What To Look For In The Best Welding Helmet

Wherever your welding takes place, you need the right protection for every work environment. By taking the time to find the best welding helmet for you, you’ll be much more comfortable, safe, and productive.

Finding the Best Welding Helmet For You

Welding helmets have many different price points and designs. Selecting the best type for you can be confusing if you’re not up-to-date with the latest safety standards and technology.

Luckily, I’ve done the research for you. Once you understand a few key points, you’ll know exactly what to look for in the best welding helmet. Let’s get started:

Safety

The first thing you need to think about is safety. Welding is a very hazardous activity, so it’s crucial that you’re taking all necessary precautions. The best welding helmet will be both safe and comfortable, but safety is the most important consideration.

The current safety standard is ANSI Z87.1-2003 for welding helmets. This means that all helmet and lens manufacturers have to validate their helmet specifications.

These lenses and helmets have to survive many different tests including:

  • Impact tests at a high velocity from a variety of flying objects
  • Tests to see if they meet the advertised darkness shade and switching speeds in extreme temperature (23ºF to 131ºF)
  • Tests checking if they provide 100% infrared and ultraviolet filtering on every shade setting

Check that your helmet and lens meet these safety standards which were set by the American Society of Safety Engineers and the American National Standards Institute.

Before 2003, the standards dated all the way back to 1989. You’ll need to check if your helmet meets the standards set in 2003, as not all helmets currently on the market meet the latest safety standard.

If you buy a helmet that doesn’t meet the latest safety guidelines, they won’t have been tested under extreme temperatures. The shade level and switching speed could also be much slower than advertised, which means your eyes could be exposed to the welding arc.

The helmet should specifically be advertised at either Z87+ or ANSI Z87.1-2003. If a product says “ANSI Approved”, it may only be approved by the 1989 standard.

Lens Type

There are two main types of lenses to choose from- Variable Shade and Single Fixed Shade Lens.

Single Fixed Lens

These lenses are less expensive than variable shade lenses. They’re coated with infrared and ultraviolet and usually have a shade rating of #10.

They can have some impact on productivity, though, as you will need to manually lift and lower your helmet.

If you’re new to welding, it can also be a little more difficult to keep your torch in the right location and steady after you’ve snapped your helmet into the correct place. This can sometimes mean poor weld starts, leading to defects or a lot of grinding.

If you fail to lock your helmet into position or mess up your timing, you could experience inadvertent arc flashes before your helmet is in place. However, a single fixed lens can be fine if most of your tasks usually involve one type of material, and you always weld the same way.

Variable Shade

These helmets feature an electronic filter lens and auto-darkening filters. When the lens isn’t activated, it’ll usually have a #3 or #4 shade which users can clearly see through. Once you begin welding, the sensors automatically adjust the lens and will darken it to a shade between #9 and #13.

Another big advantage of variable shade helmets? The helmet stays in position before, throughout, and after your welding.

Users don’t need to snap their head to lower their helmet, and sloppy starts are greatly reduced. This can also help ease the neck strain that’s often associated with welders constantly snapping their helmets into place.

When choosing a variable shade helmet, there are a few things to consider:

Lens Reaction time

The lens reaction time measures how fast the helmet’s lens adjusts the shade. Typically, the more expensive the helmet, the faster the reaction time will be.

Most manufacturers will advertise the reaction time. This can vary from 1/3,600 of a second to 1/20,000 of a second for professional grade welding helmets.

So why does it matter if the lens reaction is faster? Comfort.

If you’re spending all day welding with a lens that only has a reaction time of 1/3,600, you’ll probably notice that your eyes feel sore and tired at the end of the day, and may be dry and scratchy. When you use a helmet with a fast lens reaction time, these problems are greatly reduced.

Power type

Variable shade lenses have a few different power options. Some have internal solar assist panels and non-replaceable batteries. Others have replaceable panels and batteries.

