First onto some basics that I personally consider when making a purchase.  Please note these are just my opinions on the helmets I have used and owned. In no particular order.

Budget:

What can you afford? 

Origin: 

Where is it made? 

Options/Quality:

What do you really need in a helmet?

Welding Process:

What type of welding do you do? What positions?


So the budget. What can you afford? What are your eyes worth to you? Remember you only get 1 set of eyes so it's really something you don't want to cheap out on. One way to compare a quality helmet to a budget helmet is cost. Pretty simple right. So lets say you walk into a store that is selling a helmet for $50, is it really a $50 helmet? No, not really. You may pay $50 for it but remember the company has to turn a profit. A general rule of thumb for some companies is that they like to double their margin. (The larger the brand the more they can mark up their product) So lets assume the company is selling the helmet for $50...well they probably paid $25 for it.....and if shipping is included or "free" well it's already factored into the price. So lets bring your helmet price down to about $20. Now don't forget companies that have it in stock paid to have it shipped to them. So lets say they ordered a truck load full of them so they probably paid $2-3 each helmet now. So it's around $17 now....and the company that made the helmet has to make money or else they wouldn't be in business. So if they double their money which isn't unreasonable. Because why would you make a product that only nets you $3. So that $17 helmet costs $8.5 to manufacture. Parts and labor. Lets say they pay someone overseas to make it that makes shit for money. So what are you looking at now? A helmet that literally has $6 worth of parts inside. So do you trust your eyes to a helmet that built with $6 components? Personally I don't. There was a time when I didn't know better and didn't know one from the other so I started with dirt cheap helmets from harbor freight.


Where it's made:

Why is this a factor? Because we all know most companies will go with the cheapest components they can find. Generally parts made in China. Now that being said all things made in China or where ever are not all bad. The manufacture can specify the quality of the part. If they want a top quality part they pay for it; if they want low cost and fast production, they pay for it. 


What options do you really need in a helmet?

Do you NEED grinding mode? Do you NEED it to do down to a shade 5? These things aren't in every helmet and you will pay a price for them when compared to helmets without them. Generally speaking. So if you don't NEED features like auto pilot then don't pay for it. Everyone seems to thing a grind mode is very important and for some it may be. For me it's worthless. I tried it a few times and rather just grab a clear face shield with a larger view and go to town.


What is your welding process?

Some may think right now, why does it matter? Well it does. If you are mig or stick welding it's not a big deal. If you plan on tig welding you will want a better hood than a $50 helmet. Why? Because a more expensive helmet generally gets you  more expensive components inside the hood. Specifically the sensors. You need a good quality sensor when tig welding. DC tig welding is the hardest arc to sense. LOW amperage DC tig in specific. If you have a cheap hood it won't darken fast enough or it will flutter on and off rapidly. 


Now for some little reviews on helmets that I have PERSONALLY used and tested.

Harbor Freight: Some say they are good and some say they suck. Personally I don't care for them. It was my first hood and I thought it worked just fine. Until I tried a real hood. Trying a good quality hood is literally the difference between night and day. Imagine walking into your house with all the lights off except one little night light in the hallway. You use that little light as a reference so you know where you are but you may trip over something while getting there. A quality hood is like walking into the house with all the lights on. You know exactly where everything is and where to go. No guess work.


Miller Performance:  Miller helmets are made in Korea. Doesn't bother me any where these are made. Are they good? Eh I liked it, it was ok. But it was a little overpriced. Nothing super fancy or special about it. Nothing that makes me want to scream about how great it is and make people get it. It's a Miller and it's a quality piece and it works ok. I feel Miller helmets still have a green shade to them which isn't for me. Also as you will find on most head gears they will loose up and you have to keep on tightening them. Removing the knob on the outside of the helmet and taking off the rubber oring will help, but it's not a cure all. 

Miller Elite and Digital Elite: I liked the graphics on it....but as far as performance again it was just ok. Clear view, not super heavy, decent head gear and the Miller name. Digital vs Analog doesn't matter to  me at all. I am not a big Miller fan based on price vs performance. Others swear by it but it's my opinion they just want to feel good about it because of how much they spent. Remember like I said the larger the company the larger the mark up. I can tell you for a fact that Miller orders helmets by the tens of thousands at a time. I also got a chance to try the Digital Infinity. Why someone needs an alarm clock on it is beyond me? I also remember it being pretty heavy. I wouldn't waste my money on it. Not my cup of tea.


