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Upgrading a cheap helmet – part 2

In part 1 I just sorta pointless rambled about some helmets I have.


Now what I am going to talk about applies to many helmets, even the expensive ones. I did three simple upgrades and made world of difference.

Before

I’m staring with a Chinese made “LongFri” brand helmet, ACH style but high cut. Runs about $200 new. The $212 Kota helmets appear to be effectively identical.

Would it be better to have a high quality American made helmet. Of course, but your budget might not afford or you might already have one of these laying around like I did.

What is most important about a helmet is the shell. Inspect it for damage like delamination. You can replace the suspension, internal pads, accessory or night vision rails, but if the shell it self is bad, you need to replace the helmet.

This helmet comes out of the box all tricked out. Side accessory rails, a copy of the OPS-Core OCC-Dial suspension system, and a night vision bracket. Even some Velcro on the outside One would think it would be perfect out of the box.

Put it on your head and you will find that not to be the case. It is plenty useable, but uncomfortable and not very steady.

The OPS-Core style suspension system is suppose to be great. But remember this is a Chinese knockoff of a good product. And even if it wasn’t a knock off, there are plenty of people out there who don’t like they dial system. With some of these knockoffs they will not stay adjust tight. I had the other problem, it was too tight on my large head. With the straps all the way out, I could barely snap it on. Talking was painful.

Then there was the issue with the pads. The pads were mostly a hard Styrofoam with a thin pad on that. Wearing this helmet, even with the tight chin strap unsnapped, was very VERY uncomfortable. After about 10-15 minutes of wearing it, I would have a headache.

I’m sure there is someone who would say to suck it up. I think a headache and head pain are major distractions interfere with the ability to function well.

I read of people making similar complaints with the real OPS-Core helmets, so they figured out a better way. I followed their advise.

The suspension system was replaced with a H-Harness, and the pads replaced with 4D Tactical pads.

First we un-Velcro the stock pads and unscrew 4 screws to remove the old harness.

This was a good time to look over the shell, and check it for damage. All good here.

Shopping around, I got an “improved H-Nape” harness for $25 shipped.

This screws right in place of the old suspension system. While the H pattern is simpler than the old dial adjustment. This lets me move my head quickly with out the helmet flopping around. The original system would let the helmet tilt upwards and downwards, and rotate on my head, this keeps it where I want it. A critical improvement when using night vision.

This helmet will still rotate slightly if I turn my head very quickly, but no where near as bad as it was.

I paid $65 shipped for a basic set of 4D Tactical pads. These are so much more comfortable I lack the words to truly explain the difference. These are like the pillow on your bed, the old pads were like resting your head on a 2X4 beam. I’m told that people have managed to get this set for about $50 from various eBay sellers. There is also a ninety something dollar kit that includes a wider variety of pads to allow for greater customization and fitting.

These pads changed the helmet from being borderline painful to wear, to being something I can wear for extended periods of time with out issue. 4D Tactical says these pads improve comfort and they are not lying. These pads are also suppose to improve blunt impact protection and provide moisture wicking.

Make sure to have your pads cover up the mounting hardware. This exposed screw will screw into the H-Nape harness.

If you use a helmet with an older leather headband, spend the money to replace it with these pads. It is well worth it. I know I spend money out of pocket to replace the headband in the helmet I deployed in, and that was some of the best money I ever spent.

These two upgrades have complete changed the feel and usability of the helmet. For less than $90 dollars I turned this $200 cheap helmet into something I would readily rely on.

Still I’d prefer to have the latest and greatest U.S. made helmet, but I can settle for this import.

But as long as I’m doing upgrades, might as well do one more. For $16 dollars shipped, I can get a helmet cover from Amazon. I got this particular one:

Now once again I am forced to say it would have been better to buy American, etc. You know the drill. But for this might as well stack the cheap stuff on the cheap helmet.

Why a helmet cover? I know that it isn’t cool to have a helmet cover. That all the high speed low drag guys are just painting their helmets. Why should we run a helmet cover.

Three reasons.

One is to protect the helmet. Helmets are tough, but there is just a coat of paint over those layers of Kevlar protecting your head. Scraps and bumps can abrade off that paint and start damaging that protective material. Some of the companies that make helmet covers write about their protective abilities as if a helmet was as fragile as an egg with a soft creamy filling. I think that is excessive writing, but I do acknowledge that if I damage my helmet, I have to buy new one. I can’t trade it in at supply. I want to protect what I have with an expendable/replaceable cover.

Two, I can attach stuff to the cover. If I need to run an IR strobe for identification I can use the cords and Velcro on the cover. Etc. On a tangent, please don’t break branches off bushes and stick them in your helmet cover. It looks stupid. Also bushes don’t much. You tend to move your head more than a bush moves. So putting a few branches of leaves on your helmet actually draws attention to you.

Lastly, it does look cool. You can get these covers in any number of patterns and colors. Who doesn’t want to look cool?

For $106 this helmet got completely overhauled and turned into something I want to use and is comfortable to use.

3 thoughts on “Upgrading a cheap helmet – part 2”

  1. I’ve seen very similar stuff done to the old PASGT helmets too. Unscrew all the suspension and replace it with velcro and pads. Or hell even just that foam donut is better than the plain. I know the USMC used the same PASGT shell shape with pads and an H-harness suspension for their short lived LWH. In theory you could drill the shell for the H but I would be worried about delamination. Would say that would only be for the extreme low budget. Like you said above. Latest and greatest is the best or an ACH or import is second best.

    Reply
  2. When we gave up our old PASGT helmets and went to the ACH, one of my guys got a connection with Oregon Aero. https://www.oregonaero.com/

    They let us T&E their helmet pads, Very comfortable. I still have them and they’re still good years later.

    (No, don’t have any interest, etc… in them.) .

    Reply
    • Oregon Aero was the first out the gate with the new helmet padding systems. Outstanding little company, and well worth spending money with. You will get your money’s worth out of them.

      The interesting question about all of this stuff is whether or not we really know the “real deal” with what a helmet needs to be able to do, in order to protect the wearer from TBI and other issues that are well beyond what the traditional helmet was expected to do. There are whole areas where we don’t understand much of what’s going on–Friend of mine was telling me that while the pad systems do a much better job of protecting against shock transmission from things hitting the helmet, the issue of blast wave-induced trauma is far less well-understood. At least some of the problems we’ve had with blast-induced TBI may be due to the direct contact between ballistic shell, the padding, and then the skull/brain. An air gap may be a much better thing to have between your brain and a blast wave than elastomeric padding, because it attenuates the blast wave a lot better.

      Like I said, though… The knowledge just isn’t there. It’s kind of hard to do the testing we would need to do, because to actually test a lot of this crap would require live human test subjects, and the laws are a little strict on that issue…

      Reply

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