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PASGT Helmet

The PASGT (Personal Armor System, Ground Troops, pronounced "Pass-get") Helmet is the standard issue helmet for the United States infantry. The helmet was designed in the 1970's by the US Army's Natick Research Lab. At that time, a major concern of the US Army was reducing the load carried by the individual soldier. The Natick Research Lab was hoping that by using Kevlar, a weight savings over the standard M-1 Steel helmet would be realized. However, as the program evolved, the focus of the helmet changed from a lighter weight helmet providing the same amount of protection as the old helmet, to a helmet that would wiegh the same as the old one but provide improved protection.

The Natick Research Lab conducted a detailed study using numerous measurements of the dimensions of the head. The M1 Steel Helmet balanced poorly on many soldier's head, and was unstable during many activities. This was a result of relatively poor anatomical studies. The NRL finally came up with the design that can be seen above. Many people, upon first glance, think that the helmet resembles the Nazi helmet from World War II. This is a sore point with the NRL designers. The reason the two helmets look similar is because both the Nazi designers and the NRL designers used similar measurements and decisions when designing the helmet. This form is simply more efficent at protecting the soldier, and at remaining stable on the head during various activities.

There were originally three sizes of the PASGT helmet: Small, Medium, and Large. These sizes were based on the data compiled during the studies as being suitable for fitting the vast majority of males. However, in the 1980's, the Congress mandated that a new size be made for the large numbers of women joining the military. Since women generally have smaller heads, an extra-small size was created. During Desert Storm, the fifth and final size was created - extra large. The rumor has it that a certain general had an unusually large head, and couldn't comfortably fit into normal, Large size helmets. Thus, a limited production run of 1,000 Extra-Large helmets was made. The limited numbers make the Extra-Large size something of a collector's item.

The current issue helmet is a one-piece structure made of several layers of Kevlar 29 material and phenolic resin. The helmets range in weight from 3.1 pounds for Extra-Small to 4.2 pounds for Extra-Large helmets. The helmet has an internal suspension system that keeps the shell of the helmet away from the head in order to provide ventilation and space for the helmet to deform if it should take a hit. The helmets are painted in a dull olive gray color with noticable grits in the paint. However, they are usually provided with a cloth cover printed in one of several camoflauge patterns. The cloth covers have small slits built into them so that the soldier can place grass and other objects in order to help break up the helmet's outline. Also, an elastic band is placed around the helmet, to help hold the cloth cover down. The elastic band has two reflective panels on the back to help reduce friendly-fire incidents in the dark.

The PASGT helmet is only intended to protect the head against small fragments. However, in informal tests, the PASGT helmet has proven itself capable of stopping most common types of pistol ammunition (9x19mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP) with no problem. Rifle ammunition, including 5.56x45, 7.62x39, and 7.62x51 tend to zip right through the helmet, leaving a nice neat hole on each side. The PASGT helmet also managed to 'stop' a 12 gauge 1oz slug. However, while the slug did not actually penetrate the kevlar material, it did collapse the side of the helmet in by about 6". This would most likely be lethal. Despite this, the helmet does provide protection. There are many stories of soldiers in Panama, Grenada, and other places that have had their lives saved when their PASGT helmet managed to deflect a rifle caliber round, leaving the soldier's bell rung, but otherwise intact.

This PASGT helmet was shot from 2m with a 9mm FMJ round. As you can see, there is a slight dent on the outside, and virtually no backface deformation.
Troop acceptance of the Kevlar helmet has been somewhat mixed. The helmet does provide protection against a variety of dangers. However, many older troops bemoan the fact that the old M1 steel helmet could be used as a impromptu shovel, water pot, toilet, and even a pillow. The PASGT version, alas, makes many of these tasks nearly impossible.

Several improvements have been made or are about to be made since the helmet was introduced. The most significant is the use of a new type of Kevlar, Kevlar KM2, which provides a 10% decrease in weight of the helmet, with no cost in protection. There are also several different types of suspension systems, all aimed at making the helmet more stable in extreme activities. The original helmet has a "pull the dot" metal snap fastener to hold the chinstrap closed. This fastener tends to come undone, rust, and become clogged, making it impossible for the snap to be fastened. Thus, several new designs are in the pipeline.

Overall, the PASGT helmet has been a success. It has been adopted by most of the US's tactical police teams in dangerous situations for the protection it offers. PASGT helmets, or close copies, have been adopted by Canada, Mexico, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Serbia, Estonia, Croatia, Australia, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia and even China.

Sizing the Helmet

Wearing the proper-size PASGT helmet is instrumental in protecting one's head, and for maximum comfort. The shell of the helmet must be 1/2 inch away from your head for proper ventilation and ballistic protection. When the helmet is properly sized, it makes it much more stable on the head, and much easier to aim your weapon in the prone position. A too-large helmet will droop down and obscure your vision.

The proper way to determine what size helmet you will need is as follows:

1. Measure the circumference of your head using a tape measure. Wrap the tape measure just above the bony ridge of your skull under the eyebrows, and over both ears.

2. Measure the length of your head using a pair of spreading calipers. Measure from the furthest point back on your skull, and from between the eyebrows.

3. Measure the width of your head using a pair of spreading calipers. Measure from just behind each ear.

The proper size helmet will be the largest of any of these measurements. For instance, if you have a size large circumference, a size medium length, and a size small width, you should wear a size large helmet. If the measurement is exactly between two sizes, round up to the next largest size.

Head Circumference (inches) Head Length (inches) Head Width (inches)
x-small (xs) up to 21.1 Up to 7.1 Up to 5.6
small (s) 21.1 - 21.9 7.1 - 7.6 5.6 - 6.0
medium (m) 21.9 - 22.7 7.6 - 7.9 6.0 - 6.3
large (l) 22.7 - 24.0 7.9 - 8.3 6.3 - 6.5
x-large (xl) 24.0 - 26.0 8.3 - 8.8 6.5 - 7.1

Last updated on: 21 August 2001
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