Jackson Balder BH3 WH70:  Jackson (kimberly clark) purchased Balder company and that is  where these helmets came from. This helmet in particular is Jackson's first 1/1/1/1 helmet rating. What is this? Well it's the worlds best helmet rating. Lots of other helmets are rated 1/1/1/2 or close to it. If you want to learn more about it see the link here: http://www.thefabricator.com/article/safety/1-1-1-1-clarity Is there a big difference between 1/1/1/1 and 1/1/1/2 ? Well yes and no. If you don't know what to look for then you won't notice it. If you are someone like me that notices every little detail then you will see a difference. Back to the Jackson helmet itself. No grind mode, not a wide range or shades. The different part of all the Balder helmets is that the arc you see is tinted blue. It's not green, it's not amber, it's not true color it's tinted blue. It's kind of a cool. I like it, but at times I go back to my other hood for a clear view. Where do I like it the most? Aluminum. It really will help me see a difference when welding aluminum. The downside, well it's not cheap. It's over $300. Is it worth it? Ehhh not sure I'd spend that much on it. I got lucky and scored a deal when it was first released. 


Optrel has a few different line ups. EXXX is expert series. PXXX is performance series. Performance is the middle of the road. As of now Optrel is my favorite brand. Overall everything seems to just work. Made in Switzerland. What I like about this company? It's not publicly announced but one thing many people don't know. EVERY lens that is made by Optrel is tested. Part of this is where the higher price side comes in along with it not being made in China. The expert series helmets as of today is the ONLY helmet that is rated for overhead welding. Why? Because of it's curved shape that allows hot slag to just roll off and not have a place to sit. Up until late 2016 all the Exxx helmets have a 2" x 4" window. 


Optrel P550: It's a very good middle of the road helmet that is around $175 last I checked. It was actually surprising how well it works. The front cover plate is super simple to take off and change. Not many adjustments or anything that is super fancy about. The headgear works well, it doesn't grab your hair. It's comfortable it very lightweight. All around it's a very good helmet that I have used for tig welding. I don't have any complaints on this helmet. If you want a budget ish helmet without any fancy features, and is very lightweight. It's a great option. 


Optrel E650: Comfortable headgear and the same shell as the other expert series helmets. Unfortunately the lens is just crap. You can literally strike and arc and turn your head side to side and you will be able to see a lot light and dark spots across the lens. And I have also tested many of these models to make sure it wasn't my eyes playing games on me. I wouldn't give this helmet a star. Don't waste your money


Optrel E680: This helmet is a lot better than the E650. The clarity and the issues with the E650 are non existent. The headgear on these Optrel helmets are just simple. Nothing fancy, they don't look like anything special but they are great. They are lightweight. Overall a very nice and quality helmet that I highly recommend. The price isn't cheap but again you are getting a light hood, a quality hood and a very clear lens. All the expert series helmets have outside controls. Easy to adjust, push the button if you want grind mode. Not flimsy or cheap feeling. If you are welding into tight corners or get your head inside a pipe it's probably not a great helmet. 


Optrel E684: This is Optrel's first 1/1/1/1 rated helmet with some fancy features. First it ONLY comes in grey. Why? Because after all the testing they have done, that color reflects the most about heat. Twilight feature. When you are done welding, going back to a light shade isn't just a off/on. It will transition from being dark to light. If you have your delay set short you won't notice it, but if you set it to longer than usual you will notice it. This feature is for the people that weld all day long it helps with eye fatigue. The other feature is autopilot. This welder has a auto and a manual mode. Manual mode you set your shade to whatever you want and it stays there like every other helmet. For auto mode the shade will adjust to keep that shade you have set. More amperage = brighter arc. So say you are welding on a shade 9 and tig welding at 30amps then mash the pedal and now you are at 200amps. The arc gets brighter. The helmet will auto adjust to get darker and keep you at that shade 9. You will see the arc get brighter and slowly get darker to stay at that shade. It does have a little delay a very little delay but it's noticeable. Not enough to where it will you squint or hurt your eyes. A great feature for people that jump around from different welding processes or weld from radical changes from low to high amperage.


Optrel Vega View 2.5: This helmets claim to fame is that light shade is a 2.5 where most other helmets on the market is 4. The difference in a shade difference of 1.5 is HUGE. Even the difference between a shade 3 and a 2.5 is a lot. You have to see them side by side to actually. The headgear is the same as the rest as the other expert series as well as the shell. There is no twilight or autopilot feature. This helmet is also not rated a 1/1/1/1 like the 684. The clarity isn't as good as the e684. So you have to take your pic on if you want a lighter off shade or more clarity. Personally this is my go to helmet for 99% of my work. Half the time I don't even have to lift my hood. I love it. Again Optrel has high prices but some of the quality and features you find nobody else has. 


Snap-On Helmets: I have owned a few, but don't recall the model specifically. They are made by Jackson, they use (2) AAA batteries. Just like the Balder they do have a blue tinted lens. The headgear is ok at best. Believe it or not the two AAA batteries on the lens makes this helmet heavy and uncomfortable. Over time your neck will hurt. Good clarity and works well for short time use, but it's not my favorite. Also Snap-On has huge mark ups. If you get a used one for cheap it's a good helmet, but I wouldn't pay sticker price for it. 


