Over the years, welding helmets have improved immensely thanks to new technological developments. Things like auto-darkening lenses, lighter helmets, and better weight balance make today’s welding helmets safer and longer-lasting.
So you’re probably wondering—what is the best welding helmet?
There is no universal helmet that is the best option. But there are plenty of great welding helmets on the market today.
Before you purchase any helmet, you’ll want to consider factors like the type of helmet, the welding shades, and the fit, among others.
Here are some things to consider when choosing the best welding helmet for you!
Why You Need a Good Welding Helmet
It doesn’t matter if you’re an avid weekend warrior working in your home shop or an experienced journeyman working on an oil rig—every welder needs a good helmet!
Choosing the right welding helmet is one of the most important decisions you can make.
Finding a welding helmet with the right shade will protect your face and eyes from sparks and ultraviolet rays.
And a properly fitted welding helmet will feel more comfortable on your head and cause less strain on your neck.
If you choose to go with a more premium or top-of-the-line model, you’ll find that your overall welding ability and productivity will also improve thanks to a better field of vision and a more comfortable fit.
Welding Helmet Features 101
When searching for the best welding helmet for your needs, you’ll have to consider a few different factors.
Every welder is built differently and will have different requirements for what they want and need from a helmet. So finding one fit for you will make your welding projects run more smoothly.
When comparing different types of welding helmets, you’ll see they have a welding shade number.
The shade indicates the darkness of the lens. The higher this number is, the darker the lens shade.
Depending on the type of work you’re doing, the minimum welding shade number will vary.
For instance, if you’re welding something, you’ll want the helmet to have a shade of #8 to #13 depending on the welding process, amperage, and thickness of the material. MIG, TIG, and stick welding can all be done at different amperage levels, and they, therefore, need their own shade level.
If you’re cutting a piece of metal with a torch, you’ll want the shade to be between #5 and #8.
Finally, any grinding work should be done with a lens with a #3 level of shade.
Another thing you’ll see mentioned when comparing welding helmets is the switching speed. This measures how fast the lens switches from its natural state to a filtered state when the sensors detect an arc.
Switching speed is usually measured by ratings of 1/3600 of a second to 1/25000.
Even on the low end of the scale, 1/3600 of a second is incredibly fast. But that might not be fast enough under some circumstances.
If you’re going to be working for hours on end, you’ll be better off purchasing an intermediate or professional level helmet model with an even faster switching speed.
While 1/3600 of a second might be fast, that can still add up at the end of a long day and leave your eyes feeling fatigued. If that happens over the course of a career, you could end up putting unnecessary and preventable strain on your eyes.
Minimum Safety Standards
As technology continues to improve, safety standards are updated and enhanced as well. Currently, the safety standard for welding helmets is ANSI Z87.1 – 2003. Not every welding helmet you can purchase today meets this standard.
Any helmet that you buy should have the packaging marked with ANSI z87.1-2003 or Z87+. This rating indicates that the helmet has met or exceeded the requirements set out by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Society of Safety Engineers (SSE).
Be careful when you’re comparing helmets.
In some cases, you might find a helmet marked ANSI Approved. This could be the manufacturer trying to trick you. The helmet may not meet the current ANSI standard. While it may have met the standard at one point in time, it may not provide the same level of protection as one marked with the current ANSI standard.
So what does the ANSI standard require?
The standard ensures that manufacturers of welding helmets and auto-darkening lenses can demonstrate that their product meets the specifications for switching speeds and darkness shade settings. This is proven through rigorous laboratory testing.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Welding Helmet
As mentioned earlier, there is no universal answer to what the best welding helmet is.
Below are some questions to ask yourself when finding the best welding helmet for you.
Is It Dark Enough?
First and foremost, is the shade of the lens dark enough for the type of work you do?
If you’re someone who welds thick pieces of metal with a lot of amperages, the base model with a lower level of shade just won’t cut it.
Think about the types of projects you work on most often and find a helmet that meets or exceeds the recommended level of shade for that welding operation.
How Big A Field Of View Do I Need?
Depending on the shape of your head and the manufacturer, different helmets will provide you with a different field of view.
The way the helmet sits on your head while working will determine how well you can see what you’re working on.
Some helmets also have bigger lenses than others.
If you’re wearing an auto-darkening helmet and moving around or adjusting your workpiece between welds, having a helmet with a larger lens will offer you greater peripheral vision.
Is The Helmet Too Heavy?
Different helmets will have different weights. A passive helmet is going to weigh less than an auto-darkening one with batteries and sensors on it.
You’ll want to make sure that the helmet you go with doesn’t feel too heavy. If it does, this can lead to strain on your neck if you’re wearing the helmet for long periods at a time.
Today, most lightweight helmets will weigh between 18 and 21 ounces. In some cases, though, you can find helmets weighing up to 31 ounces. The packaging should tell you how much the helmet weighs.
