Why do you buy or use a ballistic helmet? You wear a ballistic helmet for protection. Therefore, you want to know that your helmet is made to the highest NIJ (National Institute of Justice) ratings and certifications. What standards and certifications exist to ensure that ballistic helmets are manufactured properly and will perform at the best ballistic helmet ratings?

In this article, we will discuss the different certifications and how the testing is done. Read more to learn about NIJ certified helmets and the process to get the certification.


What are the different ballistic helmet certifications?

When it comes to ballistic certifications for helmets or any body armor, the NIJ or National Institute of Justice is the standard to follow. Manufacturers of body armor and ballistic helmets must follow the NIJ rating to sell products that qualify as NIJ certified helmets.

To follow NIJ ballistic standards, there are five different levels of certifications. The different certifications break down the different levels of protection from varying sizes of ammunition. With these levels of protection, then helmets can be classified as ballistic helmets but targeting different forms of ammunition.

Below is a chart of the different levels of protection outlines by the National Institute of Justice.


Chart Source: https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/nlectc/250144.pdf


The levels of protection include blocking ammunition ranging from 9mm all the way to .30cal steel core armor piercing rifle ammunition. The NIJ ratings are not the only certifications a ballistic helmet can get to be a standard piece of body armor.

Each level also clarifies the type of gun that the ammunition is coming from. Notice how it is not until Level lll that a product can protect against rifle ammunition. Therefore, helmets can protect against different types of guns, not all making different ballistic helmet levels. To learn more about levels of protection from ballistics, read this chart here.

A ballistic helmet also goes through environmental testing for further certification. Helmets will be rated to withstand different environmental factors like temperature shocks, altitude, U.V. exposure, water testing, and more. Moreover, the helmet will go through different tests to prove that the helmet can withstand circumstances that occur in war or military settings.

For instance, ballistic helmets will need to pass impact tests (for shock impacts like bombs), peripheral vision testing, and more. The environmental and impact qualifications add up to MIL-STD standards. This stands for United States Military Standard.

Therefore, when searching for the helmets with the highest ballistic helmet ratings make sure they carry NIJ and MIL-STD certifications. But how do the helmets gain these certifications from government organizations?


Helmet Testing:

For manufacturers to make sure their ballistic helmets earn different government certifications, the helmets must go through a variety of tests including blunt impact testing helmets. For NIJ certifications, the helmet endures ballistic testing specifically. MIL-STD certifications involve environmental tests.

NIJ Certification Testing:

NIJ certification includes a variety of tests that can be performed at different labs including the National Technical Systems. When deeming helmets as ballistic protection, labs will test the material the helmet is made of for ballistic and stab resistance.

Laboratories will use different technology like high-speed video, FARO laser scanners, Oehler chronographs, and Dopplar radars to capture, measure, and understand if a material is ballistic proof. High-speed video at the NTS facility includes a Phantom 7.2 that can record at 250,000 frames per second and a Phantom V312 that records at speeds up to 500,000 frames per second.

The video and images can provide insights that “…develop more powerful and effective products”. The dopplar radar and oehler chronographs measure the velocity of impact. Lastly, the FARO laser scanners make precise measurements at intervals as small as 0.0006”.

They will also conduct impact tests involving resistance to penetration or RTP and helmet backface deformation or BFD. Both of these tests are recorded in clay; however, some tests including the V50 testing measures with a metal headform.

The NTS labs—the destructive material testing industry-leaders—are based in Wichita, Kansas and Chesapeake, Maryland. The expert engineers who conduct the tests on these life-saving products are keeping American military members and public safety officials safe.

MIL-STD Testing:

According to NTS or the National Technical Systems, “The MIL-STD-810 test method standard for environmental engineering considerations and laboratory tests is a publication of the US Department of Defense with contributions from the US Army, Air Force, and Navy as well as the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (IEST) and the Shock and Vibration Information Analysis Center (SAVIAC)”.

MIL-STD certification includes 14 different tests:

  • Altitude
  • High Temperature/Low Temperature/Humidity
  • Temperature Shock
  • Solar Radiation
  • Fungus
  • Salt Fog Testing
  • Sand and Dust Testing
  • Explosive Atmosphere
  • Immersion
  • Acceleration
  • Vibration
  • Shock
  • Icing/Freezing Rain

Each of these tests include controlled experiments to examine how the product responds to the different environmental exposures. In the temperature resistance tests, the examiners will evaluate the “…possibility of failures due to mechanical failures, material degradation and parameter shifts”. Laboratories will use specialized chamber set ups to recreate these extreme temperature and humidity values.

Another environmental test includes vibration. This is tested to ensure that a product can withstand random vibration. It is tested in labs where they generate “…70,000 pounds of force with tandem shakers and up to 45,000 pounds of force on a single shaker”.

For a ballistic helmet to go through these rigorous tests, manufacturers can know they are providing a helmet that will withstand environmental elements even in the harshest climates. Moreover, buyers can be at peace knowing that the tests are backed by U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. military.


The testing of ballistic combat helmets is an important endeavor and step to producing safe gear. With NIJ ratings there is a set standard of quality—buyers including the U.S military and American police officers can know that the helmets they are wearing to protect their lives are each held to high testing certifications.

To learn more about ballistic helmets and the options on the market, read more here.

DEANNA PARENTI is a Marketing Copywriter at Waveband Communications. With her experience in critical communications, she helped safety clients enhance their team communication through the help of two-way accessories.

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