Some helmets have lithium batteries. These have an excellent battery life but are more expensive to replace and sometimes harder to get hold of.

AAA batteries are more widely available, and you can expect to get around 2,000 hours of welding from AAA batteries.

Some variable shade helmets with solar assist panels will need to be charged by sitting in direct sunlight before their first use. They’ll often also require a similar charging time if they have been stored away and haven’t been used for a while.

Delay Controls and Adjustable Sensitivity

Most intermediate and professional variable shade helmets will provide users with the ability to adjust the level of brightness that triggers the darkening of the lens.

This is useful when you’re doing TIG welding, which is when the arc isn’t as bright as other types of welding.

A delay control is also hugely helpful, and this will let you choose how long the lens will stay dark after you stop your welding arc.

If you’re welding a large project, setting a short delay will help you complete the job faster. This will give you time to reposition yourself for the next weld. If you’re welding at a high amperage, choosing a longer delay time will help prevent you from inadvertently glancing at the weld zone after your arc has extinguished.

These features are usually controlled by different switches. These let you choose between slow and fast delays and low and high sensitivity.

Viewing Size

This is another major consideration when you’re looking for the best welding helmet. This will depend on your personal preference, along with the amount of out-of-position welding you usually do.

Most view sizes range from 6 square inches to 9 square inches.

Sensors

The more sensors a variable shade helmet has, the better the coverage (and the more expensive it will be). Hobby level welding helmets will usually have 2 sensors, while you can expect to have 4 sensors for professional grade helmets.

Other Considerations

Some of the best welding helmets have state-of-the-art technology that offers particular benefits for professional welders. These include:

  • Silver coloring, reflecting the heat away from the user
  • Gaskets which offer increased longevity and shock absorption
  • Aluminum heat shields which protect lenses from high heat (around 300+ amps)

Helmet Weight

If you’ve ever spent a long day welding, you’ll know that the weight of your helmet can greatly impact how you feel once that day is over.

The best welding helmet will be as light as possible. This will greatly minimize the strain on your neck, and will also reduce the amount of fatigue you feel.

You may not think that there’s much of a difference between a helmet weighing one pound and one that weighs two pounds. But after a few long welds, you’ll notice how much your neck appreciates a lighter helmet.

When choosing your helmet weight, you’ll need to consider all of the other factors and your budget.

Comfort

Many professional welders will wear their welding helmets for hours at a time. That’s why it’s crucial that your helmet is comfortable throughout the day.

The shell should ideally be made of thin-walled plastic. It will need to be durable enough to withstand molten metal and sparks.

Choose headgear that distributes the weight of the helmet evenly with more than one band. Helmets with just one band will concentrate the entire weight of the helmet on that one band. Multiple bands spread this load evenly, making the helmet feel more comfortable and lighter.

The best welding helmet will also have padding at all of your touch points, including the back of your neck and your brow.

Aesthetics

Finally, once you’ve considered the above factors, you’ll probably want to consider how the helmet looks.

The best welding helmet will both feel and look great and come in a variety of sizes and colors including

  • Plain, solid silver or black
  • Bright red and orange flames
  • The American flag
  • Hot rods
  • Tattoo patterns
  • Superheros
  • Skulls
  • Angel Wings
  • Personalization kits and decals

If welding is something you do often or is part of your job, take the time to find the best welding helmet for you. While it can be tempting to just grab one at a low price point, comparing your options will benefit you in the long-term.

Many manufacturers and resellers will allow you to return your helmet for either a different kind or a refund if it doesn’t work out. This will allow you to try the helmet and see if it’s comfortable and does all the things you need it to do.

Still looking for the perfect helmet? Check out our latest reviews here.

Salvador J. Celaya
 

Salvador J. Celaya is the Editor of Bestweldinggear.com. As a welding enthusiast he loves to share what he knows about welding helmets and other gear in this field. In personal life he is the father of two cute kids and a loving husband. He loves foods and nothing is more important for him than being with family and friends in his spare time.

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