With that being said, it’s still a good idea to try the helmet on if you can and move around a little bit to see how your neck feels.
Is The Helmet Comfortable?
While you may be thinking about functionality, you also need to pay attention to comfort and fit.
Make sure that you feel comfortable wearing the helmet, especially if you’ll be working on big projects for hours at a time. You’ll want to pay attention to the balance and how it fits on your head.
The last thing you want is something that tilts too far forward when you look up or down. You don’t want your helmet shifting around while you are welding. A good welding helmet should feel light and balanced whether the mask is tilted down or in the upward facing position.
Do I Want a Battery or Solar-powered Helmet?
There are helmets that auto-darken (and we go over that below). If you’re going to be buying one of these, you’ll need something to power the helmet.
Some models feature solar panels and permanent batteries. Others use replaceable lithium batteries that offer an extended lifespan. The most popular and widely available are helmets that run off AAA batteries.
Determining what type of power source you go with is really a personal choice.
- A solar-powered helmet will need to spend time charging in the sun before you can use it.
- Lithium batteries are often more expensive but will last you longer.
- AAA batteries are accessible and affordable, but you don’t want to be caught without any spares if the one in the helmet dies.
Different Types of Welding Helmets: Passive vs. Auto-Darkening Helmets
One of the most important choices you need to make when buying a new welding helmet is deciding what type of helmet you want.
There are two types of welding helmets—passive and auto-darkening.
Both offer their own advantages and disadvantages, and it all comes down to what best suits your situation and needs.
Passive helmets have a single fixed lens. As the name suggests, the lens shade on a passive helmet never changes—it’s passive.
In most cases, the lens is dark-tinted to shade #10.
It doesn’t matter if you’re welding or not, the dark-tinted lens will always stay the same shade. That means if you want to inspect a weld or make an adjustment to the workpiece before you start, you’ll need to remove your helmet.
If you’re a DIYer and only weld now and then, a passive helmet should suffice.
Not only is this type of welding helmet more affordable, but they’re also typically a bit lighter.
Since you won’t be wearing the helmet for hours on end, day-in and day-out, having to remove the mask or tilt it up to inspect or prepare your work isn’t a huge drawback.
Now, if you’re a professional and will be using your helmet regularly, you might want to invest in something a little more expensive, like an auto-darkening welding helmet.
Sometimes referred to as a variable shade lens, this type of welding helmet has sensors on it that adjust the shade of the lens. When the sensors detect the bright light of a welding arc, the lens becomes much darker to protect your eyes.
Another nice thing about these helmets is the shade can be adjusted to match different welding processes.
Most auto-darkening helmets darken the lens from a shade range from #9 to #13 to adjust by amperage levels. Since MIG, TIG, and stick welding can be done at different amperage levels, the helmet can detect the brightness of the arc and adjust the shade to provide adequate eye protection.
When the sensors aren’t activating the lens filter, the lens shade is set to #3 or #4 (similar to a pair of sunglasses). With this non-activated lens, you can prep pieces for welds and inspect your work afterward without removing your helmet.
If you can afford the higher price tag, an auto-darkening welding helmet is worth it. Many professional welders will go this route because the helmet easily adjusts the lens shade to protect your eyes.
Professional welders will regularly work with different thicknesses of materials and different welding machines. Having an easily adjustable helmet is far more beneficial than buying multiple passive helmets with varying shade levels.
Top 5 Best Welding Helmets
There are a lot of great manufacturers offering different helmet variations for the DIYer to the seasoned pro.
Here are five of the best welding helmets on the market today.
With a 14.8 square inch viewing area, you have a panoramic view of your workspace. This helmet includes six sensors plus true color technology for a more realistic view.
This is a great choice if you’re looking for a practical helmet with a compact design and plenty of visibility!
This is one of the top welding helmets on the market today. With a lightweight and perfectly balanced design, it’s one of the most comfortable helmets you can buy.
The Lincoln Viking 3350 is an excellent choice for industry pros or someone who needs a professional-level helmet built to work all day.
This is one of Miller’s most popular welding helmets.
It offers a generous 13.4 square inches of viewing area and can easily switch between grind mode, cutting mode, and welding mode shade settings.
Powered by lithium batteries, you’ll be able to get a lot of work out of the 3M Speedglas 9100 Auto Darkening Welding Helmet.
The high-end helmet offers adjustable shade levels from #5 to #13 so that you can safely complete other tasks like grinding without changing helmets. It’s a great all-around helmet to have in the shop.
Hobart has been a trusted and reliable manufacturer for a long time. Their inventor helmet is proof of that.
It’s lightweight, well-balanced, and long-lasting. What sets it apart from other auto-darkening helmets are the adjustable dials.
The inventor’s dials (as opposed to the buttons) make it that much easier to adjust the shade when you’re wearing welding gloves.
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