. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular tactical helmet accessories currently on the market.
Helmet lights – Helmet lights are essential equipment for mountain climbers, mountain rescuers, miners, construction workers, and troops in the field. They attach firmly to your tactical helmet and ensure you are always able to deliver plenty of clean, piercing LED light wherever you need it. They are also available in different colors and in IR as well.
Night vision goggles – No forward deployed troops these days are going anywhere without night vision capability. Night vision goggles ensure you can see who’s sneaking up on you while allowing you to maintain your stealth.
A helmet camera – Whether a GoPro (3) or some other brand, these are becoming increasingly popular with rescue teams, hunters and more. They enable you to record important encounters so you can analyze them later and determine where you could do better. But they’re not just for life and death situations. They are also great for capturing breathtaking vistas, encounters with wildlife and more.
Battery pack for night vision goggles – The night vision goggle, or NVG, battery pack is necessary if you want to use your NVGs for an extended period of time. Some folks also appreciate that they can be used as a counterweight to the NVGs when attached to the back of the helmet.
Peltors – When you are playing Airsoft or the S has HTF it is vital that you are able to discern important sounds from damaging or useless noise. Peltors can do that for you. This type of headset provides noise cancellation along with sound amplification. Basically they filter out background noise and explosive sounds while allowing you to hear things like someone trying to creep up on you.
Helmet cover – If you plan on attaching all of the above plus more to your helmet you should really consider a helmet cover. A helmet cover slips over your helmet and ensures all your accessories are locked securely in place. At the same time they can provide additional functionality that may not have been possible on the stock version of your ballistic or bump helmet.
Are Ballistic Helmets Actually Bulletproof?
Yes. Ballistic helmets are designed to protect the wearer against pistol-caliber bullets (4), shrapnel, ricocheting rounds, detritus from explosions and more. What they will not protect against is a shot fired from a high-powered rifle, such as a sniper shot. Both ballistic and bump helmets can also prevent your brain from being turned into scrambled eggs should you be in the vicinity of an IED or other explosive device.
What is a MICH Helmet?
MICH stands for Modular Integrated Communications Helmet. These were designed by the US military in response to soldiers rejecting their PASGT (Personal Armor System for Ground Troops) helmet because they were too heavy to accessorize. Instead, soldiers were wading into combat using heavily accessorized non-ballistic tactical helmets just because they were lighter. The unfortunate outcome was that soldiers were often suffering grave head wounds.
The MICH helmet was intended to give forward deployed troops the lightweight, but heavily protective helmet they sought. It utilizes next-gen Kevlar that is lighter and more capable along with more robust internal padding to absorb shocks. The MICH was introduced in 2001 and has since replaced the PASGT as the military’s default combat helmet.
How Much Does a Ballistic Helmet Weigh?
The newest generation of the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) weighs less than 3 lbs. That is a 24% weight reduction from the previous generation of the ACH (5). Both the first and now second generation ACH helmets are derived from the MICH helmet, first introduced in 2001, as we have seen. These new, lightweight ballistic helmets are 3 times as light as the PASGT helmet the MICH replaced in 2001.
Do I Need a Ballistic Helmet for Airsoft?
No. In fact some Airsoft fields do not require any kind of helmet. But going without one seems foolish in the extreme. Airsoft BBs are not high caliber rifle fire but you do not ever want a BB flying at 400 fps to contact your unprotected head. So, while a full ballistic helmet would be overkill for Airsoft, you would nonetheless be wise to get a good tactical bump helmet and wear it at all times. A good tactical helmet will also protect you from banging your head on obstacles, and will enable you to comfortably accessorize.
How Long Will A Ballistic Helmet Last?
Most ballistic helmets come with a 5 year warranty. That implies that the Kevlar (6) or other fabric may not be useful after 5 years. But that’s not really the case. As long as it is properly cared for, a ballistic helmet should have a nearly indefinite lifespan. ‘Nearly’ because these bulletproof fabrics will degrade over time. But that degradation will be extremely slow.
The same goes for standard tactical helmets. You will not be wearing them to stop bullets, just to provide basic protection against flying debris, bumps and bangs. They are likely to last for years before things like the chin strap, and perhaps the internal padding, begins to wear out.
How Did Helmets Get to this Point?
Helmets have been in use since the days of the ancient Sumerians (7), some 2,500 years ago. They are the oldest type of personal protective equipment. While helmet styles have constantly evolved over the centuries the effectiveness of the basic combat helmet did not really advance all that much from the time of the Romans up until World War II.
Roman helmets were all handmade and were basically metal head coverings that provided protection from incidental sword contact (not determined strikes), arrows, punches, flying debris and banging one’s head if you fell during battle. You could describe the M1 helmet that was used in World War II basically the same way.
It wasn’t until the invention of the true ballistic helmet during the 1980s that helmets began to provide practical use against deadly threats. That 80s-era helmet was called the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT) and it was fashioned from a revolutionary new fabric called Kevlar.
Since the advent of the PASGT, helmet design has split into two distinct branches – ballistic and non-ballistic. Today’s non-ballistic tactical helmets range from plastic shells that are little more than vehicles to carry accessories, to rugged bump helmets that provide about the same degree of overall protection as the World War II M1 helmet (8).
We should note that there are innumerable acronyms floating about the tactical helmet universe these days including PASGT, ACH, MICH, FAST and more. Don’t be intimidated. The different acronyms just indicate various generations of ballistic helmets. Chronologically, modern helmet design progressed from M1 to PASGT to MICH to ACH to FAST.
The Bottom Line
A ballistic helmet is designed to stop a pistol-caliber bullet fired from some distance. A non-ballistic tactical helmet is designed to afford the wearer a degree of protection against flying debris, concussive events, bangs and bumps on the head, and other more pedestrian hazards. The degree to which the standard tactical helmet protects against such hazards depends almost entirely on the materials used in its construction.
Military personnel, SWAT team members, special forces operators and others who are likely to encounter live fire situations will require a ballistic helmet. Mountain rescue teams, climbers, dirt bike riders, Airsoft practitioners, skateboarders and others will typically be well-served by a standard tactical bump helmet.
The difference in cost between the two types of helmet is vast. As such, it does not make sense to drop more than $1,000 on a true ballistic helmet if you are only going to wear it on an Airsoft field. Use the above information to help you determine exactly which type of tactical helmet is right for your purposes.