Carbon Fiber Striker helmet: Oddly enough it's a pretty clear helmet and a fair price. The newest model has a better headgear. Again keep in mind it's less than $80 so don't expect high end quality for pennies on the dollar. Outside controls on one of them and its not as nice as the controls on the Optrel. Quality wise, I'd say it's about the same the Harbor Freight units


HTP Striker WG: Decent helmet for around $100. Not a huge viewing window but not super small either. Decent clarity. Grind mode. My biggest complaint is the headgear. It just sucks. All around, nothing good about it whatsoever. It makes a ratcheting noise when you move it down. It's literally the most annoying thing I have ever used. Even if the lens was perfect I still won't touch it. As I stated before a good helmet is about more than just the lens.


HTP Striker CSV: A bigger viewing area than the WG. The color tint is more of an amber color. It's a clear lens and very popular. They claim it's rated 1/1/1/1 however the company that makes them does their own testing so as of last I hear it was never actually verified by anyone else. Most places purchase their own tester to claim their ratings. Like all the other HTP stuff they are made in China and I don't trust my eyes to a helmet factory in China. Again the headgear is junk. These are also sold under the name Klearview. A few minor changes to them but basically the same helmet.


HTP Digital: Larger viewing area than the CSV. Digital interface. Used it for maybe a week before it crapped out on me. In that week it had a really decent view. I liked the large viewing area, the clarity was good and the headgear was better than the CSV/WG but still nothing to write home about.


Lincoln Viking 3350: I don't have a TON of use with it, but I have some. First rumor has it these are made in the same factory as the Harbor Freight ones. The good sides are it's a huge viewing area and a clear lens. I do remember the knobs being a little small to adjust. I did like it, but again it's made in China and Lincoln is a large company so the markup has to be huge. Lincoln did release a 3350-2 that is supposed to have a better lens and better headgear. Then they came out with their 4C view. Seems like a good helmet but I don't think I'll ever own one unless they start to manufacture it some place better. On the plus side it doesn't seem to be super expensive but I'm sure they aren't paying much to have them made


CK Worldwide helmet: Not many people know they have a helmet. Rated as a 1/1/1/2. When they are first released they are made in China and after things pick up they want to move the manufacturing somewhere else. When or if that happens I have no idea. Large view and a very clear lens. Best of all it has a very nice head gear. I was actually surprised how comfortable the headgear was. Super nice overall hood. I don't care for helmets made in China but if I did own one it would be this one. It's also priced really well; around $130. If you want a good helmet at an affordable price this is the one.


Longevity Powerview Elite helmet: See above. It's the same helmet as the CK helmet. However the headgear is nowhere near as nice. And it's also priced about $50 higher. I wouldn't bother on it unless you find it used for cheap.


Eastwood Extra Large Welding Helmet: I don't have a lot of experience with this one. A local Eastwood store opened up and I went to check it out and got to weld and play with this helmet, but mig welding only so I can't say if or how well it picks up a tig arc. I can tell you the view is large and it's pretty clear. The knobs to adjust are really small. The headgear looked fancy but I didn't care for it. Eastwood in my opinion is like Harbor Freight with higher prices. I'm sure this helmet costs about $10 to make but it's really not a bad helmet for under $100. If you want a basic helmet for someone to watch you weld with a large view and not break the bank this may be a good option.


Speedglas 9100: I don't recall which model specifically it was if it was the xxi or the one before that. It did have the side windows on it. Ok so these are made by 3M and made in Sweden. The prices of any speedglas is very high. Why? Because 3m only sells to major distributors. Then they mark it up and sell it to another distributor who marks it up and then sells it to you. Everyone takes a cut here because 3M is very selective about who they deal with. I also feel most companies that sell them don't have much margin because everyone else is eating it up. As of the time I'm writing this Speedglas is very popular and at the top of their game. They still have yet to produce a helmet that has a 1/1/1/1 rating. The view on it is amazingly clear. The headgear is top notch. What I loved about the helmet is that the lens sits further away from your nose. So it will not fog up from being too close to your face. Everything on this helmet seemed to be pretty damn perfect. The newest one has a shade 3 when it's not dark. Not as nice as the Optrel Vega View 2.5 but it's closer than anything else on the market as of today. The helmet is a little wide. The side windows are kind of cool but to my knowledge they don't really serve much of a function unless you are welding roll cages in a tight space. Bottom line is it's a very very nice quality hood but it's also very expensive. I would like one to keep but not sure I want to fork out the money for it. Either way it's the best one I have tested hands down.


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